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Markets offer fresh produce right off the farm
By Stephanie Penick | Daily Herald Columnist

The farmers market at Naperville's Fifth Avenue Station will open for the season in a few weeks and continue from 7 a.m. to noon Saturdays through the last weekend in October.


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Published: 5/19/2010 12:02 AM

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If you go

What: Roast-n-Toast fundraiser for Northern Illinois Food Bank's Youth Nutrition Programs

When: Noon to 4 p.m. May 29

Where: Hotel Arista at CityGate Centre, Route 59 and Diehl Road, Naperville

Tickets: $30 for adults, $10 for children ages 5-12

Info: (630) 778-8623

Though I grew up in Muncie, Ind., the daughter of a building contractor, I count my blessings every day for about 25 years worth of summer vacations on my grandparents' farm in Battle Ground, where my grandfather - and later his nine children - spent their childhoods.

My Grandpa Mitchell was an agricultural economist at Purdue with a hog and cattle farm just down the road from the Tippecanoe Battlefield, a National Historic Landmark.

My grandparents' farm was sustained by field corn and soybeans. During those vacations every August, I recognized the hard work that went into the harvest that required many hired hands. That's when my grandmother needed me most as we prepared and served daily dinners at noon for more than a dozen men who sat around their huge dining room table, made even larger with every leaf in it.

I'll always remember one of the hands who enjoyed entertaining me with his knack for filling his knife blade with peas and rolling them into his mouth.

Back then I also came to realize how much my grandmother contributed. Their chicken coop and family garden plot, with all the fruits, vegetables and flowers, attracted most of my attention as I followed my grandmother's lead to gather eggs and pick the bounty.

I haven't grown into much of a gardener. That said, when fresh sweet corn, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, kohlrabi, peas, lima beans, leaf lettuces, squashes, strawberries, tomatoes and cantaloupe were the norm, I haven't settled for much less.

That's why I visit farmers markets and support local growers. In a couple weeks, the farmers market at Fifth Avenue Station again will be open from 7 a.m. to noon Saturdays through the last weekend in October. And Keller's Farmstand, down at 516 Knoch Knolls Road, already is open for the spring season.

Last Wednesday the Daily Herald food section featured stories about fresh meats and vegetables. The story about lamb reminded me of the time when I lived in New York City in the early 1980s. When I asked the butcher around the corner from our apartment for help planning the menu for a dinner party, he talked me into purchasing lamb spare ribs. Even then, attitudes toward lamb needed savoring.

My younger brother was visiting that evening and everyone raved about the juicy tenderness of the barbecued ribs. When my brother asked if they were pork or beef, I answered, "Baa, baa."

Another feature in the food section by Deborah Pankey about Geoff Rhyne at SugarToad provided a profile of the young Chef de Cuisine who has been teaching the cooking classes I've been attending since February.

For full disclosure, SugarToad is also the restaurant where my son is the sommelier, or "wine geek" as he calls himself, pairing the fresh foods and recipes created by Chef Rhyne with American wines.

What also impressed me is that last November, Chef Rhyne and SugarToad's young staff began to focus on children in need. As a group, they began volunteering a couple mornings a month at the Northern Illinois Food Bank in St. Charles to fill backpacks for the Youth Nutrition Program that benefits hungry children in our community.

Also, several months ago, they had the idea to host their first "Roast-n-Toast" to raise funds for the NIFB Youth Nutrition Programs. They engaged Two Brothers Brewery in Warrenville to fill the toast while Chef prepares the roast of pigs and chickens provided by Slagel Family Farm in Fairbury.

The event will be from noon to 4 p.m. May 29 at the Hotel Arista in Naperville. Tickets are $30 for adults, $10 for children ages 5-12 and free for children younger than 5.

The NIFB Youth Nutrition Programs help feed roughly 4,000 children per day and another 1,000 weekly through the BackPack Program.

Festivities, with a focus on the entire family, also will include live music, raffle prizes, activities and giveaways.

For reservations or details, call (630) 778-8623. Or pick up tickets at the Hotel Arista at CityGate Centre, Route 59 and Diehl Road.