Sprouts, an endless capacity to eat apples, a couple of road trips, a better version of Peapod, a new market, new markets, and a sweet spot in the attic; my fellow bloggers and locavores, I am pleased to report that my family and I have succeeded the challenge of eating local all winter from a brick bungalow just outside of Chicago.
The second week into April, Spring finally sprung around here. No, I do not mean two days in a row with temperatures above sixty. I mean the arrival, a few days ago, of our first box of our Spring CSA. (I chronicled our Spring CSA boxes when we first inaugurated this blog. See here for one example.) It means the start of new food and the end of scavenging the bungalow for roots. It means a time to celebrate a bit and a time to summarize a bit. Consider this space Jen lends me celebration enough. Now, let me tell you how we did it.
My family has accepted the challenge to eat local full time. We have made it through our third winter. This is the first winter we did not run out of food. Not only have we not run out of food, but we still have good stores of potatoes, onions and garlic, and a bunch of stuff in our freezer. We did this while tossing about ten percent to mold and sprouting--an acceptable amount of shrinkage. We also did it without covert drops from our pal Farmer Vicki of Genesis Growers, who for a variety of reasons, did not have as much produce this winter to sell.
Our Synagogue's Green Chaverim (that's Temple speak for a club) presented yesterday on eating local. Someone asked my wife and I how we could eat local all winter. I explained that we did it through stored food and refilling from food that could be grown year round, indoors. Storing food in the suburbs of Chicago is not natural. Few houses come equipped with a root cellar. Through experimentation, however, we found the sweet spot, our attic. Up there we kept apples, beets, turnips and potatoes. Most of them did quite well. In our basement, we kept our onions, squash and garlic, and in our spare fridge we kept carrots, parsnips, sunchokes and other odds and ends. The stored part we are getting.
Refilling remains a challenge, abet a challenge that is getting easier. The Chicago area has one full time, Winter Market, in Geneva, a suburb on the Westernmost end of the region. Augmenting this were markets put together all winter by a group called the Churches' Center for Land and People. Their market manager, Robin, worked her butt off finding anything and everything that grew or stood to be sold. She allowed me to tag along once on her weekly forage. We met the AquaRanch driver at a Motel 6 for tilapia and water raised greens and herbs; we headed west for micro-greens and organic grains; then jogged north for cultivated mushrooms. These markets met about weekly during the winter, moving around various churches in Chicago and the suburbs (some weeks had multiple markets). A few area farmers would join Robin, selling local meat, eggs, vinegars and dairy products. It's a grand start to something that can and should be bigger.
Also starting this year for the Chicago locavore was an online delivery, Peapod for readers of Michael Pollin I call it, Irv and Shelly's Freshpicks. They try to stock as much local as possible. Midwinter, I supplemented our holdings with a box from them. Cassie Green and her soon to be husband, Gary Stephens, opened a market in Chicago focusing nearly exclusively on local foods. I really enjoy stopping by to see their expanding inventory. As those places are establishing, we took a few road trips to other Winter markets in the Midwest, Madison and Ann Arbor. We could always find something to eat. Sprouts and micro-greens seem in constant supply, and a handful became the dominant vegetable in the kid's lunches. For fruit, more often than not, they would get an apple. We are not above the purchase of citrus, bananas or once, some mangoes, but mostly, all winter, we ate apples. Like I said, they stored beautifully in the attic, and when those would dwindle, we could always find someplace around here selling a local apple. We've eaten marvelous heirlooms and perfectly banal red delicious; local, they're all good.
As I said to our Temple group yesterday, I am here to tell you it is very possible to eat local year round in the Chicago area.
Vital Information our family's journal of eating local with various resources for the locavore in the Chicago area.