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Feature Thu Mar 14 2013
Last year's winter was so mild that the foods I look forward to seeing in the produce aisle or farmers markets come summer were tasteless and weak--blueberries the size of raisins, pencil-sized ears of corn and peaches that tasted like gauze dominated my crisper, making for a disappointing season.
I've used my snow boots more for protection from mud than that white stuff that shuts down the suburbs this season, but I have a feeling that this year's food may be a little better, more bountiful, and sweeter. Having that in mind, starting one's planning now for spring and summer eats sounds like a smart idea, right?
Circumvent the time spent trying to find the perfect banana at the grocery store and support a farmer directly through community-supported agriculture (CSA); you sign up for a share that ensures a regular delivery of produce throughout a specified growing season. What I like about CSAs is that it highlights the freshest of items and forces you to be creative with what you get that week. For example, I made a wonderful improvised stir fry of cooking greens (from a CSA box) with garlic, balsamic vinegar and sausage from my kitchen; additionally, I became reacquainted with a few herbs that I previously had sworn off as tasteless. If you're not too keen on spending time figuring out what the heck to do with that kohlrabi (or other foreign items) that made its way into your home, Local Thyme is a CSA menu-planning service that will help you make sense of things. CSAs are a good learning experience for cooks and eaters, and supports an industry that is often maligned by corporate and political interests. The Local Beet has a nice summary of CSAs that are popular in the city and suburbs.
If you have a green thumb and nowhere to use it, perhaps a community garden could help. Chicago has over 600 community garden spaces that often serve as a gathering space for neighbors as well as a resource for growing nutritious food. You can find existing garden spaces through NeighborSpace and GreenNet; if you've already claimed a vacant space in your neighborhood and want to make it official, NeighborSpace may be able to help you secure the space legally, as guerrilla gardening can lead to heartbreak if your garden gets demolished for a condo building. If you're looking to start a space, make sure you've covered your bases. If you're looking for resources on how to plant your garden, Connecting Chicago Community Gardeners is a great place to start; the group was formed in the wake of the city's decision to cut its GreenCorps program, which supported urban gardening and green jobs training initiatives. UI extension also has diverse resources on community gardening.
Grow Your Own
If you want to go back to the land from your two-flat and make a garden on your porch, you have some options. Self-irrigating planters can be made from plastic storage bins; at the base is a reservoir that waters your soil from the bottom up. It's a great use of space, especially for small balconies. Otherwise, your patio might be a little cluttered. If you're looking for some guidance on what to grow, the strongest votes are for tomatoes, eggplants, squash and bell peppers. If you have a backyard, the Chicago Center for Green Technology (445 N. Sacramento) is holds a range of seminars on green gardening approaches.
Picture by aubnonymous.