Eating local can include bringing food back on the plane home

Posted: April 30, 2010 at 9:44 am

We talk about eating local, but when you live in the Midwest, sometimes that can be frustrating. We would rather eat food grown in California than here, but we don’t live there. And the food grown in California – by the time it would get here – isn’t as good as it would be in California.

What if you could bring back freshly grown food in California picked at the right time for the ideal freshness?

This would be way too impractical and, of course, too expensive. But as long as you are in California, why not bring back a little slice of the Golden State back home.

So on my recent trip to San Francisco, I enjoyed eating local, fresh, and flavorful. But when it was time to get back on the plane, I decided to take a little bit of San Francisco local flavor back with me – literally.

I flew out Tuesday afternoon, so I made sure to stop by the farmers market at the Ferry Building to pick up a few last things.

I really wanted to bring back a case of organic strawberries, cheese, butter, vegetables, pickled and baked goods. But I had to be realistic. I had one suitcase, this food had to travel 2,000 miles well, and I didn’t want to be greedy.

There were some easy things to bring back. Having garlic in your suitcase is almost required, and this batch that I brought back has been incredibly flavorful.

I planned some of my fare for dinner on the plane. Eating an organic orange and a sourdough loaf on the flight back was the best meal I’ve ever had on a plane.

Another sourdough loaf and a tomato were earmarked for my first lunch back in Chicago. Mmmmm. And I bought 1.5 pounds of mushrooms that is going really well with the fresh garlic I brought back.

So this isn’t very practical. But if you are out visiting someone, or have to go on a business trip, don’t be afraid to bring back a little of this on the ride home. If nothing else, the person sitting next to you on the plane will be a little envious, and might learn the wonders of buying directly from the farmers.

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MARKET WATCH: Let the Season Begin!

Posted: April 29, 2010 at 10:27 pm

The roll-out of outdoor summer farmers market begins in earnest this week.  Okay, Grayslake and Frankfort got a jump on May with April starts, and Geneva Community Market has three more indoor Saturday markets, and most if not all of the French markets have begun.  Still, May 1 offers such a natural start to the season that I will unilaterally declare the season open for business. 

That said, it’s a pretty slow roll-out.  The season isn’t in full swing until late June.  As the manager of Tomato Mountain’s Chicago area market presence, I’m thankful for that.  We’re planning to participate in over 30 Chicago area markets this season, and the smattering of markets in May gives us an opportunity to get the kinks out, train a few new market sellers, and generally get our bearings. 

Yet, each week will offer several markets added to the schedule.   If you have a favorite neighborhood market that hasn’t started yet, check out some of these earlier opportunities.  Be a little adventurous, take a drive or ride your bike, get outside your comfort zone—whether that means heading to the South Side or the suburbs.  And challenge yourself to look for seasonality in the offerings.  In these earliest weeks, you can expect to see bedding plants, asparagus, rhubarb, cut flowers and hanging baskets, radishes, early greens….and of course, value-added items like dried fruits, salsas, preserves.   If you see peaches or watermelon, you might want to keep walking.  

Although I pride myself on keeping the most complete list of farmers markets in the state, I’m not proactively compiling it; I just add markets as they come to my attention.  So please use the comments to add new markets you’ve started or heard about, share your experiences about early markets, add to the list of produce to expect at markets. 

These are the markets rolling out this week in and around Chicago (with those already in progress in italics): 

And here are some of the markets* that roll out the following week: 

*I lost some data collected about these start dates, so I’ll fill in next week if I missed some.

Hope to see you out and about!

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2009 Release Time: Did The Cold Growing Season Ruin the 2009 Vintage?

Posted: April 29, 2010 at 3:16 pm

Most of us recall the summer of 2009 as the summer that never was. With cool temperatures and lots of rain, it seemed more like an extended spring than a balmy summer. Many predicted that the unusually cold and rainy conditions would be catastrophic for the grape crop. In the upper Midwest, grapes need as much typical summer weather as possible to properly ripen (one of the many reasons why some think making wine in the Midwest is a futile endeavor best left to the insane). According to Tom Zabadal, grape specialist with Michigan State University Extension, Michigan’s wine grape crop endured the lowest number of “growing degree days” (days where the temperature is above a minimum threshold) in 14 years. Doug Welsch, winemaker for Fenn Valley Vineyards, described 2009 as “one of the most difficult years to grow wine . . .” Luckily for growers in Southwest Michigan and below, a warm fall extended the season and allowed growers to delay harvest as long as possible to take advantage of this additional unexpected heat.

Bottling wine at Chateau Grand Traverse/Photo by Steve Sadler

Bottling wine at Chateau Grand Traverse/Photo by Steve Sadler

Now that many wineries have begun bottling their 2009 white wines, it is a good time to assess the effect of not-so-optimal weather on the 2009 vintage. Many wineries claim that the end-of-summer warm-up helped to edge these grapes to near-perfect ripening. A common word used to describe the 2009 vintage is “acidity” or “crispness, “ as many believe that cold conditions contributed to making a crisper, more acidic wine. Here is a round-up of wineries that have released their 2009 white wines and the reports on the effect of the growing season on these wines:

Fenn Valley Vineyards & Wine Cellar (Fennville, MI) reports that colder-than-normal conditions were a challenge in 2009. Winemaker Doug Welsch said that one bright spot to 2009 was the sunny and warm weather in late August and most of September, which allowed Pinots, Chardonnay and Riesling grape varieties to ripen in near perfect conditions. These warm ripening conditions developed the fruit character to its full potential, resulting in wines with robust varietal fruit character and slightly higher acidity. Despite the cool growing season, Fenn Valley, located in relatively warmer Southwest Michigan, is optimistic about their red wines. The extended warm weather throughout the fall allowed them to delay harvesting many red varietals until early November. As a result, Fenn Valley believes that their red wines have more color and complexity than those of the last two vintages. It has released its Edelzwicker, a white blend of 60% Traminette and 40% Riesling, “True” Chardonnay, which is entirely fermented in stainless steel and has seen no oak, and Pinot Grigio.

2 Lads (Traverse City, MI) released its ‘09 Riesling, Pinot Grigio and Rosé of Cabernet Franc. 2 Lads echoes Fenn Valley, noting that their 2009 season white wines offer crisp, fresh acidity with lovely fruit and floral notes.

Chateau Chantal (Traverse City, MI) has bottled its 2009 Select Harvest Gewurztraminer, and completed its Riesling trials (the process by which they blend Riesling from different vineyards to create the Riesling that they believe best characterizes their wine). The Detroit News has reviewed Chateau Chantal’s 2009 Pinot Grigio, and noted that it is “crisp and dry and packed with fruit,” and “breathed a sigh of relief that the infamous, cold 2009 vintage was not a total bust for Michigan.”

Left Foot Charley (Traverse City, MI) released its 2009 Pinot Grigio, Murmur (semi-dry blend of Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Grigio, and Traminette) & Rosé wines.

The 2009 Pinot Grigio bottled by Bowers Harbor (Traverse City, MI) was recently named “Wine of the Week” by Detroit News. Despite the “trying” “cold and rainy” 2009 growing season, it was reviewed as tasting deliciously crisp, showing mandarin orange, grapefruit, lime and pineapple on the mid-palate. It was recommended that the wine be paired with seafood.

Black Star Farms (Suttons Bay, MI) just finished bottling its 2009 Sur Lie Chardonnay. Black Star describes 2009 as a “good growing” season, and say that this non-oaked chardonnay is medium-bodied with lots of ripe pear, apple and citrus.

Despite early angst that the 2009 growing season would produce less and lesser wine, it appears that it will be a great vintage for zippy whites. Some wineries, like Fenn Valley, have held pre-release tastings of the 2009 wines. Have you tried the 2009 vintage yet? Have you spotted any of these wines in Chicago? If so, please post here!


More New York Times Interest In Michigan Wine; “The Next Great White Wine Frontier”

Posted: April 28, 2010 at 12:58 pm

It’s not that we need validation from New Yorkers: We don’t. But when word of our local wine gets the attention of someone as far away and elite as New York Times’ wine critic, Eric Asimov, I’m intrigued. Earlier, I shared Asimov’s NY Times blog entry about his interest in Michigan riesling. Now, he’s passed on a highly positive review of Michigan wine, which the reviewer labels as “The Next Great White Wine Frontier.”

These sort of accolades take the notion of “eating local” to a new level. For example, we know that peaches grown nearby and brought fresh to market will taste better than those shipped across the world. Our local wine producers are taking the process of growing something that’s distinctly Midwestern one step farther. First, they brave potentially difficult conditions to grow climate-appropriate grapes. Then, through the magic of adept winemaking skills, they turn what is essentially a local crop — grapes — into something that is a unique representation of the Midwest.

My general belief is that if Asimov is interested in Michigan, then that’s one more reason to take advantage of the best-kept secret of our local bounty, and drink some local wine today. (Stay tuned to The Local Beet for a mini-guide to the 2009 releases of white wine.)

Be a Better Locavore (Than Me) After Earth Day

Posted: April 28, 2010 at 9:16 am

It’s been a long time since this Local Family went the locavore route.  We followed the path to outstanding tasting food; food with meaning and food that positively effects all around the road.  Since the fortiest passing of Earth Day, I hope more and more of you are taking the local way.  Not only can you easily eat local like my family, you can be better locavores than us.  And no, please, I am not asking you to be more strict; to eat within a 100 mile barrier, to forsake olive oil for lard (not that a we are against lard) and make sandwiches from slices of turnip when the supplies of local wheat wanes.  Be prudent in your approach.  Wake up and smell the coffee.  Still, there are all kinds of ways you can do better than me, and maybe, by next Earth Day, I’ll have done better too.

  • Dry more fruits - Every year about April, I wish we had more dried fruit around.  The apples are hard to find; the seasonal citrus is no longer seasonal; every time I want to put a banana in the kid’s lunch it’s green; I’m not buying a foreign strawberry no matter how red they look on the outside; I wait for strawberry’s that are red on the inside too.  Oh, and the membrillo my wife slowly, slowed cooked down from local quince; that she metes out so stingily that it’s off limits to lunches.  What we should have done is get those plums on the cheap at the end of the season and make local prunes.  Or dry other stuff. 
  • Dried is not just what’s for lunch – The Local Family has done a better job drying non-fruit foods, but we can do better here too.  Some poo-pah dried herbs, and maybe dried parsley adds little, but dried oregano and dried mint, especially, add a lot too dishes as any Greek diner can tell you.  We need to put aside more herbs for drying.  I mean there aint nothing to it beyond neglect. 
  • Pickle peppers – If we’ve done one thing well dried, it’s peppers, and we’ve always had a ready supply of dried peppers to use culinarily.  We could, however, use pickled peppers too in the long period between chili seasons.
  • Horde more garlic – Nothing complicated here.  We just did not buy enough garlic last fall to last until the first green garlic of the season.  We had to cheat with a few heads of Cali this year.
  • Keep our Great Lakes free of Asian carp – The Local Family and everyone else is pretty much at the starting gate when it comes to enjoying the fine flavors of Illinois river carps.  Big River Fish, based in Pearl, Illinois is processing 30 million pounds of Asian carp from our local waters for overseas markets.  Let’s give them a local market too.  We gladly stand behind Chef Phillip Foss who is not only fighting for food trucks in Chicago, he’s fighting for better acceptance of Asian carp, er we mean Shanghai bass, on our plates. 
  • Drink local – Wine has been right behind coffee on our list of “exceptions.  Wendy’s case is awfully convincing, so that’s gonna change.
  • Stink up the house – We’ve pickled not enough with vinegar, yet we’ve never gone even more basic and pickled through fermentation.  Using commercial sauerkraut, my wife proved that when she prepares it, the Local Family will gobble up sauerkraut.  Would not it be better with our own made kraut. And why stop with kraut.  Kimchee, turnips, deli pickles, lacto-fermented foods are good for you too.

Offer up more ways you will out local the Local Family this year.

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Cream Cheese: Not Just For Bagels…(And No Pillowcase Cheese Yet)

Posted: April 28, 2010 at 8:02 am

My birthday is coming up and I’ve been dropping hints to my loved ones about getting me a cheese press.  I can start making hard cheeses, but until then, we will continue our journey through soft, fresh cheeses.

And I wanted to take a moment to tell you about a cheese disaster I had earlier this week. My friend Lisa told me about her mom’s “Pillowcase Cheese” – a Jordanian specialty that I’m sure is not really called “Pillowcase Cheese”. We had a conference call between Lisa, her mom, and myself that did not translate well. Maybe it was the confusion in terminology; Lisa’s mom  said add 4 “pills”.  Maybe that means rennet tablets, but that’s a lot of rennet. Then she said add 16 oz of yogurt instead, and though she told me to use a pillowcase (make sure it’s clean), I was not so sure since I did not have a clean one and thought that I could use butter muslin instead. Whatever happened it was a soupy mess of goat’s milk and yogurt. I did taste it though…it was awful.  I’m going to talk to Lisa’s mom again and try to figure out what I did wrong. I will make “Pillowcase Cheese” for you soon!

I just wanted to share that to let you know that cheese making is a learning process, and while I don’t recommend getting your cheese recipes over the phone from a really nice lady with a thick accent, I do recommend that you try to make all kinds of cheese.  You may find a new favorite!

Now onto a successful story.

cream cheese

Cream cheese is one of those common cheeses that we all think you just buy at the store. It’s not quite as exotic as Mozzarella and not as fancy as Lemon Sage Cheese, but it is an essential ingredient in cheesecake and that’s enough for me.

For this cheese you’ll need:

1 packet of mesophilic starter

1 gallon of cow’s milk (not ultra pasteurized)

Pour the milk in your favorite cheese making pot and bring it up to room temperature (72 degrees). Stir in the starter and cover. Put on the top of your ‘fridge or on a high shelf. It’s usually warmest up there.  If you have drafty windows like me the wind won’t affect the temperature way up there. Leave up there for 12 hours. After the wait, scoop out the cheese into a butter muslin lined colander. Gather the ends of the cloth and tie a knot. Hang the cheese, using your favorite method and let drain for another 12 hours. At the end of 12 hours, scrape out the cheese and store in an airtight container. Enjoy!

And now for a ‘not just for cheesecake’ cream cheese recipe!

Using the ratio 1:1.5 (cream cheese: frozen and slightly thawed fruit) mix some of your cream cheese and your choice of fruit in a food processor. If you making a lot you may have to do it batches. Sprinkle in some sugar to sweeten if you desire.  Process until it’s the consistency you want.

Tada! A not quite sorbet! This sort-of ice cream is super refreshing and really delicious. The creaminess of the cheese and the sweetness of the fruit make it a wonderful after dinner scoop without a lot of effort.

If you’re starting with whole fruit just cut it up into small chunks, spread out on a sheet pan and freeze overnight. Let it sit out for 10 minutes before starting.

I have made an orange-lemon combo and I made it with pomegranates. With the pomegranates, the taste was delicious, I couldn’t get over the seeds, although my husband didn’t even notice.

I can eat ice cream in any weather, some people only like it when it’s hot outside…don’t worry, it’s getting warmer soon so you won’t have to wait long to try this!



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The Local Beet Wants You – Market Shoppers, CSA Subscribers, Foragers, etc.

Posted: April 27, 2010 at 9:34 am

Are you a regular farmer’s market shopper?  Do you get a CSA box weekly?  Do you regular forage for mushrooms or other foods.  The Local Beet wants you.  We want to publish your reports and updates.  We are especially interested in the following:

  • First time CSA subscribers
  • If you are a regular at a market not Oak Park, Evanston, Green City or one of the downtown locations
  • If you are shopping a newly formed market like Morton Grove, Glenwood/Rogers Park, etc. 
  • If you focus on certain types of foods, like Asian foods or foods for canning
  • Or if you are a freak about one product; be our apple guy for instance.

We especially want people that can provide regular updates, weekly, but we are not asking for all of that.  If you can just check in periodically, we are fine with that.  You can do it with words, with pictures or with both, and you do not need a lot of either.  Just help us widen the knowledgebase here on the Local Beet.

Contact me at Rob at thelocal if interested.  Also feel free to respond via the comments–you can leave contact info in there that we will not publish.


The Time to Eat Local is Now – Our Weekly Local Calendar

Posted: April 23, 2010 at 8:39 am

We know that Earth Day inspired many people to do more for the world around them, and we know that one of the best things they can do for the world is change the way they get their foods. 

Five Ways Eating Local is Green:

  1. All the studies and percentages fail to convince us that Food Miles matter; if not every time, on every item of food, then most of the time.  Reduce the distance it takes your for your food to arrive.  The less your food travels, the less fuel used and the less greenhouse gases emitted.
  2. Local food has Less Packaging, meaning less solid waste.  And do your part, bringing your own bags to the farmer’s markets.
  3. You pay the real costs for local meat, practically forcing you to Eat Less Meat.  Listen, we love a big juicy steak, aint tired of bacon and revel at the rush of good, new hamburger places, but we do believe that meat should be a luxury eaten less often.  Reducing meat consumption may help the world more than reducing food miles.  You do not have to eat local to eat less meat, but when meat is a luxury it should be local.  (Local meat is also produced in more humane ways,)
  4. For a host of reasons, local farmers tend to use Environmentally Friendly and Sustainable Farming Practices.  If you know your farmers, they are accountable to you.  More, when in doubt, go visit the farm.  What about the fact that many local farms are not Organic with a big O.  That is and is not an issue.  On one hand, we can cite instance after instance where large scale farms compiled with the regulations but did not produce good results.  What about all the large scale penned in dairy farms that skated by on lax rules (now being changed).   On the other hand, there are local farms that can do better, for instance trying to spray less; that is change to organic pest control methods.  If you create the demand, however, the local farmers will comply.  All in all, we believe that the farmers we think of as “local”, those at the farmer’s markets, use good agriculture practices that make a real difference.  Support them.
  5. Eating local Fosters Community and Builds Local Economies.  Local eaters know how their decisions affect those around them, including how those around them are treating the earth.  They also know their decisions provide local jobs, preserve existing infrastructures and retard the decay facing our rural areas.  It matters to keep farmland green, and this will happen when there are jobs for farmers.

We also know that eating local produces the best tasting foods.  The time to eat to eat local is now.  Our weekly Local Calendar gives you what you need to be on the locavore path.   We tell you what local foods to buy now, and we tell you where to buy them.  

Besides what is on the Local Calendar below, how ’bout starting a garden this weekend.  Brad provides five tips to get you going.  Or go check out the local beer at Lunar Brewing.  Tom thinks highly of it.  It’s not just beer, Wendy makes the Case for Local Wine.  And what goes better with wine than cheese, follow Keighty’s suggestions to make a local cheeseboard.   Robin’s Market Watch covers several Earth Day activities coming after Earth Day itself.  When you finally get back home, use our Spring recipe collection for kitchen inspiration.


Yes!  The local food is starting to arrive.  Ramps have been spotted around town.  Even better, the warm weather has asparagus arriving awfully soon this year.  You should be able to find  sorrel, cilantro, watercress and green garlic.  The warming weather has hoophouses more productive and area farmers are getting lettuces, spinach, chard, rocket and micro-greens from them.  You may also find turnips, beets and similar root vegetables from the h-houses.  There are also over-wintered carrots or parsnips still.

As stuff is coming, a bit remains: apples and potatoes also a bit of cabbage, celery root and sunchokes.   

Continue to use quality preserved items.  Tomato Mountain and River Valley Ranch are good sources for canned goods, and Freshpicks has frozen fruits and vegetables from Michigan.  You might find dried fruits.

Local foods also include our great cheeses, meats, grains, beans, nuts, milk, eggs, etc.  There’s even local tofu at some markets.

Let us know what other local goods you are still seeing for sale.


These stores specialize in local foods:



 Friday – April 23

Earth Day Dinner, Heritage Prairie Farm – Menu – 2N308 Brundige Road, Elburn – 6 PM

Saturday – April 24

Chicago Green City Market at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, 8:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m (Directions) – The theme is Cheese.

Portage Park – Irving Park and Central, Chicago - 10 – 2 PM

Community Winter Market – 11 North 5th Street, Geneva 9 AM – 1 PM

Grayslake Farmer’s Market – Downtown Grayslake; Vendors are located on Center Street and Centennial Park – 10 AM – 2 PM

Sunday – April 25

Find a lot of our favorite vendors like Jim Vitalo’s Herbally Yours vinegars and Joe Burn’s Brunkow cheeses at the Frankfort Country Market - The Frankfort Country Market is located at the intersection of Oak & Kansas Street, adjacent to Breidert Green in historic downtown – 10 AM – 2 PM

Let’s Retake Our Plates – Earth Month Film Series – Food Inc, – Whole Foods Market, Sauganash (6020 N. Cicero, Chicago) – 5m PM – Entrance donation is $10 and all proceeds will be donated to The Talking Farm! 

Wednesday – April 28

Bell’s Beer Dinner – Branch 27 – 1371 W. Chicago Ave, Chicago – 730 PM


MARKET WATCH: Big Earth Day Weekend!

Posted: April 23, 2010 at 7:54 am

Earth Day was yesterday, but the festivities have only begun.  The weekend is the best time for many of the events to attract a crowd, and the events are spread out over several weekends.  The list below is NOT exhaustive, so please add in the comments any other events for this weekend or the next few weeks that you’re aware of .  Start off with a couple of regularly scheduled winter farmers markets: 

  • Green City Market Saturday, April 24, 8am to 1pm.  This is the final market for the indoor season in the Peggy Notebaert  Nature Museum.  Expect great things!
  • Portage Park Farmers Market Saturday, April 24, 10am to 2pm.  The park itself is at Central Ave & Irving Park Rd, but the market is held in the NE corner at Berteau & Long.  Weather permitting, the vendors will be outside in their usual summer spot while other Earth Day activities take place throughout the park and fieldhouse. 
  • Geneva Community Market - Saturday, April 24, 9am to 1pm.  A wide array of vendors come together at the Inglenook Pantry in Geneva to satisfy your needs.

And here are some great one-time events, some annual, some first time tries.  Check them out! 

  • 5K for Earth Day/Green Living Expo Saturday, April 24, 7am to 3pm.  This ambitious event celebrates the 40th anniversary of Earth Day by getting folks up and running or walking in Humboldt Park.  A full program of events is planned; check the listing for times and locations within the park. 
  • Green & Growing Fair Saturday, April 24, 10am to 3pm.  All things gardening at the 18th annual event held inside and outside the Garfield Park Conservatory.  There’ll be hands-on workshops, speakers, demonstrations, and vendors with bedding plants, composting worms, and much, much more.   Admission is FREE; get inspired for your garden by wandering through the beautiful conservatory while you’re there.  
  • Sustainable with Style-Green Boutique & Garden Expo Saturday/Sunday, April 24/25, 11am to 5pm, at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle as part of their Arbor Week celebrations.  Get ideas on how to live a green lifestyle with this showcase of eco-friendly products and services from local vendors.  FREE with Arboretum admission. 
  • Hoffman Estates Earth Day Celebration Saturday, April 24, 10am to 12noon.  This is a FREE community event held outdoors in Vogelei Park (moving indoors in case of rain) that encourages active lifestyles and healthy living while also connecting individuals with green solutions.  
  • Elgin’s Green Expo-Solutions for a Sustainable CommunitySaturday, May 8, 9am to 4pm (NOT this weekend!)  This annual expo will focus on all things green and energy efficient, but with special emphasis on older home retrofits, sustainable gardens and landscaping, and new technologies and innovative products for your home, businesses or community.  Admission is FREE. 

No doubt this list just scratches the surface.  Please add other events in the comments below.  Hope to see you out and about this spring!

The Time to Eat Local is Now

Posted: April 22, 2010 at 9:16 am

We’ve said this before, but at Local Beet World HQ, every day is Earth Day.  We believe in eating local for all sorts of reasons, not the least, it tastes better to eat local.  Eat local also impacts the earth in plenty of positive ways.  Moreover, as Michael Pollin is quick to say, there is probably no greater way to impact the earth than through our food choices.   

Five Ways Eating Local is Green:

  1. All the studies and percentages fail to convince us that Food Miles matter; if not every time, on every item of food, then most of the time.  Reduce the distance it takes your for your food to arrive.  The less your food travels, the less fuel used and the less greenhouse gases emitted.
  2. Local food has Less Packaging, meaning less solid waste.  And do your part, bringing your own bags to the farmer’s markets.
  3. You pay the real costs for local meat, practically forcing you to Eat Less Meat.  Listen, we love a big juicy steak, aint tired of bacon and revel at the rush of good, new hamburger places, but we do believe that meat should be a luxury eaten less often.  Reducing meat consumption may help the world more than reducing food miles.  You do not have to eat local to eat less meat, but when meat is a luxury it should be local.  (Local meat is also produced in more humane ways,)
  4. For a host of reasons, local farmers tend to use Environmentally Friendly and Sustainable Farming Practices.  If you know your farmers, they are accountable to you.  More, when in doubt, go visit the farm.  What about the fact that many local farms are not Organic with a big O.  That is and is not an issue.  On one hand, we can cite instance after instance where large scale farms compiled with the regulations but did not produce good results.  What about all the large scale penned in dairy farms that skated by on lax rules (now being changed).   On the other hand, there are local farms that can do better, for instance trying to spray less; that is change to organic pest control methods.  If you create the demand, however, the local farmers will comply.  All in all, we believe that the farmers we think of as “local”, those at the farmer’s markets, use good agriculture practices that make a real difference.  Support them.
  5. Eating local Fosters Community and Builds Local Economies.  Local eaters know how their decisions affect those around them, including how those around them are treating the earth.  They also know their decisions provide local jobs, preserve existing infrastructures and retard the decay facing our rural areas.  It matters to keep farmland green, and this will happen when there are jobs for farmers.

The time to Eat Local is now.

The Local Family has been doing it for a long time, even as it has often been a struggle.

Keighty helps you find make a local cheese board.

Tom finds yet another way to drink well locally, and Wendy has made the Case for Local Wine.

By this Earth Day, Vera’s got a lot done on her farm.  She has green garlic, sorrel, mint and baby fennel for sale already.

Brad wants you to go out and grow your own food already, and provides some quick tips on making it happen.

Don’t Let the Struggles to Eat Local Stop You this Earth Day

Posted: April 22, 2010 at 9:03 am

It’s been a long time since this Local Family decided to get the majority of its food from area farmers, a foodshed we call the Big Ten Conference.  Has there ever been a time when we did not struggle to achieve this goal? 

Eating local means working your schedule around farmer’s markets.  It means that even as you reduce the majority of food miles, you often have to travel around to meet your dietary needs.  It means spending time in the summer canning and setting aside for dark days, maintaining a root cellar in the sky.  Food comes nearly always in its rawest state, meaning plenty of struggle to peel and clean and deal with all of those carrot tops that should be a lot more edible than they are.  There are a lot of struggles involved in eating local.

Do we feel deprived.  Restricted.  Our struggles have never been about boundaries or limitations.  We have no line in the map that demarcates where we can and cannot get our food.  About the craziest thing we do is eat endless supplies of apples, as they are the one local fruit around from January until at least some time in May.  Of course we also eat citrus, some bananas, even bought mango’s this week.  We eat those fruits when they are in season during the winter and spring.  Sure, sometimes it seems like a struggle to eat rutabagas, kohlrabi, they hyper-intense version that is local celery, but we find it rewarding to have such variety in our diets.  Celery aside, these things all end up tasting good.  We do not struggle with what we can eat when we eat local.

I admitted recently that we are struggling with the costs of eating local.  We did not get a CSA this spring to save money.  As I noted yesterday, we are making sure we use up every last bit of usable food in the Bungalow.  We benefit from actions taken when times were better.  Our freezer contains parts from sides of beef, lamb and hog already purchased, and over the winter we got a bunch of meats from a CSA from Mint Creek Farm.  Still, as tight as times can be, we continue to use the good milk from local companies like Farmer’s All Natural Creamery or Organic Valley.  We get Amish Farm eggs at our neighborhood Polish market.  The few dollars more per we spend here, we just make up in some other way. 

We have not let any of these struggles stop us.  We eat local because the food tastes so much better.  We eat local because we know it helps the environment.  We eat local to build our economy and community.  We find purpose in eating local.  On Earth Day, many of you are thinking of ways to make a difference in the year to come.  To reduce greenhouse gases, to cut back on solid wastes, to get awful chemicals out of our waters; compost, change your light bulbs, bring your own bag to the store, scrap bottled water, ride your bike.  You can make all sorts of meaningful changes this Earth Day.  We hope and trust that one your changes is changing how you get your food.  That you have started eating more local this Earth Day.  We can promise you that you will struggle many a-times.  Don’t let the struggles stop you.  It has not stopped this Local Family


The Case For Local Wine

Posted: April 22, 2010 at 9:00 am

Editor’s Note: We are pleased to introduce you to our new columnist, Wendy Aeschlimann.  Actually, to those knee-deep in the Chicago food world, you probably know Wendy, an active participant in LTHForum and someone who has organized many events with them.  Still, did you know that Wendy is also passionate about wine, and especially passionate about local wine.  Please follow along today, and in weeks ahead as Wendy makes the Case for Local Wine.


ChateauChantal - full

Chateau Chantal – Photo by Jeff Greenberg

Why Not Local Wine?

Even people dedicated to local eating neglect to drink local wine. It’s easy to see why — we live in the upper Midwest, which is not readily associated with winemaking. It might also be because wine is made from grapes that are crushed, fermented, aged and bottled before shipping — thus, the product necessarily does not suffer in shipment as would, say, a peach. These considerations aside, there remains a case for integrating Midwestern wine into our wine-drinking rotation.

A recent article in the New York Times discusses the trend to broaden eating local to drinking local. In this article, California Bay-Area restaurants were charged with not offering enough local wine on their menus, which they claimed could be too high in alcohol and heavy in tannins and, therefore, not food-friendly. However, even those restaurants more motivated by palate than environmental considerations are coming around to recognizing that local wines deserve a place on their menus. This discussion highlights that, although drinking wine allows us to traverse the world via a bottle consumed from our tables, drinking locally allows us to experience more deeply another aspect of our home turf.

This notion of “home turf” is generally reflected in the winemaking term, “terroir,” which loosely stands for the notion that each wine reflects the characteristics of the place from where it came. Put another way, pinot noir made from grapes grown in Oregon will taste different from those grown in Austria simply because they were grown in different climates, soils and topography. While some wine lovers may quibble about which wine is better, the real point is: In a way, it doesn’t matter. That each type of wine is a product of a certain place is a wonderful thing and worth celebrating in its own right.

For the past few years, I’ve been dedicated to exploring the local wineries of the Midwest. In the context of integrating local food into your regimen, it can be very rewarding to visit the wineries in your backyard, drive through vineyard after vineyard, and meet the winemakers. I’ve found that many Midwest winemakers are dead-serious about growing wine grapes and making wine, knowing that they sometimes face difficult conditions (such as unforgiving winters).

Why drink local wine? Many of the reasons for drinking local are the same as eating local. Here are five more reasons:

One. Support your local winemaker. You experience the same sense of pride of place as when buying a local tomato or radish, knowing that it was grown by a nearby farmer.

Two. Environmental considerations. Less fossil fuels are consumed and carbon emitted in getting the wine to your door.

Three. Branching out. Because the Midwest generally plants cold-hardy grapes, you have the chance to try more unusual varieties, such as Norton, Traminette and Vidal. Just like at the farmer’s market, where your curiosity is roused by new varieties of peppers, so can it be with wine.

Four. Support your local economy. The Midwest, like many areas of the country, is an economy in transition. By supporting your local farmers, you may be supporting a growth sector of our local economy.

Five. Help influence the direction of local wine market. As with any business, wine-making is, at bottom, a money-making endeavor. As more wine-making consumers buy local wine, the money will be reinvested into the wineries, and they will only improve over time.

In advocating that Midwest wine (and spirits and hard cider) deserve a place in our drinking habits, I do not suggest that we should give up drinking our favorite wine from other places in the world. Eating and drinking local is not an extreme all-or-nothing proposition — just as you do not always follow a local eating regimen, nor should anyone have to strictly drink local wine. However, if you drink wine and already make the effort to fit in local vegetables and even meat into your diet, why not local wine as well?

As I write this column, I plan to chronicle my travels around the Midwest, exploring its varied wineries and winemakers. I’ll help direct you to worthy wineries, source these wines in Chicago, and taste them with Chicago wine professionals and enthusiasts. I look forward to hearing from people who drink local wines, spirits and hard ciders, and wish to discuss their finds. I hope that you will agree with me that integrating a local wine into your wine-drinking rotation is a satisfying and worthy extension of eating locally and celebrating pride of place.

NEXT: Tasting Local Wines With West Town Tavern’s Wine Director, Drew Goss. What Will We Find?


Planting on deadline

Posted: April 22, 2010 at 7:49 am

Oak leaves and cherry blossoms - rarely seen open at the same time: April 18, 2010.

Oak leaves and cherry blossoms - rarely seen open at the same time: April 18, 2010.

Signs of life came early this spring. Despite another extreme winter I managed to get into the fields a little earlier this year than last, where the ground was still frozen into early April. This past winter had such an early and sustained snowfall that the ground never really froze underneath and I managed to harvest garlic shoots for and Empty Bottle Farmers Market and the last winter indoor market at Logan Square.

My first deadline of the year is always to plant potatoes on Good Friday. Usually I have a few extra weeks as I follow the Julian calendar to observe the holy days but every four years (this year) Easter falls on the same day. I made a run to the local feed mill/seed store and stocked up on Austrian Crescent Fingerlings, ran the tiller through a few rows, and planted them on March 26. Now on April 22 I’m seeing the first dark shoots come out of the sandy soil . . . along with the first few weeds of the season. Last summer’s tomato blight also attacked my late potato crop so I’ll be running to the feed mill soon to look for something to treat the disease, which can linger for a while in the soil.

After I planted the Good Friday potatoes I threw in a double row of sugar peas, spinach, Swiss chard, mustard greens, and kale. Being frugal with space I threw in radish seeds into each row since they’re a 21-28 day crop and will be out of the way by the time the other plants start to take off. The peas are now an inch tall and I ran some recycled old sheep fencing along the row as a trellis.

Trying to meet my second-planting deadline a friend came by with a tractor and larger tiller to break up larger portions of my field:


The larger tiller did break ground deeper than my smaller rototiller but left large chunks of weeds/grass and awkward mounds of soil. Not to complain with the extra help. . . just saying it’s hard to deal with later when I’m weeding. I started my smaller tiller crumbled up the larger soil bits and leveled the soil for about five rows before the engine sputtered, sputtered, and died. My mechanic brother came to take a look and announced the engine was blown. A quick internet search found a replacement – in southern Indiana – for $240 (minus shipping costs). Not wanting to deal with another setback and a setting sun, I went back into the field and planted a few rows of parsley, transplanted lavender and Swiss chard, threw in more potato sets, and seeded the rest of the finely prepared soil with beets (more radishes) and onion sets for scallions.

So on today, Earth Day, I’ll be harvesting for market tomorrow at the University of Chicago’s Earth Fest. In addition to the green garlic and sorrel I’ve been harvesting (and selling through Green Grocer Chicago) now I’ve got some early mint and baby fennel.

One Comment

Call Your Senator to Support Local Food Sources

Posted: April 21, 2010 at 9:33 pm

The U.S. Senate is expected to vote on a sweeping overhaul of the food safety laws within a few days. As it is currently written, S. 510 will actually make our food less safe. S. 510 will strengthen the forces that have led to the consolidation of our food supply in the hands of a few industrial food producers, while harming small producers who give consumers the choice to buy fresh, healthy, local foods.

Please contact your Senators NOW to urge them to oppose or amend the bill! Contact information and talking points are below.

“Hi, my name is _____ and I live in ______. I’m very concerned that S.510, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, imposes unfair and burdensome regulations on local food sources, which are very important to me. I urge the Senator to support the Tester Amendment to exclude small facilities and direct marketing farms from the most burdensome provisions of the bill. Please call me back at ____________.”

Call both of your Senators. You can find their contact information at, or call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 or toll-free at 877-210-5351. Ask to speak with the staffer who handles food safety issues.

Our Senators
Richard Durbin 312-353-4952
Roland Burris    312-886-3506

5 Quick Tips on Starting Your Own Garden

Posted: April 21, 2010 at 8:15 pm

If Earth Day isn’t enough to encourage you to grow something, then I don’t know what can make you plant some seeds. But if you’re just afraid of failure, here’s a few vegetable gardening tips to help you out.

  • Start with small pots, small seeds and fresh soil. Putting seeds in a plot on your lawn leaves them exposed to whatever weeds or grass want to encroach on your little garden. Container gardening gives you the flexibility to, say, move everything to the porch if Chicago decides to host a late-May frost.
  • Go with the packaged garden. There are several novelty products designed to take the brainwork out of growing your own vegetables. Raspberries and tomatoes can be strung from the ceiling. If money is no object, a tiny indoor herb garden with its own growing light can be yours for the cost of a mid-range mp3 player. If you can’t grow something edible from one of these, well, I can understand if you wouldn’t want to tell people about it.
  • Collards, rhubarb or potatoes. Try these outdoors. They thrive in Chicagoland climate and many animals don’t find them as appealing as tomatoes or cucumbers. I personally found it difficult to kill my collards last year. They kept springing back. And not a single potato was pilfered by a rodent.
  • Provide good drainage but watch the weather. Especially if your plants are in containers, you need to assume they’ll be hit by a deluge and prepare to let that water go somewhere. Also, growing food not only brings you in touch with the soil below, but makes you more aware of the sky above. Many (if not most) plants around here don’t like to be watered every day. Keeping an eye on the weather report can help you plan ahead to avoid overwatering.
  • Consider what failure means. So you’ve wasted a seed and a little water. Big whoop. The worst thing that happens is that you learned a lesson about gardening the hard way. Every garden is its own little ecosystem and it’s your job to know your land better than anybody else. If you can’t grow food, figure out why and use that knowledge to try again next year.

Now go out and grow some local food already!


    Check out Lunar Brewing Wednesday, April 21st, 2010
    One Last Mash Wednesday, April 21st, 2010
    Eat Some Local Cheese this Earth Day Wednesday, April 21st, 2010
    My Trip to India and the Cheese I Brought Home Tuesday, April 20th, 2010
    Fleecing Update Monday, April 19th, 2010
    Drinking Lemberger, But Not With Limburger Monday, April 19th, 2010
    Chicago Tribune mislabels high-fructose corn syrup Monday, April 19th, 2010
    Post-Pizza Market Sunday, April 18th, 2010
    Local Foods Saturday in Evanston Friday, April 16th, 2010
    Thin Guidebooks: Eating Local in the Chicago Springtime Friday, April 16th, 2010
    Is the marriage between schools and fast food good for the children? Friday, April 16th, 2010
    MARKET WATCH: Winter Markets are (almost) a Wrap! Thursday, April 15th, 2010
    What’s on Your Plate: Screenings Presented by My Foodshed and Purple Asparagus Wednesday, April 14th, 2010
    Gold Standards for Schools Wednesday, April 14th, 2010
    Cheating from the Freezer Wednesday, April 14th, 2010
    More Reasons To Locapour: NY Times’ Asimov Intrigued By Michigan’s Rieslings Wednesday, April 14th, 2010
    The Elusive Tastes of Spring on the Local Calendar Wednesday, April 14th, 2010
    From Grass to Cheese: A Documentary About the Nolan Family Dairy Farm Tuesday, April 13th, 2010
    New Fundraiser for Morton Grove Market Monday, April 12th, 2010
    The World Beer Cup is Somewhat Perplexing Monday, April 12th, 2010
    The Local Beet, Your Practical Approach to Local Eating Sunday, April 11th, 2010
    Niles Caramel Apple Tour Sunday, April 11th, 2010
    MARKET WATCH: Come down to the Castle! Friday, April 9th, 2010
    The Day the CSA Did Not Show Up Friday, April 9th, 2010
    Is Michigan The New Napa? Not quite, But Food & Wine Magazine Still Weighs In Favorably Friday, April 9th, 2010
    Can It Still Be Winter – Last Winter Market of Season on Local Calendar Wednesday, April 7th, 2010
    Tweet And Taste (Wine) Redux: Shady Lane Cellars, April 13, 7:00 CST Wednesday, April 7th, 2010
    The newest Chicago brewery in the Pipeline has Belgian roots. Wednesday, April 7th, 2010
    Mozzarella! Mozzarella! Wednesday, April 7th, 2010
    Purple Asparagus at Urban Ag Green Room Session at Uncommon Ground Tuesday, April 6th, 2010
    Some Art with Your Food Tuesday, April 6th, 2010
    Thanks Local Beet Readers! Monday, April 5th, 2010
    No Duh, New York Times Monday, April 5th, 2010
    The Day I Got Fleeced (Ewe) Monday, April 5th, 2010
    Going to the local food instead of having it come to you Monday, April 5th, 2010
    Yes We Have No Apples – This Locavore Lasted the Winter Monday, April 5th, 2010
    April Butchering Classes – Mado Monday, April 5th, 2010
    Film Series to Support The Talking Farm Friday, April 2nd, 2010
    Wine Identified As Growth Sector For Michigan Economy; April Declared “Michigan Wine Month” Thursday, April 1st, 2010
    A Bridge from Winter: Sorrel and Sunchoke Soup Thursday, April 1st, 2010
    Healthy Eating Seminar with Seventh Generation Ahead/Shop for SGA Thursday, April 1st, 2010
    Rosie the Riveter Talks Victory Gardens Thursday, April 1st, 2010
    Old Waffle Irons and Revelations Thursday, April 1st, 2010
    Story of a Livestock Farm Thursday, April 1st, 2010