Last week's speech by Eric Schlosser took place at the the Chicago Green City Market. The Chicago Green City Market, Chicago's "only sustainable green market", is held every Wednesday in Lincoln Park at 1750 North between Clark and Stockton between 7:00am and 1:30pm from May 19th to October 27th. What makes the Green City Market different from other farmer's markets around the city and around the country are the strict guidelines producers must abide by to be eligible for the market.
I have a copy of the questionnaire which probes deeply into the farming and production practices of prospective vendors. A sample of the questions -
4. What practices do you follow to produce a high quality product?
5. How do your production methods reflect "harmony with nature, showing care and respect for the earth." Explain.
7 a. Do you use any purchased products or inputs to control your weeds? Which? Describe your weed control practices:
7 b. Do you use any purchased products or inputs to control insects and disease? Which? Describe your insect and disease control practices:
Other questions ask for details of feed supplements, confinement practices, and health maintenance of livestock for those selling animal products, and questions that root out just how much of a processed product (like cheese, honey, jams, sandwiches) is actually made by the producer and how much is just assembled. It's a high standard. Getting into the market requires organic farming methods for foods produced locally (locally is understood to include Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan, as well as Illinois), and under sustainable conditions that won't destroy the soil or harm livestock lines.
Why is this important? Not only do you get pesticide-free vegetables from a market like this, you also get better tasting vegetables and more variety. A commercial producer of tomatoes can only sell big round tomatoes that are picked green and gassed at the warehouse to induce the turn to red. An organic producer who is going to the Chicago Green City Market has control over the transport of the vegetables and fruits and knows they won't have to sit for long periods of time before being sold. He can pick an ugly but flavorful tomato or peach and bring it to market knowing it will find a buyer who will appreciate the intense flavor of fruits and vegetables allowed to grow and ripen naturally. Basically, better farming methods and local markets lead to better foods for you.
The market takes advantage of the rich talent pool of local chefs each week, who come to demonstrate techniques and dishes for which they are famous. Rick Bayless from Topolobampo and the Frontera Grill was the guest June 9th, Gale Gand from Tru and the Food Network's Sweet Dreams gave a demonstration July 21st, and tomorrow, Janice Martin from Tweet on North Sheridan Road will be in attendance. Paul Kahan from Blackbird will be the guest September 22nd, and on other days chefs from the Four Seasons, The Everest Room, Pili Pili, and the Milk and Honey Cafe will show their stuff. Recipes from these demonstrations are on their site.
That the market exists only for a short time each year and only on Wednesday mornings and early afternoons is Chicago's shame. That it exists at all is due to the pride and hard work of writer, chef, activist, and author Abby Mandel.
If there's justice in the world, Abby Mandel will eventually become better known for her role in developing the Chicago Green City Market, now in its 5th year, than for her best-selling cookbooks or the classes she teaches. Mandel writes a weekly food column for the Chicago Tribune and the Dallas Morning News that's run for the last 15 years, and is a former editor of Bon Appetit.
Her work with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley helped to bring the market into being in Lincoln Park. I hope she'll continue her work and try to expand the market's presence into a more permanent location where Chicagoans can enjoy local organic produce year-round.
I took a batch of photos at last week's market. The deep colors of the produce, the variety of products available, and the rich scents everywhere (especially by the herb tent) don't come across completely in these pictures, but I hope you'll get a sense for what you're missing if you don't get a chance to get to the market.