All or Nothing
“I love dry cold. I love Minnesota winters.”
Meet Koby Jeschkeit-Hagen: Tiny Diner Farm Manager and Community Outreach Coordinator.
My first meeting with the ebullient visionary happens on a Wednesday night at the diner’s location in South Minneapolis. The weather outside is—let’s call it—dismal. From our table, Koby and I stare out at gray mist. It’s the drizzly “blah” kind that is neither rain nor snow, neither warm nor freezing, but finding its way into your bones nonetheless.
We sit down to eat. Koby orders grapefruit juice, and I follow her lead, because that sounds pretty zesty and uplifting. “Just gotta spruce up the cells,” she jokes. “It ain’t happening with the Portland weather … it’s killin’ me, and I don’t even have seasonal affective disorder … I love Portland, I love the people, but I can’t do dark, damp cold.”
Koby prefers extremes—air that ignites your lungs, snow that crunches beneath your feet, an unwavering winter stillness. It makes sense. She strikes me as someone who likes things all or none. Forget the gray, in-between “blahs.”
Armed with an entrepreneurial spirit and tons of ideas, she outlines plans for Tiny Diner’s future and shares tales of its evolution during her three-year tenure.
Hit “refresh” for a second, and let’s outline the responsibilities that come with being named a Farm Manager and Community Outreach Coordinator. When restaurant owner Kim Bartmann and ecological designer Paula Westmoreland hatched the idea for Tiny Diner, they envisioned more than a restaurant. Instead, they schemed up an entire ecosystem, a community space designed to serve, nurture and engage.
With a background in rural farming, regional planning and permaculture, Koby had all the credentials to fit the bill. She had the hands-on skills to build a humming, verdant space and the ability to think big picture. Now, one of her primary responsibilities includes planning community classes and events. Have you been jonesing to make homemade salves and balms for your aches and pains? Now you can thanks to Tiny Diner’s collaboration with Apothicare.
Koby also oversees farm-to-restaurant production, coordinating the synchronization between harvest and kitchen—which means helping at the diner’s urban farm and the rural farm in Ramsey. She needs to make sure the produce and menu are in synch to make the most of the yield and not let anything go to waste.
“It’s different when you have an internal farm where you can have a lot of collaboration. It also makes it a little messy at the beginning, because we’re not just selling a few products, we’re selling all of them … we need to close the loop,” Koby explains.
She works with front-of-house and back-of-house staff to make sure they stay informed on the seasonal produce. When the dining herbivore / carnivore / omnivore gets curious, the staff can speak to the menu, which—by the way—changes every two months. Each menu is inspired by a different city. Up next? Detroit.
A Veritable Skill Set
Tiny Diner has plans to expand—sustainably, of course. Dreams include: transforming the parking lot into a garden, building more community partnerships and offering guided and self-guided tours. Signage would appear in the diner’s onsite gardens, giving visitors insight into what they’re consuming. And while that’s well and good, the underlying motive is to hopefully get people moving: moving towards making, moving towards skill development, moving towards getting their hands dirty.
“It’s not just about vegetation …,” Koby revealed. “It’s about how are we going to reskill ourselves? … We [Tiny Diner] can’t do everything, and we don’t need to, because people can come here and connect with each other.”
The hope, Koby says, is this:
“Find something you really love and figure out how you can make it grow … we need a lot of different interests. I don’t have a tinkering mind. I like soft things and living things, and I can’t understand lever systems. But I know people that would love to do it … We need to make sure those skills are getting improved and used.”
If you’re resigned to sitting at a desk or locking eyes with a screen for the majority of your day—welcome. It’s not unusual to feel intimidated when inching towards the idea of planting a garden or fixing a bike. It’s not that you lack the desire or the skills to execute. It’s that you may not know how to begin—and that is an invitation for exploration and play. Tiny Diner hopes people will stay curious, get out of their heads, and step away from their screens. They hope you’ll come play, and, in doing so, feel the budding pride that accompanies new self-sufficiencies.
Moving and Shaking
While Tiny Diner has checked items off its to-do list, including getting approval from the city for its initial design (it took a year), the diner wants to scale up and move faster: “We have a lot of work to do in terms of allowing diversity in this space and allowing for a whole system to be built out of crap, because that’s what was here. We’re talking about a broken-down gas station …,” Koby said.
She’s seen the power of people banding together around a common goal firsthand. “With a few dedicated people that are driven by a beautiful vision and who have year-to-year successes, a lot can happen in a quick amount of time … a lot of community celebration can be built,” she reflected.
Koby hopes other businesses will take inspiration from Tiny Diner’s model and start building their own ideas, bit by bit.
“This place has really come alive, there’s a lot of beauty … so people are generally impressed and they’re curious, but I want to see people bringing their stories back here … the talk is happening, but I want to see what happens in action,” she shared.
Throughout our talk, Koby interjects to express her passion for certain things—things that make her happy, excited, and whole. Here’s a simple example: when our grapefruit juice arrives, she questions the server, “Did you add some color to that?!” She marvels at the blood-red color and holds the glass up to her eyes, examining its contents: “It looks like passion fruit!” Then, Jack—the head maintenance man for all of the restaurants—drives into the parking lot to deliver the farm truck to the Diner for the winter. “There’s Jack over there!” she exclaims, running to greet her friend.
There’s a word that Koby used during our talk. It’s one I’ve since chewed on and am particularly enamored with. The word is sovereignty.
Koby, of course, was linking the word to a community well versed in self-sufficiency, actively choosing how it’s going to eat, protect, transport, and self sustain.
I think sovereignty applies on a personal level, too. When it comes to boldly claiming a place and setting down roots, internal agency exists. It has (mostly) everything to do with choosing: choosing to embrace it, choosing to make the most of it, choosing to be happy.
One of the reasons Koby loves Minneapolis and Minnesota so much is “… because it has refuges for everyone, whether it’s going to the Mississippi and hiking … you can have a quiet space with no one else around you … you have green space every half mile to a mile. It’s cold and has four seasons.”
What’s one happy consequence of those dry, cold winters that Koby loves so much? They signal renewal: mosquitoes flee, tilled fields rest, and any unruly unkemptness gets washed away by spring.
Near the end of our talk, a few bright sparkles begin to fall and flicker under parking-lot lights, lazily dusting the sleeping cars outside. Koby is ecstatic. It snows.
“The cold,” she affirms, “cleanses.”