When is dinner more than just dinner? When stories are told. And connections made.

That's the premise of a new documentary, which focuses on the stories of immigrants and other minorities living in the small towns and rural areas of central Minnesota. "Who's At Your Table?" brings together people of widely varying experiences to share a family-style meal and tell their stories-where they came from; how their cultures shaped them; and how they find life and acceptance in Minnesota.

It's the extension of a TEDxGullLake Talk delivered in 2015 by Arlene Jones, a Brainerd farmer and founder of Sprout Growers and Makers Market in Little Falls. She cohosts the dinner with Martin Jennings, a grants administrator and member of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. Dinner guests include two Somali refugees, a Liberian refugee and entrepreneur, three former Amish members, a mother of seven multicultural children, and a chamber of commerce director in a small town finding new growth and conflict with the influx of first-generation Americans. Most of the dinner guests met each other for the first time at the gathering.

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When to watch

  • What: "Who's At Your Table?"-television documentary.
  • When: 9 p.m. Monday, June 24, repeating 8 p.m. Thursday, June 27.
  • Where: Lakeland Public Broadcasting.

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"The face of central Minnesota is changing," narrator Jennifer Smith of Brainerd said at the outset of "Who's At Your Table?" "There is more color to who we are. More depth to our traditions. More stories about from where we came."

With that introduction, the guests begin telling their own origin stories. Abdi Daisane, a Somali immigrant who now runs a preschool in St. Cloud, discusses growing up in a refugee camp and sharing what limited food was available. Fortuna Alexander, a Liberian immigrant, tells how she became an entrepreneur to finance an orphanage in a country ravaged by civil war and Ebola. Business owners and former Amish members Enos and Mary Schwartzentruber explain what it's like moving from one culture into another without ever leaving town.

The hour-long storytelling and discussion is more about cultural understanding than conflict, Jones pointed out in a news release.

"Food was the motivator," she stated. "The heritage behind the food was what we used as the platform to bring all these people together. To share a meal as you would with your family and begin to tell our stories about what it is like to live in central Minnesota to possibly be an immigrant and to possibly be someone who is here who is different, who has had a different struggle."

The documentary will premiere on Lakeland Public Broadcasting, beginning 9 p.m. June 24 and repeating 8 p.m. June 27. It was created by Resilient Living MN, a production arm of Happy Dancing Turtle in Pine River, which also organized the TEDxGullLake conference. Region Five Development Commission and ArtPlace provided funding, along with assistance from Sprout and Lakeland Public Broadcasting.

The "Who's At Your Table?" dinner represented a rare opportunity for people of differing cultures to come together, tell their stories and listen to others, said co-host Jennings. "Hopefully, this work and this conversation will help others think a little more differently about communities that they typically don't see or think about," he said.