This guest post is by RU senior Melanie Blume, a SUST major who is interning with conservation and education staff at the Spring Valley Nature Center and the Volkening Heritage Farm near Roosevelt’s campus in Schaumburg IL. These excellent facilities are part of the 135-acre Spring Valley Conservation Area, the largest and most ecologically significant green space with the Village of Schaumburg limits, and are managed by the Schaumburg Park District.
During the Spring 2015 semester, Melanie will reflect on her work at Spring Valley on prairie conservation, seed propagation, invasive species identification and removal at the Nature Center; as well as on garden preparation, planting of their extensive vegetable garden, and contributing to Farm to Table programs with a focus on local food production at the Volkening Farm.
There is a farm to table movement that is sweeping across the Midwest. It emphasizes using fresh ingredients that are in season and grown locally. As part of my internship at Volkening Heritage Farm in Schaumburg this winter and spring, I am assisting in a series of classes that teach how to prepare healthy wholesome dishes using farm fresh ingredients that are grown locally. From February to March there will be classes themed on potatoes, honey, farm fresh eggs, and asparagus. More information and registration can be found at www.parkfun.com.
The Volkening Heritage Farm had its origins when it was built in the 1880s in a German farm community that was Schaumburg, IL. Although unrecognizable now, remnants of historic Schaumburg are still found everywhere — from Busse Woods, which was planted by Mr. Busse to supply the small town with a sufficient supply of lumber; to street names like Nerge and Wise, which were both individual family farms in the 1880s. Many of the buildings on the property came from surrounding farms for historic preservation as Schaumburg’s commercial economy boomed during the 20th century.
The art of cooking has not been passed down as well as in previous years and many young adults are at a loss of how to prepare their own meals. There are so many options from frozen dinners to eating out that cooking isn’t necessarily required anymore. Eating homemade food improves a person’s health and knowing how to whip up a meal using a few readily available ingredients rather than going out or though a drive-through can save a lot of money.
I spent some time researching asparagus and found that for a food it has a lot of followers. In Germany there is an entire museum dedicated to asparagus. They have what look like albino asparagus and it is grown entirely underground. When it peeks through the soil it must be immediately covered by more soil to prevent any photosynthesis to occur which would make it green—this process is calling blanching. White asparagus is less bitter but more tender than green asparagus.
Asparagus must be cut when the buds are small, but they will keep producing new ones throughout summer once they are cut. At the end of the growing season, the plants are left to go to seed and regenerate next year’s crop. I tried making an asparagus quiche at home and it turned out delicious! Just like making scrambled eggs, you chop up onions, asparagus, bacon, cheddar and swiss cheese and add about 6 eggs and some half and half. It was ready in 45 minutes after baking at 375 degrees. I think we’ll try to find pans to make personal sized quiches for the class.
Another ingredient we are focusing on in the Farm to Table Series is honey. We will sample various types of honey. The staff there taught me that the difference in various honey is the pollen used. One example is buckwheat honey, which is made by bees that pollinate the buckwheat plant. Raw honey is thick and viscous until it is whipped and churned into the honey we buy at the store. I was thinking of suggesting baklava for one of the honey dishes — but first I’ll have to see how difficult and time consuming it is.
It was interesting to learn that there aren’t any native honeybees in North America; they were all brought from Europe. The plants honeybees pollenate aren’t typically native ones either. Beekeepers move their bees by moving the queen bee. All the other bees loyally follow to protect their queen. Honey is a much healthier sweetener than sugar and has natural antioxidants.
More to come after I put in more time at the Farm in upcoming weeks!
Melanie Blume, submitted 29 Jan 2015