Reflecting on the West Central Minnesota Regional Food Tour

I had a weird thought as I was trying to fall asleep the other day. If I had to die, tonight would be the perfect day for it. 

This is what it must feel like to die happy. To feel so completely fulfilled by your life and the people in it and the way you make you feel. This must be it. 

It was the end of the second day of a regional food tour I had been involved in planning for about six months along with a brilliant team of other food systems professionals in the region.

I kept thinking about my good friend Megan, and tears streamed down my face as I thought of how proud she would have been of me for what transpired that weekend. The way that she was a connector and also worked to bring cool people together, it reminded me of the service of her funeral. 

Except this wasn’t a funeral. This was anything but that. 

In fact, this weekend made me think of what it would be like to have a wedding. An excuse to get a bunch of cool people together in the same space and eat good food. The key elements that were missing were a ceremony and dancing. Dancing we could have pulled off easily. A ceremony, not so much…although there were speeches that brought people to tears in the same way that toasts to the bride and groom often do. 

This weekend represented what I believe might have been the first time I felt like I saw myself through the eyes of others…en masse. Which wasn’t at all the intention. It just happened. And I don’t think I was prepared for it. 

I’ve been in many conversations 1:1 with folks that give me compliments here and there, celebrating things that I’ve done or been involved in. And I always nod and shrug it off, not really thinking twice about it.

I think I’ve spent so much time focused on building and connecting, building and connecting, hitting the next milestone…that I didn’t even realize how in quite a short time (about three years since moving to West Central Minnesota), I had learned so much, built a rather robust network for myself, and was ready to share it with others. And I’ve been so focused on the basics – having a place to sleep at night, being able to pay my bills on time without pulling from savings – that I haven’t even had time to take stock of all that I’ve created along the way.

I don’t think I was prepared to fall apart as I shared my story of losing my crops and the way that a fellow flower farmer came to the rescue with her intact flower fields. I don’t think I was prepared to learn so much, to feel like I was attending a mini-conference, or for the passion to come bubbling forth as I guided people along a walking tour in Pelican Rapids. I didn’t have a script because I know that community and that work like the back of my hand. 

And yet. I know that what’s unfolding before me is a life and a business that feel very different from the places I found myself this weekend.

That business is much more international, very nomadic. It feels more creative to me, and it feels like something where I’m being held a bit more instead of pushing so much masculine energy into what I do.

The tour reminded me of how I’ve been feeling torn between the rural-based community I built and my newfound urban friends who tagged along with me all weekend. Being out in the country again, I have to admit, felt a lot more comfortable than being in the city. I’m still processing that information, especially considering my lease is up in about four weeks and I still don’t know where I’m going to land. 

If nothing else, I want to take a moment to share some of the things that really stuck out to me this weekend from three days of romping around West Central Minnesota with probably some of the coolest, thoughtful, most forward-thinking, and visionary people I’ve met since moving here:

  1. Rural communities are in dire need of investment in their youth. We’re missing the mark with community and economic development initiatives that don’t take their voices, perspectives, and needs into consideration.
  2. Sometimes the best thing to make a process easier is not to create a new policy or program, but to get rid of an existing one. This may apply to the landscape of farmland access, which is a real struggle for anyone trying to get into farming today.
  3. Creating space for intergenerational communication and collaboration can lead to magical outcomes. Try it sometime.
  4. Nothing beats relationship-building like breaking bread together. Who needs a fancy presentation with slides and handouts? Sometimes sitting next to a stranger with a plate of food is actually the invitation that someone was looking for to get their questions answered.
  5. Always come up with a Plan B. You never know when it can come in handy. This was especially true for our crew, considering we had not only rain creep up on us last minute, but a full blown tornado warning on Saturday night.
  6. Flavor is probably the biggest selling point that will get anyone to jump on the local foods wagon. If we ignore this, we’re missing a big piece of the puzzle of behavioral psychology and systems change. Emmanuel’s story of eating pastured poultry, and its quality versus what he could get at Walmart was a fantastic reminder that food grown or raised under the right conditions will always taste better. When we take care of it, it takes care of us. 

There’s so many other things I could share, and I may do more of that soon, but for now, I just want to end with the reminder and the encouragement of the power that you have as an individual. This weekend was a humble reminder that it doesn’t take an army of people to affect change. Don’t wait for someone else to take the lead when it comes to building something beautiful. Whatever that looks like for you, create a little magic in your corner of the world, and don’t underestimate the power that you have to shift someone’s day by a small gesture or comment. 

Take responsibility for what you create. The life you build. And don’t give a f*ck about what other people are doing. They’re more concerned about their own lives than yours, anyways. 🙂

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