A Year in the Local Life

March 1, 2010 at 3:53 pm

Rob Gardner

A little over a week ago, the Local Beet hit its one year anniversary.  Now, if you pay very close attention, you know that we started posting material in late July 2008.   Michael Morowitz and myself had a clever name, a snazzy logo and enough Internet experience to get going.  We called what we did “beta” or a test run.  We kept that beta label up a long time so you would not blame us for any screw-ups.  Over time, we gathered a team of passionate and experienced contributors.  We built up resources.  We talked up the site.  We found ourselves ready.  On February 13, 2009 we officially launched.  Here’s a bit of what I’ve been up to during that year.

I think we accomplished a lot in this year.  The Local Beet built the area’s most complete farmer’s market locator; our 2009 CSA guide was our most popular feature, and our recently posted, searchable, sortable 2010 CSA guide is bigger.  We got you ready for winter this year.  I’ve tried to keep you abreast with a regular and complete Local Calendar to track what’s in season and where to find it.  Clearly, people want resources to find and eat good food.  In one year, the Local Beet has become the place to get the things needed to eat better.

Right from the start, we realized that we did not have half the contacts and involvements of Melissa Graham.  Of course she could can your tomatoes, make it into gravy and then help you compost your scrapes.  Yet her recipes and sustainable living advice have been a fraction of her contributions to the site.  She made key introductions.  She covered a variety of events for us, and she offered many suggestions for improving things.

Brad Moldofsky signed up to share his experiences in  home gardening.   Growing your own food plays an important part in the eat local realm, and Brad provided great insight.  We were not, however, content to leave Brad in his backyard.  Packing his family in the car, they’ve visited and reported on some of our area agro-tourism attractions.  Brad really showed his stuff when he shared his fears and confronted the bees.  Brad is highly involved with a soon-to-be launched farmer’s market in Morton Grove, and Beet readers have enjoyed following the progress of the market in our Blog.

We wanted a Backyard Farmer and we also wanted a, no offense Brad, real farmer.  Vera Videnovich came on board to share the experiences of farming a small Michigan farm.  It was a rough year for Vera and the strictures of farming did not leave her as much time as she wanted to post.  We hope to hear more from Vera.

Don’t just eat local.  Drink local.  Tom Keith joined in to write about local brews.  From the start, Tom knew that there was more to area beer than tasting notes.  What about the labels for instance.  Most important to the site, Tom took to cooking up our signature house beet beer.

Drink local wine too.  Wendy Aeschlimann makes the case for local wine.  Wendy has much more coming on her docket.  In the meantime, she made herself invaluable to the site by shepherding the aforementioned 2010 CSA materials.  As the comments column shows, Wendy continues to revise and update the CSA Guide.

Finally, we bring you our latest regular, self-confessed farmer’s market junkie, Robin “Winter” Schirmer.  As the saying goes, Robin knows where all the markets get buried, but she knows about all the markets getting going too.  A market organizer and market vendor, she brings more aspect to our readers.

Over twenty other people have contributed articles, recipes, policy prescriptions, videos, useful links, restaurant reviews, and blog posts to the site.  In addition, many more have participated in the site’s comments and forums.  We are known as the source for Michael Gebert’s non-Beard nominated whole hog project.  The Beet introduced you to Helen Standen, Oak Park’s Chicken Lady, featured recipes from the biggest buyer at Chicago’s Green City Market, Chef Pat Sheerin of the Signature Room, and followed Monica Kass Rogers as she hit nine markets on one day

The Local Beet advocates a “Practical Approach to Local Eating.”  We love shopping all the area farmer’s markets and we love finding local apples at Costco.  None of us are absolutists, living a 100 mile diet.  We proudly published Melissa Graham’s praise and recipes for very non-local Gulf Shrimp.  Nor are we afraid to share mis-adventures, as to the consternation of many, David Hammond related his canning catastrophe.  Still, the Local Beet believes strongly in all the benefits of eating local and sustainable food.

In the past year, the Local Beet has reached outside the Internet to spread its message. The Local Beet co-sponsored a Local Food Systems lecture series with Eli’s Cheesecake and Wright College. Myself and Melissa Graham gave one of the talks. Having enjoyed that talk, we did a similar one for employees at William Wrigley.  Not content, we teamed up again for Slow Food Chicago’s Eat In at Daley Plaza, and Melissa played a key role in having me moderate the panel for Green City Market’s Annual Locavore Town Hall meeting. In the spring of 2009, the Local Beet held a “Beet-Up” as part of Oak Park Farmer’s Market’s Go Green Day. Later in 2009, fellow Beetniks converged on the farm of Vicki Westerhoff’s Genesis Growers for dinner. Of course, Melissa Graham cooked up the meal from farm-fresh ingredients.

The Local Beet regulars have other big plans for the second year.  We are doing a forthcoming roundtable discussion on what eating local means.  We have a few design tweaks in mind.  We will continue to enlarge and expand the resource sections.  We recognize that good food does not just taste good. In our first year, the Local Beet addressed a variety of policy topics. We will do more.  The Local Beet will continue to be a source for ideas and issues as well as recipes and listings.

Thanks so much for stopping by during our first year.  We very much look forward to keeping you local in the years ahead.