Brainerd mayor dons cucumber costume for kids, promotes health benefits – Brainerd Dispatch

BAXTER — It’s not often children welcome the sight of vegetables.

But they did at the Warrior Early Learning Center in Baxter when Brainerd Mayor Dave Badeaux appeared in their halls as a life-sized cucumber on Thursday, May 12.

“Who likes cucumbers?” Badeaux asked the more than two dozen children before reading to them “When Cucumber Lost His Cool” by Michelle Robinson.

Brainerd Mayor Dave Badeaux wears a cucumber costume Thursday, May 12, 2022, at the Warrior Early Learning Center in Baxter while reading aloud “When Cucumber Lost His Cool” by Michelle Robinson.

Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

The mayoral visit in costume was the first community outreach event of the year by Crow Wing Energized to promote the cucumber’s win as Crow Wing County’s Vegetable of the Year.

“One of the points is really to build awareness,” said Karen Johnson, a Crow Wing Energized community health specialist. “We want people to grab that vegetable of the year — especially the younger ages — instead of different food choices, like perhaps chips.”

One Vegetable, One Community

The zucchini, green beans, the cucumber, onions and peas were in the running for Vegetable of the Year. Of the 174 votes cast, 33.9% went for the cucumber and 33.3% went for green beans, according to Carolyn McQueen, a SNAP-Ed educator at the University of Minnesota Extension.

“Voting was done electronically,” Johnson said of the voting in which peas and onions tied for last place in the third county Vegetable of the Year contest. “Community members were able to vote for the vegetable from Dec. 1, 2021, to Jan 28, 2022.”

Crow Wing Energized launched the One Vegetable, One Community initiative to encourage healthy eating. The latest Crow Wing County Community Health Survey found 2 out of 3 adults in the county are not eating the recommended five or more fruits and vegetables a day.

Children stand and listen to a presentation about vegetables from people in vegetable costumes.

Brainerd Mayor Dave Badeaux, left, Karen Johnson, a Crow Wing Energized community health specialist, and Kara Schaefer, a Crow Wing Energized community health educator, talk about vegetables on Thursday, May 12, 2022, while dressed as a cucumber, a pepper and a carrot, respectively.

Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

“Usually why vegetables have bad reputations is just how they taste, so we have some good recipes that we’ll be sharing that you can make with cucumbers,” Kara Schaefer said.

Schaefer is a Crow Wing Energized community health educator and helped provide cucumber samples to the children in the form of pickles to taste at the Baxter outreach event.

“I really do tell the kids that their taste buds on their tongue, they change, so don’t be afraid to keep on trying foods in a different way and you’ll learn to like them,” McQueen said.

Badeaux the cucumber will be at the Brainerd Public Library at 10:30 am May 24 for storytime to spread the gospel of good eating.

“We anticipate voting for the Vegetable of the Year in 2023 to be in person at the Crow Wing County Fair,” Johnson said.

Early exposure to healthy eating

Badeaux and others who were dressed as a carrot and a pepper visited those in the Early Childhood Family Education program Thursday to promote the Vegetable of the Year.

“Did you notice that we have some vegetables back here?” asked Tahnee Flowers, a staff member, of the young children who babbled excitedly.

Badeaux said, “Anytime that I can get out in front of kids and try to connect with them, I think it’s super important. I think growing up in this area the thing that stuck out to me the most was the leaders and the amount of time they spent trying to connect with kids.”

The One Vegetable, One Community initiative strives to unite the community by encouraging gardeners to plant, grow, cook and/or share a single vegetable.

“We provide the seeds. … We have the instructions. We want to make it as simple as possible so that they’re able to plant whatever vegetable it is and then to try that vegetable,” Johnson said.

Crow Wing Energized’s stated mission is to improve the health and wellness of county residents by focusing on part on mental fitness and workplace wellness. Early childhood education about healthy eating can have benefits that last a lifetime.

“I think it’s really important not just as community members but as leaders that we get in front of kids …. to share with them the importance of paying attention to what they’re eating, and how what we eat and what we put in our bodies affects us,” Badeaux said.

Cucumber and pickle slices in sample cups

Slices of cucumber and pickles are placed in disposable cups for children Thursday, May 12, 2022, at the Warrior Early Learning Center in Baxter, so they can sample the 2022 Crow Wing County “Vegetable of the Year.”

Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

Johnson said of the cucumber, “Hopefully, they’ll recognize that vegetable when they’re shopping with their parents. And then, hopefully, the word gets back to the parents as to the benefits … why should you reach for that instead of chips, and just how nutritious it is for you.”

Cucumbers have nutrients, such as potassium and vitamins K and C, according to the US Department of Agriculture, and are a low-calorie food that are primarily water, making them great for reaching hydration goals.

“There’s something inside of the cucumber also that does help your body temperature cool down, so it’s a great summer vegetable to eat to help cool down on those hot days,” McQueen said.

Badeaux said, “They’re versatile. You know you’ve got the chop it up, put it on a sandwich or a salad, you’ve got the soak it in the oil with the onions, (which) is always a good option. But I will admit that when it comes to cucumbers, I’m a little partial to the pickle.”

Crow Wing Energized will be encouraging the community to increase their consumption of vegetables in 2022 by distributing seed packets, sharing recipes and promoting healthy eating.

“You always got to find creative ways to get people to eat vegetables,” Badeaux said. “Fruit? Not a problem. Vegetables? You’ve got to be creative.”

Cucurbitacins are a natural compound found in cucumbers and some other vegetables, such as squash, according to the USDA, and multiple variations of cucurbitacins work together to inhibit cancer growth, but some people simply cannot get over the taste or the texture of vegetables.

“I always tell people to roast their veggies,” Schaefer said. “If you don’t like a veggie, put it in the oven — just put a little bit of oil and salt and pepper on it — and it makes it more into maybe a french fry. It’s a little bit crunchy. It’s not musky.”

Brainerd Mayor Dave Badeaux responds to children at Warrior Early Learning Center in Baxter while dressed as a cucumber.

Brainerd Mayor Dave Badeaux responds to children Thursday, May 12, 2022, at Warrior Early Learning Center in Baxter while dressed as a cucumber.

Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

Badeaux asked the children seated at Thursday’s event if they liked pickles and many responded enthusiastically with their tiny arms up in the air.

“I actually used to do stand-up comedy, and I love crowds and love being in front of people, but more so I just love entertaining,” Badeaux said of life as a giant cucumber. “Hopefully, it’s something they remember as they become adults as well.”

Free cucumber seed locations

  • Brainerd Family YMCA, 602 Oak St., Brainerd.
  • Brainerd Public Library, 416 S. Fifth St., Brainerd.
  • Crosslake Chamber of Commerce, 35446 Crow Wing County Road 3, Crosslake.
  • Crow Wing County, Laurel Street, Brainerd.
  • Visit Brainerd, 706 Laurel St., Brainerd.

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at

. Follow him on Twitter at


Leave a Comment