Wednesday, August 01, 2007

How to Eat Local

What's For Dinner

Have you signed up for the Green City Market Eat Local Challenge?

Good. You want to know what you will be eating while you are eating local. As I noted in this post, what you can eat depends on how you draw your circle of local. On the other hand, maybe you wanted to know what was there before drawing your circle. Chicago sits in the middle of prime farm country. Thick black prairie soil brought people here. Wet springs and hot dry summers make for good fruits and vegetables. Except for those plants that cannot take a freeze, it nearly all grows around here. From varying distances from where you live, you will find farmers that milk cows (and goats), raise goats, pigs, lamb, cows, turkeys, chickens, trout; sell eggs, make cheese, smoke fish. Grains grow abundantly (for sure), but usable grains are a bit trickier. The Great Lakes are still fished. You can find whitefish, trout (now out of season), pike in stores. No almonds but hickory nuts and butternuts can still be tracked down, and walnuts, no English but the much more exquisite if so burdensome black are here. Cook with available lard or butter if you are a zealot. You will not starve.

There are vegetable farms inside the Chicago city limits. You will find mostly greens (including lettuce) and tomatoes from these farms. If you are a Chicagovore, however, I think that's about all you can eat unless you have a fishing pole. The 100 mile diet brings in most of the area farmers who show at local markets. You can get a huge array of vegetables from Nicholl's Farm in Marengo, Illinois; Genesis Growers in St. Anne, Illinois; and Green Acres Farm in North Judson, Indiana, but you will miss out on Henry's Farm in Congerville, Illinois. Some of these farms also sell fruit including apples, berries and melons. More fruit comes from the farms in Southwest Michigan: cherries, peaches and other stone fruit especially. Meats, cheese, dairy may be found with this limitation, Heartland Meats, available at many farmers markets fits within the 100 mile barrier, but many others do not such as Wettstein's Organic Farms. If you choose to go 100 miles, your options are limited.

You could do pretty well on an Illinois only diet. You can even look downstate for peaches. You have some cheese, including the outstanding Prairie Fruits Farm, and other dairy including Oberweiss (if politics allow). Better milk (in more ways) comes from Oak Grove Dairy (available at Fox & Obel). There's some wine but better beer, even vodka and gin. Still, to really take advantage of local, do like me and take an expansive view. I love-love Prairie Fruits Farm, but no goat cheese I have ever tried is as good as Fantome Farm in Ridgeway, Wisconsin. We are blessed with quality products all over our place. Stone ground grains in Indiana, Minnesota wild rice, outstanding hams both the raw and the cooked, farm raised trout. Maple syrup and sorghum is widely produced. The Indiana persimmon, on our far fringe is a truly special fruit, something only a localvore can eat. There will be many good things to eat on your Eat Local diet.

Next: Good things to eat now!

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