Chicago Downtown Farmstand

Posted: September 30, 2008 at 8:14 am

Sponsored by the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs, the Chicago Downtown Farmstand opens tomorrow at 66 E. Randolph.

The focus of the farmstand is to sell local products (produced within a 250-mile radius of Chicago). According to the Chicago Tribune, there will be five produce purveyors, 25 non-produce food sellers, as well as book stalls. This fall seems like it will be something of a pilot program as it will only be open for a couple (cold) months.

I have high hopes for a projects like this. Could it ultimately evolve into a full-fledged permanent public market to rival Milwaukee’s? I’ll stop by the farmstand on Wed. to check things out and report back.

Chicago Downtown Farmstand
66 E. Randolph St.

Tuesdays–Fridays, 11am – 7pm; Saturdays, 11am–4pm
Oct. 1 – Mid. December

Cucumbers, Now?

Posted: September 29, 2008 at 10:08 am

I know this is a very crass and bad analogy, but each year as the markets wind down, I feel a bit like Oskar Schindler.  Could I have eaten one more tomato, one more red pepper.  Last week, as I fixed up my birthday meal, I wanted to make the classic salad combination of cucumbers and tomatoes.  We still have many tomatoes in-house, but it turns out, we had no cukes.   I went to the Oak Park market a bit fearful that I had blown it, that my last taste of a good cucumber had come and gone, and I hardly noticed it.  Luckily, I was wrong.  I left the market with a few.

I also cannot get enough basil this year.  I have become quite addicted to its licorice-ish tang, and I add it to nearly all salads I make (including potato salads) as well as various pasta dishes.  From the small Catalina Farm stand at Oak Park, I got some basil, some cherry tomatoes, and some peppers in odd colors (purple, brown).  From Farmer Vicki’s Genesis Growers, I got my cucumber fix and more tomatoes as I know how perilous those are.  From the farm known simply as the Farm, we got a big white head of cauliflower.  Fruit is still in wide abundance and from Skibbes, we went crazy with peaches and raspberries and grapes (two types) and plums.  Last, from Nichols, we got my wife’s favorite apple, the Macoun.  At least with that, we know the season is a fleeting week or so.

Our CSA this week contained no melon, but was otherwise pretty good:

  • Arugula
  • Beets with greens
  • Apples
  • Squash (two types)
  • Red peppers
  • Eggplant
  • Eggs

Last week’s purchases here.

One Comment

The Weekly Harvest

Posted: September 26, 2008 at 9:33 am

The week in news and blogs in the world of local eating:

  • A CSA brings a blogger seasonal enjoyment. [Cincinnati Locavore]
  • Seven Arguments Against Local, Real Food … and Seven Answers []
  • Free online home food preservation course [The National Center for Home Food Preservation]
  • Experts say yearlong availability of produce distracts consumers from local, fresh foods [Lawrence Journal-World & News, Lawrence, KS]
  • The joys of free-range farm-fresh eggs [Gloucester Daily Times, Gloucester, MA]
  • Filling a kid’s lunchbox with local foods in North Carolina [The News & Observer, Chapel Hill, NC]
  • The 100-Mile Wedding [Times Colonist, Victoria, BC, Canada]
  • Eat Healthy? Buy Local [Greater Milwaukee Today]
  • Is being a locavore a bad thing? [Epicurious]

    In Which We Eat Watermelon

    Posted: September 24, 2008 at 8:50 am

    One key way this local family, at least the local children component of the local family, can manage local eating is by never tiring of apples.  Because apples both grow plentifully around here and store easily, the supply remains ample from Fall through Spring.  When there is no other local fruit, there are local apples.  And no matter how many apples a day the children get, they seem capable of eating another, a real boon to our localism.  Luckily, they are applying this same commitment to the fruit of the moment, watermelon.

    Last week our CSA box included a watermelon.  This gave us two un-opened melon and a third about two-thirds gone.  With another melon/feta salad on Sunday, we got down to only two full melons.  So, as with last week, the melons are going in the kid’s lunches each day.  If their ability to eat the same thing endlessly helps greatly their ability to eat local, their new found maturity in returning tupperware seals the deal, as each day’s melon allotment must be properly boxed so as not to get the rest of the lunch soggy.  After today’s lunch, I would guess about half of the dark green seedless melon remains.  When that is gone, we will tackle the vollyball sized striped melon.   Last in, first out.

    The rest of our CSA box last week (previous week here):

    • Red peppers
    • Mesclun
    • Eggplant
    • Tomatoes
    • Huge bag of thyme
    • Pears
    • Winter squash
    • Collard greens
    • Green beans
    • Six ears sweet corn
    • Dozen eggs

    From the Oak Park Farmer’s Market we made the following additional purchases:

    • Cherry tomatoes – Catalina Farm
    • Nectarines – Hardin Farms
    • Apples – Walt Skibbe
    • Cider vinegar – Jim Vitalo’s Herbally Yours

    One Comment

    Opening Open Produce

    Posted: September 24, 2008 at 8:38 am

    Opening today in Hyde Park is Open Produce, a store dedicated to providing fresh, sustainably produced produce to the community at affordable prices:

    We focus on sustainable food production, whether that be organic growing methods, local production, or efficient transportation.

    The interesting twist with Open Produce is not that they’re an independent store, but rather that they’ve made a commitment to be completely transparent with all aspects of their business:

    Our company also strives to set new standards of transparency and accountability to the community; everything about our operation, from our financial data to where our produce was grown, will be available on this website or in our store.

    As movements towards eating sustainably gain momentum, price concerns come to the forefront. I love Open Produce’s consumer-oriented approach and I hope it means a lot of success for them.

    Follow their blog at: and visit Open Produce (after 4pm on 9/24) at 1635 E 55th Street.

    Growing Power Awarded Genius Grant

    Posted: September 23, 2008 at 8:17 am

    Congratulations to Will Allen, founder and chief of Growing Power, on receiving a MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant”. For 15 years, Mr. Allen and Growing Power has supported urban communities through sustainable agriculture, education, and outreach. Mr. Allen started farming with Milwaukee teenagers and growing food directly for their communities. Today, Growing Power has expanded to urban farms in Chicago, as well as agricultural education centers throughout the U.S.

    This grant is a significant acknowledgement of the strong bond between a community and agriculture. Mr. Allen and Growing Power have used that bond to feed, educate, and inspire. With this $500,000 grant, we can continue to look for great things from Growing Power for years to come.

    Read the full article here.

    The Case Against Local Food

    Posted: September 21, 2008 at 3:08 pm

    Any food system that advertises fresher, tastier and more delicious food while simultaneously saving the earth and rescuing communities is bound to provoke a backlash.  Smart people have tried to rip apart the locavore idea(lism).   David Tamarkin in this week’s Time Out Chicago is one of the latest to go after a movement he calls “completely ill-conceived.”  Editor in Chief, Michael Morowtitz does a nice job tackling Tamarkin’s arguments, and Michael Gebert cleans up any rhetorical scrapes left-over.   Given that, I feel it is my duty to put up a better argument against local food.

    Take this telling anecdote from my wife who’s been helping out a bit in the Kitchen at Mado.  She asked Chef Rob Levitt why he had been on the phone so long.  “Farmer”, he said.  See anyone who spends more than a bit of time with farmers, whether at markets or whatnot, knows that farmers love to chat.  My children dislike farmer’s markets just for the fact that I spend too much time, seeming in their opinion, talking.  It’s not my fault I say, “the farmers.”  Since most local eaters find themselves so often at farmer’s markets, this chattiness issue can be a real problem.

    Local eaters can try to skip the difficulty of farmer’s markets by finding shops like Cassie’s Green Grocer.  Not only is Cassie friendly, but local-skeptical web sites like Gaper’s Block find her downright charismatic. That’s a scary factor about local eating, no?  That charisma might lure the wayward shopper into buying more local salsa, cultivated mushrooms, and Bruno’s pastries than they need.  Is not it true that local food is too expensive to begin with; what happens in in the face of such charisma?  Straight to the poor house.

    Expensive.  Local food is expensive.  No lie, a farmer, who I shall not name, offered a variety of red pepper at the market yesterday for $2 each.  Not even a big pepper.  $2!  Who buys $2 peppers?  I mean every week I look at the weekly inserts in the Chicago Tribune and I find local food that is accessible and affordable, but I am only looking at the inserts in the Oak Park edition.  I bolster my case by visiting the Angelo Caputo’s near me, with all sorts of local foods priced at under $1/lb, but do you have an Angelo Caputo’s near you.  Let’s just say local food is all about $2 peppers.

    Want to know what else sucks about local eating?  Cooking.  There’s nothing that puts a damper in the spirit of local eating than the need to have to cook it.  Believe me, I know.  I started out in love with local food.  I kept on buying it.  It forced me not only to eat it, but have to cook it too.  I mean I am into local food, not raw food.  You mock this argument.  Have you ever tried to cook.  When you watch Emeril or Iron Chef or Nigella Lawson (if you watch that one for the cooking), you rarely see the peeling, seeding, stemming, washing, spinning and otherwise ‘ing that it takes to make food ready to eat.  And time, do you really think it’s all thirty minute meals?Localvores point to the the sensual pleasures of eating their food, but do they ever point out that it has to be cooked too?

    I could go on.  People who subscribe to CSAs get things like collard greens and celery.  Who eats anything green these days, and if that’s bad enough, have you ever tried local celery?  It’s bad enough to find chickens that taste like chickens, eggs that taste like eggs, but what about celery that tastes like celery.  Were not some things meant to change. 

    David Tamarkin tries to explain a bit of his argument (while saying nice things about this site!) on Time Out’s Blog.  He confesses that his anti-local comes after trying a localvore challenge last year.  David, myself and my family, we’ve been trying it for several years.  Want to know the arguments against local.  Ask me.  I got plenty more.

    One Comment

    Another Rebuttal

    Posted: September 18, 2008 at 5:22 pm

    In a recent article, David Tamarkin of TimeOut Chicago joins the ranks of pundits launching full-fledged attacks at the concept of eating locally. His hypothesis rests on a fallacy where he states that people who choose to eat locally “choose to eat locally for two main reasons”, economic and environmental. He then goes on to attempt to trash these two motivations.

    I list five reasons on this site which include cultural reasons and simple taste as well. Eat Local Challenge links to ten reasons for eating local. On this site, I list my main reason for eating local as a pure love of “seasonality and small-batch, locally-produced foods”, a love I found through travel. By ignoring these primary motivations behind many locavores that I know, Tamarkin is guilty of two logical fallacies right off the bat: hasty generalization and cherry-picking.

    First he re-hashes Will Wilkinson’s argument that we should first buy from the neediest if we are economically well-intentioned. Nichol’s farm doesn’t need my five bucks that I spent on tomatoes today. By Tamarkin’s logic, the Mexican farmers need it more so I should buy Mexican. How far does this logic extend? Clothing? Cars? The workers in the U.S. manufacturing industry get significantly better wages and benefits than Chinese workers. Should I turn all my buying power towards Chinese-made products to ensure they continue to receive their wages? Or is it more ethical for me to withhold my purchase and say that I do not support a corrupt system that profits on the backs of its impoverished workers? These decisions are not as simple as saying, “They’re poor over there. Buy from them first.” Just as Wilkinson (and Tamarkin) state, it’s very complicated. Ultimately, I think it’s simply foolish to suggest that we out-source our food supply on a moral basis.

    Of course, there is nothing wrong with the moral desire to support struggling farmers in other far-flung locales. Equally, there is nothing wrong with the moral desire to support your own local economy where your friends, family, and neighbors all live and work.

    When it comes to economics, Tamarkin is appealing to emotion, effectively saying, “but what about the starving babies overseas?” This is not proof, but an appeal that doesn’t hold much water. I would still be interested in evidence that a percentage reduction in the import of Australian-grown oranges or Chilean-grown grapes would adversely affect the quality of life in those countries.

    Secondly, Tamarkin attacks the environmental argument that locally-grown food does not necessarily have a smaller carbon footprint than imported food. He points to an oft-quoted study that shows efficiencies in New Zealand-grown lamb are greater than that grown in England, a large lamb importer. Perhaps this makes sense if the British chose lamb to replace lamb, or never decided to implement any efficiencies locally. All things being equal, it may make sense to keep importing lamb. But a local eater will tell you to substitute some of your lamb eating with something efficient and bountiful from your own backyard.

    Finally, Tamarkin sets up a wild hypothetical as reason to question eating locally in Chicago:

    A similar situation in Chicago might look like this: While a tomato that was organically grown on an Illinois farm has a low impact on the environment, an organically grown tomato raised in an Illinois greenhouse—like some of the tomatoes sold in June at the Wicker Park Farmers’ Market—can be deceiving. They may be locally grown, but that term fails to reveal they were grown in a heavily heated, gas-guzzling greenhouse.

    I would like to know exactly which farms use gas-guzzling greenhouses. Even if he can come up with one, which I doubt he can, I would say that there are dozens and dozens who use nothing more than a heat-efficient, zero-energy hoop-house. The movement toward eating local goes beyond blindly choosing something with a “local” sticker on it, but getting to know your food and your farmer. Pointing out a pitfall doesn’t invalidate the path taken. Should a vegetarian give up their eating choice because it’s hard to tell which foods might have used chicken stock in a sauce? Or should they learn more about what they’re eating? I say the latter. Make informed choices.

    The fact of the matter is, and I dare anyone to dispute this, that if I choose to bring home Michigan peaches and Wisconsin cheese and Illinois beer from the market, that food didn’t travel nearly as far as Chilean grapes, California cheese, and New York wine. If it travels less, it uses less fuel. Even if those Chilean grapes are efficiently shipped in large containers, they still have to be grown, harvested, shipped to port, shipped, brought from port to distribution, and stocked. My peaches have to do the same thing, except you can cut out the entire trans-oceanic shipping process. Even Wal-Mart has recognized the fuel and cost savings in sourcing their food closer to their stores.

    Overall, Tamarkin’s attack borders on vitriolic at times, which is disappointing, painting locavores as selfish and lacking reason. Unfortunately his arguments are completely devoid of reason. To attack with such anger with hypotheicals and appeals to emotion is specious at best. His argument is flawed from the beginning by making a false statement about the motivations of locavores and he does a poor job of knocking down the motivations that he picked like ripe Michigan cherries.

    Mr. Tamarkin, to use your words, this article was “completely ill-conceived”.

    Is Local Still Affordable and Accessible

    Posted: September 17, 2008 at 8:43 am

    Yes.  Yes, yes, especially if you like apples, but yes, based on the inserts in the Oak Park Edition of the Chicago Tribune and visits to the Angelo Caputo’s location in Elmwood Park, there remains local food to be found around town.  Let’s go to the papers.

    Before hitting the whats, let me say that the how much works too.  All of the local mentioned below is priced at under $1/lb, and there are big bargains, like apples at Caputo’s for 59 cents/lb.  Affordable?  Check.

    For Dominicks, with many area stores, and Tony’s Finer Foods, with four locations; local means Michigan apples.  For Ultra Foods, with six area locations, local also means apples but also green beans and Michigan peaches.  Ultra ties reigning Champion Angelo Caputo’s, with six area stores, for local this week.  Caputo’s advertises local cabbage, apples and string beans.  Total losers this week are Jewel and Food4Less, with no local food advertised.  On a whole, though, accessible holds.

    That’s the scorecard based on the inserts, what about in-store.  I can gladly report that the local remains very high at Caputo’s.  They are still selling Michigan tomatoes, by the pound and by the bushel.  They sell local eggplant, summer squash, cucumbers, various peppers, grapes and peaches–at least.  I would look for these types of items at your neighborhood grocery.  In addition, there is an excellent chance that you will find Wisconsin potatoes and local onions around.  Do start stocking up.

    This is the time for reaping and storing.  The Local Beet should have its guide up soon.  Even before you read the guide, note that green beans freeze well, cucumbers and eggplants make excellent pickles and relishes, and apples, potatoes and onions can be easily stored in someplace cool and dark.  For those a bit more capable or at least more adventurous, tomatoes can be canned or dried.   Additional instruction and insight is available at Cassie’s Green Grocer, where Melissa Graham will teach a class on preserving the harvest tonight ( September 17) at 6 PM.

    There will come a time when local will not be quite as accessible and affordable.  The easiest way to deal with those times is to shop heavily now.

    One Comment

    Downtown Farmstand

    Posted: September 16, 2008 at 5:21 pm

    The Chicago Tribune’s Stew reports today that a modified [ed., very!] version of a public market will be opening downtown, in the same building now hosting the latest incarnation of the Block 57 art projects (66 E. Randolph, across from the Cultural Center).

    The current plan is to have an ever-changing roster with at least 5 growers of produce, 25 non-produce products and 10 books, plus special items and Chicago favorites. Expect the mix to evolve.

    I have mixed feelings about said effort. I have been long encouraging a public market in Chicago. One not as, well, real as Cleveland’s or Seattle’s, but at least in the vein of what they are trying in Minneapolis and Milwaukee. It would be good for the locavore and the farmer to have a fixed, year round, market. One featuring not just produce but an array of local products such as meat and milk. It would especially solve the issue of fresh meat for the local consumer.

    My misgivings with this project are that it is both incomplete and in competition with private efforts such as Cassie’s Green Grocer and Marion Street Cheese. I want something grand. What exactly will be on offer here.  The press release (as reported) makes it sound more like a mini-farmer’s market.  We are the city of Daniel Burnham, no? Make no small markets. Then, make it fair and real. A real public market has an equal system that allows vendors to sign-up at market rates. Who has the skin in this game. You have people, like Cassie, who have made investments. This hardly seems fair.

    Like I say, there’s a lot of me that is happy about this; happy to have something, a start, a market there all the time. Yet there is another part of me that does not like much of what is happening here.

    One Comment

    Chicago Public Radio on CPS Local Lunches

    Posted: September 16, 2008 at 8:11 am

    As part of their long-running Chicago Matters series, Chicago Public Radio reports today on a pilot program to bring fresh (and in some cases, local) fruits and vegetables to Chicago Public School lunches.

    It’s an interesting and comprehensive piece that touches on nutrition and health standards, fuel costs, food supply, tastes of children, and even simple food preparation issues. It all stems from this simple statement:

    Last year the district and its main food service company Chartwells Thompson Hospitality decided to put fresh fruits and vegetables on the menu twice a week.

    I applaud CPS for taking on this challenge and confronting the associated issues head on. Systemic changes, especially related to eating, are not easy and often find resistance from surprising forces.

    For anyone interested in how social services close to home are confronting issues related to food, this Chicago Public Radio piece is worth a listen (or read).

    Does Your Localvore Challenge Include a CSA Box

    Posted: September 15, 2008 at 2:56 pm

    I hope your challenge is coming along fine.  Were your plans, like mine, to visit a farmer’s market this weekend lost to rain?  To some extent, the last few days, we have been living off of the existing bounty in the Bungalow.  We still have tons of tomatoes.  We dipped into the bag of sweet potatoes we purchased a few weeks ago at the Evanston Farmer’s Market and also dipped into a bag of white potatoes picked up earlier this summer.  We cut into a watermelon that has been on the dining room for several (don’t ask) weeks.  It was fine.  It shows how you cannot just jump into local eating.  Also, luckily for me and my family, we have a CSA box to ensure a new supply of local food.  From Farmer Vicki’s Genesis Growers:

    • Heirloom tomatoes
    • Baby lettuce bag
    • Spinach bag
    • Apples
    • Red bell peppers
    • Green beans
    • Spaghetti squash
    • 2 chickens
    • 12 eggs (I think I forget to mention this each week)

    I have always tout Cas for their ancillary benefits.  They put you in touch with a farmer, allowing farm visits and whatnot.  You get inside to make deals such as for off-season products or limited edition products like Vicki’s eggs.  There are other obvious points to a CSA, mainly the idea of providing money to a farmer when he or she most needs it, balancing out the books and sharing the risks.  Still, at the end of the day, there is the key point that regardless of the weather, regardless of anything else, there will be local food waiting for you each week.

    Our other purchase this week was more Michigan tomatoes from Caputo’s for canning, about 20 lbs worth.  We bought local milk at Whole Foods.  Finally, our local haul was enhanced by a generous donation from the garden of David C. Hammond.  From there we got hot peppers, celery, sage, parsley, kale, carrots, and leeks. 

    Last week’s local here.

    One Comment

    All Wet – Days 4 & 5 of the Localvore Challenge

    Posted: September 14, 2008 at 11:24 am

    How is your challenge going?  Did your shopping get rained out yesterday?  You might be able to find a dry spell today to do some market shopping.  As always, the Illinois Department of Agriculture’s Agrihappenings site is the best place to find area markets.  I am well familiar with the Logan Square Market and the Wicker Park market, and both can meet your fruit and vegetable needs for the ongoing challenge.  What can you do otherwise.

    If you expected to find Jessica Volpe’s fresh pastas at the Edgewater Green Market on Saturday, how about instead RP Pasta made in Madison, Wisconsin and sold at Whole Foods. 

    If you love the Blue Marble Dairy sold at Green City Market, you will probably just as much like the equally shakeable Farmer’s All Natural Creamery milk widely sold around town, including any decent Polish market.

    If you love the Sugar River yogurt from Wisconsin (my wife and I surely do) and usually carried along by the Blue Marble guys, then you will also love what my wife calls her crack, the Trader’s Point Creamery yogurt sold at Cassie’s Green Grocer.

    If you were proud of Joe Burns for having one of his cheeses included in Wine Spectator’s 100 Great Cheeses but really wanted to get a slab of his Brun-uusto “bread cheese”, you can find a similar product from Carr Valley, called just bread cheese, at Costcos.

    If you want local apples, peaches, cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes, cabbage, peppers, celery, lettuce and probably a few other local things, you can visit the six outlets of Angelo Caputo.

    And if all else fails, you have Monday’s Farm Dinner at Lula’s [linked menu is last week's farm meal].

    The New Marion Street Cheese Market

    Posted: September 14, 2008 at 8:15 am

    On the eve of the “soft opening” of the expanded and more elegant Marion Street Cheese Market in Oak Park, I walk into a tempest of activity: shelves being stocked, sales reps on the hunt, curious neighbors nosing around. Chatting with owner Erik Larson, I cut straight to the chow:

    What kind of food do you plan to serve in your new café?

    LARSON: Our chef, Mike Pivoney, has a mantra: “don’t fuss with the food.” We let high-quality ingredients do most of the work; our job is to enhance and highlight the inherent deliciousness of local food. We’re very excited, for instance, about offering cheese platters featuring any of our almost 100 artisanal cheeses with house-made chutneys and jellies and flights of wine or regional draft beers.

    Deliciousness is primary, but do customers care about where food comes from?

    LARSON: People right now do care a lot about where their food comes from, and not just for reasons of taste or health; people want a connection. We work very hard to build relationships with local producers. We connect consumer and farmer. We create a community where good food and information can be shared.

    Do you feel that part of your role as cheese monger, and now restaurateur, is to “educate” the consumer?

    LARSON: Oh, absolutely, and customers crave education. They want to know more about their food. That’s why we’ve set up a stage, screen and podium in our café – we’ll bring in farmers, vintners, and of course cheese makers, to talk about their craft, so that people can learn more and eat better.

    A view of the cheese case at Marion Street

    A view of the cheese case at Marion Street

    By bringing together producers and consumers, you’re actually shortening the food chain, but ironically now you’ve become the only middle man standing between producers and consumers. So couldn’t customers simply go around you and create a one-to-one relationship with those who grow their food?

    LARSON: It’s very hard for producers to sell directly to consumers, and my feeling is that the more people who get excited about fresh food from local farms, the more they’ll value what we’re doing. We’re all part of the same community, and we’re after the same thing: good-tasting regional food.

    Who are your food philosophers?

    LARSON: Well, one person who’s influenced me a lot is Carlo Petrini, and in keeping with Slow Food principles, I’m serving vegetables and herbs I grow in my own garden –you can’t get more local than that! Later this year, Leslie Cooperband of Prairie Fruits Farm will be doing a few classes on container gardening and urban agriculture. Now, you might think that if people grow their own food, then that also cuts into my business, but I don’t agree. If people are growing their food, and developing relationships with the land, then we’re all part of a shared community of interests. We all want good food.

    One of Slow Food’s central tenets is that food should be buono, pulito e giusto: good, clean and fair. How do cleanliness and fairness play into your buying decisions?

    LARSON: If producers treat their people poorly, they cannot be relied upon to treat their products well. If farm hands are treated like dirt, it’s likely you’ll get a dirty product. We want our producers to treat their staff well, so we visit farms, we see how they’re run, and if people and animals are treated unfairly, we walk. A producer’s ethics extend throughout theirbusiness. We want to be fair too, and a lot of bigger operations would say we’re crazy, but we never ask for volume discounts: producers tell us what they need to run a sustainable operation, and we try to make it work because we’re in this together.

    How else do you pull through the green theme?

    LARSON: We doing as much as we can. For instance, we give employees a discount at Green Home Experts (an eco-conscious store in Oak Park) so they can bring good, clean and just practices home with them in the form of environmentally friendly cleaning products and other household goods. Most of our furniture here is made of sustainable or recycled raw materials; our kitchen appliances carry Energy Star ratings, and we’re working with local grade schools on a composting program to help us achieve a zero-waste kitchen.

    Would you say your restaurant is a model for green living?

    LARSON: I hope it is. Customers have asked us where they can source local and sustainable products for their homes. I’d like to think that, as a part of this community, we’re setting a good example. We believe in what we’re doing, and we’re hoping that others share that belief.

    Not to sound pretentious and preposterous, but how will the Marion Street Cheese Market change the world?

    LARSON (laughing):
    We want to provide a forum for people who enjoy getting together to share ideas and food, and that could be a lecture or an organized discussion, or maybe it’s just a casual conversation over wine and one of Chef Mike’s pizzas. In our humble way, we’re building community – a community of people who love good food – with every customer we talk to and every cheese we slice.

    Marion Street Cheese Market
    100 S. Marion
    Oak Park, IL
    Phone 708.725.7200
    Hours: M-Th 6:30a-10:30a
    Fri 6:30a – 11:30
    Sat 8a-11:30p
    Sun 9a-9p

    Localvore Challenge – Find Your Food

    Posted: September 12, 2008 at 9:31 am

    Eat local food.  It tastes better.  Day 3 of the Localvore Challenge should have you convinced of that.  After three days though, are you in need of stocking up.  Chicago’s Green City Market provides much for the budding locavore: fruit, veg, milk, eggs, chicken, lamb; for the period of the challenge Green City has added like a farmer selling dried beans.  It is a good place to shop for eating local.  Where else can you shop.

    There are many farmer’s markets in the state of Illinois.  The State of Illinois produced an excellent web site, organized by day, covering these markets.  There is no better way to find area markets.  If you want to find a farmer’s market in Wisconsin, here’s the site to do it.

    Michael and I believe, more than anything, in the idea of being Practically Local.  We love farmer’s markets, the way they introduce consumers to the best in local foods, and also they way they put consumers best in touch with the people who make the food.  Still, on a practical sense, farmer’s markets cannot meet everyone’s local food needs.  For one thing, as often as the Agrihappenings site shows markets occur, they might not occur when you need them.  For another thing, do they sell all of the things you need to make your diet complete.  It helps to know about stores that specialize in local food.  No store more specializes in local food than Cassie’s Green Grocer.  Daily, you will find the same fruits and vegetables found at farmer’s markets (purchased from the same farmers), but you will find much else to make your diet complete.  She sells local beef, lamb and chicken.  She has local eggs.   She even has local ice cream, the outstandingly excellent Trader’s Point Creamery.  The newly expanded Marion Street Cheese Market in Oak Park does not share Cassie’s singular focus on local; they actually carry stuff from over-seas! but their selection of local foods is high.  Not only can you find, I believe, the largest range of artisanal local cheeses.  For instance, you can find there the Hidden Springs Creamery sheep milk cheeses which go so well with seasonal tomatoes.  Marion Street Cheese also sells an array of local products that will add luxury and elegance to your meals.  Local food does not have to be boring, or worse ascetic.  From Marion Street, get Iowa bred and made prosciutto (La Querica) to jazz up your market melon.   Make your local greens that much more tasty with some of the Nueske slab bacon sold there.

    Green Grocer and Marion Street Cheese are two stores I love.  I love nearly as much, finding local in my neighborhood grocery.  I do not walk into Fox & Obel too often, but the last time I was there, about a month ago, they were selling a lot of local.  I do tend to visit Whole Foods more often.  Myself and others tend to focus on the limited local produce, but Whole Foods has a large collection of local dairy.  They sell local meats from Wisconsin’s Organic Pasture.  I have found local at the dollar store, including big bags of Wisconsin potatoes, and I have found local at Costco, especially Michigan fruit.  Local is where you find it.

    The challenge of the Locavore Challenge should not be in finding food.  The Challenge is instead about making choices.  Chose local by shopping at farmer’s markets and the stores that focus on local, but just as important, chose local when you have options.  Look at labels.  Ask questions.  Right now, your grocery may have asparagus stocked next to sweet corn.  Which one do you buy.

    Ruhlman on Local and Affordable Friday, September 12th, 2008
    Affordable Accessible Watch Thursday, September 11th, 2008
    Eat Local Flour Wednesday, September 10th, 2008
    The Localvore Challenge Wednesday, September 10th, 2008
    Local Overload Monday, September 8th, 2008
    Green City Market’s Locavore Challenge Monday, September 8th, 2008
    Examiner on True Nature Foods Monday, September 8th, 2008
    Local Remains Accessible and Affordable Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008
    Return to the Farmer’s Market Monday, September 1st, 2008