MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Food reigns supreme at the Minnesota State Fair, but a lot of it isn’t from Minnesota. The popular Pronto Pup, for instance, isn’t even from the Midwest.

The focus at the fair is on the presentation, the experience. If it’s on a stick, that matters. Where it’s from, not so much.

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That’s something The Common Table, a new exhibit at the Ag-Hort-Bee building, is asking fairgoers to think about.

“It felt necessary,” said Marceleen Mosher, one of the seven initial minds behind the exhibit. “Or otherwise we are really out of balance. The whole fair is full of places where people come from across the country to sell their wares. We should be talking about what Minnesota does.”

Fair officials thought the same thing. According to Mosher, they’ve wanted something like this for years.

However, they also warned her that The Common Table’s displays on sustainability, food justice and buying local might not play well with certain fairgoers. Most notably: big agriculture farmers.

“Fair staff was warning us that we were likely going to have some mad people,” Mosher said.

But during the initial days of the exhibit’s first run, tempers didn’t start up. Conversations did. Mosher said that she and the other exhibit volunteers spoke about farming, gardening and supporting local food at length with many fairgoers, including big agriculture farmers. One 25-minute conversation with a big Ag farmer reportedly ended in teary-eyed understanding.

“The people have been amazing,” Mosher said. “Not one person has been negative.”

That might have something to do with The Common Table’s design. The vibe is positive. Green shoots of wheatgrass, lettuce and broccoli are growing all around, and overhead there’s a canopy of recycled cardboard that looks like a honeycomb. One long wall even highlights all the dozens of fruits and vegetables Minnesota’s soil can grow, color-coded by season.

But the story panels are really what demand attention.

The 18 information-packed displays were designed by volunteer members of AIGA Minnesota. They tell the stories of the exhibit’s partners – farms, co-ops, restaurants, and organizations – that either work with local food, practice sustainability or fight to bring fresh food to those without access to it.

Among the partners are familiar names, like The Red Stag Supperclub or Finnegans beer. But there are also displays on topics like farm-to-school programs, compost and permaculture. The amount and range of the information ensures that both farmers and common fairgoers can learn something useful, whether it be about a good place to eat, a program to check out, or a gardening technique.

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What you won’t find at The Common Table are demonstrations. The organizers (and their fair literature) said they initially planned to have them, but scheduling issues got in the way. Still, fairgoers are encouraged to sit and talk with volunteers and share their favorite Minnesota food experiences. There’s a honeycomb-shaped chalkboard just for that.

Next year, demonstrations will happen, Mosher said, and there’ll also be more plants.

“We have a long-term commitment to the fair,” Mosher said. “We will be working on this [display] for 3-5 years.”

WHAT’S A DISPLAY LIKE THIS COST?

A little more than $8,000, Mosher said.

The group raised the money by crowdfunding on Razoo.

HOW’D IT ALL START?

Mosher said she was in Milwaukee to see former NBA player Will Allen’s urban farm, Growing Power.

The experience moved her so much that she dreamed of building a similar farm in northeast Minneapolis.

But since that was a bit too tall a task, she decided gather up some friends and focus on the fair.

And for Mosher, who’s all about bringing people together, that was a good place to start.

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“The idea of people power is so important,” she said. “You know, the power that people have when they come together is where change happens.”

Jonathon Sharp