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Chicago City Provisions organic farm dinners
It's Green Travel Month here at Gadling, so to get into the green spirit, I booked a special dinner with Chicago's City Provisions Catering and Events, an eco-friendly catering company. City Provisions works with local farmers and suppliers, sends its organic waste back to farmers for composting, and sources all of its ingredients from organic and sustainable providers. The company offers catering services both off-site and at its city space, and is in the process of opening up a deli. It also hosts a monthly supperclub. In winter, dinners are held at the storefront location, but in the warmer months the meal is served out on a local farm, using fresh ingredients grown on-site. August's dinner was held at Heritage Prairie Farm, about an hour north of Chicago. Heritage Prairie also does its owns farm dinners, but drinks and transportation are not included, as they are with City Provisions.
At 1 p.m., my husband and I arrived at the City Provisions location in Chicago. While we checked in, we were offered soft drinks - served in 100% compostable glasses - and light snacks. Then we, and the 38 other diners, boarded the biodiesel bus for the ride out to the farm. Along the way, we were introduced to Cleetus, the mastermind behind City Provisions. We enjoyed some BLT sandwiches, tomato gazpacho, and Great Lakes Brewing beers, and prepared ourselves for the upcoming feast.
Once at the farm, we met the owners and the farmers who work the land. They led us on a tour of the small property and explained the sustainable practices they employ to make the farm as efficient as possible. While Heritage Prairie is not a certified organic farm, the methods they use, such as allowing weeds to grow in certain areas rather than using pesticides, are green and eco-friendly. One of the most unique features of the farm is the three movable greenhouses, which allow the farmers to engaging in a practice known as "four-season farming". The greenhouses are on tracks and can be moved up and down the length of the field, covering different sections as needed. This allows the farm to harvest some crops as late as January, long past the time when most other farms have halted their efforts for the year.
The tour took us through one of the smaller greenhouses, where we saw the wooden growing beds where seeds were left to germinate. Due to the farm's small size, it's very important that it be as efficient as possible. To ensure that every inch of the field is productive, the soil beds in the growing greenhouse are cut up into smaller squares, and only the successful ones are moved to the field. In this way, no field space is wasted. After exploring the grounds, we browsed through the farm's market for honey made on-site and fresh produce and herbs grown at the farm.
By 5 p.m., we were sitting down to dinner at an elegantly-dressed table in the field. As we helped ourselves to baby eggplant baba ganouj with pita chips, servers began pouring the beer that would accompany each course. Provided by Great Lakes Brewing, one of the most environmentally-responsible brewers in the US, the beer was paired according to each course, and many of the dishes utilized the beer for their sauces.
Over the next three hours, we enjoyed five courses of delicious, fresh-from-the-farm food expertly prepared by the City Provisions chefs, who were all decked out in organic cotton chef's jackets that had buttons made from nuts rather than plastic. Between each course, we had the chance to mingle with fellow diners and we learned about the process of brewing beer and about the sustainable practices at Great Lakes Brewing from owner Pat Conway.
Our first course, a delicate micro-green salad, was topped with sun gold tomatoes and a vinaigrette made with Grassroots beer from Great Lakes and honey produced on the farm. Next came a colorful mix of seared rainbow chard, baby leeks, currants and pine nuts, with crispy pancetta served over brown rice with a balsamic sauce made from the accompanying Edmund Fitzgerald Porter.
Course three - a zucchini cake topped with basil creme fraiche and served with baby carrots and more of the farm's microgreens - was just as delightful. By the time course four rolled around, everyone at the table had become fast friends, and we traded stories while oohing and aahing over the grilled pork brat that was topped with grain mustard and served with potato salad and green beans in a browned-butter sauce.
Just when we thought our tummies had been filled to bursting, the final course was brought out. A light-as-air pavlova was topped with caramel-honey cream and fresh peaches and was served alongside a rich Glockenspiel beer. As we licked the last of the cream from our forks and tilted back our glasses to catch the last drops of beer, the chefs were busy setting up another surprise. While dinner had ended, the evening was far from over, and as we stood from the table, we saw that a bonfire had been started, more beer was ready to be consumed, and the ingredients for classic s'mores were laid out nearby. We drank, ate, and relaxed while enjoying the searing colors of the sun setting over the fields.
At 10 p.m., it was time to re-board the bus and return to our city lives. Our indulgent dinner may not have single-handedly saved the planet, but our support of farmers and producers who use sustainable methods may help encourage other restaurants and farmers to take a step in a greener direction too.
Can't make it to Chicago to book a farm dinner with City Provisions? Here are some other green-focused farm dinners around the country.
Austin, Texas - Dai Due Supper Club
Portland, Oregon - Plate & Pitchfork Farm Dinners
Old Lyme, Connecticut - Dinners at the Farm
Ashville, North Carolina - Maverick Farms
Boulder, Colorado - Meadow Lark Farm Dinners
Point Arena, California - Oz Farm
Various locations - Outstanding in the Field