Monthly Archives: July 2011

Filled Up or Fed Up: John Edel

John Edel is the owner and developer of the Chicago Sustainable Manufacturing Center, a green business incubator in the Stockyards Industrial Corridor. As General Contractor, Edel took the facility from a burnt-out shell to 100% occupancy while using a mixture of waste-stream recycled materials and leading edge technology to make the building exceptionally energy efficient and pleasantly non-toxic.

AE: Filled up or fed up, John?

JE: I’m filled up with the generosity of people.

AE: What do you mean?

JE: As the Director of Plant Chicago, I am overseeing the rehabbing of a former meatpacking plant (the building we now call “The Plant”) into a vertical farm and artisanal food business incubator, as well as research and education center. Notably, the whole building will be off the grid, using food waste to create its own electricity and heat. Most of our deconstruction and re-construction of the building relies on volunteers, which means people give up their free time – time they could be spending with their families or friends – to help us reach our goal. (more…)

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Endangered Food

A friend passed along a must-read article from the National Geographic about the importance and the implications of protecting different varieties of seed. It’s troubling – to say the least – to think that varieties of heirloom vegetables and grain are heading for extinction. This is one of the outcomes of modern commercial farming. Agribusiness relies heavily on growing crops that can withstand just about anything, and that will yield the most output. It’s business, right?

They consistently have to bring bushels and bushels of crop to market, and so they are using the best of science and technology to take some of the risks out of farming. This means genetically altering seed to make them resistant to drought, insects, and other environmental hazards. It means genetically splicing the most robust, highest producing seeds until we are left with the superman of all seeds. What’s wrong with efficiency and effectiveness in the name of growing business? (more…)

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Money and Food

It seems like a lot of articles coming across my virtual desk these days are talking about quality food and associated costs. Most of you know something about this. Taco Bell can sell a taco for 79 cents while Whole Food sells organic almonds close to 8 dollars a pound. I had a real dose of reality when I recently visited my grandparents and witnessed what they ate. Up until this point, I had romanticized their eating habits. Before my grandfather retired, he ran a grocery store. And with his brothers, they ran an apple orchard, a wholesale business, and other food stores. I remember growing up and overhearing stories of this or that farmer and how good his crop was this year. Indeed, I tasted some of the best corn on the cob during my childhood summers there. So I always had the notion that my grandparents were tied to local farms, good eats and other wholesome principles like not wasting food. Last weekend I saw my grandpa eating a bag of Combo’s and then explaining that he got it for a dollar. We went grocery shopping and he cruised the aisles looking for deals…looking for cheap food. He can even tell you where the cheapest pizza buffet is in his hometown. He no longer cares for the quality, he just wants a good price! (more…)

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Film Review: Queen of the Sun

Simply put: go see this documentary film. It beautifully illustrates the delicate interconnectedness between bees and the rest of the planet in a very poetic and encompassing way. Most “environmental documentaries” are powerful because they provide visuals to the causes they are addressing. After watching Food, Inc. – I changed my diet. Queen of the Sun has an even greater impact because it’s such a well-constructed movie. I don’t like the idea of getting stung, but my wife and I were dreaming about raising bees after seeing the film! The director Taggart Siegel found the most engaging beekeepers and other bee advocates to tell the story of colony collapse disorder. Basically, bees up and leave their homes and we don’t know why. The documentary explores multiple answers including monocultures, insecticides and the use of other harmful chemicals, and the damage done by the commercial breeding of bees. Indeed, anyone just getting into the environmental implications of our current food system would benefit from watching this film. It does a nice job of covering a lot of staple topics like GMOs, organic vs. conventional, and others. What takes this film over the top, though, is how it hits transcendental notes like art, philosophy, and spirituality. The film’s tagline is “what are the bees telling us?” – apparently quite a lot. So be careful – the call to action is beyond persuasive. You will want to help out those little, fuzzy guys.

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Food and Farming 101 – Part 2

After writing the first installment, I realized a Part 2 was necessary.

Wine is an interesting case study. Water, earth, and sun all contribute to the grape and the characteristics that will ultimately take effect in the final product. Wine enthusiasts know, for example, the various growing seasons of the Russian River Valley over the past 10 years and how that impacted the quality of the vintage each year. Too much rain did this to the grape, or a late Indian summer did that to the wine. So it seems that whole game of vintages which fuels the industry and collectors alike is dependent on unpredictable climate changes. Just as long as they aren’t destroyed completely! (more…)

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Food and Farming 101

Plants need water, earth and sun to grow. They have a life cycle. Early spring is typically when it gets warm enough to plant things and have them start growing. If you live in a warmer climate where it’s sunny year-round, then you will have more frequent access to fresh produce. This is why lots of the produce you see in the store comes from places like southern California, Texas and Mexico where they can grow a steadier crop supply. And everything is flipped in the Southern Hemisphere, so you can get nice produce during their summer while it’s winter here. This cycle ends with harvest time and an abundance of great food, as we reap the rewards of the growing season before it gets cold again. (more…)

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Roasted Vegetable Quinoa Salad

If you don’t know what quinoa is or how to pronounce it, you should. It’s a gluten-free grain that’s loaded with protein and other good stuff. It’s also very versatile and I like mixing into it a wide variety of things…like vegetables, nuts, dried fruits, meat, etc. After coming home from the farmers market this weekend loaded with lots of great vegetables, I decided to roast them, chop them, and mix them with some quinoa. It makes a nice dish you can serve hot or cold. Try to pick veggies that get some great caramelization on them – like carrots, beets, onions – to give it a sweet, flavorful kick. I went with broccoli, corn, carrots, grape tomatoes to give the salad lots of color.

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