Farmer Interview - Jody Osmund - Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm

We're back! Sorry for the lack of posts in the last few weeks, we've been dealing with some unforeseen circumstances in our household. Nevertheless, we're working on getting back on track, and we have a special treat for you! Below is the first part of a two part interview with Jody Osmund of Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm. Jody wears a lot of hats when it comes to advocating for sustainable local food in our region. This first part will cover his farm specifically, and in part two you will hear him talk about his work with Band of Farmers, the Chicagoland CSA coalition.  Jody Osmund

  1. In a paragraph or two, please introduce yourself and tell us about how you became a farmer (what did you do before farming, how did you make the transition, how did your family adjust, etc.).

I grew up on a diverse grain and livestock farm - cattle and hogs, oats, wheat, hay, corn, and soybeans. My mom kept a flock of 150 laying hens and egg sales supplemented the grocery budget.  I was mostly involved in taking care of the animals, and I spent a lot of time helping in the ¼ acre family garden.

This background, however, was not a straight line to me becoming a farmer.  I graduated from high school in the middle of the farm crisis of the late 1980’s. Farming as a career looked pretty bleak, so I went off to college and a professional career.

Fast forward a decade and a half…  On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was at an apple orchard in the northwest suburbs with our almost 3 year old son for a daycare field trip.  We rode a hayrack, picked apples, drank cider, and ate apple cinnamon donuts.

On the bus ride back to the daycare, we went from the peace and joy of agricultural idyll to a reality of fear and uncertainty.  The events of September 11th were a turning point for our family. We re-evaluated our life direction and priorities. Like a lot of people, we yearned for something more simple, more tangible, more real. (My career at Allstate in e-commerce software testing and my wife Beth's professional skills training position at Arthur Anderson both seemed pretty abstract.)

When the Enron scandal caused Arthur Andersen to collapse and family land (and farmhouse) came available in 2002, it was an easy decision to move to the farm. Our suburban friends thought we were crazy – they probably still do – but were supportive nonetheless. One of our friends gifted us (thanks Vickie!) Eliot Coleman’s book, The New Organic Grower which became a much used reference and the chapter on marketing inspired us to jump into Community Supported Agriculture.

  1. Tell us about your farm, where it is located, how big it is, and what you produce there.

Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm is a few miles north and east of Ottawa, IL. The total acreage is about 90 acres, but over half of that is taken up by woodlands, wetlands, and riparian habitat. We have about 40 acres of the arable land in pasture (mixed grasses, legume, and forbs) where we raise cattle, pigs, meat chickens, layer hens, and a small flock of Navajo Churro sheep.

  1. If we were to visit your farm, what would we find distinctive or unique about it? What makes Cedar Valley shine?

We’re really proud of our farm’s biodiversity.

This diversity extends well beyond the livestock (Duroc and Hampshire hogs, Angus cattle, 8 breeds of laying hens, and Navajo Churro Sheep). Our farm hosts a number raptor species (Bald Eagles, Red Tail Hawks, Kestrels, owls), water fowl (ducks, geese, Sandpipers, and Great Blue Herons), song-birds, predators (fox, coyote, racoons, opossum, mink), herbivores (deer, rabbits, beaver, voles, gophers, squirrels), along with countless insects (including a lot of native pollinators and butterflies, some feral honeybees, and dragon flies), and incredibly active living soil. It’s much different than the sea of corn and soybeans on the farms that surround it.

The Stream

The most distinctive feature of the farm is the creek that runs through it. It is the highlight of our farm tours, provides a peaceful picnic spot, cools us in the hot summer, and occasionally provides a meal of fish for the table.

  1. Why did you decide to run a meat CSA out of your farm, as opposed to other options like vegetable farming, or selling meat wholesale to restaurants?

Actually, Cedar Valley Sustainable (CVSF) started out as a vegetable CSA in 2003. We started on 2.5 acres and increased to a maximum of 5.5 acres. We added livestock over time, started the first meat CSA  in Illinois (while serving a 70 member vegetable CSA) in 2007, and fully transitioned to meat and eggs in 2008.

  1. How did you decide to raise beef, pork, and chicken? Which did you start with and how have you scaled up production over the years?

The first animal we brought to the farm was a dairy cow. Next we added a flock of laying hens. Meat birds followed, along with more cattle and then hogs. We raise all meat chickens and eggs for our CSA on our farm, but not all of the beef and pork. Over the years we’ve developed relationships with neighbors who breed incredibly high quality pork and beef that supplement our production.

Animals

These relationships extend the scope and breadth of our work toward more sustainable farming, writ large. They also give us flexibility and elasticity to deal with the ebbs and flow of CSA membership and farmers market demands.

When we started working with pork breeders  Mark and Kristen Boe of La Pryor Farms, they were considering getting out of the pig business (commodity pork prices were very low and they were losing about $40/per pig they sold to Tyson). We helped them develop a profitable farm-to-restaurant business for their hogs and they have since started their own beef herd. They make weekly trips into the city supplying top restaurants and artisan butcher shops with their pork and beef.

Pigs

I love seeing new pig and cattle paddocks when I pick up market pigs at the Boe’s farm. They’ve moved to a more pasture-based growing since they started working with us. WIN!

  1. What’s the most gratifying part of owning and running your own farm?

Sure, I get to do physical work outside every day and produce really delicious food, but the most gratifying part of our job is the relationships – customers, CSA members, fellow farmers, food advocates/activists, friends, family, and community that are nurtured by our farm. The image of the independent farmer, alone on the prairie is an unsustainable myth of “modern” agriculture.

A farm dinner in full swing

True resilience and sustainability are supported by an inter-locking bulwark of interdependent relationships. Adding strength and branches to that weave is what Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm is all about.

Many thanks to Jody for sharing about his and Beth's lives as the farmers at Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm. Keep an eye out for a second post from him about his work with Band of Farmers - The Chicagoland CSA Coalition. We will also be preparing a post for CVSF's blog that we are very excited about, so be sure to follow us on Facebook for all the updates! 

Are there posts you would like to see from Sustainably Queer? We've got ideas for miles, but we'd love to hear from our readers first! Please let us know in the comments, on our Facebook Page, or join us in the Sustainably Queer group for more lively conversation! 

Ninety-Nine Things We Like - Part Two - Restaurant Edition

It's time for us to continue our list of favorite things and this is a chunk of our very favorite restaurants in Chicago, which are very near and dear to our hearts.  We love food more than pretty much anything else and it's very important to us that our food choices do not have a a negative impact on the world around us. We chose these specific restaurants because they go out of their way to do one or more of the following things:

  • Source local produce, meat, eggs, dairy etc in season
  • Grow their own produce locally or onsite
  • Choose to serve meat that was raised sustainably or at least without added antibiotics/hormones
  • Change their menu to reflect the season and do not exhaust resources to serve dishes out of season
  • Do significant prep work, brewing, or baking on site, little of their food is pre-made or processed
  • Go back to original recipes or sources to provide the most interesting/nourishing meals possible

That being said, here is a short list of our favorite restaurants in Chicago, feast away Chicago friends (Note - the numbering is contiguous from the previous post so that we get to ninety-nine one day!):

Brunch at Gather - these might be Kristl's favorite potatoes

17. Gather - Our favorite restaurant in the city right now. We usually get two appetizers and then share a main. We particularly love their hamburger, arctic char, and crispy breakfast potatoes (only available at brunch on Sundays). Woah. They have precise seasonal menus, source a portion of their food, and the portions are large and affordable.  Lovely atmosphere, but be sure to make a reservation on the weekend! Oh and most days the owner is the host and does the seating, because he cares. (If you see brussels sprouts on the menu, you simply must order them.)

18. Edzo’s - This is an old school burger joint with your choice of sustainably sourced meats to choose from. There are also a dozen different types of fries and daily specials to keep you on your toes. The Lincoln Park location just closed, but the Evanston spot is going strong.

19. Hopleaf - They source some of their produce from urban farms on the south side and change their menu to match the season. They do the same with the beers on tap, if that's what you're in to. The food is delicious and they have a lot of room for gatherings, as long as you check their calendar first, because when it's busy, it's packed.

20. Frontera Fresco - The smallest and least renowned of Rick Bayless's offerings have brought us the most joy. We go to Frontera Fresco in the mall at Old Orchard and get tacos almost every time we are there. It's nice to know that there is some mall food coming from local farms and the meat is relatively well sourced too.

Dukbokki with Bulgogi at Dak

21. Dak - The most meager in terms of sustainability (though they do use antibiotic- and hormone-free meat),  but they have made up for in some sense by being really convenient and delicious for us.  We just wish they would stop using styrofoam for carryout. Sigh. (When we remember, we bring our own containers for leftovers when we eat in.)

22. Nightwood - We heard about Nightwood for their brunches, specifically the donuts, but we've only been there for dinner and drinks.  They made Kristl a truly excellent non-alcoholic cocktail, which is hard to find, though we found that the appetizers far outshone the entrees. Maybe someday we shall return for brunch.

23. Sola - We go to Sola anytime we need a fix of upscale food with Hawaii in mind.  It's not Hawaiian per say, but Chef Carol Wallack's love of Hawaii definitely shines through.  Menus are seasonal, which we love, and often feature a seasonal ingredient. They try to source locally and sustainably as much as possible, and if you are salivating over something on the brunch menu, go early because they will run out (sadly, we speak from personal experience)!

We had to taste a bunch of pies to narrow it down to only two for our wedding reception

24. Hoosier Mama - What is there to say except that these pies will ruin you? We've probably tried twenty flavors and I haven't been upset about any of them. And no, we aren't going bankrupt eating pie, they have a pie flight after 6pm everyday where you can choose 3 pies and get smaller slices of all three to try. Seriously though, they use great ingredients and old recipes. They also sell sandwiches and salads and have a full coffee bar at their Evanston location. (We had two Hoosier Mama pies in the dessert buffet at our wedding!)

25. Bang Bang - Nestled down in Logan Square is another great place to get pie, but to be honest the last time I was there I didn't even think about pie. No. I did, however, have biscuits three different ways. Oh, yes.  Just go there with like three other people, and order all the biscuits, and eat biscuits until you can't move. Don't worry, they only use seasonal fruit and the leaf lard that goes into their baking is rendered specifically for them by one farm. Magic.

26. Honey Butter Fried Chicken - We were recently talking with a fried who had just eaten at HBFC for the first time and we were gushing about how DE-licious it is and he was like yeah, but it's not cheap. It's true, it's not cheap, but that's because Honey Butter is not your corner shop that tastes good only because it's fried and is gonna violate health codes every 6 months or so. This place is legitimately tasty and legitimately sustainable. See their philosophy here. All that being said, I highly recommend "Da Club" sandwich, and the regular old fried chicken with honey butter. Yes.

27. Leghorn Fried Chicken - Not as high-brow as Honey Butter, but these are Amish chickens as well and the other classy thing about Leghorn is that when they sell out, they close up. Boom, done. Check out the menu before you go, because you have to be ready to choose which type of brine you want, which type of meat, any sides, sauces, or toppings.  It can be stressful, but it's so worth it. We're partial to the pickle-brined thigh on a biscuit, Rachel gets it hot, Kristl doesn't, but we're sure you'll love whatever you get!

28. Big Jones - If you want real Southern cooking and not some mockery of it, then you really must go to Big Jones. Big Jones uses heirloom recipes from the deep South to inform all that they do in the kitchen and also how they source their ingredients, all they way down to the grains that they use to make their griddlecakes. One surprising result of this is that their brunch is now gluten free. Naturally, not intentionally, because all the heirloom flours used in southern cooking didn't include gluten to begin with. For dinner, we tend to fill up on starters and share a main, but you do you.

29. Brown Trout - I guess you could just go ahead and say that we are fried chicken fanatics, because fried chicken brought us to Brown Trout too.  We have had other lovely dinners at this in-your-face sustainable restaurant, but the best use of your time and money, in our opinion, is Sunday night fried chicken and blue grass. They cook the chicken sous vide first and then batter and fry it to perfection. So juicy and wonderful. Dark meat highly recommended.

30. Revolution Brewing - Whether or not you enjoy their beer, the pub is worth a visit. They have small rooftop for growing vegetables in the summer and they butcher a pig or two a week from a local farm. The food is really well thought through and very good. And let's be real, who is mad about sustainable pub food? Not us.

31. Sauce and Bread - This small cafe is the child of two companies - Crumb bakery and Co-Op hot sauce - and it is a beautiful baby. Both businesses continue to exist in their own right, but Sauce and Bread is the location where their magic meets.  They have limited hours, but it's wonderful for a low key brunch or an afternoon snack - we actually had our post-wedding brunch there and they were incredibly nice and accommodating.  They also host a supper club that we have every intention of weaseling our way into sometime.

32. Au Cheval - It's the upscale diner of your dreams. There are burgers everywhere. It's impossibly delicious. A single is a double. A double is a triple. They make their own baloney. If you go at a busy time there is often a 2-hour wait, so we suggest going at an off-time. And let's be real, now is a good time. You have no excuses. We dragged ourselves there during one of the many frigid polar vortex days last winter because we figured (correctly) that we wouldn't have to wait.

Pea soup with roasted lemon puree and breaded goat cheese at Kendall this past spring

33. Dining Room at Kendall College - Kendall College is known for culinary arts and hospitality in Chicago and you can take part in this tradition by making a reservation at their dining room and seeing what the students can do.  We recommend going with a partner or a friend for lunch, because we've found that the lunch menus are more interesting and two-top tables tend to get extras. One time we got several extra appetizers thrown our way and we weren't mad about it. Kendall has a commitment to sustainable, locally sourced ingredients, and the price is right too.

34. Cafe Spiaggia (for Restaurant Week) - Restaurant Week is a potentially good thing that can turn out to not be that great of a deal depending on where you go, but we think we've really found a spot that delivers a deal and really excellent food. Go to Cafe Spiaggia. The food is as good as actual Italian food from Italy (which we can say having recently been to Italy), and the Restaurant Week deal is actually a deal. It's classy, it's wonderful, and it's delicious.

35. Pleasant House Bakery - Finally, Pleasant House Bakery is a great place to get British style savory pies. They grow a lot of their own vegetables during the growing season. They make their own sodas, and they have specials on different days of the week. We highly recommend their Tuesday Burger. Yum. They are also selling the pies they make in house under the name Royal Pies around Chicago at local groceries.

Jeni's!

36. Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream - This is the only chain on this list, but it's a midwest chain (based in Columbus, OH) that uses local, seasonal, sustainable ingredients whenever possible. Jeni's is amazing. Some of our favorites are the Askinosie Dark Milk Chocolate, Brown Butter Almond Brittle, Goat Cheese with Red Cherries, Sweet Corn with Black Raspberries, and The Buckeye State. The ice cream sandwiches (many of which are gluten-free) are mind-blowing. We rarely eat ice cream these days, but when we do, it's Jeni's.

37. Ras Dashen - We went to Ras Dashen last night and were delighted to see a notice that they are now using local, antibiotic-, steroid-, and hormone-free chicken from Gunthorp Farms. We love Ethiopian food and we are often hard pressed to choose a favorite.  In general, the cuisine is pretty friendly for vegetarians, vegans, and gluten-free folks, and the crepe-like injera bread is fermented before it is cooked making it easier to digest and better for your gut flora. Our runner up Ethiopian recommendation would definitely be Lalibela on Ashland, which always has gluten-free injera on tap and is a little cheaper.

So, those are our recommendations at this time, we hope that you give a few of them a try. We hope that you love them as much as we do. We also hope that if you are going to try one out and have a bad experience, that you let us know, because we will probably leave this page up and wouldn't want people to  go on having bad food experiences in Chicago forever. This list is by no means exhaustive, as there are many delicious restaurants in Chicago and a number of them have sustainable practices. Our goal for 2015 is to hit up all the ones we've missed so far!

Please click HERE to explore part one of the Ninety-Nine things we like, and here is the link to part three: local goods we like and where to find them!

Nine on the 9th: Hidden Talents

Welcome back to Nine on the 9th (err...16th)! We actually had the text of this done by the 10th, but Kristl took her sweet time finding pictures to add in. Whoops! Sorry we missed September, but we were a little busy. Life is (hopefully) about to calm down for us a bit, as Rachel is graduating from her urban agriculture program on Thursday. We've got a few blog posts planned - let's all cross our fingers that we actually write them! For now, enjoy this list of some of our hidden talents. If we tell you all our favorite hidden talents, then they won't be hidden anymore. So, just be warned, we aren't giving up all the goods.
1. Bacon and eggs: Everyone knows that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. So it's good to know who should be in charge of what part of breakfast. Rachel is incredibly good at making bacon. We like to buy thick cut, humanely-raised, locally-sourced bacon. The result is crispy bacon, with a pleasant chew.  Kristl is a genius at making fried eggs.  She knows how to get the edges crispy, and keep the yolks runny.   If she's adding eggs to something, she has a knack for getting the whites steamed without hardening the yolks.  It's a dream.  It's important to know that Rachel is awesome at bacon and Kristl is a genius at eggs because Rachel ruins eggs and Kristl burns bacon, pretty much without fail.

It was hard to find pics to go along with these facts, so here's a random selfie!

2. Weird voices: About two years into their relationship, Rachel completely confounded Kristl by speaking to her in an alien Kermit the Frog type voice.  Kristl asked, "Where the heck did that come from?!" Rachel responded, "Well, it's just my weird voice for special occasions."  As an only child, Rachel did have to come up with ways to amuse herself, one of which was manipulating her voice.  It doesn't come in particularly handy, but it's weird.

 

3. Monkey feet: Kristl is really good at picking things up with her toes. Like, creepy good.  She's always been good at this.  Turns out this comes in handy (ha ha) when she's wearing a skirt, or a low cut dress, and doesn't want to flash everyone if she has to bend over. Plus, she's pretty much always wearing sandals, so it's convenient. Woo!

 

4. Google Fu: Kristl can find almost anything on the internet. Anything. If it is on the internet, it is meant to be be found by one Kristl Kwai Fah Yuen. She's magic. Rachel will complain about not being able to find such-and-such online and then, a few minutes later, Kristl will send her a barrage of links. Rachel is often outwardly annoyed by this, but secretly loves it.

Rachel all decked out in her farming gear!

5. Finding deals/discounts: This is somewhat related to the previous one, but if you are ever about to buy something, Kristl can probably find you a deal on it. When Rachel was outfitting herself for all-season farmwork, she expected to have to spend hundreds of dollars. After using eBates and shopping around for the best coupon codes and sales, Kristl was able to find all of the gear (work boots, rain pants, Goretex jacket, heavy fleece jacket, light hooded fleece vest, steel toe rainboots, and long silk underwear) for about $250. The Goretex alone retailed for almost $200. This skill definitely came in handy during our leaner months earlier this year!

 

6. Whistling and humming at the same time: Rachel can whistle and hum at the same time. Like an old timey radio is being tuned or a space ship is landing, or, on a good day, in harmony  Every time she does so, Delilah rushes over to make sure everything is okay.

We played NERTS with friends and, as usual, Kristl won.

7. Card games: Kristl is unbelievably good at games, card games especially. She often doesn't even know how she does it. Most recently, we were camping with friends and decided to play Go Fish. Kristl was the second person to go and she somehow managed to get through two full rotations of the group before asking someone for a card they didn't have. She, of course, won by a landslide.

 

8. Accents: We occasionally like to speak in exaggerated, nonspecific Minnesota/Northern Wisconsin or Russian accents. We developed our love of Minnesota/Northern Wisconsin accents independently of each other (Kristl in high school, Rachel in college), but the Russian accent acquisition was a concerted effort. Once, Kristl was in the kitchen and she heard Rachel talking in the living room. She assumed Rachel was on the phone with someone, but when she walked over, she realized Rachel was practicing her Russian accent with a YouTube video.

 

9. Wiggling ears: Rachel can wiggle her ears. Kristl cannot. This makes Kristl jealous on a daily basis. Not really, but Rachel wishes it did. When Kristl tries to wiggle her ears, her eyebrows move. (Rachel is jealous her secret talents are not more useful in real life, although upon further reflection back upon this list, she has some pretty strong tools for entertaining children.)

8-year-old Kristl proudly posing after a baton performance.

Since we are so late posting this, here are some bonus talents: Rachel tends to meow along to songs since she never remembers the lyrics, Kristl is a decent baton twirler, Rachel is great at spotting cats in windows when we're out walking, and Kristl can do some pretty rad makeup.

 

So there you go, hidden talents, and now they are not so hidden anymore. We can make you breakfast, entertain your children, and find you really good deals.  Then Kristl will take you all down in Go Fish.