Farm dinners have become a popular facet of “agritourism,” with farms working with chefs to bring “farm to table” dining back to the source. Dozens are held each year just in the Chicago food region alone. But most of the participating farms are well out in the country, requiring a day trip or an overnight stay. That location is what makes The Talking Farm’s dinner on Sept. 10 distinctive. The farm is just outside Chicago’s city limits and a short Sunday drive for most residents of the metropolitan area.
“Farm to table” dining may have become commonplace on Chicago’s restaurant menus. But Chef Paul Virant was in the vanguard of the movement just 13 years when he opened Vie restaurant in the suburb of Western Springs. And he is all about giving back to the community. Within a recent three-day span, Paul did a cooking demo with the Gardeneers audience for schoolchildren in Englewood, then was the honoree for Angelic Organics Learning Center at their annual dinner.
Pilot Light is the chef-driven program that helps Chicago Public Schools integrate food and nutrition education into their students’ overall curriculum. And the nonprofit organization is prepping for its biggest expansion yet, adding eight schools to its lineup for a total of 14 around the city of Chicago.
The first thing you notice if you visit a school with a Learning Garden from The Kitchen Community non-profit organization is … joy. The chance to get their instruction outdoors instead of in the classroom — learning to put seeds in soil, nurture the plants, and then harvest the food they have grown — is something the children really seem to relish. Yet it may take a few years, at least for the little ones, to realize what serious purposes are behind this fun school time.
Imagine a school teaching Chicago children from kindergarten through 12th grade on a seven-acre campus — three of those acres devoted to urban agriculture — designed by famed architect Jeanne Gang’s Studio Gang. Imagine this school incorporating local citizenship, sustainability, Good Food, social justice and other values into its curriculum… serving organic, locally sourced, made-from-scratch food in its cafeteria… and producing more energy than it uses. Then imagine this school is not in an upscale Chicago neighborhood or tony suburb, but rather on the industrial, mostly Hispanic, mostly low-income Southwest Side. That is the vision for the expansion of the Academy for Global Citizenship — for which the charter school’s foundation will raise money at its 5th Annual Chefs Playground on June 9 at the Art Institute of Chicago.
It is alway a joyous day when FamilyFarmed gets to visit a school garden that gives children the tools to learn how to grow food and other plants. The Kitchen Community nonprofit installed a new garden at Wendell Smith Elementary on Chicago’s far South Side May 30, and the enthusiasm of the children who helped in the planting was infectious. But the trip was even more rewarding, because a $2 million donation to The Kitchen Community from Wells Fargo Bank was announced at a ceremony at the end of the installation
Tim Magner works to integrate food education with fun through Chicago-based programs such as Nature’s Farm Camp. He reports that the longterm decline in the quality and nutrition in school food is being reversed, in sync with the rise of the Good Food movement. More school gardens, more cooking classes, more efforts by many administrators to find healthier choices for students. In his article below, Tim describes the positive impact that is having for our nation’s schoolchildren and our food system in general.
The Kitchen was founded in Boulder, Colorado in 2004 and features delicious food with a strong focus on local and sustainable sourcing at its restaurants. And The Kitchen goes beyond the core Good Food principles with its strong social mission, embodied in its school learning gardens program. Johnny Anderes, head chef of the The Kitchen location in Chicago, discussed the restaurant’s Good Food practices.