— Jamie Stang, Wright County Master Gardener and Master Food Preservation Specialist, Crow River Food Council Member

Now that fall is officially here, the first frost of the season isn’t far behind. It’s time to turn our attention to harvesting and storing produce such as pumpkins and winter squash. Here are a few best practices for making the most of your fall produce, according to the University of Minnesota extension program.

food-pasture-pumpkin-209515Harvest your squash and pumpkins before a hard freeze. It’s OK to leave them out during light frosts, which are often designated by nights at 29 degrees or above. Don’t worry if the vines turn brown or die back from the frost, as they are less cold tolerant than the fruit. When cutting the fruit from the vine, leave a few inches of stem attached.

The best way to cure your squash is to leave it in the garden for a week or two during dry sunny weather. This helps the skin toughen and lengthens the time it will store. If the weather is damp or rainy (as our year has been) you can take the fruit indoors and store it in a room that is around 80 degrees. Make sure you don’t crowd the fruit, as ventilation is important to allow the skin to toughen and to prevent molding. Handle the fruit with care to avoid bruising, which can speed up the process of rotting. If the fruit starts to rot, toss it in the trash quickly as squash and pumpkins can go from hard gourds to “soup” in just a few days.

butternut-squash-food-fresh-53458If you don’t have space to store whole fruit, you can preserve pumpkin and squash by roasting or boiling them, then freezing the mashed cooked fruit. Slides of squash can also be dehydrated. Canning cubed pumpkin and winter squash is fine if done in a pressure canner, but cooked pumpkin or pumpkin butter should not be canned due to the high pH and thickness of the product.

More information about preserving your squash and pumpkin can be found at the UMN Extension website: https://extension.umn.edu/preserving-and-preparing/preserving-winter-squash-and-pumpkins.

— Colleen Wolbeck, Crow River Food Council Member

The Crow River Food Council is driven to make food grown by local producers readily available to the consumers in our area. This year we have a committee who spearheaded a cooking demo program at local Farmers Markets. This idea originated from Rockford Farmers Market Manager Colleen Wolbeck who is on the Council. After a few planning meetings this idea came to life on August 9th at the Rockford Farmers Market. The second cooking demo was at the Howard Lake Farmers Market on August 29th. The chef for the demos were Jamie Stang (Rockford, pictured below at right) and Kristi Varner and Donna Gjesvold (Howard Lake).

Aviary Photo_132098762695621743The original recipe used this season is a Zoodle (Zucchini Noodle) Recipe where you spiralize zucchini into noodles. This recipe is vegan, healthy and can be lactose free if you omit the parmesan cheese. For those who don’t have a spiralizer, you can shred, use a peeler, or cut your zucchini to pasta size. Recipes will be catered to what is available at the market on the day of the demo. You can find the recipe at the bottom on the page.

All of the produce can be found at your local Farmers Market. We were lucky to have had generous produce donations by vendors and chefs. The chefs have been fellow Crow River Food Council members and a chef from Main Street Farmer in Saint Michael, but in the future we are planning to bring in more local chefs to inspire us. These cooking demos are a tool to help customers get new ideas for using the produce they buy at the market. The calendar for the rest of the season is as follows:

Monticello Farmers MarketThe market operates Thursdays, 3:30-7:00PM in the Monticello Library Parking Lot at 200 West 6th St. in Monticello. The cooking demo will be from 5-6PM on September 12th. The recipe will be the Zoodle Recipe below. The chef will be Colleen Wolbeck, a member of the Crow River Food Council and home chef.

Rockford Farmers Market – The market is open Fridays, 3:00-6:30PM at 6121 Main Streeet in Rockford. The cooking demo will be from 4-5PM on September 13th. This will be a new recipe called Summer Vegetable Quesadilla. The chef will be Stacy Besonen who is a Crow River Food Council member and Wellness Coach.

Albertville Farmers Market – The market is open Thursdays, 3:00-7:00PM located just off Main Ave in Central Park. The cooking demo will be from 5-6PM on September 26th. The recipe will be determined by what is available at the market at that time. The chef will be Colleen Wolbeck who is a member of the Crow River Food Council and home chef.

Buffalo Farmers Market – The market is open Saturday mornings from 8:00AM-12:00PM located at 100 1st Ave NE in Buffalo. The cooking demo will be from 10:30-11:30 AM.  The recipe will be determined by what is available at the market at that time. The chef will be Stacy Besonen who is a Crow River Food Council member and Wellness Coach.

We are very excited to be able to introduce this important program to help the community eat local and healthy. We plan to expand the program next year to more markets in the area. So be sure to check out one of the demos that is in your area.

Here is the recipe we have used so far (courtesy of Inspired Taste Garlic Parmesan Zoodle Recipe):

Guilt-Free Garlic Parmesan Zucchini Noodles Pasta Recipe

PREP 8mins
COOK 12mins
TOTAL 20mins

We’re in love with this easy zucchini pasta recipe. There’s fresh zucchini, tomatoes, basil, parmesan, and lots of garlic. Plus, it only takes 20 minutes to make. Make this with 100% zucchini noodles or swap half of the zucchini for regular spaghetti for a heartier meal.

Makes 4 Servings

4 medium zucchini (about 2 pounds)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 to 4 cloves)
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, depending on how spicy you like the pasta
2 medium tomatoes, chopped, see note (about 12 ounces)
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
1 cup basil leaves, torn into pieces
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons cold water
Salt, to taste


    Trim and spiralize the zucchini. Cut extra long noodles so that they are about the length of spaghetti.
    Add olive oil, garlic, and the red pepper flakes to a large, deep skillet. Turn to medium heat. When the oil begins to bubble around the garlic, add the zucchini noodles. Toss the noodles with pasta tongs and cook until al dente — they should be wilted, but still have a crunch; 5 to 7 minutes. Do not let the noodles cook any longer or else they will become mushy. As they cook, keep tossing so that all the zucchini noodles have a chance to hit the bottom of the skillet.
    Stir in the tomatoes, basil, and parmesan cheese. Cook for one minute. Use pasta tongs to transfer the noodles, tomatoes, and basil to a serving dish. Leave the liquid in the skillet.
    Bring the liquid left in the skillet to a simmer.
    Combine cornstarch and cold water in a small bowl then whisk into the simmering liquid. Cook, while whisking until the liquid thickens to a sauce; about 1 minute.
    Taste the sauce and season with salt. Pour the sauce over the zucchini, tomatoes, and basil. Finish with more parmesan cheese on top and serve immediately.

— Kristi Varner, Food Council Member

Every spring in our home there is a glorified sigh of relief and rejoice when the snow has melted and the new flowers and plants begin to poke out of the ground. For many that springtime elation grows to disdain over a yard overcome by dandelions and other undesirables. We are quick to fire up the lawnmowers, shovels and weed sprays, but some of these Wild Bunch serve some really useful purposes.

*Disclaimer: Always source foraged items from areas that are safe from herbicides/pesticides and soil contaminants. And ALWAYS thoroughly wash your new found produce. AND NEVER EAT SOMETHING YOU ARE NOT SURE OF! These are a few plants that are very easily recognizable and safe.


dandelion2Dandelions get such a bad rap! It’s always a hustle to try to manage these yellow annoyances, but actually dandelions serve an infinite list of worthy uses. Almost every part is edible and packed with good things!

Dandelion Greens: Perhaps the best reason to eat dandelions is the abundance of nutrients present in them. The leaves contain significant amounts of fiber, protein, vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, C, E, and K, folic acid, calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium, and zinc. They can be eaten as you would eat most other types of greens. The best way to get the tastiest dandelion greens is to collect the young leaves in the spring. Wash your greens thoroughly to remove and dirt, grit, and insects. If you got very young, early spring leaves, you can eat them raw in a salad. They make a tasty addition and add a little kick to an otherwise plain salad. You can also cook your greens the same way you would sauté spinach.

Dandelion Roots: Dried Dandelion root tea has been used as a liver tonic since ancient times. After picking the roots, soak them in water for several minutes, and then rinse them until completely clean. Chop the roots into small pieces and roast them in the oven at 200 degrees for about an hour. This will shrink and fully dry them out, and then you can then place in an airtight jar and use for tea.

Dandelion Flowers: Dandelion flower petals make a great tea with some honey. They can also be used steeped in warmed coconut oil and mixed with beeswax to create a body lotion or salve that is great for achy muscles and joints as dandelion is considered an anti-inflammatory.

In Appalachia, a common recipe for using dandelion flowers is to batter and deep fry them. In our home every spring I look forward to making a batch of them for the family and dipping them in an herbaceous buttermilk dressing! Go ahead and try this at home, here’s the recipe:

dandelion_frittersDandelion Fritters
1 cup Milk
½ cup All purpose flour
½ cup cornmeal
1 Egg
1 teaspoon Baking powder
Lots of heat-tolerant oil for frying
1 cup Freshly washed and picked dandelion flower heads (If you pick them and store them in the fridge the flowers will close up. Also, my first attempt was a bit bitter. If you’re new to wild crafting take time to remove the bracts (the little downward leaf-looking things at the base of the flower head, where it joins the stem)

Whisk all ingredients together, except for the dandelion heads
Dip the dandelions
Fry in hot oil, flower side down (be careful!)
Flip and fry some more
Drain on a towel and serve hot
Season the freshly fried fritters with salt and pepper


purslanePurslane grows all over the place and is delicious, nutritious and versatile with a bright lemony flavor. It has the highest amount of omega 3 fatty acids than any other vegetable. It is also high in magnesium, so if you are someone who has a lot of sore muscles and headaches this might be a good choice to incorporate in your diet. Purslane is great sautéed or in a stir fry and makes a delicious pickled condiment. It is a fairly common ingredient in both Eastern European and Middle Eastern cuisines. To find out more uses and recipes for Purslane follow this link.

Lamb’s Quarters

lambs_quartersThe consumption of Lamb’s Quarters dates back to ancient times and has been found in the stomachs of mummies 2000 years old. During World War II some European countries facing starvation relied on Lamb’s Quarters as a viable nutritious food source and a remedy from scurvy. Lamb’s Quarters are rich in the minerals iron, phosphorus, and calcium. It also contains beta carotene and vitamins B1 and C. The young leaves can be sautéed with olive oil and garlic or added to a pasta dish much like spinach. Being a relative of both Spinach and Quinoa, the seed heads from older plants can be used as a grain and the seeds can be boiled and eaten like Quinoa.

So here are just a few ideas to utilize some of the wild bunch that will, like clockwork, start popping up very, very soon! We are just scratching the surface! It’s rather amazing to think about the literal smorgasbord that awaits outside free for the taking!!!!

To find out more about the wild edibles around you, here a few sites:
http://landbyhand.org – Cody, Megan and their team provide different programs and workshops that focus on wild medicine/nutrition, nature walks and permaculture AND some of their programs are in the Buffalo area!
www.ediblewildfood.com – A great site to learn about different plants and their uses.
www.gentlemanforager.com – Mike Kempenich’s Gentleman Forager provides wild foraged products to restaurants and retail.
The New Wildcrafted Cuisine by Pascal Baudar. Pascal Baudar is an urban forager who teams with his wife, chef Mia Wasilevich to create some amazing ways to think about sustainable food sources.

Feature image attribution: Background image created by Bearfotos – Freepik.com

Montrose Cooks

— Sue Eull, RN, Crow River Food Council Member

An inspiring part of working with the Crow River Food Council is facilitating impactful programs within the area of the Crow River Basin. One such program is Montrose Cooks.

Montrose Cooks is in it’s second session serving and educating participants about food. There is a class community effort to slice, dice, grate, chop, sauté, and more to create delicious sweet and savory dishes. All while keeping fingers intact! Just ask Andrew Doherty, UM Extension class facilitator.

Andrew Doherty works with participants to prepare a meal.

Andrew Doherty works with participants to prepare a meal.

Montrose Cooks came to realization through a collaborative effort that arose from the Crow River Food Council. The idea was to create a class around the concept of offering cooking skills to individuals using crockpots.

The crockpot idea reached Grace Place in Montrose. Grace Place proved to be a perfect landing spot for the idea to become a reality. Pastor Kimberly, Executive Director and Founder of Grace Place, was approached about the concept of cooking classes featuring crockpot meals. She fully embraced the idea and felt it would be a great fit for the Montrose Community she has come to advocate for and know well. Even though it doesn’t have a full kitchen, the building which houses Grace Place proved to provide the perfect space to conduct classes.

Pastor Kimberly wrote for and received generous grant funding to cover the cost of the crockpots, Cooking Matters curriculum, and grocery items. That allowed the Montrose Cooks committee to move forward to create an actionable plan.

Participants work together to recreate the class dish.

Participants of all ages recreate the class dish together.

After a meeting involving Pastor Kimberly, Andrew Doherty, and myself, a plan was formed to move forward. Andrew came to the meeting well prepared with a specific curriculum, Cooking Matters, which offers an easy to use format with recipes to smoothly and skillfully conduct classes. We discussed what to name the classes and thought to keep it simple – Montrose Cooks.

Montrose Cooks first class was held this past summer on June 5th, 2017. The class was formatted to be offered for up to 15 individuals per class. We have four to five class facilitators present per class, offering a variety of support to allow the classes to run smoothly. The very first class hosted 13 students. Their ages ranged from 16 yrs. old to 83 yrs. old with both males and females in attendance. There were beginners to seasoned cooks present who were eager to learn more about food and how to cook in a crockpot.

Learning about the nutritional value of food as it relates to food choices was focused on with the Cooking Matters curriculum. Each student took home their very own Cooking Matters guide at the end of the six-week session. Crockpots were gifted to each class participant after the first class. Each class participant received a grocery shopping bag at the end of each class filled with all the whole food ingredients to make the featured dish made in class at home.

Guest chefs expertly demonstrate knife and other skills as they teach each recipe.

Guest chefs expertly demonstrate knife and other skills as they teach each recipe.

Montrose Cooks is running smoothly in it’s second 6-week session this fall. The classes have welcomed a delightful guest chef, José Madariaga. José brings a sense of humor to everyone as he demonstrates how to prepare the dishes, step by step, before the class breaks into groups to try their hands at preparing and cooking the recipe of the day. José also brings a wider perspective culturally surrounding food as he encourages the participants to not worry about making mistakes with seasonings. As he shares, don’t be afraid to try new spices and a variety of combinations.

Montrose Cooks, as a committee, will continue to explore additional opportunities to expand it’s presence and support within the community; in addition to the cooking classes. A special thank you goes out to Pastor Kimberly for the preparation of her delicious recipes cooked in her crockpot at home to feed everyone at each class.

I started with the word inspiring to write this post. Here is my viewpoint of the inspirational impact of using food to support an individual and a community.


  • Teaches nutrition based in whole food nutritional concepts
  • Teaches basic food prep skills
  • Teaches a variety of cooking techniques
  • Promotes confidence in the kitchen
  • Promotes creativity and new perspectives
    • Have you ever tried oatmeal with soy sauce and green onions?
  • Teaches food budgeting tips
    • Planovers – plan to have leftovers so as to cook once and eat twice.
  • Teaches food safety
After prepping the evening's recipe in class, participants receive all of the ingredients to recreate the dish at home.

After prepping the evening’s recipe in class, participants receive all of the ingredients to recreate the dish at home.

The above list features very measurable outcomes. The things that are not as measurable but equally as inspiring are as follows …

  • Laughter
  • Hugs
  • Sharing of tips, advice, concern, and food likes
  • Building a sense of community around food
  • Watching an individual eagerly learn
  • Watching a father and daughter learn to cook together
  • Learning the very first class graduates wish they had another class to attend as they had so much fun and miss each other

Who knew food could inspire all of the above!

— Andrew Doherty, RDN, Crow River Food Council Member

March is National Nutrition Month, this year the theme for the month is “Put Your Best Fork Forward.” To me this phrase means that we should be taking our best attempts to make the healthy food choices when available. The best food choice can vary widely from person to person based on available personal budget, foods, and time. However, these situations that life throws at us shouldn’t be deterrents to “putting our best fork forward.”

The goals of putting your best fork forward are:

  • Creating an eating style of healthful choices that you enjoy
  • Intentionally cooking from home more often, and utilizing healthier ingredients
  • Eating mindfully to encourage proper amounts of food and nutrients
  • Be physically active most days of the week in a way that you enjoy

Here are a few tips to help put your best fork forward;

The first is to create an eating style that includes a variety of your favorite, nutritional foods. This can be accomplished in a number of ways. There are no strict rules for what foods to eat or not eat, but by following the MyPlate guidelines you can find the best way to make healthy eating fit into your life. These guidelines include making half of your plate fruit and vegetables. Fruits or vegetables can come in any form, fresh, frozen, or canned without added salt or sugars. When it comes to eating grain foods, try to incorporate whole grains as much as possible for the added fiber and nutrients they provide. Choosing lean protein and dairy options into your diet can also help to balance energy levels. By following these guidelines it should lead you down the right path for eating a healthy eating pattern.

One of the simplest steps towards putting your best fork forward is to prepare more meals at home. Cooking at home is a cost saving way to eat healthier foods. Preparing ingredients ahead of time can be a great timesaver throughout the week, and ensures that any fruits and vegetables you’re planning on serving are ready to go. If you are running low on time, using a slow-cooker can be a great tool for preparing a large amount of food with relatively little prep. This is also a great way to use of any meats or vegetables before they go bad.

Eating mindfully means making a conscious decision with food choices and amounts. Mindful eating comes down to listening to your body’s natural hunger and fullness signals. Most people tend to overeat, retraining your body to recognize their fullness signal can be a tricky process. A simple first step is to slow down when eating. Many of us eat so fast that we will continue eating right past a feeling of being satisfied and into a state of fullness. A good trick to slowing down while eating is to put your spoon or fork down between bites.

By picking up these simple steps for eating healthier, you’ll be well on your way to putting your best fork forward!

— Jeff Aldrich, Crow River Food Council Member

Did you know that local farmers have been growing vegetables in the Wright Technical Center greenhouse in Buffalo for the past eight months? And that much of what they have grown has made its way to the plates and gardens of local community members? Sarah Lindblom of Solar Fresh Produce CSA, Dana Bahr, a veteran watermelon grower, and Jeff Aldrich and Mary Sue Stevens of Mana Gardens moved into the greenhouse early last December and have collectively grown several hundred pounds of produce and several thousand plant starts since that time.

Sarah planting

Sarah Lindblom with Solar Fresh Produce CSA prepares the soil for seeds. Photo by Mary Sue Stevens.

Long-time Wright Technical Center horticulture and landscaping instructor Greg Dickerman retired two years ago, and the WTC had been facing some challenges finding someone to replace him. Consequently, the greenhouse had been sitting empty and was falling into disrepair. Local Roots Food Co-op President Connie Carlson and Jeff Aldrich met with the WTC Director last November and proposed using the greenhouse for winter food production. WTC welcomed the opportunity to have the greenhouse used and maintained, an agreement was reached, and seeding began December 3, 2015.

Sarah Lindblom used the opportunity to experiment with growing cucumbers and a variety of greens during the winter months, and in the early spring she was able to get a head start on the transplants for her CSA.

Jeff watering

Jeff Aldrich waters trays of microgreens. Photo by Mary Sue Stevens.

Dana Bahr, a Buffalo resident whose watermelon farm is in Otter Tail County, experimented successfully with starting an abundance of sweet potato slips, germinated avocados and was picking summer squash in February. In late March he began starting the several hundred watermelon, cantaloupe and squash that have now been transplanted at his farm.

Mana Gardens experimented with growing ginger, turmeric and microgreens, and conducted a 10-week “winter greens” CSA with ten local families. They also sold fresh greens and root crops through Local Roots Food Co-op and Twin Cities Local Food during the winter months, and have been selling locally-grown cucumbers, tomatoes and plant starts through those channels and at the Buffalo Farmers’ Market since early May. A portion of their produce was also donated to the Buffalo Food Shelf. During the last month of the school year, Jeff and Mary Sue welcomed the students from the Cornerstone Program into the greenhouse. The students tasted vegetables, learned about organic growing, helped with transplanting, and took home their own pots filled with vegetable plants on the last day of school.

Part of the role of the Crow River Food Council is to help identify resources that might be used to help strengthen our local food system, whether they be commercial kitchens, land that might be used to grow food, surplus food, or unused greenhouse space. Connecting people and resources is a key part of improving the quality of and accessibility to fresh, healthy food. The WTC greenhouse story is a good example of how both local farmers and local eaters can benefit when these connections are made. If you are aware of any under-utilized resources of any kind that may have the potential to help members of our region eat better, please reach out and let us know.