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WHERE THE GRASS IS GREENER: Down on a farm in Kankakee, 2 city girls find room to grow
The Green City Market, spreading out one recent Saturday morning near the southern edge of Lincoln Park, was alive with city folk mingling with country folk, the former buying the foods that the latter had toted here from farms across the region.
This weekly scene, much like the daily encounters at nearby Lincoln Park Zoo, is a delight to behold. But seeing a lion in Chicago is not like seeing a lion in Kenya, and seeing a cucumber in Lincoln Park is not like eating one freshly pulled from the soil on a small farm near Kankakee.
That's what Osgood and I did. We ate the fresh-as-fresh-can-be cucumber, we ate flowers and plants and sweet corn as they were plucked from the ground by Tracey Vowell and her partner Kathe Roybal (left to right in Osgood's photo) on their farm, Three Sisters Garden.
Vowell once had one of the most prestigious kitchen jobs in town. For 17 years she was a chef at the esteemed Frontera Grill and Topolobampo.
"Living on Frontera time makes for a fast life," Vowell says. "Eventually, I realized I didn't want to own my own restaurant. I didn't want to live a public life."
So, nine years ago, knowing little more about farming than they could pick up from books and Web sites, Vowell and Roybal embarked on their rural adventure. It has not been easy. They work hard every day, which starts with an alarm buzzing at 5 a.m. Over the years, they built a steady clientele of 18 restaurants for their organic goods and, beginning last summer, started to sell at Green City Market. But it has been a struggle, and now some old friends are holding a benefit to buy them a new van.
Billed, with considerable understatement, as a pot luck brunch, it takes place noon to 3 p.m. Sunday at Jackie Chen's Red Light restaurant, 820 W. Randolph St. Chen organized the event, which will feature food from such other restaurants as Urban Belly, Prairie Grass, David Burke's Primehouse, Socca, Blackbird and Big Jones. The brunch will offer a wide mix of cuisines, coffee and booze. Tickets are $50, and there might still be some available, just call 312-733-8880.
But let's get back to the farm. A short drive away from their home-farm is the piece of land Vowell and Roybal share with David Wulff, a lifelong farmer who has much larger parcels where he farms corn and other commodity crops. He has a large and colorful tattoo of a tractor on his right arm and first met the ladies from Chicago shortly after they arrived.
"They hired me to plow their land," he says. "They didn't seem to know a lot about farming. I wasn't sure they'd make it."
Vowell says, "Dave knows so many things we don't. There are so many things to know about farming; you never stop learning."
The three farmers lean down to check on a pumpkin. It is only the size of a plum.
"Amazing, isn't it?" Wulff rhetorically asked the two city boys.
August 23, 2009