Industrial Harvest


Ernie’s Apple Cake by sarah kavage

An addendum to yesterday’s post on Edgewater / Care For Real.  Ernie Constantino, who hooked me up with Care For Real, Tom Robb and Mary Ann Smith, was introduced to me at least in part due to his excellence at pie baking.  He lives in Edgewater, so he and his partner stopped by one chilly Saturday morning and took home 40 pounds of whole wheat pastry flour. Ernie has since become one of my most dedicated test bakers, sending me detailed reports on flour performance and recipes.  Here’s Ernie’s recipe for apple cake.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Ernie Constantino’s Apple Cake

Ernie’s report:  “the cake was well-received in spite of my feeling it was way too sweet! … so if you forward this recipe, please give them my notes that the sugar could be reduced by at least 1/2 cup (btw, I used Turbinado/Raw sugar) and also the amount of batter was too much for a standard bundt tube pan …. also it was very moist which is good taste-wise but it crumbled easily esp. with the amount of apples called for in middle of cake … nutrition-wise, I think with the unpeeled hand-picked apples and WWPF*, canola oil, OJ, walnuts and eggs, it’s a winner!”
*whole wheat pastry flour.  Ernie is not the first person to use this acronym, though I’ve avoided it.

This recipe is un-adjusted to reflect Ernie’s notes above.  You can decide about the sugar yourself.

instruction ingredients
Chop and combine 6 apples 

1 Tbl cinnamon

5 Tbl sugar

Mix in large bowl 2 ¾ cups whole wheat flour 

1 Tbl baking powder

1 tsp salt

Whisk and mix with above 1 cup vegetable oil 

¼ cup orange juice

2 cups sugar

2 ½ tsp vanilla

1 cup chopped nuts

Add 4 eggs

Pour half of batter into greased tube pan. Spread half of apple mixture on batter. Pour remaining batter then remaining apples on top.

Bake in 350 degree oven for 90 minutes.



Care for Real by sarah kavage
Been a few weeks, eh?  Beware – once you get back to the northwest time just starts slipping away again.  This post has been slow going. I’ve been consumed by trying to re-enter into Seattle life.  Work.  Friends, cat, husband.  So many birthdays (including mine).  A freezing cold apartment.  All compounded by the considerable motivational wallop that a northwest winter always brings.  I’ve been persisting, though and slowly, slowly working my way through a few last reports of my time in Chicago. 

So without further ado:  the final flour donation in Chicago was to Care For Real, a food pantry in Edgewater.  Edgewater was home base during my stay in Chicago, and it was good to me.  Well-treed, not too gentrified with a wide variety of buildings and residents (many of them immigrants or refugees), Edgewater is tucked away by the lake on Chicago’s far north side.  True, it’s less convenient to get to most other places in the city, but it’s also a refuge from the rest of the city.  I described it to husband Rob as “the Brooklyn of Chicago” and when he came to visit he agreed.

I wanted to give back to my home away from home, and it seemed appropriate that the donation to Care For Real was the last one.  I was introduced to Care For Real and its director Tom Robb by Ernie Constantino, who works for 48th ward Alder(wo)man Mary Ann Smith (for readers who are not from Chicago, the 48th ward includes Edgewater; an Alderman is similar to a city councilperson).  The pantry is run out of a tiny storefront in the 6000 block of North Broadway.  Care For Real, like all the food banks and pantries I have talked to, is bursting at the seams trying to serve the ever-growing numbers of clients in need.  When I asked Tom how much flour he wanted, he said, laughing, “I might freak out if it’s over 700 pounds.”  When I arrived, I understood his reply.  There was a front room where the clients signed in and picked up food; it contained a packed waiting area of about 20 chairs, a small school desk and several tables overflowing with food donations from the big grocery stores that are practically right across the street.  In back was a couple of offices and a maze of racks, cabinets and refrigerators all crammed into a space maybe 20 by 40 feet, maybe not even that much.  Here is what part of it looks like:

backstage at Care For Real

backstage at Care For Real

Mary Ann Smith also showed up for a little meet & greet and to pose for some photos on her way to another meeting.  Here we are “unloading the van” (which basically means that Nate and a few volunteers did most of the unloading and we all stood around and got in the way of everyone trying to do actual work and took pictures of it).

Unloading at Care For Real:  Sarah, Nate, Mary Ann 

Unloading at Care For Real: Sarah, Nate, Mary Ann

There was just barely room for the flour in the storage racks.  Fred, who volunteers weekly, was both strong and nimble enough to maneuver 14 bags of flour into place on the shelves.  I was a little worried about the lack of refrigerated space for the whole wheat pastry flour, but with the holidays coming up, the staff assured me that it would not sit for long.

Fred, stocking with a smile

Fred, stocking with a smile



Fraternite Notre Dame by sarah kavage

On Monday, I went to visit the Sisters at Fraternite Notre Dame, a convent in the Austin neighborhood on Chicago’s far west side.   FND was one of the first flour recipients – back in early July, they took a ton of all-purpose flour to use for their food pantry and kitchen.  Not only do they run a soup kitchen, they fund the soup kitchen by selling French pastries – tarts, croissants – at farmers’ markets around Chicago (The pastries turn up in the soup kitchen too).  I’d been wanting to see their operation all summer and finally, during my last week in Chicago, we were able to arrange a visit.

Having worked with nuns in the past, I am never quite sure what to think of them.  Put mildly, they’re a throwback to another time, and these nuns, not only nuns but French, seem especially out of place.  I hold pretty negative opinions about the Catholic church, but did want to acknowledge the strong commitment to service that these women have.  And all of this made me even more curious to check out what went on in their kitchen.

I arrived as the nuns were in the middle of serving up their daily lunch for the homeless and poor in the neighborhood.  Austin is a neighborhood with a long history – originally a (generally) working class white neighborhood that experienced a long, and especially infamous, transition into one that was (and still is) largely black.  I just began reading Amanda Seligman’s book Block by Block, which chronicles the history of racial transformation in Austin.  The author’s thesis is that systemic disinvestment in the neighborhood, lack of political influence, and neglect of the building stock go back long before the racial changes and white flight began.  The nuns (French, from a breakaway sect of the Catholic church) moved into this melieu about 10 years ago and see about 200 people a day come through their doors for lunch.  When I asked if they ever had to turn anyone away, Sister Marie replied “how can you say yes to one and no to another?”

In the kitchen at Fraternite Notre Dame

In the kitchen at Fraternite Notre Dame

FND, like most of the other agencies I’ve talked to and visited, have seen the number of people in their soup kitchen line grow and grow over the last few years.  The nuns start their day early in the morning with mass, then cooking in the soup kitchen, then serving and cleaning up (people line up for lunch starting at 10 am; lunch starts at 11 and goes till 1).  Once that’s done, they begin making pastries.  Sometimes they work till midnight, sometimes even later if there’s a market the next day,  because the pastries need to be fresh.  They  go through about 400 pounds of flour a week.

pastries to go

pastries to go

As part of my visit, Sister Marie brought me to an upstairs dining room where there was a table set with some juice and a platter of a dozen or so small pastries in white paper nests.  For me.  I was a little dumb-founded – charmed by the decidedly European-style over the top hospitality and the beautiful treats, foggy with a killer head cold, and feeling a little dash of guilt brought on by knowing that in the dining room just below me, people were eating what might be their only meal of the day.  It was a little uncomfortable to be treated like such an important visitor, but I do like pastries.  I did happen to be hungry.  And I didn’t want to be rude, so I wolfed down several  as I told the Sister more about the story of the flour and where it was all coming from and tried to emphasize that I’m not rich or anything.  Then the rest of the pastries were packed up in a little white box, and another white box appeared – this one with a whole, perfect berry tart – and was placed into my arms.  The nuns showed me politely to the door, and there I was, all sugared-up, back on the streets of Austin.



Adaptation by sarah kavage

Back in August, I met N.,who came to the reception at Roots & Culture hoping to take some flour back to Jamaica to give away on an upcoming trip.  She thought it would be a provocative commentary in that island nation, as the recent increases in food prices had had severe impacts on the people there.  N. told me that the government just passes along price increases to the consumers, even though it has the power to do otherwise.  Like many Caribbean nations, Jamaica could easily be self-sufficient in terms of food, as it’s blessed with a year-round growing season and many native sources of nutrients.  But instead, it’s been sold down the river by corporations/governments focused on growing commodities (such as sugar cane) for export, undermining its food security – particularly in tough economic times like these.

So, together with the patient and flexible Mike Wolf, we arranged for N. to pick up a 50-lb bag from the Roots & Culture show and take it with her on the plane.  I hadn’t heard from her much since, but I caught up with her when she came to the commodities trading session at Mess Hall.  She broke the bad news to me:  “It didn’t make it.  I’ve got the day off on Thursday.  I’ll come by and tell you the whole story.”  Read what happened to her, in her own words, here – it’s a great lesson in creative adaptability under pressure.

Speaking of adaptability, check out the newly updated list of upcoming Industrial Harvest events.  Both Mess Hall sessions have now been rescheduled for Oct. 10 (this coming Sunday, 11 am – 1 pm) and Oct. 24 (another Sunday, 3 – 5 pm).  Join us!



St. Columbanus by sarah kavage

Every Wednesday, at around the same time the traders are headed down to LaSalle & Jackson, hungry folks are lining up at St. Columbanus church in West Woodlawn for their weekly food pantry.  Food distribution starts at 10 a.m., and people stand in line for several hours or more to make sure they get a spot in line in order to receive one of the 500 bags of produce and dry goods.  When the food pantry at St. Columbanus started 5 years ago, they served about 50 people a week.  When the economy crashed in 2008, they saw a spike in the number of people seeking help, and reached 500 people in February of 2009.  At this point, 500 people a week is their limit – although they sometimes do serve a few more if they have extra food.  “It’s hard to turn people away,” their director, LaVerne Morris told me.  Although their dedicated volunteer crew shows up at 6 a.m., there’s only so much you can do with volunteers before people burn out.

LaVerne signed up for a bulk donation of 2500 pounds of flour – enough for 5 pounds per food bank client.  She had extra volunteers come in to bag up the flour the night before the distribution, and, wanting to see their operation in action, I offered to come down and pitch in for a few hours.  6 a.m. was a little too early, as I’ve been keeping late nights working, so I showed up at 9 like a real Seattle slacker and LaVerne put me to work on the “assembly line” for the produce bags.

When you’re serving 500 people, you’ve got to be or-gan-ized, and LaVerne and her crew had things tight.  One set of volunteers walked around with bags open, collecting the produce that the other set of volunteers dropped into the bags.  I got a plum duty (couldn’t resist that one), working with Jerome over a giant box.  Each bag got 4 plums.  Or maybe 6, if the ones you picked up were small.  Or 8, if Jerome and I happened to each put in a handful.  Or a dozen, if you were feeling like there were so many that you’d never reach the bottom before the bags ran out.  Or 4, if suddenly the plums all disappeared and there were still bags to fill.  Jerome, who has been a St. Columbanus volunteer for 4 years now, was a great ambassador and a friendly guy, telling me that he the feeling that he gets from working at the food pantry is “like nothing else.  It just makes you feel so good, helping people like this.”
The bags contained plums, carrots, potatoes, watermelons, meats and cheeses, and a bunch of other fresh veggies that I didn’t get to see because I had my head down in the plum box.  Clients also got separate boxes of dry goods.
At just after 10 a.m., we were ready and LaVerne began directing the crew to their stations for the distribution.  I was put inside the “glass house,” where the clients register, so that I could hand out the flour.
The lineup for the food bank stretched around the block.  People had brought folding chairs like they were lining up for concert tickets – it’s either that or stand up for 4 hours (or sleep in and risk missing out entirely).  Slowly, the line worked its way through the glass house and back outside to the food distribution area on the other side of the church.  Troy and Dee greeted the clients and directed them from one place to the next.  People were polite and mostly subdued, but not quite downtrodden – more like maintaining in the face of what must be so many challenges.  Some were styled out, some didn’t seem to have a roof over their head.  A few were obviously embarrassed to be in such a situation, others seemed downright used to it.  I wondered which was worse – feeling humiliated, or being so used to getting handouts that it becomes the status quo.  In a conversation with a friend later that day, we talked about how food banks are this huge band-aid for so many of the structural inequities in our society.  Although I would never describe St. Columbanus as anything other than amazing and positive, because the root causes of hunger in our communities never really get addressed in a serious way, food banks become institutions that feed (literally) the dis-empowerment of entire communities.

PS:  a reminder that TUESDAY (tomorrow) NIGHT it’ll be time for COMMODITIES TRADING 101 at Mess Hall, 6932 N. Glenwood in Rogers Park, 7-9 pm.  If you want to understand the commodity / Board of Trade system, this is your chance to get the lowdown with two longtime brokers.  Paul Maggio and Russ Rsezsutko have 50 years of experience between the two of them, and will able about how futures trading works, the history of the CBOT, recent changes there, and how what happens on the trading floor impacts eaters, farmers and real food.  We’ll have a PIT tournament afterwards, so get ready to unleash your inner capitalist.  See the rest of the schedule for my remaining week at Mess Hall here



catching up by sarah kavage

It’s been a hectic week, and I’ve got some catching up to do on recent events.  Rob (on a visit from Seattle) and I were lucky to be included as part of one of the semi-regular trips to Angelic Organics’ rural Learning Center with folks from the Heartland Alliance’s Kovler Center and their sister program, International FACES.  Both programs work with refugees and victims of torture.  Many of the refugees come from rural or agricultural backgrounds, and many of them rarely get to leave the city (for some of the folks, this was their first trip outside Chicago since their arrival in the US).   Angelic had a wood-fired oven, I had some flour, Rob had a camera, and the refugees had their traditional recipes from their home countries.  We harvested vegetables, rolled dough, and talked.

I think Rob, the son of refugees, puts into words what I can’t about the experience.

Speaking of putting things into words well, Martha Bayne really did an amazing job with her feature article about this project in the Reader.

And, one last thing, I got an answer to the question in the previous post about how farmers benefit from an increase in wheat prices if the harvest is already past.  I’ll be posting that in the comments section of the post momentarily (or maybe tomorrow).



Flatbreads day at Kendall by sarah kavage

I was invited by Melina Kelson, who teaches the artisan breadbaking class at Kendall College Culinary Schoool, to spend this morning talking to her class and baking pizza / foccacia in the brick oven she built with 4 students last year.  Today was the last class day of an intense session, where students come to class for 10 days straight, 6 am – noon.  Finals are tomorrow, so today was sort of a fun day.  The dough was made with the Industrial Harvest all-purpose flour, which Melina was quite happy with.  She said it is perfectly aged and working beautifully.  Greenfield Mills does it again – !

The students started by weighing and apportioning the dough into 12-oz pieces.

The dough is then rolled into balls.  Melina had the students double-fisting – rolling up two balls of dough at a time, one in each hand.

After each students rolls up their dough balls, they label it with their initials…

…and it is covered and left to proof.  The many gaps between breadbaking tasks leave plenty of time for short lectures, so we’d talk in between. We spent an entire break talking about the specifics of my futures transaction – pretty impressive!  The students asked lots of great questions and made it easy and fun to talk about what I was doing.

Here, Melina (center) demonstrates rolling out pizza dough.  I’ve seen this done many different ways, and Melina started with a rolling pin and then began to stretch the dough with her knuckles.  Her tip:  stretch the edges, the middle will take care of itself.

The final demo pizza:  thinly sliced Yukon Gold potatoes (a waxy potato that will retain its crunch better then starchy varieties), carmelized onions, blue cheese.

We migrate out into the courtyard, where the oven has been heating up all morning, and Melina loads the pizza in the oven.  She cracks an egg on top right before it goes in.  The oven needs to be at least 450 degrees, preferably hotter.

The demo pizza cooks for under 5 minutes, is lovingly documented and then consumed.

The finished demo pizza.  It was incredibly delicious.

We also got to make our own pizzas, and the students shared their dough with me and showed me the ropes.  Hannah was on top of it enough to suggest that she take a picture of my pizza going in the oven.  Having worked in at least 3 pizza restaurants in my “career” in the restaurant industry, I had collected a number of tips over the years:  don’t use too much sauce or cheese, oregano goes in pizza sauce (not basil, that goes in pasta sauce), and brush the crust with olive oil.  There were so many toppings that it was tough to decide what to do, but I went with olives, mushroom, mozzarella and parmesan.

The finished pizza – a couple blackened blisters which could have meant a re-do at Two Boots, but overall was great.  All in all, a pretty good morning’s work – I took it home and we had lunch, with 2 pieces left for dinner.  Thanks so much to Melina and all the students for creating such a sharing, welcoming atmosphere – I really had a blast playing chef for a few hours.



Inspiration for Documentation by sarah kavage
July 11, 2010, 10:08 pm
Filed under: project updates, where the flour went | Tags: , , , , , ,

Today I received an email with documentation of what one of the flour recipients did with the flour and she gave me permission to share it with you all.  It’s a lovely story very much in the spirit of what I am trying to achieve with these flour giveaways, and sharing it articulates my goals better than I would ever be able to do on my own.  This is not to put undue pressure on the flour recipients, but I do hope that others find it inspiring.  A huge thanks to Erin for sharing!

Attached is photographic documentation of what I did with those four cups of flour on 4th of July weekend.

One of my favorite breads to make is Challah because it tastes so good and because of the mind/dough/body connection this bread inspires.  Challah means “dough offering” in Hebrew and, like any good offering, it never fails to bring my friends and family together in surprising and delicious ways.  The three strands of this braided bread stand for truth, peace, and justice.  Challah lets us hold these things in our hands and in our mouths, and it reminds us of all the ways in which human beings nourish each other.

Fourth of July weekend is a big celebration of national and personal independence.  This 4th of July, the people I love came together over challah and grilled vegetables to celebrate all the ways in which we are dependent.   We wanted to take the time to honor how much we mean to each other and how much we have needed each other.  And how much we hate to say good-bye.

Because this 4th of July was also a good-bye party.

After the January earthquake that devastated so much of Haiti, my Haitian friends came to live with me and my roommate in Chicago. The nearly-six months that have followed could not have happened without the miraculous support of so many people.  My Haitian friends (Michelaine and her children ages 12, 8, and 2) were given free food, toys, winter clothes, medical attention, English classes, and day care.  The alderman helped us find the family an apartment, the French immersion school accepted the kids for free in the middle of the year, and hundreds of friends, family members, and complete strangers donated their time and resources.  We raised $10,000.

Throughout those 6 months, the baby began to talk (in English, French AND Creole), the 8-year old made many new friends, and the 12-year old discovered that she likes to dance.   Michelaine made us diri ak pwa, my roommate gave up her bedroom, and I learned how to ask for help.  We tromped through snow.  We skyped family in Haiti.  We cried and laughed and played silly games.  We fed each other.

This 4th of July, as we stuffed challah rolls into our mouths, we celebrated all those things while we fed each other one last time in Chicago.  On July 5th, Michelaine and her kids flew back to Haiti.

We miss them terribly.

The bread we made with this flour was one of the many ways we learned to nourish each other.  We are very grateful for the time, the community, the stories, and the food that we have shared.

-Erin Edwards


Challah rolls and bread before they went into the oven

4th of July picnic with the challah (and other delicious foods!) in our garden.  Pictured:  Michelaine, Anaïka, my dad (Wayne), my mom (Susan), Taïsha, my partner (Liz), Yamiley.



Giving, Taking, Lots of Baking by sarah kavage

It’s been in the back of my head for awhile, this nagging doubt:  “What if no one wants flour?”

I mean, do people really bake anymore?  Some of my friends do, and I’ve certainly met plenty of dedicated bakers in the last few months, but really, I was somewhat apprehensive and feeling like baking might be a little bit of a lost art.  But I’ve been surprised and delighted at the response at the last couple of events!  After last week’s Hull House talk, almost 30 folks lined up for a few cups of flour to take home and use.  People were taking flour for friends, neighbors, relatives – the highlight being one woman who picked up some flour for herself, her son and her 90-year old father, who still bakes a few times a week.

The very next morning, I got the first report-back from one of the recipients, who said: “”I used 2 cups of your flour to make 12 large buttermilk biscuits this morning, and I brought them over to my neighbor’s. They were delicious!”

And then today, I took a train / bike jaunt out to North Chicago / Waukegan to give a little lunchtime talk to the youth and staff at the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Green Youth Farm

And again, was not really sure what to expect.  These are kids, and I know when I was a kid I pretty much sat around and ate junk food and waited for Mom to call me to the table.  But after an hour of helping in the garden in the heat of the day, it was pretty clear that these kids were different.  I did not hear one complaint, with the exception of the little voice in my own head that kept repeating “hot…tired…hungry…”

We stopped for lunch, I gave my little talk and thought I’d be pretty much able to relax, except then the whole crew started lining up to take home flour!  I was totally impressed and again, delighted that they accepted this somewhat strange gift with such enthusiasm.  Between the youth and the staff, they took at least as much flour as folks did at the Hull House talk.

For those who have protested the lack of pictures, I am waiting on pictures that other folks took of these events, and will post them as soon as I get ’em, unless I’m making awful faces or something.  In the meantime, please enjoy this recipe for whole-wheat-pizza that I wrote up for the Green Youth youth.  Also good on a stovetop or grill.