Better Together

Category: Video Episodes

About This Episode

We live in a time when people have found ways to stay in touch but apart from one another. Sure, we text a lot, link to our Instagram pages, keep connected through what has become akin to postcard communication. When is it we find the time to just sit down, put away the phone and have a good, face-to-face talk with someone? Most times it's when we come together to carry on a bedrock tradition older than history: sharing food together.


It could be a carefully planned holiday meal or a brief, morning family reunion at the breakfast table before a busy day. Settling a business deal over lunch or a couple of backyard gardening neighbors trading a few peaches for a cabbage. Food is so often there when we nurture personal bonds, when we come together to celebrate or mourn, when we welcome new people into our personal circle or our communities. And when friends come over for dinner, where do we end up hanging out together? The kitchen, of course.


Food is also a source of economic power. Most of that power resides in a small number of corporations that control where low-grade food comes from and how most of us are able to get it. For decades, people who make our food have been told that it's impossible to farm, make a living and feed communities without taking harmful shortcuts at the cost of food and water safety, other people, other businesses and our natural resources. Much to our delight we've met some of the gutsy few who didn't listen.


They're creating ways to free the food system for themselves, borrowing from age-old tradition, adding their own ingenuity, and always moving forward with integrity. The main ingredient in a "sustainable" relationship between people, people and nature or people and business is working together in a way where everything and everyone involved, benefit from that relationship.


They buy their produce from CSA farms or co-ops, keeping their food dollars in their communities instead of sending them to corporate coffers. They show their children where good food comes from, and become friends with the farmers, bakers and restaurateurs who care about their customers’ health and enjoyment.


In this episode you’ll meet some people who have been creating communities by feeding people well, in different and creative ways. And you’ll see how timeless practices and traditions can be nurtured using modern social tools.



The People

Tracy Singleton has owned the Birchwood Cafe since 1995. There she’s created a wonderful asset and a magnet for her Minneapolis neighborhood, supporting local agriculture in ways big and small. And the vibrant food scene in Minneapolis has rewarded Tracy with two Charlie Awards, one for being a Community Hero, and another as an Outstanding Neighbor. Tracy’s delightful young daughter, Lily, has fun visiting area farms with her mom.


Marshall Paulsen has been executive chef at Birchwood Cafe since 2007. He has an outstanding reputation in the Twin Cities, not only for his extraordinary skill in the kitchen but for supporting and at times driving sustainable, local farming. Diners at the Birchwood can count on the very freshest seasonal food, in a welcoming, affordable atmosphere.


Diane Chapeta is widely recognized as a leader and innovator in the Farm to School movement in Wisconsin. Starting in Chilton, WI, Diane grew relationships with producer and processors to put high quality, nutritious food on school lunch trays. Since 2011 Diane has been the operation manager of Fifth Season Cooperative in Viroqua, WI. Diane has created a system from scratch, by which farmers can take local, fresh produce to hubs throughout the area. Then a broadline company distributes it to institutional customers like hospitals and school districts.


For twenty-five years, Beth Dooley has written about the local food scene in the Northern Heartland, as a regular contributor to newspapers, magazines and television.  She’s also been instrumental in developing the local food scene in Minneapolis, through serving on government panels and advisory boards. Beth has authored at least twelve cookbooks, including co-authoring Savoring the Seasons of the Northern Heartland with restaurateur Lucia Watson.  


For the past twelve years Nathan Larson has been a garden and nature educator, joining Community GroundWorks as the education director in 2006. There he directs urban farm and garden education programs for kids. Locally and nationally, Nathan provides professional development for teachers, college students and community educators, through workshops and training courses. He and his family live in Madison at Troy Community Gardens.

The Places

Since 1974, the Willy Street Co-op has offered natural and organic products to shoppers in Madison, Wisconsin. It provides not only quality food, but education, and the assurance for its customers that the items for sale have been vetted for sustainability and ethical practices. Through strong ties with vendors, the neighborhood and its members/shoppers, Willy Street Co-op is a vibrant community institution, and a model of cooperative success. willystreet.coop


The Birchwood Cafe was originally a neighborhood dairy. Farmers brought their milk here to be bottled or made into butter, and delivered around the community in Birchwood Dairy trucks. Tracy Singleton has made a delightful, casual restaurant in Minneapolis that’s truly a community center. Here, helping to create a healthy planet begins with buying locally, from many area organic farmers and vendors.


The Fondy Farmers Market has been a trusted resource for its community in Milwaukee for more than 30 years. Since 2000, it’s been run by the Fondy Food Center, an organization created to bring healthy food and sustainable jobs to economically distressed areas of Milwaukee. The Market is the largest in Milwaukee, and it’s a place where nutritional educational programs help local residents make the most of its food resources. The Fondy Food Center also runs a farm just north of Milwaukee, where farmers lease plots that produce much of the produce for sale at the Market. fondymarket.org


Eggplant Urban Farm Supply is a wonderful storefront resource in St. Paul, MN. Visitors will find all the information and wares they need for urban homestead gardens, including the chickens! Audrey Matson and Bob Lies have created a warm and person place where people can get not just the supplies but support and encouragement, to sustainably make and preserve their own food. eggplantsupply.com


Troy Gardens, in Madison, WI, is a premier urban garden, farming and education center. In the 1990s it was just an oasis of undeveloped land in the city, with a few acres used by urban gardeners and the rest left for hiking and bird watching. When the city prepared to sell it for development a diverse coalition of Madisonians pushed back. After years of advocacy and political action, Troy Community Gardens came to be. It’s now a busy education center, bringing kids from the school district and community centers into nature, with its restored prairie and forested land. But the main emphasis is on food, where it comes from, how it can be grown in harmony with nature and the many ways it can be enjoyed. But this place isn’t only for children. Gardeners of all different experiences come to plant, learn and harvest. A five-acre CSA farm and 30 units of mixed-income, sustainably designed housing share the site. communitygroundworks.org

The Food

It’s hard to make life changes for the better. Eating healthier is a lot of people’s goal but busy lives, the cost of organic fresh foods, and our all-too-human resistance to change can stand in our way. Just like losing weight or kicking addictions like smoking, many folks would like healthy eating habits in their lives, but most struggle to get them and then to keep them.  


Some of the best advise is to take baby steps. Do you love Spaghetti and Meatballs but figure it has lots of calories, too much starch? Instead of going the packaged, diet-food-low-fat-fake-food route, here are some healthier and tastier ways to go:


* Start by choosing lower fat ground beef. Buy 90/10 instead of the usual 80/20. That means you’ll be eating 10 percent less fat. You can use less meat by adding oatmeal to the recipe. Need gluten free? Grind up frozen gluten free bread in the food processor and toast it in the oven before adding it to the recipe.


*Next add leafy vegetables like kale, spinach or Swiss chard. Make the recipe 1/4 vegetables, like greens flavored with garlic, onion and herbs. Hold it all together with egg. You will have made delicious, nutritious and juicy meatballs. You’ll find a recipe below.  


*There are some great gluten free pastas out there that are as good or better than white flour pastas or even whole-wheat pastas (not really much healthier).


Bon Appetit lists these as their top three pasta picks: 


  1. Riso Bello Spaghetti al Riso ($7 per package; olioandolive.com) is a rice-and-corn pasta from Italy. The mild flavor and tender texture make these noodles a fantastic sub for regular pasta.
  2. Ancient Harvest Supergrain Quinoa Pasta ($20 for 12 boxes; quinoa.net) blends organic corn and quinoa flours. Its hearty texture stands up to meat sauces. Quinoa ups the nutritional profile because it contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein.
  3. Rustichella d’Abruzzo Organic Corn Spaghetti ($8 per package; markethallfoods.com) has a warm yellow color from organic corn flour from Northern Italy. Its al dente texture and mild corn flavor would be delicious with seafood like clams, shrimp, and even lobster.  All you need is a sprinkle of a hard cheese like Parmesan and you have a healthier dish without having to forgo flavor or eat substandard processed stuff.  


Spaghetti Squash is tasty and under-appreciated alternative here, too. First bake the spaghetti squash, then use a fork to pull out the strands of “spaghetti” and top with your favorite pasta sauce. This is really quite tasty. For the pure experience of enjoying spaghetti squash, we’ve  topped it with nothing more than butter or olive oil,  tossed with garlic, salt and pepper  


Now close your eyes think about Red Pepper Tomato Sauce. Is your mouth watering?



  • – 2 large red bell peppers
  • – 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • – ¼ cup fresh basil
  • – 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • – 2 cups tomato sauce
  • – ¼ cup grated Romano cheese
  • – 4 tablespoons butter
  • – Salt and pepper to taste. 


  • – Preheat broiler. Lightly coat the red peppers with olive oil. Grill peppers under the broiler until the skin is blackened, and the flesh has softened slightly. Place peppers in a paper bag or resealable plastic bag to cool for approximately 45 minutes.
  • – Remove the seeds and skin from the peppers (the skin should come off the peppers easily now). Cut peppers into small pieces.
  • – In a skillet, cook and stir the garlic, basil, and red peppers in 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Cook for 10 minutes, so that the flavors mix.
  • – Place mixture in blender (careful – it’s hot) and puree to desired consistency. Return puree to skillet, and reheat to a boil. Stir in the tomatoes and the Romano cheese; cook and stir until the cheese melts. Add the butter, and stir until melted. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for a few minutes. Serve.  


Tasty Guide Meatballs



  • – 4 slices plain white bread, torn into large pieces (about 2 packed cups)
  • – 2 pounds ground beef (90 percent lean, no fattier)
  • – 3 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • – ¼ cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
  • – ¼ cup finely grated Pecorino Romano, plus more for serving
  • – ½ cup greens as mentioned above
  • – ¼ cup minced onion
  • – 1½ teaspoons fine salt
  • – 15 turns freshly ground black pepper
  • – 4 large eggs
  • – ½ cup dried plain breadcrumbs
  • – 12 cups (3 quarts) tomato sauce


  • – Heat the oven to 325°F and arrange a rack in the middle.
  • – Place the bread in a large bowl, cover with water, and let soak until saturated, about 1 minute. Pour off the remaining water, wring out the bread, and tear it into tiny pieces. Place in a large bowl.
  • – Add the remaining ingredients except the breadcrumbs and tomato sauce and mix to combine. Add the breadcrumbs a little at a time until the mixture is moist wet, not sloppy wet. (You may not have to add all of the breadcrumbs.)
  • – Roll 1/2 cup of the meat mixture between your hands until it’s smooth, compact, and round (about 2 inches in diameter) and place the meatball on a baking sheet; repeat until you have 15 meatballs, spacing them 1 inch apart on the baking sheet. Bake until firm and just cooked through, about 25 to 30 minutes. (At this point, you can cool the meatballs and hold them in the refrigerator for as long as a couple of days or freeze them for the future.)
  • – Meanwhile, heat the tomato sauce in a large pot over medium heat until simmering. Add the meatballs and increase the heat to medium high until the sauce returns to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the meatballs soak up some of the sauce, at least 30 minutes. Serve 3 meatballs per person with a healthy helping of the sauce. Top each portion with a fluffy bit of grated cheese.  


Your Basic Tomato Sauce If you have never made your own tomato sauce, this is a great starter recipe. But even if you’re a pro, this sauce is a great base on which to riff. If you can, make this sauce up to 24 hours in advance (keep it covered in the refrigerator and rewarm as needed), because the flavors improve with time.



  • – 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • – 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • – 5 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • – 2 (28-ounce) cans high-quality crushed tomatoes, with juices


  • – Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. When it shimmers, add onion and season with salt. Cook until onion is softened and just beginning to brown, about 7 to 9 minutes. Add garlic and cook until golden brown, about 5 minutes more.
  • – Add tomatoes and juices and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and bring mixture to a simmer. Cook until sauce is slightly thickened, about 20 minutes. Taste and, if necessary, season with more salt or add a pinch of sugar if the sauce is too acidic.


For Kids, Families and Teachers

Organize a Crop Mob


Help a local farmer and your community, learn about where your food comes from, and have some fun playing in the dirt (or, we should say, soil) with good people.  


What is a crop mob?  A crop mob can be done a few different ways but the basics are:

  • – People gather at a local, sustainable vegetable farm or urban community  garden for a few hours to help with farm tasks.
  • – A meal is shared.
  • – People meet, talk and enjoy working and eating together.  


The principals of a crop mob are easy:

  • – No money is exchanged for the crop mob’s work.
  • – The work is done at small-scale, truly sustainable farms and gardens.  


Here’s how to get started:

  • – Chose a farm and a weekend date, then get your fellow crop mobbers together.
  • – You can post a flyer at your local food co-op, grocery or a restaurant that serves locally grown food, or even your school. The flyer should encourage folks, telling them what they would do at a crop mob and why and the date, and how to contact you for more information. You could ask a restaurant or co-op if they will help you organize the crop mob, and even prepare a meal at the event, perhaps using that farm’s produce.
  • – It would be helpful to recruit a few folks who have experience with sustainable agriculture or gardening basics such as mulching, simple harvesting and planting. And talk to the farmer about what he or she would like to have done. You don’t want to have too many people showing up, so that they’re standing around with nothing to do.
  • – While there is no “boss” of crop mob, it can help if there are one or two people who can delegate responsibilities, directing the efforts in accord with the farmer. Again, just have a chat with the famer beforehand, to find out what’s needed.
  • – Get everyone’s email and phone numbers and create a crop mob list serve.  Like many groups around the country, you may want to crop mob at least once a month and this will help you to keep your group informed.  


Choosing The Farm or Garden:

  • – Choose a small sustainable produce farm or garden within 50 miles.
  • – To find one, call your local food coop, visit a local farmers market or search here: http://www.localharvest.org
  • – Finding a farmer who is familiar with crop mobbing will be helpful but any willing farmer will do. Talk with the farmer to learn what tasks could be completed by your group in 3 hours.
  • – Confirm that the farmer will be there to oversee the activities. More experienced mobbers can help the farmer by guiding the group in their tasks.
  • – Inquire about bathroom facilities and water.  If their facilities are in their home, ask how they would like those facilities used by the group.
  • – Celebration is really important for communities, and sharing a meal is powerful experience. Ask the farmer if they would be willing to help prepare a simple meal for the mobbers, using produce from their farm. Or perhaps there’s a restaurant they supply that would be willing to cater the lunch, using their produce. Some restaurants even help recruit crop mobbers from their customer base, and the chefs crop mob too! Don’t be afraid to ask – this exchange is a wonderful experience that leaves many folks feeling grateful and fulfilled.  


Prepare the Crop Mobbers:

  • – Send reminder email out to mobbers with directions and when to arrive.
  • – They should bring work gloves and appropriate supplies and attire for farm work, sun, bugs and weather conditions.


Mob Day:

  • – Meet with farmer to get directions on work, time and where parents and small children may play.
  • – Encourage everyone to use the facilities and be prepared before heading out.
  • – If you are unsure about a task – ask questions!


More ideas to promote crop mobbing:

  • – Be prepared to plant the seeds for future crop mobs each time you get together.
  • – Invite the media to a crop mob event. This educates and encourages others to get involved.  


For more information on crop mobbing  go to our main source at: http://cropmob.org

Dig Deeper

Visit the Digging Deeper Blog


Have you ever heard of the TTIP? It stands for Transatlantic Trade and Investment Treaty. It’s being called the biggest trade deal in history, and yet it has received almost no coverage by the media, any media. This agreement has been sold to the U.S. and Europe as a way to remove trade barriers and open up new markets in a wide range of economic sectors.  


But people who have been following these negotiations, who care about whether we should be able to control the quality of the food we buy, say “Don’t be fooled”.  


This treaty would “harmonize” mutually agreeable standards for many aspects of the food we eat. This could include preventing the labeling of genetically modified foods, country of origin,and such delicacies as chlorine washed chicken and hormone filled beef.  And that’s just the beginning. This agreement would make it impossible for governments to pass bans on dangerous agricultural practices, like using pesticides that kill off bees and butterflies. Many important rights and regulations may be negotiated away along with the ability of local governments and communities to favor local sourcing and buy-local initiatives. Farm employment will also be affected, along with farm to school programs.  


To put it simply, our ability to control how our food is made is in danger of being “harmonized” with some very unhealthy agricultural practices. 


What can you do?   Call or write the White House and tell them that local control of food quality, and how it’s made is important to you. Let your neighbors know what’s happening. For more information please read this excellent article by our friends at the Willy Street Co-op.