Profiling 25 Midwestern farms in her book Locally Grown: Portraits of Artisanal Farms from America’s Heartland, Anna Blessing tells the story of each including its history, roots in the community, scale, production and inner workings as well as the premiere Chicago chefs such as Rick Bayless, Stephanie Izard, Sarah Stegner and Paul Kahan who rely upon these food producers for what they cook in their restaurants.
“I wanted to share the stories of these amazing farmers,” said Blessing, a writer and photographer who also authored Locally Brewed: Portraits of Craft Breweries from America’s Heartland. “It’s so easy to forget where our food comes from and to take for granted the miracle of growing food. I want to celebrate the care that these farmers put into their craft, the respect they have for this work and the ways in which the intentional effort has had and continues to have both a dramatic and positive impact on the way our food tastes and the health of the environment in which it’s grown.”
Taking photos and talking to the chefs who buy from the farmers as well as getting the recipes they create from the farms, Blessing devotes a chapter to each farm but further organizes them into categories.
For instance in Refashioning the Family Farm, Blessing takes us to seven farms including the fourth generation Gunthorp Farm in LaGrange, Indiana where Craig Gunthorp determined to keep raising pigs even though in 1988 he was selling them for less than the price his grandfather had gotten during the Depression. But then, after speaking about sustainable agriculture at a conference, Gunthorp was given the number of a restaurant looking for a pig farmer. The number turned out to be the late Charlie Trotter’s, who owned the famed restaurant bearing his name.
Part 2: Moving from the City to the Farm takes us to such farmers as Abra Berens who co-owned Bare Knuckle Farm in Northport, Michigan who attended Ballymaloe Cookery School in Southern Ireland. Berens, who was nominated for Best Chef in the Great Lakes Region by the James Beard Foundation, is also the author of two bestselling cookbooks, Grist: A Practical Guide to Cooking Grains, Beans, Seeds, and Legumes and Ruffage: A Practical Guide to Vegetables. She now is the chef at Granor Farm in Three Oaks, Michigan.
Then Blessing takes us in the opposite direction with farming that moves to the city. Here she profiles, among others, Rick Bayless, owner and chef at Frontera Grill, Topolobampo, Lena Brava, Tortazo, and XOCO restaurants and also hosted the TV show One Plate at a Time, who has a 1000-square-foot production farm in his backyard.
“The chefs are so essential to promoting locally based eating because they are the ones with the voice and the ones who we as eaters look up to and want to learn from,” said Blessing, who in her book also tells the best places to find, buy and eat sustainably grown food and details on visiting the farms in her book. “When they say this is the best way to grow food and these are the farmers to support, it’s very strong endorsement.”