Friday, June 01, 2007

What's Local at Whole Foods (The Entire Midwest)

Promises, Promises!

Earlier this year, I was invited to give a small presentation to the 4th/5th grade multi-age class at Hatch Elementary School in Oak Park on eating local. The librarian, Ms. Cox, was especially impressed and pledged to eat more local. So, she was surprised to find me one day in Whole Foods, and you too may be surprised why I always seem on top of Whole Foods. I am there about two (or more) times a week. It seems there's always something we need. (Local) milk, lunch things for the kidz (one of the few things that I have not been able to fully go local on even as we have forsake "baby" carrots), bread, kefir, soy milk, Great Lakes fish, and every time I need to stop at Whole Foods, I do a check for what's local.

What I found yesterday is that Whole Foods is making big (BIG) promises. According to a brochure in their store, they will be providing up to $10 million in low interest loans to local farmers in the Midwest. In addition, they are teaming up with to promote local. Their literature names about 45 farms in the Midwest (stretching from Indiana to Nebraska) that will supply Whole Foods.

Count me as skeptical. To me, a strong (better) first step would be to detox the stores of the various evils I saw yesterday. Sweet corn from Florida (oh yeah, that'll be sweet), cherries from Chile (!). I say make people buy what's in season now. Scroll down this blog, it's not like we are lacking right now in local stuff. Anyways, strident, un-realistic me very much welcomes Whole Food's commitment to local farmers. I'll be tracking how well they fulfil their promises.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Good News or Bad News

Asparagus Omlette or Tomatoes with Feta?

That was the good news, although to the daughters, especially older, it did not seem like good news at all. Bad news was, we were not going out for dinner. Seems the brood had gone soft on local/seasonal on me.

"No more asparagus."

Can you believe that. My soon to be Bat Mitzvah'd daughter said that. As if in mustard vinigrette, with hot butter, in pasta, in pasta with mushrooms, grilled, roasted, roasted again but with an egg on top, with egg but as a frittata, with eggs, scrambled. This was too much asparagus?

Did not she even care that I had already blanched and frozen some today, to eat next winter. When the cabbages go awry. Did she not care that Farmer Vicki's Genesis Grower's (last) Spring CSA box contained many sticks. That I had bought to show Whole Foods, that Mick Klug had lousy strawberries but great asparagus.

It is not like we are mono-cuisine at the Bungalow. We have four types of lettuces (and that's calling mesclun a type), five kinds of greens, radishes that are white and turnips that are reddish pink. Enough that for the second week in a row, the broccoli went in the freezer to ensure we had some, some room in our two refrigerators.

So, we settled on a variation of a dish of Melissa Kelly, of Primo in Maine. Tomatoes and feta and pea shoots in a light dressing (how many households can read a recipe that includes pea shoots and say, hey have some in the basement fridge...?). I wonder if Ms. Kelly's feta was anywhere close to as good the Capri Farm goat feta (not cheap!) purchased in Madison that improved our greenhouse tomatoes.

It helped a lot that we finished with Hoosier Mama pie gilded with hand whipped Michigan cream.

Strawberries are Red Damnit

Green City Market May 30, 2007

I know someone who absolutely loathes the cafe/bakery Bittersweet. I don't, but I always think of that person, her story, when I think of Bittersweet. And I always think of Bittersweet when I think of strawberries. See, nine times out of ten, if you shop/eat at Bittersweet, you will see something done with strawberries. It will be very pretty, exactly sliced, glazed with apricot in the French style, showcased. A perfect, ideal example of what a strawberry is not. Because strawberries are red.

The Bittersweet strawberry, like so many strawberries looks like a candy cane, perhaps a chioggia beet if trendy. It tastes, well at times there may be a fleeting sample of that light red flavor, the one not quite cherry, that is called strawberry, but mostly they taste like fruity potatoes. Strawberries should be red. Ripe. Like amply found at Green City yesterday.

A lot of produce sings farmers market to me: heirloom tomatoes, concord grapes, sugar snap peas, but strawberries top them all. It is a product so rooted in local and seasonal and so abused by our industrial food chain. Let me skip the rest of the details. Just get yourself to a farmers market soon. The strawberry season is short.

Of course there are strawberries and there are strawberries. And of course, I'm a bit bias towards my friend Farmer Vicki of Genesis Growers, but if her Earliglo strawberries were being sold in San Francisco, She'd be in the Slow Food book. I found almost as good strawberries at Hardin Farms and Country Cottage. I was less impressed with what Krug Farms had (now, their asparagus, that's another story that I'll get to in a second). I'm a big fan of Nicholl's Farm's strawberries, but I did not get any this time.

Besides strawberries, well as I said, Krug's asparagus, giant shivs of purple; Russ Parsons in his How to Pick a Peach weighs in on the thick/thin asparagus debate (finding like me, merits in both); these giants, he would say, have more of the tender aspa-flesh under their deep purple skin (too bad that purple goes away in the pot).

I've really been liking the stuff at Growing Power (great cause too).

We got some tomatoes, some lettuce, a chicken, more edible flowers...

Other purchases: Green Acres=watercress, young shallots, cavalo nero, some other cooking green; Genesis Growers=arugula, thyme, icicle radishes; Nicholl's Farm=spinach

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Every Day a Market

If it's Thursday it Must Be Daley Plaza

Drake and the guys put together a very handy calender of farmer's markets--here. There's no excuse now to visit your local farmer's market. (Hat tip Gaper's Block)

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

What's Local at Whole Foods (River Forest, IL)


Thatta boy. Honest to goodness Michigan asparagus was for sale on Monday, May 28, 2007. A real, true, seasonal product that grows as well or better around the Whole Foods in River Forest, IL than all the Whole Foods in California. Now, I have nothing against parsnips and morels, and god knows I bought a ton of ramps, but the local selection at Whole Foods should (should) mostly (mostly) comprise the items the customers are buying this week. Offering local asparagus is a nice start.

Even though I got lotsa lovely, organically grown asparagus from Farmer Vicki's Genesis Growers CSA, I still bought a few bunches at Whole Foods to encourage the sale of local produce.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Listen to the Farmer

He Knows

I was mossing around the site this morning--I need the Plapps to send me to a source for more of their corn meal, we just ran out--and I found these bright words from David Cleverdon, who runs the Kinnikinnick Farm:
A lot of things, besides whether something is termed “organic” or not, should go into our decisions about the food we purchase. Who grew it? Was it grown locally? How far has it been shipped? Is it any good? How much does it cost? Is it seasonal? My rule of thumb is that I will buy organic food if it is demonstrably better and not too much more expensive. And preferably local. Organic milk, for example. I love organic milk. It comes from Wisconsin. It tastes so much better that I can’t imagine ever buying conventionally produced milk again. We use the same philosophy when it comes to what we produce. We want everything we grow and sell to be clearly superior in taste, texture, color, etc. than its conventional counterpart.

I know all the stuff about organic crops being nutritionally superior and organic production being better for the planet. On balance, I think that’s usually true. But if an organic crop is shipped across the country, then I think much of its organic advantage is lost to us all—in terms of energy consumption, handling costs, etc. A lousy tomato grown organically in California and shipped to Chicago is still a lousy tomato.

The bottom line is that if you are concerned about the food you and your family eat, then you should get to know the farmer who produced it. And that means buying locally and seasonally—not just organically. I know a lot of farmers who are not “organic” whose food production I would trust because they are careful growers—careful about how their production practices affect their crops, their workers, their family, their farm, their community, and themselves.
Kinnikinnick produce can be purchased at the Evanston Farmers' Market and Chicago's Green City Market. Not only does his stuff taste delicious, let him know how right he is.

Local As I Wanna Be - Industrial Pork Version


We want our diet to be as local as possible. Surely, that includes the protein. Still, we are not going to waste something already in the freezer, and that was a whole pork tenderloin.

First, a plate (taken from River Cafe) : Illinois asparagus, Wisconsin arugula, mozzarella manufactured in Illinois (from indeterminate milk), Italian Parmesan cheese, Italian olive oil.

Then, pork tenderloin (indeterminate) marinated in Illinois rosemary, Illinois sage, Wisconsin chives, Wisconsin green garlic, Italian olive oil, grilled; served with a slaw/condiment/relish of Wisconsin black radish, Illinois carrot, Italian red wine vinegar, Italian olive oil; Wisconsin watercress.