The Local Family Adds a Member

Posted: March 31, 2009 at 9:00 am

I might seem all food all the time, but at least some know I’m a bit more varied.  I mean nothing gets me more animated than a good rant over the morning paper, and my moods surely ebbed and flowed all fall based on what Rassmussen, Silver and the rest had to say that day.  Then, there’s poker, especially computer poker to fill my hours.  Occasionally, I focus on my more real job performing business background investigations and asset searches.  What I’m getting at is, forgive today’s digression.  It has little to do with local food.  We spent the better part of yesterday getting a new dog.  Molly.

It’s been over two years since we owned a dog, or since we had a dachshund, I should say, we were owned by a dog.  Shatzi lived a long, long life, especially for a dog that just inched past your ankles.  The younger girls hardly knew Shatzi in his prime, when we could work him out by having him chase a ball down a flight of stairs.  For them, Shatzi was mostly a dog with vision clouded by cataracts, ears that never worked great in his best days, and bursitis that acted up when things got dank.  Shatzi fit into our locavore lifestyle.  We could leave him alone while we perused the markets.  It took only a few check-ins from a friend to leave Shatzi alone while we went to some place like Madison.  So, when everyone recovered from the loss of Shatzi, I held out, insisting a dog did not fit well into the way we lived.

We have decided though, this Spring Break, to adjust.  To make it work.  Having failed at getting that ideal Vegas package and resisting my wife’s urge to try Philadelphia, we had time on our hand.  On Friday we said yes to dog.  On Saturday we were checking out the animals at the Cicero shelter (as we had a friend who just got a dog there).   There, we found the prettiest, most unique looking dog, who very quickly took to us.  We would have taken her home that day.  What did we know from Catahoula Leopard dogs anyways.  Would not it be cool to have the only tree climbing dog in the hood?

Five minutes on Google took the wind out of that sail.  “Hunts feral pigs” and “best suited for rural environments” being the two phases that stuck in my craw.  Then, of all things, we ran into someone we knew, someone, probably the only other person in Oak Park with a Catahoula.  Oh, she loved hers even if loving meant an hour a night having it chase down a laser dot until she could not handle it anymore.  We’d try too.  Then, we went to the ‘net again.  “Best suited for rural areas…”  We’d try another shelter.

A lot of people at the Anti-Cruelty yesterday for the rescued pups.  We avoided the Miniature Pincher crowds, but that left only a few to choose.  We chose Bam, a Shepard, Chow, Pit, what-not that was probably as close, energy-wise to the Catahoula anyways.  The stability of a dachshund just did not seem in the cards for us.  We went through the very long process to get Bam only to be told at the end that Anti-Cruelty did not believe Bam would work well with Moe our cat.  Frankly, they feared Bam would eat Moe the cat.  We moved on to PAWS.

Long story short, we settled in soon on Molly, one parts lab, two parts hound dog, who, oddly enough, is also about as high energy as a dog can be.  10 months of puppy power in a rather large size already.  We did not turn back as we went through the awfully long process in takes PAWS to process you.  About 8:30 last night, the Bungalow welcomed a new member.  Although Moe is still a bit wary.


Local Mess

Posted: March 30, 2009 at 11:08 am

To eat local, it goes, you have to cook.  It also goes, not as often said, that to eat local, you also have to clean.   On Sunday, we did something we pretty much never do on Sundays, we cooked two complete meals.  And believe you-me, two meals is something like five messes.   Dealing with the messes is the hardest part of eating local (I think).

It starts, of course, with the raw materials.  As I am so wont to say, local ingredients come completely unprepared.  So, your local cleaning starts with the peelings and other scraps.  From our meals yesterday, that included a cabbage heart, lemon peels, rocket stems, and mushroom trimmings, and we did not make anything scrap heavy like potatoes or eggs.  Our compost pile builds fast.

We do not go the full-on TV Foodnetwork a bowl for everything mis-en-place, but I’d say, again, the nature of cooking from scratch, from local ingredients, lends one to more bowls, pans and sheets than a Stouffer’s micro-meal.  Lunch included one large sheet pan that held marinating chicken, plus a bowl where I had made the marinade, a roasting pan and cooling rack as a make-shift broiling unit; a cast iron frying pan for the cabbage.  Dinner required a pot for pasta and large skillet for the sauce.  There were knives and cutting boards and cheese graters and such used as well.  All that needed to be cleaned.

Serving meals, I make it more difficult than my wife.  Dinner was her, and she dished up the pasta straight from the bowl.  I’m a platter guy.  I had the fried cabbage in one, but got thrifty when I combined the broiled chicken and rocket in another.  Of course dinner featured a green salad and that required our large wooden salad bowl as well as four smaller wooden salad plates. 

Cake, the pleasure of eating at home was emphasized with leftover cake that we had from our baker friend Joan.  Cake meant four more plates and another set of forks.  Then, since we were also at home, Mom and Dad could enjoy a little tipple of Kentucky bourbon.  More glasses.

I am not lying.  The hardest thing about eating local, more than the finding food, more than the peeling beets, more than the never-ending compost pile, the hardest thing is the mess.

Early Harvest

Posted: March 29, 2009 at 2:59 pm

“How did your (name your vegetable) produce so early?”

Swiss chard

Swiss chard

It’s usually me asking that questions at the farmers’ market. My little farm in Michigan is a little cooler in the spring than farms on Illinois’ prairie. We’re only a mile inland from the lake, which is a little cold this time of year, and those winds on Friday coming from the northwest were a little nippy.

Curly Kale under a frost blanket

Dwarf curly kale under a frost blanket

I pulled back the frost blankets I laid last autumn on the curly kale and rainbow swiss chard to discover beautiful baby greens. I harvested them, rinsed them in cold water, then spun them through my five-gallon salad spinner (from a restaurant supply store). I packed quite a few bags and stored them in a cooler for Saturday morning’s farmers’ market at the Pilgrim Church in Oak Park.

Curly Kale

Dwarf curly kale, exposed

Back in the garden I dug up as much garlic plants as I could. Though most of my garden was dry enough to rototill the garlic is planted in a low, mucky spot that I can’t work in the early spring. It’s a crop that should be planted in autumn so they can form larger bulbs for the next year’s harvest. So there I was, my boots making a slurpy noise with each step, digging with my pitchfork and gently pulling the tender garlic plants out of the ground. A quick wash with the hose and a quick trim of the tendrils coming from the roots (and frozen fingers in the cold water and air) I counted and banded as many bunches as I could before the sun went down. Carefully placed in a bag and into the cooler. I took deep wiffs of that wonderful garlic scent, imagining customers making pesto, stir-frys, or soups with those delicate baby garlic leaves.

Saturday morning at the market as I set up my display, including the remnants of my winter hand-spun yarns that were selling slowly with the warming weather, a fellow farmer vendor from Illinois asked me how my garlic grew so large. Garlic greens on his farm, he explained, were half that size. A lot of customers and vendors also asked if I used hoop houses or a green house. No, I answered. I just planned for an early spring by leaving frost blankets on the cold weather crops last fall, which also extended my 2008 growing season by a month. Here I’ll admit I’m a little baffled that the row cover worked that well on the kale and chard. On top of that, the garlic was exposed to the elements.

Usually the colder springs in Michigan mean I’m a week or two behind Illinois farmers and gardeners. Daffodils, for example, come later for me. And lilacs. I love lilacs and am impatient for their scent.

This week I will take those fruit tree trimmings and force them, in water, to bloom. I’m looking forward to the gentle scent of apple blossoms. Anything to distract me from the sore muscles I’m developing from farming after a too-long winter and ignoring my cardio-machine.

What Snow Makes Me Think About

Posted: March 29, 2009 at 11:04 am

Having sat through a couple of 10 PM newscasts last week, I can say that weather interests a lot of people.  For me, I used to care about nothing more than what it would be like the instant I stepped out, but there are people with serious interest in high pressure systems, isobars and dew points.  Or is it just civic pride we take in our awfulness.   Now, as a committed locavore, I take intense interest in the weather too.

Do we think about the same things when it snows in late March.  I’ll tell you what I think about.  Apples.  I always think about apples.   If we want a fresh local fruit from November until late May it pretty much has to be an apple.*  And to ensure that this happens, this Local Family purchased a boatload of apples in the fall.  We stored them with great success in our root cellar in the sky, our attic.  As long as it stays cool to cold outside, there’s more than an apple a day for the fruit ravenous kids and the rest of us.  Weather creeps into the 60′s and I think how can I get my wife to make membrillo.  Still, when it snows in late March, I think not of my apples now, I think of my apples to come.

Last week when I was learning all things cider in Wisconsin, I chatted with Peter Klein of Seedlings Farm.  He fretted about his trees a-bloomin’ with unseasonable warmth in Michigan.  Whatever happened, the apples could probably survive, but what about more sensitive fruits.  It’s only the Lake Michigan micro-climate that gains us local apricots in the first place, and then a bit of weather mish-mash, and the farmers wonder why they thought that in the first place.  Late season frost killed our local apricot crop two years ago.  It also played havoc on the local pear crop, event though pears are a bit more Northern-centric. 

It did not make her happy, but my wife allowed herself to be resigned to no pears in 07. She promised no dedication to the eat local cause if it happened again in 08.  She got her fill of pears and other local orchard fruit last summer.  How will this late season snow affect our happy marriage?

*Stored pears are around for a while and there’s the occasional indoor grown berry; so it’s not all apples, local.

Local Calender for Around March 27, 2009

Posted: March 27, 2009 at 3:56 pm

This is the last weekend for a long time that the Local Calender will be urging you to attend one of the Winter Markets organized by Robin “Winter” Schirmer and the Churches Center for Land and People.   From November through now, when you thought the idea of local food was something for Alice Waters and her Californianiks, Robin and crew showed that local always happened here too.  You never knew what could be there week to week.  Markets featured leftover fruit, apples from Michigan farms like Seedlings and the newly grown fruit, crops of indoor strawberries and raspberries.  Same with veg; over the course of the winter she had still viable stuff from farmers like Genesis Growers, beets, potatoes, carrots as well as indoor grown crops including more than once, zucchini.  There was always breads and canned goods and mushrooms; ice cream, sorghum corn; best there was always some way to taste from the Ackerman’s eggrolls to the market brunches to even a dinner.   Come say thanks for doing all this at the last market of the year, Saturday, Oak Park, Pilgrim Church (460 Lake), from 9 until 1.  Don’t forget the brunch.

After you’ve had your brunch, head off to Green City Market.  It may be the other in their every other off-season schedule, but they’ve decided to go for it this weekend too.  Based on Twitter intel, there may be ramps and there should be an array of stuff from the genius’s at Growing Power. 

And more from my number one source of media insider-ness; Cassie has this to say on her Twitter: “Fresh local products from three different Illinois farms! Lettuce, baby spring mix, stir fry mix, kale, collards, chard, and green onions!”  Tell her I told you to stop by her Green Grocer.

Martha and friends, including the Beets ow Vera cook soup for the last of their soup and bread fundraisers for the Chicago Food Depository on Wednesday April 1 at the Hide Out.  Proceeds to to the Greater Chicago Food Depository.  Details here.

And…I have to run, so when I can, I’ll update.  Please add to the listings in the comments.

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School Milk Campaign

Posted: March 26, 2009 at 8:10 pm

Guest editorial by Dan Cannon, the Chicago Field Organizer for Food and Water Watch

When purchasing milk at a grocery store, more and more consumers are choosing organic milk or at least milk that does not contain recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH). Consumers are avoiding milk that was produced by cows injected with rBGH because of health concerns, both for the cows and also for themselves.

Luckily, as consumers we have the choice to purchase and drink rBGH-free milk. Unfortunately, school children do not. This is why Food and Water Watch, a nonprofit consumer organization that works to ensure clean water and safe food, is running the “School Milk” Campaign.

What are the risks of rBGH? In 1993 an agriculture company called Monsanto created rBGH to increase milk production within cows. Cows that are injected with rBGH have a greater risk of developing mastitis, an infection of the udders. These infections result in more antibiotics being used, with some researchers questioning links to antibiotic resistance in farm-borne human pathogens.

Why else is rBGH bad for humans? Injections of rBGH increase another powerful hormone in the cow and the cow’s milk, called IGF-1. Numerous studies indicate that IGF-1 survives human digestion. Too much IGF-1 in humans is linked with increased rates of colon, breast and prostate cancer. Although further research is necessary to determine whether there is a hard link between rBGH in milk and increased IGF-1 in humans, a potential linkage should make consumers think twice.

Evan large corporations are beginning to listen to consumers’ concerns. Companies like Wal-Mart, Starbucks, and Chipotle have all stopped selling rBGH milk. As a result our public school lunch programs have become the last remaining market, the dumping ground, for rBGH milk.

Here in Chicago the School Milk campaign is working with local school districts to inform them of problems associated with this tainted milk and ask them to switch to rBGH-free milk. Specifically Glenview School District 34 and Oak Park School District 97 have been informed that the milk they serve is produced with rBGH. This might come as a surprise to some, but even more surprising is the fact that the Chicago Public School District is rBGH-free. CPS is the third largest school district in the United States and unlike most school districts across the country they have added very specific language in their bid solicitation for milk providers, stating that they will only accept bids for rBGH-free milk. CPS is setting a national example, showing rBGH-free milk is not only available to schools but affordable.

Nationally the School Milk Campaign is urging legislators to support giving our schools the clear choice to buy rBGH-free and organic milk by adding clarifying language to the Child Nutrition Act, which is up for reauthorization this summer. Food and Water Watch is asking Senator Durbin to be a champion for healthy, rBGH-free milk in our schools.

As a constituent you can take action by signing this petition. Our children deserve the healthiest milk available.

Some Seedy Success

Posted: March 26, 2009 at 7:28 pm


This is the mesclun and spinach box, in all its leafy glory, basking in the bay window. For the sake of journalistic integrity, I concede that this photo was retouched to remove some hardware and a water sprayer. But no green was added. Well, I upped the brightness to make it look like a sunny day. And I tweaked the contrast to intensify the green. But the plastic tub looks as hacked and mangy as the day I shredded it in two with a utility knife.

The lettuce remains the bright spot in an otherwise struggling bay window agro-economy. Of the 50 eggplant and tomato seeds we planted, only a single sprout emerged after three weeks. The lonely little eggplant that could looked so determined among her slumbering sisters that she inspired me to buy some seed starter and top off the tomatoes, adding the remainder of the seeds from the Burpee package I picked up at a local drug store out of expediency. Not that I feel the need to justify my action.

A word of explanation: months ago we began saving empty paper towel and toilet paper tubes, which the boys and I cut down to fit into a shoebox and a Clementine crate. What the arrangement lacked in elegance it made up for in utter shabbiness. Carefully spooning potting soil into each tube, we sprayed the soil with water, tucked in the seeds, covered and watered them again. The boxes sat on a rubber boot mat in the sunny bay window (augmented with a lamp) and covered with an old window pane on to simulate a greenhouse.


So what went wrong? Too cold? Too hot? Bad seeds? Bad gardener? Too chintzy? Probably all of that. But it’s a minor loss, so I’m not heartbroken. Instead, we unceremoniously threw down the new seeds and covered the tubes in plastic wrap.

And of course, several of the original tomato seeds burst through the new seed starter layer the next day. So we now have three tomato sprouts, one healthy eggplant and another eggplant that can’t quite decide whether to poke through the soil and straighten up. Plus the newest tomato seeds, which still stand a fighting chance. Regardless, reinforcements are on the way. We’ve already ordered a batch of Casper variety eggplant seeds. (The fruit will be white, like a friendly ghost. Get it?).

My initial instinct over the winter was to wait until spring and buy flats from a gardening store. Based on the success with the lettuce and spinach, and based on farmer Vera’s recommendation, we placed an order with SeedSavers Exchange. I let the boys pick out the varieties, so we’re going to have some very unusual and colorful things growing in the backyard this summer.

So I guess the lesson today is that due to my incompetence, I’ve almost completely wasted some perfectly good toilet paper tubes and a shoebox. Clearly what I need is a $165 million bailout bonus.

Seeds on order:
Cinnamon basil
Wax beans
Calabrese broccoli
Long island brussel sprouts
Early snowball cauliflower
Mini white cucumber
Casper eggplant
Dwarf blue curled kale
Triple curled parsley
Green arrow peas
Golden treasure peppers
French fingerling potatoes
Bloomsdale spinach
Chelsea watermelon

New expenses: $52 in seeds; $5.50 in seed starter
Total expenses to date: $85 Total benefits: $2.50
Net gain (or loss): Way too early to calculate

Mid-Week Potpouri

Posted: March 25, 2009 at 7:24 pm

UPDATE: A newsroom guy told me the local food segment would run on Wednesday, but if you watched another episode of parking meters and puppies, you know that’s not the case.  Hopefully, I will soon get the skinny from the Producer.  The post below was written on Wednesday.

Sorry for making you all stay around for the 10 PM News.  1/2 the time I’m going to bed by then anyways, so no  comment on last night’s episode.  Also, truth be told, I now have no idea when the local food segment will air–I’ve left a message for the WBBM Producer and will update/when I know more.

If you’re on Twitter, you know that today was ramp day in Chicago as Spence Farm dropped off ramps at a whole host of Chicago area restaurants.  Chef Mendez frying some lake perch and serving them with some ramp aioli.  Mado, which just today got awarded Best BYO and Best Dessert by the Reader (and where my wife apprentices) is doing, according to my wife, “something porky” with the ramps and also using them in a pasta–today, you never know what the Mado menu will be tomorrow.

Not on the drop-off list for ramps, I went the other way, getting some old cabbage that rather showed up at the Downtown Farmstand from Wisconsin’s Harvest Moon Organics.  I never get tired of making slaw though.  I do hear that there may be some ramps at a special ramp edition of Green City Market this Saturday.  If not, Whole Foods usually gets a boatload of ramps from Wisconsin’s Harmony Valley Farm later in the spring.

Speaking of Wisconsin, we had a real taste of Wisconsin last night.  A salad with frost kissed spinach from Snug Haven Farms, bacon and eggs (hard boiled) from the Dane County Market. 

Speaking of rocket, have you stopped calling arugula arugula?  Me, I did not do the rocket so proud with dish I cooked up this week.  We have this Meyer Lemons my wife picked up at Whole Foods.  I had this idea that a salad of rocket, Meyer lemon segments and Sarvechio cheese would work, the way that Chef Levitts salads always seem to work.  Nope.  The Meyer lemons somehow added an unneeded dose of bitterness to the thing.

For a taste of what Spring tastes like, without ramps, head to Cassie’s Green Grocer.  She has the most precious looking chard and collards you’ll ever seen, grown here in Chicago by Windy City Harvest.  She also has bags of lettuce from them. 

Maybe we should boycott ramps until they show up in stores?  Do I need more things to rant about?  In my list the other day, after the intertubes ate my post, I forgot to add back my rant against the costs of eating local.  Hint: whatever money you spend on $5 strawberries, you more than save at (or is that from) Five Guys.

The very last winter market convenes this Saturday in Oak Park at Pilgrim Church.  Details soon.  Come show your support to Robin and all the vendors who worked very hard to supply local food all the time (all the time).

Condiment Discovery

Posted: March 25, 2009 at 7:56 am

Every year, on one of those first, early, beautiful days of spring, my family enjoys our first wood-grilled burgers of the season. Sometimes the urge arrives on a wafting charcoal breeze, others the weather report, with the promise of unseasonal balm. A little of both inspired the early unveiling of the Weber Kettle this year. The ingredient that provided the final impetus was a new product: ketchup from Local Folks Foods of Sheridan, Indiana.

Offered online at Irv & Shelly’s Fresh Picks, the Local Folks ketchup is sweetened without the ubiquitous, government-subsidized corn syrup. Bright red, in a BBQ sauce-shaped bottle, it beckoned from my countertop after arriving in my weekly Thursday delivery from Fresh Picks. The ground beef was from our monthly CSA delivery from Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm, the buns from Treasure Island, onions, cheese from Brunkow and lettuce from Wind n Oak Farm in Manhattan, IL. A testament to its deliciousness: the devouring of it by my very picky son. What about the ketchup?

There are a handful of products for which I’ve had a hard time to find a local substitute: most significantly, Hellman’s mayonnaise (yes, there’s homemade, but who makes it for a tablespoon or two in a recipe) and Heinz ketchup. There’s something about their formulas that is standard, comforting and just plain right, at least in terms of their flavor profiles. Ketchup has been particularly troublesome. While I’ve made plenty of homemade ketchups and catsups (including a mean and versatile red pepper version) none could capture the elusive spirit of the old 57, particularly the organic version made with real sugar. This is why I was particularly impressed by the Local Folks Foods ketchup. I mentioned earlier the true rose red color of it. The flavor is delicious and really quite close to the ideal, at least my ideal – Heinz. Piquant, yet rich; sweet, with a perfect counterpoint of salinity. My only small criticism is that it could be a touch thicker. Where as the Heinz needs that perfect tap to the 57 to flow freely, Local Folks pours like a river. A minor complaint when leveled at a small company selling an artisanal product that can stand toe to toe with an icon.


Should Be a Good Day for Local Food in Chicago

Posted: March 24, 2009 at 8:16 am

A while back I hooked up with Sun Times Food Editor, Janet Rausa Fuller, for a feature on local food.  We talked in the fall but the story did not run until late winter.  Same when I wrote the editorial for the CTrib Perspective section (when there was a Perspective section), it took several weeks to run.  In other words, you’re never quite sure when non-news news will run.  CBS Channel 2 News is supposed to run a segment on local food tonight on the 10 PM news, but you just don’t know. 

If I cannot be sure if the segment will air tonight, I really cannot be sure what will be in the segment.  Reporter Vince Gerasole and cameraman Jerry came to the Bungalow to film.  They got much footage of me and the Local Kids (Local Mom refused any notoriety).  They filmed our root cellar in the sky and filmed us making a winter salad.  I tried to convince Vince that local eating was not more expensive because we ate out less, at less junk, but I’m not sure if I convinced him.  The kids did convince him, though, that they enjoyed eating local, and they also convinced him that with a taste of the dried strawberries from Michigan’s Seedlings Farm, he’d enjoy too (and he did).  They filmed more than the Local Family.

I believed they filmed some at Cassie’s Green Grocer.   Cassie’s been there for over a year, but how many Chicagoans know that a store exists specializing in local food, including Blue Marble Dairy, real eggs, assorted grains and speciality items like ice creams made from the ingredients in the store (Nice Cream).  And how many Chicagoans have any idea that practically every weekend from November through March, winter markets convened at assorted churches to supply local food.  It may have been dark, dark and cold, but Robin’s winter markets supplied fresh vegetables and other local products including meats, breads, cheese and yogurts.  Robin’s markets always had a range of canned goods too, including a Balkan pepper spread produced by the Beet’s own Vera V.  We here at the Beet surely knew and shopped these markets.  Now more people will too.

Will they be able to get this into the two minutes: Vince asked me what motivated me; why was I so gung-ho.  I gave him all my spiels on why to eat local.  Mostly, I said, we are having a blast being a Local Family, and we wanted others to see how much fun they could have eating local.  Of course the food tastes better, it’s better for the earth, but local food also brings people together.  Together to shop and together at the table.  I think that whatever they cram into the segment, you will get a sense of that.

Tell us what you think after watching.

One Comment

Mission Creep or Is That Cause-orama?

Posted: March 23, 2009 at 5:36 pm

My first impulse for today’s post was to present my wife’s arguments against the rocket campaign (“what kind of resolution is about changing the way other people talk…”), but then I thought, hey there’s a reasonably good chance I’ll be on TV this week (WBBM Channel 2 10 PM News, Tuesday, March 24).  Plus, Monday AM, people are avoiding responsibilities by surfing the ‘net.  What better time to catch everyone up on all the high horses I like to ride.  If you thought getting people to say rocket instead of arugula was the extent of my causes, think again.  Roll the tape:

  • Eat Local - Well that is THE cause.  If you can find the food nearby, and for us it means Illinois and nearby states, then only eat it from nearby.  It does not mean you cannot have coffee, chocolate, spices, etc.
  • Don’t Retreat to Hedonism when Challenged Over Eating Local – There is a tendency from even the most ardent locavores to retreat to the “well at least it tastes better” when challenged.  There are very good reasons to eat local beyond taste.  Food miles do matter; one study pitting New Zealand lamb against British lamb means little; farmer’s don’t drive to the market in SUVs and Mercedes.  There’s less packaging in local food and many other good reasons to go local.
  • Eat Local All The Time – The reasons to eat local do not dissipate when the farmer’s markets pack up for the season.  Eat local in the winter and early spring via a combination of stored food and indoor produced food.
  • We Need Winter Farmers – Sure, there’s a chicken-egg thing going on.  Farmers do not sell and produce for the winter/winter markets because no one’s buying and buyers do not shop the winter markets because no one’s selling, but truth be told, there’s a lot more buyers than sellers right now.
  • Don’t Fear Root Veg – Activists have been pushing hoop-houses as the answer to local food in the winter, but the answer is also what it’s always been, stored roots.  Raw or cooked, there’s a lot that can be done with root vegetables.  Eat more rutabagas.
  • We Need a Permanent Public Market – A showcase, a source to buy several days a week, non-frozen meats, why else?
  • Demand Local Food at Retail – Better yet, shop Cassie’s Green Grocer or order from Irv and Shelly’s Freshpicks.
  • Support Our Team – There’s so many great beers, vodkas, cheeses, produced nearby, why try anything else–wine I’m fine with non-local.
  • Compost – That’s Melissa’s battle, but I’m a foot soldier.
  • Call Arugula Rocket – Some of our causes are more important than others.

Beard Nominates Whole Hog Project

Posted: March 23, 2009 at 1:40 pm

The James Beard Awards (the Academy Awards of Food) have nominated Mike Sula’s “Whole Hog Project” which includes videos from Sky Full of Bacon creator, and Local Beet contributor Mike Gebert.

The project has been nominated in the Food Journalism/Multimedia category for the mulefoot pig series of articles and videos. Read more about it at Sky Full of Bacon.

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Better Late Than Never – The Rocket Campaign

Posted: March 22, 2009 at 11:48 am

The older half of the Local Family spent a few days recently in Wisconsin.  We bought  home all sorts of Wisconsin: New Glarus beers, Roth Kase cheeses,  landjaeger and other charcuterie, but I’m most pleased with the Yuppie weed most commonly called arugula we got.  We purchased two bags of arugula, I mean rocket, at the Madison Farmer’s Market on Saturday.  The rocket will add a needed dose of zest to our menus, but another and more vital thing, it reminds me of my 2009 resolutions.  Resolutions, like many that went by the wayside.

Back in January when everyone was filled with vim and vigor for the coming year, I announced to the Local Family that I had a mere two goals for the year.  I would eat more carrots and I would get people to stop using the term arugula and instead use the more proper rocket, well rocket being the actual English name for the green.  Carrot, you wonder, that was about doing more with carrots than stock and sticks, a lesser aspiration.  Rocket, that’s a good one.  Or was it.  The general opprobrium I faced from the remaining Local Family members as well as the few members of the general public I tried to sway to rocket cause, rather left the battle inchoate.  It is time, however, to renew the rocket call.

The New York Times recently asked a few foodies to address some food myths.  David Kamp, author of The United States of Arugula, took the defense of his green:

Readers, I come to defend arugula, the libeled salad green of the supposedly clueless, head-in-the-clouds cultural elite. Barack Obama took a lot flak for mentioning the high price of arugula at Whole Foods on the campaign trail — from Hillary Clinton’s campaign as much as John McCain’s. But really, there’s nothing fancy about arugula. In Mediterranean countries it has long grown wild, as a weed; during and between the World Wars, it was often subsistence food for an impoverished, foraging citizenry. Secondly, arugula is today as common in America as minivans; you can find it in every supermarket and in the “spring mix” of McDonald’s premium salads.

Yes, we should not fear arugula. We should not call it that.  Call it rocket.

It turns out that cause-shame brought on by my clan caused me to be somewhat scooped on the arugula-rocket issue.  At Culinate, Giovanna Zivny blogged about calling it rocket just a few weeks ago.    She, however was not on a mission.  Although as Italian as a Giovanna can be, she’s a rocket user.  She explains that she’s used that term because, well that’s what they called it way back when she started eating it in the 1970′s.  After all, Alice Waters still uses the term rocket on her menus.  When did we go from rocket to arugula?

Did you even know arugula is really rocket?  Well it is in the UK.  In France it is roquette (pronounced rocket, which is what inspired Giovanna).  In Italy it is rucola or ruchetta.  Why is it arugula in the US.  Arugula is dialect pronunciation.  The same Southern Italian way with words that turned capicolla into gabagool and pizza into apizz, turned rucolla into arugula.   Way back in 2000, Terra Brockman pointed out that term arugula took hold in America with Italian immigration about 100 years old.  She also noted that the acceptance of slang has not set well with others too.

The borrowing from Italian dialect rather than from proper French riles some blue bloods, such as William Woys Weaver, author of the excellent book Heirloom Vegetable Gardening, who refuses to use the southern Italian dialect term because “it is like calling beans faggiul, or snails lumache, or conversely, about as elegant as calling dandelion by its American dialect name, Piss-a-Bed.”

She dismissed this as “elegance-schmelegance.  What she does not, cannot address, is why this little known slang use took over as the vegetable gained popularity in the US.

Elegance-schmegance, not only is Terra supporting  slang, she’s been stealing my Yiddish heritage. Where do we stop? Now you may say, we should have our own words, different from across the pond. After all do we dress our babies in nappie’s and wheel them in prams?  Of course not.  And we have no idea what petrol is and would stare blankly if someone asked us to hold the lift.  Would not the English rocket be more prissy?  A rocket sandwich with your pinky dangling.  Is this exactly not what we want.  Are not more people attracted to vegetables if Tony Soprano eats them.  Is that what got some marketeer hepped on arugula.  Well, all I say to that is imagine Terrance Stamp asking for a a f**cking rocket sandwich.  Are you dismayed on any sense of effeteness.  Will you use the right term.  We do not go looking for arugula in Napoli do we? 

There is much to pride in rocket.  It’s got flavor.  It also serves as a good foil to many dishes.  The River Cafe gals, Rogers and Gray use rocket in about all their antipasti.  It also makes an excellent pesto (and in fact can be cooked like other assertive greens),  The most limiting factor, in fact, I believe, is the nonsense name, arugula.  Rocket is not only correct, it is awe-inspiring.  Rocket means men on the moon and blowing things up.  Concepts that made America great.  With your help, we will become the United States of Rocket.

Spring Thaw

Posted: March 21, 2009 at 12:27 am

March 20, 2009

Early spring can be fickle. After our extreme Chicago winter we all enjoyed the 60 degree weather. But when it’s followed by more freezing temperatures I get a little nervous.

Quince tree blossoms in snow

quince and peach blossoms in snow * April 24, 2005

I still don’t have anything planted in the garden as I’m waiting for the soil to warm up a bit and to dry enough so I don’t end up with concrete later (that can happen if you work the soil too early). But my fruit trees are another concern. I’ll be spending the next few weeks finishing the trimming. This helps keep air flow in the tree during our humid summers preventing disease and to keep the tree from overstressing with too much fruit

As soon as the trimming’s done I’ll be adding a layer of dormant spray (oil) to get a head start on pest control. It’s been a losing battle for me to keep bugs from my fruit trees but I try every year to raise beautiful fruit. It’s all in the timing and a few days over 80 degrees or a windy spell means the spraying schedule is interrupted.

But back to the early spring warm-ups. Quite a few fruit farmers are holding their breath this year hoping the extreme changes in weather don’t bring on the “bud stage” too early. A hard frost can nip them right off the branches and a season’s worth of fruit can be lost. Last year’s late-April freeze (hard frost) wiped out most of my pears and cherries and about 90% of my brother’s grapes. Actually, it was cold last spring all the way into June and we were sent reeling in September with floods. I’m just hoping this extreme winter doesn’t mean an extreme summer. I’m also not looking forward to working outside in high humidity and 90+ temperatures which is beach weather for most but I’ve got veggies that need to get to market!

Here are a few photos of my fruit trees in spring. The white paint on the trunk is an old-fashioned way of deflecting early spring sunlight from warming up the tree and sending up buds too early.

apple tree

apple tree * March 29, 2005

apple tree

apple tree * May 1, 2006

apple blossoms * May 2, 2006

apple blossoms * May 2, 2006

2009 CSA Guide

Posted: March 20, 2009 at 10:45 am

One of the easiest ways to jump-start your year in local eating is to purchase an advance subscription to a CSA, or Community-Supported Agriculture program. When you purchase a membership, you are pre-paying for a regular delivery of a farm’s harvest.

So, what is it like to belong to a CSA? Check out the “anatomy” of a 2008 Homegrown Wisconsin half-share.

Do you have experience with a specific CSA? Tell us about it in the forums!

Some of the benefits of CSA memberships:

  • Regular deliveries of fresh (often organic) local produce.
  • Pre-purchasing locks in your food cost ahead of time. Early sign-ups often get a discount.
  • Farm-to-table deliveries guarantee produce at its peak flavor.
  • Many CSAs offer the ability to get to know the people and farms behind your food.
  • Many CSAs offer recipes, storage tips, and other information about the food you’re eating.
  • and all the benefits of eating locally.

So how do I choose which CSA is right for me?

It’s important to decide what features are most important to you.  Price, delivery location, delivery/pick-up hours, size of delivery (half-shares?) variety of produce, organic produce, access to the farm/farmers are all things you should think about when evaluating a CSA.  Every CSA has a coordinator who will be happy to answer your questions.

Also, don’t be afraid to sign up if you are part of a small (or even single-person) household.  Split a share with a friend or neighbor!

Below are a number of CSAs and similar programs that represent a good cross-section of different ways to get farm-fresh food to your home. We’ve included an extended list at the bottom of the page to help your further research.

Angelic Organics

Fresh produce raised using a biodynamic approach to organic farming.

Length of season/ # of deliveries: Choice of either a 20-week vegetable share from mid June through late October or a 12-week share from mid August to late October. Fruit shares are available separately.

What you can expect to get: A balanced selection of 12 to 16 different items each week. The website has a detailed calendar of vegetable arrival times so customers can see what to expect.

Pickup locations: At least a dozen city locations including north and south side options, plus over a dozen suburban locations.

How to sign up or get more information:

Cedar Valley Farm

Ottawa, IL farm raising animals without drugs or hormones, in a healthy and sustainable environment.

Length of season/ # of deliveries: You sign up anytime for 3 month, 6 month, or full year shares. Deliveries are monthly.

What you can expect to get: Various cuts of beef, pork, and chicken, plus two dozen eggs per month.

Pickup locations: Several north side Chicago neighborhoods, plus Naperville, Oak Park, and Oak Lawn.

How to sign up or get more information: Or email

Genesis Growers

20 acres in fertile north-central Illinois using natural methods: no pesticides, herbicides or synthetic fertilizer.

Length of season/ # of deliveries: April through December. Plans are available for Spring, Summer and Fall. Discount given for early enrollment.

What you can expect to get: Seasonal vegetables rounded out with in-season fruits and herbs. Egg shares are available for separate purchase.

Pickup locations: Several locations on Chicago’s northside as well as Hyde Park. Suburban locations include Forest Park, Highland Park, Mokena, Oak Lawn, Oak Park, Park Forest, Arlington Heights, Skokie and Wheaton.

How to sign up or get more information: or email

Growing Power

A community-based urban farm that started in Milwaukee and is now a cooperative including other urban farms in the region.

Length of season/ # of deliveries: This “Market Basket” program works a little differently than a CSA. You place an order by Monday at 5:00p.m. for a Wednesday, Saturday or Sunday pickup. You can do this any time you like, with no seasonal commitment.

What you can expect to get: Late season produce including greens, root vegetables, and seasonal fruit. In the colder months, not all items will come from the coop’s local farms, and your bag may be supplemented with non-local products from small business wholesalers such as Goodness Greenness.

Pickup locations: Delivering to neighborhood sites in Beverly, Bronzeville, Englewood, Humboldt Park, West Garfield Park, Lakeview, Logan Square, Oak Park, and Wicker Park. You can also coordinate your own pickup by recruiting at least ten orders. Information on how can be found here:

How to sign up or get more information: or call 773.347.1374 to leave a message on the hot-line. You can also email the market basket coordinator at

Home Grown Wisconsin

A cooperative of 20+ family farms in Southeastern and South-Central Wisconsin. Certified organic.

Length of season/ # of deliveries: 20 weeks, running from June 17th to October 28. Offering full shares (every week) or half shares (every other week). Egg shares and cheese shares also available for a separate fee.

What you can expect to get: A wide variety of produce options that could include leafy greens, carrots, potatoes, cabbage, tomatoes, fruit(when available), summer squash, peppers and beans. Specialty items such as fruit butters and honey are often included. Cheese shares include seasonal raw cheddar, mozzarella, muenster, and more.

Pickup locations: Several pickup locations on Chicago’s north side, plus locations in Northbrook, Evanston, Highland Park, Lake Bluff and Prospect Heights.

How to sign up or get more information: or call Katrina Pine at 608-333-1227.

Sweet Earth Organic Farm

120 acres in Southwestern, WI farmed by Renee Randall, an organic farmer since 1974.

Length of season/ # of deliveries: 20 weeks, beginning in late June. Offering full shares or partial shares.

What you can expect to get: The usual produce options with an affinity for heirloom tomatoes in many varieties.

Pickup locations: Arlington Heights, Elgin, Northbrook, Evanston, plus four city locations.

How to sign up or get more information: or email

Wellhausen Farm

Family farm located in a small Southwestern Wisconsin dairy town, with a business office in Wheaton, IL. Everything is grown without the use of chemical fertilizers, insecticides or herbicides.

Length of season/ # of deliveries: Starts in mid-June and lasts approximately 22 weeks. Delivered to your home weekly. Half shares also available. Meat, egg and cheese also available.

What you can expect to get: A typical delivery could include, tomatoes, cabbage, green beans, sweet corn, watermelon, cantaloupe, peppers and spinach.

Pickup locations: Delivery route includes Bloomingdale, Glen Ellyn, Roselle, West Chicago, Wheaton, Naperville, Lombard, and Villa Park at this time. Members also have the option to pick up at the business office in Wheaton.

How to sign up or get more information: or e-mail

Additional CSAs and fresh produce delivery options

Harvest Moon Organics: Offering two different kinds of boxes at drop-off locations on the north side of Chicago and Barrington. Visit their CSA page for more information.

Erewhon Farm: Vegetable shares available for pickup at the Elburn, IL farm or for delivery to Lombard, Wheaton, and Elgin. Two-week trial shares available.

Sandhill Organics: Fruit and vegetable shares available delivered to drop-off points around the north and western Chicago suburbs.

Broad Branch Farm: Offering vegetables, meat and eggs.

Creme de la Crop: Offering “Standard market” and “Epicurean” shares. 2009 Early bird discount available.

Gibbs Family Garden: Plymouth, WI farm offering pickup in River Forest.

Green Earth Institute: South Naperville farm offering pick-up only.

Green Earth Farm: Richmond, IL farm offering vegetables, chicken, duck and eggs. Requires pick-up at the farm.

Grass Is Greener Gardens: Offering 6-month subscriptions – next signup in February 2009. Options include lamb, chicken, eggs, yogurt and honey.

Growing Home: CSA shares support Growing Home’s transitional job training program.

Irv & Shelly’s Fresh Picks: Year-round home delivery of local and organic produce, meat, dairy and eggs. No subscription required.

King’s Hill Farm: Pickup site at the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe.

M’s Organic Farm: Woodstock, IL farm offering produce, eggs, herbs and granola.

Mike & Clare’s Farm: Currently searching for farm land for 2009 season.

Mother Earth Organic Farm: Female-owned and operated farm. CSA shares require farm involvement.

New Leaf Natural Grocery: Produce boxes available year-round for delivery.

Peasant’s Plot: Become a founding CSA member in 2009. Worker share program available.

Scotch Hill Farm: 20-week CSA from southern Wisconsin that also offers a 10-week flower share. Discounted price before March 15th.


Geneva Green Market Seeding Class Thursday, March 19th, 2009
Cheese, Glorious Cheese Thursday, March 19th, 2009
My Local Calender or Yours? Thursday, March 19th, 2009
Winter Market, Sunday at the Farm, Palos Park Thursday, March 19th, 2009
Saturday Winter Market, Beverly Thursday, March 19th, 2009
What Will Spring Taste Like Wednesday, March 18th, 2009
Munchin’ at the Window Spinach Tuesday, March 17th, 2009
Necessary Costs Tuesday, March 17th, 2009
Eat Local Today Monday, March 16th, 2009
IL Composting Bill Update Friday, March 13th, 2009
Where’s My Public Market Friday, March 13th, 2009
Early Local Calender Thursday, March 12th, 2009
Winter Market – Elgin Wednesday, March 11th, 2009
Winter Market – Saturday – Chicago/Andersonville Wednesday, March 11th, 2009
Friday Afternoon Winter Market – Oak Park Wednesday, March 11th, 2009
Resignation Watch Wednesday, March 11th, 2009
Keeping Busy in March Monday, March 9th, 2009
Composting Bill Hearing Scheduled Sunday, March 8th, 2009
Pollen Not Pesticide Sunday, March 8th, 2009
I’m Back and Have Places for You to Go Friday, March 6th, 2009
IL Local Food, Farms & Jobs Report Online Thursday, March 5th, 2009
IL Local & Organic Food & Farm Task Force Plan Released Wednesday, March 4th, 2009
Soup + Bread @ Hideout to Benefit GCFD Wednesday, March 4th, 2009
Who Says We Need a Public Market Wednesday, March 4th, 2009
Why Can’t We Have Public Markets/Plant the Winter Market Crew Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009
Local Food, Farms and Jobs: Growing the Illinois Economy Monday, March 2nd, 2009
Scouring the seed catalogs and other sources Monday, March 2nd, 2009
Growing Power’s Erika Allen Speaks in Oak Park Sunday, March 1st, 2009