Big Jones' Paul Fehribach Visits His Farmers

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He may not be one of the best-known chefs in town, but Big Jones' Paul Fehribach has consistently struck us as being one of the most thoughtful as evidenced by his blog, and not least by the fact that his is the rare chef's blog which has actually lasted more than a few months. (It was named best chef's blog by the Reader last year.) He often wrestles with the bigger issues behind the food he cooks where it comes from, where it fits into the tradition of Southern cooking Big Jones represents and this week's post is no exception. He takes a trip to the Kankakee area to visit three of his suppliers, two of whom Three Sisters and Genesis Growers will be quite familiar to Green City Market shoppers. And he has some pointed observations on industrial versus artisanal farming:

Its telling that the folks from industrial ag schools are interested in what these little farms are doing - In little more than 100 years, American agribusiness has lost the technology of the farmstead and theyre curious to see how the new generation of back-to-the-land growers is doing it. Turns out its a lot of work, but its also rewarding, the land fares better, and in the end, theres more financial independence for the farmers who can get their produce to market. There are also more jobs.

A farmer growing organic peppers, for instance, can gross more than $7,000 on an acre. Compare that to $800-1,000 per acre on commodity field corn, and the commodity farmer has to buy inputs and very expensive planting and harvesting equipment. The vegetable grower, if diversified, can produce a continuous harvest throughout the growing season and employ many more people doing the work of planting, cultivating, harvesting, and processing.

A few weeks ago when I was setting up our composting program with Kenn Dunn of Chicago Resource Center, he got on the topic of City Farm. He pointed out that the city is sitting on 6,000 acres of unused and undeveloped land. Theres at least three jobs in every acre if we plant them, Ken mused. Of course I was befuddled. 18,000 jobs. Land thats not producing anything. Seems to me we can put some people to work, but we have to continue thinking about our priorities.

Down on the Farm with Genesis Growers, the Moores, and Three Sisters Garden [Big Jones Blog]