Industrial Harvest


What Happened to the flour, part 7: bagels by sarah kavage

Having never made bagels, I’m impressed with this young woman.  I have pretty strong opinions about bagels and still daydream fondly about the Bagel Hole in Park Slope, Brooklyn, a tiny storefront bagel deli responsible for what I believe to be the best bagels of all time.

From: H
To: sarah
Date: Sat, October 2, 2010 8:23:09 AM
Subject: Flour and Bagels
Dear Sarah Kavage,
I am a junior in high-school at Walter Payton College Prep in Chicago.
On Tuesday of this past week, I met Tara Lane (at the Hull House soup kitchen) and received a very cool bag of flour.
Before this attempt, I had never made bagels before. I figured the flour should be the main ingredient in the baked good of choice, so bagels seemed to be the ideal new endeavor.
I was so happy when they came out of the oven looking lovely (although not perfect- they had character) and
tasting delicious!
Your project is incredible! If there is any way I could get involved as a high-schooler, please let me know!
Thank you so much for your flour,
and changing the way we relate to food,
H
(P.S. In my AP Lang class at Payton, we are working in conjunction with the Pulitzer center to produce a
documentary on a local issue. My group will be focusing on food insecurity in Chicago. As we develop our
ideas, would it be okay to contact you for new ideas or information?)

bagels!

bagels!

H’s bagels look like a bagel should – shiny crust on the outside, golden brown, not too big or fluffy.  Some sesame seeds on top would be the bomb.  Yum!



What happened to the flour, part 5: The ones that got away by sarah kavage

My husband Rob is the documentarian of the family.  I was into photography back in the pre-digital age, but pretty much immediately upon coupling up with Rob I decided I liked having my own personal archivist, put the camera away and just enjoyed living without looking through a lens.

This spring, however, all of that had to change once I realized that I was on my own in Chicago.  No personal archivist, no husband – just me, alone with my poor documentation habits.  Undeterred, I bought a camera and carried it around constantly, ever-so-slow on the draw, trying to figure out how to work the daggone thing on the fly, and re-remembering all that stuff about apertures and f-stops.  Even though I feel like I did a passable job documenting the major events of the summer, picking up the camera to capture a moment never became instinct.

And so, I have some regrets.  Rob will occasionally mention a missed shot from years ago that has been burned into his memory, which I’ve always found impressive but a bit odd.  Why hold onto it?  But now I understand.  This post is dedicated to trying to tell, in words, what I should have captured in pictures.

Two stories stick in my head.  The first happened when D. contacted me about getting 50 lbs. of whole wheat flour this fall:

I am a hobby farmer who happens to produce more than enough pumpkins for myself, family and friends.  Generally I give away the pumpkins and bread I make out of the pumpkins.  The crops are organic and grown in glorious DeKalb County soil in Sycamore, Illinois.  I’d be interested in 50 lbs of the flour so that I can make dozens of loaves of pumpkin bread this season to give away.  I could accept the flour ASAP because I’m already harvesting pumpkins and baking.

A couple weeks after he’d picked up his bag of flour, D. emailed me saying that he had a few loaves of pumpkin bread for me.  I was of course delighted, but running around that day and told D. if I wasn’t at home he could leave the bread on our front porch.

Later that afternoon I got a text from D. that he’d just dropped off the bread.  Although I was home at the time, it took me about 10 minutes to make it downstairs to the porch.  On the porch was a small box containing 5 loaves of pumpkin bread.  And on the box was a little squirrel.  He had chewed through the box, the plastic wrap and was so contentedly munching away on the bread that he barely looked up when I opened the door.  No doubt that if I had gone up to get the camera, he would have stayed there feasting and we could have had an adorable, hilarious photo shoot.  Oh, I could kick myself.

Of course, when I told Rob about this the first words out of his mouth were “did you take pictures?”

The second tale of documentary woes started with an email from N., who works at Urban Habitat Chicago.  They were interested in trying to grow wheat, and maybe taking a little flour too.  We went back and forth to figure out a time for her to come pick some up, and we were both kind of busy and ended up doing one of those “let’s talk on Sunday night and see if we can do it then” appointments that didn’t used to happen before everyone had cell phones.  And then when she called I didn’t hear my phone.  When I finally called back, it was hours later – well after dark – but N. said that was OK.  It would take her an hour to get up to my place, though – she was going to do the hauling by trailer bike.

The trailer was a sturdy, well-built DIY contraption that utilized milk crates, steel tubing and big cart wheels.  Turns out, this was its maiden haul.  I grilled N. about the handling, the weight, the construction as we loaded it up with 50, then 100 pounds of wheat berries and took it for a test ride down the alley.  Getting the bike moving was really not too difficult – with 100 pounds of cargo, you’ve got momentum on your side.  Turning was not too bad either.  But stopping – well, that was tougher.  N. was headed down Damen towards Pilsen, and the only part we agreed might be a bit sketchy was the downhill part of the bridge across the river.  Truth be told, I was slightly worried when I did not hear back from her for a couple of days, but it turned out she, the wheat and the bike made it just fine.  It was only then that I began kicking myself for not busting out the camera.  What was I thinking?  The only human-powered haul of the project (and surely the most bad-ass) and I stupidly missed it.

N. came by again a week or two later to pick up more wheat, but it was raining and she showed up with a friend’s truck.  There are no second chances.



What happened to the flour, part 3: blogroll by sarah kavage

Today’s snippets all come from the so-called blogosphere.  I have been amazed at the profusion of cooking / eating / food-related blogs that exist,  and tracked down quite a few posts that detail baking adventures with Industrial Harvest flour.  Bonus:  food bloggers, if I may generalize so crudely, appear to be quite dedicated.  They take lots of pictures.  They provide lots of loving background detail and backstories.  They also often include recipes!

Some of these have made it to the Industrial Harvest facebook page already, so excuse the repeats if you’ve seen them already.  But let that be a reminder to you:  if you’re on facebook, said page is a great way to let me know what you’ve done with the flour.  Another option:  post photos to our still-underutilized flickr group!

Moving right along:  this blogger made whole wheat biscotti using Alice Waters’ recipe

ECO, a cooperative household in Pilsen, runs a CSA and a co-op.  They did all kinds of stuff with the flour and took wheat berries to plant a cover crop on their rooftop garden.

Last year around this time, I was wrapping up a residency at InCUBATE, which may have been the tipping point at which this project became a reality.  InCUBATE (and I, as resident) shared their Congress Theater storefront with the Chicago Underground Library, and that was how I met Thuy.  Thuy is a pretty serious baker, and turned me on to the magic of pure wheat gluten (if you’ve never tried it, it is a miracle cure for too-dense, heavy bread).  So I knew Thuy would do something awesome with the flour and was thrilled to re-connect with her this fall.  Her beautifully written post is not to be missed.

The Cuentos Foundation had a fundraiser / bake sale in October to raise money for Oaxaca mudslide victims at Danny’s, a classic Chicago watering hole.

My buddies Gina and Jerry in Seattle have been all wrapped up with opening what will surely be a super-delicious, authentic and unpretentious Italian restaurant.  But they still took the time to adopt 50 pounds of flour and bake a huge batch of bread for the local food bank…in their backyard brick oven that they built themselves.

And then there’s this.  Your mouth will water looking at these pictures (click “next post” all the way at the bottom of the page for the finished product).



What happened to the flour, Part 2 by sarah kavage

Continuing the report-back from the flour giveaways, here’s three more.  There is no real theme for them other than they pleased me:  one because it had to do with beer, one because of the connection to my Washington state home, and one because it’s just super sweet.  Actually, they are all super sweet and in different ways exemplify the sharing I hoped would come out of this process.  Hopefully it’s not too annoying to read these email threads; I like presenting the reports the way they actually came to me (I have made minor edits to correct for typos and such).

The first is from N. who bravely took home several pounds of wheat berries to use to make a wheat beer.  She is, so far, the only person who committed to using the wheat in the brewing process, although I haven’t heard a final report from her on how the beer turned out.  I recently started brewing up my very first batch of homebrew so finally understand how it all works.  The flour N. took ended up feeding the annual Brew Not Bombs fundraiser in Chicago this past September:

From: N –
To: sarah
Date: Thu, September 30, 2010 9:19:26 PM
Subject: Re: industrial harvest update & upcoming events

Hey Sarah
So….You gave me flour and whole wheat berries. I haven’t yet used the berries but I plan to roast them and then make beer. With the flour, I made a huge batch of caraway almond biscuits for Brew Not Bombs and they were devoured by ravenous anarchists and beer lovers. My friend also used some of the flour to bake loaves of sourdough bread which was also DELICIOUS and served to kids at Brew Not Bombs to allow the beer drinking to continue late into the night.

Thanks so much…I also put little notes out at Brew Not Bombs about how the wheat came from Industrial Harvest.  I’ll keep you updated about the beer.
-N.

Next up, these notes from a couple who brought the flour on a trip to Washington state and shared it with their host:

From: E
To: sarah
Date: Tue, October 5, 2010 9:56:18 AM
Subject: Industrial harvest flour!

Hi, Sarah! This is E. My girlfriend contacted you earlier. We received some of your flour from Edible Alchemy in Chicago and used it to make this handsome apple pie while couch-surfing with T. in Walla Walla, WA.
Thanks so much for the flour and the fun!

From: F
To: sarah
Date: Tue, September 28, 2010 10:46:55 AM
Subject: Wheat tracking

Hi Sarah,
I think your wheat project is wonderful. I hope everyone who gets word of your project appreciates the nourishment as much as I do. My lover, E. and I got about 3 lbs of flour from your wheat from ECO and took it with us on our summer vacation which began in mid August and lasted for three weeks. During our trip, we visited Walla Walla, Washington for the first time. Also for the first time, we couch-surfed with a collage student there, T. It was a new experience for us and to show our appreciation to our host, we used a bunch of your flour to make a beautiful apple pie which we all shared. It was delicious. Thanks!
peace
– F.

to thine own self be true

Walla Walla apple pie

Walla Walla apple pie

And lastly, I talked to this woman at the Hull House and she, her father and her son were all dedicated bakers.  She was very excited to have three generations of her family participating in this project, and later forwarded me this sweet email from her father (note the awesome review of the flour’s performance!):

From: R –
To: sarah
Date: Mon, August 30, 2010 7:50:46 AM
Subject: Fwd: Pizza

Dear Sarah,
I saw your talk at the Lill Street Art Center and got some flour from you. I gave it to my dad, who is a retired chef, and has more time to bake than I do. He absolutely loved it. Thanks so much!
– R.
———- Forwarded message ———-
Date: Sat, Aug 28, 2010 at 8:23 PM
Subject: Pizza
To: R-
Dear Daughter:
I thank you for giving me the experience of working with the best flour I’ve worked in my chef life for the last 12 years.
The natural gluten and the freshness of the flour gave me a perfect dough. I’m sorry you are not here to enjoy this wonderful Marguerite pizza.
Love,
Dad



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.



Leaving on my mind by sarah kavage

Well, as you may or may not have heard, I’m in the midst of my final week in Chicago.  That was fast, wasn’t it?  Just a couple weeks ago, I was wondering what on earth I was going to do with the 5 tons of flour that was still in the warehouse.  About a dozen people responded to my email query with their ideas and contacts, and whaddya know – it’s all been spoken for now.

Many months ago, back in Seattle, I was on the phone with Ben Walker and he mentioned that one of the things he was finding interesting about this project was that it seemed to embody the old adage “many hands make light work.”  With everyone doing just a little bit, whatever they can, the Industrial Harvest has been made possible.  People have been asking me whether this project has turned out to be what I’d envisioned.  And although it has, it’s also been so much more, mostly because of what others brought to the table.

So you should be very proud of yourselves!  Together, we’ve fed a lot of people.  Many of those  were people who were hungry.  Others may not have needed the food itself, but were perhaps in need of what the food represented – support, caring, appreciation, friendship.  I’m under no illusions that a bag of flour is going to keep someone from losing their job, or from being kicked out of their home.  It won’t address any of the numerous underlying problems in our society.  But, as a formerly-homeless friend told me long ago, with these small gestures we can keep people from feeling invisible, and make them feel like someone cares about them.

Over the last couple of weeks I have been riding the emotional roller-coaster – so happy to be returning home to Seattle, to my husband, our cat, and our extended Seattle family.  And so sad to be leaving Chicago, the Midwest, and the inspiring network of people I’ve gotten to know and love over the last few months.  I have been just overwhelmed by the welcome that y’all have given me – it’s made being here such a joy.

So although saying thank you doesn’t seem to capture the depth of my gratitude, you have my most sincere thanks.

 



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!



Crunching the Numbers at Mess Hall by sarah kavage

I’ve been meaning to post more about my time at Mess Hall BEFORE my residency ended, but as things have been more hectic than expected the last couple of weeks, it just hasn’t happened until now.  I was thrilled to be asked to contribute to this anti-institution.  Mess Hall’s structure and spirit reflects much of my own philosophy about art, and the emphasis on non-monetary exchange makes it a perfect place to, you got it, give away flour for free.  For these two weeks, I wanted to focus on conclusions and solutions, and start to wrap up everything I’ve learned:  make some sense of all this movement of flour, money, markets and goodwill; draw some conclusions about all these intersecting systems and maybe, just maybe, start to think about how we might need to change them (with lots of help from people more knowledgeable than I).

This was not an insignificant task, as it meant getting serious about things like math, which I typically avoid.  I wish more of the programming had worked out.  Unfortunately this is the time of year when farmers are the most busy and their priority is harvesting and working around seemingly constant weather issues (like tornadoes, which threw a monkey wrench in the plans of the ASFC).  I hope that the annoyance of all the multiple date changes does not prohibit anyone from staying engaged in this discussion and attending the (dates to be determined) rescheduled sessions.  For those folks who came to the commodity trading 101 session, thanks for your thoughtful participation; a special thanks to guest trader Paul Maggio who created a open, congenial atmosphere in which we could start to pick apart this stuff.

Having a storefront was a blast.  People watching in Rogers Park is fruitful, and about 90 percent of passers-by would pick through the free box and clothes rack (about 1 in 20 would stop in for flour).  One woman came in, thrilled at her free box scores (and wanting to share, as the ladies do, the thrill of a good bargain), and then asked me for a bag, which of course we had.  About every other day when I arrived there would be a bag or two of clothes on the doorstep of Mess Hall, which would be incorporated into the free box and clothes rack.  I also took the liberty of adopting 4 boxes of records that someone brought in, which has made a couple people very happy (including myself) but may be pushing the free store thing too far for such a small space.

All in all, people took 261 pounds of flour.  Which is not bad for about 35 open hours, perhaps.  Most folks that came in did not look like they actually needed free flour, they were just ardent bakers or interested in the project.  But a few did look like having this gift was going to be of real value to them.  Two people came in and left with one of the bulk (50-lb) bags – one guy whose wife bakes for all their friends and neighbors, and a student at Loyola who helps out with Food Not Bombs Rogers Park.

The documentation and “research results” from the project are still at Mess Hall for the time being.  You can also see pictures here.