Monthly Archives: February 2014

Preserving Food, Preserving Community

I walk into the kitchen and pour myself a cup of coffee. I spread some “blubarb” jam on one of the hot biscuits from the counter. Snuggling down into my favorite armchair in the front room, I look out the door to see a couple of my neighbors talking on the porch. It’s Saturday morning, and this is home. But I don’t live here. In fact, no one lives here. Yet, home it is – to many neighbors on several streets and friends from all over town. I’m at the Minne Lusa House.MLH Before and After

“It’s funny, I used to deliver mail to this house,” says Beth Richards. “Yeah, but it didn’t look like this then,” says Sharon Olson from behind the kitchen counter. Beth and Sharon are the two women who started the Minne Lusa House. Beth was the mail carrier for the Minne Lusa neighborhood for many years and fell in love with the people and the homes. Sharon grew up in the neighborhood. They have both been heavily involved in many of the exciting things that have taken place in this reemerging historic neighborhood. “We wanted to teach people how to can their own food. It’s becoming trendy again, but for a while it was almost a lost practice.”

Beth and Sharon offer classes to ancansyone interested in learning how to can food or make preserves. They will teach you how to make peach salsa or pickled okra or the wildly popular “Frog Balls” – which are basically pickled Brussels sprouts. “Everyone loves the Frog Balls.” says Beth holding a jar. “We can hardly make them fast enough. It’s gotta be the name, because who ever heard of someone selling out of pickled Brussels sprouts?” Most of the food that they use for their recipes is grown in their very own gardens which is part of their goal of making locally sourced food. They share samples of everything they make at the Saturday Morning Brew. Every Saturday, the Minne Lusa House is open to whomever stops by. Coffee is always going, and so is conversation. Neighbors, friends, and people from all parts of town come when they can and leave when they want. Formally, the house is open from 9:00AM to noon, though many people linger into the afternoon if the conversation is good enough. This sense of home is part of the charm that has attracted the World Herald, Edible Omaha, and other publications to feature stories on the House.

peopleThe Minne Lusa House opens its oak front door to small groups wanting someplace to meet and discuss local issues. It has hosted the mayor, city councilmen, the chief of police, as well as crafting groups, church groups, and others. This little bungalow in the heart of a bungalow district may not by its appearance tell you that it is a developing influence in the community. Yet, if you simply walk up and down Mary Street where the Minne Lusa house is located, you will see nearby houses that have begun to show signs of improvement spurred on by the resurrection of 2737. Neighbors have met each other at the Saturday Morning Brew and developed relationships. People who grew up in the neighborhood have returned to befriend current residents. New neighbors have moved into the area from Dundee, Gifford Park, Florence, and even West Omaha. The area has started to gain interest to employees from Creighton, Union Pacific, and Mutual of Omaha. The interest in the neighborhood stems predominantly from the work of the Minne Lusa House and the ladies who run it. Minne Lusa’s popular Trick-or-Treat on the Boo-levard which draws families from all over the city is sponsored and staffed by volunteers from the Minne Lusa House. It’s often hard to measure the impact an individual or single organization has on an area, but it is fairly easy in this case to understand the value Beth and Sharon and the others at the House have brought to this community. Sharon politely deflects any suggestions that she has played such an influential role, “Well, I’ve just got the time to do what hopefully most people in this neighborhood would do if they could. It’s really hard to say I’ve done much on my own. Most of this has been done by volunteers in the area. I guess we’re kind of the vehicle people are choosing to use. They just needed us to make the vehicle available.”

A considerable portion of the notoriety the area has received lately is due to the networking efforts of the House. Since the Minne Lusa House makes locally grown foods, it has connected with other groups locally who do the same: Big Muddy Urban Farm, No More Empty Pots, etc. It has been featured at the Omaha Farmers Market, the Gifford Park Farmers Market, and the Florence Mill Market. Every March, the ladies load up sample jars and tablecloths and set up a booth at the Restore Omaha Conference hosted by MCC at the South Omaha Campus. This relationship with the Restore Omaha conference has even enabled Beth and Sharon to campaign for a Historic Walking Tour of the homes on Florence Boulevard to take place in Autumn of 2014. This Restore Omaha event will draw old-home enthusiasts from all over the metro area to a neighborhood that has largely been overlooked for a long time. Whether it be locally sourced food, preservation of history, or development of community spirit, the Minne Lusa House has been a leading force in bringing refreshed interest to the community around it.

porch ladies“We thought, ‘What can we do to bring people together?’ ” says Sharon in her interview with Edible Omaha Magazine1. “People like to eat. They like to learn.” Certainly, if there was ever evidence to be found that the way to the heart is through the stomach, the Minne Lusa House may just be it. As I walk down the terra cotta colored steps to leave the House, another adage comes to mind. “Home is where the heart is.” Maybe the Minne Lusa House feels so much like home to everyone in the community because so many people have put their hearts into it.

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