by Jay Kitterman, consultant, LLCC Culinary Institute
Being local has always been a goal for the Lincoln Land Community College instructional culinary classes and events. In order to learn more about being local, I interviewed Liz Moran Stelk, executive director of the Illinois Stewardship Alliance (ISA). She is a great advocate for the ISA and the local farm community.
Liz has an interesting and diverse background. Growing up in a Union household on the South Side of Chicago, Liz always had an interest in politics and the legislative process. In 2011 she discovered WWOOF-USA httpps://woofusa.org online and moved to Montana to work on an organic farm. A WWOOF host invites people to come to their organic farm to work, usually about four to six hours a day, in return for their daily food, boarding and the experience of sharing daily life with the people who live and work there. Her love for farming evolved, and she went on to serve as a regional organizer with the Western Organization of Resource Councils in Montana. When she and her husband David had their second child on the way, they returned home and she became the ISA director.
The vision statement of ISA is to “envision a system where soils are treated as a precious resource, local food producers earn a fair, living wage, local food education is integrated into all levels of education, infrastructure is rebuilt to accommodate local food systems and good food is available for all.”
From talking with Liz and from their website, I learned a great deal about Illinois food systems and the importance of supporting the organization. Did you know:
1. That 1,500 miles is the average distance that food travels before it reaches our grocery store shelves, typically spends four to seven days in travel and is picked before it is ripe? All of course compromises freshness, cost and flavor.
2. Illinois imports 95% of food we purchase. In other words, 95% of our food bill is sent out of state instead of staying local.
3. 70% of the American diet is made up of processed foods. Supporting local farm stands and markets increases access to fresh produce and proteins and helps us make healthier food choices. I am reminded of renowned foodie Michael Pollan’s rule, “If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.”
4. A local farmer’s share of each dollar spent on food has declined from 40 cents in 1960 to 17.4 cents today. Purchasing direct from farmers insures they receive every penny.
I asked Liz to talk about three or four major initiatives that ISA is addressing.
Hemp and its byproduct CBD have been in the news, and ISA has played a major role advocating to allow Illinois farmers to grow hemp. There is a lot of confusion regarding exactly what hemp is. I turned to my favorite source of scholarly information, Wikipedia. “Hemp, or industrial hemp, is a strain of the cannabis sativa plant species that is grown specifically for the industrial uses of its derived products. It is one of the fastest growing plants and was one of the first plants to be spun into usable fiber 10,000 years ago. It can be refined into a variety of commercial items, including paper, textiles, clothing, biodegradable plastics, paint, insulation, biofuel, food and animal feed.” Very simply, the CBD products on the market today are products of the hemp plant with the Tetrahydro-cannabidinol (THC) extracted. (The THC is what gets people high.)
After several years of organizing work by the Illinois Farmers Union and Illinois Stewardship Alliance, the Industrial Hemp Farming Act was passed unanimously by the Illinois General Assembly in the spring of 2018 and signed into law on August 25, 2018. The Act gave the Illinois Department of Agriculture the authority to permit farmers to grow industrial hemp in Illinois for the first time in 80 years.
The new crop has the potential to diversify the landscape in Illinois. With more than 25,000 documented uses in feed, food, fiber and CBD oil, it is a versatile crop that benefits large-scale commodity growers and small-scale growers for local markets alike. The new industry has the potential to bring thousands of dollars in investment from processing and distribution companies, while generating thousands of dollars in income for farmers. ISA Board member and farmer Chad Wallace of Oak Tree Organics is a regular vendor at the Farmers Market and can tell you all about growing Hemp. He is one of our regular stops at the Market to purchase fresh produce.
To assist hemp growers and processors in following new state regulations, the Illinois Stewardship Alliance worked with the Illinois Department of Agriculture to produce a free, downloadable guide to navigate the rules and application process. For more information, email email@example.com.
What is ISA doing to help us eat better locally? One of the many ways is the “Buy Fresh Buy Local Directory” http://www.buyfreshbuylocalcentralillinois.org/. In an effort to create a robust source of information, this guide includes farms, their farming practices, the products they raise, and the sales avenues where you can find their products. In addition, you can find farmers markets, restaurants, retailers, institutions and distributors that have pledged to source locally whenever possible. ISA has produced the directory for 10 years. ISA is working with a broad coalition to produce the first-ever, statewide local food directory that will be available in 2020.
Another major initiative of ISA is helping farmers build “soil health.” All new to me. Carol and I are city people growing up on the south side of Chicago and from living in smaller cities we have developed great respect for the role of the farmer. After graduating from college, we both worked at North Dakota State University in Fargo, and I was pleased to see that they have become leaders in the soil health movement. Soil health is all about sustaining plant and animal productivity and diversity and plays a major role in maintaining or enhancing water and air quality. Soil health, also referred to as soil quality, is defined as the continued “capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals and humans.” One example is planting cover crops: crops planted off-season after the cash crops are harvested. Cover crops reduce erosion, improve soil health, lock in nutrients and improve water quality. Common cover crops include cereal rye, hairy vetch, crimson clover and radishes.
ISA has developed a Farmer-to-Farmer Soil Health Series featuring seven different successful farmers across Illinois with their secrets to improving soil health, reducing chemical dependence and managing risk for long-term financial and environmental success. At their site there is also the Farmer-to-Farmer Video Series featuring 12 videos on topics ranging from cover crops, soil biodiversity, rotational grazing, protecting against nutrient runoff and more. One initiative the Alliance is advocating for is soil health practices on the thousands of acres that the Illinois Department of Natural Resources leases to farmers.
On Sunday, Sept. 29, ISA will be hosting their annual Harvest Celebration at Erin’s Pavilion. We have attended for a number of years, and it is an opportunity to “celebrate the bounty of the harvest.” Featured are small plates of Illinois’ finest seasonal ingredients from renowned central Illinois chefs. There is both a live and silent auction featuring fantastic foodie prizes. This year’s theme is “pollinators,” and Liz reports this year’s event will be all the “buzz.” All the proceeds benefit the ISA in supporting happy animals, wholesome food, clean water and healthy communities.
My thanks to Liz and all the work she does as director of ISA. I encourage you to visit the ISA site https://www.ilstewards.org/ to learn more about all their initiatives, and I understand there are still tickets available to attend this year’s celebration. Liz has provided us with the following recipe.
Southwest Sweet Potato & Black Bean Bowl Meal Prep
Serves one person for five lunches or feeds five
Farmers Market Shopping List
1 large bunch of kale
1 large bunch of cilantro
1 whole free-range chicken – check out Willow City Farm
1 cup dry beans—check out Breslin Farms for locally-grown beans
3 large sweet potatoes – check out Healing Acres Farm
1 package sharp cheese – check out Marcoot Jersey Creamery
Pantry & Spice List
1.5 cups quinoa
3 cups chicken stock
1 package of pre-made
guac from real avocados
2 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp cumin
Optional: 1 tsp smoked paprika
1. If you’ve purchased frozen chicken, make sure to thaw it in the refrigerator the night before.
2. Add the dry beans to a large pot and cover with 3-4 inches of water and a good pinch of salt. You can also add a bulb of garlic or quarter onion for extra flavor if you’d like. Place over high heat until water comes to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to a bare simmer. Cook until beans are completely tender, 1 to 2 hours.
3. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Rub the skin of the chicken with olive oil and season with salt, pepper or your favorite herb blend. Roast the chicken in the oven for 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours, using a meat thermometer to check the temperature. Once it hits 160 degrees you’ll want to remove it from the oven to keep from drying out.
4. While chicken is roasting, clean and chop sweet potatoes into cubes. Toss them on a greased baking sheet and drizzle with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, chili powder, cumin, paprika and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Add your baking sheet to the oven and cook for about 30 minutes, stirring the potatoes once while they’re in the oven. If you time it right, they should be done about the same time as your chicken.
5. Bring stock and quinoa to a boil. Cover the pot and turn heat to low. Let quinoa cook untouched for 25-30 minutes. All of the liquid should be soaked up.
6. Wash kale and cilantro thoroughly. Remove kale stems and tear kale leaves into pieces. Rough chop the cilantro.
7. Assemble your bowls, starting with a bed of kale, adding quinoa, sweet potatoes, black beans and chicken, and topping with cheese, guacamole and cilantro. Serve with a wedge or two of lime.
These bowls are extremely versatile and can be served hot, or cold like a salad with a squeeze of lime. If serving hot, the kale will wilt and steam in the microwave. They can also be frozen and reheated. If you plan to freeze or reheat, reserve the guacamole for adding later– because warm guac is not tasty.
Lincoln Land Community College offers associate degree programs in Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management, academic credit certificates in Culinary Arts and Baking/Pastry and non-credit courses through the LLCC Culinary Institute. For more information visit www.llcc.edu/hospitality-culinary-arts and www.llcc.edu/culinary-institute.