A few weeks ago I took a field trip to Michigan. Destination: Videnovich Farms, the family land where my friend Vera raises chicken, sheep, and vegetables. Vera and I used to work together at the Reader, and for years she ran a small, Reader-only CSA program, which had her delivering bags of vegetables to the office once a week all summer and fall. After she was laid off in 2007 she decided to try and make a go of farming full time.
After hanging out with her for an afternoon, all I can say is I don’t know how she does it. And those vegetables? They’re underpriced by any minimum wage standard.
She shares the land with two of her four brothers, one of whom raises peppers that he sells to the Serbian community.
The other raises soybeans and white Concord grapes, which he sells to Welch’s. When the grapes are ripe on the vine, the whole farm smells like a lunchroom full of first graders.
On her corner of the farm, Vera specializes in rare, Old World vegetable varieties that reflect her Serbian roots. Eggplant, okra, beans, cucumbers, radishes, peppers, and more peppers. Sadly, her tomato crop, like so many, was devastated this year by blight. The carnage — rows of mangy, rotting, inedible fruit — was painful to see.
But on the day I visited the okra, though late in ripening, was bountiful. And, beautiful.
I helped her pick a row — down once side and back up another. After about two hours this is what we had. Also, I had a little sunburn.
When Vera’s out there, she sleeps on the sofa in the main house, which is otherwise uninhabitable. The bathroom is in the barn. And every square foot of the farm’s uncultivated land seems to be full of old cars and rusty farm equipment, which her brothers buy at auction and then sell on the scrap metal market.
But there is also a passel of brilliantly colored chickens.
And some seriously adorable sheep. In the off-season, Vera spins their wool into yarn and knits sweaters and other wooly goods to sell at craft fairs like this weekend’s Handmade Market at the Empty Bottle. (Next weekend, for all you yarn geeks, she and her portable spinning wheel will be at YarnCon at Pulaski Park.)
Vera sells at the Andersonville and Logan Square farmers’ markets, and distributes her CSA at the Hideout. After seeing first-hand how hard she was working, we decided to dedicate this week’s bingo proceeds to her. OK, it’s not exactly “urban agriculture,” but independent entrepreneurs like her are in the vanguard of the movement to find creative, small-scale ways to bring farm-fresh produce to the city. Today, she says she’s going to bring some ajvar — Serbian pepper relish — to donate to the prize pot. You don’t want to miss this stuff; it is DELISH.
So, see you tonight, with our guest callers David Kodeski and Diana Slickman, of BoyGirlBoyGirl and Theater Oobleck. That’s from 6 to 8 PM at the Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia. Bingo, beer, and hot dogs (and their veggie friends) — what more could you want?