Reporting From FamilyFarmed: Yes, We Can! | Bleader

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Reporting From FamilyFarmed: Yes, We Can!

Posted By on 03.19.11 at 04:48 PM

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If I had a backyard, I would keep chickens, I've long averred—but having no backyard, and few prospects for one, I decided to pass up "No Yolk!", the bird-raising workshop on deck for the third and final day of the FamilyFarmed Expo. After two days of industry speak and policy matters, expo organizers tossed the crowds some red meat in form of chef demos (Stephanie Izard headlined) and panels on back-to-the-land-style topics like cheese making and beekeeping.

But I did attend "Yes, We Can!", a discussion on food preservation, charmingly moderated by Liberty Gardens' Vicki Nowicki. (I'm embarrassed to admit that it wasn’t until two hours after the panel ended that I got the pun in the title; I had thought it was just cheekily lefty.) Nowicki said she’s been growing food and storing it at home for about 30 years, and she broke down the four categories of food storage: freezer, cold cellar, canning, and drying. In terms of cellar storage, she said, different foods required different levels of temperature and humidity. Potatoes can be kept in a root cellar, but squash is best stored in your home, where it's warmer and drier.

The panelists broke it down further. The Local Beet's Rob Gardner also dug into the dry-storage question (he keeps a sort of root cellar in his attic), and Henry’s Farm's Joel Smith introduced attendees to what he called "the lazy man's way to eat local 12 months out of the year": stick it in your freezer. "You’ll need a pot to put some water in," he said, in case your food requires blanching. “You’ll need a freezer at the end of the process.”

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  • lisa cee@flickr
One topic covered more generously at last year’s expo (reported here and here by Martha Bayne), the tension between local food producers and the oftentimes overreaching health codes that govern them, came up here: Vie chef-owner Paul Virant, tasked with discussing canning, said that after a complaint involving the Cook County Department of Public Health, he’s now required to undergo a rigorous process of testing and approval with each new canned recipe he wants to introduce to the restaurant. "You can't just wing it when it comes to canning," Virant said.

The upside of the health department affair, he added, is that he’s now anticipating getting a retail license for his canned goods, which—here’s a tip—he said he preserves in an aigre-doux, a sweet-and-sour concoction of ingredients like wine, vinegar, and honey. He blamed the initiation of the inspection process on a "saboteur"—somebody claimed to have found a bug in their canned greens, he said, but Vie doesn't can greens. (He didn’t mention having to throw away hundreds of pounds of food, meaning he might've fared better than did Lula Cafe).

Like most things at FamilyFarmed, a lot of the take-home came down to a question of resources: food buying and purchasing require money and space, two things not exactly shared equally across urban spaces (or any spaces, for that matter). It was nice to see a panel that offered a diversity of approaches, all the way down to the humble freezer. And panelists were unusually helpful: they fielded questions about which farmers' markets take the Illinois Link Card (here’s a list) and stressed the flexibility inherent in putting up food. There are a lot of ways to do it, Gardner said. “You have to decide: which ones fit within my resources?”

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