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Awake at the Whisk: Livin’ Locavore in Illinois

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Livin’ Locavore in Illinois

I grew up in the rural Midwest. Back there, eating food grown in your garden isn’t a movement. It’s just what people do.

In fact, until I left home and was thrust into a world of readily-available fast food, I totally took this lifestyle for granted.

On a recent visit home, I got to relive those glory days: breakfasts of locally grown poached eggs that my dad got from a farmer friend. Plus, wild morel mushrooms sautéed in butter—mushrooms hunted from our own back yard and supplemented by another farmer friend. Plus, (yes, there’s more!) warm rhubarb muffins made with rhubarb picked from the giant patch in the yard.

Other local fare included fresh farm curd cheese from a local dairy where Mom and I got to pet the baby Jersey calves that had just been born. After purchasing more local cheese right on the farm, we drove to the local microbrewery for some handcrafted beers served with an order of fried curd cheese from the same local dairy we just visited.

I was in hog heaven! We even made an attempt to visit a nearby winery, but alas, they were closed by the time we arrived.

Remember: all this fabulous wine and cheese tasting was not taking place in Napa. It was taking place in the heart of Illinois.

Yet, visiting a local dairy and buying their cheese on-site wasn’t always possible. The Ropp family’s store hasn’t been open long. In fact, when they first approached the County to propose their business plan, they were voted down 9 to 0! The good folks on the County Board said they didn’t want every farmer to start doing what the Ropps were suggesting: selling their food right at their farm. Preposterous!

Thankfully, the Ropps wouldn’t take no for an answer. They continued to petition until they were successfully able to open their farm-based cheese shop under a new, “agri-tourism” code. Yet, the privilege comes with a caveat: they may sell any items grown on a local farm, but they may not sell “groceries.”

Funny, but the way I was raised, “groceries” were the same as the food growing on farms.

Sadly, that is not the case anymore. The majority of the items found in a grocery store really aren’t food at all. Mostly, they’re chemicals.

But I digress. My story is about eating locally in Illinois. The Ropp family is now welcome to sell farm items at their lovely farm shop. Their store carries candles made from goat milk, lip balm made from bee wax, and this summer, they’ll have fresh produce from area farmers.

I can’t wait to go back to Illinois again next year! Who says the Midwest isn’t paradise?!

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