Plan Ahead with our Fall/Winter CSA Guide

Posted: August 29, 2008 at 12:29 pm

We’re in the thick of the summer bounty right now, but Midwesterners know all too well that the frost is right around the corner. If you just started your local eating odyssey in 2008 or if you’re a veteran locavore, you’ll want to check out our 2008 Fall/Winter CSA guide. The time is now to start planning to maintain a steady stream of local foods in your home after the cold air comes.

2008 Fall/Winter Guide to CSAs (and other local food services)

Local is Affordable and Accessible

Posted: August 28, 2008 at 7:59 am

I used to justify the price I pay for local food by declaring it my hobby.  Some people skied or bought the fanciest electronics.  I shopped at farmer’s markets.  As a hobby, I had the luxury of traveling around the area, ranging as far as Madison and Ann Arbor.  Who cared if local was accessible.  Then I got defensive.  Was local really so expensive.  Did it really necessitate journeys.  I cannot deny that certain local foodstuffs cost more.  This is especially the case with local meat for sale at farmer’s markets.  I cannot deny that there are communities without good markets, nor as I have argued before are farmer’s markets ideal.   I’ve come up with many a-reason to justify local costs: I spend less on junk food; I spend less on restaurants.  Lately, I have something better, the weekly inserts in the Chicago Tribune.

Is local affordable and accessible?  Well, see what’s on offer.  Tony’s Finer Foods shows Michigan blueberries and Wisconsin potatoes in their ad.  “Michigan Grown” and “Locally Grown” are paraded across the Angelo Caputo’s ad, where one can find various peppers, tomatoes, sweet corn, peaches and more.  Ultra Foods sees a trend and advertises Michigan berries and Michigan grape tomatoes and Minnesota potatoes.  And it is really a trend when you see how much Dominick’s highlights local, with items ranging from cucumbers to broccoli to Illinois sweet corn with the tag, “pick me, I’m locally grown.”  Lastly, Sunset Foods, on the North Shore.  They do not insert in my Trib, but word on the street is that they push local hard.  All of these places are advertising very affordable food.  The prices for local at Caputo’s for instance, amaze me, like 3 lbs of cabbage for a dollar.

So, you think two things about now.  First, this is all fine and good this month but what about next month, December.  Second, do I counter my diet to only include those products advertised.  Can I eat three meals a day of green peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes.  Let me take the second one first.  I am not an absolutist who demands no bananas, no citrus in the local diet.  Still, my answer to you is, frankly, yes, make your diet now full of local products.  Can you really get bored of a good tomato?  Do as much as you can with what you have.  Gorge on local.  Yet gorge on it tomorrow?  Pretty much all the local food in deep abundance preserves well.  Take some time to set aside.  Sweet corn is easy to freeze, holds up well in the freezer.  Fairly astute shopping can find you local corn for 20 cents an ear, maybe 25 cents.  How many local meals can you have come winter from that?  KennyZ on the discussion board has some good tomato ideas that do not mean canning.  Got questions on what to do with all this local.  Ask.

Yes, the real truth is that it is at this time of year that local is affordable and accessible.  In a few months none of these stores will advertise their locally grown.  This local family will continue to eat local.  We will track down the winter markets; take advantage of our local superstore, Cassie’s Green Grocer; order a few times from Irv and Shelly and surely visit Madison.  We will forever be on the lookout for local, Michigan apples at Costco, Wisconsin potatoes at the dollar store.  We will also eat much from what we set aside.  We will guide you then.  Now, take advantage of it when it is most affordable and accessible.


Double Rebuttal

Posted: August 27, 2008 at 8:22 am

I awoke this morning to hear two attacks against local eating, one on the radio while I was still in bed, the other a blog post that popped up in my feed reader. Both of them missed the mark by reasonably wide margins.

First, on WBEZ I listened to the Marketplace Morning Report at 4:50am (I get up early so you don’t have to). They played a segment from Will Wilkinson of the Cato Institute. Mr. Wilkinson correctly points out that food miles may not be the chief source of carbon emissions that your food creates. He goes on to point out that there is a complex, nuanced relationship between the food we eat and the environment that we live in:

A tomato raised in a heated greenhouse next door can be more carbon-intensive than one shipped halfway across the globe. And cows spew a lot more greenhouse gas than hens, or kumquats, so eating just a bit less beef can do more carbon-wise than going completely local. It’s complicated.

Yes, Mr. Wilkinson, you are correct, it’s complicated, which is exactly why I was so puzzled when you moved on to such a gross oversimplification in your next statement:

But one thing is clear enough: the farmers in Mexico, China, and Brazil, who produce a lot of the imported food Americans eat, are poorer than the farmers here in Iowa…But the way poor people get less poor is to do business with people who have a lot of money, like us.

Are central and South American economies so dependent on food export incomes that if we decreased our consumption by a fraction, they’d slip further into poverty? I doubt it, but I’d like to see Mr. Think-Tank back his hypothesis up with some research. Is he advocating outsourcing our food supply as a goodwill effort towards improving conditions in third world countries? Aren’t there economic, security, and safety concerns that come along with that line of thinking? Does he advocate buying cars that were made in the poorest country we can find? What about our clothes? The Chinese workers that make most imported clothing are very poor, but they’re not exactly treated well by their employers or their governments. I don’t have all the facts in front of me, but to quote Mr. Wilkinson, “it’s complicated”.

Steven Dubner, author of Freakonomics, published a piece in his blog by James McWilliams a historian at Texas State University. Mr. McWilliams takes the anti-locavore argument to silly new heights by equating “eating local” with “setting up regional food systems”. He points out that every region is not equipped to produce a completely diverse food supply year round.

The first comment at the bottom of this blog post hits the nail on the head when he points out that Mr. McWilliams is “setting up a straw locavore”. I’m not sure I’ve ever met a locavore or even anyone at a farmer’s market who is pushing for diverse, independent regional food systems. We understand that coffee doesn’t grow in Iowa and there’s not too much wheat growing in Arizona. Most locavores I’ve spoken to advocate a more simplified diet that focuses on the best of what their region has to offer. Either we make some sacrifices to avoid foods that aren’t local, or we make concessions for the things we enjoy or need.

Mr. McWilliams spent a lot of energy attacking a position that really just doesn’t exist.

Both of these pieces illustrate what’s behind a bit of my frustration with the word “locavore”. They both seem to believe that it’s an unyielding point of view, like veganism. They’re taking this misconception and attacking a belief that doesn’t really exist, meanwhile taking aim at practical local eaters at the same time. Motivations behind eating local are not singular nor are they unyielding.

Is it really so wrong to want to choose a ripe peach grown in your home state rather than grapes shipped in from Chile?

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Did We Starve? A Weekend Without a Market

Posted: August 26, 2008 at 7:46 am

This local family did something it rarely (if ever) does.  It went a whole weekend without visiting a single farmer’s market.  We skipped the fresh donuts at the Oak Park Farmer’s Market.  Would have loved to get some Blue Marble Dairy at Green City, but did not.  We have combined many a Sunday morning this year with brunch at Lula’s then the Logan Square market; not this Sunday.  How many times did we follow that with a visit to the Wicker Park market.  Not this time.  Could we possibly make it through the week?  Would we starve?

As you know from here, we are not for lack of food.  Nor does a lack of market visits limit our local food intake.   We still get our weekly CSA box on Thursday:

  • Cauliflower
  • Cucumber
  • Muskmelon
  • Green peppers (4)
  • Collard greens
  • Beefsteak tomatoes
  • Sweet corn (6 ears)
  • Potatoes

The corn has already gone in the freezer.

Granted, we have been busy with a bushel of tomatoes, but truth be told, we did visit a market before the weekend began.  Our friend Jim the Vinegar Guy launched a market this summer at the Hines VA Hospital in Maywood on Thursdays.   Not a big market but it has fruit from our favorite Michigan fruiter, Hardin Farms.  We did not go too crazy there, only [ed. only?] buying a 1/2 bushel of peaches and a few pints of blueberries.  Many of the peaches went to a-spicing.  More have been peeled and frozen for later pie-cobbler use.  I think this local family will do OK for the time being.

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User Registration Repaired

Posted: August 26, 2008 at 5:29 am

For anyone who tried to register recently and was unable to, my apologies, I was unaware of the glitch. The registration system has been repaired and the site is again accepting registrations.

Thanks for your understanding while we get through the turbulence of the early days of this site.

We Eat Meat – Part I

Posted: August 22, 2008 at 9:51 am

Yesterday, I noted that local food consisted of more than fruits and vegetables.   I want to add, nay emphasis that local food means local meat.  I admit that when my family and I took the challenge of eating locally, we did not fully commit to local meat.  We did this for costs  As I will explain in a subsequent post, costs can be a problem, but there are ways to deal with the problem.  We eat local meat.

All the reasons Michael laid out for eating local, mine, the generic top ten, apply to meat as much as anything you eat.  Look at local meat the other way though.  Things you want in meat: lack of hormones and antibiotics, natural diet, breeds meant for deliciousness.  This you will find most easily with local meat.

Rick Bayless tells a good story about his customers wants and needs.  He notes that his customers send back his chicken dishes more than any other dish.  He realized that his more timid customers tend to gravitate to chicken, an apparant safe choice.  Instead, they get local chicken, brimming with all the life and flavor real meat affords.  This shocks their palate.  It tastes like chicken!  Who knew.  Hence, the occasional bring-back.

This local family wants its chicken to be chicken, its beef to be beefy and its pork to be loaded with streaks of porcine fat.  We want our animals raised ethically and humanely.  We do not want the chemicals of battery production to go into our bodies.  We eat local meat.

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Local, It’s Not Just for Salad

Posted: August 21, 2008 at 11:28 am

In a few weeks the Chicago’s Green City Market will sponsor a localvore challenge.  Associating the challenge with a farmer’s market makes sense.  Where is the easiest place to grab local food, but I think it also helps equate in people’s minds that eating local is all or only about fruits and veg.  It aint.  You can make local part of every meal you eat.

The Rules for This Week’s Purchases

Posted: August 20, 2008 at 9:12 am

Not that long ago, I heard Illinois farmer Stan Schutte talk.  He defined local as the distance you needed to go to get the food you wanted.  A pretty apt description for someone who cannot function without a cup of morning joe.  Still, my family and I ascribe to this caveat: if we can get it in our region, we only eat it in our region.  This means we shun vehemently the asparagus still for sale at Whole Foods in August.  A related rule we follow: we favor the local.  Thus while Schutte’s Law provides the basis to eat oranges and mussels, we prefer to fill our diet with stuff found closer.  Finally, though, we have the, local’s where you find it, exception.  If we happened to be in Maine this week and filled a suitcase with lobsters, all the lobster we ate next week would be local!  We followed these rules as we hit the road last weekend in search of local food.

Our inventory of local food did begin close by, as it does about 2/3rds of the year with a box from Farmer Vicki’s Genesis Growers:

  • Watermelon with creamy yellow spot
  • Spicy Hungarian wax peppers
  • Cauliflower
  • Arugula
  • Cucumber
  • Apples
  • Onion
  • Eggplant

On Saturday, my wife and I visited the Urbana Farmer’s Market, perhaps the largest market in the state.   At Urbana we get reminded that Illinois is a long, long state and the furthest tip lies below what otherwise would be considered “south”.  A good portion of the farmers at the Urbana market come from these parts, and the market featured products we do not see in Chicago area markets.  For instance, there were larger yellow cresthaven peaches.  Fine, but what we really never see locally are English walnuts.  We grabbed a pound for $6 and regretted that did not buy more.  We have precious local black walnuts, but now we also have local “regular” walnuts.  What else:

  • Various onions
  • Beets
  • Muskmelons
  • Corn meal
  • Plums
  • Tomatoes

We took the long way home from Urbana to Oak Park (what, what did we do in between, oh a very, very nice meal at Prairie Fruit Farms thank you very much).  From an honor system stand along US 150 near Ogden, tomatoes and potatoes.  It meant we could stop at tractor outside Hoopeston for a baker’s dozen of corn harvested that AM as well as tomatoes that were so red and pure that I was afraid they were waxed (no); a slight detour to the Riverfront Berry Farm in Martinton for beets and potatoes; and finally, a man selling crowder peas from his front lawn near Momence, about where Illinois 1 meets Illinois 2.  We got a bushel.  Most have already been frozen.

Back home, a day later, we bot a bushel of Michigan tomatoes for canning as well as a few Michigan eggplants for caponata.  Both from Caputo’s in Elmwood Park.

Previous week’s purchases here.

Eat A Weed: Foraging for Lamb’s Quarters

Posted: August 18, 2008 at 5:32 pm

Here’s an experiment. Go outside, find a tasty-looking weed in the alley, and pick off a leaf and eat it.

What? You’re still sitting at your computer? Of course, most of us in the city would never dream of plucking things off the plants we pass by and putting them in our mouths. Mostly, this is wise. Many plants are poisonous; even ones that aren’t may have grown up in highly questionable soil. If you’re living in the Herkimer Lofts (formerly the Herkimer Mercury-Plating and Lead-Smelting Works), it’s best that you don’t go around nibbling on the stuff around your parking lot, and not just because all your neighbors own German Shepherds.

But even if I set your mind entirely at rest about the soil, the plant species, and how high a German Shepherd can aim, you’d probably still feel a little funny about eating stuff growing on its own in the city. Yet, of course, nibbling on what you ran across in the course of your day was something humans everywhere did until a very short time ago, and still do in many parts of the world. The development of a sudden inhibition about such things, and the loss of shared common knowledge about what you can and can’t eat in your own environment, is an extremely recent development in human society.

Recently I’ve been working on a Sky Full of Bacon video podcast about foraging in the Chicago area, and one of the plants that everyone I’ve talked to has brought up is in its peak season right now. Once you’re aware of it, you’ll see it everywhere in the Chicago area– there are probably five big patches, and innumerable smaller plants, in the two blocks between my house and the nearest El stop.

The plant is Chenopodium album, popularly known as Lamb’s Quarters, or Fat-hen in England, or goosefoot or pigweed or many other names suggested by the leaf’s footprint-like shape. It’s easy to recognize, and it has a flavor and texture reminiscent of two greens you’ve certainly eaten– a bit of spinach’s rubberiness at first, followed by a sharp note similar to arugula’s.

Fairly tall stalks produce a leaf that’s readily identified when it’s young due to that footprint profile and the combination on some leaves of a dark green top and a whitish-green underside, both of which can be coated with a very fine fuzz. As the leaves get bigger they lose the footprint shape but are still fairly recognizable because of their serrated edges. More scientific botanical information is available here.

Should you eat it? That’s a calculated risk, based on how you feel about the soil in your area. But at the very least, simply knowing how to recognize it will alert you to the fact that edible, native plants are growing all around us, without any help from us. The fact that they’re not in grocery stores has less to do with what we could be eating than with what someone else has already made a profitable business out of supplying.

If you do decide to eat it, young leaves like those found right now can be added to a salad, where like arugula they’ll add a slightly bitter note that sharpens up a bowl of lettuce. Steam them or cook them in a small amount of water and they’ll shrink a little and turn dark, but not fall apart like spinach; now you’ll get an earthier sort of taste, very much like collard greens. As with any green, what you do with them from there is virtually limitless. This blog has a recipe for giving them a Central American taste with hot sauce and red wine vinegar.

In a month or two they’ll reportedly produce a small dark grain, which reveals that the plant is actually a relative of quinoa. However, the only practical mention of the grain I’ve found suggests that harvesting them in any quantity is long and tedious work, another reason you don’t see lamb’s quarters in a commercial setting.

Even if you don’t choose to actually put urban-grown lamb’s quarters in your mouth, there’s something satisfying about suddenly spotting it growing all over the city. You’re tapped into something secret and universal that others don’t know about, and can wear the same silently knowing look as people who are clued into the alien-Illuminati conspiracy that really runs everything.

And really, there’s something irrational about consuming so many industrial products without a second thought because, hey, how could pesticides or HFCS or microwave popcorn be bad for you?, but balking at putting a leaf in your mouth that’s growing right in front of your house because it hasn’t had the blessings of the agricultural-industrial complex and spent a certain time in a plastic bag before you eat it. It’s local food. It probably won’t kill you. At least, something non-local you bought at a store will probably do the job first.


Local Fun in Wisconsin

Posted: August 18, 2008 at 4:38 pm

My family and I have had some recent good times in Southern Wisconsin including the New Glarus Brewery tour and the Mt. Horeb Mustard Museum.  Dana Currier at Gaper’s Block gives some more encouragement to sample the local fare by visiting the areas just outside of Madison.  As the story shows, there’s more fun to local than just eating or drinking.

Film Screening: “Garbage: The Revolution Starts At Home”

Posted: August 18, 2008 at 7:57 am

A documentary film screening on the hard-truth facts about of the global impact of one family’s waste.

How much garbage does an average family generate in three months?
What is the effect on the environment?
Find out the first weekend in September at a screening of “Garbage: the Revolution Starts at Home.”

Geneva Green Market, NFP and Geneva Film Festival will present the film at 7:15 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 6, at River Park in Geneva. Admission is free.

“Garbage,” a film by Andrew Nisker details the global impact of local waste. Concerned for the future of his new baby boy, Sebastian, Nisker takes an average urban family, the McDonalds, and asks them to keep every scrap of garbage that they create for three months. He then takes them on a journey to find out where it all goes and what it’s doing to the world.
From organic waste to plastic bags and water bottles to the waste they create carting their kids around town, the McDonalds discover that for every action there is a reaction that affects them and the entire planet.

The park is located at 75 North River Lane, in Geneva, IL just north of Riverside Receptions. Movie-goers are encouraged to bring blankets, flashlights and chairs.

Locally made root beer floats, apple cobbler, or 3 large cookies will be available for purchase for $5 at the screening. Pre-dessert tickets will be sold at Geneva Green Market (5 desserts for $20) from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursdays. All proceeds will benefit the Geneva Green Market, NFP. For more information, visit

Bureau County Farm Tour

Posted: August 16, 2008 at 6:14 pm

The Peoria Journal-Star has a nice article covering a recent farm tour in Bureau County. Participants got a front row view of what area farms have to offer.

“There are more than 100 specialty farming operations within a 50-mile radius of Princeton”, said Pam Horwitz, executive director of the American Corn Growers Association.’

Read the full story here

Abby Mandel Meyer

Posted: August 14, 2008 at 8:58 am

Yesterday, we noted the passing of one of the leaders and true visionaries of the Chicago local food scene.  For those who need some background, the CTrib fronts a nice bio of her today (reg. req.).  As reported yesterday, Ms. Mandel, or Abby Mandel Meyer as the Trib notes, introduced farm fresh foods and local wares to the Chicago area well before locavore became the word of the moment.

Under the auspices of The American Institute of Wine & Food, she founded The Best of The Midwest Market in 1989 to showcase produce and artisanal food from 12 Midwest states. It was an annual, one-day event that continued for 11 years and was held in several Chicagoland venues, ultimately landing at the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe.

For some personal remembrances, see this thread on LTHForum.

In Memoriam – Abby Mandel

Posted: August 13, 2008 at 2:01 pm

Via the Chicago Tribune, I just learned that Ms. Mandel recently passed away.  I know she had been battling cancer.  As anyone involved with the Green City Market can tell you, she was the inspiration and life-force behind this endeavour.  The Green City Market planned on holding a tribute to her and her work on September 7, 2008.  I am sure the tribute will be just as rousing without her presence.  Her real legacy stands in the Green City Market, the Chefs that make their menus from it, the many who throng there each week, and the farmers that exist because of it .  All the folks eating local and enjoying the fare from area artisans, causes she championed, mourn her passing.  I know I speak for Michael in saying we would not be here, doing this, if it were not for Abby Mandel.  Our regards to her family and friends.

When the Local Beet was even less formative than it is now, Michael and I were tossing around some story ideas.  One thing that has interested us was the history of the local market movement in Chicago.  I found out from a friend’s bookcase, that Abby Mandel has been championing Midwestern foods for a lot longer than current trends indicate, and her 1996 book Celebrating the Midwest Table shows her eat local activities started well before that publication.   She was truly a head of her time.  More important, and sadly, she was still a bit a head of her time.

Those in the community depended so much on Abby Mandel’s passions and energies.  They looked to her for insight and guidance into unfulfilled projects such as a permanent public market in Chicago.  I am sure Ms. Mandel is encouraged by the growth of the local winter markets, but I am sure she would have wanted more.  We are still in the vanguard of a critical movement.  Abby Mandel was a role model.  We shall continue her fights.

Eat Local Forever

Posted: August 13, 2008 at 12:05 pm

Have you gone out and purchased a freezer?  It is easy to eat local now.  Can you eat local two months from now?  Four months from now?  All the way until the first asparagus sprout next May?  Forever?  We can eat local forever in the Chicago area through two vehicles.  We can shop for local even in the winter.  We can store away our local food.  I will cover winter shopping and winter storage more in depth soon.  In addition, the Local Beet will have some good advice on canning.  For now, I want to hit on a few key items, things that you should be stockpiling to further your eat local adventures.

The reasons for eating local do not only apply to a few food items like summer squash and tomatoes, even if the former seem omnipresent and the latter are (one of) the biggest reason to eat local.  No, eating local should apply to as much food as possible.  This includes the less glamorous parts of the repertoire like onions, garlic and potatoes.  These items form the base for many a meal.  They will be needed from now until forever.  Luckily, the farming zones near Chicago are ripe with these items.  It it is time to start stocking up on these items.

Through June or so, the local garlic was tender “green garlic”, a bit milder, you could use nearly the whole plant.  Green garlic resides in the fridge and is not meant to last the year.  The garlic you find now has been “cured” or dried and can last a good amount of time.  Start putting garlic away in your root cellar.

Onions can be categorized as fresh or keepers.  In the markets now, you will see a bit of both.  Keeper onions have dry, papery skins; fresh onions have thin, soft membrane-ish skins.  Fresh onions go in the fridge, where they will last but not that long.  Keepers go in your root cellar and last a good long time.

Like onions, potatoes can be designated keepers or not.  To be a keeper, the potato is cured, a process that firms up the skin and allows it to last many months.  Most of the potatoes around now are not keepers.  The fresh potatoes can still last a bit, just not that long.  Keep them as well in your root cellar.

OK, you have no root cellar.  Do you have a cellar, I mean basement at least?  Apartment dwellers have storage lockers.  The key for these items, more than anything, is dark.  Light will cause your potatoes to start turning green and your onions to sprout.  Keep them in the dark, and they will last, last you especially until more serious storage begins.  If you cannot find a dark room, just put them somewhere that becomes dark like a rolled up paper bag or cooler.  Onions need dry too, so do not store, say under a sink. 

While potatoes and alliums are required components to forever local, they are not good friends when too close to each other.  The gases emitted from onions can get the potatoes to spoil.  Ideally, you want your potatoes in a separate room from your onions, but that is probably not practical.  Keep them as far a part as possible.  Like I say, I’ll cover storage more as we get nearer to Fall, but for now, remember that keeper onions do not need much in the way of cool, while keeper potatoes want to be at around 40 degrees.

Do not just think about how you can eat local today.  Think about eating local forever by stocking up on onions, garlic and potatoes.

Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Local Food Tuesday, August 12th, 2008
Goose Island Beer Dinner at Vie Thursday, August 7th, 2008
Seven Generations Ahead Event: Local Craft Beers Thursday, August 7th, 2008
An Essential Eat Local Purchase Monday, August 4th, 2008
Eat Seasonal Food – The Only Guide That Matters Sunday, August 3rd, 2008