October 29, 2015

How the West was Local

It goes without saying that there are many, many restaurants using locally sourced ingredients. Farm to table restaurants, many trying to create a flavor of the region they reside in or in an attempt to stick to keeping only what is in season on their menus, are found in most places in the country these days. There are locovore advocates out there who wonder if there will be a day when corporations see the light. They pine for the day when large chain restaurants start using more locally sourced ingredients.

Although several chains have made some commitment, notably Chipoltle, the idea of a chain restaurant is to have uniformity and consistency in all locations. In fact, this is what has driven out the local flavor in many regions of the country and was part of the impetus of the local food movement in the first place. There was a famous restaurant chain though that bucked this paradigm and did it long, long before there ever was a local food movement. In fact, this company did it back when most food was local and during a time when the distribution of food on an industrial scale was just getting off the ground. It also did it to celebrate the diversity of food and food tastes across America, in contrast to the corporate mentality today that stresses uniformity.

Fred Harvey Photo: Wikipedia

Fred Harvey
Photo: Wikipedia

Fred Harvey was an immigrant from England who arrived on America’s shores in 1853 at the age of 17. With only a little bit of money in his pocket he needed a job fast and took a job as a pot scrubber and busboy at Smith and McNell’s restaurant, a popular New York city restaurant.  There from the restaurant’s proprietors Henry Smith and T. R. McNell, he learned the restaurant trade from the bottom up. They taught him the importance of quality service, fresh ingredients and the handshake deal. Harvey quickly worked his way up to busboy, waiter and line cook. He moved on to New Orleans and then on to St. Louis.

Santa Fe Railway - The California Limited  Photo: arizona100.blogspot.com

Santa Fe Railway – The California Limited
Photo: arizona100.blogspot.com

In St. Louis he held a variety of jobs but wished to get back into the restaurant business. He started a café with a partner. The Civil War started and the partner, a confederate sympathizer, stiffed Fred and ran off with all of the money the two had earned. Fred was out of business and took a job with Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad which was eventually purchased by the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad, i.e. The Burlington. Rising quickly through the company, he was transferred to the company offices in Leavenworth, Kansas. As a railroad executive, he found the food along the rail lines very unsatisfactory to say the least, and monotonous, as well. This was especially true out west where most of his business took him.

After several attempts to get The Burlington to allow him to open restaurants in stations along their line, Fred got an offer from the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway that he could not refuse. Charles Morse, a friend who was with the Santa Fe, got him a deal, where in 1876 he opened eating houses along the railroad and was not charged rent. The deal was sealed only with a handshake and, at the peak, there were 84 Harvey Houses, all of which catered to both the wealthy and middle-class visitors and Harvey became known as “the Civilizer of the West.” Harvey also eventually provided the food service on the Santa Fe trains themselves as well.

Fred stocked his “Harvey House” restaurants with the finest ingredients served by the “Harvey Girls,” waitresses recruited from all over to work in the Harvey House restaurants. They were made famous by Judy Garland in the 1946 movie of the same name along with the Johnny Mercer song sung by the cast, “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe.”   Small disclaimer… my Grandmother was a Harvey Girl. She left the farm in Wisconsin that she grew up on to work in Harvey Restaurants in places such as Needles, California. She moved from Harvey House to Harvey House, eventually winding up at the Fred Harvey concession at the 1933 Century of Progress World’s Fair in Chicago. She later worked at the Harvey House Restaurant in Chicago Union Station, where she stayed until the 1970’s.

Harvey Girls Photo: www.npr.org

Harvey Girls
Photo: http://www.npr.org

When Fred Harvey first experienced the food offered to rail travelers he noted that it was not only bad but it was basically the same dish offered over and over. The railroads were way ahead of their time in stressing corporate uniformity over taking advantage of what the unique locales the railroads passed through had to offer. This fact was not lost on Fred Harvey especially since the railroads he worked for had opened up the west to the American nation and represented a gold mine. It took several days to travel out to the West Coast and The Santa Fe traversed what were then very exotic places such as New Mexico, Arizona, and California and all major stops along the line were serviced by a Harvey House.

(Click for a larger view)

(Click for a larger view)

Fred set out to take advantage food-wise of all these places had to offer. According to authors George Foster and Peter Weiglin, in their book The Harvey House Cookbook, local Harvey House managers had the authority, indeed the duty, to keep track of local food producers and to purchase local eggs, poultry (including quail), vegetables and other items if they were of high enough quality. The aim was to ensure that a traveler on the Santa Fe would not see the same choices a second time on his or her trip on the railroad. The menus at the Harvey House restaurants offered what foods were available locally and were in season.

Fred Harvey Restaurant in Chicago Union Station

Fred Harvey Restaurant in Chicago Union Station

Even in the late 19th Century, Fred’s insistence on using local was going against the grain. By that time, beef and pork were being hauled into Chicago to be slaughtered and packaged, and fruit and vegetable shipments were beginning to arrive from California and Florida to points east and north. Fred himself took advantage of this to some extent too, but there was a plan behind his locovore interests and, as industry was stamping out the local flair all over the country, Fred’s move was really an act of genius.

Harvey owned hotel, the El Garces in Needles, California Photo: City of Needles

Harvey owned hotel, the El Garces in Needles, California
Photo: City of Needles

In one fell swoop, he lifted the railroad dining experience and introduced Americans to foods of the Southwest and California (such as enchiladas, sopaipillas, and other Southwestern delights). This helped make him a household name. The food and accommodations provided by Fred Harvey (which, by the way, the company was called. No Inc. or Corporation in the name, just “Fred Harvey”) boosted the towns and other locations (including the Grand Canyon) where the Harvey Houses were located which, in turn, boosted tourism to these places. This boosted the bottom line of the Santa Fe as rail traffic and ridership increased. The economy of the west then got off the ground, “civilizing” what was known prior to this time as the Wild West.

Harvey House in the Kingman, Arizona Santa Fe Station abt.1908 Photo: arizona100.blogspot.com

Harvey House in the Kingman, Arizona Santa Fe Station abt.1908
Photo: arizona100.blogspot.com

The Harvey Houses chugged along fine as long as passenger rail service was popular. Once the automobile became the dominant mode of transportation one-by-one the Harvey Houses began to close. The company tried to change mode and opened Harvey House restaurants in places that served the automobile. In fact, Harvey Houses were the first restaurants to occupy the Illinois Tollway Oases that were built over the Tri-State and Northwest Tollways in the Chicago area. The partnership Harvey had with the Santa Fe lasted until 1963 . The company itself was eventually gobbled up in corporate takeovers.

Harvey House Menu from Chicago Union Station 1945

Harvey House Menu from Chicago Union Station 1945  (click for a larger view)

What Fred Harvey strived for, was to give a sense of place to local stops, making them more than just stations along the line. As a way to boost local economies and to promote local food, modern companies and civic groups can take note of what Fred Harvey set out to accomplish nearly 140 years ago. Next time you eat at a chain restaurant, look at the menu and know that there are people eating at the same chain, looking at the same menu, and ordering the same fare from Chicago to Seattle to Dubai. Then imagine a chain where the local outlets took pride in what their location had to offer in both food and ambience and maybe you will hear a Harvey Girl singing about the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe.

Santa_Fe - Along Your Way cover 1945

Santa_Fe – Along Your Way cover 1945

Further reading:

Appitite for America – How Visionary Businessman Fred Harvey Built a Railroad Hospitality Empire that Civilized the Wild West By Stephen Fried

The Harvey House Cookbook: Memories of Dining Along the Santa Fe Railroad by George H. Foster  & Peter C. Weiglin

Fred Harvey Houses of the Southwest by Richard Melzer

Opportunity Bound a documentary about The Harvey Girls

September 16, 2015

Lagunitas – Craft Beer’s Next Phase?

According to Wikipedia: “The Lagunitas Brewing Company is a brewery founded in 1993 in Lagunitas, California, USA. The brewery is known for iconoclastic interpretations of traditional beer styles, and irreverent descriptive text and stories on its packaging. The company is the fifth top selling craft brewery in the US, as of 2014.” Lagunitas is at the forefront of the craft brewing industry an industry founded mainly by rebels and those who were seeking a brew created more, as its moniker suggests, as a “craft” than a manufactured product.

Photo: Lagunitas Brewing Co.

Photo: Lagunitas Brewing Co.

Lagunitas is one of the breakout stars of the industry. Its Petaluma, California brewery grew so fast it caught the attention of local authorities, in the marijuana growing region, who thought more business than meets the eye may be taking place. It was even shut down briefly in its early years during a sting operation when undercover cop was offered a toke on a joint during one of the many celebrations put on by the company.

Its founder, Tony Magee started Lagunitas after his first batch of home brew spilled over and ruined his stove. His wife suggested that he take the brewing elsewhere. He did and became well known in the industry as a person who according BeerPulse.com “drew a line in the sand between what he perceives as “us” (craft brewers/beer people) and “them” (A-B InBev and MillerCoors).” Lagunitas grew a large following and expanded, eventually opening a Chicago brewery with another on the way in Azusa California.

I just happened to have visited the Chicago Taproom in the Douglas Park brewing facility last Saturday. I sampled the food, which they do source locally whenever possible. I also took the tour of the brewery. The brewery is located in a huge old Ryerson Steel plant. The plant came with several large overhead cranes and thousands of square feet.  Neighboring buildings house film studios where movie shoots and television shows, such as Chicago Fire are filmed.

The tour consisted of a very animated tour guide who told several interesting and funny stories about the beginnings of Lagunitas. Another thing the tour guide mentioned many times as we moved around catwalks above the numerous large fermenting tanks was the growth of Lagunitas. It seemed like they were really into getting big really fast. There are other breweries in the works similar to the Douglas Park facility including one in London, according to the guide.  The thought that came to my mind was, are they still, or should they still be considered a “craft brewer.”

Fermenting Tanks at Lagunitas Brewing in Douglas Park, Chicago

Fermenting Tanks at Lagunitas Brewing in Douglas Park, Chicago

Ironically, a friend I was with bought me a book on the history of craft brewing from the Lagunitas gift shop at the brewery. In it the author has a small bio on Tony Magee where he says how much Tony is fighting the good fight against “the tyranny of fast growth!” Then the news came on Tuesday that Lagunitas sold a 50% stake in the company to Heineken.

Kegs lined up at Lagunitas Brewing in Douglas Park, Chicago

Kegs lined up at Lagunitas Brewing in Douglas Park, Chicago

There are some who feel that the Heineken deal is, in Tony Magee’s words, just “craft beer’s next phase.” Others caught up in the world of small craft brewers doing their thing, sticking it to man in the guise of international faceless corporations, fear it is something more ominous.

Tony Magee  Photo:www.pressdemocrat.com

Tony Magee

Posts and comments from various sites across the web seem to take both positions. “RIP LAGUNITAS. Can’t believe you sold out to Heineken!!!! LOSERS!!!!!” reads one post and “WTF, you just sold your soul!” reads another. One just referenced the name of one of Lagunitas’ products with “ Lagunitas sucks!” Some have another take. A commenter named Gary on a social media site said “I have no problem with your deal with Heineken. A lot of silly over-reaction in these comments. The deal with Goose Island and AB hasn’t done them any damage. In fact, I think it has worked out well for Goose Island. The deal will help people around the world enjoy Lagunitas. What’s so bad about that?”


Of course, all of this is nothing new in the craft brew world. As Gary mentioned, in 2011, Chicago-based Goose Island was bought out by Anheuser-Busch in a deal worth $38.8 million. Later, in 2014, Anheuser-Busch InBev purchased New York-based craft brewery Blue Point Brewing Co. Also, many other industries started out in a similar fashion to the craft brewing industry. Nothing more than small entrepreneurs, working in sheds and garages, growing and then consolidating into behemoths. The auto industry started out this way, as did the computer and software industry. But, some would add that along the way both of those industries lost that early spirit and became faceless profit-first corporations seen in so many television shows like The Office and in Dilbert cartoons.

One thing is certain though, the craft brewing industry has come of age. It has caught the attention of the beer drinking public who had, until recently, been content with Bud, Coors, and Keystone Light. The industry giants have taken note, too that there is much more to beer than putting out a product just to make a profit. The newfound pride stemming from hometown and regional beer brewers and styles and beer brewing as a “craft” instead of something that is just manufactured has changed the large corporate brewing world in a good way.


As a side note, an analogous story in the local food movement would someday see ConAgra using products from small local farmers and buying a 50% stake in small craft cannery that grew beyond its ability to distribute its product. Craft brewing is really a part of the local food movement and hopefully will continue to be supported by the people who made it grow. It would be a shame if the Heineken deal is a sign that craft brewing is following earlier industries and will become just another bunch of giants chasing profits.

Photo: Lagunitas Brewing Co.

Photo: Lagunitas Brewing Co.

September 16, 2015

Downstate fundraiser benefits local food awareness

Featuring small plates from chefs representing several prominent Central Illinois restaurants, the 2015 Annual Harvest Celebration took place at the State House Inn in Springfield Sunday night. The annual celebration of the use of locally sourced ingredients benefits the Illinois Stewardship Alliance in their quest to get the word out about local food and sustainable farming. The restaurants included in the event are well known for serving locally produced and sourced food and farm products.




Included in the fare were entrees and desserts by

Chef Ryan Lewis of Driftwood Cocktail and Eatery, Springfield

Chefs Jordan and Aurora Coffey of American Harvest Eatery, Springfield

Chef Greg Christian of Beyond Green Partners, Chicago

Brent Schoewer of Engrained Brewing Company, Springfield

Chef Dustin Allen of Edge by Chef Dustin Allen, Peoria

Chef Denise Perry of Copper Pot Cooking Studio, Springfield

Chef Pateick Groth of Incredibly Delicious, Springfield

And Chef Corey Faucon of Augie’s Front Burner, Springfield


The creations the chefs served spanned everywhere from Zucchini Agrodolce with Flank Steak, Corn Custard with Pork Rillette, Peach & Pork Belly Marmalade, Vietnamese Bun Thit, and Winter Squash Tamale with Grilled Pumpkin Crema.

Dave Bishop of PrairiErth Farm in Atlanta, Illinois was the featured speaker.


July 29, 2015

NCR-SARE Announces 2016 Farmer Rancher Grant Call for Proposals


From a SARE press release:

The 2016 North Central Region – Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (NCR-SARE) Farmer Rancher Grant Call for Proposals is now available online at http://www.northcentralsare.org/Grants/Our-Grant-Programs/Farmer-Rancher-Grant-Program.

Farmers and ranchers in the North Central region are invited to submit grant proposals to explore sustainable agriculture solutions to problems on the farm or ranch.  Proposals should show how farmers and ranchers plan to use their own innovative ideas to explore sustainable agriculture options and how they will share project results. Sustainable agriculture is good for the environment, profitable, and socially responsible. Projects should emphasize research or education/demonstration.


There are three types of competitive grants: individual grants ($7,500 maximum), team of two grants for two farmers/ranchers from separate operations who are working together ($15,000 maximum), and group grants for three or more farmers/ranchers from separate operations who are working together ($22,500 maximum). NCR-SARE expects to fund about 40 projects in the twelve-state North Central Region with this call. A total of approximately $400,000 is available for this program.

NCR-SARE will be accepting online submissions for the Farmer Rancher Grant Program. More information about the online submission system can be found in the call for proposals.

Interested applicants can find the call for proposals online as well as useful information for completing a proposal at http://www.northcentralsare.org/Grants/Types-of-Grants/Farmer-Rancher-Grant-Program. You can find more information about sustainable agriculture at http://www.sare.org/ or take a free National Continuing Education Program online course about the basic concepts at http://www.sare.org/Learning-Center/Courses-and-Curricula.


Proposals are due on December 3, 2015 at 4 pm CST.

Potential applicants with questions can contact Joan Benjamin, Associate Regional Coordinator and Farmer Rancher Grant Program Coordinator, at benjaminj@lincolnu.edu or 573-681-5545 or 800-529-1342. Applicants should also contact Joan Benjamin if they need a hard copy or an email version of the call for proposals. We make revisions to our calls for proposals each year, which means it is crucial to use the most recent call for proposals.

Each state in SARE’s North Central Region has one or more State Sustainable Agriculture Coordinators who can provide information and assistance to potential grant applicants. Interested applicants can find their State Sustainable Agriculture Coordinator online at http://www.northcentralsare.org/State-Programs.

UMN BioAgEng Bldg. Ste 120
1390 Eckles Avenue
Saint Paul MN 55108
Direct Phone: 612.626.3113
Office Fax: 612.626.3132

On the web: http://www.northcentralsare.org/
On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NCRSARE
On Twitter: https://twitter.com/ncrsare 
On YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/NCRSAREvideo

April 30, 2015

Grow Rhubarb!

Rhubarb is an easy to grow perennial that grows the best where the weather is cool for part of the year. It is one of the first crops that come up in the spring and is commonly baked into pies and other sweet dishes that need some tartness, such as muffins. Rhubarb has also been used for medicinal purposes since ancient times and the name “rhubarb” comes from the Latin rha barbarum, “Rha” being the ancient name for the VolgaRiver in Russia where the plant was native, and “Barbarum” denoting the people of the area whom the Romans considered barbarians.


Rhubarb Plant  Photo: Purdue University

Rhubarb Plant
Photo: Purdue University


Rhubarb is generally used as a fruit in dessert dishes but rhubarb has a savory side and can be used in sauces for meats and in braising. In fact, in 1947 a New York court stated that since rhubarb is used primarily in the way a fruit is used, it is therefore a fruit. Obviously the part of the rhubarb plant in question, the part used for culinary purposes, the leaf stalk, is within the bounds of the vegetative part of the plant. The fruit of the rhubarb is a sort of winged seed that grows on a stalk after the plant flowers. There are in many ways to cook rhubarb though and its versatility should be explored.

Rhubarb  Photo: Purdue University

Photo: Purdue University

The cultivation of rhubarb involves planting the roots that have been divided from a parent plant. You can find rhubarb roots at most garden centers or you could just plant roots that a friend dug up for you from their own stock. The rootstock should be dug so that there are plenty of roots on the plant to help it get started. Rhubarb seeds will grow if planted but this is not a great way to start the plants as the seeds will probably not come back true to the parent plant. Seed propagation of rhubarb will more than likely result in stunted plants or plants with stalks that are stringy and flavorless.


The plants should be planted in a hole approximately the size of a five gallon bucket and the hole should be filled with a good mix of compost, soil and organic matter. The plants should be spaced 24 to 48 inches apart in rows 36 inches apart. The beds that the rhubarb is grown in should be slightly raised to provide for good drainage. Mulching the plants with compost or straw will keep weeds down and will ultimately feed the plants as well.

It will take a few years for the rhubarb plants to mature enough for any significant harvesting. Rhubarb will produce for years after it is established but it should be dug around every 5 years or so to trim the number of buds. This will help keep the plants vigorous and you can also separate the plants at this time to produce more rhubarb plants. One thing to keep in mind about rhubarb is that only the stalks are edible. The leaves contain large amounts of oxalic acid that can damage the kidneys and are toxic.

Rhubarb Stalks Photo: University of Minnesota Extension

Rhubarb Stalks
Photo: University of Minnesota Extension

Rhubarb is also somewhat decorative and can be used to border a garden or can be grown in other spots in the yard to fill in a blank space. Rhubarb has many uses beyond the traditional dessert and will produce for years. It is a great addition to any garden.





March 31, 2015

Hooked on Fish – A CSF in Chicago

A CSF, Community Supported Fishery is an alternative business model for selling fresh, locally sourced seafood. In other words it is the CSA of the fish world. It is an idea that has been around for a while on the coasts and is a popular way to locally source seafood, but obviously in the Midwest, which does not have as large of a fishing industry as the areas bordering the oceans, an idea such as this seems to go against the grain of the “local” food movement. There is another side to local food though, and that is the “sustainable” part of it. As the bi-coastal CSFs have been champions of sustainability, and it is not possible to source 100% of all the food a Midwesterner consumes locally, some people have taken the sustainable part to heart and have started Midwestern CSFs.


CSFs have been popping up in the mid-section of the country as of late in various places, including one on Food and Wine’s “Best Food Artisans” of 2014, Sitka Salmon Shares in Galesburg, Illinois. Another one right here in the Windy City that has been getting a lot of notice is Hooked on Fish. Hooked on Fish is a CSF that started up in the spirit of community-supported organizations and like a CSA, it is a membership based operation. Its members sign up in advance for 4, 8, or 12 weekly deliveries (as well as single deliveries for the uncommitted) of about 1 pound each. Each week they offer 3 types of fish that is sustainably caught or farmed. According to Karen Wollins of Hooked on Fish, they work with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, an organization who raises public awareness about sustainable seafood issues through consumer guides, website, mobile apps and outreach efforts.

I asked Karen why fish and why the CSA model? She said:

“I love fish, and I also want to know where my fish came from, how it was caught, and that it is super fresh. Here in Chicago, there are only a few places dotted around the city that are reliable. I decided on the CSA model because of the convenience for those who sign up of having a pick-up point—they can pick it up on their way home from work. And we don’t have a lot of waste because I provide only what our members need. We’ve supported CSA’s for several years and love the community engendered by it. It has forced us to cook with new vegetables, such as tatsoi and rutabagas that we now love. In the same way, I hope that we can introduce people to other interesting fish that are just as good – or better – than the basic shrimp and salmon that most of us have been eating for a long time.”

She went on to say that they “aim to provide ONLY fish that is sustainably caught. We do provide farmed fish, but only if it is farmed responsibly, following guidelines established by MB Seafood Watch, Marine Stewardship Council, NOAA, and other sources.”

Hooked on Fish sources their product from a variety of sources each week trying to make one of that week’s featured fish a local choice. Featuring fish that is lesser known, their products come from the US and Canada, but also from Europe, and to a lesser extent, Australia, New Zealand, and Asia. Some of the fish that they offer are chosen because they provide a good sustainability story. For example one week they offered Pacific rockfish, which was depleted, but has now made a comeback due to responsible fishing practices. According to Karen, one of Hooked on Fish’s goals is to introduce people to new types of fish (such as the Pacific rockfish) or even popular seafood that is produced in different ways. They have had whole fish which were gutted and ready for cooking along with shrimp, mussels, clams, and oysters.


Photo: http://oceaned.org


It hasn’t all been easy to get sustainable fish to Chicago and offer it to the public. There have been a few issues with obtaining the licenses and permits needed to run a fish mongering CSF. Right now Hooked on Fish cannot sell at farmers’ markets without getting another permit. According to their website and other sources, the public have been positive about the products that Hooked on Fish offers and the idea of a CSF. So maybe as this catches on it will be easier for to start businesses such as this.

Karen Wollins said that in her opinion “it is important to find a fishmonger that you can trust. If they can’t tell you when and where the fish was caught, how it was caught, or if it was responsibly farmed, then don’t buy it.”  Hooked on Fish provides recipes with every order to help those who may have not have had experience with cooking fish. According to Karen “if you can’t cook the fish the night you receive it, put some ice cubes in a deep dish, covered with plastic wrap. Place the fish on top of that and cover with plastic. Just make sure that the flesh of the fish doesn’t touch the ice, and replace the ice as needed.”

Albacore Tuna

If you are interested in what Hooked on Fish has to offer or just curious about a CSF, more information can be found at: www.HookedOnFishChicago.com. Currently, Hooked on Fish has several pick-up points around the city, and are adding more. The Chopping Block (at both the Merchandise Mart and Lincoln Square), Flatts & Sharpe, as well as several others. For those who find that the current pick-up points are inconvenient, six customers can come together to create a new pick-up point. A pick-up point can be either a home or business.

Photo: Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch www.seafoodwatch.org

March 17, 2015

Long day or short day onions?

There have been more than a few people I know that, when starting a garden, opt for the bag of onion sets one finds at most garden centers or big box stores. Later in the season the tops die down, a usual sign that your onions are ready for harvest. When the onions are dug the gardener gets the disappointment of having small onion bulbs or even no bulbs at all. What happened? The gardener did all the right things, used compost, watered well, planted the onion set per the instructions on the package, so why no onions? There may be a variety of reasons behind this, but what the gardener may have not taken into account is the difference between “short day” and “long day” onions.

Onion Photo: Wikipedia

Photo: Wikipedia

Onions are one of the first crops that are set out by gardeners as they are pretty cold tolerant. Onion sets and plants are the most popular way of growing onions by home gardeners as the plants are already started, thereby cutting out the work of starting the seeds, however, seeds would obviously be the way to go for those wishing to save heirloom varieties. Seeds are also available from most stores and seed catalogs and should be started in flats before setting out. Onion sets and plants arrive in the stores usually in early spring and you may be tempted to grab what catches your eye, although if you live in the northern part of the country you should be on the outlook for long day onions.

Onions form their bulbs in conjunction with the length of the day. In the summer as the days get longer, onions start to store the energy of the sun in their bulbs. Long day onions need about 14 or so hours of daylight to bulb. This happens normally in early June. Short day onions need about 10 hours of daylight. You would think that the short day onions would then do better in northern areas, but that is not the case. Once an onion starts to bulb, top growth slows. Since the day length in the north is already 10 hours a few weeks into the growing season, the plant has not grown large enough to glean enough energy from the sun needed to form a full bulb. The result is small bulbs at the time the plant goes dormant.

Onion Planting Zones http://www.groworganic.com/

Onion Planting Zones http://www.groworganic.com/

Short day onions, grown in the south, are planted during the cooler months when the day is shorter. As the day lengthens in the southern latitudes, the onion bulbs out. This is normally during a different time of the year than it would be happening in the north. Unfortunately, many stores in the northern part of the country stock onion sets and plants started in the south. Many times these are actually short day onions and will not do so well for the northern gardener.

There are also varieties that are day neutral. Day neutral onions form bulbs regardless of daylight hours and produce well in most of the country. A good seed catalog or garden center will label different varieties of onions with the appropriate day length label. Note that some may refer to the latitude range that the onion variety does best in.

Onions fresh from the field Photo: Spurgeon Veggies

Onions fresh from the field
Photo: Spurgeon Veggies

One more thing about onions and day length varieties: many people are aware of this distinction but still get confused as to which variety is grown in which parts of the country. They assume that since the southern parts of the country are generally warmer, that means that the days are longer. This may be true in a way during the winter months, nevertheless not true in the summer. The further north you are in the summer, the longer the day is. For example, on June 21st, the day length north of the Arctic Circle is 24 hours!

Onions Photo: Wikipedia

Photo: Wikipedia

January 26, 2015

Winterize your Chickens to Keep Them Healthy and Laying

As we are now well into winter, those who keep chickens may see a drop in egg production from your flock. Hormones produced by a chicken dictate the amount of eggs produced and as we get shorter days and overcast skies the chicken will produce less hormones, and thus less eggs. The colder temperatures can also stress a bird slowing egg production and even affecting overall health. If you are worried about your chickens being left out in the winter cold don’t stress, there are ways to protect your birds and keep the eggs coming.









When raising chickens, the basic needs are adequate food, fresh water, and shelter. This is true all year, but it can be a challenge when there is six inches of snow on the ground and the temperature does not get much above 0. If you free range your chickens, as I do, then obviously food can be a concern. There are less bugs, blades of grass or weeds for them to eat so food has to be supplemented.

Chickens nibbling on some scrap carrots

Chickens nibbling on some scrap carrots








A good layer feed with 16% to 18% protein will help keep chickens healthy and laying. An addition of cracked corn will give them energy to face the cold. Table scraps can also be used to supplement as chickens eat almost anything and things like carrot peelings, egg shells, and old bread will provide much needed vitamins and minerals.


Heater watering bucket Photo: www.valleyvet.com

Heater watering bucket Photo: http://www.valleyvet.com


Submersible tank heater Photo: www.valleyvet.com

Submersible tank heater Photo: http://www.valleyvet.com


Submersible tank heater

Submersible tank heater

Water is a problem in the winter as it will freeze and thus be of no use to the chickens. Freezing can also damage a plastic or metal watering can from the expanding ice. One thing anybody raising chickens in the winter should invest in is a heated water bucket or a submersible tank heater. Having to break the ice out of a watering bowl is not much fun and using a heated bucket will give your chickens a continuous supply of water. As many heated buckets are made for larger livestock, be careful that the bucket is not too deep or if it is deep, a platform for the chickens is provided. Smaller or bantam chickens will tend to roost on the rim of a taller bucket and stand a chance of falling in and drowning.

Chickens enjoying themselves under a heat lamp as snow and sleet fall outside.

Chickens enjoying themselves under a heat lamp as snow and sleet fall outside.









Shelter for your chickens should provide protection from the wind and cold but should still provide good ventilation. A heat lamp can provide extra warmth for chickens but be careful that it is high enough that it will not start a fire and the chickens, in a frenzy, will not knock it down. Straw or other bedding should be provided. A good rule is to provide much deeper bedding in the winter for both warmth and to absorb the increase in waste products produced by the chickens. Chickens will not go outside as much when there is snow on the ground and there should be a way in place to account for longer hours inside.


As I said above, chickens slow their egg production due to shorter days. Chickens evolved to produce eggs when the chance of a chick surviving is the greatest. When days are longer the weather is warmer and chicks have a greater survival rate. Chickens should have approximately 14 hours of light to produce eggs. You can trick your chickens into thinking that the day is longer than it is by providing light that mimics the daylight. I use a florescent light with a full spectrum bulb. You can get by with just an incandescent bulb as well. You just need to have the light on in the evening when the chickens are starting to roost.IMG_0479


Raising chickens can be fun and rewarding for anybody with the space to do it. And with a little extra care, your chickens will give you eggs all year long!









Further information:






August 20, 2014

Illinois Stewardship Alliance is celebrating its Annual Harvest Celebration!


The Illinois Stewardship Alliance will be celebrating its Annual Harvest Celebration on Sunday, September 14th in Springfield. Six Central Illinois chefs will be preparing small plates featuring fresh, seasonal, local food. Each of the chefs represent restaurants that feature locally sourced products. Included in the lineup are:

  • Dustin Allen, Edge by Dustin Allen, Peoria
  • Aurora and Jordan Coffey, American Harvest Eatery, Springfield
  • Alisa DeMarco, Prairie Fruits Farm, Urbana
  • Michael Higgins, Maldaner’s Restaurant, Springfield
  • Ryan Lewis, Driftwood Cocktails and Eatery, Springfield
  • Josh Lanning, Harvest Cafe, Delavan

In addition to the food, there will be live music and a silent auction. Obed and Isaac’s Microbrewery, Rolling Meadows Brewery, and several Illinois wineries will provide beer and wine for the event.

The Illinois Stewardship Alliance is also looking for sponsors. Companies or organizations that do sponsor the Harvest Celebration will have their logo featured prominently in all event signage and in the program for the evening. Sponsorship opportunities are available at varying prices.

All proceeds raised from the Annual Harvest Celebration will go to Illinois Stewardship Alliance to help them continue their work promoting and increasing access to fresh, local food; providing education on conservation practices; and advocating for policies that aid small, family farmers.

The Illinois Stewardship Alliance Annual Harvest Celebration will be held Sunday, September 14th at 5:00 p.m. at the Inn at 835, located at 835 S. Second St. in Springfield.

Purchase tickets by September 9th. Prices are as follows:

$75 for members

$85 for non-members

To learn more click here.


– See more at: http://www.thelocalbeet.com/2014/08/20/illinois-stewardship-alliance-is-celebrating-its-annual-harvest-celebration/#sthash.NBQfw0Ok.dpuf

June 23, 2014

Illinois Governor Quinn Approves Legislation Supporting Farmers Markets

Chicago, IL: With summer officially here and Chicago’s 61st Street Farmers Market as the backdrop, on June 21st Governor Pat Quinn signed into law HB5657, an important new piece of legislation that sets in motion a number of reforms that support farmers market and Illinois farmers. HB5657 was unanimously approved by both the Illinois State Senate and House of Representatives this spring.

“This is a really important step when it comes to supporting farmers markets and community development, and a long time coming. Farmers, farmers market managers and those that support the burgeoning local food movement have been asking for and working towards a number of the reforms included in House Bill 5657 for several years,” said Wes King Executive Director of Illinois Stewardship Alliance. “These reforms will help to support and sustain new and current farmers markets, the jobs they create, the business they incubate and the farmers, young and old, that call them home.”

 Gov. Pat Quinn Photo: WLS

Gov. Pat Quinn
Photo: WLS


Illinois Stewardship Alliance has been working alongside the Illinois Environmental Council, local health departments, the Illinois Department of Public Health, and the Illinois Public Health Association to develop HB5657.

 Galesburg Farmers Market  Galesburg Register Mail

Galesburg Farmers Market
Galesburg Register Mail


The legislation, sponsored by Representative Mike Tryon (R-Crystal Lake) and State Senator David Koehler (D-Peoria), who first introduced similar legislation in 2009; includes a number of provisions aimed at supporting and sustaining farmers markets and the farmers and vendors that attend them:


  • Consistent Statewide Farmers      Market Rules – creates a timeline for      Illinois Department of Public Health’s (IDPH) Farmers’ Market Task Force      to complete recommendations for statewide rules and regulations for farmers      markets and strengthens that task force’s authority and process for      developing and finalizing said rules and regulations. The task force was      originally created in statute by the general assembly in 2011. The bill      gives the task force until December 15, 2014 to create their      recommendations. Currently food safety rules and regulations vary across      the state from county to county and city to city, sometimes dramatically,      creating a patchwork quilt of regulations for farmers and entrepreneurs to      navigate.
  • Statewide Sampling Program – Sampling of products is critical to any food      business including those at farmers markets. HB 5657 authorizes and      instructs IDPH and the farmers market task force to develop a statewide      sampling certificate program that would allow a farmer or entrepreneur to      offer product samples at any farmers market in the state under one      certificate, and just as importantly, under one consistent statewide set      of rules. Currently related rules, regulations and permits are highly      variable from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and few farmers market vendors      offer samples.
  • Product Origin and Transparency      Provisions – Consumers at farmers markets      may assume that products sold at these markets are locally grown, but      there are some vendors that are actually resellers selling the same out of      state product as most grocery stores. HB5657 requires farmers market      vendors that sell unprocessed produce to have a label that states the      address where their products were physically grown. If the vendor can’t      disclose that, the vendor must list where it was purchased from.
  • Cottage Food Operations –      Cottage food – or non-hazardous foods made in home kitchens – is a growing      business in Illinois. Caps the fee that local health departments can      chargecottage      food operations for registering at $25 per year to minimize costs to these      small businesses.

Illinois Stewardship Alliance will be developing some materials on it to educate farmers and market managers about the impacts of it and we plan to host a couple webinars later in the summer with the Illinois Farmers Market Association to educate attendees about what is in the law and what are the potential impacts.

Illinois Stewardship Alliance is a nonprofit organization that promotes environmentally sustainable, economically viable, socially just, local food systems through policy development, advocacy, and education.


Illinois Stewardship Alliance:



Illinois Farmers Market Association:


– See more at: http://www.thelocalbeet.com/2014/06/23/governor-quinn-approves-legislation-supporting-farmers-markets/#sthash.hhHBTuSg.dpuf