Archive for June, 2012

For anyone who lives in Central Illinois this book is especially thought-provoking because it’s all happening in your backyard.  I don’t know about you, but I seem to have this misconception that farms are those things over there and far away.  I’m not sure why.  Perhaps it’s because farming is such a foreign occupation to me and one that seems almost quaint and antique.  Shows how far I live from my food, huh?  Well, after reading Seasons (and several other farming books) I’m getting the picture.  Henry’s Farm is located in the Mackinaw River Valley and the book follows a full year of the growing season on the farm – planting, growing, harvesting – with a healthy dose of personal anecdotes and family history.  Written by Henry’s sister, Terra Brockman, the book was nominated for a James Beard award in 2010.  This was a “get your hands” dirty read.  I felt like I was there in the fields picking beans myself.  Eye-opening and very read-able.  I would recommend it as a good place to start on a path back to where our food really should come from.

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Remember those eternal ‘mom’ words “quit playing with your food”?  Well, maybe that’s not so bad these days in a world where many kids (and quite a few adults) have never seen vegetables growing in a field.  The extent of our interaction with fruits and vegetables is the grocery store aisles.  Everything looks pretty and fresh but who grew it, where did it come from, and what did it look like before it was harvested.  Even I don’t know the answer to that last question in many cases.  I’ve never seen an asparagus field or dug fresh potatoes or shelled English peas (until last weekend).  We need to get back ‘in touch’ with our food, especially our kids.  Growing, cooking, eating, and learning about the farmers who are responsible for this bounty on our tables.  We need a resurgence of those Home Economics classes from high school revamped for today’s world.  I found a local farm near Peoria that offers ‘Farm Camp’ – Summer camp at the farm!  How fun would that be?  According to my 8-year old, not very.  Maybe someone needs to develop a computer game – ‘The Farm’ – run and operate your own !  In the meantime, we’ll visit the Farmer’s Market each week and keep touching and eating new things.

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Dinner under the stars – eating at a communal table – enjoying locally grown food direct from the source – with maybe a celebrity chef thrown in for added fun.  That’s a farm dinner and they are all the rage.  They seem to have been growing in popularity over the past 3 or 4 years and with the addition of local chefs from popular restaurants, it’s becoming harder and harder to get a seat!  They usually run well into the Fall so it’s not too late to RSVP.

Here’s a few farms close-by who offer dinner:

Heritage Prairie Farm, Elburn, IL
Prairie Fruits Farm, Champaign, IL
Slagel Family Farm, Fairbury, IL

Here’s ABC 7 Chicago, Steve Dolinsky’s Top 5 Farm Dinners List

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I’ve never seen a city that consistently receives so many opportunities to excel – repeatedly featured in the national spotlight as a “typical” Middle-American test-case; visits from national leaders (Obama, Bush, Landesman); a globally -recognized corporation in our backyard; and our own home-grown leader of the DOT (LaHood).  If we could figure out how to play the PR right, Peoria could be a leader in downstate Illinois and across the country.  Instead we watch these opportunities float by and choose to do nothing – or worse, vote new opportunities down.

June 12, 2012 – Peoria Journal Star – Council votes down food trucks

How can something so relatively innocuous as three food trucks be seen as a threat to the City?  We foster innovation in technology and science so why is the food industry any different.  As a business owner, I choose what kind of business I want – a food cart, a food truck, a bricks and mortar restaurant, a farm stand, a catering company, a coffee house, a diner, and the list goes on.  I make that decision based on my own finances, time, interest, customer demand, and profit margins – the point being I make those decisions.  I can choose to do any one of those options.

Anyone in business or finance or even real estate will tell you that diversity is key.  Try this out – if we only had 3,000 sf homes for sale in Peoria (no rental properties or condos or even say 1,300 sf homes) what would that say about our community and how would that affect our population, jobs, healthcare, or carbon footprint?  A vibrant, growing, socially responsible city provides multi-housing options to encourage diversity among the population, a mix of renters and owners, a place for people at all income levels.

Restaurants have become the 3,000 sf (or more like 3,000 lb) homes and all other options are being pushed out.  See the PJS article on the review of food cart ordinances.

I can only assume that what’s driving these decisions (and missed opportunities) is fear.  How do we push past and discover something exciting  or just be pleased we tried even if it fails?

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I love the smell of freshly brewed coffee in the morning – that rich, pungent aroma that fills my kitchen and reminds me of my Grandma’s wonderful 1950’s kitchen.  When I say brewed, I don’t mean the Keurig machine or even the French Press.  I’m talking the stovetop percolator.  Mine did actually belong to my Grandma and it’s a sweet memory every time I use it.

I’ve been enjoying fresh beans from Red Bear Roasting Co. in Peoria, a new roaster just off of Main Street on Sheridan.  Nathan Smith, co-owner and coffee roaster, says he’d like to start doing coffee cuppings, like wine tastings, for the public.  How fun would that be?  I’ll keep you posted.  For now, you can catch Nathan at the Riverfront Farmer’s Market or at info@redbearroastingco.com.

Other favorite coffee spots in and around the area … thirty-thirty coffee co. in Peoria and Coffee Hound in Bloomington/Normal.  Both do lovely coffee art!

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A hyper-what?  Tufa – which is a porous limestone rock, but in this case a Hypertufa is a man-made version…a combination of cement, peat moss, and perlite (those little white balls in potting soil).  By adding water to the mixture you get a clay-like substance that can be formed into planters or garden mushrooms or whatever you’d like.  I took a class at the Luthy Botanical Gardens in Peoria and the folks there had all the supplies (since, in my opinion, cement is best left to the professionals).  Here’s a Hypertufa Recipe  for any adventurous gardeners who would like to try it on their own.  Don’t forget to follow the “curing” instructions.  I planted mine with chicks ‘n hens and some different kinds of sedum.

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