Good Food Festival - Chicago: Our Overview

Selfie at the Exhibition Hall  


Recently, on March 14, Rachel and I went to the Food Policy Conference at the Good Food Festival, because we're giant nerds. (Seriously, we were talking about it and decided to go for it since neither of us could remember the last time we'd done anything "fun" other than going out to eat - yes, we decided going to a Food Policy Conference would be a good use of our fun money.) We opted to skip the morning symposium and arrived just after 10am to explore the exhibition floor before the first talk.

The first talk we attended was called "Urban Agriculture and Local Food Enterprises" and the panel included a couple speakers presenting on community-focused food and agricultural developments in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago.  There was also a representative from the City of Chicago's Planning and Development department.  The panel finished up with a speaker from Cleveland's Green City Growers, one of the Evergreen Cooperative's community-owned, job-creating companies that focuses on farming in their city.  The panel was illuminating and a good introduction to our day. We hope to give you a more detailed post of some of these organizations in later posts.

After this panel, we got a whole hour for lunch and some time to browse around the exhibition floor. We got a kale burger from Green Spirit, a pulled pork sandwich from Gunthorp Farms, and mac and cheese with bacon sausage from Big Fork.  We usually take the opportunity to eat meat when we can be sure of the production practices behind it, so we chose the pork and sausage because they were locally sourced from farms we trust.  The kale burger was from a small vegan restaurant in Rogers Park, and the best thing about it was the beet ketchup. Go figure. After eating, we nabbed some Butter Bella cookies for later and talked to the folks from Seeds of Change.  Seeds of Change was giving away cool bags and free grocery items, like jars of tikka masala sauce. We never say no to free food.

Seeds of Change had a #PledgeToPlant photo booth

After lunch, we went to our next panel session on "Creating Justice and Food-Secure Communities with Sustainable Methods," which featured more speakers from the south side of Chicago, working on various projects related to alleviating food deserts and giving people more agency when they are making choices about what they eat.  Most striking from this bunch was Naomi Davis from Blacks in Green, who not only gave us a full picture of their vision for a fully walk-able economy in West Woodlawn, but was also inspiring in a general sense.  Here is a quote from Blacks in Green's website:

"We serve as bridge and catalyst among communities and their stakeholders in the design and development of “walk-to-work, walk-to-shop, walk-to-learn, walk-to-play villages” within black neighborhoods...our walkable villages are designed to increase household income, by increasing the rate at which neighbor-owned businesses are created and sustained, thus keeping resident money active locally, supporting community self interests, and preserving the heritage of a place. Thus, we address the terrible triplets of pollution, poverty, and plutocracy."

Pretty inspiring, right?  I know, here in Edgewater, we have some semblance of this, especially when the majority of our work, food, and play takes place within walking distance. It's not meant to say we never want to leave the neighborhood, merely that the ideal sphere for human interaction and community building is within a 1/4-1/2 mile radius of your home.  Click through to to learn more about their Eight Principles of Green Village Building.  Clearly, this is fodder for a whole post separate post, as well.

Fair Trade banana from Dill Pickle Co-op

Finally, we thought Rachel would find the "Good Food U - How can Chicago-area higher education support healthy local food?" session a very interesting melding of her professional interests, but about 10 minutes in, we decided to try a different session (mostly because they wanted a group discussion and we wanted to listen and learn).  We hopped over to the session on "Fair Food for Global Sustainability" just as Sharon Hoyer from the Dill Pickle Co-op in Logan Square was finishing up her presentation about Fair Trade Bananas.  We, unfortunately, missed the opening remarks from Nancy Jones of Chicago Fair Trade, but the information about bananas was fascinating (we hope to do a post about Fair Trade in the near future, but for now, check out this video about the bananas!).  Then our favorite speaker of the day, Eric Rodriguez from Café Chicago, started telling us about the issues with undocumented day workers in the Midwest and his group's initiatives to give them more agency and power to control the type of work they do.  Café Chicago is a coffee roasting cooperative based on these concepts and we are 100% hoping to sit down with Eric at some point and possibly visit their location for more information, but their website gives a succinct run-down of what they do:

Cafe Chicago Coffee"Café Chicago is a worker-made, worker-run cooperative that roasts, packages, and distributes great tasting, fair trade, organic coffee in the Chicago area. With a new model of job creation, job training, and social action that create living wage jobs and provide training in coffee roasting and cooperative management, the for-profit Café Chicago also funds the social justice organizing of Latino Union at a time of dwindling non-profit funding. "



We left that presentation feeling inspired to buy Fair Trade across the board, and if we ever need coffee, a bag of Café Chicago coffee will be the first place we turn. About four days later, we were at True Nature Foods and right there on the shelf was freshly roasted coffee from Café Chicago.  It's very exciting that organizations like this exist and that their products are readily available all over the city!

We then headed back to the exhibition hall for some serious snacking and chatting with reps from all the delightful, local food organizations and companies.  I'm not going wear out our welcome and list everyone we talked to but some highlights were The Brinery (delicious fermented veggies from Ann Arbor looking to get more into the Chicago market), Mo Rub (meat/dip/veggie seasoning from Iowa now available at some Chicago-area Whole Foods), the Illinois Stewardship Alliance (advocacy group supporting our local food system), and the Institute for Justice Clinic on Entrepreneurship (national group of lawyers, based at U of C in Chicago, who focus on providing pro bono legal advice and support for new business owners in the city, specifically local food businesses).

It was a very full day and we learned a lot, but the Friday version of the Good Food Festival is not for everyone.  Last year we went on Saturday, and that was more our speed at the time.  There are more booths in the exhibition hall, and the presentations are focused on topics like "Brew Your Own Beer" or "Home Butchery and Curing" or "Food Co-ops 101", that kind of thing.  It's more focused on things you can do at home and less so on things that are happening in the community and the world of urban agriculture. We're hoping to make it to both Friday and Saturday next year, if we have the energy! (Also, we didn't even mention the Localicious Party! We didn't make it this year, but hope to budget for it next year. It's a party celebrating "the farmers who grow our food and the chefs who transform it.") The moral of the story is that if you like food, the Good Food Festival has something of interest for you, so you should check it out next year!

August Food Swap Recap

Yesterday we attended our third Chicago Food Swap and I can definitely say that it was our favorite one yet. Our host was Green Home Experts, which is an awesome store that I will make sure stop by whenever I'm in Oak Park. They have all sorts of eco-friendly items for the home, which you know is right up our alley. This time we convinced some friends to come along, which I'm sure added to the fun for us. We also decided to take it easier with our swap items to ensure we wouldn't be in a mad panic right before the swap. I, for one, am an excellent procrastinator AND an overachiever, so the last two swaps were pretty hectic for me. I had it in my head that I wanted to bake all of the things, even though Rachel gently told me it might be too much, and I forged ahead and ended up being super stressed. The swap shouldn't be stressful! So we stuck with things that we had made slowly over the past 4-6 weeks and didn't bring anything that would require last minute baking or cooking. We brought more pineapple-infused vodka, since that was such a hit at the last swap. We also brought cherry-infused vodka, some of our raw fermented strawberry vinegar, and sourdough starter.

Sourdough Starter Escape
Sourdough Starter Escape

We picked our friend Jess up around 2:20 and headed to Oak Park. We arrived at 3pm on the dot and went inside; Rachel and Jess found a place to set up our goods while I filled out our nametags and raffle entries (yep, there was a raffle at this swap!). We saw our friend Sarah and her friend Amara, of Eat Chic Chicago, and oh my goodness did their table look amazing! Sarah's a professional chef and Amara is a nutritionist, so they totally brought it (in the form of roasted corn and feta salad, cherry fig infused balsamic vinegar, and peach lavender infused white wine vinegar - we ended up swapping for ALL of their items).

We ended up sharing a table with Chris, of the delicious organic bean sprouts and just-spicy-enough (for me, at least) olive dip. Jess outdid herself by making whole wheat croissants, both with and without chocolate, brown butter rice krispie treats, and vegan granola. Once everyone was set up, Emily ran through the instructions and then we started checking out the goods. I really liked the variety at this swap. I immediately saw a few items I needed to have, as did Rachel. Amazingly, we were able to swap for all of our "must have" items!

Once the actual swapping started, things moved so quickly! Rachel is definitely the most extroverted of the three of us, so she blazed her way into the swapping arena and did the majority of the actual swapping. Jess came and went, getting a taste for how the swapping works (I'd say that the actual swapping is the most nervewracking part for newbies!). I mainly stayed at the table, fielding swap requests. It was all over relatively quickly and I was really pleased with our haul. We came with 14 items and left with 16 (it helped that Sarah and Amara gave us the sample jar of their peach lavender vinegar!). Not too shabby, if I do say so myself!

Swap Haul
Swap Haul

Not surprisingly, the sourdough starter was our least popular item. We probably won't be bringing more to future swaps, but if you are in the Chicago area and want to try your hand at using a starter, let me know and I can hook you up with some! Also, for those of you brave souls who swapped for the starter, this is the recipe I used to make the sample bread. That link also has information on how to feed and care for your starter. If you have any other questions, feel free to email me!

Oh, I almost forgot to mention! This time there was a raffle with 6 Heritage Collection Pint Jars from Ball and the Desserts in Jars cookbook. Everyone put their name into a basket and Emily drew a winner towards the end of the swap. Guess what? I won! I've already got my eye on a few recipes to try out for future swaps.

We've come up with a few more tips for swappers (in no particular order)! Check out our recap of the June swap for more swap tips.

1. Try not to overdo it. As mentioned previously, I went a little overboard at the previous two swaps we attended. Food swaps should be fun events. If you're going to make something that's really time consuming, flesh out the rest of your swap offerings with some easier items.

2. Wear something eye-catching. Our friend Jess wore a t-shirt the color of a brand new tennis ball to the swap and it made it SO easy to point her out to other swappers who were looking for her.

3. Realize what you're willing to spend. The swap itself is free and how much money you put into your swap items is completely up to you. Some people put time and money into creating labels and getting cute jars, some people put their stuff in a Ziploc and label it with a Sharpie. Some people will use a lot of fancy, high end ingredients, others won't. All of those options are totally valid for your swap items, just be aware that not everyone is going to choose the option you choose.

The next swap will be on September 15 at the Peterson Garden Project in Ravenswood Manor. Registration opens on August 18. The October swap will be on October 6 at the Savory Spice Shop in Lincoln Square. (Please note, the September and October locations have switched since our June recap went up.) The November swap will be on November 10 at The Chopping Block in the Merchandise Mart.

If you want to read more recaps of the swap, you can find some here, here, and here.

Make Strawberry Vinegar

On our quest to prove that you can make basically everything in your own home, we discovered that it is deceptively simple to make your own fermented fruit vinegar. If you have used Braggs Apple Cider vinegar, you know the type of product we are going for here. (If you click through to that site, please note how awesome Patricia Bragg looks.) From start to finish, we used the instructions from Kate over at Hip Girl's Guide to Homemaking. We thought, at first, about doing it with peach skins, once peach season comes around, but a friend who was staying with us for a few days bought a five pound bag of strawberry seconds from the Glenwood Sunday Market and left us quite a few of them. (I'm not the world's biggest strawberry fan, but I think I'm starting to come around to them this summer.) So, we had very many strawberries, which we made into all kinds of delicious desserts and snacks, and the scraps we saved for vinegar.

As you can see, if you look at the instructions, all you need to make fermented strawberry vinegar is strawberries, sugar, water, a splash of vinegar (with the mother), a vessel, some semipermiable vessel cover, and the patience to basically ignore this slow but profitable process.

The Cliff Notes version of the process is this:

1. Put the strawberries in the water with the sugar, cover, and stir every day for a week.

2. Strain out the strawberries, add a splash of vinegar (like Braggs) to get things started. 

3. Let it sit on your counter for 2-3 weeks until a mother forms and the whole room/house smells like vinegar (it's not that bad).  

4. Strain again, rinse the mother, and package it up because you just made vinegar (in about a month).

Here's what our process was like, in more detail.

Strawberry parts soaking in sugar water
Strawberry parts soaking in sugar water

The first thing to do, obviously, was to put the strawberries in the sugar water and let the natural yeasts in the air do their work.  We had strawberry seconds, so they were not super fresh, and I did have to battle some mold in the first week.  I solved the problem by keeping the strawberries submerged under a plate.  Regardless, a straggler or two would float to the surface, succumb to the effects of oxygen, and start to decompose. Those bits were promptly discarded. Towards the end of the week, when I took the cloth off the top, I would be greeted with a view like the one below.

Now we're cooking with...alcohol?

Now we're cooking with...alcohol?

Delicious, right? Under that weird stuff is a plate and some strawberry bits. We had enough strawberries to have two bowls going at once. When we strained out the strawberry parts and put the substances back in the bowls, they were smelling pretty much like strawberry beer. I'm pretty sure it would not have been pleasant to drink, because it was wild yeast and the process was pretty crude. If you wanted to actually make strawberry beer, you would go about this in a very different manner. It was cool to walk by and catch a waft of beer-y berry scent. Every time I stirred them, also, a lot of vaguely alcoholic bubbles would rise to the surface. Oh, food science.

Anyway, we strained out the chunks, put the liquid back in the bowls, and added a splash of "starter" vinegar to each bowl. We did use Braggs Apple Cider Vinegar for one of the bowls, and for the other we used a locally made blueberry cherry vinegar from CO-Op Sauce. Then we swirled the bowls every 2-3 days, and largely left it alone. Within a week, the beer-y smell had turned to vinegar and a vinegar "mother" was starting to form on top of each bowl. What the heck am I talking about when I say  "mother?"  Well, the mother is where the bacteria live that turn the alcohol into the super acidic vinegar most of us love. So, a little vinegar mother is what you need to get that process started, just like yogurt needs a starter and kombucha needs a SCOBY.  Vinegar will generally start to form its own mother eventually, but a splash of already established vinegar with mother-bacteria totally moves things along. I'm not going to lie, the mother is kind of a snotty, gelatinous goop that sits on/in your vinegar, and it could gross you out. Brace yourselves. However, homemade vinegar is worth touching one goopy thing, for us anyways.

It's just one goopy thing, you'll be fine.

It's just one goopy thing, you'll be fine.

She's so pretty.

She's so pretty.

You can see how dense the mother in the one bowl was in the pictures on the left. The other bowl's mother was more viscous and didn't drape across the hand quite so nicely. It was more snotty. Different starter, different mother, maybe.

After two weeks of sitting and being swirled on occasion, our vinegar was ready to be strained and bottled. Per Kate's instructions, we removed the mother from the top and rinsed it out. Then we poured the vinegar over a strainer with a thin cloth on top and strained out the sediment.

Strain, baby, strain

Strain, baby, strain

We put a little bit of mother back into each container and called it good. The vinegar has a pretty mild flavor, but it definitely tastes like strawberries. The bowl with the Braggs vinegar had the thinner mother and the vinegar was cloudier. Otherwise, there does not seem to be a discernible flavor difference. Basically, the point is, if you want to make your own vinegar, all you have to do is be willing to stir a bowl of water and fruit scraps semi-regularly for three weeks. Delicious!

Final product!
Final product!

How We Do (Sustainable Living)

Friends, we just jumped right in last night with that Food Swap post and didn't really give you a chance to get to know us. Or what we do. And we do a lot of things everyday that get us called dirty hippies or granola (lovingly, of course), but it's ok. It's ok to call us hippies, but it's also ok to learn from us and maybe implement some of our practices. We are admittedly some of the busiest people we know. We usually have at least one "after work" event a day and sometimes there will be 3 or 4 things to go to on a weekend day. Amidst all this business, we are desperately trying to keep the house at a controlled level of chaos and feed ourselves and our pets. With all this going on, there is some serious thought and intention put into what we are consuming, food and otherwise.

We want to be sustainable. We want to take small, significant steps to make our living intentional and reduce our impact on the environment. As you can see below, we do a lot already, but we are always looking to do more. I will probably post later on about how being sustainable is an act of queerness and how being queer fits into sustainable living. For now, consider this post less a manifesto and more of an act of full disclosure.

As a caveat, we do recognize that our lifestyle and our interests come from a place of privilege. We are both employed and we make enough money to afford the set up costs of some of the projects we take on. Some things, like making your own yogurt, require little investment, just a candy thermometer, but worm composting or buying a home carbonation device both have a sizable "set-up" cost. We would probably be able to achieve a certain level of sustainability even if we weren't so financially blessed, but there are definitely some things that would go by the wayside or would be much harder.

Finally, bear in mind that we plan to write in-depth posts about our planning and process for some of the projects listen below. This is just an overview. We just want everyone to know exactly how nerdy we are. If you feel you need to know anything immediately, please feel free to say so in the comments, and we will focus on those topics sooner rather than later.

Projects related to housekeeping:

  • Making orange infused vinegar for cleaning
  • Woodworking with reclaimed wood
  • Buying recycled paper products and aluminum foil
  • Giving away two items for every one item we bring into the house
  • Trying to buy things with as little packaging as possible
  • Switched to wind powered electricity (it's cheaper too!)
  • Using homemade washable swiffer pads
  • Using rags instead of paper towels
  • Recycling basically everything we can

Projects related to self care:

  • Using baking soda as shampoo
  • Making homemade deodorant
  • Making homemade lotion/balm
  • Making homemade facial oil blend
  • Using Chinese medicine/natural healing home remedies instead of Western medicine cures
  • Receiving acupuncture/chiropractic/massage regularly for health and balance
  • Meditation practice

Projects related to food:

  • Making stock with veggie scraps and chicken bones
  • Making staples for the week (baked-boiled eggs, congee, etc)
  • Making homemade drink syrups (to flavor carbonated water)
  • Infusing liquors (vanilla vodka and ginger vodka so far)
  • Drinking vinegars, a.k.a. shrubs
  • Making ricotta, yogurt, mustard, cheezeits, etc from scratch
  • Canning, fermenting, and dehydrating food for long term preservation
  • Bringing lunch to work
  • Trying to eat locally sourced, humane and organic food as much as possible
  • Signing up for CSA and egg share
  • Using all of an item if we buy it, e.g. whole chicken, eating beet greens and broccoli stems
  • Choosing to eat at restaurants that serve sustainably sourced food
  • Participating in community food events, like the Chicago Food Swap

Miscellaneous Projects:

  • Not buying cable
  • Homemade gifts
  • Feeding our cat and dog grain free/raw pet food
  • Using community garden plot
  • Reusing jars and bottles for all forms of storage
  • Worm composting
  • Tithing/giving to projects and people who are trying to make the world a better place in a sustainable way

We know that these projects and goals aren't static and that they will change over time, but for now this is how we do sustainable living in Chicago. We'll check back in and let you know how things are progressing. Please let us know if you have any questions.