Celebrating a full house at the 11th Annual Food For Thought workshop

For those of us who have long toiled in the garden of ecological sanity, it was refreshing to see a sign at the entrance to this year’s workshop that the event was filled to capacity. The organizers apologized for not being able to accept any last-minute registrants. This well-organized event, featuring a home-cooked lunch based on locally-grown foods, is the premier sustainable agricultural event in northern Illinois. The organizers, Richard Benning, Mary Blackmore, Terri Clark and Laura Dufford of the Northwest Illinois Audubon Society, do a stellar job.

The keynote speakers, regular presenters at the IREA’s annual Energy Fair, gave an excellent presentation about Organic Eating on a Dime, a metaphor for the concept that eating local foods in season need not be an expensive proposition. Lisa Kivirist and John Ivanko, owners of Inn Serendipity, shared many tips and recipes for enjoying sustainable, healthy foods at reasonable prices raised in a manner that minimizes adverse environmental impacts.

The couple left well-paying jobs in the corporate cubicles of Chicago for the wide open, green spaces of southwest Wisconsin. They bought an old farm house along with some acres and opened a bed and breakfast operation, started gardening and canning, increased their energy independence using wood heat, wind power and home-processed biodiesel fuel, and learned to live less consumer-oriented lifestyles. They launched a successful writing and public speaking effort that helps finance their self-selected life of simpler living. They are enjoying the changes as their enthusiastic presentation demonstrates.

John Hendrickson from the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems discussed local food systems, the economics of farmers’ markets and how consumers serve to support sustainable farm operations.

A network of local producers is necessary if people wish to increase their consumption of local foods. A series of workshops introduced the audience to a variety of local growers. A panel of local farmers—Tom Arnold, Ken Rosmann and Dan Smith—shared their experiences and successes in facing challenges and overcoming obstacles in their attempts to embrace sustainable agricultural practices. Donna Lubbers explained how her love of gardening developed into a community-supported agriculture venture. After an accounting career, Krista Liddell returned to the family farm to make yogurt from organic milk. Ralph Jones provided entertaining stories and helpful information on what is involved in turning maple sap into syrup. A square foot gardening session by Pam Rosman and Marjorie Lewis provided an overview of how to make effective use of small spaces to grow food.

When the urge to eat out strikes, it is not necessary to abandon preferences for locally-grown foods. Michelle Princer from Toni’s of Winnebago Restaurant and farmers Dave Kostka and Cindy Palombi shared their stories of how they have learned to work together to ensure tasty, locally-produced restaurant offerings.

The fledgling sustainable agriculture effort in northern Illinois is gaining momentum. Food for Thought Workshops have contributed to its development by providing an annual forum for producers and consumers to interact with one another.

Our Sixth Annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair will feature a presentation by Alisa Smith, who, with her partner J.B. MacKinnon decided somewhat impulsively to spend an entire year only eating foods grown within 100 miles of their home. Their newly-released book, The 100 Mile Diet, relates the trials and tribulations of living up to their self-imposed challenge.

The combination of high energy prices, diminishing supplies, global warming, environmental constraints and consumer demand for locally-grown, safe organic foods is likely to accelerate the trend toward local economic development as an alternative to the globalization of food.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. They have 3.2 kW of PV and a 1 kW wind generator at their home. Forty acres of their 180-acre home farm are in ecological restorations. They are also active in preserving natural areas. They are retired professors from Northern Illinois University.

from the March 28-April 3, 2007, issue

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