The private event, Farmers Market To Table, brought four Hostelling International guests from the South Loop to the Plant Chicago Indoor Farmers Market located in the Back of the Yards neighborhood. Plant Chicago is a small educational non-profit with the mission to develop circular economies of food production, energy conservation and materials reuse; while empowering people of all backgrounds to make their cities healthier and more efficient.
The goal? To demonstrate to travelers the ease with which one can eat local food on a budget, to draw travelers into a unique historic neighborhood, and to contribute a donation to Plant Chicago to put towards educational programs.
The Farmers Market and non-profit both operate inside The Plant, a former meat packing warehouse converted by owner and operator John Edel into a waste-free food production space. Businesses that lease space inside The Plant work together to avoid producing any unnecessary waste, what they call a “closed loop system.” Imagine taking the spent grain from tenant Whiner Beer Co. and creating briquettes for Pleasant House bakery’s oven – taking the “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” to a sustainable, operational level.
As part of Giving Social, we arranged for guests to make a $15 donation directly to Plant Chicago, and in turn receive a tour of The Plant, lunch prepared by the TSG Chicago team with local farmers market finds, and a private dining experience with the Plant Chicago staff and volunteers in the community kitchen.
On Saturday morning, TSG Chicago coordinator Anna Henschel took the CTA with our Hostelling International guests and arrived at 11 AM to shop at the Plant Chicago Indoor Farmers Market, where dozens of vendors sell local food the first Saturday of the month. The Urban Canopy had fall vegetables in full force, with freshly picked butternut squash, sweet potatoes, eggplant, white mushrooms, beets, leeks, and radishes overflowing wicker baskets, and River Valley Ranch granolas and salsas out for the tasting.
Pleasant House Bakery drew crowds with the smell of the morning’s chocolate croissants, pear jam and brown sugar custard doughnuts, seeded rye bread, and savory tarts. We purchased three french baguettes to go with lunch, and after half an hour of tasting and perusing the market, the group went on a tour of The Plant with Plant Chicago volunteer extraordinaire, Nick Lucas.
Meanwhile, as the team moved floor to floor exploring Plant Chicago‘s aquaponic farm, mushroom farm, and other tenant spaces at The Plant, TSG Chicago coordinator Lena Kazer shopped the market for produce to prepare a rustic, farm-to-table lunch with the help of Plant Chicago volunteer Melissa Pavelack. Four purple eggplants, a basket of white mushrooms, a bundle of leeks, a several bunches of kale, and four beets later, it was time to cook.
For under $50, we prepared a vegetarian meal of organic, locally grown food for 25 people. The food came straight upstairs from the Farmers Market and bakery, into the kitchen, and onto the community table – and all waste from the meal was composted or recycled.
Our seasonal menu included the following items:
Market Pasta Primavera – Tri-color rotini pasta tossed with farmers market eggplant, mushrooms, leeks, onions, and Nick Greens in a garlic-lemon olive oil sauce.
Plant Chicago Beet Salad – Kale greens grown in Plant Chicago’s aquaponic farm tossed with local beets, leeks from The Urban Canopy, and ground pepper in a lemon balsamic vinaigrette.
Garlic Parmesan Baguette – Pleasant House french baguettes loaded with crushed garlic, olive oil, parmesan cheese, and crushed red pepper.
The Travel+SocialGood Chicago team hopes that the Farmers Market to Table event will educate travelers about the benefits of eating local, and prompt them to re-think their waste output both while traveling and at home.
Following the private event, Travel+SocialGood Chicago intends to pilot the event for restaurateurs and chefs in Chicago to promote using similar technology to eliminate waste in restaurants, hotels, and businesses throughout the city.