"It is making people aware of food issues but also people just get inspired by the challenge."-Melanie Christensen
by Kathy Magnuson
"I bet you can't bake 100 pies in a weekend." That was the challenge from Melanie Christensen's co-workers a couple of years ago. "I'll show you!" she replied. The fact that she had never baked a pie in her life did not scare her off.
She did wonder whether it would be possible, though, considering how many hours there are in a day, how many hours she wanted to sleep, how long it takes to make crust, how many pies would fit in her oven at a time. When she asked herself why she was doing this, her answer was "This is crazy."
And then there was the question: What she would do with 100 pies? She didn't think she even knew 100 people to be able to give them away and she wasn't going to eat them herself. But in talking with her co-workers they planned that she could sell the pies as a fundraiser for issues that are important to her, such as people being able to grow their own food and cook for themselves, sustainable food systems in a community and youth development. The Youth Farm and Market Project covered all of those items through its programs with youth-planting, growing, preparing and selling food.
True to Christensen's values, these pies would not have canned filling. The weekend before the baking, a group of friends, family and co-workers made a trip to Applecrest Orchard where they picked apples for the orchard and in exchange, could keep a third of what they picked for the pies.
Somewhat to her surprise, Christensen met her baking goal and learned that it was pretty easy to sell the pies. "I think if I had made 100 meat loaves maybe I would have had trouble but people love pie." Through word of mouth her customers bought pies for themselves and for their neighbors.
Christensen took up the challenge again the next year (2011) and baked pies to raise funds for Kindred Kitchen, a food business incubator in north Minneapolis that provides tools and resources to start and grow businesses, giving scholarships to local residents.
She found that beyond the funds contributed, education took place with the purchase, too. Nearly everyone who bought a pie asked about where the money was going and why she was doing this. "It is making people aware of food issues but also people just get inspired by the challenge," she observed.
In 2012, Christiansen has raised the bar with a goal of 200 pies. It's not physically possible to bake that many in a weekend in her kitchen, but some will be assembled for freezing in a response to her customers' requests. The funds raised will continue to go to organizations that promote strong food systems, giving people choices in where they buy their food and providing choices for fresh vs. processed foods.
After all of that baking, does she still like apple pie herself? "I'm not really a dessert person," Christiansen said. "I have eaten a few bites of pie but I don't save any for myself because I don't really like pie very much."
Asked how one would plan for such a marathon, she explained that she just did a lot of math. "I knew mathematically it was possible, but I wasn't sure it would work. Making one pie is not that different than making 20 and not that different than 100."
This year she'll be multiplying her ingredients by 200.