Saving a shared kitchen, an heirloom seed company and a spectacular lakeshore ecosystem

September 4 , 2011

Logan Square Kitchen update

Last week I talked about the hoops of fire that Zina Murray, who is literally chief cook and bottle washer at the Logan Square Kitchen has been jumping through to keep her facility operating in the City of Chicago. After months of having her shared kitchen space harassed by the Chicago Department of Public Health, Murray decided that she had had enough and started a petition to make the Department of Public Health more responsible to innovative businesses like hers, which gives food entrepreneurs access to a commercial kitchen on an hourly basis.

I’ve decided to add a link to her petition on my home page. The icon keeps you up to date on the number of people who have signed the online document. (At this writing, more than 550 concerned individuals had signed the petition in little over a week.)

You might think that spending endless hours fighting CDPH and finally resorting to calling out the city in a public petition would be all that a small entrepreneur would have to endure.

But you would be wrong.

The Department of Public Health is not the only agency that has been making Murray’s life one massive Excedrin headache. Last week, I wrote about how City Council had recently passed a new Shared Kitchens Ordinance. It went into effect on September 1, and its goal was to streamline the licensing process for kitchens like LSK. Did I mention that there are now only TWO shared kitchens in Chicago? It’s not exactly the easiest way to make a living. So, in essence, the new ordinance was passed to regulate exactly TWO businesses in the city.

Enter the Chicago Department of Business Affairs, which is yet another agency that has the power to stop a budding business dead in its tracks. And if you read Murray’s latest LSK blog, you might be convinced that that’s exactly what they have in mind. She reveals a litany of unreasonable demands from Business Affairs, which include

1. The business license will take the form of a picture ID badge, so owner and license must always be in Kitchen during production. If restaurants had to do this, the owner would have to be in kitchen for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day or be closed. Sick? Funeral? Your business has to shut down, even if you have employees with sanitation certification.

2. Want to grow and have employees? They have to get their own license, $330 per pop. No other food businesses are required to license chefs individually.

3. License must travel with you to remote locations. Let’s imagine the chefs at Lollapallooza posting their business licenses out at the concert. How about every caterer that has a gig at the Chicago Cultural Center or Public Library?

And that’s just the beginning. She finishes by saying

Today is Logan Square Kitchen’s second birthday. A year ago, there were three shared kitchen in Chicago. Today, there are two. You can bet no one else is rushing to open one. If I knew then what I know now, I would have never opened LSK.

What the City is doing to this woman is unconscionable. You might want to drop Mayor Rahm Emanuel a note on the Chicago Mayor’s Office Facebook page to let him know that you know B.S. when you see it.

Do you love heirlooms? Save Landreth Seed Company!

There has been an explosion of activity on Facebook and Twitter in the last few days over the news that the oldest seed house in America, Landreth Seed Company, is in deep financial trouble and might go under. I’ll let company owner Barbara Melera tell the story:

My husband, Peter, and I have been working to restore this historic American company for the past 8 years.

… We set about to restore this Company because it is the most historically important American small business in existence. It is the only American company, still operating daily, that existed when this country became a nation. Its founders were honorable men who helped establish and guide the agricultural and horticultural industries of this country in the 1700s, the 1800s and the 1900s. Landreth exemplifies American business and the ethics and integrity that built this nation.

On Wednesday, August 31, 2011, the Company’s accounts were frozen by a garnishment order initiated by a Baltimore law firm. If this garnishment order is not satisfied within the next 30 days, Landreth will cease to exist and a part of America’s history will be lost forever. I need to sell 1 million 2012 catalogs to satisfy this garnishment and the cascade of other indebtedness which this order has now initiated.

If you want to help save this piece of America, if you love gardening and heirloom seeds, if you care about righting the injustices of a legal system badly in need of repair, then please help Landreth. Please purchase a Landreth catalog, and if you can afford it, purchase several for your friends. Please send this link to everyone you know, One million catalogs is a big number, but with the internet it is achievable. Please help us to save Landreth.

Mr. Brown Thumb also has an informative post which reveals that not only is Landreth one of the few woman-owned seed companies in America, it also has an African-American Hertiage seed line.

This already has echoes of what happened just a few short weeks ago when Sid’s Greenhouses were forced to close their doors. In that case, it was the banksters who pulled the trigger. In this case, it seems to be the lawyers. Yup, two of everybody’s favorite groups–banks and lawyers.

So what can you do? Obviously, BUY A CATALOG RIGHT NOW!. The social media are all over this, with Facebook sites Landreth Seed Co, Save Landreth Seed Company, Save Landreth Seed Company, Order their 2012 Catalog!, and probably more. If you’re on Twitter, use the hashtag #savelandreth.

It’s a measure of how well loved this company is that even their competitors are urging people to buy catalogs to save the company.

Openlands Lakeshore Preserve prepares for its grand opening

It was eight short months ago that I was trudging through snow drifts on the shore of Lake Michigan just 25 miles north of Chicago. It was an opportunity to see how Openlands was reviving, restoring and recreating a preciously rare fresh water lake ravine ecosystem.

Many people in northeast Illinois have always known this area along Lake Michigan as Ft. Sheridan. Geologically speaking, it lies on part of the Highland Park moraine, which formed as the final glacier retreated from northern Illinois about 10,000 years ago. And it’s part of the Lake Border Moraines Bluff Coast, a hilly area that extends from the town of North Chicago at the north end to Winnetka at the south. At that point that the land flattens out again and remains relatively even through Wilmette, Evanston, and on into Chicago.

From 1888 to 1993, Ft. Sheridan was a U.S. Army military base. When the base was closed under the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Act of 1989, the land was dispersed among the U.S. Army, the U.S. Navy, the newly-created town of Ft. Sheridan and the Lake County Forest Preserve District. Later, in 2004, a federal law authorized the transfer of the bluffs, ravines, and shoreline at Fort Sheridan to a non-profit land conservation organization for the purpose of providing permanent protection. In 2006 Openlands acquired the land and, nn 2007 two major grants—$4 million from the Grand Victoria Foundation and $2 million from the Hamill Family Foundation— jump-started the first phase of site improvements at the Preserve, which focused on extensive ecosystem restoration efforts in Bartlett Ravine.

That winding stretch of land has been renamed the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve, and the tour I took in February was Bartlett Ravine, with guides Robert Megquier, Director of Land Preservation, and Aimee Collins, Openlands Lakeshore Preserve Site Manager.

A few days ago, I returned, and you can see the video slide show of the tour on the home page. Aimee again led the way, but because this was a mere week before the grand opening celebration, we ran into Robert Megquier on site. As you can see in the slide show, workers were feverishly putting the finishing touches on the preserve, in anticipation of officially opening the gates on Saturday, September 10, 2011 at 11:00 a.m.

The Grand Opening of the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve will feature children’s art activities and scavenger hunt, birds of prey demonstration, stunt kite demonstration (with intermittent breaks, please bring your own kite(s) for flying), tours of the preserve (plants, art, and general), and even tours in Spanish Spanish). Click on this link to get directions. The event is free and open to the public.

What you’ll see are 77 acres of varied terrain, including three lush ravines, towering bluffs (some rising 70 feet above the beach) with overlooks affording sweeping lake vistas, and an innovative interpretive plan that helps visitors understand and connect with this truly unique environment.

As in February Openlands President and CEO Jerry Adelmann will stop by the show today to talk about this magnificent accomplishment. To date, Openlands has raised $10.3 million of the $12 million required to complete the project from corporations, foundations, and individuals. If you would like to contribute to the Campaign for the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve, please contact Openlands Director of Development Jennifer Mullman via e-mail or by phone at 312-863-6261.

If you have a little more cash to contribute to the project, you might want to consider attending La Grande Preserve: A Benefit for the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve, a week from today at the preserve. It starts at the ungodly hour of 5:00 a.m., but you’ll get a special tour of the trails, overlooks and ravines and enjoy a delicious picnic by Froggy’s catering. Proceeds from the event will support ongoing ecological restoration and public education programs at the Preserve.

Sustainable Food Fundamentals:
Another visit from organic trailblazer Kinnikinnick Farm

I haven’t talked to David Cleverdon of Kinnikinnick Farm in Caledonia, Illinois, since last March when he told me stories about what it was like to be an organic farmer in Illinois in the “old days”–1994. He said when he would offer his vegetables at the Rockford Farmers market, people would see his sign, say something like ” He’s that organic guy,” and continue walking by.

Well, I won’t say that he’s in the mainstream now, but he’s a lot closer than he was 17 years ago. But farming is farming, whether you’re doing it organically or not, and one of the big challenges is weather. In fact, when I caught up with David yesterday to confirm his spot on today’s show, he told me that dealing with weather issues over the past few years has caused him to change the way he runs his operation.

I tried to ask him more about that but he said he was dealing with a group of children who were milking a goat. I feel his pain. When we talk today, I guess I’ll ask him about that, too.

By the way, Kinnikinnick Farm is an established, cerified, organic farm that sells produce directly to Chicago chefs and farmers market customers. The farm grows a wide variety of greens, heirloom tomatoes, root crops, and seasonal vegetables starting with asparagus and snap peas in the Spring and ending with butternut squash and sun-chokes in the Fall.

They sell their produce every Wednesday in Chicago at the Green City Market in Lincoln Park and every Saturday at the Evanston Farmers Market, corner of University Place & Oak Ave.