Glacial history had a profound impact on Minnesota’s landscape. Tens of thousands of lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams were formed when gullies and valleys, carved out by advancing ice sheets, were filled with melt-off from receding glaciers. With their origins in the Dakota word minshota, which means “clouds reflected in water”, these waterways are Minnesota’s namesake.
Although our lacustrine landscape is the state’s iconic feature, the legacy of glaciation is also found in the fertility of Minnesota’s fields and forests. Despite the extremes of the Nordic climes, this fecund land provided for the diverse indigenous peoples and later attracted industrious and resilient folk emigrating from northern Europe who saw, in the wild lakes and woods, a reflection of home.
They settled into to life in Minnesota, on farms and in logging camps, with a culture of resourcefulness and a vigorous love of nature. From their woodlands and farmsteads came abundant lumber and grain. Powered by the mighty Mississippi, mills were established to transform timber into boards and grist into flour. Both land-based resources were instrumental in building and fueling a growing city: Minneapolis.
The relationship between Minneapolis and the rural communities was not one simply of extraction. Industrially, it was marked by reciprocity. Culturally, they were akin. Whether laboring in rows of wheat or rye in Hallock or Cambridge or at a mill in Minneapolis, Minnesotans had a fierce work ethic and an ability to face adversity with innovation. Generations later, Minnesotans maintain an intimacy with nature and an unfettered exchange of population, culture, and goods between rural and urban areas. Small farming communities ringing the city continue to resist the industrial farming trend and grow food for their community, which includes the restaurants and neighborhood food cooperatives in Minneapolis.
While farm to table has become de rigueur for restaurants across the nation, many of the homegrown chefs in Minnesota, such as Erick Harcey of Upton 43, not only make use of the fruits of local fields and forests, but also grew up in them. Harcey was raised in a small town outside of Minneapolis, and had lived and worked in the city before returning to the country to raise a family of his own. “I learned refinement in the city but when it comes to the food they are still all flavors I grew up with”, he says of the restaurant’s cuisine, which pays homage to Scandinavian heritage.
A nod to heritage is also evident with a new surge of craft distilleries in the city center, as well as an estate distillery, Far North, in the northernmost reaches of the state. After a decade of urban living, founders Cheri Reese and Michael Swanson returned to the family farmscape in Hallock, Minnesota. They established fields of rye and heirloom corn to fuel an estate distillery – unique the world over and the first of its kind in Minnesota. “A strong desire to live more simply, more seasonally, and more soulfully” inspired Reese and Swanson to move home and do “something meaningful with the family farm.”
It is this straddling of worlds that defines Minneapolis and its surroundings. Respecting tradition and yearning for simplicity. Drawing on heritage but with a modern gesture. Being urbane but with humility. Fetishing the beautiful – but of form and function. Moving as rhythmically and effortlessly as breathing from the city streets to wild landscapes of our youth.