Friday, June 27, 2008

Acquisition Update

Hines VA Farmer's Market (more soon); weekly CSA box added to this list.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The End of Inventory

Starting in December, 2007 I started tracking our inventory of local foods in the Bungalow. The intended purpose was to show how my family and I managed to stay local in the darkest months through a combination of winter marketing and stored foods. I proudly reported on our ability to manage. Since then, with market and CSA supplies, I've had less need to post on the inventory, and have not made an inventory post since early May.

Last night, in seeking some garlic for Asian night (Thai inspired recipes need garlic), I found all of the remainder of our garlic supply kaput. About twenty heads of garlic given over to dust, insects and various micro-organisms. When poking around the basement, I also found a bag of potatoes with the types of beards one grows if stranded on a deserted island. Both went into the compost bin, and they will soon be joined by sprouting onions. It was only a week or so ago that the last Michigan apples went into the camp lunch of my younger daughter. Our inventory served us well.

I have not done a great job of tracking/reporting on our local purchases from the CSA, farmer's markets, Cassie's Green Grocer and the like. For the duration of the market season, I have replaced the inventory tally on the sidebar with a running tally of the last two weeks (or so)purchases. I don't have the memory to re-create everything we have purchased lately, but here's a stab. It'll be more accurate after we get our CSA box later today.

Genesis Growers CSA - 6/19/08

  • 2 heads of leaf lettuce
  • Mesclun bag
  • Asparagus
  • Strawberries
  • Savoy cabbage
  • French breakfast radishes
  • Daikon radish
  • Kale
  • Eggs

Oak Park Farmer's Market - 6/21/08

  • Strawberries, sugar snaps, snow peas - Nicholl's Farm
  • Cherries (sweet) - Hardin Farm
  • Raspberries - Skibbes
  • Peas - Stovers
  • Mint, basil - Genesis Growers
  • Garlic scapes, green garlic - Sandhill Organic
  • Duck eggs - Wettstein's

Maywood Farmer's Market - 6/21/08

  • Garlic scapes, organic chickens, dill - Midwest Organic Coop
  • Strawberries - Unknown farmer

Whole Foods, River Forest - 6/21/08

  • Farmer's All Natural Creamery Whole Milk

Genesis Grower's Farm - 6/22/08

  • Zucchini flowers

Green Grocer - 6/24/08

  • Tarragon
  • Trader's Point Creamery Yogurt
  • Barley

Genesis Growers CSA - 6/26/08

  • Red "salad" turnips (with greens)
  • 2 heads leaf lettuce
  • 1 bag mesclun
  • Kohlrabi (with greens)
  • Kale
  • Collard greens
  • Sugar snap peas (a lot)
  • Eggs

Hines VA Farmers Market (Maywood) - 6/26/08

  • Raspberries, snow peas - Unidentified Michigan farm
  • Strawberries (flat), sweet cherries - Hardin Farms

Kolatek's - 2445 N. Harlem - 6/27/08

  • Farmer's All Natural Creamery 2% Milk

Oak Park Farmer's Market - 6/28/08

  • Snow peas, green garlic stalks (with scapes) - Nichol's Farm
  • Basil, white carrots, arugula - Genesis Growers
  • Cherries - Hardin Farms
  • Peas - Stover's
  • Raspberries, blueberries - Skibbes

MCA Farmer's Market - 7/1/08

  • Raspberries - Ellis Farms
  • Blueberries, strawberries, new potatoes - Noffke Farm


Eat Local Out

Two glowing reviews of Mado, only one cliches the fleetingness of its menu.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Will the Iceberg Cometh Again?

Last year, for one week in the spring, Farmer Vicki provided us iceberg lettuce in our CSA box. It was a lot of fun getting a head of iceberg. Sure, it's foodie maligned, but it tastes damn good too, especially against a heavy dressing or on certain types of sandwiches. Well maybe taste is not generally the word people associate with iceberg, it's not so much taste as fun crunch. Still, I have to add that Vicki's iceberg last year tasted as good as it crunched.

It's something you just do not see in our area farmer's markets. I was at Vicki's farm the other day, and I was asking her why no iceberg this year. She admitted that it was hard to grow, requiring cool weather, but she was also a bit interested in it as well. She followed up with this e-mail:
Rob, Our discussion on iceberg lettuce has occupied my thinking a bit since Sunday. I stated very emphatically that I won't try it ever again. But, in my mind I heard Jaysen saying, "Right, Vicki." And the reality is that as soon as I see a seed catalog with a new variety that is said to withstand our particular problems, I will try it again. In fact, I think I might try a fall crop. I am not sure I have ever tried a late fall crop. It does best in cool temps, so it might do good if I plan it right. Just a thought, but I want to thank you for prompting me to rethink a crop I do truly love. I can sit and eat a whole head like an apple. I think it is the high mineral content that I love so much. So, anyway, hears to iceberg.

I'm looking forward.

Is Everything You Read About Food Miles Wrong?

I can see the backlash. Every movement that promotes a "we eat better" philosophy is bound to provoke. Some eating directives are just a question of will power. Eating local requires time and effort and probably a bit of money too. If you don't want to do it all, maybe you decide to attack the rationales instead. No rational seems more central to eating local than the concept of food miles. Eat local advocates stress that the less food has to travel, the better it is for the environment. As Jen Maiser, one of the leaders of the locavore movement references on her blog, food miles can even outweigh other farming practices:
In a March 2005 study by the journal Food Policy, it was found that the miles that organic food often travels to our plate creates environmental damage that outweighs the benefit of buying organic.
And this concept, food miles, is where the backlashers have lashed (mostly). I'm no environmental physicist. I have not crunched the numbers, and I recognize that there are complexities in life that make just food miles simplistic. I am not convinced, however, that the concept lacks merit. published the latest salvo on food miles. Roberta Kwok, a freelance science writer and a graduate student in the Science Communication program at U.C. Santa Cruz attempts to shows that food miles really don't matter that much, that they are a misleading statistic.
But what if conventional distributors make up for the long journeys by driving big trucks packed with produce? Let's say a distributor travels 1,000 miles and carries 1,000 apples to market, while 10 local farmers each drive a pickup 100 miles and carry 100 apples each.
Seems seductive. Moreover, she finds it indeed true. She finds the visits a San Francisco farmer's market and finds it awash in small vehicles. She does the math.
But how does that translate to carbon dioxide emissions? To find out, I crunched the numbers on five types of produce -- apples, oranges, lettuce, greens and squash -- with fuel efficiency estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency and Bay Area truck dealers. Factor in carbon emission figures from Argonne National Laboratory, and I had rough carbon footprints for each farmer and wholesaler. Local farmers won one category, proving more carbon-friendly on squash. While farmers came from cities about an hour's drive from San Francisco, wholesalers had imported their squash through Arizona from Mexico. In these cases, the idea that more food miles equals more fossil fuels appeared to be true. But wholesalers beat local farmers on the four other produce items, boasting fewer average carbon dioxide emissions per pound of apples, oranges, lettuce and greens.
Count me as unconvinced.

For one thing, it's a gross case of anecdotal evidence fallacy. I mean she did a survey, c'mon.
On my Saturday visit, I found that most of them drove Ford, Isuzu or Chevrolet trucks, packing anywhere between 200 and 2,000 pounds of goods
There you go. Oddly enough, when I visit my farmer's market each week, I find most, if not all of the vendors coming to market in trucks, maybe not semi-trucks, but certainly the kinda vehicle I don't like driving. I notice the same thing at a lot of farmer's markets I visit. In other words, her experiment proves little.

For another thing, those arguing in favor of efficient transportation flat out ignore the bits and pieces of their food chain. As I like to say, who picks up their New Zealand lamb at the port? [ed., and does the New Zealand lamb graze at the port?] The author recognizes that there may be something here.
The Farmers Market's green image was beginning to look a bit tarnished. But no sooner did I finish my calculations than I started to wonder if I had missed some hidden carbon costs. For one, I'd asked the wholesalers how far their produce traveled to the terminal market -- but what about the extra leg from the terminal market to the retail store? For that matter, how much carbon dioxide was emitted while consolidating 45,000 pounds of produce from various farms into one semi-trailer truck? And how about the distance traveled by the consumers themselves, whether to the grocery store or to the Farmers Market? What kind of cars did they drive? Food researchers felt my pain. "There are so many complexities," says Holly Hill, author of a 2008 food miles review for the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. "Trying to make those real exact calculations is nearly impossible."
Well, there you go. It's to darn hard to think about those other factors. We already have a conclusion that smugly fits into our balloon piercing. Yet, you cannot ignore all of these other factors, and you cannot pretend that food miles are overcome via efficiency when there are inefficiencies planted throughout the industrial food chain. Likewise, a lot of fuel used efficiently is still a lot of fuel used. There's no way you can find me a calculation that says that less fuel was used transporting New Zealand lamb to Chicago markets than it takes someone like Mint Creek, an Illinois lamb farm, to bring their lamb to market.

Instead of doing the numbers taking into account all of the miles that industrial food really travels--farm to packager to distributor to regional warehouse to local warehouse, etc.; she trots out some other studies. There's a UK report that compares greenhouse grown tomatoes to imported Spanish tomatoes. And another by New Zealand researchers that tried to show that all those miles to market for their lamb don't mean a thing if the other guys use a ton of fossil fuel derived fertilizers. I find these again unconvincing, because they are cases of selective comparisons. Once more, let's stack Zealand lamb against Illinois grass fed lamb, not some historical farming practice.

A lot of the eat local backlash articles point out that food miles should not alone dissuade. The Salon author notes that reasons for eating local include freshness, taste and supporting regional economies. From my perspective, I am willing to concede that eating local is not wholly pure, that there is some energy cost associated with keeping my Michigan apples stored for my late season consumption. Nothing I have seen though makes me believe that eating local is not earth friendly. It is implicit in the eat local package that we are getting our food from vendors who practice sustainable farming. Regardless of all of that, I tend to believe there is something to this food miles thing. The less my food travels, the happier I am.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Eat Seasonal Foods - Zucchini Flowers

Some kinda random, somewhat unrelated thoughts. Sorry for the poor quality of the pictures I posted yesterday; between the two computers I use (sometimes three), I have about seven photo software programs. I use none of them very well. I realized recently, that I could change the size of the photos, and I figured I needed to do that because of the mondo pics I mostly litter this site with. In the software I used yesterday, I used the default size for web/blog, but it seems that the default is way to small and also seems to have awfully distorted the pics. To make amends, I went to take pictures of last night's fleur de calabaza, only to find the camera without battery power--this new Nikon seems to go through battery quickly. And the whole point of the zucchini flours is to talk again, as I have, about the need to develop relationships with farmers to enhance the locavore experience. After all, how many of you were allowed to grab about 50 zucchini flowers this weekend just for the asking? Anyways, on to the recipe.

OK, back to whining about the camera. I really wish I had pics here as I am really proud of this dish. Home frying is not the easiest of tasks. There is a certain amount of anachronism to local. One must become an Italian grandmother. That's where my older daughter and I thought we were going, as we had to get in the mental zone to patiently pull the stamens from all those flowers. But of course, we also imagined that Italian grandmothers could fry up zucchini blossoms with one hand tied behind their back. These came out as good.

OK, no one I do not think could do this with one hand tied behind their back. It is really a three handed process at least, which is where daughter really helped. Still, before her help, the help that really mattered came from another woman in the house, my wife. You see, last year when I fried up zucchini flowers, I did the batter the way I do most things in the kitchen. I winged it. That's what an Italian grandmother would do, no? When I asked my wife to help by making a batter, she did what she tends to do when cooking. Not wing it. She consulted several books. Of course about the first five recipes she found all call for letting the batter rest for a while, and we were getting to hungry to wait. She finally finds our friend Bittman who's been doing us good generally this year. The batter really made the dish happen. It was entirely greaseless in its eating.

Fried zucchini flowers as adapted from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman and cooked with three hands.

A lot of zucchini flowers - stamens and stems removed
1 cup all purpose flour plus 1 cup for dredging
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 large egg
3/4th cup of beer
Good shake of cayenne pepper

Lightly mix all the batter ingredients--Bittman notes that it's OK to have some lumps in the batter. Ideally, a batter should rest, but what the hey.

Turn your oven on to 200.

Fill a large skillet with about an inch of pure olive oil, heat to 350 or to when a sprinkle of flour gets to sizzling.

With one hand, dredge some flowers in flower, shake off the excess.

With another hand, dip in batter, because the batter is thick, not too much should drip. Carefully drop the battered flowers in the oil.

With a clean hand on tongs, turn the flowers after about 3 minutes. Take out when lightly golden.

Season with salt.

Fry in batches, keeping them warm in the oven.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Maywood, Mangos, Midwest Organic and Mado to Boot

This is Loretta Brown. My wife and her are on the Board of West Suburban PADS. She makes dolls, which you can kinda see in the background. She has also organized a brand new farmer's market for Maywood, Illinois. I am always happy to see and support new markets. As they say in Maywood, this one's farmtastic.

Maywood is lucky enough to also have in its residence the hardest working women in winter markets, who's slumming it this summer on behalf of the good people of the Midwest Organic Farmer's Cooperative, Robin Schimmer.

Robin's stocking the Maywood market with all range of good stuff, from local grain, to fruit and veg (local strawberries not pictured) to meats, even locally raised, sustainably farmed tilapia. If you can get one person to show up at your market, you can do no worse than have Robin and her variety of organic products from our own home state.

On this last weekend, Maywood offered two stands selling fruit. This farmer brought produce from Michigan.

Still, the world of local has not fully set in, and a man selling flats of mangos sold out his inventory first.

Mmm, our farmtastic day did not end at Maywood. We took the kidz for lunch at Mado, where Rob offers up sandwiches made with the same high quality farm-fresh ingredients as he does at dinner. While pork and lamb sammys tasted great, it pained me to look at the chalk board of dinner options and know that I could not have one. There was not a single dish on the menu that I did not want to eat. Rob had already driven my wife to buy duck eggs that day from the Wettsteins at the Oak Park Farmer's Market (yes, I confess we eat that market too, finding our first cherries!).
After lunch, I was counting all of the dishes I would attempt to re-create at home. Sugar snaps with pecorino and tagliatelli with garlic scapes, lemon and hot peppers are two that I have to try.

The Maywood Farmer's Market is on the first and third Saturdays until October, 7 AM until 1 PM. It's located at St. Eulalia Church, 1851 S. 9th Avenue, 9th and the Eisenhower.

Mado is at 1647 N. Milwaukee, Chicago. (773) 342-2340


Eat Local Peas Later

As noted, peas are in the market. As noted, peas not only freeze well, they pretty much need to get chillin' if you cannot eat them within a few days of purchase. (My wife, after discovering that Hugh Fearnley–Whittingstall has pages and pages of composting in his books, has joined me in guruship-ness, and she reminds me this AM that Hugh sez that peas have a window of hours not days.) Peas take no processing to freeze. Just seal in a plastic bag. Freeze your peas and eat them later in the week. You'll thank me.

Stover's U Pick is a Michigan farm with stands at many Chicago area farmer's markets. They are also a Michigan farm in possession of a pea shucking machine. Two and two together, they provide not too expensive, easy to deal with, peas, a real seasonal treat. Get movin' and freeze.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Everything You Read About Seasonality is Wrong

Chicago Locavores

I'm all for fellow combatants fighting the good fight for local food, but I have a fatally low tolerance for seasonality guides that are off. For whatever reason, it makes me especially pissy when you send someone off to the market now looking for plums (plums are a fall fruit). I find it highly unlikely also that any area farmer's market will have horseradish now. I only like to show off a bit, but I really do believe that when it comes to knowing what's in season, I've got the best guide around to what's in season for Chicago area locavores.

The Chicago Locavore site also published a calender. I am not gonna edit it line by line, but in general, I find it, like most seasonality guides, to be quite off for Chicago farmer's markets. Some glaring errors: grapes in June; don't expect grapes until late September; kale in the heat of the summer, when kale's a cool weather crop; no turnips now when the markets are awash with them. Etc.

Seasonality guides tend to be off these days also because they are not recognizing indoor farming and winter markets, or are they? The calender noted above has some crops listed as in season in odd months like salsify for January--granted I have never seen a salsify plant in a local market, what do they mean by January. Is it a plant growing in January or a storage plant. I am not sure if the calender in general is referring to crops from storage, for instance when it covers potatoes in January or sunchokes in February it means storage right? but if it does, why are apples not listed for the winter months as keeper apples are surely around all winter. Likewise, the calender does not cover greenhouse crops that one can find through CSAs or winter markets. The shopper with access to those, or even a shopper who visits Cassie's Green Grocer, will find stuff in months not shown on this calender. Here's what was in season in April, March and February.

One final thought. I think a static calender, regardless of how good its sources are, is an imperfect vehicle for knowing what's out there. The problem is that seasonality changes each year based on weather and other factors. In general, our crops are quite behind this year because of the cold spring. In addition, the heavy rains have wrecked havoc on fields. A farmer today was telling me how her watermelons were destroyed in heavy rains and needed re-planting. When I am writing about seasonality, I am trying to base it on what's actually in season, on what I see at farmer's markets and what farmers and other vendors tell me. This means I may not be able to predict what you will totally see in a few months, but it will mean I should be able to predict what you'll see now.