"Come, let us make you laugh to the tune of our favorite vegetable."
by Kitty Baker
Nine years ago, a few fun-loving women from Lanesboro, Minn., tired and frumpy from the long winter, declared the need for a local holiday to welcome summer. "Let it revolve around the first and funniest vegetable in the garden! Rhubarb!"
So they declared that the first Saturday in June was to be set aside to make people laugh, and the Rhubarb Festival was born.
The women met weekly in the local diner, first casually, then with greater purpose to lay a plan. Tickled with themselves and their scheme, the members of this secret little planning group soon christened themselves the Divine Rhubarb Committee.
The first Rhubarb Festival was just a test. Would the community bite? Just to make sure, they rallied dozens of friends to help create the celebration's centerpiece: a rhubarb recipe contest, its winners decided via public tasting. In addition, the Divinity planned a silly side with Olympic-style games, some rhubarb concessions, a pride of local musicians and a ranting stage for rhubarb zealots.
Turns out, the actual event was such a deliciously funny lift that the Divine Rhubarb Committee made it an annual tradition.
Committee members-who approach their work with a certain surreptitious and anonymous air-recognized early on the value of rhubarb recipes generated by the community.
So they collected the sage cookery instructions, added local rhubarb lore and put it in print: "Everything Rhubarb." It's a compendium of basic and bizarre recipes, from melt-in-mouth rhubarb custard pie to breads, cakes and crumbles to ices, pickles, elixirs and more-a cookbook so potent, no serious cook can help but howl. Not only that, its blessed sale helps perpetuate the good humor of the Rhubarb Festival!
Thanks to the Divine Rhubarb Committee, which still meets and lays plans at a certain local eatery as winter wanes, the Rhubarb Festival becomes more rhubarbian each year.
More funny acts, more vendors, more rhubarb.
According to the Top Stalk of the Divine Rhubarb Committee, one cardinal rule sticks: "No vendors allowed whose goods don't feature rhubarb."
The festival was even the launch place of Spring Grove Soda Pop's long-awaited Rhub-Berry flavor. Then, too, it's a natural habitat for the clever T-shirt design by People for the Ethical Treatment of Rhubarb (PETR). Where else can people kick off their day with an accordion-serenaded 5K Rhubarb Run? Or finish with an offbeat variety show featuring the famous harmonizing vocals of the Rhubarb Sisters? And, somewhere in the middle, sit back in a favorite lawn chair and revel in dangerous rhubarb-afire juggling acts or passionately amusing music by the Rutabaga Brothers band? It's all in a day at the Rhubarb Festival.
Hark, the persistent humor of the Divine Rhubarb Committee calls: "Come, let us make you laugh to the tune of our favorite vegetable."
Kitty Baker is a "Local Food/Local Living" advocate and volunteer, and the co-producer of 3rd Friday Film Night, a summer documentary series that invites community conversations in Lanesboro.
IF YOU GO: What: The Ninth Annual Rhubarb Festival
When: Sat., June 1, 2013
Rhubarb Run: 9 a.m. See Web page for details and fee.
Festival: 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Sylvan Park. Free.
Rhubarb Sisters variety show, 7:30 p.m.,
St. Mane Theatre, $15/$12 members
Where: Lanesboro, Minn.