In the fourth Minnesota Salsa Fest, people enjoyed salsa tasting and dancing and singing performances along with roaming the vendor booths with products like vegetables, cupcakes, bowl holders, jewelry, rugs and honey.

As one of the event hosts, Sustainable Farming Association central chapter coordinator Fallon Ryan said food and art bring people together in beautiful and genuine ways.

“We are here to celebrate food, art and culture and how that really creates community and brings people together around these concepts,” Ryan said. “I love the energy, it’s just so fun to see people enjoying their community, eating together and dancing together and celebrating the harvest season together.”

Tara VanRoekel, front, and Adele Booth, back, taste a corn salsa at the Salsa Fest in Wadena on Sept. 18, 2021.
Rebecca Mitchell / Pioneer Journal
Tara VanRoekel, front, and Adele Booth, back, taste a corn salsa at the Salsa Fest in Wadena on Sept. 18, 2021. Rebecca Mitchell / Pioneer Journal

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Peg Johnson, left, and Froggy Johnson, right, of Goffs Bay Sauce & Catering serve up their salsas and hot sauces on Sept. 18, 2021. The difference between their sissy and regular salsas is the onions and jalapeños.
Rebecca Mitchell / Pioneer Journal
Peg Johnson, left, and Froggy Johnson, right, of Goffs Bay Sauce & Catering serve up their salsas and hot sauces on Sept. 18, 2021. The difference between their sissy and regular salsas is the onions and jalapeños. Rebecca Mitchell / Pioneer Journal

While there were less vendors and salsa competitors, four contestants shared their salsa creations with each salsa stop bringing comments of the spicy and tasty flavor intensities. Several of the contestants had placed at the festival before, and Jonathan Hopkins of Prairie Fire Kitchens even placed second with his peachy pineapple mango salsa at the 2021 Minnesota State Fair. People also enjoyed the tastes of ice cream, turkey legs and food from El Mariachi.

In his first year at the Salsa Fest, Ray Buettner described his corn salsa as a little bit sweet with a kick. He started by tasting his own salsas and labeling them mild, hot and hotter before adding this corn salsa a few years ago. He’s been making salsa for 15 years with his own vegetables and the addition of brown sugar to help with the acidity. Buettner also enjoys salsa on sloppy joe’s and pizza.

Karleen Schmiedt, front right, points out her Christmas spicy goodies of peanut brittle, crackers and cookies on Sept. 18, 2021. 
Rebecca Mitchell / Pioneer Journal
Karleen Schmiedt, front right, points out her Christmas spicy goodies of peanut brittle, crackers and cookies on Sept. 18, 2021. Rebecca Mitchell / Pioneer Journal

The heat aspect of the food-related event drew in vendors Dean and Karleen Schmiedt who love “fiery food.” With their spicy cookies, peanut brittle, jelly and crackers, the two share their creations at the Salsa Fest and Pyrotechnics Guild. Karleen said she knows just how much of her dehydrated home-grown peppers to add to each recipe. In the 1990s, the couple started hosting “hotlucks” with a few friends who knew their streak for hot food, which meant the friends came with fear in their eyes, as Dean described. But the gatherings kept growing until they had about 100 people in their home.

“It’s fun lighting people up,” Dean said.

Ashley Hernandez of Ballet Folklorico Rosa Quetzal sang a song by Selena in her first public performance on Sept. 18, 2021.
Rebecca Mitchell / Pioneer Journal
Ashley Hernandez of Ballet Folklorico Rosa Quetzal sang a song by Selena in her first public performance on Sept. 18, 2021. Rebecca Mitchell / Pioneer Journal

Alongside live music, dancing and theatre productions, people could also attend presentations on seed saving, soil health, fruit tree production and clean energy. Michael Pete of Pete’s Nursery and Landscaping shared tips and stories about growing apple trees in Minnesota. He started the nursery in 1987 and is also a certified tree inspector with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

When purchasing a fruit tree, Pete looks for a main leader stem and branches that come up and out instead of back to themselves. Many apple trees change with the soil type, so don’t necessarily expect the apples to taste or look the same as the ones you buy at the store, as Pete said. You should still try an apple variety that you like or that is fire blight-resistant if that is a problem in your neighborhood.

In 2020, people bought every tree and shrub Pete had. Red plums are a hard find in 2021, though, due to the way the trees were grafted with a cheaper rootstock that would not do well in the north.

“You have to be patient with fruit,” Pete said.

Michael Pete of Pete’s Nursery shares tips and stories about growing apple trees in Minnesota on Sept. 18, 2021.
Rebecca Mitchell / Pioneer Journal
Michael Pete of Pete’s Nursery shares tips and stories about growing apple trees in Minnesota on Sept. 18, 2021. Rebecca Mitchell / Pioneer Journal

One of his most recommended tips is trimming your trees, which reduces the number of insects and diseases that will grow in the crowded leafy and branch areas. You can also add potassium and iron to help the fruit trees, such as planting your tree on top of oats or burying rusty nails around the tree.

If you have apple maggots, you can try placing a bag around each apple when they’re young and the apple will grow inside the bag without the maggots ruining the apple. Whether you’re looking to plant an apple tree or prepare for winter, Pete said loads of water are best.

The Salsa Fest is held in Wadena’s Burlington Northern Park on the third Saturday in September.