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Here's a $40 deal for tonight: A four-course dinner at Browntrout, 4111 N. Lincoln, and conversation with Spence Farm's Marty and Kris Travis and Jennifer Olvera, author of the Food Lovers' Guide to Chicago and Sun-Times contributor.

This is a good group. The Travises are warm and chatty, as most farmers tend to be ("We always joke that the problem with farmers is they talk too much," Rob Gardner, editor of the Local Beet website, once told me). And they are a familiar topic for Olvera, who has written about their famous ramp digs in the spring and about their son Will making a name for himself with the maple syrup he taps on the property. Marty's recipe for cornbread using, naturally, his own whole-wheat flour, remains one of my favorites.

The evening begins with a 6:30 p.m. reception, followed by dinner at 7 p.m. (Add $30 for wine pairings; copies of Food Lovers' are included in the dinner price.) Oh and, those ramps are on the menu, in pickled and vinaigrette form. Call (773) 472-4111.

For more upcoming farm dinners, check out our September calendar. And add this one to the list: 7 p.m. Sept. 22 at Blue Sky Bakery, 3720 N. Lincoln, just down the road from Browntrout. Three courses, featuring the meats of Mint Creek Farm, for $30.

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[Get ready for radishes along the riverwalk.]

Farmers market devotees can add another urban location to their shopping list this summer, and a swank one at that.

The newest city-sponsored farmers market will open in June along the riverwalk outside the Trump International Hotel and Tower, 401 N. Wabash.

The Trump Bridges to Bridges Market will be held on the final Thursday of each month, running at least through September and possibly into October, a spokeswoman says.

It will operate from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. The later hours are ideal for urbanites who can't get to the markets until on their way home from the work.

The hotel hopes to host about 20 regular vendors, Nichols Farm and Orchard and Slagel Family Farm among them, says chef Frank Brunacci.

This is an extension of a one-day market the hotel held one drizzly morning last summer on its 16th-floor terrace.

Watch for our complete guide to farmers markets in May.

Tomato extras

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We solicited and received way more tomato-related tidbits than we had space for in today's cover story on eating tomatoes from morning to night.

Like: At Balsan in the Elysian Hotel, tomatoes are the supporting player this month and next. The hotel pre-ordered 2,000 pounds of the fruit from Heritage Prairie Farm in La Fox. It's just about time for the farm to make that delivery, after which the kitchen will be busy; 1,200 pounds have been allotted to make ketchup, 500 pounds for preserved tomatoes and the rest for pizza sauce. Not surprisingly, Balsan isn't the only kitchen around town going nuts for tomatoes.

For backyard gardeners taking notes, farmer Chris Covelli of Tomato Mountain offers this: "Water only as much as necessary. If you let the soil dry out, they taste incredible. And always harvest the day before watering, not the day after."

For tasting notes and photos of various heirloom varieties, check out this link from the Local Beet.

And if nothing about our story inspired you, there's always last year's.

6-29-10_Hein_honey_11.jpg If you've read today's story on the chef's apiary program at Heritage Prairie Farm, you can expect honey-infused menus all around town later this summer, as well as in some places you might not expect (try Playboy's headquarters).

The farm in west suburban La Fox (near Geneva/St. Charles) isn't just about honey, of course. It sells its produce at the Green City Market and at its own market on-site; throws occasional dinners on the farm; and, we just learned, holds a pizza and kickball night -- that's right, kickball! -- every Wednesday.

Individual-size pizzas, fired up in a hearth oven, are $8; side salads (which sounds so pedestrian, but are probably the best side salads you'll ever eat) are $3. Tonight's pizzas: margherita, barbecue chicken and sausage/onion/shroom.

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If you're like me and you don't happen to read or subscribe to Playboy, you might have missed this tidbit in the July issue, on stands now: The magazine has hopped aboard the local honey movement as the proud owner of its own beehive.

Playboy is one of more than 20 area businesses (the others mostly restaurants) that are part of Heritage Prairie Farm's new adopt-a-hive program. The farm, about an hour west of Chicago in La Fox, will deliver the honey, upward of 150 pounds per customer, later this summer.

Though Playboy won't be selling its honey -- they'll use it instead as a "fun leave behind/gift for special friends of Playboy," says spokeswoman Abigail O'Donnell -- it has come up with its own nifty name and label for it (and you could see this coming a mile away, couldn't you): Bunny Honey.

"I'm convinced they had some huge story that dropped out," marvels Heritage Prairie's owner Bronwyn Weaver (below) at the page 18-placement of her honey.

You can read more about Weaver's honey and chef apiary program in next week's Food pages. And you can, um, see more honey pictures here.

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Here are quick links to the farmers featured in today's cover story on these unlikely adopters of social media, plus a few that didn't make it in:

Dietzler Farms: on Twitter
Green Acres Farm: on Facebook
Heritage Prairie Farm: on Facebook and Twitter
Three Sisters Garden: on Facebook
River Valley Ranch: on Facebook and Twitter
Seedling Orchard: on Facebook, and Twitter
Ellis Family Farm: on Facebook
Nichols Farm and Orchard: on Facebook and Twitter

We're particularly tickled to see Nichols Farm on Twitter. Looks like they signed up the day after we'd chatted with Todd Nichols (at right), one of the sons of the farm's founder, Lloyd Nichols. 5-18 podgo farm 8.jpg

Todd, 28, who's had a personal Facebook account since the site's get-go, says he took it upon himself to start a Facebook page for the farm earlier this year.

Pa Nichols "is so computer-illiterate. At his point in life, he doesn't even want to learn. In fact, he was surprised when he heard your message about this story, because he didn't know we had a Facebook page," Todd Nichols says.

We'd like to think we had something to do with the new Nichols Twitter account; but alas, as their second tweet says, it was Oak Park locavore-to-the-core Rob Gardner who's responsible. Anyway, Pa Nichols, if you're reading this (which you probably aren't, based on what your son is saying about you), consider yourself informed.

What color is your CSA?

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It is, believe it or not, time to start thinking about sugar snap peas and rhubarb and all sorts of lovely things that sprout from the soil and herald, "SPRING!"

Which is to say, if you subscribe to a Community Supported Agriculture program, or are kicking around the idea of a spring or summer produce/meat share, it's time to stop kicking and sign up.

There's no better place to do your research than the Local Beet. Those savvy locabloggers have put together this nifty guide to choosing the CSA that's right for you. Are you an omnivore? Do you knit? Are you a farmer wannabe? They can suggest which CSA will suit your needs. Check it out.

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Bummer for Nestle, which produces the iconic Libby's canned pumpkin, the go-to squash for millions of pie makers this time of year.

The company says heavy rains have forced it to cease harvesting its crop in Downstate Morton -- which may lead to a shortage during the holiday season of those recognizable orange cans.

But relax, people. You can still bake your pumpkin pie and eat it, too. A pumpkin is a gourd -- as are those oodles of beautiful winter squash with the poetic names (Kabocha, Hubbard, Delicata) crowding the store bins these days.

In my freezer, I have a Ziploc bag full of the cooked flesh of a red Kabocha squash. I bought the squash in early October from farmer Vicki Westerhoff (below) at Green City Market, for our story on farmers' favorite Thanksgiving recipes. Westerhoff is a something of a squash expert -- she grows between 11 and 18 varieties of winter squash on her St. Anne farm -- and her recipe for custard-filled squash is delightful. 10-24_white_farmer_1.jpg

In my first attempt at Westerhoff's recipe, however, forces out of my control prevented me from keeping a close eye on the squash -- or, more accurately, the clock -- as it baked (long story; just know it involved my two daughters). The beautiful, majestic squash collapsed on me in the heat, the filling spilling out across the baking sheet. Dang.

But it still tasted delicious, so I scooped all the flesh from the skin anyway, collecting it in a bag and popping it into the freezer. And next week, I'll be making pie with it.

Westerhoff says the three best substitutes for the canned stuff are the Blue Hubbard, Long Island Cheese and Butternut squash (though she assures me my red Kabocha also will work well).

"I would dare say other than a super pumpkin connoisseur, no one would know the difference," she says. "In fact, I think they work better than pumpkin in a lot of ways. The texture is smoother and the flavor is just really good."

So wherever you would have used canned pumpkin, try substituting a squash of a different stripe. It won't be the same old pie you're used to, but I don't think you'll be disappointed, either.

Putting together this week's story on four Illinois farmers and their favorite Thanksgiving recipes ranks up there as one of my favorites. Vicki Westerhoff, David Cleverdon, Tracey Vowell and Marty Travis -- they are some good eggs, and with fascinating back stories to boot.

They were all gracious enough to share their recipes during what is typically for them a busy, busy time -- and if you don't try Travis' cornbread recipe, you're missing out.

Speaking of, I missed a few resources for local food during the winter months in our listing, but the Local Beet, of course, has me covered.

Here, after the jump, are two more recipes from Cleverdon we didn't have space for in the section that make clever use of squash and greens. The rolls, his great-grandmother's recipe, have been in Cleverdon's family since the late 19th-century.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture continues to make good on its promise to boost local, sustainable agriculture. Last week, as part of the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food program, it awarded the Illinois Department of Agriculture more than $435,000 to help make locally grown produce more widely available, part of $49 million in grants nationwide.

The dollars will fund 28 projects statewide. Among them: Chicago's Green City Market will get $25,000 to develop its youth project, printed materials, a e-newsletter and a vendor survey; the Illinois Specialty Growers Association will get $20,000 for its annual organic growers conference, and nearly $84,000 will go to CBS Broadcasting to roll out a "Buy Illinois, Choose Illinois" ad campaign.

About the blog

Janet Rausa Fuller

Sun-Times Food editor Janet Rausa Fuller is always thinking about her next meal.

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