Forget Snowpocalypse! Seed Exchanges Are a Balm to Gardeners in Winter

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Posted: January 31, 2011 at 8:07 pm

Look at the bounty of this gardener's generosity

Look at the bounty of this gardener's generosity

I’m not really big on driving anymore.  It stems from driving back and forth to Champaign for school.  So it’s a pretty big deal that my first seed exchange required a trek out to Des Plaines yesterday.

Whoops, I promised no fancy gardening terms without explanation.  A seed exchange is just that.  You bring seeds, only the legal kind, and you take seeds.  It’s kind of cool because most gardeners have more than they want.

I’ve been struggling because in addition to my shared community garden plots, I still haven’t decided what I want to plant at our home garden.  I figured this seed exchange would at least get me to think about it.

This was an inaugural seed exchange.  It was perfect for novice gardeners and those who were thinking about gardening.  It didn’t require that you bring any seeds at all.

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The best tip of the year, I’m sure all the veteran gardeners know this one already, was this little wooden tool that you use to make cups for seedlings.  These babies are completely biodegradable.  When it’s time to transplant, you just dig a hole and plop it in.  Somehow, I think I can use a small glass to accomplish the same thing.  Time will tell.

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I did get intrigued by a couple of the offerings at the seed exchange.

Runner Beans, a favorite of my family's from across the pond

Runner Beans, a favorite of my family's from across the pond

Ultimately, these could land in one of my gardens or be used as booty at upcoming exchanges.


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Think Slow Food, Slow Meat With the Latest Local Calendar

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Posted: January 28, 2011 at 11:38 am

As we mentioned in last week’s Local Calendar, don’t be heading into this weekend’s shopping with a long list of needs.  On the other hand, a little error on our part last week points out the need to just get out and see what you will find.  Last week, after our Local Calendar went to press, we got an email from Faith in Place about the then forthcoming winter market in Chicago.  The email pointed out that this would be the one winter market where Plapp Farm would bring their locally grown, locally milled grains, a real treat, a real find, and a real need for those of us looking to get our food from local sources.  We wished we had pointed that out in our weekly Local Calendar (and having gone off to Las Vegas sans computer I could not even adjust the post).  Still, maybe you just happened to go a-marketing.  In other words, it may be winter, it may be limited, but it can be worthwhile to step out to a farmer’s market.

This weekend, besides the markets, we have events of keen interest to those wanting good, clean, fair food, especially good, clean, fair food from animals.  For the third year, Slow Food Chicago is holding an open meeting at Kendall College.  This is the first year I will attend the meeting as a member of the Board of Slow Food Chicago.  I feel honored to have been elected to that position, and I strongly believe in the Slow Food mission.  I urge you to attend the meeting on Sunday, January 30 to learn more about this mission.  In addition, Slow Food Chicago is proud to present award winning cookbook author Deborah Krasner to speak at the meeting.  Krasner’s book Good Meat came out last yer.  It is essential reading for locavores, covering key issues like how to have a local meat locker break down your purchase and how to cook up those round steaks and other odd cuts that come with purchasing whole animals.  Good pictures too!  Krasner will talk about what to do with good meat in the kitchen, but more importantly, she will talk about the process of getting good meat to your kitchen.  Most importantly, she will talk about why you should be eating good meat in the first place. 

Another book came out last year dealing with good meat, focusing on “rock star” chef’s and butchers making whole animal cooking popular and accessible.  One of the chefs included in Marissa Guggiana’s Primal Cuts is Rob Levitt of the newly opened Butcher and Larder.  Butcher and Larder will host a book signing (and I believe tasting) with Guggiana on Saturday night, January 29 (h/t Gaper’s Block).  And with Butcher and Larder open, the opportunity to have good meat has never been easier in the Chicago area.

Getting back to Ms. Krasner, she is also giving a book signing and offering you a chance to taste some of her recipes at Prairie Fire Sunday morning.   The five course brunch featuring Mint Creek lamb, Tallgrass beef, etc. costs $45.00 per person (inclusive of gratuity & tax) and begins at 11 AM.  To make your reservation, call Prairie Fire at 312-382-8300.

WHAT TO BUY NOW

We remain in the part of the year where it is not a question of what’s “in season”, it’s a question of “what’s available.” The following items may be found, depending:

Indoor grown vegetables: lettuces, spinach, micro-greens, mushrooms, cucumbers, herbs, rocket; root vegetables: beets, carrots, celery root, sunchokes; storage crops like onions, potatoes, and apples,winter squash and cabbage.

WHERE TO FIND LOCAL FOODS

These stores specialize in local foods:

It’s open! Eat locally butchered meat at the Butcher and the Larder.

C&D Pastured Pork’s sales around town.

We bet, if you look around, you can also find local foods at various grocery stores, especially local apples, onions, winter squash and potatoes.

WHAT TO DO NOW

Saturday – January 29

Geneva – Geneva Community Market – Inglenook Pantry – 11 N. 5th Street, Geneva – 9 AM – 1 PM

Chicago – Book signing with Marissa Guggiana, author of Primal Cuts, at Butcher & Larder 7 PM - 1026 N. Milwaukee Ave, Chicago

Sunday – January 30

Chicago – Logan Square Farmers Market – 2135 N. Milwaukee – 10 – 2 PM – All sorts of things on for Sunday including Otter Creek cheddars, Mint Creek lamb, and Tempel Farms eggs; Otter Creek Organic Farm also has grass fed beef and pasture raised organic pork and chicken – Congress Theater, 2135 N. Milwaukee – 10 AM – 2 PM

Chicago – Five course brunch featuring Mint Creek lamb, Tallgrass beef, etc. with author Deborah Krasner at Prairie Fire - 11 AM – $45.00 per person (inclusive of gratuity & tax).  To make your reservation, call Prairie Fire at 312-382-8300 – 215 N. Clinton, Chicago

Chicago – Slow Food Chicago Annual Meeting Featuring James Beard award-winning author Deborah Krasner. Deborah will host a Q&A session on sustainable meat.  Submit questions for Ms. Krasner and register for the event here. – 230 PM – 430 PM – Kendall College, 900 N. North Branch Street, Chicago.

Wednesday – February 2

Soup and Bread at the Hideout benefiting local food pantries – 1354 W. Wabansia, Chicago – 530 PM – 730 PM

SAVE THE DATE!

March 17 – 19 – Familyfarmed.org Expo including Financing Farm to Fork, Chicago Food Policy Summit, Localicious Party and Consumer Day.




The Revolution is Upon Us

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Posted: January 28, 2011 at 1:47 am

Local Beet kudos go out to Revolution Brewing, the Logan Square brewpub just named among 2010′s top five new breweries in the world by Ratebeer.com. And we humbly remind you that we previewed Revolution in its development stages. You can ignore the fact that I made an a** of myself there shortly after it opened.

More on the local impact of the 2011 Ratebeer  listing coming soon, or whenever I feel like getting around to it.




Michigan Is #3 on Wine Enthusiast’s List of “Undiscovered Wine Regions”

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Posted: January 27, 2011 at 1:31 pm

Michigan (specifically, Northwest Michigan) ranks third on a list of ten Undiscovered Wine Regions by Wine Enthusiast magazine.  The article mentions regions that are “not literally undiscovered, but certainly overlooked,” and also includes places like the Niagara Peninsula (known for icewine) and the Jura in France.  Read more here.




My Babies

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Posted: January 27, 2011 at 10:32 am

I got to wait at least a few more posts [ed. like at least as week] before trying to turn a dinner of non-local food, in this case, Peking duck leftovers from Sun Wah, into a meaningful post.  So, lets do what all columnists do when they have no material.  Get nostalgic.  Just the other day, I was going through the pictures of my babies on my iPhone.  Now, I have but one picture of the Local Mom, but that’s because she never wants her picture taken.  The dog’s the current wallpaper.  I have plenty of pictures of the kids.  Still, when I look at my babies, this is what I see:

 

I tried having a salad for lunch yesterday, a “gryo’s salad” at Mickey’s in Oak Park. It’s something I’ve liked before, but after that lunch, I only missed my babies more.




Urban Ag Zoning Change Debate

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Posted: January 27, 2011 at 9:20 am

Editor’s Note: Does the future of Chicago include urban agriculture.  Is urban agriculture integral to our local food system.  Many believe that urban agriculture is the future and it does matter to a thriving local food system.  Can Chicago support and encourage urban agriculture.  Proposed changes in how Chicago zones for agriculture activities (as well as for community gardens) has caused a bit of consternation.  Beetnik Lindsay Banks, who is paid to look at the future of Chicago, looks at the latest developments.  She finds it, perhaps not as bad as feared.  You can read her earlier exploration of zoning for urban agriculture here.  (Also, while Lindsay is paid to look at the future of Chicagoland, the opinions rendered by her below are her thoughts alone and not those of her agency.)

 

Listening to various groups talk about the urban agriculture zoning changes can undoubtedly lead to confusion.  The overall consensus in regards to Mayor Daley’s proposed zoning amendment seems to be that the recognition of urban agriculture as a legitimate land use in the City of Chicago is a great step forward.  All underlined text found in the Zoning Amendment for Section 17-2-0207 of the City’s Zoning Ordinance represents the changes that the City has proposed.

For example, in the Public and Civic section, “Community Garden” is now a permitted use in residential zoning districts. 

Zoning

Although community gardens exist throughout the city and are allowed, the current zoning code does not officially recognize them as a land use; this amendment would change that.  The legislation was introduced by Daley this past December and represents the arduous work that has been underway for the last several years in Chicago, in coordination with the Chicago Food Policy Advisory Council, Advocates for Urban Agriculture, and other community groups and local farmers. 

Now that the legislation has been finalized, with compromises made on both sides of the debate, there are some folks who feel that the City did not go far enough.  The main concerns – excellently documented in the Urban Food Policy blog – are size limits, prohibition of sales of goods on-site, agriculture as a temporary use, and rooftop agriculture. The City’s defense primarily rests on protecting the rights of all citizens – many of whom may not want a large farm in their quiet, residential neighborhood.  I personally think that urban farms represent an improvement upon vacant lots, but I do not speak for all of Chicago.  The City also felt the need to limit size so as to prevent giant industrial agricultural farms from setting up shop, and to reflect the size of the majority of existing farms.  The size limits do seem small – especially when you look at some established farms in the City of Chicago who exceed the size limits.  Those farms, however, were established with a variance, and future farms could probably do the same.   

There is also concern over the wording that compost operations may not accept waste from off-site locations, and may not distribute compost soil off-site.  This is not a change to the current legislation; this reflects the City’s existing Composting Ordinance, passed in June of 2007.  This is an ordinance that I would have liked to see amended with this new legislation.  Composting is a simple, cost-effective way to eliminate waste that would otherwise go to a landfill where the city must spend money to bury it and deal with the climate-change-inducing methane gas that results when organic materials break down in an anaerobic state.  According to the US EPA, our nation spends about $1 billion dollars disposing of food waste every year. 

There are many exciting, innovative ways to compost organic waste – and the City should encourage organizations to do more composting and even experiment with different techniques – (like Bokashi!) as long as they don’t create a nuisance.  Some urban farming operations rely on composting to reduce costs for sourcing organic, healthy soil – and they currently collect restaurant food scraps, which requires an expensive permit.  Under Municipal Code (Section 11-4-2540), the permit required for composting is essentially the same as a full-scale Class II recycling facility , only more expensive – $3,000, good for 3 years. 

Overall, this legislation a step in the right direction but I hope to see further changes in the future, similar to San Francisco’s “neighborhood agriculture” proposal, and improved regulations for composting organic waste. 

Promoting sustainable local food systems is one of the 12 recommendations outlined in the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP)’s GO TO 2040 plan

  1. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/letters/chi-110112rhodes_briefs,0,1981349.story
  2. http://bit.ly/eVqmdu?r=bb
  3. http://www.chicagofoodpolicy.org/
  4. http://auachicago.wordpress.com/
  5. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-met-urban-agriculture–20101228,0,1127945.story
  6. http://www.urbanfoodpolicy.com/2011/01/chicagos-urban-agriculture-zoning.html
  7. http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/doe/supp_info/composting_ordinance.html
  8. http://www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/materials/organics/food/fd-basic.htm
  9. http://kitchengardenfoods.com/2006/02/20/bokashi/

10.  http://www.good.is/post/zoning-for-urban-produce/

11.  http://www.cmap.illinois.gov/2040/local-food-systems


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What We Eat: Pancakes and Soup

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Posted: January 26, 2011 at 3:34 pm

Make that soup and pancakes.  We had the soup and then the pancakes.  I promised the other day that I would chronicle more the Local Family family life.  Last week in discussing the lack of a local eat local system in Illinois, I said that the Local Family, at least, had an eat local system.  Oh really, I was asked.  Show us.  Show us how you do it to help enable others to do it.  So, now the secret is out, eating local means soup and pancakes.

Eating local is kooky.  Not the idea of having your food produced locally.  There is nothing kooky about reducing food miles, buying from farmer’s who care, supporting your community and eating better tasting food.  No, eat local is kooky because it leads to meals of soup and pancakes.  Even when farmer’s markets are at their most bountiful, when CSA boxes come filled to the brim, it requires kooky efforts to eat local.  I mean that flour for the pancakes.  Where did that come from?  You have to track it down somewhere, probably not somewhere close, hardly ever at your closest farmer’s market.  Then, we get to the winter and you want to make parsnip soup.  Whatever winter market you can find, within 100 miles of your home, you won’t find the parsnips.  Hopefully you find some in your root cellar (as is).

The kooky thing about eating local is how little control you can have over your meals.  Sure, we eat with the seasons.  We eat asparagus daily for around that time; rotate our fruit bowl from strawberries to cherries, peaches to pears and finally there are apples.  When it is hot it’s platter salads; when it’s cold, we hunker down with meat.  That’s hardly kooky.  What’s kooky is parsnip soup and pancakes.  Eating what happens to be around.  Not just what is in season but what is unfrozen or easy to prepare.  I mean when it came time for dinner last night were we going to eat any of the beets or winter squash around.  It would have been quite kooky to wait the period for the beets to roast, nor did the Local Mom have the gusto in her to tackle a thick skin squash.  Eating local is a balancing act.

Dinner Tuesday night, we drank bowls of soup made with parsnips purchased last November at the Lincoln Square Farmer’s Market, thickened with beans purchased in their home state of Michigan.  Nichol’s Farm shallots, purchased some time over the summer, added some bite and Herbally Yours hot sauce rounded out the flavor.  Then we had pancakes made with local eggs (Downtown Farmstand) and local milk (Farmer’s All Natural Creamery).  I know the butter, flour and maple syrup were local but I cannot tell you the exact origin–I’ll do better as I continue this post more project.

I’m not quite sure dinner on Wednesday, but I know it will be kooky. 

**Click on “Previous entry in category” to see what the Local Family’s Food System looks like**




Eat Like Me Like Not Eating Like Me

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Posted: January 25, 2011 at 10:40 am

Remember, the idea is to post more, to chronicle the eat local adventure.  Build demand through demonstration.  Never stop with one Local Family post but follow the story.  See how the Local Family eats local.   Click back if needed.

Except for now.

Don’t eat like me.

Do you know what I had for dinner last night?  A bag of Ruffles Sour Cream and Cheddar potato chips.  Man, I love the glutamate heady flavor of those.  And did I follow that with a nice salad or something.  No.  I grabbed the Godiva chocolate bar I had hid from kids ages ago.  Still in a daze from a weekend of little Vegas sleep; yes returning to the poker table at 2 AM was an excellent idea–and the redeye home, my body craved the comfort of chemicals.  That awful dinner followed an equally awful lunch of Kenny’s Ribs, because, well I was also tired at lunch time and the mini rib tips cost only $2.99 on Mondays.

Before the chips, the tips, the Vegas, there was a meal out at Rick Bayless’s Xoco, which was probably local, and there was, snuck in there, local beans, local bacon, and even local beets, but in total, the meals these days have been too many out, too many convenient, too many make do, which all equated to a lot of eat like I say not as I did.  It was just that kind of week. 

It’s more than just a Happy Stomach who doesn’t want to be labeled locavore.  The biggest strike people give against eating local is that it seems so doctrinaire, so limiting.  After all, the most famous account of eating local, the 100 mile diet of J.B. MacKinnon and Alisa Smith is equal parts pleasure and pity as their wonderful British Colombia bounty is tempered by turnip sandwiches and poop filled grain bags.  Is eating local akin to ultra-marathons, something to gape at with perverse admiration but hardly anything “normal” people can do?  That’s just too common of a thought.  All the time, there are people like Sharon who say I’m happy shopping at a farmer’s market, maybe even take up canning, but don’t make me do what they did.  I aint going no 100 mile on you.

So don’t.  This Local Family has never tried to eat within 100 miles of Chicago.  Man, that would be limiting, but we don’t even try to live 500 miles from Chicago.  Nothing stops us from drinking coffee or eating citrus fruits.  Yet, we call ourselves locavores.  We believe in the eat local system, even if we don’t eat it all the time.  You can too.  Don’t focus on how much local food you had last week.  You may have eaten more local food than I did last week.  The really simple lesson is, you don’t have to eat local each meal to want to eat local every meal.

Please, follow along.  See how we shop.  How we set aside.  How we made do with what we have.  Yet, don’t expect that we will fit some image of vulgarity and stridency.  If we don’t live for months on end on potatoes and sprouts, do we expect you too?  Eat as we do because we don’t always eat like we say we do.


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The Eat Local Revolution Will Be Chronicled

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Posted: January 24, 2011 at 6:36 pm

Post.  Post more.  The person who told me to post more last week did not realize I’ve promised many other times to post more.  We were talking about the failure for an eat local system to really take off in Illinois.  I gave my usual spiel about needing more demand.  We need to demonstrate demand.  With demand would come a thriving local food system.  And it is not just demand for local food.  We need, really, crucially, we need demand for the food that is local to our region.  How.  How do we produce demand, I was asked.  And as I’m so often saying to my kids, it was not a rhetorical question.  How do we make people demand the local food available.  Post, I was told.  Tell them how I was doing it, how the whole Local Family did it.  Yes, I realized, I had to get back to posting more often.  Demand could come via posts.

Like every failed project, one needs excuses.  I blame irregular Local Family posting on computers or not having a computer downstairs to post while drinking my morning coffee.  Or I blame Molly, who may be the eat local dog, but who needed walks when I could have been posting.  There was work.  Cases due.  Marketing.  And if I thought about just a few more minutes, I could rattle off a few more excuses.  We had to go to Florida.  There was Las Vegas.  Kid’s off of school.  Kids at school.  You don”t really need excuses, but it makes me feel better to offer some. 

Did I mention structural failures in the way the Local Beet web site works.  That we have been talking about a re-design and such for about a year?  What’s my excuses for that.  OK,. those we’ll skip.  I’ll say this.  The current format of the Local Family space is not very “bloggy.”  What I mean is that blog meant web log,  web-log.  Log.  Blogs were logs.  Logs of actions or activities.  Impressions, a blogger might have logged his impression of events (even “live blogging” something).  Bloggers tracked, tracked the news or scuttlebutt about something.  They engaged in dialogue with others who shared their actions, activities or interests.  You could not rely on a blogger’s post.  Rather, you followed the blogger as he or she built a narrative.  They told a story in bits and links.  Old school.  Think Instapundit or Atrios.  The Local Family space needs to be more bloggy.  Instead of the sporadic, semi-weekly, wannabe columnist, posts, there should be more frequent, what’s happening posts. 

I want to get back to building a narrative.  Show you how the Local Family eats local.  How we track down our food.  Then, how we turn that food into eat local meals.  For instance, last week we cooked up a big pot of local beans.  Beans purchased probably two years ago (at least).  See, you cannot just shop and eat.  Eating local is not usually a linear progression.  It can be random or at least haphazard.  To see how it is done, cannot often be explained in a few paragraphs, in one succinct, wannabe columnist, post.  One of the ideas in the has not happened re-design is to make this space more bloggy.  To make it easier to have more but smaller posts.  But I’m not going to wait for technology to fix the situation.  Even though the structure of the site is not very bloggy now, I’m going to post more like it’s a blog.  It means that this space will, should, turn more frequently.  It means that what you see on the home page may not make full sense.  That you may have to go to the bottom of the page and click on “previous entry in this category” to see what I’m talking about.

The benefit, I hope, I believe, will be a better idea of what it is like to eat local in the Chicago area.  The benefit then, will be for more to do the same.  And they will share how they are doing it.  And as we show others, we will build demand.  We are going to create an eat local system for the Chicago area by chronicling it.




In Anticipation of a Dirtier Life

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Posted: January 23, 2011 at 10:16 am

As my family sits impatiently waiting for the spring thaw to heat up the housing market so we can finally acquire a piece of land in our desired area, I find myself more and more detached from the soil. I haven’t grown anything in well over a year and I miss it more and more. Having helped found the Morton Grove Farmers’ Market last year was a great experience, but I miss the day-to-day experience of watching growth, battling nature and eating fresh from the vine.

A whole slew of books—it’s its own genre, really—have been written about the spirituality of farming. Organic farmers like Joel Salatin have detailed organic farming as a political statement, suburbanites have penned journals about leaving the banality of their sterile white collar lives to grow things for a living. I’ve read many of these and put just as many down halfway through the first chapter.

Kristin Kimball’s The Dirty Life stands out in the crowd like a cabbage among weeds. And I mean that in the nicest possible way. As a travel writer, She has crafted elegant prose that elevates the most mundane farm tasks into mesmerizing tales. Here is her description of compost:

“Of all the confounding things I encountered that first year, the heat of decomposition—its intensity and duration—was the most surprising, the one that made me want to slap my knee and say, Who knew? That heat comes from the action of hordes of organisms, some so tiny billions can live in a tablespoon of soil. They are in there, eating and multiplying and dying, feeding on and releasing the energy that the larger organisms—the plants and the animals—stored up in their time, energy that came, originally, from the sun. I think it’s worth it, for wonder’s sake, to stick your hand in a compost pile in winter and be burned by a series of suns that last set the summer before.”

Unlike other journals of farm life, she is honest about her and her husband Mark’s finances. They had little cash to begin with, and Mark sought to live a bartering lifestyle anyway. Other books gloss over the costs of acquiring or maintaining the land much and make me wonder if the white-collar farmers were really just trust fund babies opting to get their fingers dirty. (To be fair, my wife thinks I’d make a better gentleman farmer than actually get my hands dirty.) Kimball does not shun the dirt, and offers a glorious description of the different types of filth that cling to her skin and clothing on a daily basis. She eloquently describes each injury to herself and her husband as well as the animals they own and the ultimate death of her beloved horses and cows. She also pulls no punches admitting that, although she loves her farm life, it is exhausting work that never gets any easier, despite the eventual addition of full-time staff as Essex Farm’s reputation grew along with its CSA members in the North Country of New York state.

Late in the book, Kimball contrasts her 500 acres to a modest farm she visited in Hawaii, which she describes as a suburban garden plot. Kimball remarks that those who love growing food but are looking to relax and enjoy tranquility are better off becoming gardeners than farmers, whose livelihood depends on good weather, functioning equipment and cooperative livestock.

She goes on to note that in times of upheaval, people return to the land. As America’s current two-front war escalated, the size of her volunteer staff grew. Surfing the crest of the Return to Agriculture trend, Kimball and Essex farm also spearheaded the Write-about-the-Return genre.

As for myself, odds are against us having land in time for a spring planting. If I’m lucky I’ll plan for some late-season crops. We feel that homeowners in our district are slowly realizing that the housing market isn’t what it was in 2005 and they must drop their prices to attract buyers. Soon, if all goes well, I’ll be planting again and bragging about my square foot gardens on these pages. Until then, stay warm and think of spring.


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Do We Have to Make Produce Cheaper – Walmart, the New Farmer’s Market?

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Posted: January 21, 2011 at 1:28 pm

Amongst the hats I wear, I wear a hat on the Advisory Board for the forthcoming Financing Farm to Fork Conference being put on by FamilyFarmed.org and the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.  At more than a few meetings, I supported the question of inviting Walmart to participate in the conference.  I think it’s a good thing to have Walmart at the table discussing their place in the local food world.  Do I think it’s a good thing for Walmart to be in the local food world.  I’d give that a qualified yes, but I’m concerned mostly about the price of fruits and vegetables. 

Walmart got much attention yesterday by  giving a press conference with First Lady, Michelle Obama.  They tauted Walmart’s various initiatives to bring healthier foods to Americans by, well, being the place where Americans could get healthy food.  Walmart will attack this issue in a few ways.  For one thing, they will build a new type of Walmart, a grocery-storesque Walmart in those arid food desserts.  For another thing, they would make healthier food more affordable.  And many don’t like these ideas.  At the Food Fight, Melanie Warner calls the Walmart-Michelle Obama plan doomed.  The doyenne of good food politics, Marian Nestle remains skeptical of Walmart.  She wonders about putting smaller Walmart stores into inner cities, saying  it sounds good “but is this just a ploy to get Walmart stores into places where they haven’t been wanted?  Will the new stores drive mom-and-pop stores out of business?  Here too, Walmart is short on details.” 

As noted in Food Safety News, “Though Walmart’s pledge to reformulate its brand name products gained the most media attention yesterday, keen food politics observers believe the corporate heavyweight’s commitment to reducing the price of fruits and vegetables is the most radical part of the new plan.”  That’s the part that gets me.  Not because I doubt Walmart’s ability to goose the supply chain towards cheaper prices, nor do I deny that cheaper food is a good thing.  I just question the notion that produce is too expensive.  I heard the aforementioned Ms. Nestle on NPR yesterday talking about price of fruits and veg going up 40 percent since 1980, and I saw a quote to that effect today at an article on Rodale.com.  Thing is a 40 percent increase in price in thirty plus years is hardly a big deal.  And we have no idea where that price growth is coming from.  My guess is that any measure of across the board price growth for produce can be attributed to greater acceptance and desire for organic produce.  In other words what ever price increase we have seen, stems from the fact that people are desiring more expensive produce.  Price is not keeping people away from fruits and vegetables.

I talk about this often.  We cannot dismiss the price differences between good food and crap food.  A gallon of hormone-y milk can be found for $2.50; local, organic milk is often $4.50 a HALF gallon.  Eggs can be 99 cents or 500 cents.  How much does Rob Levitt charge for bacon?  These are, obviously, not minor differences.  The prices of fruits and veg vary depending on at least three things: seasonality, exotic-ness and unique-ness.  Produce can be found for as little as a quarter a pound to well up and over $5/lb.  It’s not all heirloom tomatoes but neither is it all iceberg lettuce.  And let me say this, there are times when the local produce is cheap or cheaper and there is times when the out of state stuff is as cheap.  In the summer, Angelo Caputo’s sells Michigan lettuce.  In the winter, they sell California lettuce.  At all times, the customer pays the same price.  It is not produce prices that are causing problems.

People don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables for a number of reasons.  Not the least, it takes work making many fruits and vegetables.  People turn to convenient food for convenience.  Cooking up that squash on the counter is not convenient.  So, I fear the consequences of Walmart’s plans.  Ringing out efficiencies in fruit and vegetable may lead to the same types of problems apparent in other food production where efficiencies have been rung.  Why is that bacon cheaper than Rob Levitt’s. The eggs only 99 cents.  Where there is a will there is a way, and when Walmart says we want to pay this much, there are those who will figure out how to do it.

Listen, I’m willing to listen to Walmart’s plans.  I’m willing to see what can happen.  I want better food to be out there, and I want affordable food.  I just want to make sure my food gets made the right way.  We can have good fruits and vegetables if we want them.  We just have to make sure we want them.


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Do You Need “Fresh” Food with This Local Calendar?

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Posted: January 21, 2011 at 12:00 pm

We fear that at the few available winter farmer’s markets this weekend, you will not be able to find what is commonly referred to as “fresh” food. That is food that is from the plant in its natural state. Fruit and vegetables that have not been placed in a jar or a freezer or left to dry. Fresh. To eat local sometimes means one must forsake fresh. As we said last Local Calendar, do not get caught up on the idea of fresh produce. Resist the Tyranny of the Fresh. Listen, you aint gonna find much fresh on the Local Calendar, so you might as well embrace your canned tomatoes.

I mean at the markets this weekend, Logan Square and the two winter markets associated with Faith in Place, you will find high quality, packed at their peak of ripeness, tomatoes from Tomato Mountain.* Irv and Shelly remind us that if it’s too cold to hit a market, you can find freshly frozen food from them, specifically Midwestern corn. We hate to say it, but sometimes it’s difficult to eat local. Look at your options below. Don’t discount your local food specialists like Cassie’s Green Grocer or the Downtown Farmstand. Get what you can this week and remind yourself you should have been listening to us when we told you about putting up your own food.

WHAT TO BUY NOW

We remain in the part of the year where it is not a question of what’s “in season”, it’s a question of “what’s available.” The following items may be found, depending:

Indoor grown vegetables: lettuces, spinach, micro-greens, mushrooms, cucumbers, herbs, rocket; root vegetables: beets, carrots, celery root, sunchokes; storage crops like onions, potatoes, and apples,winter squash and cabbage.

WHERE TO FIND LOCAL FOODS

These stores specialize in local foods:

It’s open! Eat locally butchered meat at the Butcher and the Larder.

C&D Pastured Pork’s sales around town.

We bet, if you look around, you can also find local foods at various grocery stores, especially local apples, onions, winter squash and potatoes.

WHAT TO DO NOW

Saturday – January 22

Beekeeping class at Hull House offered by Chicago Honey Co-op – 800 S. Halsted, Chicago – 10 AM – 3 PM

Evanston – Winter market associated with Faith in Place at Lake Street Church – 607 Lake, Evanston – 9 AM – 1 PM

Geneva – Geneva Community Market – Inglenook Pantry – 11 N. 5th Street, Geneva – 9 AM – 1 PM

Sunday – January 23

Chicago – Winter market associated with Faith in Place at Irving Park Luthern Church – 3938 W. Belle Plaine, Chicago – 12 PM – 3 PM

Chicago – Logan Square Farmers Market – 2135 N. Milwaukee – 10 – 2 PM – All sorts of things on for Sunday including Otter Creek cheddars, Mint Creek lamb, and Tempel Farms eggs; Otter Creek Organic Farm also has grass fed beef and pasture raised organic pork and chicken – Congress Theater, 2135 N. Milwaukee – 10 AM – 2 PM

Chicago – Happy 3rd Anniversary Green Grocer Chicago – A day of tastings and celebrations to mark three years in business for Cassie and Gary and the little store that can, Green Grocer Chicago – 10 AM – 7 PM – 1402 W. Grand, Chicago 

Chicago – Slow Food Chicago Book Group – Discuss Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser – First Slice Cafe, 4401 N. Ravenswood, Chicago – 2 – 3 PM – RSVP to sfchicagoevents@gmail.com

Wednesday – January 26

Soup and Bread at the Hideout benefiting local food pantries – 1354 W. Wabansia, Chicago – 530 PM – 730 PM

WHAT TO DO LATER

Sunday – January 30

Chicago – Slow Food Chicago Annual Meeting Featuring James Beard award-winning author Deborah Krasner. Deborah will host a Q&A session on sustainable meat.  Submit questions for Ms. Krasner and register for the event here. – 230 PM – 430 PM – Kendall College, 900 N. North Branch Street, Chicago.

SAVE THE DATE!

March 17 – 19 – Familyfarmed.org Expo including Financing Farm to Fork, Chicago Food Policy Summit, Localicious Party and Consumer Day.

*In the past, my wife has been employed by Tomato Mountain, and she may work for them in the future.




Don’t Ditch the Beet

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Posted: January 21, 2011 at 10:14 am

When they go after the foodie you stay silent; when they go after the beet, will anyone be left to stick up for you?  We apologize to all our foodie friends for not jumping quicker to your defense when Chicago Tribune food writer Chris Borrelli turned against his own kind.  We realize, our role in his plea for calm.  After all, who wants to hear more about a product being “”sustainable-locally sourced-housemade” than us Beetniks.  Yet, we let it pass.  Haha.  We could take a good joke.  We could laugh at our foibles and accept our latent holier-than-thou auras.  Mock our concerns.  But mock our beets.  Mr. Borrelli, have you no shame.

No one stopped him then.  Now, he shoots at a target apparently easier than insufferable food lovers, the earthbound, dirt tasting beet.  As when he went after foodies, Borrelli turns to those more learned than him to support his view.  That beet not only tastes like dirt, chef Tony Conte of The Oval Room says it is like “eating dirt.”  Our beloved beet is ubiquitous yet secretly reviled, we are told.  It is used, it seems, mostly for its brilliant magenta and its easy partnership with soft white cheeses.  Borrelli carries their hidden agenda.  Help us ditch the beet.

Ditch the beet.  We will have none of that beet hate around here.  We need the beet.  It makes for a clever title for our CSA and farmer’s market reporters.  They are Beet Reporters.  It makes for a clever name for our nascent community of local food fans.  We are Beetniks.  And mostly, we are in love with our clever name for this site.  The Local Beet.  Get it.  Yet, we also believe that a beet is more than a good pun.  It’s very place in the local diet gets told in the Borrelli piece:

Beets can grow practically anywhere you find a menu. So it’s virtually never out of season! And it stores very well! And it’s cheap! And there’s no shrinkage when in storage! For a long time the beet was lost in space, but we’re living through an economic time when we need something different and enjoyable and affordable — and the palate in this country is based on sugar.

It’s perfect, Borrelli’s source admits. Alas, it appears that perfection is a bad thing.

Too many chefs have mimicked Alice Waters. We see beet salads too much. It is so easy, it seems for chefs to grab some goat cheese and grab some beets. You know what, as a proud beet lover, that hardly rings true. Grab some beets. Who the hell grabs some beets. You grab some beets and a few hours later you are grabbing at their skins and a bit after that you are grabbing at the stains on your nice shirt you forgot to cover. Beets may be perfect but they are hardly grabbable. Encouraging people to eat beets is good.

Just yesterday I was talking with someone about why it remains difficult to have a local food system in Chicago. We cannot just encourage people to eat local food, we need to encourage people to eat the local food that is available to Chicagoans. That means from late fall until early spring, the population of local foods stands at storage crops, preserved foods and a small supply of indoor grown produce. If you want to have local food in Chicago, you are going to have to get used to having beets. After all, they store without shrinkage!

Borrelli says we got glommed on to beets because they are sweet, and to drive this point across, he also notes that there is a related crop called the sugar beet that produces good old, plain old, used to be evil, but against high fructose corn syrup is maybe not quite as bad, white sugar. Thing is, beets may be sweet, but that sweetness is paired against a good degree of bitter. It is why kids, in fact, tend to hate beets, and also why the naked flavor of beets is often soften by the inclusion of goat cheese. Are beet fearing chefs really fearing their inner demons. It is memories of mom food that haunts them. Come on. Eat beets because they taste good. In a grown up way. The earthy flavor of beets matches up well against things besides cheese. Beets are especially good, Polish style, with grated horseradish or grated onion. It is a variation of the Tom Coliccihio mantra about things that grow together go together. Here we have things that grow in the same place go together. Beets also pair well against citrus. Like be, the Editor of the Beet, they also love fresh herbs. Love the beet. Hell, love the Local Beet.

Listen fellow foodies, we apologize for not sticking up for you when Borrelli went after you. Now that he wants you to ditch the beet, we won’t have any of it. We shall be united. We shall stand up to Chris Borrelli today and going forward.




Share Your CSA Info with Us Without Sharing – Confidentiality Assured

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Posted: January 19, 2011 at 6:17 pm

Beetnik, and keeper of the CSA lists, Wendy A, made the good point to me today that some people may not be comfortable sharing their CSA experiences “in public“.  Given how intimate the farmer/subscriber relationship can be, or seem to be, I can totally see why some people may not want to leave their name behind a comment on their CSA experience.

So…

…we still want to hear from you.  If you are uncomfortable leaving a public comment on this site, we offer you a few options. 

  1. You can leave a comment on our CSA thread, but specifically ask that certain identifying information be left off your comment.  When we go to approve your comment, we can edit your identifying information.
  2. You can leave a comment on the the CSA thread, but specifically ask that it not be published.  We will take your information into account, confidentially,  but not post your comment or use your name in any subsequent articles
  3. If you are a registered subscriber to the site, your comments are not moderated, so options 1 & 2 will probably not work well for you (and we like registered subscribers!).  If that is the case, and you want to comment to us in private, please email me at Rob at thelocalbeet.com with your CSA thoughts.  We will only publish what you want us to publish from your email.  Confidentiality assured.

Please note, we appreciate your feedback and we appreciate if you do not want your CSA comments to be public, but we will not give much weight to comments that have no attribution to them.  In other words, you cannot just leave anonymous comments.

We promise to protect your identity if you so desire.  We want honest feedback on CSA experiences.  And if any of this is too confusing, let us know that too.




Help Us Make Our 2011 CSA Listing Even Better – We Need Your Help

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Posted: January 19, 2011 at 1:56 pm

We were really proud of our 2010 listing of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) options.  We listed more farms and farmers than ever, and we created a table that allowed you to search and sort the listings to your best advantage.  It’s a hard act to top.  So, to make this year’s list better than ever (or as my daughter would say, bester than ever), we need your help. 

  • Let us know your CSA and what you thought about it
  • Let us know what you want in a CSA
  • Let us know what CSA you will join in 2011
  • If you are changing CSA’s in 2011, let us know why

We are also proud to tell you that in 2011, the Local Beet will co-producing our 2011 CSA guide with our friends at FarmilyFarmed.org.

Please share your CSA experiences!


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