Industrial Harvest


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).



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.



Happy Holidays from our sponsor, Noah’s Pudding by sarah kavage

As we were proceeding through our tour of Chicago winter farmers’ markets a couple of weeks ago, Anne took me on a side trip to a middle eastern grocery store in Andersonville.  Middle Eastern and North African folks happen to be among the world’s largest per capita wheat consumers – Algeria, Morocco, Libya, Turkey, Tunisia and Iran all rank in the top ten, according to statistics from the UN’s Food & Agriculture Organization.  The grocery carried an appropriately large variety of wheat and wheat-based products – cracked wheat, bulghur, semolina flour, several different varieties of wheat berries, pasta, and fresh-baked pita bread.  Most intriguing, was the bag of pearled wheat berries from a Turkish importer labeled “Wheat for Noah’s Pudding.”  No explanation or recipe on the package, so of course I had to buy it and turn to that great library in the sky, the Internet. 

Noah’s Pudding, it turns out, is a very special traditional dish in Turkey.  Legend has it that back in biblical times, when the waters receded from the great flood, Noah cooked up all the grains, nuts and fruit that were left on the Ark into a tasty stew of a dessert to celebrate and give thanks.  Recipes therefore vary depending on the source, but all of them include one or two different types of grains (wheat, barley and rice are all common), cooked with one or two types of beans (chickpeas and white beans, typically), some sugar and some geographically appropriate dried fruits (apricots, figs, raisins).  Nuts (walnuts, almonds or pistachios) and pomegranate seeds are sprinkled on top along with some cinnamon and even rose water for a bit of a gourmet touch.  It’s served cold or at room temperature, and is sort of a cross between oatmeal and rice pudding.  I’m usually not so much for pudding-y things and was dubious about the inclusion of the beans, but the combination of textures and flavors was surprisingly good (next time I do want to try the rosewater). 

Perhaps I was inclined to like it because I was so pleased to find a dish that mirrored on a small scale what Industrial Harvest is actually all about.  Both Muslim and Christians in Turkey and other places around the Mediterranean prepare it as a gesture of sharing and goodwill between different peoples and religions.  It’s customarily made at a certain time of year, prepared in huge batches (if you search online for recipes, you’ll find they make 30 portions or more) and shared among neighbors and the poor – tradition dictates giving a cup to 40 neighbors to the east, west, north and south, no matter their race, religion or how you may feel about them.  In more recent times, religious and cultural organizations (particularly those with interfaith or intercultural ideals) in the US have picked up on this tradition and use it to celebrate goodwill between religions and cultures.  I shared my batch with my fellow students at the Adventure School for Ladies, with plenty left over to serve at the InCUBATE symposium potluck the following night. 

For those of us who have been turned off by the dogma, judgment, money and politics that is unfortunately associated with religion, Noah’s Pudding seems a refreshingly straightforward and tasty way to generate actual goodwill.  So make some and share it.  Happy holidays!



Axe St. Arena Manifesto by sarah kavage

Michael Piazza was a co-founder – along with Bertha Husband, Mary Jo Marchnight, James Koehnline, Rebecca Wolfram, and Laura Piazza – of Axe St. Arena, a gathering space / gallery / event center in Logan Square in the mid-80s.  Here is their “manifesto” (it is not actually labeled a manifesto, but more neutral descriptions such as “mission statement” seem insufficient to describe it):

We reject a world in which education and information are touted as the answers to all our problems, while in reality they are seen as other mechanisms to intimidate and control.  We also reject an art which panders either to the investment-minded art collector and careerist art-maker, or the narrowly propagandist left.  Instead, we desire to indulge ourselves in such forbidden activities as dreaming and conversation, principled action and determined inaction.  From these things, real art, that strange fruit of mysterious intuitions and indefinable connections may, we hope, be encouraged to participate in our futures.”



Greetings from the middle of the food desert by sarah kavage

Ironically, spending a month in Chicago working on a project about food and nourishment has up until this point meant sacrificing the ability to nourish myself.  You see, despite InCUBATE’s location in a pretty good neighborhood, there is little fresh or organic food to be found nearby.  It’s just in one of those nowhere-ish locations and although it’s been great to be around so much good Mexican food, one cannot live by tortillas and micheladas alone (although I’ve been trying), and eating out gets expensive really quickly.  Plus, most of the time I’d just rather eat my own cooking. 

So I’ve been getting into the terrible habit of living in semi-starvation mode for most of the day and then doing dinner meetings or social events where food is served.  Semi-starvation mode, for me, means snacking on bread (haven’t lacked for that), cheese and peanut butter, the occasional soy shake, and coffee throughout the day with no real meal.  On days when I don’t go out, that pattern just continues till I go to bed.  I most certainly am not starving, but I have a high metabolism and sometimes it feels just a little bit like it.  Plus the lack of ability to find a good vegetable is really frustrating.  I’ve been able to pick up some great baked goods, cheese and tofu at the Logan Square Sunday farmer’s market (next door!) but there’s little fresh being sold there these days due to the obvious fact that not much grows in mid-December in the midwest. 

One of the most interesting concepts in geography / urban planning to have cropped up in the last few years (or ten) has been that of the food desert.  Definitions vary, but usually food deserts are areas lacking in access to a) fresh b) affordable c) any food outlets.  Instead, you see fast food restaurants, convenience stores and liquor stores.  Usually these are poor neighborhoods with more darker skinned people and new immigrants.  It’s unfortunately no surprise that the upper-class white neighborhoods get the fancy organic grocery stores, the farmers’ markets, or any grocery store at all, and that the fast food chains prey on people who think they can’t afford anything better or are working two or three or four jobs and don’t have the time to run around the city looking for more nutritious alternatives, much less cook them.   A lot of people in Chicago (and other places) have been working to change this through community gardens and farmers’ markets, but it’s tough to get the big grocery stores to budge.  Small grocery stores can change what they carry, but are often locked out of their ability to get better quality goods because the large chain grocers have a lock on the distribution networks, or can undercut prices so much.  

I went to the local grocery store around the corner, a larger independently owned Mexican grocery that was actually quite fine in all respects except for the rather ugly, industrially produced produce.  In Seattle, the basket of groceries that I walked out with would have been of much higher quality (organic, etc) and cost between 30 and 40 bucks.  This basket?  $13 and change ($5 of which was for organic butter – yikes).  A three-fold difference in cost?  You gain a little bit of understanding into what people mean when they say they can’t afford organic.  I’m not at all rich by American standards, but I am a little bit different from most people because I don’t have a car and will pay a high premium for convenience (our local grocery in Seattle is a 5-10 minute walk from the house), and because we eat nearly all of our meals at home it’s easier to rationalize paying more.  And I love good food and want to support small farmers and organic farming.  So the bottom line is I pay that premium willingly, but I still feel like a sucker and wonder are we helping to create local food systems or are we helping to create TWO food systems, where the good food goes to people who can afford it and working class / poor people get the cheap, industrially produced crap?

To continue blathering on about my food consumption, observant readers may have noticed the use of “up until this point” in the first sentence of this post.  Yes, I finally found nourishment in the form of the Dill Pickle Food Coop, a newly opened coop that began as a buying club a few years back and now has a small storefront space in Logan Square.  Kudos again to Bryce, who seems to have his finger on the pulse of all things food-related, for cluing me in to this.  It was about a 15-minute walk, non-members can shop there, and they had some beautiful kale, potatoes, carrots and some almost at the end of their life-span but very cheap tomatoes. 

Guess how much I spent.  Forty bucks.  I knew that’s how much it would cost, too – it was just like being back in Seattle.  Despite the sinking feeling that I have become a yuppie snob, it was a great feeling to come back and actually cook.  I made some delicious lentil soup – which I ate two bowls of with the fresh baked bread and felt finally, totally nourished and very grateful that I am in the privileged position of being able to afford such things.

Look for more posts about this topic in the future.  It’s one I have a great deal of personal and professional interest in, but it’s complicated and I have not done nearly enough research to discuss all of or even some of these issues sensitively and in depth.  The food desert phenomenon is real, and illuminates so many issues of race and class in our society, but what can / is being done about it?



Thanks, all you talkers! by sarah kavage
December 21, 2009, 11:43 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , ,

One thing I have learned in my visits to Chicago is that it’s a city full of intelligent, articulate people doing awesome stuff, and last night was no exception (those of you who were here from out of town are no less awesome than the locals, either).  A huge thank you to all who came out and shared their thoughts on BIG AG, economics, feeding people, and food-as-art.  It was incredibly exciting to hear people engaging in real time about the issues that I’ve been trying to articulate with this project.  The discussion has given me some real – ahem – food for thought.  Onwards!



The Four Mystics by sarah kavage

The Four Mystics

This image appeared repeatedly in Piazza’s archives.  The text reads, “there is an old Jewish tradition which tells of four mystics who ‘entered the garden,’ as the trance state is called.  Only one emerged in peace.  Of the other three, one went mad, another died, and a third took up magic.”   

Given the way he approached his artwork – a combination of modern-day mysticism, surrealism and achemy, Piazza must have related to this image.  Upon seeing it, it’s hard not to wonder about oneself, especially if you are prone to fits of inspiration and other such trancelike states.  Piazza seemed to be especially focused on the madness angle – he had a show called “On Preparations for Madness” and designed an ‘OPM’ logo that regularly appeared on stationery and other publications.  Art and insanity go together, it’s true, but the thing is, Piazza did not go mad.  He was the one that died young.  

I know that’s a little dark.  But this image has stuck with me ever since I saw it in the archives, I just don’t know how else to say the above, and my point is that you go into that place never knowing how it will affect you, but knowing that it will.



Wanda’s tasty southern dinner rolls by sarah kavage

Must be something in the stars – on the same day as the delicious whole wheat bread, I also managed to rock a super tasty batch of dinner rolls.  I spent 11 summers of my life (5 as a camper, then 6 as a counselor) at Camp Appalachia, a summer camp for girls up in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia.  It was sort of a family tradition – my mom and aunt went there as kids/young women, and when my mom got a job as head counselor in the 80s, my sister and I got to go for free.  Mom’s Camp Appy career spanned 26 summers.  My dad thought it was some sort of cult. 

Anyway…..Wanda Bartley, our cook, was a delightful local woman who drove 60+ girls and young women into a starch frenzy every Thursday and Sunday with her fresh dinner rolls.  Wanda would patiently put one industrial-sized tray of rolls after another into the oven until supplies ran out.  Sophisticated distribution systems were devised within (“who’s had 4 rolls already?”) and between (“you guys have any rolls left?”) tables.  At the end of the meal we’d be practically dozing off at the table; fortunately rest hour took place shortly afterwards.  I ate one right after they came out of the oven.  It took me right back to those camp days (triggering an inexplicable longing for canned green beans), and promptly made me want to take a nap. 

Mix together 2 pkgs fast acting yeast & 2 1/2 cups water
Add 3/4 cup sugar and 2 1/2 tsp salt (although I have read that this kills the yeast, I was faithful to Wanda’s tried and true method)
Add 3/4 cup melted butter or margarine, and 2 eggs
Add 8 – 8 1/2 cups flour to make a sticky dough.  I was not sure if Wanda meant sticky in the same way that the “real” bakers define it, but 8 cups was a little too many for my dough & I ended up adding more water to it.  For this to be real southern cooking, the flour absolutely has to be white flour. 

Put in airtight container and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.  Shape into balls 1/2 the size of roll and let rise 1 – 1 1/2 hours before baking.  Bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes or until golden brown.  Makes about 45 rolls.  Dough will keep in refrigerator for 3 weeks. 

Yes, I made this whole recipe although I ended up with about 35 huge rolls as opposed to 45 more moderately sized ones.  The occasion?  My friend Anne Elizabeth Moore is going to Cambodia to do this awesome independent publishing project with young women, and a group is having an “Old World Bake Sale” fundraiser on her behalf (good old Southern cooking is not technically old world, but more old school, and I’m all about following the spirit of the law).  Anne leaves town in about 10 days and still needs to raise a couple thou to cover her expenses.  Her project is completely community funded, so if you haven’t already donated, you should seriously consider doing so!

Wanda's Southern Style Dinner Rolls

Wanda's Southern Style Dinner Rolls

A bit more practice before going “live” with the bake sale thing would have been better.  Wanda’s rolls always came out perfectly shaped and smooth, and I really meant to underbake them so that the buyer could put them in the oven for the final stretch.  Oh, I really hope they sell…the thought of them sitting on the bake sale table at the end of the night triggers all kinds of insecurities and anxiety (and also seems a little sad, cuz they taste so good).



Selections from the Piazza Archive – an introduction by sarah kavage

I was touched and honored to be selected as InCUBATE’s Michael Piazza resident.  Piazza (1955-2006) seemed to inhabit many worlds at once – producing work that is mystical and layered with symbolism, yet remaining incredibly grounded in the reality in which we live, never (as Kurt Vonnegut so eloquently put it) “disappearing up his own asshole.” Piazza was a tireless advocate for, and investigator of, forgotton people and places.

As part of the residency, I get access to his archives, which his longtime friend and collaborator Jim Duignan of the Stockyard Institute dropped off the other day.  The archives consisted of three large three-ring binders full of scanned ephemera (letters, exhibition catalogs, event programs), and an old suitcase filled with originals. 

my other laptop - the piazza suitcase archive

Although I never knew Piazza – or heard of his work – until I found out about the residency, I feel like he’s an old friend.  Perhaps that’s a bit of a cliche, but I see so many of my people – and myself – in the collections of strange objects, old diagrams, and xeroxed booklets that it’s unnerving and pretty emotional at times. 

As I go through the archive, I’ll be posting some of my favorite selections here. 

I also feel compelled to say that I get the feeling that Piazza would want me to tell you that life is short, people!  Stop messing around and get out there and do what you need to do.



Tacky and Sticky come to dinner by sarah kavage

This past weekend, Anne and I spent our afternoons trekking around the city visiting different farmers’ markets.  At the cute little downtown farmstand I picked up some locally grown organic flour from Ackerman farms in Chenoa, Illinois – located about 100 miles away, they also grow organic edamame soybeans, corn and other produce.  I also scored some cinnamon-infused honey from another market the following day.  The honey whole wheat bread featured on the Fresh Loaf therefore seemed to be the logical, easy and delicious choice.  Measured by weight, my ingredients would make a bread that is over 75% local and organic. 

I tried to be a little more anal with this recipe, but there was still some improvisation required.  The recipe calls for some a mix of whole wheat and all-purpose flour, which is made by sifting the bran out of the whole grain flour.  There is no sifter at InCUBATE, and I had to pick up window screen from the hardware store across the street to make an improvised version which totally did the trick.  The little kitchen scale at InCUBATE made it possible to actually follow the baking tips on the Fresh Loaf website, which strongly advocate measuring by weight as opposed to volume. 

Whole wheat dough needs to be more moist in order to get a good rise, but I had no idea what the difference was between a “sticky” (not good) and a “tacky” (good) dough.  I thought tacky was bad (smoking / eating while walking, loud gum chewing,  handbags that don’t match).  

Speaking of tacky, the dough rose in the bathroom right next to the heating vent – the warmest available spot.  The delicious smell was the best air freshener ever, permeating the bathroom and then the entire space.  The second rise got cut short due to time constraints, as I was taking the bread up to Mess Hall for Anne’s final Art Institute class presentations.  My loaf was therefore a little small and the crust a little thick, but tasty – especially paired with butter that we made ourselves; the act of doing so was part of one of the presentations.  The class was about creative resistance of corporate culture, and was, appropriately, a potluck (and damn, those kids can cook!). 

 As a footnote, a new acquaintance who is a baker from Floriole bakery (conveniently, their kitchen is located almost right next door to InCUBATE) told me that “tacky” means that there is no spackle-like dough coming off on your hands when you handle it.  Now we all know.  She also said it’s tough to screw up whole wheat bread – “it always tastes good.”  Music to my ears.