The third day of the Family Farmed Expo was jammed with content geared towards consumers seeking to improve the quality of food in their diet and wanting to get a little closer towards successful home food production. Things kicked off with a three hour presentation from Sally Fallon Morell from the Weston A. Price Institute about the connection between traditional diets and health, and how the shift towards a diet filled with additives and supplements has contributed to a rise in food allergies and obesity.
The Yes We Can! sessions addressed everything from pressure canning and cooking to setting up a root cellar to the “lazy man’s method” of freezing food. As someone who grew up doing this every summer/fall, it made me nostalgic for the pickles, jellies, and produce that my family would eat through-out the year. I gave up canning when I moved to Chicago, but started to see how it was possible even without a large backyard garden and tons of space to process and store the produce.
Procurement of fruit and vegetables is simply a matter of working with local farmers. “You have to commit to going to farmer’s markets in the summer, find what you like and then go back and buy a whole lot more,” says Joel Smith of Henry’s Farm. Vicki Nowicki of Liberty Gardens says it’s also important to know where to store different types of vegetables before canning and preserving. Squash comes in house because it has to be warmer and dry. Nowicki keeps her in a spare bedroom and her tomatoes stay out of the basement, “Don’t put your canned goods in a moist, cool cellar. The seals will dissolve.” Rob Gardner from the Local Beet stores his canned goods under the bed, and has turned his attic into a root cellar. Even as urban dwellers, we have options.A discussion of choices continued with the The Conscious Carnivore session. As consumers we’ve been fed local-quality meat at unnaturally low prices for a very long time, but we’ve also lost a lot of knowledge about different cuts of meat and how to use the whole animal. “Choice is first and foremost about the type of animal. Buy the whole animal if you can. Buy what’s available at your local butcher. Honor the restaurants who source sustainable meats,” says Bartlett Durand of Black Earth Meats.
That sentiment was echoed by Rob Levitt of The Butcher and Larder who addressed the issue of buying with limited space and dollars. “Support your local butcher and buy what’s available” or buy collectively with other through a CSA. “Loin cuts make up about 14% of the animal,” so don’t be afraid to ask about other cuts and ask for advice about how to cook the meat.
The afternoon sessions moved into how to grow your own food and how to deal with food waste. One popular session was No Yolk! Chickens in Your Back Yard. Raising chickens in the city as pets and for egg production is actually legal in Chicago (Chapter 7-12-300 of the Municipal Code). You cannot, however, slaughter the animals excepting certain Kosher rules. There is an active online community, Chicago Chicken Enthusiasts, for questions and help regarding urban chickens.
There’s also a help for people with questions about vermiculture, or composting with worms. In the New Wave Composting session Stephanie Davies from Urban Worm talked about raising worms in her home and how it changed her relationship to food, “I changed my diet to things that worms like.” She started eating better, became aware of how much waste she was generating, and felt a deeper connection and appreciation for these creatures. She also stressed how “Worms are possible for everyone.” Indeed.
There were options besides informational panels. At the Good Food Festival, area chefs paired with farmers to prepare recipe samples for an eager audience. Kids could also get hands on with worms and farm animals, and parents could purchase locally-produced food and packaged goods.
The festival continues to grow and get better by showing people a path out of the food habits we’ve come to accept as the norm. You can continue to learn more about Family Farmed and the other panels held during the Expo via their site and ask questions via Twitter.