Locally Grown: Portraits of Artisanal Farms from America’s Heartland
If there is one idea, one image, one thing that seems to be endemic in the minds and imaginations of the many of the rest of America, it’s that the Midwest and Plains are full of bucolic family farms, where chickens run at the feet of wholesome children and every supper is chock full of home-baked bread, hearty pickles, and meat from one’s own herd. Well, there may still be some of that, but the reality is that much of the agriculture in the Flyover States is industrial and that the family farm has a difficult time surviving against the corporate invasion. But there ARE some farms (and farmers) that fit, well, maybe not quite the picture painted above but perhaps something similar or even better.
Tucked into an industrial monoculture agricultural model are small farms producing heirloom produce and artisanal goods. Some of these farms have been in the same family for generations; others have been started by people who are new to farming, but have deep-seated beliefs about how food should be raised (e.g. organically). What farms like these share is a commitment to personal values.
Thanks to Anna Blessing’s informative (and inspiring) book Locally Grown, you have a chance to meet the people who grow heirloom vegetables and humanely raise poultry and livestock on a smaller, more local scale. Blessing’s book allows us to chat with (via book form) those farmers who are breaking away from the monocultural, industrial model. The reader can find out about the farming practices used by these farmers. We get to meet Greg Gunthorp, of Lagrange, Indiana’s Gunthorp Farms, who raises meat and poultry. We meet Mick Klug and his daughter Abby, who raise fruits and vegetables in southwestern Michigan. We meet Wes Jarrell and Leslie Cooperband, who run Champaign, Illinois’ Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery, a farmstead goat creamery. These producers—and others—are featured in the book.
The book’s subtitle is Portraits of Artisanal Farms from America’s Heartland, but Blessing is really focusing on farms known to supply some of Chicago’s best restaurants. So, that means the book does have a Chi-town-centric approach, but it’s accessible nonetheless. The photography is inviting and enough information is given so that the Heartland foods enthusiast can track down the growers by themselves. And, of course, a link to restaurants and their chefs (e.g. Rick Bayless) means that you’ll find recipes in Locally Grown as well! The recipes utilize the foods grown or made by the producers featured in the book, but you can certainly use what you find at your local farmers market. A few recipes might have ingredients that are difficult to find—I don’t think, for example, that I’ve ever seen a lipstick pepper in my life—but one can easily find substitutes for such elements.
In short, Anna Blessing’s Locally Grown is a welcome addition to any cooking enthusiast or any person interested in foods produced in a more sustainable and local manner. She sheds light on what has been, up to now, an unfortunately neglected part of America’s food culture.