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Most definitely, food for thought

An upcoming multi-faceted exhibit at the River Falls Public Library will examine and depict how the production and preparation of food in American kitchens has evolved over the decades.

"Everybody eats, and we're always interested in food, but we often don't think about what we're eating or where it came from," says public library Events Coordinator Carol McClelland. "This is a wonderful opportunity to see how a national museum puts together a high-caliber exhibition on a particular thread of American history, which, in this case, includes changes in food production, our habits of eating, and brand influences."

"Key Ingredients: America by Food" is presented by Museum on Main Street, a branch of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. It's been on the road for a few years and is designed for shows in smaller towns and rural communities.

McClelland said that the exhibition is created so communities can also add "local flavor."

"I think visitors will find it entertaining to see the collectibles we're adding, like strange, period-piece dinnerware and old, unusual kitchen gadgets," she said. "These were brought in from the collections of local residents Jere Sears and Marge Stokke."

More local flavor will include current and historical photo essays of area enterprises as well as food-related artwork.

"For small children, there will be an interactive grocery/kitchen area, so they can stay happily busy while the older members of their families view the exhibit," McClelland said.

The Smithsonian part features a series of large kiosks with these themes: Land of Plenty (overview of what can be grown and raised in the U.S. and how it's done); Local Flavors (regional products and specialties); Dynamic Delivery (how food was and is preserved, marketed and distributed); Festival of Feasts (gathering and celebrating at mealtime); and Home Cooking (the culture of eating in the context of home and family).

Key Ingredients opens Friday, Jan. 28, and runs until March 11. Most everything will be found in the library's lower level -- the gallery, community room, and corridor display cases.

The exhibition can be viewed during regular library hours.

"This is a chance to see a professionally designed and curated national exhibit created by the Smithsonian," McClelland said. "That's not something we've seen in our town before. It's out of the normal range of exhibitions that we are able to put on at the library."

What to expect

Among the show's many highlights:

--Grand opening ceremony at 1 p.m. Friday, Jan. 28, in the lower level with speakers Mayor Don Richards and state Sen. Sheila Harsdorf. Later that Friday, a grand opening reception with Alice in Dairyland from 4-6 p.m. that includes food sampling.

--Chef's Special at 6:30 p.m., Feb. 24, with Rhonda Funmaker, a Ho-Chunk Tribal member and chef, who will give an American Indian perspective on food. Samples can be tasted.

--Live & Organic: Why it Matters, at 1 p.m., March 6. The presenter, Faye Jones, is from the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Services.

--Wisconsin Dairy History and Heritage Project, with Ed Janus and Boyd Huppert, at 2 p.m., Feb. 13.

--Dining Etiquette for Adults, Melissa Wilson, 7 p.m., Feb. 22.

McClelland said all 4 th graders from the River Falls public schools will make field trips to see Key Ingredients. They will be led by McClelland and other volunteer guides.

"The schools have been enthusiastic about the exhibit. It's interesting, educational and it's close by," she said. "It also satisfies the (DPI) curriculum standards for the social sciences."

Time, fundraising

The application process and final acceptance for Key Ingredients took a while. River Falls' application was accepted long ago in May 2009.

McClelland said there are considerable costs for staging the exhibition that total about $8,000. These include playing for some guest speakers and presenters; the hospitality, which includes food and refreshments; and printing for publicity and invitations.

Another cost comes next week when McClelland will rent a 26-foot truck, drive to Rhinelander, load the Smithsonian exhibit there, and haul it back to River Falls.

Even though the library is part of city government, no local tax dollars were used to pay for the exhibition.

"We had to raise the money outside of our normal budgeting," McClelland said.

Major contributors came the from River Falls Library Board and Library Foundation; the River Falls Community Fund; the St. Croix Valley Foundation; the River Falls Hospital Foundation; River Falls Rotary; and the Wisconsin Humanities Council. Smaller donations came from area businesses.

As part of Key Ingredients, there will be a cookbook exchange taking place in the library's main level.

For more details and updates, go to , then click on "Key Ingredients Exhibit and Programs."

"River Falls, with its university, sustainability initiative, food enterprises and farming tradition, is really the ideal place to have this kind of conversation," McClelland said. "The discussion includes where we've been with food, where we are now and what are future trends to watch."

Phil Pfuehler is editor of the River Falls Journal.