Friday, August 03, 2007

How to Eat Local

Tell Me Already

If you have not signed up for Chicago's Eat Local Challenge, you can do it tomorrow at the Green City Market. You can draw your foodshed wide. Make exceptions wily-nily. Maybe you are just waiting to hear what you can really eat when you eat local. Fruits, vegetables, meat, chicken, bacon, eggs, herbs, peppers, honey, syrup, beer, wine; does that not sound like dinner. You can spend the whole week eating local cheese (start here). What exactly you eat depends on three things: the markets, shops, stands, CSAs and gardens you can get to; what's in season at these markets, shops, gardens, etc., and what do you have stored away in your freezer, fridge, cellar. When it comes time to eat local for a week in September, what will you eat?

Let's start with the storage possibility. If you trying to Eat Local all the time, you think a lot about storing your food. You want local food in the many months without farmer's markets. In those months, your local food has to come from your stores, from canning, drying, putting away in a cold room, and especially, freezing. I'm guessing that the planners of this Eat Local Challenge wanted abundant food for this Eat Local Challenge. They probably did not expect you to have to dip into stores at the height of our growing season. Still, you have to ask yourself, will I be able to do all the shopping I need during that week of local. Maybe. Maybe not. It may make lots of sense for you to put some things aside starting now for your Eat Local week in September.

Where can you get local food. Farmer's markets fer sure. Chicago has many and many good ones. There are several downtown, including decent ones at Federal Plaza on Tuesday and Daley Plaza on Thursday. Drake at the site has a good calender for finding farmer's markets. The Illinois Department of Agriculture produces another good farmer's market directory/calender. The Local Harvest site is a great way for finding not only farmers markets but farm stands and other sources for local food. The problem is, not every farmer's market has everything you need to Eat Local. Do you want to be a vegetarian for the week? Now, both the bi-weekly Green City Market (Wednesday and Saturdays) and Oak Park Farmer's Market have vendors selling meat and eggs to keep your inner Atkin's happy. I know other markets have protein as well, but I cannot necessarily speak to them. Do your due diligence before the challenge starts.

No farmer's market near you or your hours don't match theirs? It has become more possible than ever to buy local at your grocery. (If fact, NPR notes it as a trend--hat tip to Jen at the site. Jewel and Sunset Foods are advertising their local food in their weekly fliers. Whole Food's has promised local, but 1/2 the time I'm there it never seems beyond burdock root. I was in the Caputo's on Harlem, in Elmwood Park this morning. One could eat decently enough on what they had local: cucumbers, zucchini, corn, two types of Michigan apples, two types of Wisconsin potatoes, Indiana onions, peaches, muskmelons, blueberries, milk.

Milk, that's the thing, until this year Green City had local milk. Now they do not. I'm not aware of any one stop for all your Eat Local needs. Caputo's may have got you as far as your weekly chicken dinner, but did they give you a chicken. You could go down the street to Kolatek's, one of my favorite Polish stores. They had Amish chickens from Indiana. Eating local means you can't slow down.

It also means you have to know what's in season. When you eat local you either eat what's in the ground now or what's in your storage now. Early September, when the Eat Local Challenge starts, you will have plenty to choose. Here's a small shapshot of what you may find. Here's another. You should be awash in apples. About the only major local food that may not have arrived for your challenge are the local papples.

A lot of the fun, the challenge in the challenge is the search and the creation. I don't know what exactly you will find local in September. You probably will not either. Tomatoes, eggplants, peaches, plums, bell peppers for sure, but what else? How long has it been since you tried local grapes. Do you remember grapes with seeds? Follow the lead of David "Hat" Hammond who has documented some of his Eat Local discoveries on Try new foods, new dishes. However you define your local, whatever exceptions you grant yourself, you will find plenty of things to eat during the Eat Local Challenge. I look forward to hearing how you do. Let me know what else I need to tell you.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

How To Eat Local


Did you sign up yesterday at the Green City Market for the Eat Local Challenge? This Eat Local lesson is for all those on the fence, but for all those who have dived in too. My message to you, don't eat local.

Nah, I'm kidding. I want you to take up the Eat Local Challenge. Reduce the huge amount of miles required to get food to your table. Partake in food grown by farmers you can meet. Reveal in freshness, forgot the noted heirloom tomatoes; can a cucumber really taste like that. Who knew you could enjoy okra. And yes I do like rutabagas (a wrongly maligned vegetable if there ever was one). The last two lessons covered picking your local, defining where your food could come from to be local. It could be your city, your state, 100 miles from where you lived, or your broad region. I'm sorry but, "from the USA", is a bit expansive even for me. Now, before figuring out what you can eat local, figure out what you can eat non-local.

You cannot eat exclusively from the Chicago area, even for a week. There is no local salt, no local pepper, no local chocolate, hell no local coffee. Many people attempting Eat Local Challenges just give up certain favorites, it's like Lent to them--"damn the headaches, no lattes for me this week." That's fine but, to me, somewhat unnecessary. To me, eating local is about making choices, replacing. Replacing corn so far from the stalk in tastes like ethanol with corn picked nearby; forsaking big-big California peaches for juicy Michigan Red Havens; not having asparagus anymore (unless it's from your freezer) and instead having Blue Lake green beans. Get your eggs from a farmer instead of a multinational entity. Try pastured pork instead of industrial pork. Drink beer brewed in your backyard. That's eating local.

Will eating local drive you nuts. In Plenty, the couple seeking to eat from only 100 miles commented about how obsessive they had to become. How they drove mile after mile in an effort to reduce their food miles. I'll cover in another lesson sources for eating local, but it is obvious that eating local takes work. The food may not be at your grocery, your meat may be frozen when you want to eat it. Moreover, there may be things local out there that you just cannot get too, like grains. Grains, whoa, even if you have a cache of local wheat, do you have time to bake your own bread? Some of your exceptions are just gonna be the practical.

Do you want to do all your cooking with lard or butter, more power to ya. I'd still like to use some olive oil. Should you only try the blossoming Midwest wine business. Perhaps, but you may not have a lot to drink. Use fresh herbs. My friend Farmer Vicki at Genesis Growers sells many. She also has an array of hot peppers. Your food will not be bland on local, do you need to forsake the rest of your spice cabinet. I don't. You may be the type that wants a nice piece of halibut. Me, I don't go there, preferring to buy only freshwater fish. Or I do. I have purchased the Whole Foods marinated shrimp skewers. I eat canned tuna, anchovies. I don't fret that every morsel that goes in my mouth does not come from the states around me.

You should not either. Don't be afraid to be non-local during your Eat Local Challenge. Just think about it. Make mindful choices. Realize the items that matter to you. Then, with the other stuff, go for it. Be like my kidz, never let a whittled away "baby" carrot touch your lips again.

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!

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

What's Local in NW Indiana

A Lot

The pies may be made with shortening and whipped topping, but good ingredients abound in NW Indiana.

That's Ms. Pavolka. She sells fruit near Michigan City. She is famous for her banana apples, a particular heirloom native to her yard. These, however, need at least another month of ripening. She did sell us tartly-delicious yellow transparents as well as some very ripe peaches. Right now she also has blueberries. She'll have her apples through March.

I appreciate that the South Bend Farmer's Market is open more than one day even if 4/5th of the stands were closed on Friday. Lotsa cukes and summer squash, some home made candy and two meat vendors--the woman at Hiatt's Meat told me that her chickens and rabbits had been processed the day before. Not that I'm strange or anything, but the raw rabbits were gorgeous; if I was not still traveling.

Another meat option could have been Old Hoosier Meats in Middlebury where they put a lot of garlic (a lot) in their ring bologna. They also dry their own beef and smoke their own hams. We were driving to a cheese factory in Middlebury, but changed course when we saw a parking lot full of buggies. Forks County Line Store (508 E. Warren Street Middlebury) is the closest thing to an Amish Costco that I know, the real thing. A dim warehouse, not nearly as huge as Costco, actually organized a bit like a normal supermarket with shelves not pallets, but most of the products came in large, large quantities. The better to feed a family of 10, no?

A mix of surplus foods from who knows (I saw material with the Texas H E B chain logo) as well as products of the area. Forks does reveal many Amish secrets: raspberry pie filling and gravy mix and a lot more food science than I would not expect. We still found much to buy, at bargain prices: hand made noodles, locally ground flour, jellies and pickles, candies, popcorn (pick from 3 colors), honey, more if I'd go down stairs to check. There are other Amish stores. We found more honey, more noodles, more jam at Dutch Country Market (11401 CR 16 between Middlebury and Shipshewana), but Forks is more worthwhile.

We found local flour at Forks but we saw local flour milled at Bonneyville Mill, slightly NW of Middlebury. I save the best for last. An existing water driven stone mill, now being run by the Elkhart County Park District. Is the grain local I asked. No, the mill master replied. My heart dropped a bit. "It comes from near Rochester". Rochester being a town about an hour South Bend. Well, that seemed pretty damn local to me. They find several types of local grain to grind: wheats, corn (in two grinds), buckwheat, rye, and they sell it all at absurdly low prices. I cannot to return. Of course, I'll have plenty of other places to try nearby.

How To Eat Local - Continued

More Basic

Tomorrow starts the sign-up for an Eat Local Challenge being encouraged by Chicago's Green City Market. I believe the actual Challenge is in September. I want to do my part in getting participation. Take an Eat Local holiday. You may not look back. A week or so ago, I posted some tips on how to eat local. Then, I realized the tips were a bit short of the practical. Those tips were better suited for someone already wading. What about someone still on the beach? Over a series of posts, I'll provide what I see as the basics on how to eat local.

The Eat Local plunge requires three pools: what's local; what's available local and where can I find what's local and available. The questions revolve around each other, but have to start with the parameter of what the heck do I mean when I mean local. How do you (or we) define local food. From what area can I get my food, so that the food would be considered local. Where is the wall that keeps in my local food and excludes all traf. Eating local is about eating food within this zone. There is, however, no church of local (or localvore). Define you locality as you want.

A hundred mile boundary is certainly used. See here to get an idea of what are falls within your 100 mile diet area. Your local does not have to be 100 miles. If you live in the Chicago area, you may find that a good portion of your 100 miles is lake water. Do you want that. Local could mean just eating food grown in Chicago. That's possible if limited, with Growing Power and City Farm and honey made in Garfield Park. You could fish the waters, although you could not find the same in any store. Your local can be your state, or it can be your region. I go for the last. I take an expansive view of local. I consider local any food grown, harvested or reared in the states that about comprise the Big 10 Conference. That is, for me, local includes Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan.

Grown, harvested, reared--what about made, manufactured or produced. Tricky. Most soft drinks are made with high fructose corn syrup derived with Big 10 corn, local? Mars candy? Generally, for me, local production is not enough. I'm looking at the ingredients. Still, as I say a lot, I am realistic. My family is finding more and more local grains, and I think we will be making use of it, but our pasta and bread is generally not made with local ingredients. We do seek out local producers of these things (if possible).

Define your local. Know where you can get food, and it will be possible to know what food is available. Likewise, know what is your local and you can be more comfortable with you exceptions. As I also like to say, I'm a believer in the don't make yourself nuts school of eating local. Use salt damn it (your body needs it) and pepper and whatever other spices you need to make your food taste good. Drink wine, coffee, pop. Be comfortable with your exceptions because it makes your commitment that much more real.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Eat Local Cheese

BelGioioso Burrata

I noticed this a week or so ago, in the dairy section of Caputo's--note the Harlem Caputo's (at least), keeps cheese in two separate places. Most cheese, including the house ricotta and mozzarella, as well as the harder cheeses are in the deli; a lot of the other fresh cheeses (Polish and Mexican) and packaged cheeses are in the dairy area. Anyways, as we were long on fresh mozza in the Bungalow, I decided to wait.

Mike Sula at the Reader Blog finds it quite good, exclaiming:
This luxurious cheese fully lives up to its hype.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Open to the Public

The Wisdom of Children

I had the seeming brilliant idea that we would find a good breakfast place between Shippeshawana, Indiana and Chicago by driving West on US 12. Remember nothing is open in Amish Indiana on Sundays. Well nothing much existed at all on US 12 for a ways until we drove past the Cass County Conservation Club in Union, Michigan. Open to the Public on Sundays, the sign said. I was the only one brave enough to enter this domain of John Deere capped, playing pool, perhaps eating breakfast and brushing up on their Fox News. After my peek-in, I could hear the line from Animal House, "we're leavin'" as they fled Otis Day and the Night's Club. This lead, of course, to this pearl of wisdom from daughter 1:

"I'm not going to any place open to the public'