Nourish by MN350

Conductors of the Symphony

May 11, 2021 MN350 Season 2 Episode 3
Conductors of the Symphony
Nourish by MN350
More Info
Nourish by MN350
Conductors of the Symphony
May 11, 2021 Season 2 Episode 3

In this episode, we focus on the foodservice industry and the impact that the choices of restaurant owners can have on our food system and our communities. Host Jeff Diamond speaks with Dean Engelmann, co-owner of Wise Acre Eatery, and Arie Peisert, owner of Northern Fires Pizza, both located in Minneapolis. Dean discusses his path towards rediscovering his roots in farming and using his farm to help source his Eatery, and Arie talks about his journey to the Minnesota local food scene, which started in San Francisco through the Alice Waters restaurant tree and included a stop in Rome. Both discuss the value of sourcing through local, sustainable farms, the benefits of agriculture focused on healthy soils, how food waste impacts the food system and the importance of fair treatment of employees in the industry. 

A full transcript is available here

Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, we focus on the foodservice industry and the impact that the choices of restaurant owners can have on our food system and our communities. Host Jeff Diamond speaks with Dean Engelmann, co-owner of Wise Acre Eatery, and Arie Peisert, owner of Northern Fires Pizza, both located in Minneapolis. Dean discusses his path towards rediscovering his roots in farming and using his farm to help source his Eatery, and Arie talks about his journey to the Minnesota local food scene, which started in San Francisco through the Alice Waters restaurant tree and included a stop in Rome. Both discuss the value of sourcing through local, sustainable farms, the benefits of agriculture focused on healthy soils, how food waste impacts the food system and the importance of fair treatment of employees in the industry. 

A full transcript is available here

Dean Engelmann 0:00

So we're going to create an environment where we can let a chicken be a chicken, a pig gets to be a pig, and a cow gets to be a cow, and we put them together in a system where they can benefit from the previous season's vegetable crop, the current season's cover crop, which ultimately will benefit the next seasons and many, many seasons worth of vegetable crops. We're just conductors of the symphony is really the way I look at it, all of the vegetables, all of the animals, they're all playing instruments. We're just making sure that they all work together to create something that's really beautiful and actually improves the soil. 

Jeff Diamond  01:22

Hello everyone and welcome back to Nourish by MN350. I'm your host for today Jeff Diamond. We are coming to you from the original homeland of the Dakota and Anishinaabeg peoples, or what is now known as Minnesota. On today's episode, we're going to focus on the food service industry and the role it plays in our food system. I'm excited today to be joined by two great guests from two exemplary Twin Cities restaurants. Dean Engelmann is the co-owner and farmer-in-chief of Wise Acre Eatery. For almost a decade, Wise Acre has been serving the Tangletown neighborhood in Minneapolis with fresh, local, sustainably grown food, both as prepared meals and as market groceries. Dean is also the co-owner of Tangletown Gardens, a garden center right across the street from Wise Acre. In addition, he helps to run a farm in Plato, Minnesota, 45 minutes outside of the Twin Cities. The food sold at Wise Acre is almost entirely sourced from this farm, which generates 80 to 95% of their food depending on the season. Welcome to our show, Dean, and thank you for being with us today. 

Dean Engelmann  02:31

Thank you.

Jeff Diamond  02:33

And also with us today we have Arie Peisert. Arie is the chef and owner of Northern Fires Pizza. Arie recently opened a permanent location in the Standish-Ericcson neighborhood in Minneapolis just a few months ago, though Arie has been a fixture at local farmers markets and other events for the past six years. This new location will be a takeout only pizza shop that will allow for regular presence throughout the year, from which he and his employees can operate using locally sourced, seasonal ingredients. Welcome, Arie, and thank you for joining with us in this discussion today. 

Arie Peisert  03:09

Thanks, Jeff. Happy to be here.

Jeff Diamond  03:12

So on the MN350 Food Systems team, we're working to create a food system that's local, regenerative and equitable. Prior to COVID, I'm not sure most of us fully understood just how big of a role the food service industry plays within our food system. Prior to the pandemic, the average American spent about 50% of their food budget dining out, and more than 10 million workers were employed in the food service industry as of 2019. But food service providers do more than just feed and employ people. They are the lifeblood of our neighborhoods, often help to turn to determine how our neighborhoods are defined, and what values we lift up. So what role can the food service industry play in transforming our food system? Dean and Arie provide great examples of what a more resilient, locally sourced food service industry could be like, and I'm excited to hear more about your visions today.

Jeff Diamond  04:11

So Dean for starters, could you talk a little bit about your background? I know that you grew up on a small family farm. How did this experience help shape your views of the food system?

Dean Engelmann  04:23

Yeah, thanks, Jeff. Yeah, it's kind of an odd thing. I grew up on a small, the typical small family American Farm, and never thought I'd be back here. I thought life would take me into the horticulture and nursery world, which is where I went after college, and quite honestly, my parents didn't encourage any of us become farmers, because I was growing up in the 70s and 80s, a very difficult time to be a farm and a farmer that's profitable. And so to think that life has brought me full circle of being back on the farm with cows in the pasture that my grandfather had cows in, is a little bit surreal,and kind of a really great part of the story that kind of helps motivate and drive all that we do.

Jeff Diamond  04:57

And how would you say farming has changed since you know, when you were growing up from then until now?

Dean Engelmann  05:03

There's two different lines, there's, the industrial ag model that basically was the direction that farming went in the 70s and 80s, when federal policy and, you know, everything in our in the market was driving farmers to either get bigger or get out, and my parents were in the boat of, you know, we're not gonna go into crazy debt and take a huge risk. We're gonna get out and we're gonna do this, we're gonna stay living on the farm and rent the farm out. And that's honestly where the lion's share of farmers migrated, because if they wanted to stay farming, that was, unfortunately, their option where you kind of get in bed with chemical farming, and once you get in, it's a really hard one to get out. So, you know, now looking at the other track of farming that we've chosen, looks a lot more like what my grandfather and father would have been doing in the 40s, 50s and 60s, prior to the advent of chemical agriculture. So in a way I lived and watched and was an active participant in the demise of the small family American Farm, and I didn't realize it until years later, what I had actually lived and was a part of, and that is in part, why we're so hell-bent on saying, hey, there's a better way, we've got to look for other opportunities, and sometimes looking forward requires looking back, and we're really now just mimicking the system that is, hundreds and hundreds of years old, but applying it in a modern day market. And lucky for us, it works. And I think a lot of people are finding out now that hey, this can work. This isn't just a feel good farming kind of moment. This is actually something that works on a business level, on an economic level, and as a staffing and job creation model. So anyway, it took a bad experience in a way to shine the light on maybe some really great opportunities for both us and our teams for the future.

Jeff Diamond  6:59

Yeah. And relating to that, can you talk a little bit about how that's worked into Wise Acre and into the Eatery? I've heard you say, you can look at it two ways, either the Eatery is sourced by a farm or the farm has an eatery attached to it. So could you talk a little about how those same philosophies are worked into Wise Acre? 

Dean Engelmann  7:21

Yeah, I mean, that's a great way to look at it, Jeff. And that's kind of what I always say it's, whether you want to think that the restaurant has its own farm or the farm has its own restaurant, doesn't matter. What really matters is that the interconnectivity between the two is real, and it's not just cliche farm to table you know, you can look at some pretty big national chains, and guess what they have written on their menu, oh we're farm to table, so that has lost a little bit of its luster, I think, at least at the customer level, because it's been so diluted. But then there are people like Arie just living it every day, and like what Wise Acre is trying to do, we're just living it every day, that's just viscerally who we are, is we create a menu in our offerings to our customers solely based on what we can source from our farm. There are unique challenges to that, but I think the opportunities far outweigh the challenges, and I think the bigger thing is the benefit to not only the farm, not only the restaurant, not only the soil, not only the customers, I mean, there's so many intangible benefits. It's a very simple line, healthy soil equals healthy plants and animals, and that equals healthy people, and that equals a healthy planet. That is the most basic simple equation, and we just make sure that when we're asking and answering questions about how we do things, we just make sure that we're always answering the questions, and making decisions based on what makes that equation the best it can be.

Jeff Diamond  8:51

Yeah, I think that’s a great way of thinking about things, and I love that that equation starts with healthy soil because I really believe that that has to be a prerequisite for getting to those next steps. So, Arie, turning to you now. I know that you have a very similar philosophy. Could you talk a little about your background in the restaurant industry and how it’s influenced you? 

Arie Peisert  9:15

Yeah, me and Dean definitely have similar philosophies. He's coming from, you know, farm going into restaurants, and I'm kind of going restaurants and working backwards and maybe I'll have a farm one day. I was always passionate about food. I learned to cook in San Francisco, the Bay Area in California. I worked in a restaurant that had big wood fired oven and cooked mainly everything over wood, and all my chefs, came from Chez Panisse, and were inspired by the Chez Panisse model in Berkeley, California, which was kind of the beginning of the farm to table movement with Alice Waters and what she was doing, almost 50 years ago now, the idea of just putting smart people in a room and the cross pollination of ideas and sourcing everything locally, knowing your farmers, knowing your purveyors, knowing where everything comes from, eliminating the transportation that goes into food and bringing things from other countries and across states. I just realized the huge difference there was in these ingredients that we're getting seasonally, locally, what a fresh ingredient really was, you know, when we get something that was picked that morning in your restaurant, as opposed to something that might have been harvest weeks ago and spent so much time on an 18-wheeler in some big warehouse somewhere, just kind of getting old and losing its flavor, losing its nutrition. I was blown away by the ingredients we had in the Bay Area, I think it's one of the greatest agricultural areas in the world where the seasonality is 12 months, and there's so much depth, and everything growing in that area. Just noticing the subtle differences in the things that I was eating every day. I wasn't really into mushrooms, beets, all these things I grew up that I just didn't think I really liked and then I got to California and I had a locally grown one, and I just fell in love, everything just tasted so much better and I just saw there was a better way of doing things. So that was really influential for me, my chefs there, sent me to Rome for six months to do a cooking internship at the American Academy in Rome. It was backed by the Chez Panisse Foundation, their own sustainable food project. And we continued to practice the same things we did in California, where we sourced everything from the county of Lazio, using everything seasonally, locally, really simple, delicious food, and I realized you didn't have to have a combination of 12 or 20 ingredients to make something taste good. Just get a couple of really good ones and just let them shine, put a little salt and good olive oil, and how this could be better food than anything I could possibly come up. When I came back from Rome, I stopped in Minneapolis and started looking at restaurants here, my whole extended family was from here, even though I didn't grow up in Minnesota, and I got a job at the Bachelor Farmer. I was a sous chef and event chef there and they were really focused on sourcing locally, supporting all local farmers and purveyors, and we really did a good job of, eliminating all the outside produce and, sourcing things from California and around the world and really just saw what Minnesota and Wisconsin had to offer for us and built our menus that way. So that really put me in connection with a lot of great local farmers. I started hanging out at farmers markets, you know, seeing who had great produce, who was growing things well, who was doing interesting stuff, and I just started developing relationships with really talented, great people from around the area, and at the time I was sourcing those ingredients for the Bachelor Farmer and then it just became clear, hey, there's all these great people to work with. I want to go out on my own, get my own restaurant. I started with a little mobile pizza oven, and I want to do farm dinners and work with all these farms, go out on their farm, you know, cook whatever is growing that week. Once you start to kind of go down that path, I've just been rewarded around every corner where our food tastes better. I'm enjoying everything. Every year, I'm learning about a new farm, a new purveyor, new ingredients. I think once you go down this rabbit hole, it's really an amazing place, and I'm so grateful for all the farmers and purveyors we have around here for doing such great things.

Jeff Diamond  13:35

So you mentioned that Chez Panisse model, which was really at the forefront of the farm to table movement as you said, and, where you could possibly have a new menu every single day. Could you talk a little bit more about that? Would you ever consider running a restaurant of yours in that way? 

Arie Peisert  13:59

Yeah, those are absolutely some goals I'm having here. The way I was taught was, we showed up at one o'clock every day, we didn't really know what station we were going to be on. We didn't know what the menu was going to be. We didn't know what ingredients were in house and at one o'clock we would meet with our chef and we would go over the menu and “Hey, these are going to be your dishes on the salad station, these are going to be what's coming out on the pizzas and coming out of the woodfired oven tonight, what's coming on the saute station,” and we would have four hours to basically prep everything, set up our stations, and then make this food and even the chefs would challenge us to, they're like, this is what it's supposed to taste like, these are the ingredients that need to go into it, generally how we're going to cut things and prepare things, and then you get a chance to kind of assemble the food, we'd always do testers 30 minutes before we open. And so we would prepare every dish that we're going to serve that night. And I loved it, it really pushed us. I knew we were doing good by everyone that we were supporting, and people we were working with. I knew all our money was staying in California and in our area. It was just such an amazing way to cook. And, you know, we would see these great dishes that we love and be proud of, and then the next day, they'd be gone. And this is kind of what I've been trying to do with Northern Fires. We’re constantly try to change our menu, seeing what kind of ingredients are coming up in the next couple of weeks, year after year, we start noticing like, okay, you know, corn's gonna be coming in late July, let's get ready for a sweet corn pizza. Nettles are coming in early in the spring, we got only a week or two of asparagus. Eventually, you know, I'd love to have a place where we are changing the menu top to bottom. Right now we're working on fundamentals and teaching my employees this Northern Fires way, which was inspired by the Chez Panisse kind of way. So all my cooks are really working on their attention to detail, finessing ingredients, taking care of everything, respecting everything that comes into our restaurant. I'm constantly talking about our farmers and how much time and energy goes into these ingredients we bring in where they're planning things, sourcing the seeds, planting the seeds, you know, spending weeks, months, growing these things, harvesting them, mainly by hand and getting them to our restaurant. I was nitpicking with my employees, like, hey, you're cutting too much off, when you're cleaning the top of that garlic bulb, you just took off 10% when you should have just taken off 3% of that thing. A lot of people put a lot of time and energy into the garlic clove right there. Let's respect it and take care of it and not waste it.

Jeff Diamond  16:34

That's great. It sounds like both of you really craft your menus and your restaurants with such a great respect for the food and the farmers who have created it. So Dean, if you could maybe talk a little bit more about why you've chosen this locally sourced, truly farm to table model and what inspires you and keeps you going about it. And then also, you know, as Arie touched upon with the seasonality, there's clearly going to be a lot of challenges to crafting a menu in this way. So if you could maybe talk about some of the challenges that you run into and how you handle them.

Dean Engelmann  17:11

I think one of the things that we had a unique opportunity is that we already had a farm. We already had a CSA program when we opened the restaurant, so we already had a food element to our business, but it was producing ingredients, not necessarily finished products. So it was a very natural migration for us to say that okay, well we already have a farm, we're producing all these things. That was 11 years ago, right when farm to table was the buzzword and local food was all the rage. We just knew that we needed to make Wise Acre just a quintessential farm to table and we knew that we had an opportunity to do it in a way, unlike maybe any before where there is that deep of a relationship between a farm and restaurant. And part of it was, you never find a better way if you don't look for it. And I think we all know the brokenness of our food system. Everything travels for thousands of miles, like Arie said, and it's losing nutritional value, it's losing flavor and it's losing quality, and we're spending a lot of money on fuel, trucking it around. And at the end of the day, yeah, that might be the cheapest way to get it somewhere, but, you want to make a carbon footprint on every piece of food as high as it can be just do that, right. We're just spending so much money, trucking and hauling, that there's not enough money left to actually just put it into good food. Right? There has got to be a better way than a giant food truck showing up with food that nobody has any relationship with. We always look at it as we want to have our customers have a relationship with where their food came from, and the people that actually grew it. Some of the biggest challenges are like, yeah, we're not putting that money into the fuel to haul that food around, but we are picking things by hand like Arie was mentioning. There's a lot of labor and a lot of energy and effort that goes into it. So there's an associated cost that goes with it. But if we can take really good, really nutritious ingredients, put them on somebody's plate, well, it's not a coincidence that they can taste that, and, at the same time, you're getting more nutritional benefit from it. Whether they care about their health and their food intake, I don’t care. I care. So we're going to make sure that if they're putting something from our farm into their bodies, it's going to be the best thing for their body. So that kind of relates to one of the challenges, is it does cost more. Yet it's a very, very difficult thing in a restaurant, when you start getting people saying, "Oh, yeah, it was amazing. It was the most amazing meal I ever had, but it cost too much." Right? Go read Yelp right now, that's what it's full of. So unfortunately, there's that downward pressure to keep your food cheap. Well, now that challenges the restaurant to say, "Can I keep buying what I know is better food from a farmer that's local, and give my customer something better?” And then there's the seasonality piece. That is in itself, you know, I can't ever grow the best navel orange in Minnesota, period. I'm not gonna try. So we just have to look at how do we work within the opportunities and the limitations of winter and then just look for ways around them. Somehow Minnesotans survived in Minnesota, in the middle of the 1800s, with no refrigeration, they didn't have a 747 of lettuce coming in from California or Arizona each day, people survived. So we really looked at Wise Acre, like, "Okay, how do we take that model and turn it into something that's real?" where okay, we've got a giant root cellar, we're canning, we're preserving, we're doing everything that we can to take the best of the season's bounty, and find those unique ways to store it, and that's what gets us through the winter. It kind of forces an evolution in your menu, which, in some chef's mind, that's an amazing thing. And in other chef's minds, like, “No, I want to write that menu four times a year, we're gonna perfect it, we're gonna nail it, we're gonna let it run its life, and then we're going to switch.” So you need the right people on your team, in order to execute that constant everyday evolution. And for me, that's exciting and fun because you get the opportunity to create and perfect your craft, not just perfect a single dish for a duration of time. 

Jeff Diamond  21:30

Yeah, that's, that's so true about having the right people and the right staff accessible to help execute your vision. And I'm sure that is also an additional challenge, is being able to employ people at a good, sustainable living wage. And, Arie, turning to you, I know that you've said that part of your motivation for having a full time space is to be able to provide that type of year-round employment for your employees. So can you talk a little bit more about what that means to you, and then some steps that you’d want to see so that food service careers could be more stable and more of that year-round employment?

Arie Peisert  22:11

Yeah, absolutely. I studied business in college, and, you know, I've always been fascinated in business, probably even before I got into food and wanted to open, have a restaurant, and one of the things I always remember is the term, "You can see farther on the shoulder of giants," and having a great support team, to have your back will carry you a long ways, and so I always, you know, I had a lot of connections when I was working at the Bachelor Farmer. As soon as I started Northern Fires, I went to a couple of my friends and some of the best workers I worked with, and I was like, "Hey, I'm starting this mobile unit, I love working with you, I’d love if you came on and helped me with this." After that, you know, we had created a good work environment, I instilled the things that I'd be looking for, in, as a cook, in a job. I hired two people, you know, eventually hired their boyfriends and their husbands and then we just started taking on people. But since then I would spend my winter times in different restaurants. I worked at Grand Cafe, Restaurant Alma, Popol Vuh, and every time I would leave a job, somebody would be like, "Hey, here's my number. I'd love to come work or pick up a couple hours," and then all the employees I had just started telling their friends and like, “we have a lot of fun in Northern Fires, come check it out." So I've, I've almost eliminated all the hiring I've had to do here, which is a big part of a business and restaurants. You know, most restaurants have staple menus, and they just want people to just come in, and I felt like people were kind of dumbing down the cooking experience, like, hey, let's make everything easier, let's dummy proof this, so, we don't have to have the highest caliber of employees. And I just felt like, I want to do the opposite. I want to challenge people and have them thrive in this environment. So, working with the oven, you know, working, learning about local ingredients, challenge ourselves, I have this really, really simple food, I mean, most of our pizzas have five or six ingredients on them. I found it just as a kind of way of differentiating kind of doing the opposite of what all these other restaurants are doing. Beyond that, I'm trying to pay fair wages and make sure everyone is fairly compensated. There's so many food industry employees in this country and in this world, and there might be a small, small fraction of them that are living above the poverty line. And I just, I don't think it's fair. I believe in a minimum wage that should be the poverty line. You shouldn't have an opportunity to pay someone below the poverty line, if they're working 40 hours a week, for you. So, I hired cooks, I hired people that I thought were historically made 10, 12, 14, $15 an hour if they're lucky. I've had a $15 an hour starting wage since we opened, all my employees have been working with me long enough that everyone's already making above that. If everyone works 40 hours a week for me, this year, everyone should be making $50,000 a year. And that's a huge honor for me, something I'm really, really am extremely proud of. And that's kind of my vision for things going forward and the industry. Something absolutely needed to change because I saw cooks and chefs broke and none of us are living lavish lifestyles, and, you know, as comfortable as we probably want. I kind of feel like I have a PhD in cooking and I went to business school, I got plenty of debt from that. I went to culinary school. I've been working in some of the best restaurants. I worked from the bottom and slowly came up in this industry and for me to have made you know, I made $31,000 in like the highest paying job I ever had working for someone else. So I just wanted something better for all my employees and all my cooks and, and I tell my cooks, "I want you to work on, your attention to detail, learn to work with all these ingredients, learn the challenges of seasonality," because my goal is like, "if you don't want to work here for the rest of your life, that's great. But I want you to go out and be able to get any job in a restaurant anywhere in the world, you should be able to walk in," and that's what I tell my cooks, like, I work on my fundamentals. I work hard, I'm quiet, I'm focused, my knives are sharp, I have a great attention to detail, I truly believe I can get any cooking job in the world. That's what I want for my employees, just that flexibility, that freedom. With food, you can travel, you can work in different cultures and different countries. There's always restaurants everywhere. So I really want to empower my cooks, with some financial flexibility, financial freedom, and also the ability to get a job wherever they want, and do whatever they want in this industry.

Jeff Diamond  26:45

Yeah I think that’s a great way to think about how to approach treating your employees, and I love that you describe it as “fair wages” and “fair compensation.” As Dean was talking about earlier, I’m sure there’s always pressure to not want to be labelled as overly expensive or to not want to get complaints for prices being too high, but, as you talked about, nobody is living lavishly based off of these wages, but it does provide at least for decent compensation that people can live off of, and, ultimately, that will be better for your employees and that’ll be better for your restaurant and it’ll result in better food for your customers. So with that, I think we're gonna take a break. And we'll come back and talk a little bit about some of the values that we're trying to lift up here and some of the possible solutions to making changes to our food system. So we'll be right back. 

Jeff Diamond  27:59

Welcome back to Nourish by MN350. I'm your host, Jeff Diamond and we've been talking with Dean Engelmann from the Wise Acre Eatery and Arie Peisert from Northern Fires Pizza. Dean and Arie have developed food service organizations that try to keep a focus on the wellness of all members of the food system, whether that's the producers, providers or customers and also on the land on which we live. Still, even as food eaters have been showing more interest in restaurants that provide local healthy food, restaurants and communities are struggling with issues of low profit margins and growing food insecurity, which, as we've discussed, can make it challenging to source foods and feed our neighbors in this way. Now we'd like to discuss what steps we can take to help improve our food system, both locally and more broadly. So if we can start locally, Dean, maybe we'll start with you. Where do you see the trends moving in the Twin Cities area in terms of running a restaurant this way and sourcing local foods?

Dean Engelmann  29:05

The idea of local food is not going away. The idea of opening a restaurant, in many cases now, if you really are going to serve the interests of your guests in your dining room or your, your takeout customers or whoever they may be, you should be asking those questions, you should be saying, how do I give them the very best, most nutritious ingredients? We care about our customers, and we want to see them thrive. Even if it's just a part of their diet, we need to make sure that we're doing what's best for them. I believe that there's almost now an expectation by the consumer. They have a desire to support places that they know are, are really doing the best that they can to source local, at least, as best they can minimize their carbon footprint. I think if the pandemic has done anything, it has ripped the curtains back a little bit on the food system as a whole, one, how fragile it is, and how how one little breakdown anywhere along the chain can leave grocery store shelves empty, and the things that they had access to one minute they thought that, you know, right, in Minnesota, you can get a fresh strawberry every day of the year, no problem. All of a sudden, the pandemic exposed some of the potential breakdowns. And so I think that, for us, our customers were our customers right off the bat, because of what we stood for, because we were different, because we were almost forcing ourselves to buy local, because that was the box that we put ourselves in, and for very good reason. I think now the pandemic, for those that thought it was a feel good thing and once in a while they ate somewhere that bought local or shopped at a farmers market on occasion, all of a sudden realize, "OK, now I get what everybody's talking about, I understand why this is so important, why to keep not only our dollars here, but try to keep our food close." Wise Acre has always had the motto, we want to have the shortest distance between the Earth, the hand and the mouth. And that's really a different way of saying that, we want a farmer to know the eater and the eater to know the farmer, and when there's a relationship, I care about what my guests are eating, and my guests care about how I'm living and how I'm able to support our team. Like Arie was saying, and congratulations Arie, that's amazing, listening to you talk about how we need to pay everyone a living wage and making sure that we're compensated fairly, because without it, it's not sustainable, right? There's no equation that'll ever work long term. So if we can pay people a fair wage, so that they stay with us, as organizations and as companies, we get stronger, and we're not hiring, or rehiring and retraining all the time. They're better, we're better and our customer gets a better product. 

Jeff 31:49

I want to turn now to the issue of food access within our communities. What are some steps that you think can be taken to improve access to nutritious, local food, especially for people who might be experiencing food insecurity?

Dean 32:03

There is no reason with the amount of food that we can produce, even in Minnesota, that there should be anybody hungry. We all know how wasteful many restaurants can be, and in our food system in general, whether it's a less than perfect looking carrot that never makes it to anybody's table, it goes into the compost bin or compost pile somewhere, or the things that are wasted in the prep room in a restaurant, or, you know, it's the American plate, right? You just got a pile it's so full so people feel like they're getting their money's worth, but in many cases, there's no way an individual can eat the amount of food that you put on the plate. And not everybody wants to take it home or not every dish is suitable to take home. We're building in waste, and to me, it's tragic in a way. Somebody, six blocks away is sitting at home with, you know, hungry children, and we're just constantly scraping food off of plates going into the compost bin, like it's no big deal. So there's got to be a way to fix that. And I think that's where if you can create a tighter knit local food system, the cost of good food will actually be accessible to all because there's just a consumer and a farmer relationship. There's not all of the middle stops along the way, artificially increasing the cost of food that comes from far, far away.

Jeff Diamond  33:27

Yeah, that’s great. Arie, same question for you. What are some steps that you try to take to keep costs down so that you can then keep your prices as affordable as possible for your customers? 

Arie Peisert  33:40

Yeah, a point that Dean keeps touching on is food waste, and I gladly argue with anyone that says local organic ingredients cost more. Everyone just kind of sees maybe the dollar price that's at the farmers market or in the restaurant, but we don't factor in everything else that goes into that. Restaurants don't want to use local ingredients, they say they cost more, but, if you get a local ingredient, a good, well grown ingredient, it tastes better. If your product tastes better, people are going to buy more of it, so you're going to sell more. The other thing is the waste, you know, the shelf life of the bag of arugula that comes from California or Peru or something, they develop these things so they can hang out for two or three weeks on an 18-wheeler in some warehouse shipping across the world, so that they can get it to your restaurant in Minnesota, and it shows up half yellow and then your shelf life at your restaurant might be two days. When we get arugula, you know, from Loon Organics on Saturday morning at Mill City farmers market, they're picking it Friday, they wash it for us, it's pristine, it's beautiful, it's delicious, nutritious, we get it that Saturday morning, and there's been a couple of situations where we don't go through arugula as quickly as we want to, and I open my bag of arugula, you know, sometimes a week later, sometimes 10 days later, and it looks just as beautiful and pristine as it did that first Saturday when we picked it up, and people aren't factoring in the cost of waste. Either, one, you're putting yellow arugula on your plate and sending it out into the world, which doesn't taste good, it doesn't look good, and you probably shouldn't be super proud of it. Or you just have to throw it in the trash, and you might pay half the amount for the arugula that came from Peru, but if you throw out half of it, that price has doubled to you, and then essentially the same cost as the local organic stuff that was at the farmers market. So I like arguing with people that think all this stuff costs more. And also, when you have a great ingredient, you don't have to put as much stuff on your pizzas. When I conceptualize a pizza, I'm always thinking, "OK, you know, corn would be good with jalapenos, and maybe we'll put pancetta on that" and then, we make that initial pizza and we taste it, and rarely am I thinking of adding more things. It's usually like taking something off there. We got delicious, sweet, amazing corn in Minnesota, it doesn't really need meat or something else. I'm taking the pancetta off there, and then the pizza gets better. So I'm always finding that you can put less on a pizza of better quality and create a better product. So I don't buy into the local stuff costs more. The price of the stuff that's coming from California, Peru is usually marked up, you know, the farmer is getting a fraction of what a farmer in Minnesota would get. And there's all these people in the middle that have to get their tastes of everything. So it's the trucker who has to get paid to truck this here, the warehouse in California has to get paid for holding this stuff, and then we got a rep here in Minnesota who's selling it to us and he has to get his taste too. So that's what I love about working directly with farms. We have multiple farmers show-up here a week. They come and drop off the ingredients that they grew, they harvested, they stored, they transported, and they get 100% of what they want me to charge for that ingredient. So it really makes all the difference in the world, and if you're just looking at that initial price tag, it's one thing, but when you really get into it, and once you really start getting going, and you start building a following, and you kind of start having higher volume and selling more stuff, because your stuff tastes more delicious, I think businesses have a really great chance of taking off. And I just think it's a great way of differentiating, you know, everyone is serving pizza with the same sauce, the same cheese, the same meats. A pepperoni pizza tastes like a pepperoni pizza, but I got better pepperoni because Red Table Meats in Minneapolis is producing something better on a smaller scale. People are like, "Oh, this doesn't taste like every other pepperoni pizza I've had. This is different, this is better." And that's why they come back here. If they just want that generic pepperoni pizza or whatever kind of pizza, they can go anywhere, but if they want something better, something great, something different, you can come to Northern Fires.

Jeff Diamond  38:03

So along those lines, you mentioned maybe getting a better product by possibly taking the pancetta off and adding in a veggie. We try to focus on climate issues here at MN350, and certainly one of the goals that we have is trying to encourage a more plant rich diet. And there's certainly an increasing focus on plant only and plant rich diets as a way for restaurants and customers to become more climate conscious, just because of the amount of land use and the impact that raising animals has on our climate. So, I was wondering, and this could be a question for both of you, if either of you are considering moving in more of a plant rich direction or are currently moving in more of a plant rich direction, and why or why not? 

Arie Peisert  38:50

I've actually, keep saying it, kind of, my employees, maybe a little bit under my breath, but I'm just like, "Man, I just really, kind of, want to just have an all veggie, you know, pizza place." I think we're scaling back on the meats we have just because it's, it's a lot of produce, it's a lot to store, you know, it's a lot more perishable. I don't have a meat grinder here. I don't have a meat slicer here. So some of the things I want to do I need either more equipment for and it'll just kind of complicate the system. We're really down to pepperoni and I get local pork that's ground at the co-op for me that we season and make our own. I don't know, two of our top three selling pizzas are meat pizzas. So I don't know, part of me is a little nervous, but I, I would be more than happy to switch over all vegetarian. And, we were just working on a new pizza. I was thinking of like a Reuben style pizza. We've fermented some cabbage, and we've got some sauerkraut in house now and we did a tester with Sauerkraut and some pastrami, a caraway aioli on top. It was a really delicious pizza, but I can just see, the pastrami is not going to fit with what we're doing right now. So I get thinking about it, like, just take the pastrami off. We just got some really great celeriac in from Heartbeat Farm. And, so now I'm thinking maybe we make a bass with celeriac, put sauerkraut on there, some herbs and garlic, maybe we just keep that side of aioli I thought was really tasty on a pizza. So, a lot of our pizzas, start with meat and then we just like phase out of it and I pull the meat off, throw another veggie on there and let that stuff kind of shine.

Jeff Diamond  40:30

That sounds good to me, a celeriac Reuben-style pizza, so I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for that. It sounds delicious. Dean, same question to you. And, obviously, you come at this from the farmer's perspective as well as a restaurant owner perspective.

Dean Engelmann  40:48

Wise Acre, not sure if it was really by design, or if it was maybe by default, has always been very veggie-centric. Yes, we raise beef and pork and chickens and ducks and turkeys, but we've always been veggie-centric. I'm actually a big believer in a whole food, plant based diet. And if you're going to consume meat, you should consume probably less of it than the average American diet contains. But if you are going to, you should be only eating the very highest quality. And when I say highest quality, that doesn't mean eat Wagyu beef over other beef, that means eat beef that was raised in a way that actually improved the soil and improved the land. There's actually a lot of studies done now about, especially regenerative farming, plants and animals exist in this world together. And they foster the environment of each, right? So there's a symbiotic relationship between plants and animals. And if you think about the great soils of the world, they were formed predominantly by ruminant animals moving across grasslands, and then they would move on. Right? That little scenario that I just described, is actually a net carbon gain for the soil, and a net carbon reduction for the atmosphere. Now, take all those ruminant animals, stuff them in a feedlot in Nebraska and ship all of the food to them. It's not the cow that is the problem, it's how we have chosen to raise the cow that has created the problem. So, in one sense, we can look at it as if you shouldn't eat beef and beef is bad. Well, it's not the cow's fault. It's actually how we've chosen to put them into our food system that is the real culprit. I cannot create better soils without having plants and animals interacting together in a symbiotic relationship. I will take a field that was last year's cucumber crop, and, it will this spring, get planted to a cover crop of a multi species cover crop just designed to regenerate and rejuvenate that soil and really focus on the soil microbiology, which is a, I'm not going to get into that, because that's a, that's another three hour conversation, but I am going to take the chickens that we raised this year, that will go out to what was last year's vegetable field, and all of our poultry will be produced eating those little sprouted grains and chickens are going to eat bugs. A chicken's natural diet is insects, in, in large part, that's where it should be getting protein. So we're going to create an environment where we can let a chicken be a chicken, a pig gets to be a pig, and a cow gets to be a cow, and we put them together in a system where they can benefit from the previous season's vegetable crop, the current season's cover crop, which ultimately will benefit the next seasons and many, many seasons worth of vegetable crops. We're just conductors of the symphony is really the way I look at it, all of the vegetables, all of the animals, they're all playing instruments. We're just making sure that they all work together to create something that's really beautiful and actually improves the soil. And each and every year, we can take something from our soil, but we can put more back than we take, and that's a sustainable system. 

Jeff Diamond  44:08

Yeah, thanks, Dean. And that paints such a perfect, vivid picture of what we hope to get out of a regenerative food model. So thank you for going through that description. 

Jeff Diamond  44:20

So, we'll take another break. And we'll come back and we'll talk about how we can support Dean and Arie and their businesses, and the types of values that they're trying to advance. We'll be right back. 

Jeff Diamond  44:47

Welcome back. This is Nourish by MN350, and we've been talking with Dean Engelmann of Wise Acre Eatery, and Arie Peisert of Northern Fires Pizza about their restaurants and organizations and the efforts that they've been making to create a more equitable food system and more equitable communities. Now it's time to focus on what we, our listeners, can do to help support your causes other than eating at both of your delicious restaurants, which I certainly cannot recommend to our listeners enough. Dean, could you talk for a bit about your Supper On The Farm event and what people can get out of this experience? 

Dean Engelmann  45:35

Sure, yeah, like I said earlier, our mission is to really connect people to where their food comes from, and so having a restaurant and a farm, we had an opportunity to, okay, well, let's, let's give our customers an opportunity to actually go to the farm, and eat at the farm. It was really this simple, like, OK, we're going to go harvest a bunch of food, our team from the restaurant is going to come out and they are going to prepare the food out at the farm, and then we're going to have guests come and enjoy it. It's a very simple concept, but, what I would say is that, from an experience standpoint, sitting in the middle of a farm, or in the middle of a pasture, consuming food that was produced from the very soil on which you sit, watching and having the opportunity to see the craftsmanship and the love that gets put into that food from our kitchen. Sitting under the open air of the farm and just being a part of that experience of, I mean, it's, it's nothing short of magical. There is such a connection of that energy of the food going into your mouth, right through your body, right down to your feet touching the soil from which it came is just something magical. For me,standing, on the sidelines watching that happen, there is no prouder moment, because I'm seeing our team pull off an amazing event. And Arie knows this as well as anybody, to think that you go somewhere and just make something somewhere else outside of your kitchen or restaurant. Everything is, the complexity, everything is hard. So it's a lot of work for our team to pull off, but to see how eloquently they do it and flawlessly they do it and just to see, I mean, I think there are people that leave here, that never eat the same, because it is almost a life changing moment for them. And I've had people tell me that like literally “I came to that farm supper, and I left, and I have never looked at food the same since.” And, when we can look at situations like that and look at them as wins, then we did our job. That's what we're about. 

Jeff Diamond  47:37

That sounds amazing. And do you all have a date for this year set up yet? 

Dean Engelmann  47:41

Yep, I believe it's August 21.

Jeff Diamond  47:44

August 21, great.

Dean Engelmann  47:47

So long as we can pull it off safely, we're gonna do it.

Jeff Diamond  47:50

Yeah, yeah. So people should definitely check that out if they're able to pull it off safely. So Arie, going to you. Beyond your restaurant, do you have any recommendations for folks who are looking to support establishments that promote a more sustainable food system and, and support the food providers within their communities?

Arie Peisert  48:11

Yeah, absolutely. We started at the farmers markets, and, you know, I love what all these farmers markets do. We work really closely with Mill City Farmers Market and the Neighborhood Roots Farmers Markets, who operate at Kingfield, Nokomis, and have a Fulton farmers market. All the people that support us, where we get all our ingredients are generally at the farmers markets. They're with us as neighbors. It's an opportunity to buy directly from these farms and these organizations. They pay a small fee to set up there, but they get to keep everything that they earn at the farmers markets. We have a page on our website where we list out all the farms, all of our purveyors, all of our ingredients and where they come from. So, if you want to support those people and get any of those ingredients, we show you where, how you can do that. We have a mobile unit, we started with a mobile pizza oven, which operates generally from May through October. So you need to, you know, private parties, weddings, graduations, corporate lunches, we do a lot of that. I call us a local business that supports local business. So, you know, when you support us, you support a lot of other local purveyors. If you don't want to support us directly, you can go directly to where we get our ingredients. If you want to support, you know, all of them too, you can come and, and buy a pizza, and that's where our money is going.

Jeff Diamond  49:30

And what about some steps that activists like us here at MN350 can take? What are some of the fights that you think we should be fighting? For either of you?

Arie Peisert  49:41

Yeah, I appreciate what you guys do, and bringing light to what's really going on. And, you know, as I talk to farmers, and people in restaurants over the years, we've tried to find a way of differentiating the restaurants that just put farm to table on the front window or on their menu, but are still sourcing stuff from California or wherever else. The word farm to table's been run into the ground. People have gone on to saying "hyperlocal," I try to say “all local” as kind of a goal for us, but, all these words, I don't know if they mean much of anything anymore. I appreciate you guys shining lights on the people that are doing it the right way, in my opinion. You know, I think we absolutely need to worry about the environment, we need to worry about, just, humanity, you know? Making sure that everyone has a fair wage, and you can go to your job and love your job and get paid fairly for it. You got a lot of issues, I guess, in the world, but, I think those are great spots to start.

Jeff Diamond  50:39

And Dean how about you? Same question.

Dean Engelmann  50:41

Yeah, congratulations, and thank you. Organizations like yours are the ones that I think do some of the most important work. It's just awareness. People don't know what they don't know. And, I think, sometimes people just, you know, they get on the treadmill of life, and they're getting a bad pizza in a bad box, and they just think that that's okay, and that's what it should be. So, having people like you guys challenging the status quo, educating and bringing awareness. I just think it's going to take all of us, to from an environmental standpoint, create better soils and stop the destruction of industrial agriculture. If everybody tomorrow decided in this country to say, okay, we are going to only buy food from X, Y, and Z because they stand and believe in things that I believe in, we would change our food system in a millisecond, because the money is going to drive the change. And so we just need more and more people to really realize that there are Plan B options. A lot of people didn't think it was possible for a restaurant in Minnesota to be sourced almost 100% from its own farm. That was our goal is to say like, "No, we think it can work. So what else can work?" I always say the more people we can encourage to do the same as what we're doing, not exactly necessarily, but just in concept of, you know, of doing right by the farm and the soil, and doing right by our customers, and everything in between, and just getting people to vote with their dollar each and every day, has the ability to move mountains, and it'll do it in a very short, short piece of time.

Jeff Diamond  52:16

That's excellent. I think that's a great place for us to wrap up. It's great knowing that, that people like you two, and, and your restaurants are out there trying to push the same values that we are. So that's our show for today. Thank you to both of our guests for being here. You can find more about Dean and Wise Acre at, and then also the garden store is at And then you can learn more about Arie's new restaurant at So definitely check out those websites. Dean, thank you for being here and for sharing your unique business model. I appreciate having you.

Dean Engelmann  53:00

Thank you very much. My pleasure. 

Jeff Diamond  53:03

Yeah, and thank you to Arie for being with us today and discussing this exciting new restaurant that's added another critical, locally sourced destination for the Twin Cities. So thank you, Arie.

Arie Peisert  53:15

Yeah, thanks, Jeff. Thanks, guys for having me. And Dean, it's been an absolute pleasure talking to you more and hearing about what you guys are doing and I really hope we get to work together going forward. 

Dean Engelmann  53:26

We will.

Jeff Diamond  53:30

And thank you as well to our listeners for tuning in. This has been Nourish by MN350 and we hope you'll all tune in again next time. Nourish by MN350 is a production of MN350's Food Systems team. We are changing the way people think about food production, distribution and consumption practices in the context of rapid climate change. This series is made possible by the hard work and passion of a group of dedicated volunteers. Our executive producer is Eli Crain. The producers for this episode were Lisa Chou and Amy Green. And this episode was written by me, Jeff Diamond and Lisa Chou. The sound editor for this episode was Ben Herrera. Our logo was designed by Fizz Design Collective and our music is by Ecuador Manta. You can learn more about what we do at See you next time.