It Was a Good Food Festival

March 21, 2012 at 2:23 pm

I think this is the fourth year I’ve spoken at the Good Food Festival Chicago (formerly known as the FamilyFarmed Expo), although really this year I did not speak, I moderated.  As I told both of my panels, I saw the role of a good moderator as one who could keep his mouth mostly shut and lets the panelists panel away.  After all, what did I know about fermentation besides the fact that I like beer, kraut and miso soup.  I did, however, find I could pip in & mention there, that if one really wanted to go all out finding stone crocks for their fermentation experiments, I knew of no better source than “that hardware store in Middlebury, Indiana with the Amish,” which after a big of the Google, turns out to be Van’s & Hoover’s.  Actually, being freed from the burden of producing a speech, I decided not to tax myself much at this year’s festival.

In years past, besides teaching others on eating local year-round or eating local without spending much, I tried to learn from others.  At last year’s Financing Fair, I really got a lot out of Andy Whittman’s presentations on presentations–getting the opportunity not too long ago to admonish someone for not using 10/20/30 in their powerpoint deck.  I’ve learned I could keep my winter squash under my bed (thanks Vicki!).  I’ve even picked up some good recipes; my wife is now forever making the spinach-chorizo tacos she learned from Rick Bayless one year.  I did not this year, attend a single session beyond my own.

I did, I’ll admit, do a good amount of learning in my two sessions.  In the first session I moderated, Friday’s panel on social media and marketing, I learned, if nothing else, how to divvy time amongst a roster that went from 3 to 7 five minutes before start-time, but that’s neither here nor there. Guys like Cleetus Friedman of 2010 Local Beet Restuarant of the Year (!) City Provisions Deli and Josh Brusin from Chicago Foodies gave insight into how they built their successful brands.  Josh wisely reminded us that before you get out twittering, you have to understand what your product truly offers, and he ran through some photos that drove this home.  Cleetus’s primary message was to make your message the business.  You won’t find his kid’s pictures on his facebook page.  Grant Kessler, who knows how to network about as good as anyone I know, jumped in at the last minute to cover for Michelle Garcia who was sick.  While I would have loved to hear Michelle’s any news is good news school of media interaction, we got plenty from Grant. He managed to cover a lot of the nuts and bolts of Twitter, and we all wished he could have had many more minutes just talking about Hootsuite.  Bob, Todd, Bronwyn and Irv all at least had a chance to chat, and the questions from the audience suggested that the basics shared by them were well needed.  Again, as Grant said, we could have used a lot more time.  We could have used a lot more time for Ben Walker too.

Photo of Ben Walker & myself courtesy of Megg/

Photo of Ben Walker & myself courtesy of Megg/

Thanks to Megg for the action shot of my fermentation session with Ben.  You know what kind of reward I got from Ben for being a good moderator and keeping my introduction brief?  His first words were, “well I have to tell you Rob’s wrong.”  See, I called Ben a fermentation expert.  I mean after all, that’s what it said in my program.  Ben offered he was no expert, just a good amateur.  Yet, as that 75 minutes really flew by, we all saw that Ben really was an expert, and expert in so many ways, from creating the neatest little gadget to keep your kraut shooshed down to knowing every last micro-organisim possibly floating in our Big 10 Foodshed.  We also learned Ben knows bees, herbs, weeds, and I’m guessing, how to tie and really good slip knot.  I’m hoping we can get more of Ben on the Beet and you can really learn from him.

So, what did I do this year instead of learning only what I had too?  I ate.  I do not know what I was thinking on Friday paying for a lunch.  I did not repeat that mistake on Saturday.  A little bread from Standard Market, sausage from Goose the Market and cheese from Trader’s Point.  I’d write poems if I could, but I could make do for lunch.  I’ll confess that all of this stuff happened to be in the corner where my Local Beet/Slow Food Chicago tables stood.  Like a traditional Italian villager, I liked the food closest to me, and I should add, man was I lucky to have as my table neighbor, the new line of farm-friendly chocolates from Vosge.  I promise you though, I did more than just sample chocolates next to me, I did limp (thanks to the dumb idea of playing basketball a few nights earlier) around the whole hall.  I found too many good foods, but at the end of the day, nothing beat this duo from Indiana.  Mark my words, you will be reading about Trader Point’s Creamery, washed rind, raw milk tomme style cheese in a few years in tbe New York Times.  Someone mentioned to me that it could have been stinkier, but I thought there was just the right amount of funk kissing the grassfed milky-richness.

I did not stay away from the lectures just to eat.  Last year, I told the story of how Jim Slama convinced me to have a Local Beet table at the Expo.  This year, no one had to convince me, and when Beetnik Jeannie Boutelle offered to staff the table on Friday, we were ready for a-schmoozin’  And schmooze we did.  There is nothing better about the Good Food Festival than being able to plant yourself in one spot, and what better spot can be next to the chocolate, and chat with people on our favorite of subjects, eating local.  And our table gave us the chance to mingle with so many who do good things like Linsay Record of the Illinois Stewardship Alliance and Harry Rhodes of Growing Home and the Advocates for Urban Agriculture.  I had too much fun on Friday to leave the table, except for my panel, and even though Beet Editor Wendy Aeschlimann had things under control on Saturday, I did not want to leave much then either.  As Jeannie said, it was like a mini-Terra Madre.  We all felt a movement grow this weekend.

As in year’s past, we’ll also post on other reports from the Festival.  Megg at PopArtichoke has already covered things well, and we appreciate her letting us use the picture above.  We’d love to hear from people who where there, and if you were not there, we think what you’ve heard and will hear will probably make you wish you were there.


One Comment

  1. Rob:

    Great post! Fun to read. I especially like the line about the Italian villager. :-)

    Thanks for your kind words! It was fun to jump into your panel on social media use for small businesses, and stay tuned, I think there will be a small, hands-on workshop in the near future for small businesses who want help using the tools!

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