Dinner on the farm in the city: Evening at City Farm celebrates founder's contribution to the community

2013-06-20T13:20:00Z 2013-06-28T09:18:04Z Dinner on the farm in the city: Evening at City Farm celebrates founder's contribution to the communityTara McElmurry Associate Niche Content Producer nwitimes.com

City-farm: an oxymoron, right? The bustling, windy city of Chicago is not place for farm yielding diverse crops. Wrong. City Farm, located on the corner of Clybourn and Division a few blocks south of Lincoln Park Zoo, is an acre of abundant greens and veggies, which are grown organically and sold to neighbors and local restaurants.

The occasion I happened upon City Farm Tuesday night was a dinner to celebrate the founder of City Farm Ken Dunn, as he was named one of Barefoot Wine’s Soles of the Year for making a lasting impression on his community. Along with City Farm, Ken founded the Resource Center about 35 years ago with the mission of finding uses for underused resources and reusing materials.

Our night at the farm started off with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. Barefoot Wine supplied the cocktails offering a chardonnay, a brut bubbly and Impression Red Wine Blend, which was created in Ken's honor. I enjoyed the crisp chardonnay and my dad enjoyed the red as we walked around the grounds before the tour. We peeked in the three small hoop houses on site, walked along side the multiple crop beds and found free-range chickens running around in the corner area of the farm.

Hors d’oeuvres featured lamb meatballs with a wild mint pesto drizzled on top and grilled bruschetta with roasted rhubarb, pistachio goat cheese and City Farm sorrel. Both tasted extremely fresh and were good pairings with my chardonnay. As we enjoyed our appetizers, Dan, one of the farmers, stopped by to explain how they grow everything organically and sell their produce to some of the best restaurants in the city like Frontera Grill and Topolobampo.

With our wine glasses replenished, Ken kicked off the tour with some more explanation of City Farm. The farm lies on vacant city land. Ken and his team make their own fertile compost and use it to build up the ground in order to grow the crops, as the city soil can be contaminated with pollution. The farmers don’t use any power farm tools and tend to the farm only using elbow grease. The farm produces more than 200,000 pounds of crops like arugula, beets, kale, collard greens, tomatoes and carrots. Each acre of farm creates about 3 full-time jobs along with seasonal work as well, showing how the farm creates a positive impression on the community in many different ways.

On the tour, Ken explained in detail about the different crops they grow and how the yields varied by season. Among the rows of collards and kale, it was easy to see how the system Ken has created works and supports the community in downtown Chicago.

After the tour, it was time to sit down, toast to Ken and eat. FIG Catering was on site, preparing our dinner with fresh food from the farm, as we toured it. We sat at a long farm table right in the middle of the farm, as we were served our first course — asparagus, sorrel and cucumber gazpacho. The freshness of that cold soup was amazing. The sorrel gave a light, almost citrus taste, which complemented the crisp tastes of the asparagus and cucumber.

Next up was the shredded City Farm carrot and fig salad with blue cheese crumbles and blue cheese vinaigrette. Freshness was the theme of this meal as the farm-to-table greens and carrots crunched perfectly with the dried figs and blue cheese.

For the main course, I had grilled pork pinchos with romesco, garlic scape potato salad and wilted chard and lacinato kale. Served on skewers with onions and red peppers, the pork was tender and juicy. The potato salad and wilted greens were delicious sides. My dad enjoyed the vegetarian option—a spring vegetable paella, which had the wilted greens on top.

We ate and laughed as our tablemates discussed everything from biking, triathlons, vegetarians and vacations on the island of Kauai, Hawaii. We also listened to Ken tell more stories of the farm and his sustainable missions in the city.

Dessert was served with excellent coffee, which was much needed, as the winds off the lake got chillier when the sun went down. Dessert was a goat’s milk flan with market strawberries, which was delectably smooth and melted in my mouth with the sweet, fresh strawberries.

As the sun set even further and we got up to leave, it was almost hard to believe we were still in the city. The City Farm, though right in the middle of it all, is like a little escape providing so much to the surrounding. Ken was thankful for our company and made sure to invite us all back again soon. We left full and inspired, and it was clear to my dad and I why Ken was named a Sole of the Year. And it was clear that the vegetables they grow at City Farm are not only incredibly sustainable and healthy; they are also delicious and a joy to eat.

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