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Cheese, bread and activism

Posted 9/11/2009 10:17am by Leslie Cooperband or Wes Jarrell.

This week started with a holiday—Labor Day—I labored lightly in the garden harvesting tomatoes.  At last, we have enough Juliet tomatoes to dry and blend into our Chevre for the much coveted “Heirloom Tomato” Chevre.  These heirloom mini-Roma type tomatoes burst with flavor, and when dried, the rich flavor is even more concentrated. Heirloom Tomato Chevre will be available at all four of the markets that we plan to attend this weekend: Urbana, Green City Market, Oak Park and Bloomington.  Of course, we have our ‘regular’ flavors as well: plain, herbs de Provence and cracked black peppercorn.

We’re also introducing a new and experimental modestly ripened Chevre ball we’re calling “Prairie Drop Seed.” Prairie Drop Seed is a grass native to the tall grass prairies that once dominated our landscape.  It is in seed right now in our newly established prairie!! This little Chevre ball, dusted with ash and coated with a thin veneer of white and blue molds, is somewhat similar to our Dent de Leon, but younger and more moist.  It makes a great crumbling cheese—try it on a tomato salad, homemade pizza or a simple summer pasta dish with grilled veggies.  Let us know what you think.

Other cheeses making an appearance at the farmers' markets:
Angel Food (limited availability)
Krotovina (a bit young, but definitely worth eating)

For some of you, this time of year marks the Jewish New year, Rosh Hashanah. It is traditional (at least for some Jews) to eat a special, rounded Challah (the braided egg bread) embedded with raisins to ensure a sweet new year and to symbolize the continuity of the seasons and the years. Well, Stewart Pequinot of Stewart’s Artisan Breads (Mohamet IL) will be offering the rounded challah at the Urbana Farmers’ Market this Saturday and next (September 12th and 19th).  For those of you fortunate to live in the Champaign Urbana area and shop at the Urbana farmers’ market, you have probably come to know and love Stewart’s Artisan Breads. He has developed quite a following for his bagels. He actually bakes bread during the week in our commercial kitchen. I have graciously offered to be his guinea pig in testing out this recipe for a rounded raisin Challah, and I can testify that it is both beautiful and delicious.

Our beautiful slice of prairie paradise is threatened by plans to construct a road just yards to the south of our property.  Referred to as the “Olympian Drive Extension,” the cities of Urbana and Champaign as well as county government see this road as the means to future development and “progress” for the region.  They are sending a delegation to Washington DC in the next couple of weeks to solicit federal funds for this project. We believe the road project and plans for light industry development on prime farmland are ill-conceived and will destroy the unique rural character of this region forever. For those of you who live in Champaign-Urbana or in the county, we will have a petition for you to sign at our farmers’ market stand in Urbana, this Saturday, September 12th.  I am attaching the text of the petition so you can read it ahead of time.  For those of you who don’t live in Champaign County but share our concerns, we encourage you to send letters to our Congressional Representative, Tim Johnson and our state senators: Richard Durbin and Roland Burris.  Feel free to use some of the text in the petition below in crafting your letters. We thank you for any support you can provide.


The city governments of Urbana and Champaign, The Champaign County Board and the Champaign Urbana Chambers of Commerce are sending a delegation to Washington DC in two weeks to solicit federal funds to begin construction of the extension of Olympian Drive eastward from where it ends east of Market Street to connect with Highway 45 in Urbana.  This road would bisect prime farmland just north of Urbana-Champaign and destroy forever the unique agricultural community that has existed in this area since the end of the Civil War.  Moreover, the road is just the beginning of a larger long-range plan to rezone the region for light industry. 
The residents of this area are concerned that many irreplaceable community benefits will be lost by this proposed zoning and development plan, which was hatched fifteen years ago when local priorities and the national economy were very different than they are today.  While much would be lost, very little stands to be gained.

Many irreplaceable community benefits will be lost if the Olympian Drive extension slashes through this countryside:
- We threaten our incredible potential for near-community local foods production which has proven benefits for the local economy (job creation, increased tax revenues), public health, and quality of life for all residents of Champaign County;
- We threaten several designated “Centennial” farms that will be cut in two, making it more complicated to manage them and increasing the risk that farm families who have been on this land for as much as seven generations will have to stop farming;
- We lose the tranquil beauty of a “green” place minutes from town, with fields, farmsteads, streams, and forests, for bike touring and passive enjoyment by the public;
- We lose prime agricultural lands situated on some of the best prairie soils in the world;
-We bisect one of the few effective wildlife corridors in the area (Saline Branch), which deer, coyotes, mink, weasels, ducks, muskrat, and an amazing array of other native animals use as an uninterrupted pathway linking woodlots and riparian systems north of Urbana;
-We destroy Indian graves and remnants connected to the original inhabitants;
- We lose the opportunity to gain a unique reputation for sustainability and thoughtful consideration of quality of life for current inhabitants and for the entire Champaign county community.

The putative gains of the proposed Olympian Drive project are questionable:
 - Light industry tax base, based on a “build it and they will come” strategy.  We question if there are relevant and recent studies that demonstrate the economic need for developing this agricultural land into light industry, given that sufficient areas already exist for industrial development.  For example:

There are three other roads already in existence within ¼ to ½ mile of the proposed Olympian Drive extension. The current roads already meet the needs of the community and connect to Route 45.

  • No occupants or companies have been identified to occupy this corridor;
  • Unused or underutilized space exist both north and south of town;
  • The Village of Rantoul, less than 15 miles north of Urbana has substantial urban/commercial/ industrial space that hasn’t yet been developed.  If there are funds for light industry development in Champaign County, it should go to areas that are already primed for this type of development.
  • Highway 45 has been identified as a major corridor for industrial expansion, and it links Urbana and Rantoul; why not concentrate development in this area?
  • There appears to be no serious updating of proposals and long range plans developed during the mid-1990’s to determine if their assumptions about growth are still valid and appropriate to 2010 and beyond.
  • Further, we know of no comprehensive environmental impact analysis that would project the increase in traffic, pollutants, disruption of native species, destruction of historical sites, and diversion of water and other natural resources necessary for agricultural production.

If you agree that we need to find alternatives to constructing Olympian Drive through PRIME AGRICULTURAL lands with tremendous environmental and historical value and “green” economic development potential, please sign our petition below. This will be distributed to the mayors of Urbana and Champaign, their City Council members, The Champaign County Board, Champaign Co. Regional Planning Commission and other influential local government officials.  It is not too late to provide alternatives to this project if we ACT NOW!!