The Life and Times of Green Grocer Chicago
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If there are any people out there reading this blog, let me first apologize for being away so long! Last time I wrote, Chicago was under a blanket of snow, sludge and mild depression. Now, on this lovely Memorial Day Monday, it has rained (happy plants out on my deck) and now it's cool and mild. I love Chicago again.
I also love the produce that has started to roll in from our local farmers! Asparagus, morels, lettuce, collards, kale, and more. Every week brings new and exciting seasonal produce. Rhubarb has started coming in well and to honor it, I whipped up a lovely rhubarb compote to put over vanilla ice cream (link to recipe: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Rhubarb-Compote-234450). My husband and I have also been eating our daily dose of asparagus to make sure we are absolutely sick of it by the time the season is done. Roast it, grill it or eat it raw-I love it! A breakfast favorite has been roasted aspargus (375 degrees for about 12-14 minutes depending on the size of the stalks) with a fried egg on top. Mmmmmm good!
Anyhow, I'll try not to be away too much. The good news is that our store has gotten much busier this spring. I thank our regular customers as well as the new folks who have come to check us out. We are also lucky enough to have gotten our liquor license (quite a feat in the City of Chicago) as well as a small "loading zone" parking spot in front of our store. All these things add up to more business, for which we are incredibly thankful. Anyhow, happy spring and I'll write soon!
Posted by Cassie
@ 06:03 PM CDT
In running a small grocery store that works primarily with small and local farms and producers, you get to deal with situations that stores like Jewel and Whole Foods never even dream about (or have nightmares about as it were). On most days, I wouldn’t trade what we do and the way we do it for all the money in the grocery industry. There are, however, days where I wish I had the same stability and back up plans that these large and well established companies have. For example, can you imagine that a milk vendor would call Jewel and say “sorry our truck broke down so we can’t bring you any milk this week”? Of course not! Well, that was just the call that I got from our beloved Blue Marble Milk Farm last week.
For those of you not familiar with Blue Marble Farm, let me first say you are missing out and you should immediately go out and try any one of their delicious dairy products. That being said, they are a small, family-run dairy out of Barneveld, Wisconsin. Nick, his wife, and their six kids care for and milk about 75 cows that graze on 450 acres of pasture. Not only do they care for the animals and the land, they also pasteurize and bottle the milk right there on their property. This allows them complete quality control which in turn leads to “the best milk I’ve ever had” (this is a quote from a number of our customers). They also deliver their milk…well, most of the time.
After a much needed holiday hiatus for Nick and his family, I begged them to deliver to us right after the New Year, before they were originally planning to return to Chicago. It took a little convincing but he agreed and on January 2nd, he milked a huge order for us. My customers were chomping at the bit to get their much-loved milk back on January 3rd. Tragically, on the evening of the 2nd, we got a call from the farm that their one and only refrigerated truck broke down and would not be making it to Chicago. They needed a part, mechanic couldn’t get it, yadda yadda, we’ve all been there! So, we had no milk. Well, we were able to get a small amount of Organic Valley milk for emergency purchases but for most of our customers (who want Blue Marble only), we had no milk.Thankfully, by the following Wednesday their truck was repaired and they were able to bring us our order but it was a strange feeling to have to say to people “yes I own a grocery store and no, I have no milk”. It’s especially strange in a country like ours where we are rarely told no and can always find whatever we are looking for. Really, could you imagine walking into Dominicks and hearing they have no milk? No, they’ve got a bunch of distributors who are pumping out quantity to ensure they are never out. Quantity they’ve got but what about quality? When dealing on that large scale, it is nearly impossible get the taste and health benefits you get from foods produced by small, artisan, family-run operations. Yes, it sometimes would be nice to always have supply of something but if that were the case, I wonder what I’d risk losing in terms of quality. I suppose when it comes right down to it, I’d rather take my chances with Nick and his old truck.
Posted by Cassie
@ 09:23 PM CST
As another holiday season passes us by and the New Year approaches, I find myself in the same conundrum many do : To resolve or not to resolve. Like many of us in this land of plenty we call America, I spend the month between Thanksgiving and New Year's basically throwing dietary caution to the wind, eating whatever I want and mostly eschewing any regular exercise routine. And heck, I own an organic grocery store so if I can't find a way to eat healthily, who can?
As my family gatherings and friends' parties wind down, I ask myself the annual question-What are my New Year's resolutions? A few favorites include: Lose 10 lbs, completely cut out sugar and white flour, eat only raw, eat only vegan, eat only raw and vegan, run 20 miles a week, do yoga every morning, meditate every night....and the list goes on. Now, I call them my favorites because it seems like every year, the same resolutions come up, meaning that each year I "fail" myself and my resolve. I find New Year's Day almost as exciting as a five-year-old might find Christmas morning, waking up to the dawn of the day where I become a better person. My enthusiasm (and stringent commitment to my list of resolutions) usually lasts 3-4 days at which point I get so annoyed with my own strictness that I promptly dive into a batch of organic cookies, candies, a stick of butter or whatever else I manage to get my paws on. So, is the idea of a New Year's resolution just stupid or was I just being stupid about my approach?
Last year, when we opened our little organic grocer (Green Grocer Chicago), I made a more reasonable resolution: try to eat as much local and organic food as possible. I realized that so many of my old resolutions came from a place of vanity more than anything else. What was different about last year was that I was looking at a bigger picture than just myself. For the most part, eating local and organic foods are great for one's health (of course there are some that still need to be eaten very moderately-baked goods, desserts, meats, chips, etc). Locally grown produce (especially that which is also grown organically) has better chance of retaining the invaluable nutrients and vitamins than produce that has been shipped across the country or the world. Also, local produce almost always tastes better! Eating within the seasons of your region means that not everything is available all the time but when it is available, it's probably going to rock your world. I can't tell you the amount of times that I hear from our customers that some vegetable or fruit was "the best they had ever had", not because of anything that I do but because the local farmers are growing for taste, not transportability. Also, what a great sense of security that we personally know most of our growers. When the "tainted tomato" scare of this past summer occured, grocers and restaurants were pulling tomatoes off their shelves faster than you can say "salmonella". We just called Floyd, our tomatofarmer in Southern Illinois, and asked if we had anything to worry about. He said absolutely not. End of story. Our tomatoes were safe and delicious.
Probably one of the biggest reasons that I'm also happy eating a majority local and organic foods is the positive environmental impact I'm supporting. The less pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, antibiotics, hormones and such that end up in our soil and our water supply (not to mention our bodies), the better. That's one of those common sense facts that most people would simply have to agree with (I suppose unless you are the CEO of a pesticide manufacturer). Also, the reduction of transporting foods all around the globe reduces air pollution and dependance on fossil fuels, foreign or otherwise. Again, less pollution=good, less reliance on a non-renewable resource=good, clean water=good, fertile soil=good.
So this year when you are thinking about your New Years resolutions, how about making it one that makes you feel good (mentally and physically), helps your local economy and helps the environment? Sure sounds better than "lose 10 pounds", right?
If you have questions about how to eat locally and organically on a budget, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by Cassie
@ 12:26 PM CST
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