The Big Boreas Booya bash
Traveling around the Twin Cities and Minnesota this time of year, you may have seen a sign for a community event that read something like, “Booya on Saturday.” Earlier this month, folks at the University of Minnesota got to experience a booya right here on campus. The Boreas Leadership Program held a Big Boreas Booya that brought together current and future leaders from across campus and beyond to share stories and ideas.
A booya is an upper midwestern tradition of community stew, generally held in the fall. “Booya” refers to both the stew and the event. Booyas are often held by churches, fire departments and other community groups.
So, why a booya on campus for an environmental leadership development program?
The Big Booya grew out of weekly Boreas events we also call booyas (without the stew). The Boreas Student Advisory Team came up with the idea of weekly booyas because the team wanted a way to build a cross-campus community around Boreas and to delve deeper into important leadership questions. Team members recognized that leadership can be challenging and lonely. Having a community of support is an important part of developing as a leader, and weekly booyas help to provide that.
Having an actual booya — with the stew — on campus was a natural extension of this community building around weekly Boreas booyas. And so the idea for a Big Booya, with environmental leadership programming woven in, got started.
Back to the Big Booya. The focus of any community booya is the food itself, and this booya was no exception. Boreas was lucky to find and enlist the expertise of Ron and Marianne Flor to help make the stew and share their 30-gallon cast-iron kettle retrofitted to cook over a wood fire. University Dining Services brought expertise to the cooking, and it became a true collaboration.
The booya got started early in the morning when the Flors arrived on campus with their kettle and got it set up near the LES building. As University folks gathered for coffee and donuts,donated by Peace Coffee and Mojo Monkey Donuts, the first ingredients of the booya were added to the kettle and the fire was lit.
As the smell of booya and wood smoke began mingling, people mingled as well. Climatologist Mark Seeley kicked off a schedule of celebrity stirrers, donning a University of Minnesota apron for the process. The Flors, Humphrey School associate professor Elizabeth Wilson and Might Axe Hops co-founder Eric Sannerud rounded out that celebrity stirrer schedule.
An environmental leadership innovators panel attracted a larger group of students in the middle of the afternoon. Minnesota Pollution Control commissioner John Linc Stine, Aimee Witteman from the McKnight Foundation, and District Energy CEO Ken Smith shared their thoughts on leadership for environmental progress. After a quick introduction, these leaders sat down with groups of students to connect on a more individual level in an “expert panel meets campfire conversation” format.
The groups were just one of the signs that the Big Booya was ultimately about making connections. Participants took part in a collaborative creative project to map the Boreas network called “how are we going to change the world?” The project layered participants’ location on campus and college affiliation with focus of interest and aspirations for impact. Students got “connection cards,” created especially for the booya, to help them keep track of the people from across campus they connected with at the event.
Finally, in the late afternoon, it was time to eat. After IonE interim director Lewis Gilbert welcomed the crowd, I thanked sponsors, including the Bush Foundation, IonE, University Dining Services, District Energy and Ever-Green Energy, and food sponsor The Wedge Co-op. I then sampled the first bite of booya. Very hot! And delicious.
As the last rays of the late autumn sun warmed the LES patio, groups of students and faculty, staff and alumni, and community leaders connected over bowls of booya. I could see the Boreas community growing and the connections strengthening as a longstanding Minnesota food tradition came to life on campus.
Photos courtesy of the Boreas Leadership Program