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Feature Fri Apr 30 2010
Being eco-friendly is all the rage right now, and partly as a result of that, many people are trying to eat local, sustainable foods.
When I was growing up, I remember almost everyone had some kind of garden. My family had a pretty decent-sized garden that was the home to almost any fruit or vegetable that could survive the bizarre weather in Minnesota. Today, it seems there is never enough time (or space if you live in a large city), to tend to a full-sized garden and that can make eating local difficult.
For me, eating local goes beyond being healthy and eco-friendly; being able to support local farmers and businesses is really what motivates me to search out local food whenever possible. Don't get me wrong, I still love my fair share of processed foods (Cheetos!) but I've been making a conscious effort to cut back on them. When I made the decision to change my eating habits, I was a bit overwhelmed but over the past few months I've come across some resources that have helped me make smart decisions about what I eat.
Farmers market season is just weeks away and I can hardly wait. There's nothing quite like bringing a tote to one of the many farmers markets throughout the city and filling it up with your favorite foods (and flowers!). People generally seem pretty happy at the market, and I find I always leave having learned something new from the farmers. My favorite is the Green City Market, but there are a lot of other fantastic markets too. Check out this full list of farmers' markets in the city.
The city is making strides in helping to ensure that fresh, local food is available to everyone. The Mayor's Office of Special Events is launching an EBT/LINK card pilot program this season as part of the Chicago Farmers Markets program. This card is the identification card for recipients of the Federal Snap Benefits Food Stamp Program that is offered throughout Illinois to those who qualify.
To help me get through the off season of farmers' markets, or when I'm particularly busy, I like to use Irv & Shelley's Fresh Picks. They work with independent, local, sustainable farmers to deliver fresh food to your home just hours after leaving the farm. I can attest to this service, I'm a huge fan and have been thrilled with it every time. The food comes in a bin packed with ice and other insulation materials that will last for eight hours -- this is crucial to those who are not at home during the day. Once you open the bin, you'll see a list of the food you received and some suggestions on how to prepare it.
Unlike most CSAs, you pay as you go and you can always look on the website to see what will be delivered a particular week. That way you're only paying for what you're use. Beyond produce, you can get dairy, proteins and prepared foods. They even have fun recipe boxes that include all of the ingredients to make a particular dish.
Locavore is my new favorite iPhone app -- it finds your location and tells you what produce is in season at that particular time. It also tells you how long it will be in season and what is coming into season soon. I've tried to memorize what's in season when, but it's impossible (especially with my bad memory) and this app has been a life saver. It offers government and NGO data for each state, and when you click on a food item, it brings up Wikipedia information and Epicurious recipes. Another great feature -- it tells you where you can find farmers markets in your region.
Finally, when I don't feel like cooking, here are a few of my favorite places to go when I want a local, organic meal.
Uncommon Ground: Fortunately (unfortunately for my bank account), Uncommon Ground is just a seven minute walk from my apartment. Everything this place serves is delicious -- its drinks, sweet potato fries and fruit/yogurt/granola platter. Its newest location on Devon is home to the country's first certified organic roof top farm (complete with beehives) -- definitely worth a trip to check it out.
Frontera Grill: With all of the buzz around this place over the past couple of years, I don't think much needs to be said about Frontera. It's delicious, the long wait is worth it and Rick Bayless is awesome. Bayless is a strong supporter of sustainable farmers and he runs a nonprofit, Frontera Farmer Foundation, that helps promote small, sustainable farms serving the Chicago area.
The Bristol: I just went here for the first time last week and it was love at first sight. The atmosphere is really cozy and the (locally-sourced) food was some of the best I've had in Chicago. The monkey bread with dill butter was incredible and so were the duck fat fries and the chicken. Plus, the cocktail list is pretty impressive. If you're a bourbon drinker, try the smoked Manhattan.
City Provisions: Have you ever wondered where, exactly, your food comes from? City Provisions is kicking of its Farm Dinner season on May 15. Tickets are $175 per person and include round trip transportation to each farm on a biodiesel bus, snacks and beer on the bus, a tour of the farm a five-course meal with beer pairings on the farm and more. Last season was completely sold out, so call 773.293.2489 or email email@example.com today to make your reservation.
I'm sure I'm missing a few top notch local restaurants and I certainly want to know which others I should be trying out. Let me know your favorite sources of local, sustainable foods are.