A Faces & Places Roadie Blog

I met Dylan at the annual Lenexa Spinach Festival. I was snooping around the recipe contest booth, checking out the entries, when I introduced myself. He was wearing a green t-shirt that read, “I Like Spinach,” and my blogger instinct told me he probably had some insider information. He told me the festival is important to Lenexa as it honors Lenexa’s agricultural past and its title of Spinach Capital of the World in the 1930s. I learned that, at one time, Lenexa claimed to produce more spinach than anywhere else in the United States. And, indeed, Lenexa’s history interests me. But perhaps more interestingly, I noticed Dylan was a teenager. I returned to the historical society booth and noted several more teens taking money for spinach cookbooks and ladling spinach dip. Behind the organization’s tables, young and old worked together, feeding the crowd and promoting upcoming events.

In my little area of the state, our historical society and civic organizations continually strive to encourage the involvement of area youths. They offer scholarships, hold special events and volunteer their time in the schools. It’s a tricky task to have active involvement across the generations, yet, as this Lenexa festival demonstrates, not an impossible one.

I rested awhile by the cooking demo booth, enjoying the smell of onions and garlic and the September sun on my face. Mary K. Wolarik was demonstrating how to make a caramelized onion spinach bread. It looked amazing, and so I shuffled forward through the crowd to reach for the recipe. Three young men, also watching intently, passed a recipe sheet to me and offered some background information as well as some of their own spinach tips. The best three things to do with spinach, according to Brad Magnus: Shakes, salad and Mary’s bread. It turns out these fans are actually students of Mary, the featured chef, at the Art Institute of Kansas City for culinary. They touted Mary's award-winning cabbage sloppy joes (that earned Mary a recent visit to the White House), and they surprised me with their enthusiasm.

Angelo Mino, originally from Peru, demonstrated the creativity and determination of the pioneer spirit through a living history demonstration in front of the park’s Legler Barn Museum. Dressed in period clothes and tending his pot of beans next to the Conestoga wagon, Mino explained when he moved to the United States, he felt compelled to better understand the people of his new nation. He discovered the best way to do that was by learning American history and passing on his knowledge to its youth. As a volunteer with the “Learning About Lenexa” program, Mino and the Lenexa Historical Society meet with area third graders throughout the year, teaching them about their home city.

Lenexa’s Sar-Ko-Par Trails Park, home of the Spinach Festival, is a welcome retreat for all ages any time of the year. With a total area of 53 acres, families can fish in the recently renovated lake or choose from five different playgrounds. Visit the Legler Barn Museum Complex to see a 1911-1912 Lenexa railroad depot and climb aboard a Burlington Northern/Northern Pacific Railway caboose. For more information about the museum or historical society events, visit www.lenexahistoricalsociety.org or www.leglerbarn.org.

Jessica is a teacher, librarian and mom who lives in Holton. She loves all things summertime: Gardening, lazy days at the lake, farmers’ markets, and family vacations. Some of her favorite Kansas places include the Art Lab at Washburn University, the Topeka Shawnee County Public Library, the Konza Prairie and Main Street in Newton. She joined the 2012 Faces & Places Tour because it is an exciting opportunity to explore and write about her home state – and drive a really cool van.