Wednesday, August 15, 2007

In the Fruit Belt

"Finally, there is the daily market. Here small farmers from the region sell produce ripened to a peak of sweetness on the plant, often picked just hours earlier. It is the kind of summer produce many people pine for. And yet it is not what most of them will end up eating."

The New York Times discovers that things grow outside of California (registration required). Sadly, as the article notes, so much of this food will not end up on your plate. one of the farmer's pictured, Walt Skibbe, can be found weekly at the Saturday Oak Park Farmer's Market, you can partake if you shop right.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

How To Eat Local

5 Servings of Fruits and Vegetables

I assume you have signed up for the Green City Market Eat Local Challenge. I bet you are still noodling over what you can eat that long hard week.

Chicago is smack dab in the middle of one of the richest farm zones of the world. Most of the land around us, in Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana is given over to agriculture. We grow tons of corn and tons of soy. Hardly any of that goes directly into our mouths. Indirectly, of course via high fructose corn syrup and cattle feed and thousands of other products, it feeds us. (And thousands of things we don't eat like plastics and inks and brooms and what not.) Can the budding localvore, the non-Atkins localvore, meet his daily requirement of fruits and vegetables? It depends on where you shop.

Here's what nearly anyone can find, around now, if you wanted to eat local: apples, tomatoes, cucumbers (often in two sizes), green peppers, cabbage, sweet corn, zucchini and eggplant, oh and if you are lucky some melons. I spotted local peaches and blueberries at stores in the last weeks but these seem diminishing. Oddly, potatoes and onions, two stalwarts of our climate have not really shown in their local variants. These are the items that can be found at produce stores like Caputo's, local farm stands and grocery stores making the effort. With little effort this is what you can eat.

On the other hand, if you had already committed to a farm's CSA, your box last week would have looked something like this: lettuce head, baby lettuce, sweet corn, peaches, watermelon, green beans, cantaloupe, cucumber, pickles, onion, sweet chocolate peppers, mustard greens, cauliflower, cherry tomatoes, and carrots. A little more full your diet would be.

To get the full range of the season, you really need to visit a farmer's market. Now, you would find several types of peppers in all ranges of colors and Scovilles, fresh beans like limas, okra, beets, a wide range of potatoes, not quite as wide of range, but a range of onions; things to make your vegetables taste better, garlic and herbs; beyond apples and peaches there would still be raspberries and blueberries, all the colors of plums coming into season now and the first grapes as well. It is a great time of year to eat local.

Your eat local week can be narrow or it can be wide. It's up to you.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Drink Local Milk

Good Options Here!

Over at the site, someone mentioned that they liked the quasi-organic milk owned by Dean Food's called Horizon. I'm not a fan at all of Horizon. See how they rank against other organic milk companies here. Not only are there much better dairy companies, but there are great companies local to us in the Chicago area. Note, while I'm still too nervous to try raw milk, I could surely find many sources for raw milk in Wisconsin. Me, I'm happy with the non-raw but local sources available to me. Mostly, I use the ones described below.

Our default milk is Farmers' All Natural Creamery from Amish and Mennonite farmers in Iowa. It's organic, low temperature (VAT) pasteurized and non-homogenized, about all you want in non-raw milk. More importantly, it is widely available at Whole Foods and other places in the Chicago area. If you don't shake well, you will use all the cream (fat) in the first pour. Sweet.

Three other dairies of the same (or even better) quality are Crystal Ball Farms from Wisconsin, Trader's Point Creamery from Indiana and Oak Grove Organics from Illinois. The last sells a cream that is, well to be trite, to die for. Crystal Ball and Trader's Creamery can at times be found at Whole Foods (Trader's Creamery's yogurt is there). Both sell in small bottles. I like that as I can buy fresher milk. I'm a believer that newness matters with dairy. Fox and Obel is another sources for these milks and creams.

Organic Valley is based out of Wisconsin. It's a cooperative. In general, they have great practices (see link above). It's likely that the products sold around here would come from local farms, but there's no guarantee as they sell nationally/they use farms from around the US. What I especially don't like is that Organic Valley's milks and creams are all ultra-pasteurized. I will buy other stuff from them like cottage cheese and cheddar cheese.

For reasons having nothing to do with taste, farming practices, hormones, localness, etc., we do not buy Oberweiss stuff.