Redux on the Local Calendar

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Posted: September 30, 2011 at 10:07 am

cropmob chicken

We love the markets this time of year.  There is no time more flush.  You get it all, both summer and winter squash.   Newly dug potatoes and potatoes around for a bit.  You might think it apple season, but this week we saw in markets (still) plums and peaches.  We even see sweet corn.  What we especially like about this time of year is all the re-winds out there.  It might feel a lot different from early summer at the markets, but the markets feature a good amount of the same stuff now as you saw then.

Early, farmer’s are picking the first, small summer squash.  Now, as farmer’s get their last squash off the ground, there is another crop of tiny.  Early, farmer’s thin their tomatoes and peppers by picking some greens; now, farmers get those last remaining fruits while they still can.   We’ve seen farmers with a second crop of green peas, giving you a chance to partake in that again.  Of course, all of those things that thrived earlier, when the weather was cooler, lettuces, radishes, spinach, cilantro, are around again.  You hear a lot about eating seasonally, but how much did you realize that seasonal eating means doing the same things again.

WHAT TO BUY NOW

We think our advice from last week, pretty much holds for this week.  In addition to the crops listed below, think about some of these other things around now peas, fresh beans, radishes, green beans.

Really,  we could list all the fall crops now in market like winter squash, broccoli, and chard, but we really exhort you to make good on the last tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers, sweet corn, peppers.  The sun calendar may now say fall, but the Local Calendar remains, until that dreaded frost, in summer.  Also fill up on the summer fruits still around: plumspeachesblueberriesblackberries, and raspberries.   This is probably your last week for those.

Although we never tire of tomatoes and cucumbers, we do think you may also want to keep on an out for the little seasonal delicacies that pop up.  Maybe it is a special variety of apple you like, the my wife likes the Macoun.  If you shop Green City or Andersonville, you may find Oriana and her paw-paws and persimmons.  Even local grapes won’t be around forever.  If you see something new and special, grab it.

WHAT TO BUY SOON (OR LOOK FOR KEENLY)

Except for certain varieties of apples and potatoes, pretty much the entire variety of local foods will have been on display by this weekend.  What you should plan to buy soon is some of your storage crops.  Think also about which apples or potatoes you want around.  For instance, Northern Spys are a great keeper apple and the classic pie apple of the Midwest. If you see it now in the markets, you may want to get it and not wait a few weeks.  It might not be for sale then.

STORAGE NOTES

Most of the onions now in the market have been dried and “cured”, allowing for long term-storage.  On the other hand, we see a mix still of potatoes.  There are older potatoes, that is those more than a few weeks old and there are freshly dug potatoes.  The new potatoes are not meant for storage.  If in doubt, ask the farmer.  Also with the apples, if in doubt on a particular variety, ask the farmer if it keeps.

WHERE TO FIND LOCAL FOODS

Find a farmer’s market near you with our market locator.

These stores specialize in local foods:

City Provisions Deli in Ravenswood, Chicago

Downtown Farmstand in the Loop, Chicago

Green Grocer in West Town, Chicago

Dill Pickle Coop in Logan Square, Chicago

Marion Street Cheese Market in Oak Park

Butcher and Larder in Noble Square, Chicago

Pay attention, the local supermarkets continue to advertise local foods.

WHAT TO DO NOW

October 4 – Local Beet blogger, Mo Tuffy guest bar tends at Prairie Fire to benefit Chicago House.  6 PM – 10 PM – 215 N. Clinton, Chicago

October 8 – Dig up the sweet potatoes at the preSERVE Garden.  10 AM – 2 PM. Details here.

October 16 – Crop Mob at Spence Farm – You need to register and purchase tickets here.  A report from last year’s crop mob here.




Savoring Summer with Watermelon Grown at Home

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Posted: September 27, 2011 at 9:47 pm

It just seems like I always end up talking about watermelon outside of its season.  Summer ended last week, but I think it’s up for debate how much of a summer we had here in Chicago.

The growing season was delayed, both for commercial farmers, as well as personal vegetable gardeners.  So I’m grateful that I was able to get any watermelon out of our very short, and relatively cool, summer in my Earthboxes.  This summer I planted a variety of watermelon unfamiliar to me.  I picked it from the seed catalog based on the description.  Productive, 85 days, cool and short growing season, all sounded like Chicago to me.  A light-fleshed wonder averaging around 10 lbs called Sweet Siberian.

I plucked the larger of the two melons over the weekend during a brief break in the down pours and hoped it would be sweet.  It was.  The flesh was firm and the taste was of the season that had ended.  I used it to make another version of watermelon salad with feta, this time I added pea shoots and marcona almonds.  If you can get your hands on one of those delayed growing season melons you will not be disappointed.

Watermelon and Feta Salad, II

3 lbs watermelon, chopped or use a melon baller

¼ c.  pea shoots

4 oz.  feta, drained and patted dry

¼ c.  marcona almonds, chopped

Vinaigrette

¼ c.     Champagne Vinegar

1T.       Dijon Mustard

2 t.       Sugar

3 T.      EVOO

Combine melon, feta, and marcona almonds.

In a jar add Champagne Vinegar, mustard, sugar, & oil.  Shake vigorously to blend.

Pour Vinaigrette over salad, toss, add pea shoots and serve.




I Like CSAs but I Love Fall/Winter CSAs

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Posted: September 27, 2011 at 2:20 pm

It won’t be that much longer until we have up our new Fall/Winter CSA guide ( a share of “comunity supported agriculture” that you get, generally once a week, for a fixed payment).  As when we put up our main CSA guide, we asked for feedback on your experiences; this time specifically asking for feedback on fall/winter CSAs.  Sadly, we have recieved no feedback.  No one wants to talk about their fall/winter CSAs.  Yet.  So, I’ll start.  I love my fall winter CSAs.  For several years, I’ve subscribed to Farmer Vicki Westerhoff’s Genesis Grower’s fall/winter CSA, and this year and last year, it’ll be Tomato Mountain*.  I love ‘em all.

I like CSAs.  For years, the Local Family got its box.  We started with an Angelic Organics box way pre-Beet, pre-Vital Information, even pre-world-wide-web if that’s possible, believe it or not.  When the kids were still in elementary school we got the Growing Power market box; the one with local food AND bananas!  And it was in elementary school where we began our relationship with Farmer Vicki, after she spoke to my younger daughter’s class.  I like the burden of having a box of local food to use each week.  I like, really, the variety of the CSA.  I mean who knows how good kohlrabi really is if not for their CSA.  What I really liked about a CSA was that relationship that came.  The weekly newsletters on farm life–hint, it’s all bad.  I liked the farm parties and the work days–hint, organic farming is back-breakingly hard.  I liked getting those boxes.  I liked having a CSA.

I liked those CSAs, but I loved the fall/winter CSAs.  I love getting the boxes in the fall/winter.  I like the fruits and vegetables that came during the summer, but I really liked the fruits and vegetables that came in the fall and winter, and I loved it for one simple reason.  I loved getting local fruits in the fall and winter.  When we started with fall/winter CSAs, there was barely any sources for local foods after the summer markets ended.  Now, we have more, many more shopping options come November, but none of these options will supply me as well as what comes in the CSA.  The simple reason for that, farmer’s prioritize their fall/winter CSA cutomers.  The first hoop-house stuff and the last storage crops go to the CSA subscribers.  My fall/winter CSAs have always filled me up with root crops, hardy greens, winter squash, onions and potatoes.  They have provided the bulk of the foods that make it possible to eat local year-round.

I’m giving you my feedback.  I’ve been entirely happy with fall/winter CSAs from Genesis Growers and Tomato Mountain. I’ve found the foods highly delicious; the variety plenty, and the value excellent.  I’d love to hear what you think.

*My wife works for Tomato Mountain.  Last year they waived their delivery charge for us because of her employment.


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Apples and Honey: A Tale of Two Orchards

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Posted: September 26, 2011 at 9:00 am

Editor’s Note: This is the apple-half of a two-part feature by Brad Moldofsky exploring local apples and honey, the symbolic foods of the Jewish new year. For the honey side of the story, visit “The Bee Gardner”

Studying a map of apple orchards in northern Illinois reveals that Cook County is missing them. In my youth (in the previous century), we took short jaunts to nearby pastoral settings where our food grew. We retrieved the red, green and golden jewels by climbing trees each fall. (No pun meant by putting “climb” and “fall” in the same sentence. Although that’s one reason why U-pick orchards breed dwarf trees that can be harvested from the ground.)

The sweet, juicy, tangy and tart flavors of apples meant that cooler weather was around the corner. And the orchards themselves were just up the road. Sad to say, but for more of us each year, only the first sentence remains true.

“Growing food is a slower way of marking time,” said Cathleen, the information lady at All Season Orchard in Woodstock. She ticks off events that mark the change of seasons: the first frog, the first firefly, and of course, the start of the apple harvest, which began earlier this year at All Season than at many other orchards.

The 10,000 trees that owners Jim and Sue say make up their property sit a hay wagon ride away from their nursery and landscaping business, a playground, gift shop, brick patio and reception hall (for weddings and parties), petting zoo and the nicest outdoor washrooms my family has ever seen. “It’s hard to compete with TV,” is how Cathleen put it. But All Season sure tries.

The vast property offers plenty for kids to do. In a happy coincidence, two carloads of friends showed up around the same time as us, so all the children palled around that morning. And in case they forgot, amidst the goat petting and donut tasting, that we’d driven 60 miles for apples, Jim offered a way to help recycle produce that might otherwise be lost: with artillery! Apples that hit the ground are collected in a bin from which kids can load and launch them in PVC tube cannons powered with compressed air. After an attendant releases the safety, they can aim them at haystack targets across a field. The boys happily paid $3 of their own funds to fire 10 juicy projectiles under 200 psi of pure fruit-shooting joy.

Appleartillery

Compared to the price of a movie, Cathleen points out, spending a day at All Season is a more cost-effective day of fun. She grew up in the region, moved to the city, and returned to raise her daughter in a rural area. She observes that many urban kids don’t know where their food comes from. Their parents may not appreciate how northern Illinois’ combination of ancient glacial till, climate, wind and soil conspire to create ideal apple growing conditions. Visiting and picking apples can reconnect families with the land. And if hurling a volley of Galas is what inspires them, so be it.

A Contrasting Viewpoint

The owners of Woodstock Country Orchard a few minutes northwest of All Season, take the opposite approach. Al and Dorothy, originally from Mt. Prospect, decry “agritainment” and prefer the tranquility and peacefulness of a farm visited just for the produce. They offer raspberry picking, sell enormous garlic bulbs and grow their own watermelon and zucchini. While they have a portable toilet, they lack cannons, inflatable slides or a gift shop, which is just how Dorothy likes it.

“I hate a lot of noise and confusion,” she says. “I’d just like the kids to pick apples.”

Most of the noise that we heard came from my kids and their friends. Above the quiet chirping of crickets and the drone of a tractor two fields over, they shouted eagerly at us and each other. A sampling of quotes: “I just touched it and it fell off the tree!” “Oooh, I see a really good one!” “He’s not supposed to eat apples with his braces, but he can’t resist.” “I just picked the biggest apples in the orchard!”

Sara
How do you like them apples? Sara shows off the biggest from Woodstock Country Orchard.

Perhaps sated by the frolicking at All Season, the kids calmed down and enjoyed the adventure of foraging for fruit. We arrived the first day of the season, so the hunting was easy. WCO’s raspberry bushes and apple trees were absolutely pregnant with the red stuff and we excitedly filled our trays, bags and wagons. They charge $12 a peck with no minimum (more for Honeycrisp). All Season charges $10 per person for a combo wagon trip and half peck bag (about 7 lbs.).

Curious about the economics, I wondered how feasible U-pick orchards are. None of the owners I spoke with wants to sell to wholesalers. But Sue said her employees once warned not to watch guests pick from the trees. Observing how they waste good fruit and disrespect her trees would break her heart. A WCO driver patrolled the acorn-strewn lanes to observe the picking. Both orchards prefer to pre-pick Honeycrisps for their guests not only because the popular variety is more valuable, but the tender fruits are so delicate that picking one can cause several neighbors to drop from the branch.

Admittedly, my fond memories of orchard visits include chomping fresh apples and discarding the cores near the trunk, unpaid for, but thoroughly enjoyed. Like humans to The Giving Tree, our relationship to our arborial friends is all take (for an exception to this, see Michael Pollan’s Botany of Desire). This is a risk U-pick farmers take to eliminate the middlemen and offer the crop straight to the consumers. The trees may suffer abuse from city bumpkins who don’t appreciate the enormous expense and effort required to grow beautiful fruit.

Fortunately, our kids had been to farms before and behaved themselves. Will the respect they show to their food source translate into a respect for Illinois’ long history of farming when they grow up? Jim notes that property taxes are high and that “it’s extremely hard to farm when someone wants to give you a huge check to develop the land . . . You have to have the passion for growing.”

So far, he’s resisted selling. Developing a farm is nearly irreversible. Suburban sprawl cannot easily be reclaimed into an orchard. Large-scale fertility is forever lost when the dozers and backhoes remove ancient soil to pour foundations. The drive north on Rte. 47 from I-90 bears witness to the farmers who gave up and watched homes and malls raised on their cropland. With each spurt of metropolitan expansion, the orchards creep another step away from Chicago. Can the demand for nearby agritainment compete with the demand for homes in the areas we once called “country?” How far will city and suburban folk be willing to travel before we quit and just let our efficient distribution system deliver us our food? When this happens, as well as missing out on some freshness, we lose something else.

“Even at a farmer’s market, you’re still buying from a stand,” worries Cathleen. “Here, you’re in front of a tree. It reminds you of the rural environment.” She notes that many non-rural kids she meets don’t know where their food comes from when they first reach the orchard, but then, “the kids just explode, squealing when they feel the first lurch of the tractor pulling them towards the apples.”

So that’s the situation with U-pick orchards on the borderline between Chicago’s expansion and the counties we still consider rural. Farmers are tempted by developers but some consumers are tempted by freshness. I recall that freshness from when I was a kid and I watch my sons relish the same sensation today, albeit twice as far from home as it once was. The long car ride stretches the definition of “local eating.” But the orchards still call loud and clear: the fruitful soil still remains and good eating can be found here.

Pikachu
From branch to stomach in under three yards




How Much Longer will Tomatoes Be on the Local Calendar

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Posted: September 23, 2011 at 1:45 pm

Do you know the difference between locavores and others when it comes to watching the weather segments.  We focus on the low not the high, at least this time of year.  We know it can be decent enough out there in the sun, but what was it like when we weren’t around, in the pre-dawn cold.  See, Jack Frost can sneak in on us and ruin our days, even if the sun shines bright.  See, a little too much Jack, regardless of the highs to follow, will kill our beloved summer fruits.  It’s not the high that matters for tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers, etc., but the low.  Eat your tomatoes now, they could be gone in one fell swoop of daily low temperature.  And what better way to celebrate the last of the tomatoes than with Slow Food Chicago’s Tomatofest at the Chicago Honey Coop this Saturday, September 24.  Hope to see you there.

WHAT TO BUY NOW

Really,  we could list all the fall crops now in market like winter squash, broccoli, and chard, but we really exhort you to make good on the last tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers, sweet corn, peppers.  The sun calendar may now say fall, but the Local Calendar remains, until that dreaded frost, in summer.  Also fill up on the summer fruits still around: plumspeachesblueberriesblackberries, and raspberries.   This is probably your last week for those.

Although we never tire of tomatoes and cucumbers, we do think you may also want to keep on an out for the little seasonal delicacies that pop up.  Maybe it is a special variety of apple you like, the my wife likes the Macoun.  If you shop Green City or Andersonville, you may find Oriana and her paw-paws and persimmons.  Even local grapes won’t be around forever.  If you see something new and special, grab it.

WHAT TO BUY SOON (OR LOOK FOR KEENLY)

Except for certain varieties of apples and potatoes, pretty much the entire variety of local foods will have been on display by this weekend.  What you should plan to buy soon is some of your storage crops.  Think also about which apples or potatoes you want around.  For instance, Northern Spys are a great keeper apple and the classic pie apple of the Midwest. If you see it now in the markets, you may want to get it and not wait a few weeks.  It might not be for sale then.

STORAGE NOTES

Most of the onions now in the market have been dried and “cured”, allowing for long term-storage.  On the other hand, we see a mix still of potatoes.  There are older potatoes, that is those more than a few weeks old and there are freshly dug potatoes.  The new potatoes are not meant for storage.  If in doubt, ask the farmer.  Also with the apples, if in doubt on a particular variety, ask the farmer if it keeps.

WHERE TO FIND LOCAL FOODS

Find a farmer’s market near you with our market locator.

These stores specialize in local foods:

City Provisions Deli in Ravenswood, Chicago

Downtown Farmstand in the Loop, Chicago

Green Grocer in West Town, Chicago

Dill Pickle Coop in Logan Square, Chicago

Marion Street Cheese Market in Oak Park

Butcher and Larder in Noble Square, Chicago

Pay attention, the local supermarkets continue to advertise local foods.

WHAT TO DO NOW

September 24 – Tomatofest Potluck at the Chicago Honey Co-op – Share in the bounty of local, heirloom tomatoes, see the interesting things being done at the Chicago Honey Co-op and even get your hands dirty picking beans at the preSERVE Garden.  Don’t forget wines donated by Candid and beer from Goose Island.  A great way to take in some of the last nice weather of 2011.  Additional information and tickets here.

September 24 – Urban Harvest, City Farms – A range of fun stuff being organized at the City Farm, Division and Clyborn from 4-9 PM.  Additional information and tickets can be found here.

September 25 – Canning workshop with Growing Home - 2 PM – 4 PM - 5045 S. Laflin, Chicago. A $10 suggested donation covers cost of supplies.  Space is limited to 15 guests, and RSVP is required. Contact  bheathATgrowinghomeincDOTorg to reserve a spot.  Additional details here.

September 26 – Very interesting meeting from Chicago Fair Trade.  Susan Kerrs, from Local First Chicago, will share strategies for maintaining healthy neighborhood based business communities and the ways our organizations can collaborate, and John Peck of the Family Farm Defenders will share efforts to develop a fair trade certification for small farmers in the U.S, supporting the very principles used in the international certification.  As they say, free and open to CFT members, the committed and curious. – 637 S. Dearborn, Chicago – 6 PM

September 27 – Slow Food Chicago presents a “locals only” dinner featuring farm fresh fare and local beers at UnCommon Ground.  Information and tickets here.

October 4 – Local Beet blogger, Mo Tuffy guest bar tends at Prairie Fire to benefit Chicago House.  6 PM – 10 PM – 215 N. Clinton, Chicago

October 8 – Dig up the sweet potatoes at the preSERVE Garden.  10 AM – 2 PM. Details here.




Join the Mob, Pick a Mob

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Posted: September 23, 2011 at 8:46 am

Only a few weeks back, we were encouraging you to crop mob with the Green City Market Junior Board at Radical Root Farm in Grayslake.  If our blog enticements did not do it, Kyle Schott’s report of the day on the farm should have done the trick.  Now, our friends at the GCMJunior Board have scheduled another mob activity.  Join them tomorrow, September 25 at Graynor Farm in Three Oaks Michigan.  Now, you were supposed to respond by yesterday, September 22, but we got behind in our Beeting; we bet a gentle email to juniorboard@greencitymarket.org will still get you to the farm.

We have a little more notice for another crop mob; this one the second (nay annual?) crop mob organized by Tom Leavitt and White Oak Gourmet at Spence Farm.  If you know anything about local farms, you know that Spence holds a unique place with their attention to traditions and specialization in heritage products.  For instance, last year, at the crop mob, we reaped sorghum, a popcorn like grass not much grown around here anymore.  We also heard the story of Spence Farm’s rescue of the rare Iroquois corn.  You can read more about our rewarding day last year here.    This year’s Spence Farm crop mob is October 16.  You need to register and purchase tickets here.  Hope you join us.




Apples and Honey: The Bee Gardener

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Posted: September 23, 2011 at 7:57 am

Editor’s Note: It’s that time of year when we roll out Brad Moldofsky’s features on local apples and honey, the symbolic foods of the Jewish new year. With Rosh Hashanah approaching, we thought you’d enjoy re-reading again. For the apple side of the story, visit “A Tale of Two Orchards”. Brad posted a brief update on the bees here.

Anthony McKinney exudes calm. In his demeanor, his speech pattern and, apparently, his pheromones, or whatever chemical we give off that bees can sense. Because despite the fact that he dismantled two hives filled with thousands of frisky Italian bees and even poked a finger at a busy queen, her stinging servants were unruffled.
And yet, Anthony warned me, if he were to dress in brown, the social insects might mistake him for a bear and get medieval all over his tender, furless skin—honey bee style.

Bees are Anthony’s livestock; he is a bee farmer, or bee gardener, as he calls himself. He’s not selling or giving honey away yet. His two hives (named after their benefactors, Meghann and Peter) have many bee babies growing and lots of wax (or comb), but currently lack a surplus of honey. In theory, though, a good year could net a dozen gallons of the sweet stuff, plus wax, royal jelly and propolis, which he can sell as a health supplement.

MeghannAnthonyandPeter

But not this year. The apiary was just set up Memorial Day atop a factory roof within sight of the ballpark where the White Sox play. The 10,000+ bees (whom Anthony has not yet named or counted accurately) must produce enough honey to get themselves through their first Chicago winter before their human caretaker will consider skimming off the sweet stuff. Many professional bee farmers take virtually all the honey, says Anthony, and their bees subsist on sugar water all winter. But as anyone with hyperactive children can tell you, sugar water is a poor substitute for real food. And pollen, which gives bees protein, is available only when flowers bloom. Imagine living in Chicago November through March on nothing but soft drinks. So for now, all the honey stays in the nearly 100 frames that make up Anthony’s South Side apiary.

Workingthehive

Not that he hasn’t stolen a taste or two. To eat honey from a Meghann or Peter, remove the lid from each hive to access one of five stacked boxes. The frames are packed in like books on a shelf that’s facing up, except they’re really really sticky. Pry a frame away from its neighbor with a specialized scraper/crowbar, slide the frame up and out of the box, rip off the layer of comb the bees make to protect their booty and chow down. Oh, and don’t get stung.

Not getting stung was easy—especially since we weren’t stealing honey. Although Anthony’s smoking device was ready to lull the insects into calmness, he hardly needed it. And since I wouldn’t be eating, I didn’t have to consider unzipping the protective veil from my baggy, waist-length jacket or tight-fitting gloves so as to put food in my mouth. The off-white, burqa-like bee jacket was comfortable to wear on a hot summer day with a light breeze. It kept the bees off my skin, gave me anonymity in photos and was both modest and tasteful. I call the outfit a bee-rqa.

Bradinabee-rqa

Skittish as I am around stinging insects, I was largely OK with them and they weren’t bothered by me. In fact, Anthony gently removed the frame where Her Majesty was laying eggs into cells. But neither she nor her buzzing minions seemed frazzled as Anthony rotated the frame and pointed a gloved finger an inch from the expectant Queen Mum while I filmed. Were I a bear, I could have just stuck my snout against the exposed frame and chewed off a bit o’ honey. But Anthony has developed a rapport with his bees, whom he thinks recognize his scent, and trust him not to bring bears up to the roof to visit. We were cool.

Walking Through A Bee Graveyard

Meghann and Peter (remember, these are the hives I’m talking about) comprise the modest South Side apiary nestled on the west side of a partially shaded industrial rooftop. A ladder is the only means to reach the hives. (“If you become anxious and want to run from the bees,” safety-conscious Anthony coached me, “don’t run off the rooftop.”) The neighbors don’t know the bees are there, and the workers on the ground floor are seldom bothered. Only when sick and dying bees are tossed down by their fastidious sisters off the roof into a “bee graveyard” do the humans need to sweep up a bit. We found one bee drowned in the tray of water Anthony maintains for them to drink. And Anthony admits that he sometimes crushes his livestock as he disassembles and rebuilds their homes during his frequent inspections. “To farm bees means to sometimes kill bees,” he told me, and I nodded as if I’d been there and done that.
My favorite anecdote, though, is that if a male bee (only purpose in life: fertilize a queen) survives the hazardous mating with the queen (Check the Internet yourself to learn why they’re likely to die in flagrante; it’s nasty) but refuses to leave the hive once his job is done, his sisters may chew off his wings and unceremoniously dump him off the edge of the hive. An apiary is no place for freeloaders.

Which makes the notion of bee drift so odd. Says Anthony, when given a choice between returning to her hive to drop off nectar and pollen, or making the deposit at a hive a closer by, some bees will choose the shorter trip. Over time, the center hives in a row may be vacated as workers desert it and join hives on the ends. So my naïve notions about dedicated, tireless insects working ever for the good of their queen and hive were shattered when I learned that even bees may betray their family. Or maybe some just don’t feel like flying those extra few yards.

Still, they make honey for us, so who am I to criticize? And while most of us don’t care where the bees choose to live, it makes a big difference in how the product tastes and looks.

Local Honeymakers

The big honey sellers (think amber liquid in a bear-shaped container) buy honey from all over the world and blend it into a consistent-looking and -tasting food that we’ve all grown up with. But fresh, local honey might appear and taste like, oh, blueberries in Michigan, or the extra dark buckwheat honey in New York or the pale mesquite-tinged liquid from Texas. It might be pale or yellow or brown and change color through the seasons as new flowers bloom and the product ages. Anthony has tasted honey from the Arctic Circle to Hawaii (almost truffle-like, he says). But the honey from Peter and Meghann tastes like Chicago, with tones of clover and mint.

Illinois is a Mecca of mint and offers a cornucopia of clover. Uncountable flowers grow alongside the train rails that radiate from the hub of Chicago, as well as our lawns, vacant fields and curbsides. The Land of Lincoln hosts an enormous variety of these, let’s face it, weeds. While many of us dump chemicals to keep the plants from crowding out our Kentucky Bluegrass, the ladies of Chicago’s hives fetch the nectar and pollen from these and other flowers, except for the pollen they unintentionally spread from flower to flower, helping fruit grow.
But local honey can be a sticky thing. That is to say, without building a dome over a hive and the surrounding area, beekeepers can’t limit what flowers their flocks dine on. Heavy metals or other toxins in urban soil may end up in the flowers and then the honey. But that’s not necessarily worse than agricultural regions that use pesticides, which not only reach the honey, but can kill the bees themselves.

Anthony supports a notion I’ve heard from honey vendors: if you have local, seasonal allergies (ragweed, pollen, etc.), then eating honey made from local flowers might help inoculate you, over time, and reduce your allergies. I should mention that my own allergist warned it might also send you into anaphylactic shock. So don’t take this as medical advice.

What a Bee Gardener Does

Watching Anthony, it was a toss-up as to who was doing more work: him or the bees. Most of what he does, now that the initial investment and setup are done, involves inspecting the hives to make sure the queens look happy, babies are being born and honey is being packed away. On a sunny August day I helped him add a handmade box to each hive, making them taller and giving each queen more room to grow their families. Anthony moved with the steady, calm pace of a professional, although he is both a hobbyist and a volunteer. He began learning his craft three years ago at the Garfield Park Conservatory, which has a large staff of volunteer beekeepers and a lot of tropical flowers to pollinate. Although Anthony says the GPC bees prefer the outdoors.

Beekeeping duties at GPC and with Meghann and Peter involve acquiring and maintaining equipment, setting up, cleaning and expanding boxes, visually inspecting each frame and keeping the water trough filled (including some floating corks where bees perch while drinking). And when something goes wrong, Anthony helps the sick bees cure themselves.

In the past decade, the grim story has been repeated about mites that have helped devastate America’s honey bee population. These mites attack bee larvae—the eggs stored in the tiny chambers—and are initially carried into the hives by the workers. Anthony has avoided killing the mites with the powerful chemicals available (which have lost effectiveness over time) and instead sprinkles the frames with powdered sugar. Not only does the sugar act like talcum powder, loosening the mites grip on their hosts, but the fastidious bees can’t stand the mess. So they turn their grooming behavior up a notch, cleaning themselves of the sugar and, as a bonus, the noxious mites as well.

Helen Cameron of Uncommon Ground employs Russian bees in the hives of her rooftop garden on Devon Ave. The Eastern European insects are even more social than their Western European counterparts. So they are more apt to groom each other without human intervention—which keeps the mites more at bay.
Still, says Anthony, the mites have decimated the wild honey bee population and are probably a permanent factor in all managed hives. The key is controlling them, rather than eradicating them; the mites are here to stay. This means that any flowers you’ve had pollinated this year were probably the work of a bee coming from a hobbyist hive, whose beekeeper has husbanded the brood through its mite crisis. As a gardener, I would certainly like to thank the keeper whose bees gave me my tiny crop of tomatoes and melon, although it could be anybody within up to 5 miles of my garden.

In the broader scheme, you have to wonder about the cashews, cabbages and cucumbers that make up part of our national food supply, and how independent, local beekeepers might contribute to keeping it safe. In Illinois, with much of our cropland dedicated to corn (which doesn’t need bees), we may not be as conscious of how vital bees are as are, say, almond farmers in California. As required by the state, Anthony registered his hives with the Department of Agriculture. One of eight bee inspectors has checked them out and stands ready to offer advice when needed. As well as relying on his mentor at Garfield Park, Anthony can refer to the Illinois State Beekeepers Association, which is affiliated with the Northern Illinois Beekeepers Association and other regional groups.

Nearly all the resources he needs to obtain and care for his critters can be found locally. While Anthony could have purchased his mail-order colony starter kit from California or South Carolina, his queens come from downstate. There is a movement, he says, to breed more queens in northern areas so they can withstand our cooler climate. So in the end, the bees of Meghann and Peter are Illinois born, feeding on Illinois flowers, drinking water from local rain or Lake Michigan, and making honey that ultimately tastes like Illinois.


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I’d Like to Lose 54 Pounds the Locavore Way

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Posted: September 22, 2011 at 10:20 am

I talk diets a fair amount; mostly with my wife, occasionally with my parents, and sometimes with anyone else who will tolerate my theories.  I spout based on a good amount of reading on the subject (of course with the closing of Borders in Oak Park, my material resources got much stricter).  I think have pretty good ideas on ways to eat.  My influence, however, does not go far.  I may know what I’m talking about, but I’m fat.  Who takes diet advice from a fatman.  Maybe not as fat as I’ve been, and surely not as fat as some of the people I’ve run with over the years from the Chowhound-LTHForum crowds.  Still, I’m not afraid to say, I’m fat.  Maybe not fat enough that I need to (or can) lose 54 pounds, but fat enough that I’d love to lose a lot of weight.  54 pounds is the amount of weight Dana Cox lost by embarking on a year-long locavore challenge.

I met Dana Cox last night.  She proudly discussed her Honest Meal Project last night at the Green City Market Locavore Picnic Supper.   I admit for a part of her discussion, it was blah-blah-blah.  I know why to eat local.  I know how to eat local.  I’ve made it through not one, not two but like six winters on local food.  Then, “I lost 54 pounds.”  Hello.  And hello, I’ll tell you, maybe the old, cynical Rob would simply try to exploit Dana in my diet conversations with those who’d have it.  Hard time believing me on the health benefits of eating local, well here’s Dana Cox, less 54 pounds damnit.  But no, I’m rather inspired.  Maybe not fully motivated or committed but inspired of the possibilities demonstrated by Dana. Not just to talk about her, but to live a bit more like her.

Dana Cox defined her Healthy Meal Project parameters as requiring that all food consumed needed to be traceable back to a farmer.  It’s a definition that allows her successfully to stray from 100 or 300 mile boundaries, but it also restricted her greatly from commercial foods.  For instance, unlike me, she would not buy the Michigan celery at Caputo’s because she did not know the specific Michigan farmer.  Where we really differed, she allowed no exception for eating out or other foods not prepared by her.  That, I believe, is where the 54 pounds came from.  The Local Family loves eating out, and when we eat out, we do not necessarily seek out locavore establishments–I mean we like places like Big Jones and Vie, but we don’t eat exclusively at them.  There are meals out, surely, for ease or convenience.  Just last night the three girls went for pizza because various commitments made it difficult to get a dinner on the table.  Yet, we also eat out because we love eating out.  We love trying new foods, for instance a meal last week at the newly opened Lao Hunan.  Or, my wife and I had a blast luxuriating over many, many wines at Smith and Wollensky’s “wine week”.  We also possess weaknesses for the various products the industrial food system can offer us.  We have an ice cream maker.  We can pour in some Kilgus cream and Klug berries, but instead I bought two pints of Graeter’s ice cream the other night at Whole Foods.  As good as the Greaters is, they overwhelm by a few, the Hagen Daaz five ingredient challenge.  All of those meals, adds, I believe, the extras that leave me 54 pounds behind Dana.  It is foremost, more sugars.  It is also more fats, probably trans-fats even with the crackdown there.  It is also that guar gum that thickens the ice cream and all the other ingredients that cannot be traced to farms.    I’m not incredibly touchy-feely when it comes to food, but I think there is something, something, that puffs us up, in those additives.  Look at Dana.  The 54 pound less Dana.

I’m not going on a year long quest away from restaurant food and fast food and snack food.  I can list excuses and problems with why not.  I can also say flat out that I’m not giving up my Chinatown, my Maxwell Street, my Italian beef. I will work to lessen those things.  Every time we think about a meal out, I’m going to try to think again about it.  Do we need it.  Every time we think about bringing something snack-y, something industrial, something that violates Michael Pollan’s instructions, “can you pronounce the ingredients”, “would your grandmother recognize those ingredients”, I’m going to think about it.  Eat a nice piece of fruit bubala.  Since maybe I don’t need to lose 54 pounds, I don’t need to be perfect.  Since I do need to lose weight, I need to be a lot closer to perfect.  Stick to my locavore principles more.  Eat out less.  Snack less.  I’d like to lose it the locavore way.


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The Best Case for Being a Locavore is Being a Locavore – GCM Party – Wed Night

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Posted: September 20, 2011 at 2:15 pm

Upton Sinclair famously said of the impact of his book, the Jungle, “I aimed for their heads and accidentally hit them in their stomachs*.”  Many years later, we know it’s no accident that the best way to convince people to eat local is to have them eat local.  What they may not accept through reason, they will get through consumption.  And on this note, Green City Market wants to seal the deal on their Locavore Challenge with a grand supper featuring a range of their fruits, vegetables, herbs and meats from their market; from TJ’s chicken to Klug’s apples, even yogurt from Kilgus, this should keep you wanting local foods long after any challenge dissipates.

And what’s nearly as good as eating local food, eating local food with your fellow local food fans.  The supper tomorrow, at the Peggy Notebaert Museum, will allow you to trade notes with others, some who tried to eat local for two weeks, others who try to eat local all the time.  Learn from each other.  Support each other.  Try to find time for each other in between bites of all that a-convincin’ local food.   Also, you will have the chance to hear and learn from Dana Cox who went a whole year eating local, lived to tell, and will be presenting on Wednesday.

The event starts at 6 PM.  Tickets are $30 and can be purchased at Brown Paper Tickets.

*In verifying the words of Upton Sinclair, I also came across this neat quote of his, not about food at all, but generally very apt in life: ““If is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”


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TomatoFest Potluck This Week – Sign Up Now

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Posted: September 20, 2011 at 8:30 am

We love our friend Mo, and think highly of her To Market with Mo posts, but somewhere, somehow, she remarked that she was growing tired of tomatoes.  Who grows tired of tomatoes?  Not me.  I adore every variation of tomato salad I can have, as long as I can have good, local tomatoes.  More so, I believe that tomatoes enhance nearly everything they touch.  A turkey sandwich or hamburger gets that much better with a tomato slice. I especially like a good tomato topping smoked fish.  Tomatoes go so well with cheese, and not just a cheese, but the classics of tomatoes and include and blue cheese, and feta and, and aged cheddar.  I’ve even heard that tomatoes go well with bacon. Mo, what were you thinking?

For everyone besides Mo, and probably Mo too, if just to reform her thinking, let’s celebrate the wonderfulness of the tomato this week at the TomatoFest Potluck.  For those unfamiliar with TomatoFest, every year, our friend Damien Casten and his family grow hundreds (if not thousands) of heirloom tomatoes.  The young plants are sold off to benefit Slow Food Chicago.   And now that the plants have all grown up (hopefully), we’ve enjoyed the fruits of this labor.  To punctuate the project, Damien and Slow Food Chicago get together each fall for a potluck fete to the glorious tomato.  The event this year, like the events in years past, will be held at the Chicago Honey Coop.  With your tomatoes you can also get a good tour of the beekeeping.  Gather around, this Saturday, September 24, with a shared dish, it does not have to be tomato based–remember everything tastes better with tomatoes anyways.  Our friends at Slow Food Chicago have a full round of activities planned, including a little work for you to do at the nearby preSERVE Garden.

But wait, there’s more.  If not the pleasure of slow food, the company of fellow travelers, the chance to share dishes, the opportunity to gorge on heirloom tomatoes, the endless supplies of Goose Island beer and soft drinks, the wines from Candid, there’s an additional twist this year.  Coming from Italy, with his biodynamic wines and estate bottled olive oils, is renown Tuscan farmer Cosimo Maria Masini.  If you want to know the real slow, chew the fat with him.  All the more reason to see you this Saturday at the Honey Coop.

Additional details below.

Chicago TomatoFest benefits the preSERVE garden, a partnership between Slow Food Chicago, the North Lawndale Greening CommitteeChicago Honey Co-op, andNeighborSpace.

Arrive at the potluck early and to help harvest black eyed peas and crowder peas from the preSERVE garden!  Don’t worry if you can’t come early, tours will be given of the preSERVE garden and the Chicago Honey Co-op, an urban apiary dedicated to beekeeping training and sustainable agricultural practices.

  • 4:00-5:00pm – Come early and help harvest beans at the preSERVE garden!  Located at 12th Place and Central Park Avenue (just a few blocks from the Honey Co-op)
  • 5:00-8:00pm – Chicago TomatoFest Potluck at the Chicago Honey Co-op

Bring your tomatoes, a potluck dish for sharing, and your chairs/picnic blankets.

Bee Etiquette:  Please wear light colored clothing and a hat. Don’t wear perfumes, colognes, or scents.

Directions: 3740 W. Fillmore is 2 blocks North of Roosevelt Road between Independence Boulevard and Central Park. The apiary takes up the whole block on the north side of Fillmore and is easily visible from the street. There is plenty of street parking available.
Driving: Take I-290 West to Independence Boulevard.  Exit and go South about 3 blocks just past the old railroad viaduct. Turn left on Fillmore Street.  We are located in the middle of the block.

By Bike: http://www.ridethecity.com/chicago

By train: There is a Blue Line stop at Homan/Kedzie. Walk the ramp toward Homan Avenue, walk South on Homan approximately 5 blocks just past the 12-story 1905 original Sears Tower. Fillmore is the first street beyond the tower. Walk 2 blocks West to the apiary.

By Bus: Homan/Kimball bus to Fillmore Street and walk west 2 blocks.

$10 Slow Food Chicago and Chicago Honey Co-op members, $15 non-members.  Kids are free!

NOTE: Rain date is Sunday, September 25th (Check Slow Food Chicago websitewww.slowfoodchicago.org day of event. Rain date will be called by noon on Saturday, September 24th)





The Local Calendar Still Says Challenge

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Posted: September 15, 2011 at 11:40 am

The Local Calendar still says Challenge.  The Green City Market Locavore Challenge continues, and the market showcases a few vendors normally not selling this Saturday.  In addition, on Saturday, our friends at Slow Food Chicago will be there doing their best to convince you that eating good for less than $5 is no challenge.  They’ve arranged with vendors to offer $5 meals, and they will be distributing great and tasty $5 recipes using the great produce from the Green City Market.  They’re also inviting you to bring make your own $5 lunch and join them in a picnic.

WHAT TO BUY NOW

As Eric May noted, even in a lackluster season, things have not been that shabby for mushroom foragers.  We are beginning to hear of reports of wild mushrooms in the markets, especially hen-of-the-woods.  As supply for these items are really un-predictable, we suggest you jump on any you see now.

We insist you fill up on the summer fruits still around: plums, peaches, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries.  You’ll have plenty of time later for apples right?

WHAT TO BUY SOON (OR LOOK FOR KEENLY)

The exotica of Midwestern fruit are coming to market: persimmons and paw-paws.  (Paw-paw sightings reported already at the Andersonville Market.)

STORAGE NOTES

Most of the onions now in the market have been dried and “cured”, allowing for long term-storage.  On the other hand, we see a mix still of potatoes.  There are older potatoes, that is those more than a few weeks old and there are freshly dug potatoes.  The new potatoes are not meant for storage.  If in doubt, ask the farmer.  Also with the apples, if in doubt on a particular variety, ask the farmer if it keeps.

WHERE TO FIND LOCAL FOODS

Find a farmer’s market near you with our market locator.

These stores specialize in local foods:

City Provisions Deli in Ravenswood, Chicago

Downtown Farmstand in the Loop, Chicago

Green Grocer in West Town, Chicago

Dill Pickle Coop in Logan Square, Chicago

Marion Street Cheese Market in Oak Park

Butcher and Larder in Noble Square, Chicago

Pay attention, the local supermarkets continue to advertise local foods.

WHAT TO DO NOW

September 17 – Yes you can eat local, good, organic food for less than you think.  Slow Food set the bar at $5 a person, and we think that’s a bar easily met.  On this day, a bunch of people like us who believe in the ability to eat well, without spending much, will gather at the Green City Market.  Look forward to additional details soon.

September 18 – Harvest Celebration in our State’s Capital to benefit Illinois Stewardship Alliance – This local food gala features six fabulous local chefs who will prepare tasting plates featuring fresh, seasonal locally produced foods for another good cause.  Diners can peruse a silent auction, enjoy hearing from our compelling guest speakers and sip on Illinois Wine or Springfield’s Rolling Meadows Brewery.   Additional information and ticket information here.

September 18 – Harvest dinner – Hazzard Free Farms – Our friend Lee Greene works with Midwestern farmers to create tasty, value added products at Scrumptious Pantry.  Before she became interested in what it tastes like around here, she was wading in the tastes of Italy, spending her formative years in Tuscany.  She shares her Tuscan heritage with this multi-course menu, featuring local produce.  The day also includes yoga instruction from SKo-Fit and bluegrass music from the Kodiak Farm Boys.  Tickets and additional information here.

New! – September 20 – Benefit dinner for the Land Connection at Vie – Chefs from Bristol, Vie, Old Town Social and C-House team up for a dinner to benefit Land Connection.  If that’s not enough to get you in the house, our friend, Jennifer Olvera, author of The Food Lovers Guide to Chicago, will provide guests with a signed copy of her book (one per couple) - Call (708) 246-2082 for reservations.

September 21 – Locavore Picnic and Celebration  - Share your success in the Locavore Challenge with Green City Market’s Annual Challenge Completion Party – Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum – 6 – 8 PM – Details and ticket information here.

September 24 – Tomatofest Potluck at the Chicago Honey Co-op – Share in the bounty of local, heirloom tomatoes, see the interesting things being done at the Chicago Honey Co-op and even get your hands dirty picking beans at the preSERVE Garden.  Don’t forget wines donated by Candid and beer from Goose Island.  A great way to take in some of the last nice weather of 2011.  Additional information and tickets here.

New! – Very interesting meeting from Chicago Fair Trade.  Susan Kerrs, from Local First Chicago, will share strategies for maintaining healthy neighborhood based business communities and the ways our organizations can collaborate, and John Peck of the Family Farm Defenders will share efforts to develop a fair trade certification for small farmers in the U.S, supporting the very principles used in the international certification.  As they say, free and open to CFT members, the committed and curious. – 637 S. Dearborn, Chicago – 6 PM




Not Too Shabby for a Somewhat Lackluster Season of Foraging

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Posted: September 14, 2011 at 8:37 am

Firstly, let me apologize for my absence from this column all summer. I was beginning to feel like my findings were a bit redundant with last year’s. After all, I spend my season on an isolated 120 acre peninsula which does boast a remarkably diverse ecosystem, however after romping around the hills several times a week, summer after summer, I begin to feel like I’ve seen it all. And that’s a pretty cavalier position for an amateur mycologist to make. One of the most remarkable, always surprising aspects about fungi is how well traveled they can be, since their vehicle of reproduction- their spores- are so resilient and transient that they can traverse great distances and survive harsh climates. So, new mushrooms, in theory, can pop up any where at any time. Add to this the wide array of environmental factors and the mushroom’s ephemeral nature, so really any small plot of forested land could host an amazing display of fungal diversity.

I certainly made some pretty weird discoveries of non-edible mushrooms this summer. In mid July I found a big honking veiled stinkhorn with a vulgur, phallic look complete with foreskin and slimy, wet cap.

stinkhorn

All the more repulsive since it was covered in flies and a particular type of fungus loving true bug. This family of fungus spreads its spores by attracting insects with its rotten scent. Quite the scene! I also found a quite deadly mushroom growing right behind my cabin, a poison pax, which at first blush looked like an oyster mushroom.

As far the usual suspects- the early season yielded its usual scant amount of morels. They favor trees that are not abundant in my parts. Chicken-of-the-woods popped up early in June and I was foolish not to collect some, figuring that such an early appearance would mean a bountiful summer. Wrong I was, I did not find another until the weather cooled off a bit in late August. I imagine they are flushing more eadily now with sustained cooler temps. Oysters were the big producer this summer, nearly every week I would find a cluster on a dead log, deep in the woods and right in the backyard. In July I pulled in over four pounds on one forage. I was able to cook up several dozen tacos with  hem for my fellow campers sautéed with ancho chiles, garlic chives, and mint from our garden. Pretty darned tasty. I never tire of oysters’ light vegetal flavor and slight crunch. My biggest mushroom score of the summer actually came from a very generous gift from a friend.

chanterelles

He has a cabin a few hours inland from us in central Michigan and has found several productive patches of chanterelle mushrooms near his place. So many in fact, that he gave me a few dozen, which I savored over a couple of weeks (they keep quite well). It was actually my first experience cooking with them, as they fetch such high prices at markets and I’ve never been lucky enough to find them in my parts. I just love their pleasant chew and delicate, yet earthy bouquet. I enjoyed them most sautéed in butter and eaten on home baked bread. Thanks Paavo!

Late summer proved to get pretty interesting in terms of new edible finds. I didn’t find a whole lot of boletes this season,, but then right at the end of my stay in the woods, in the courtyard of the building in which I work, a magnificent flush of bright sulfur-yellow Chicken Fat Suillus Suillus americanus) popped up. I had not found these in several years and the last time I had foraged some, I was not quite as intrepid in my willingness to eat new species, so this year was the first time I cooked with them. The caps have an off-putting wet stickiness, but once you get past that they have quite a nice buttery flavor. I hear they dry quite nicely as well, as do other boletes. Oh and I did find a solitary Old-man-of-the-woods which I had enjoyed in abundance last year. I am still kicking myself that I did not sample some of the very prominent Parasol mushrooms (Macrolepiota procera) growing around my place. What a beautiful creature, this species with its three to four inch diameter cap and up to nine inch tall elegant stem which displays snake-skin like patterning. By the time I had positively ID’d it through its spore print, the flush was past its prime. I was also somewhat chicken to start sampling Lepiota mushrooms, which is a family that contains several poisonous species. If I find these again, I’m gonna cook ‘em.

mushroom pizza

Near the very end of my tenure in the woods, I actually found chanterelles, deep in the woods in my favorite foraging spot, a marshy area populated by virgin oaks. Peaking up through the leaf litter were hard-to-miss-despite-their-tininess, were bright crimson,  Cinnabar chanterelles (Cantharellus cinnabarinus). I collected a scant handful of these guys  which are teensy weensy, like maybe an inch tall with a cap smaller than a dime. They got tossed in with a collection of other foraged mushrooms for a celebratory, end-of-summer pizza that I shared with my entire staff. That pie boasted seven species in all. Not too shabby for a somewhat lackluster seeming season of foraging. And the good news is that its nearly prime season for fungal abundance. I will be spending some long weekends back in the woods later this month and I promise to report back!




UPDATED – I Don’t Find $5 That Much of a Challenge – You Won’t Either

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Posted: September 13, 2011 at 8:11 am

[Note, no sooner did I post this, did I start thinking of other money saving ideas, and then I joined my wife for coffee and she had her own set of good ideas.  See new ideas below.]

“I’d love to shop at the farmer’s market, but who can afford that.”

Man, the Local Beet would be rolling in dough if we had a dime for every time we’ve heard that.  And believe me, that’s about the nicest way it’s been put.  Surely, we here, as a movement, get tagged all the times with claims of elitism, snobbery, disconnected-ness, and such.  The polite will just say, “love to do it if we could.”  Thing is, they can.  I have.  The Local Family has.  In September of 2011,  Slow Food USA draws attention to the notion that good food can be served at $5.  That’s a challenge the Local Family long ago accepted.  I’ve re-printed (and added to) below, some of the ways we don’t spend too much money eating local, so you too can accept and accede the $5 Challenge.  Fully prepared, join Slow Food Chicago this Saturday, September 17, at Green City Market to proclaim your ability.

Before telling you some of the ways I save money, let me tell you a few ways I will always spend money.  For one thing, nearly every day this summer I have not written a post, the post I would have written would have been about how good is local fruit.  No where is it more clear, the advantages of local food than with local fruit.  And no where do you, almost always, have to pay the price.  I just do.  The other thing, eggs.  Man, can the price differences between farm eggs and factory eggs stagger.  Yet, as I’ll note below, expensive farm eggs still provide an inexpensive source of protein, all things considered.  That out of the way, here’s ways to save.

  • Let’s start with I called the important piece of advice I’ve ever given: Farmer’s rarely want to bring anything home.  He or she that can make that offer for the rest of this, the remaining that, will get the best deal.  In almost all cases, the more you buy, the more you save.  It’s not the Casablanca souk.  You do not bargain down a bag of lettuce from 100 dollars to 50 cents, but as soon as you start buying more than a few of anything you can start wheelin’ and dealin’.
  • Another way to get a bargain.  Take their yucky stuff off their hands.  If you plan on baking or something, do you need pristine fruit.  Many farmers already label “seconds”.  If you don’t see such, ask.
  • Now, let’s put those add those two and you get this key bit of advice: at the end of the day, farmer’s are dumping what’s left.  It may be dinged and dented from a day’s worth of showing or it may just be more than the farmer wants to keep.  Swoop in for some excellent deals.
  • We can move away from the farmer’s market for this oft neglected bit of advice: Not all local food comes from the farmer’s market.  Of course there are important reasons to buy at the farmer’s markets, but often the local food at the grocery stores is nearly as good, and can often be had at really good prices.  Here especially, it pays to buy at the seasonal peak.  At stores like Angelo Caputo’s, high quality, local produce can be had, in season for well under a $1/lb.  Once the summer is over, there are always good deals on Wisconsin potatoes, same for Michigan apples.
  • Once you find those good deals, stock up.  I mean why do not the people who direct their ire over local food prices direct their ire over the prices for out of season prices.  How much are oranges are asparagus now?  Pack up all that good local food and you will not have to spend a lot on your food the rest of the year.
  • Are you a flexitarian.  Being a flexitarian just means, well I’m not sure if there’s an official meaning, but I think it just means don’t eat meat every day.  It’s funny that a lot of the anti-locavore crappers will say things like, “well there’s way more environmental damage caused by eating meat…”  Like locavores are extreme carnivores.  It’s good for the earth to eat less meat.  It’s also good for your wallet.  Make dinner from beans or soy.  Quality, artisan, NON-GMO, tofu can be found at Chicago area farmer’s markets.  This way, when you do eat meat, it can be something like a Dietzler Farm steak, right?  Really!!
  • On a related note, when you eat meat, does it have to be the fanciest steak?  There’s a lot of cow that’s not steak.  Buy it.  Use it.  Start with the nose and end with the tail; remember, it’s not just gross it’s cheap.  Still, if you’ve been to any of the more decent restaurants in Chicago these days, you’ve learned that it’s not such a challenge to have tasty offal too.  Dig into those lesser cuts.
  • On the other hand, still seeking a steak, ask yourself, what kind of steak.  You can take a tough (but cheap) round steak, pound it out thin, set it to high, high heat and call it minute steak.  Even a flank steak can be had within your $5 per person budget.
  • Being a flexitarian does not mean you have to be a vegan.  You can get your local proteins from eggs and cheese easily.  As I noted above, local eggs cost a lot more than factory eggs, yet making your family an egg dish can be a cheaper way to fill up your family.  You can spend a lot on certain local cheeses, but you can find high quality local cheeses for much less.  Fill your family up with dairy.
  • This might not help you tomorrow, but you can save on meat, really save, by buying sides of meat.  You need tremendous freezer space to get a half a cow, but a half a hog or half a lamb take much less room.  You can also usually buy a quarter side of beef.  You can start looking for sides of meat from the farmers who sell at markets.
  • Consider a meat CSA.  This one reminds that all price issues are relative.  When things were a little easier last year, we enrolled in Mint Creek’s CSA.  We loved the quality (and butchering) of the stuff.  The CSA gave us a big discount over normal Mint Creek prices, yet others (like us now) could still find it out of their price range.
  • My final piece of advice, and second most important (for now): develop relationships with farmers.  It does not even require a strong gift of gab.  Find out, for instance, if they have a listserv or newsletter.  Want to save money, be in the know.  Indiana hog farmer Crystal Nellis just emailed her customers on some great deals for hams and other items.  A tomato farmer recently emailed me on a surplus of canning tomatoes he was selling for way below market rates.  I cannot tell you how many things we get extra because of our market relations.
  • NEW! – From the Other Cookbook Addict: save your grease.  She notes that after frying up some good local bacon, save the grease for lots of other good foods.  As my wife learned during her time apprenticing at the late Mado Restaurant, the secret ingredient to many vegetable dishes, bacon (or goose) fat.
  • NEW! – Eat local fish.  We always favor local fish, especially in this time of Locavore Challenge.  Not only is local fish pretty much always the freshest fish in the market, it is usually the cheapest.  For instance, I usually find whole whitefish for less than $5/lb.  Find halibut, cod or salmon for that?
  • NEW! – I’m always telling you go double duty with your vegetable purchases.  When you buy certain vegetables, you are really buying two vegetables.  I mean when you buy kohlrabi, you buy a serving of greens and a serving of bulbous stem.  When you buy beets, you buy three meals: root, stems and leaves.  Don’t forget when you buy winter squash and pumpkins you are also buying very usable and very enjoyable seeds, just roast ‘em.
  • NEW! – Eat the whole vegetable or as Wendy sez, eat vegetable offal.  As we covered a few weeks ago, don’t give up on your scraps.   Make stock from peels.  As my wife notes, on broccoli, the lesser used stems actually taste better than their prettier tops.
  • NEW! – Get some good recipes.  If you can make it yourself, chances are, you can make it cheaper.  Starting from a Gale Gand recipe, my wife has learned to make the best granola ever.  I mean there’s some great local granola options out there, from Milk and Honey or River Valley Kitchens.  My wife’s is better, and we now spend less on granola too.  Figure out where you can substitute commercial foods for homemade.  Chances are from bread to catsup, you’ll make it for less.

I’m sure I’ll come back to this post with new ideas and suggestions, and I very much want to hear your ideas for savings.  I want to end, however, with something else I have said often to justify the costs.  You still spend less, way less when you buy and prepare your own local food than when you eat out or when you spend money on packaged foods.  How much do you think it costs us for the satisfying meal we had the other night of pasta with summer squash and red peppers, a green salad on the side.  I do not think we could feed our family at Gene n’ Judes for that much.  The real costs of local food are often paid in time.  Resist convenience food, fast food.  Instead you can eat real food.  Accede to the $5 Challenge.




Extend local eating by bringing back produce from vacation

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Posted: September 13, 2011 at 8:09 am

Local farmers markets feature produce from Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan. But there is a way to add more states to the list, still eating local and not increasing the footprint.

I recently brought back garlic from Minnesota when I spent 41 hours in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Saturday morning brought me to the Mill City Museum farmers market. I indulged in a few food items, including fare from a food truck parked in the middle of the farmers market, and took home some garlic.

Finding farmers market garlic isn’t easy back home, and the garlic in Minnesota looked marvelous.

No extra petroleum. No carbon footprint. The garlic was tucked safely away in my bag. My nearby seatmates might not have been thrilled with garlic, but I doubt they knew it was there.

My recall of how good that garlic was goes into the box of memories from my Twin Cities trip.

Tacky souvenirs aren’t a good sign you visited somewhere; bringing back local produce is the best souvenir you can find, even if it leaves no long-term trace.


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SUN-DRIED JULIET TOMATOES: The Easy Preserving Alternative

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Posted: September 12, 2011 at 4:38 pm

Editor’s Note: Francis Lam over at Gilttaste.com is doing oven dried tomatoes this week, so we thought it was a good time to recycle last year’s piece on oven drying tomatoes, because, you know, we did it first! Kidding aside, tomato season is winding up, and if you haven’t had the chance to can tomatoes, oven-drying is an easy, doable alternative to capture this wonderful tomato season for which we have the hot, drought conditions to thank.

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Although some tomato farmers are reporting late-season blight, certain crops of tomatoes are still growing strong. One such variety is juliet — a cross between a roma and cherry tomato.

After picking up 25 pounds from Randy Brockway at the Logan Square Market, I decided that the perfect way to preserve them is to dry them. Juliets are small, and not as juicy and certainly not as seedy as a roma. I’ve slow-roasted romas before with great success, but the result was a shrunken, more concentrated tomato; tasty, but a far cry from what you see labeled as “sun-dried tomatoes” in the store.

Drying is perfect for people who are either tired or afraid of canning. (After lots of canning lately, I fall into the former category.) After the tomatoes are dried, they can be portioned out in Ziploc freezer bags or sealed in pouches and stored in the freezer. (Read: You can’t can these even if you wanted to.)

At first, I had these romantic notions of drying these tomatoes in the Indian summer sun, but after reading further, I learned that: One, nobody does that anymore. Producers are allowed to label their tomatoes as “sun-dried” though they weren’t. And two, doing so could take up to two weeks (!). And you have to bring them in every night lest they become snacks for critters.

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The good news is that you can (and should) dry them in the oven. After you halve them lengthwise and lay the halves out in one layer on a cookie sheet, it takes about 8-12 hours in an unattended 200° oven. (The oven temperature should not exceed 200, otherwise they will roast, not dry.) You know things are going well when the tomato begins to shrivel in on itself. Feel free to keep them in the oven overnight. If they’re not as dried as you’d like in the morning, then take them out of the oven and put them back in when you get home after work. This is a very forgiving process. Just make sure that the moisture has evaporated, but that they’re still pliable, like leather (and not brittle).

The result after about 14 hours in the oven:

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I add the tomatoes to bolster braises, pasta sauces, and salads, wherever I would normally use store-bought sun-dried tomatoes.




Accept the Challenges with This Local Calendar Friday, September 9th, 2011
Rebecca Frazier, a teacher here, said she had cut her food bill in half by growing her own and preserving and by buying in bulk from local farmers Friday, September 9th, 2011
To Market with Mo: Eggplant. Really? Friday, September 9th, 2011
I Take the Challenge to Eat Local Every Day Thursday, September 8th, 2011
Go Slow with the Latest Local Calendar Friday, September 2nd, 2011