Expo offers locally grown Thanksgiving options

It's part of a growing movement to support all things local.

Locavores are eaters committed to buying everything within a radius of about a hundred miles. So as you ponder the shopping list for this Thanksgiving, consider that you can now get everything from local farmers, many of whom are coming together next weekend at a family farmed expo in Chicago.

One now sells her produce year round from the tiny town of St. Anne.

The late autumn sky signals it's time to pull carrots out of the ground and start packing up those squashes at the Genesis Growers Farm, about an hour south of Chicago. The produce there will make its way to farmer's markets in the city and Oak Park, but most of it goes to Community Supported Agriculture, or CSAs, which has consumers buy a share of a harvest, then receive deliveries each week straight from the farm.

"Our business has probably tripled this year, and that's in difficult economic times too. So that really says a lot for the movement. We grow a very wide range of crops, and I think that differentiates us from the traditional farmer, and our market is 100 percent local," said Vicki Westerhoff, Genesis Growers.

That means a radius of about a hundred miles. Certainly, butternut, acorn and pumpkin squash is popular. But Westerhoff also grows varieties such as purple carrots, which have wide appeal for their flavor and texture.

"Our clientele is 100 percent community supported agriculture, farmer's markets and some chefs," said Westerhoff.

One of those chefs is Alex Cheswick, who runs the kitchen at May St. Market in West Town, where "local" and "seasonal" are part of the restaurant's DNA.

"I wrote an e-mail to 400 farmers, and she was one of three that e-mailed me back. I believe it's her variety that she has that's fantastic. She has it over a long time during the season," said Cheswick.

At the restaurant, turnips, kohlrabi, parsnips and other root vegetables are roasted until soft. In a giant bowl, a combination of couscous and farro serve as a grainy, neutral base for host of ingredients, including those roasted veggies, plus pumpkin seeds and fresh goat cheese. Molasses adds sweetness, while white balsamic vinegar and fresh arugula give it some bite. A giant, roasted squash makes a picturesque serving vessel, and some of that hollowed-out squash is plated along with the seasonal salad.

Cheswick says getting produce straight from the farm makes an impact on the plate.

"We like food that's gonna be a little more different; it's more natural," he said.

Next weekend, dozens of local farmers will be selling everything you need for the holiday, all in one place. It's the Family Farmed Expo, taking place at the Cultural Center downtown, lots of cooking demos from local chefs, but also a chance to meet the people who actually grow the food.

Genesis Growers
8373 E 3000 S Rd. St. Anne, IL

May Street Market
1132 W. Grand Ave.

FamilyFarmed EXPO - Nov. 21 - 23, Chicago Cultural Center Friday: business-to-business workshops targeted at farmers, producers and the trade, plus Localicious! - a locavore party featuring distinctive dishes made with locally produced foods. Saturday and Sunday: indoor farmer's market, celebrity chef cooking demos, interactive workshops with national and regional experts, local food tastings, and engaging activities for children. Tickets to the EXPO are $15 in advance and $20 at the door. Tickets to Localicious! are sold separately for $50 purchased in advance and $60 at the door.

FamilyFarmed EXPO activities for the public will feature an indoor farmer's market designed with Thanksgiving and holiday shopping in mind. More than 100 exhibitors are expected to sell Thanksgiving turkeys and other meats for the holidays, fresh fruits and vegetables, breads, pastries, cheeses, eggs, milk and specialty foods, along with locally made farm products and other goods. Information-packed workshops and lively panel discussions on Saturday and Sunday will cover a wide range of topics, many featuring some of Chicago's leading chefs, local and artisanal producers and experts in the field including Tallgrass Beef Founder BILL KURTIS, among many others. Seminars include: How to eat local and organic on a dime; Growing your own food; Locally and artisanally produced beverages; Getting to know your farmer; and The truth about food production's impact on global warming.

Cooking demos will be presented by some of the region's most distinctive food purveyors, sommeliers and renowned chefs, including: RICK BAYLESS (Frontera Grill / Topolobampo), GALE GAND (Tru), PAUL KAHAN (Blackbird), MICHAEL ALTENBERG (Crust / Bistro Campagne), GREG CHRISTIAN (Greg Christian Catering) and JASON HAMMEL (Lula Café)


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