In a Lot's-wife turnabout, I've been spending a great deal of time reflecting on our five-year hiatus in the Midwest now that we've moved home to New Orleans. Post-Mardi Gras, Jazzfest, Halloween and Christmas (the seasons), we would come north to find organically-grown vegetables left by the cat-sitter who was an artist and organic farmer. The alternate cat-sitter was also a musician and an organic farmer. Since my recipe for root vegetables is to boil them into glue, I took tips from my sister-in-law who is a nurse and an organic farmer. A great deal of pride is shown in the quality of locally farmed organic ingredients. Henry's Farm has a booming co-op and it seems like most of our friends worked there. Epiphany Farms is also coming up as a farm-to-fork exercise in sustainable dining. The Epiphany team is working toward a restaurant with five star chefs who also work on their own organic farm. For now, they offer ingredients for local noshing at the wine bar A. Renee.
In my sister-in-law's kitchen, I knew the name of the goat providing delicious goat cheese (Star) and the fact that Star was a bit of a diva. During harvest season, you couldn't go into a local shop without coming home with a bag full of fresh vegetables from friends. One word that comes to mind is bounty. The other is sharing. Farm country in the Midwest was first nicknamed Little Egypt when America was suffering through a terrible famine and our crops just kept growing -- enough to ship out to the rest of the country. The nickname for my hometown newspaper was Little Egypt's Greatest Daily with a pyramid logo, which seemed curious to a kid in a prairie town.
Back in our post-Katrina prairie home, a peaceful day out was a walk through the wind farms when the air was crystal clear. A big night out was a Peter Adriel concert as his father, energy professor Solar Dan, served organic potatoes fried in vegetable oil from his farm, shaved into chips with his vegetable-oil-powered drill. Solar Dan has also managed to rig up a solar chainsaw, so the sky's the limit in alternative energies. Our local glass was not only recycled, but bottles are also spun into the town's glass Christmas tree by Jason Mack of Mack Glass. Bloomington has always been a home for innovations, including the gas furnace, which moved the country away from coal and ushered in a new middle class.
It's also the town that gave Abraham Lincoln his campaign manager once his friends talked him into running for president. Based on plaques dotting the buildings downtown, Lincoln liked to give speeches on inventions and modern marvels of the 1800s. We lived in what would have been the skyscraper in Lincoln's day, at six stories tall. It faced the courthouse museum where a guide let my husband take photos from the inside of the clock tower for a magazine spread. The gear-filled dome was a steampunk dream.
I like to think Lincoln would have loved the sustainable farming and spirit of sharing that's rolling through the Midwest right now.
President Lincoln declared the first Thanksgiving holiday in 1863, a fact that was mentioned by President Barack Obama today who also said: "In America, we come together when times are hard."
Upon departing for the White House, Lincoln told his assembled friends in Springfield:
"To this place and the kindness of these people, I owe everything."
In that spirit, here's wishing you and yours a Thanksgiving filled with bounty and sharing.
All Photos by Jeff "Happy Thanksgiving" Beninato