"It's been eight years since I've eaten fruit"The League of Woman Voters of Glen Ellyn inaugerated a book club last year. They picked Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle as their book. When it came time for their annual meeting, they needed a speaker. After several reach-outs, the Women became convinced that Ms. Kingsolver would not be available. From who knows how many other choices they found me. I gladly jumped at the chance to provide my eat local, not on the farm, experiences to these recepative ladies. The best line of the night, however, did not come from me. It came from one of the organziers of the event, and it came as we were wrapping up. This woman revealed that for over eight years she had not eaten any fruit. She realized she was not eating fruit because the fruit she was buying just did not taste very good.
When I lectured, I lectured on the benefits of eating local. I talked about food miles, proliferating the 1,500 to your table mantra. I talked about how most local farmers were stewards of their land, using better-than-organic, sustainable practices. How local food, purchased in a CSA or at a farmer's market reduced solid waste because of the lack of packaging. I told how I wanted to support my farmer friends and support the farm economy. Still, at the end of the day, I implored, I wanted to eat better.
This is farmer's market fanfare time of year across the media. The Tribune has their spread and directory today. Gapers Block beat them to the punch a few days ago, but the Chicago Reader was hot to the top over a week ago and should have more eat local stories soon. I know Time Out Chicago's got something brewing. Follow the buzz.
The buzz generally will lead you to Chicago's Green City Market. Honestly, it's not my favorite farmer's market. I mean if nothing else the dulcimer music drives me batty. It's hard to bottle feel for a market, but the Green City Market just does not quite have it. Without cataloguing all my slights and quibbles, let me say this, the feel of the market would be a lot better if the vendors were either lined up all in a row, ala a Parisian street market, say with one collective canopy, or if the vendors made a circle or square of something. It would provide cohesion at least. Maybe it would remind me a bit more of the Dane County market even if that's an unfair comparison. This one aint even close. Still, at the end of the day, it is the most complete market around Chicago.
The vendors are good. Bennison's bakes some of the best breads in Chicago. I related the story to them today of what I heard from an Evanstonian who I had regaled about how good is Bennison's bread. Surprise. Shock. It seems like a lot of Evanstonian's associate Bennison's with mediocre birthday cakes, and the woman selling bread said she's heard the same thing. If the ciabatta I got from them was crisp and short lasting and hardly healthful, the sunflower rye from Dobra's aptly named Delightful Pastries balanced things. Great eating should start with great bread and Green City has you covered there. The fruit and veg people are some of the best in the area. Surely, you should start first with my pal, Farmer Vicki, who today had spinach and baby bok choi's (that caught the eye of the Penisula Hotel) and the long, skinny, early season allium that her and her son argued over which would sell it better "scallion" or "green onion" (Mom gave in and changed the sign to the latter). Nichol's Farm and Green Acres can load you up with the new and the varied. Beth Eccles at Green Acres can provide you with your own watercress motivations, but sadly, she was out of fiddlehead ferns by the time I arrived. Oh, and please do not forget Growing Power who is doing great things in Milwaukee parking lots. I got some edible flowers from them today. If the cheese selection cannot even come close to Madison, the cheeses that are there are very good, especially from Brunkow. The meat counters vary. I had to buy actual spring lamb (a shoulder) today from Mint Creek Farm. I passed on the elk although I liked the tiny taste, and I have more than enough meat still to bypass Heartland.
Don't go to Green City expecting the greatest farmer's market. Do go to begin your eat local quest. It will get you very well started. You would not have found any fruit today but as soon as the strawberries appear, in a few weeks, I guarantee you won't go another eight years.
The Green City Market will run outdoors on Wednesdays and Saturdays until October 29, 2008, 7-1:30. It is located just north of the Chicago History Museum on Clark Street, around 1700 N.