Winter markets, farming classes and wicked, wicked plants

November 7 , 2010

Winter is fresh food time

Yes, I know. That sounds like a contradiction, especially for those of us who have gotten hooked on all of the fresh goodies we’ve been picking up at our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) locatiions or farmers markets during the growing season. Kathleen and I have learned a lot this year about preparing foods that not only did we never eat before, but in some instances had never even heard of before. For instance, among the things we’ve consumed this year are Malabar spinach, kohlrabi, bok choi, kale, tatsoi and turnips.

Some of that probably doesn’t sound particularly adventurous at all. However, I’m known as a pretty fussy eater–one of those “I don’t live to eat, I eat to live” kind of guys. So when I choose to chow down on something called tatsoi, it’s pretty much a leap of faith. I’m happy to say that Kathleen found some pretty good recipes–mostly online–and I don’t think I complained once. (Of course, that really wouldn’t be in my best interest, since I’m not much of a cook.)

But back to the coming winter and why it’s a time that you can still eat fresh and healthy foods. Even though the outdoor markets have pretty much shut down, there are still plenty of places you can go to for your fresh produce and other foods. The Local Beet has a good list here.

Another organization that is spreading the, um, gospel of farmers markets is an organization called Faith in Place. Since 1999, Faith in Place has partnered with more than 600 congregations in Illinois–and those faiths run the gamut: Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Zoroastrian, Baha’i and Unitarian religions. Faith in Place promotes clean energy & sustainable farming and works towards helping people of faith understand that issues of ecology and economy—of care for Creation—are at the forefront of social justice.

Erika Dornfeld, who is part of their Congregational Outreach and Support staff, says that the Faith in Place Winter Farmers Markets are gearing up. Unlike traditional markets, these are not held at the same location every week or every month. Instead, the venues change from week to week, giving people throughout the area a chance to find things like yarns, woolen goods & raw fibers; honey; preserves & fruit butters; fresh & dried herbs; apples & cider; dried fruits; mushrooms; pastries, breads, croissants & tarts; spa & beauty products; salsas, soups & sauces; sprouts & micro-greens; cheese, yogurt & eggs; fresh lettuce & greens; squash & root vegetables; flour & corn meal; locally-sourced ice cream & sorbet; fair-trade coffee and chocolate; pickled vegetables; recycled wearables… and a lot more. Here’s a list of the markets for the next month or so:

Nov 13, 2010, 9am-1pm
Church of the Holy Nativity
9300 South Pleasant Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643-6344

Nov 14, 2010?, 12pm-3pm
Unitarian Universalist Church of Elgin
39W830 Highland Ave.
Elign, IL 60124

Dec. 5, 2010 10am-2pm
North Shore Unitarian Church
2100 Half Day Rd. (Rt. 22)
Deerfield IL 60015

Dec. 12, 2010 12-3pm
First Evangelical Free Church
5255 N. Ashland Ave.
Chicago IL 60640

To sign up for the newsletter that will keep you informed about upcoming Winter Farmers Markets, click here.

Plants are out to get us (really!)

Timing is everything, so they say. Which makes me ask: “Just who are they, anyway?” The point is that Halloween was last week but I couldn’t get Amy Stewart on my show until this week. Why is that so important? Well, she’s talking about her most recent book Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln’s Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities.The plant that did in Honest Abe’s mom, by the way, was White Snakeroot (Eupatorium rugosum), which is related to Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum), which I grow in my back yard.

In fact, let that be a warning. I grow literally dozens of specimens that are either poisonous, hallucinogenic, or otherwise dangerous–both outside my house and inside. And so do you. The list of plants that could–and occasionally do–kill or maim us seems to be limitless. Of course, they can also get us high…or make us psychotic. And Stewart covers them all in her refreshingly no-nonsense, straightforward prose. Let me give you some quick examples, which will make you swear off gardening for a good, long time–if not forever:

  • Cashews are part of the same botanical family as poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. The nut itself is fine, but don’t ever mess with any part of the shell.
  • Even corn can be dangerous. It that’s all you ever eat, you risk suffering a severe niacin deficiency called pellagra.
  • In 2005, more people called poison control centers about possible poisoning from peace lilies than from any other plant. Don’t Peace me, Bro!
  • Some mushrooms…well, don’t get Amy started on mushrooms.
  • Ever drunk May Wine made from sweet woodruff? At high doses, the drink causes dizziness, paralysis, and even coma and death. Fortunately, the U.S. government frowns upon the traditional formula for this concoction.
  • Love your hydrangeas? Guess what? They contain low levels of cyanide. I wouldn’t advise using them as a garnish.

And on and on and on. It’s not surprising that the book has become a New York Times best seller. I hate her for that (though I’m really quite fond of her). Hmm, I think I’ll send her a nice azalea plant. Don’t worry. I doubt that she’ll eat it. Because she knows that it can cause heart problems, vomiting, dizziness, and extreme weakness. Unless I coat the leaves with chocolate. Bwahahahahahaha!! (Like I said, we should have had this conversation last week.)

By the way, Amy Stewart is part of the Garden Rant crowd, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at her slighty off-center choice of literary material.

Good Growing: So you wanna be a farmer, eh?

Then you might be interested in a course called Farm Dreams: Assessing Risks & Resources to Start a Small Farm or Market Garden. Farmer trainer Tracey Hall is on our “Good Growing” segment today to talk about this interactive workshop, which teaches folks about sustainable farming careers in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin. Tracey knows something about this because she has her own outfit, called Grace Note Farm, situated on just under twelve acres of land at the bottom of the Kettle Morraine State Forest in Southeastern Wisconsin. She also teaches a class called “Farm Beginnings.”

Farm Dreams is just one of the public programs of Angelic Organics Learning Center, which will be a regular contributor to “Good Growing” on The Mike Nowak Show.