Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thankful for Local Food

(Cross posted from the Local Beet, with links galore below)

It aint fun to dwell on bad decisions made over the years. I like to kvel in the good ones, like the one to eat local. Eating local is something I like to celebrate over and over. For the most part (Nigerian eggplants aside), I know we eat exceedingly well in the Bungalow. I know we are doing our part to manage the Earth’s resources and conditions. I also know that I can be confident in my products. I support my community. I support practices that matter to me. Local. I am grateful for those who make the local life possible, better, easier.

I’m not gonna beat around the bush and throw a few ringers up top. Rather, I will start with the best. The local adventure would not be at all possible without the support and assistance of the rest of the Local Family. These are kids that willingly eat the Sheila Special: Wisconsin cranberry cheese, microgreens, jam for lunch all winter long, and they find it cool that Dad packs some tye-dye radish in that lunch. Mom works her butt off. This year she canned bushels and bushels (literally) of tomatoes. Put away spiced peaches and chutnized others. She even realized my long dreamed fantasy of drying our food, doing a few batches of tomatoes. Many an early morning, one arose with me to assist in carrying our food home from the market . We roadtriped to Wisconsin for cheese and spent hours at Detroit’s Eastern Market. Local is a family venture for the Local Family.*

I like nearly every farmer’s market I visit. I discovered this summer that maybe Evanston’s market is technically better than Oak Park’s: more vendors, more of my favorite farmers like Henry’s Farm and Green Acres, organic apples, better bread (grrr–inside Oak Parker thing). Still, I am extremely grateful to have the market we have each Saturday in Oak Park from late May through October. It is a buyers market; I mean it is a market that people actually buy, and it is stocked accordingly. My go to farmer is Vicki and her Genesis Growers, but I love the variety of Nichols, the stone fruits of Hardin Farms, the shelled peas from Stovers, a bunch of fruits, especially berries, from Walt Skibbes, other organic things from Sandhill. I bought my hog from Dennis and Emily Wettstein, and I should buy more cheese than I do from Joe at Brunkow. The greatness of the Oak Park Market got me to eat local in the first place. Could not do it now without it.

This was the year that my local shopping options extended mightily. Winter eating became so much easier–to balance a salad, from any lettuce, even water grown, against a diet of onions and potatoes really helped–because of the emergence of the winter markets thrown together through the hard work of Robin “Winter” and the Church’s Center for Land and People. Robin not only got me food to eat in the darkest months, she introduced me to a bunch of local products I did not know like Ted’s Grain’s from near DeKalb.

Robin was not the only woman working her tootsie off, making local food more available to greater Chicagoland. Cassie opened Green Grocer, the only store in Chicago with it’s raison d’etre as local food. As much as I like farmer’s markets, I also want local food available seven days a week, through normal retail hours. Besides carrying farmer’s produce, Cassie carries the full array of local foodstuffs: Blue Marble Dairy milks, Trader’s Point Creamery yogurts, Mint Creek lamb, local eggs, pastries baked up by the very large Bruno clan. She manages to get a lot into a not very large space.

My wife and I stumbled into the best program of local food this summer when we happened to stop by the Eli’s Cheesecake Farmer’s Market. For several weeks in July and August, they presented a local superstar: Lloyd Nichols of Nichol’s Farm; Terra Brockman of the Land Connection, Stan Schutte of Triple S Farm, local food activist, Lynn Peemoeller. My wife and I made it a point to be there each week to learn.

OK, when I say best, maybe it was the free cheesecake they plied us with, the closeness to the speakers, and the whole seridipitous nature of finding the program, but the Eli’s Cheesecake series does have some competition for local food program top-ness; that would be last week’s Family Farmed Expo. You’ve read a lot about it already, and expect to read more about it one of these days.

And, I’m running on forever. There’s much to be thankful for. I’m glad to live only a few hours from the nation’s best market in Madison; glad that my local boundary includes so many fine cheeses, glad that there is a newly expanded cheese store in Oak Park (Marion Street); glad that in nearly everywhere I turn, I can find better products by finding the local products.

I cannot stop. What about all the local chefs. I’m not just grateful for the good things Rob and Allie do in the kitchen at Mado, I’m quite grateful for the opportunity they are giving my wife to assist them. I always admire the things Paul Virant does at Vie. Lula’s really expanded the local food on their menu and it shows.

MikeG has given local food a much wider platform with his well recieved Sky Full of Bacon podcasts.

I’m quite grateful to the groups that gave me a platform this year to spread the message of local eating; the League of Woman Voters, Dilettante Ventures, Highland Park Cable Access (!); Midwest Foodways Alliance, Oak Park Temple, MENSA, the Chicago Tribune; WBEZ, the Oak Leaves, and the aforementioned Family Farmed.

Finally, obviously, to Michael and the Local Beet for putting a little more ooph, a lot more design and resources into the local eating publishing industry. I’m quite happy blogging here, and I look forward to many future posts.

Happy Thanksgiving

*SPECIAL BONUS COMMENTS FROM THE REST OF THE LOCAL FAMILY: “those Nigerian egglants were the worst things we ever ate” “it’s so embarrasing getting weird food in our lunches” “it’s so boring all the time at the markets” “why do you use aint in your writing” “we are never going near another Nigerian eggplant the rest of our lives” “can we just go to Five Guys”

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