Friday, July 6, 2012

Book signing: Farmers' Markets of the Heartland

Posted By on 07.06.12 at 03:41 PM

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There's nothing like reading about farmers' markets to make me feel guilty about missing my local one (as I did last week). And well-written pieces trigger more regret than less adept ones. So Farmers' Markets of the Heartland (University of Illinois Press), a new release by local author Janine MacLachlan, has had me resolving all week that this Sunday I'll make it to Wicker Park for sure.

In chapters on the markets of Chicago, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, MacLachlan tells the stories of the farmers behind them, and in some cases, the history and potential future of the market itself. Chicago's City Farm, for example, makes use of vacant lots in the city to grow vegetables, which they sell to local restaurants and through their farm stand—but despite fairly impressive production, they can't manage to break even, and have to rely on donations to stay afloat. The 61st Street Farmers' Market illustrates the challenges of starting a market in poorer areas of the city, where the residents with the least access to fresh fruits and vegetables are often also the least able to afford farmers'-market prices (though it helps that LINK cards are now accepted at all the city markets in Chicago).

The Green City Market, of course, gets a fair amount of attention—including its beginnings in a Dumpster-filled alley downtown where "shoppers needed to sidestep potholes filled with whatever shimmering liquid had leaked from the trash." MacLachlan points out GCM's strict commitment to local produce, which means that even vendors who make pies and ice cream are required to use all local ingredients—no citrus or chocolate here. Tracey Vowell and Kathe Roybal of Three Sisters Garden had to get special permission to sell pecans from the farm that Vowell's family owns in northwest Tennessee.

Interspersed with the details of farmers' markets are recipes from local chefs, profiles of notable people like Will Allen of Growing Power, and other asides on interesting aspects of local eating and farming (like Slow Food initiatives from over the years). These essays, including one about Chicago's "farm forager," are some of my favorite parts of the book. In one, MacLachlan writes about the apple breeding program at the University of Minnesota, which developed the uberpopular Honeycrisp, and their "apple whisperer" (aka quality control), David Bedford. The process of creating and patenting new varieties of apples is fascinating.

MacLachlan discusses and signs the book Monday, July 9, at 6 PM at the Harold Washington Library Center, 400 S. State.

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