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Green City Market Chef's BBQ Highlights Farmers Who've Had Rough Season

By Janet Rausa Fuller | July 15, 2015 8:28am | Updated on July 16, 2015 10:44am
 Green City Market
Green City Market
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LINCOLN PARK — Even if the rain holds off Thursday, crummy weather will still be on the minds of many at the Green City Market Chef's BBQ in Lincoln Park.

A number of farmers who supply chefs with produce not just for the outdoor food fest but year-round are struggling to recover from a relentlessly soggy spring and early summer that drowned fields and wiped out crops, said Green City Market executive director Melissa Flynn.

"It's been so scattered, depending on where they are," Flynn said. "Some got clobbered."

One of the hardest hit: Vicki Westerhoff of Genesis Growers, a market mainstay and favorite among many Chicago chefs. Westerhoff has been posting photos on Facebook of the damage to her 20-acre farm in central Illinois, which has had about 36 inches of rain since April.

 Attendees at the annual Green City Market Chef's BBQ.
Attendees at the annual Green City Market Chef's BBQ.
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Green City Market/Facebook

"I was hoping to get anything she was growing...  I feel like she's a magician," said chef Chrissy Camba, who calls Westerhoff's produce "exceptional."

All was not lost — not Westerhoff's eggplant and onions anyway. Camba will be using the latter for a dumpling dish she'll serve at her stand, along with mint and an Italian green called bietina from Indiana's Green Acres Farm.

Indeed, the pickings will hardly feel slim for the 2,000 revelers expected Thursday. More than 100 restaurants and at least 30 brewers, distillers and beverage makers are on the roster this year, serving food and drinks that are as hyperlocal and seasonal as you can get.

Among the restaurants are some that aren't even open yet: Maddy's Dumpling House, which exists in pop-up form as Camba looks for a location; HaiSous, in the works from chef Thai Dang, formerly of Embeya, and Armour & Swift, the forthcoming steakhouse from the Boka and B. Hospitality restaurant groups.

There's the upscale (Nico Osteria, Momotaro), the downscale (Cookies and Carnitas, Honey Butter Fried Chicken) and the odd couple (Smoque BBQ and retired "Breakfast Queen" Ina Pinkney).

"It's an amazing opportunity to go and try some of the best and up-and-coming restaurants and add them to your bucket list," said Flynn, who joined Green City as director in March.

It's also prime chef-spotting territory (Bayless! Izard! Stegner! Kahan!) and for the chefs, it's all about name-dropping the farmers whose meat and produce they rely on. Despite the weather troubles, most farmers ensured that the produce and meat needs of the chefs were "all taken care of," said Flynn.

Westerhoff plans on attending — unless her field dries out. If that happens, she said she'll be hurrying to replant crops "as there is no time to lose on that front."

The barbecue, held on the grass at 1817 N. Clark St., is the main fundraiser for the nonprofit Green City Market, which started in 1998. The event grosses anywhere from $127,000 to $175,000, Flynn said.

In addition to its twice-weekly farmers market in Lincoln Park, Green City operates two new weekly markets in the West Loop.

Admission to the Chef's BBQ is $125 at the door.

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