The Late News, Near Scoop and Other Un-Reported Reportage from Family Farmed Expo

November 29, 2008 at 10:56 am

Rob Gardner

Had to get out the shopping tips, had to give my drink ideas, and then had to be extra thankful.  The Thanksgiving week required a full potpourri of blog posts (and what I could not fit here, I’ve been blogging up a storm at VI).  And I bet, all this time, you’ve been wondering, what DID happen at the Family Farmed Expo (for those who could not make it).

Out of everything, the presentations, the pork belly at the party, the patter with Holly and Lauren at the media table, the thing that excited me the most was the turkey.  See one of the more frustrating facts of eating local is deli meats.  I want to pack the children a local lunch each day, but beyond the apple and the watermelon radish, where’s the local.  Oh, we have our Nueske ham and Wisconsin cranberry cheese, but what else?  Turkey, from these guys outta Michigan.  They know how to sell me.  Ingredients: turkey, salt.  Look forward to local deli turkey at Whole Foods around town.

If I lead first, always, with my gut, I’ll go next with my heart.  Both Will Allen and Ken Dunn, two men I greatly admire, said (with more authority) the thing(s), I am always saying, at least to my wife.  That is, enough with the aspirations, enough with the planning committees, the commissions, the blue ribbon studies.  We need doers not just planners.   Somewhat strong words given where they where said.  I hope they are right though.  Both men live by example, and deserve their strong reputations from what they do, not just what they talk about.  Still, at the end of the day, I heard much talk at the Expo on goals and targets and very little on actual steps to making these number.   We just cannot wish a local food system in Illinois.

Which gets us to Cassie and Peter and a few others speakers speaking about retail.  Cassie very much challenged Peter (of Stanley’s on Elston) over inventories.  How could the new, skinny kid on the block know how to fill her store with local food, when the South Water veteran’s displayed little clue?  And we wonder why not more local food in Illinois.  Step 1.  Get it in the stores.

Enough for the diatribes, I hoped to blog more from the Expo, but I was too busy eating fair trade chocolate and talking papples with Oriana.  Bill Daley at the Trib’s Stew easily beat me to the story of Rick Bayless and the White House Rose Garden.  Here’s the thing, Daley says that Bayless was ”clearly ready when a woman in the audience asked him about the White House.”  I say he sounded not that all unconvinced that taking the job would not be a decent way to spend the next couple of years.  After all, for lunch on Saturday, my wife and I decided to hit the Macy’s 7th floor food court.  Who would be up there tasting salsas and instructing the staff, but Mr. Bayless himself.  I cannot imagine that’s how he likes to spend his time these days.

And speaking of breaks, how many people besides me decide that the best way to get away from a farm expo is to visit a farm store. I’ve complained a bit on this site about the downtown farmstand, but after last week’s visit, I can report that they’ve improved their stock. I especially like that someone’s discovered Amish in the City’s buying department.  The Downtown Farmstand now has home made egg noodles and apple butter and ingredient free butter from NE Indiana.  They’ve also picked up a few good local cheeses including Hidden Springs Creamery’s fresh “driftless”.  Last, the farmstand had produce from downstate’s Ackerman farm, meaning there will be actual produce for many weeks at this market.  More news: the farmstand is supposed to have their lease extended another month, into January.

Green City Market made it very clear that they will be around all winter.  Their plan, when produce is lean, to focus on other local foods.  One month the focus will be on cheese, another month the focus will be on whole beast eating.  I’ll have more on this soon.

Another person, or people, who are doing, not talking, Leah Caplan and the folks up in Washington Island.  They’ve planted wheat and distilled booze.  I really liked when Caplan said that the Death Door spirts were supposed to taste like Wisconsin.

Overall, it was an enjoyable way to spend the weekend.  I did my part to support the vendors, coming home with chocolate covered dry cherries and chocolate bars and goat cheese and Asian pears and winter squash.  I learned a bit, even from my fellow panelists.  I learned that Will Allen is even taller in person.  Bill Kurtis can turn his wonderful pipes on and off, maybe at will.  We need action.  We need action.  I hope you join me at next year’s Expo.