Friday, September 2, 2011

Let Your City Kids Taste Farm Life

We've all heard the sad stories about when an adult asks a city (or suburban, for that matter) kid, "Where does our food come from?", and the child answers, "From the store." What do yours say when you ask them? Mine four year old answered, "I don't know. Here?" (we were at a restaurant when I asked). Well, whether yours are well educated on the subject of farm to fork or don't know the difference between a farm and a food store, chances are they have never had the chance to milk a goat...but now they can!

Angelic Organics is my favorite farm ever because they have been supplying our seasonal vegetables since before my children were ever a thought. They also have a wonderful non-profit on the farm called the Angelic Organics Learning Center (AOLC) who has some really amazing and completely affordable children's programming. Located in Caledonia, IL, AOLC is just under 2 hours away from Chicago. Just close enough for a day trip. Their next event for ages 3-5, Preschoolers! Fresh Food From the Farm is coming up on Sept 9th and includes picking "fresh carrots, gathering eggs from the chickens and trying their hand at milking a goat!" can also try hardboiled eggs from the farm and make a salad snack straight from the field. Now not many preschoolers I know like to eat salad, but most do like to try things that they have a hand in making, and in this case not only will they make it, but they likely get to harvest it and see the ingredients while they are still connected to the soil. How cool is that? I'll bet that increases the chances of their eating salad, right? Your children will learn and expand their palette without even realizing it's happening.

To see a farm in action is an amazingly rich learning experience. For children and people of all ages who have ever wondered how food gets to their plates, nothing is as awe-inspiring as seeing rows upon rows of carrots, lettuces, kale, radishes, etc. This is the food that should be feeding America. It makes me so proud to eat the produce that comes straight from a farm here in IL. It tastes so fresh, flavorful and delicious! So register to take your kids up to Caledonia and visit AOLC this weekend (space is limited), or click here to see if there's another event that better fits your calendar.
(This photo to the right is of hundreds of onion seedlings on a flatbed trailer at AO. The farm now offers extra seedlings free to shareholders on a first-come, first- served basis.)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Still Not Sold on Organics?

Since I've started this blog, many people have asked me about my choice to buy organic. Whether in relation to meat, dairy, veggies, and especially grains, I hear "but buying organic is more expensive..." or "I feel like hormone free is more important than organic" or "I can't even tell the difference between conventional and organic". I used to say these things too.
To the first, I think most people could afford to buy organic for at least a portion of their grocery list. It's just a matter of priorities. Years ago people would have (and did...and some still do) say they could not afford to buy pre-sliced/shredded cheese vs. a block to cut or shred at home. Or too expensive to buy soup that can just be heated in the microwave and drank from the cup it came in vs. making it at home on the stove. Or that they couldn't afford cable, or cell phones, or Starbucks. You get my point.
To the second most heard "argument", I would say if you feel that way you should watch Food Inc. Or at least read the link below siting the Organic Consumer Association's top 10 reasons to buy organic. I'm pretty sure they cover the myriad important reasons to go organic other than just to avoid hormones. If avoiding the hormones in dairy and meat products is your main agenda, think of it like this - buying hormone-free milk costs a little more than conventional milk and reaches your goal, but spending just a little more to buy the organic milk also assures you that your milk contains no antibiotics, pesticide residue, no GMO's, etc.
The third statement can be answered two ways depending on my mood. The nice answer is to explain my experience with my CSA, Angelic Organics and my meat share through Cedar Valley Farms. The vegetables I get from AO beat the grocery store (even organic) counterpart hands down every time. I think that the taste of produce has more to do with how fresh it is and when it was picked than whether or not it is organic. Our meat is great from our MS too, and I think that has to do with the fact that the animals are allowed to graze and peck rather than being force-fed corn products all day long. Let me know if you ever want to set up a taste test! And if I'm feeling annoyed at the end of a day I might just say, "If you can't tell the difference, then you should buy organic just to get/give all the other benefits!"

And don't get me wrong. I don't buy 100% organic. But I do when I can and where I feel it makes the most difference. So if you still aren't sure why eating/buying organic is important and worth it, read this article by Ronnie Cummins. It is a pretty detailed and educated view on the 10 best reasons why you should vote with your dollars and buy organic!

Beyond Frankenfoods and Toxics: OCA's Ten Reasons to Buy Organic

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Eco, Ovo, Fun!

If you've ever seen a Cirque du Soleil show, you know it's a feast for the senses. Amazing performances, fantastical costumes, and theatrical music. And now Cirque du Soleil has come to Chicago once again with a new show called Ovo.

Ovo means "egg" in Portuguese and the show features the world of insects living under the radar as we humans go about our business. Cirque says this about Ovo, "The show plunges the audience into the hidden universe alive at our feet; an ecosystem teeming with life and unseen beings - insects that work, eat, crawl, flutter, feast, fight and court among each other in an ongoing explosion of energy and movement." The cast of Ovo is made up of 53 performing artists from 13 countries, comprising jugglers, contortionists, acrobats and more. The story is about a lonely Ladybug who is excited by the possibilities of change when a Foreigner arrives with an egg.

The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum teamed up with Cirque du Soleil for a free mini-performance recently and it was super fun! The Firefly awed the crowd of children and adults with his diabolos, as he spun and juggled as many as 4 at a time, never missing a beat! The Nature Museum's entrance offered the perfect performance space with it's vaulted ceiling which allowed the diabolos to fly high into the air. The Firefly, Ladybug and Master Flipo were all there to mingle with the audience afterward in full costume. It was really cool to see them up close, giving high fives, fist bumps and waves to the kids. Master Flipo even interacted with my son making a lovely "zurburt" sound when we poked his tummy... The Nature Museum also had several cool insects, bugs and arachnid on display where the audience could get a close-up view. My son particularly liked the walking stick!

Here are the characters in their awesome costumes and makeup.

Ladybug saying "hello" to some little cuties.

Firefly ready to give my little man a high five.

Master Flipo miming, "poke me!"

And then my son and some of the other children got to feel his "feelers" as he bent over to show them his costume up close.

I have not seen the show yet, but my husband and I are planning to get tickets and take the children. They say that some parts are loud and others are dark, but parents are the best judge of what their children can handle, in my opinion. For instance, my daughter is 2 and she loved watching from a distance, but she was not interested in talking to or touching the characters and clung to me as her older bro happily interacted with them.

Overall, I thought the theme of Ovo was a great one for kids. They bring a story to life while touching on topics like the complexity of ecosystems, respecting all creatures great and small, and love & friendship. Sounds like a cool experience to me! I'll update this post if we are able to get tix and go to the show! If you want to experience it for yourself, here is a link to the Ovo site.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Recycled Castle Craft!

For my daughter's recent 2nd birthday party, we decided to keep it small. We invited only a few friends and planned it for when the "big kids" would be busy elsewhere so the little ones would have some nice relaxing tea-party action without being bowled over by the lego construction fleet. A small party meant less stress, less preparation and fewer spills...but it also meant less cake.

Baking a big cake seemed a bit like overkill for a party with 4 little 2 year old girls, so I decided to bake cupcakes. But even if I included one for each mom too, 8 cupcakes sitting on a plate seemed kind of lame. Well, since I wasn't running ragged the night before getting 'everything' ready, I decided to try to make the idea that had been forming in my head over the last few weeks materialize. As I set about with paper, tape and a bunch of recyclables on my living room floor, my husband asked, "what are you doing?", to which I replied as if it were the most obvious thing, "ummm, making a castle!". Well, when all was said and done, here's how it turned out.


To make one of your own, you can modify and embellish as you see fit, but this was my low-key method:

Raid the recycling bin and collect...
Paper towel and toilet paper tubes, which are the perfect size for supporting cupcakes!
Tissue boxes. I used the cube shaped ones, but either kind of even a combination will work.
Paper. I used construction paper since I wanted a color-block look, but you could use any paper that goes with your theme. Wrapping paper would be perfect too.

Make the flags and windows.
Cut as many little tissue paper or foil triangles as you have cupcakes and tape the narrow side to one end of a toothpick. It's OK if they are a bit wrinkled since that adds to the effect!
You can also cut out little squares or arch-shaped pieces of paper and glue or tape them to the towers and boxes as small windows.

Start assembling.
I covered the tubes and tissue boxes with the paper and taped the seams. Next I arranged them on a large tray until I liked how they looked, and then used the tape again to tape the tubes to the boxes and a little more tape to affix them to the tray.

Add your cupcakes!
I frosted the cupcakes and then just sat them on the top of each tube. But after trying to add sprinkles to the cupcakes while in place, I recommend you place them after frosting and decorating them! I also learned it's best to put the castle where you'd like to display it before adding the cupcakes to the castle. Then all that's left to do is add your candles and sing the Birthday Song...and eat!

And here's my little princess happy as can be with her cupcake castle. :)