About Hannah Radner: Hannah Radner will be an intern this summer at Sandhill Organics in Prairie Crossing, IL (Grayslake). Hannah just completed her second year at the University of Chicago, where she is double-majoring in Anthropology and Environmental Studies. She is a member of the varsity cross-country and track teams and a volunteer coach for Girls on the Run, an after-school program for 3rd-5th grade girls. Hannah is currently working as a research assistant in the University of Chicago Hospitals and also has experience a piano accompanist. Hannah has volunteered in Haiti, Burundi, Uganda, and Mississippi on projects including rural medical clinics, AIDS education, and hurricane relief. She is proficient in French and Spanish.
Hannah is interested in the environmental and social characteristics of small-scale agriculture and sees education and personal relationships as key to redesigning regional food sheds. These interests were strengthened last summer, when she worked as a baker and cook at a bistro in the Colorado Rocky Mountains that worked directly with local farms to source its ingredients. She is also interested in the role of agriculture in developing countries and is currently studying the environmental implications of farming in rural Haiti.
I can’t believe that I only have one week left at Sandhill. Have ten weeks really passed since that first day of picking radishes in the mud? The cooler weather seems to be telling me that yes, the summer is coming to an end, and I must soon go back to school in the city. I wish I could stay here for the fall. Already the air is crisp, the leaves are beginning to change color, and groups of schoolchildren are visiting the farm. All of us on the farm (except the tomatoes) are enjoying the respite from the heat and humidity. I am taking advantage of the changing seasons by cooking soups and roasting root vegetables, going for long runs in the nearby forest preserve, and curling up with some good books inside our cozy red farmhouse.
Yesterday I learned a skill that will allow me to bring some of the farm back with me to the city. My housemate, Nathan, taught me how to preserve food using a hot water bath method. Together, we made cinnamon applesauce using leftover apples from past weeks’ fruit shares. It’s so simple and I cannot wait to enjoy my jars of applesauce all winter long. Next up: tomato sauce. I only wish I could bring back the wildflowers, willows, coyote call lullabies, and days spent outside, too!
Since early summer, the entire farm has seemed to be waiting with baited breath for tomato season. We suckered, clipped, tied, sprayed, and irrigated the plants until they towered above our heads, heavy with green fruit. Every week, customers at market asked when the tomatoes would be ready. I am happy to say that the wait has ended, and the tomato harvest is at its peak. Indeed, in less than a week, nearly 8,000 pounds of tomatoes have been harvested from the farm. The biggest haul was on Sunday, at the Jubilee, an annual event during which CSA members visit the farm and pick their own tomatoes—up to 40 pounds each. Almost 200 families braved the heat and filled their baskets, bags, and boxes with tomatoes of all shapes and sizes: Red slicers, yellow taxis, tiny Juliets, and heirlooms.
The CSA members marveled at the visual variety of the tomatoes, shared recipes for sauces and salsas, and exclaimed what a good time they had picking tomatoes in the fields. One boy, who looked to be about twelve years old, raved about how much he liked the way the Juliets had ripened. He explained that he was going to use them to make and preserve his special hot sauce—a recipe he created on his own. A budding chef, perhaps? For us crew members, it was equally fun and extremely gratifying to witness everyone’s interest and enthusiasm in the plants we’ve been coddling since the beginning of the summer. It was well worth the work and the wait. Enjoy your tomatoes, everyone!
Perhaps the biggest perk of living and working at Sandhill is the bounty of fresh, organic produce to which I have access. As a passionate cook and conscious eater on a student budget, this is a quite a treat. Crew members can take home “seconds”—anything that is extra or that we are unable to sell (a bunch of beets that fell on the ground, for example). Additionally, we are allowed to pick small quantities of anything we want directly from the fields. At the end of the workday, I bring home an armful of whatever we harvested, which, with a few minor manipulations, becomes my dinner.
This is the standard cooking method that I have developed on the farm: Sautee the following in lots of olive oil and/or butter:
along with potatoes and squash. Add salt and pepper. That’s it! Recommended accompaniments are thinly sliced raw cabbage, a fried egg, and a sprinkling of grated cheese. It’s so simple and sooo delicious. My spice collection has sat untouched on the counter all summer because everything tastes so good on its own!
One of the joys of working the farmers’ market is encouraging customers to try new varieties of produce and making recommendations about how to cook and eat them. I especially love telling people about varieties with which I was previously unfamiliar. My new favorite discovery is the ground cherry—a small, tomatillo-looking fruit that tastes wonderfully sweet and nutty. When it is ripe, the fruit, which is enclosed in a papery covering, falls to the ground (hence its name). The first time I harvested ground cherries, crawling on my hands and knees to gather the fruits from under their bushes, the majority of them went straight into my mouth. Mmmmm… If you haven’t tried a ground cherry, stop by the Oak Park Farmers’ Market and we’ll give you a taste!
One of my favorite parts about Prairie Crossing is the abundance of wild fruit that grows alongside many of the surrounding trails. I have picked mulberries, raspberries, and chokecherries, and I’ve seen several apple trees as well. There is also a garden around the corner from the farm, where apples, pears, grapes, raspberries, and other fruits grow on a small patch of land and are available to Prairie Crossing homeowners. Such “edible landscaping” is pretty, practical, and a potential contributor to food production in urban areas.
Have you ever noticed the ornamental cabbages growing in planters along Michigan Ave? What if the city planted edible species instead? What if fruit trees, berry-producing shrubs, climbing plants (such as grapes, beans, and peas), edible flowers, and fragrant and flavorful herbs were integrated with non-edible species and became a common feature of city landscaping? Such landscaping has many advantages: it’s attractive, makes use of existing space that is available for planting, produces fresh, local, and nutritious food, and increases city dwellers’ sense of connection to their natural environment. Schools, businesses, apartment buildings, and individual homes could all integrate edible plants into their landscape design.
Many cities are already involved in edible landscaping. In Toronto, Ontario the organization Not Far From the Tree helps harvest fruit grown on trees throughout the city that would otherwise go to waste. The harvest is split between volunteers, tree-owners, and local food banks and community organizations. Last year, they picked over 8,000 lbs of fruit! Berkely, CA is home to the Edible Schoolyard, a one-acre garden and kitchen classroom at Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School founded in 1995 by the Chez Panisse Foundation. The Edible Schoolyard now has an affiliate network of projects across the country. The international Food Not Lawns movement encourages communities to grow edible gardens and share their harvest. (See http://www.foodnotlawns.net/).
As we look towards redesigning the Chicago food shed in order to “feed the city” with locally-produced food, we should take into consideration the city’s existing landscaping and its potential to grow edible varieties of plants.
A few weeks ago, I blogged about the Breaking Through Concerte team's visit to Sandhill Organics at the end of their country-wide tour of urban farms, which they are documenting on a website and later turning into a book. They just published this article about Sandhill online, which includes a short video of Mike Sands, executive director for the Liberty Prairie Foundation and a previous managing director of the Rodale Institute, discussing how peri-urban farms like Sandhill can play a role in "feeding the city." The article also explains the history and approach of Prairie Crossing, the residential development that is home to Sandhill. Check it out at http://www.grist.org/article/food-prairie-crossing-in-illinois.
On another note, I have fallen in love with the names of vegetable varieties. For example, we grow Marathon, Gypsy, and Diplomat broccoli. Check out these seedlings: