Chicago writer explores the partnership between chefs and the farmers who grow food for them

Profiling 25 Midwestern farms in her book Locally Grown: Portraits of Artisanal Farms from America’s Heartland (Agate Midway 2012; $22.95), Anna Blessing tells us the story of each including its history, roots in the community, scale, production and inner workings as well as the premiere Chicago chefs such as Rick Bayless, Stephanie Izard, Sarah Stegner and Paul Kahan who rely upon these food producers for what they cook in their restaurants.
“I wanted to share the stories of these amazing farmers,” says Blessing, a writer and photographer who lives in Chicago. “It’s so easy to forget where our food comes from and to take for granted the miracle of growing food. I want to celebrate the care that these farmers put into their craft, the respect they have for this work and the ways in which the intentional effort has had and continues to have both a dramatic and positive impact on the way our food tastes and the health of the environment in which it’s grown.”
Anna Blessing
Taking photos and talking to the chefs who buy from the farmers as well as getting the recipes they create from the farms, Blessing devotes a chapter to each farm but further organizes them into categories.  In Part 1: Refashioning the Family Farm, Blessing takes us to seven farms including the fourth generation Gunthorp Farm in LaGrange, Indiana where Craig Gunthorp determined to keep raising pigs even though in 1988 he was selling them for less than the price his grandfather had gotten during the Depression. But then, after speaking about sustainable agriculture at a conference, Gunthorp was given the number of a restaurant looking for a pig farmer. The number turned out to be Charlie Trotter’s.
Part 2: Moving from the City to the Farm takes us to such farmers as Jess Piskor and Abra Berens who own Bare Knuckle Farm in Northport, Michigan by way of Ann Arbor and, for Abra who attended Ballymaloe Cookery School in southern Ireland. Part 4 takes us in the opposite direction, farming that moves to the city. Here she profiles, among others, Rick Bayless, owner and chef at Frontera Grill, Topolobampo and XOCO restaurants and also host of the TV show One Plate at a Time, who has a 1000-square-foot production farm in his backyard.
“The chefs are so essential to promoting locally based eating because they are the ones with the voice and the ones who we as eaters look up to and want to learn from,” says Blessing, who in her book also tells the best places to find, buy and eat sustainably grown food and details on visiting the farms in her book. “When they say this is the best way to grow food and these are the farmers to support, it’s very strong endorsement.”
Ifyougo:
What: Anna Blessing will be joined by farmer Abra Berens from Michigan’s Bare Knuckle Farm to talk about her book and artisanal farmers
When: Wednesday, September 19 at 7:30pm
Where: Women and Children First, 5233 N. Clark St.,Chicago, IL
Cost: Free
FYI: 773-769-9299

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