Chicago City Provisions organic farm dinners

It’s Green Travel Month here at Gadling, so to get into the green spirit, I booked a special dinner with Chicago’s City Provisions Catering and Events, an eco-friendly catering company. City Provisions works with local farmers and suppliers, sends its organic waste back to farmers for composting, and sources all of its ingredients from organic and sustainable providers. The company offers catering services both off-site and at its city space, and is in the process of opening up a deli. It also hosts a monthly supperclub. In winter, dinners are held at the storefront location, but in the warmer months the meal is served out on a local farm, using fresh ingredients grown on-site. August’s dinner was held at Heritage Prairie Farm, about an hour north of Chicago. Heritage Prairie also does its owns farm dinners, but drinks and transportation are not included, as they are with City Provisions.

At 1 p.m., my husband and I arrived at the City Provisions location in Chicago. While we checked in, we were offered soft drinks – served in 100% compostable glasses – and light snacks. Then we, and the 38 other diners, boarded the biodiesel bus for the ride out to the farm. Along the way, we were introduced to Cleetus, the mastermind behind City Provisions. We enjoyed some BLT sandwiches, tomato gazpacho, and Great Lakes Brewing beers, and prepared ourselves for the upcoming feast.

Once at the farm, we met the owners and the farmers who work the land. They led us on a tour of the small property and explained the sustainable practices they employ to make the farm as efficient as possible. While Heritage Prairie is not a certified organic farm, the methods they use, such as allowing weeds to grow in certain areas rather than using pesticides, are green and eco-friendly. One of the most unique features of the farm is the three movable greenhouses, which allow the farmers to engaging in a practice known as “four-season farming”. The greenhouses are on tracks and can be moved up and down the length of the field, covering different sections as needed. This allows the farm to harvest some crops as late as January, long past the time when most other farms have halted their efforts for the year.

The tour took us through one of the smaller greenhouses, where we saw the wooden growing beds where seeds were left to germinate. Due to the farm’s small size, it’s very important that it be as efficient as possible. To ensure that every inch of the field is productive, the soil beds in the growing greenhouse are cut up into smaller squares, and only the successful ones are moved to the field. In this way, no field space is wasted. After exploring the grounds, we browsed through the farm’s market for honey made on-site and fresh produce and herbs grown at the farm.

By 5 p.m., we were sitting down to dinner at an elegantly-dressed table in the field. As we helped ourselves to baby eggplant baba ganouj with pita chips, servers began pouring the beer that would accompany each course. Provided by Great Lakes Brewing, one of the most environmentally-responsible brewers in the US, the beer was paired according to each course, and many of the dishes utilized the beer for their sauces.

Over the next three hours, we enjoyed five courses of delicious, fresh-from-the-farm food expertly prepared by the City Provisions chefs, who were all decked out in organic cotton chef’s jackets that had buttons made from nuts rather than plastic. Between each course, we had the chance to mingle with fellow diners and we learned about the process of brewing beer and about the sustainable practices at Great Lakes Brewing from owner Pat Conway.

Our first course, a delicate micro-green salad, was topped with sun gold tomatoes and a vinaigrette made with Grassroots beer from Great Lakes and honey produced on the farm. Next came a colorful mix of seared rainbow chard, baby leeks, currants and pine nuts, with crispy pancetta served over brown rice with a balsamic sauce made from the accompanying Edmund Fitzgerald Porter.

Course three – a zucchini cake topped with basil creme fraiche and served with baby carrots and more of the farm’s microgreens – was just as delightful. By the time course four rolled around, everyone at the table had become fast friends, and we traded stories while oohing and aahing over the grilled pork brat that was topped with grain mustard and served with potato salad and green beans in a browned-butter sauce.

Just when we thought our tummies had been filled to bursting, the final course was brought out. A light-as-air pavlova was topped with caramel-honey cream and fresh peaches and was served alongside a rich Glockenspiel beer. As we licked the last of the cream from our forks and tilted back our glasses to catch the last drops of beer, the chefs were busy setting up another surprise. While dinner had ended, the evening was far from over, and as we stood from the table, we saw that a bonfire had been started, more beer was ready to be consumed, and the ingredients for classic s’mores were laid out nearby. We drank, ate, and relaxed while enjoying the searing colors of the sun setting over the fields.

At 10 p.m., it was time to re-board the bus and return to our city lives. Our indulgent dinner may not have single-handedly saved the planet, but our support of farmers and producers who use sustainable methods may help encourage other restaurants and farmers to take a step in a greener direction too.

Can’t make it to Chicago to book a farm dinner with City Provisions? Here are some other green-focused farm dinners around the country.

Austin, Texas – Dai Due Supper Club
Portland, Oregon – Plate & Pitchfork Farm Dinners
Old Lyme, Connecticut – Dinners at the Farm
Ashville, North Carolina – Maverick Farms
Boulder, Colorado – Meadow Lark Farm Dinners
Point Arena, California – Oz Farm
Various locations – Outstanding in the Field

Nextworth pays cash for old gadgets, helps being green

As more and more people upgrade their devices once or even twice a year, thousands of products sit unused in drawers and boxes.

Nextworth thinks it has found the perfect solution to take those products off your hands and correctly recycle any gadgets that have no value.

The service pays cash for many recent gadgets, but really old products without any resale value will get very little, or nothing.

Those gadgets without any value can be sent to Nextworth for for free, and they will make sure they don’t end up in landfills.

I took the service for a spin, checking what they’d be willing to pay for a variety of gadgets. A Nokia 1006 is worth $6.06 to them – a similar phone sells on Ebay for just $14 (minus the exorbitant fee’s Ebay will charge you, making the final profit about $11).

A Blackberry Curve 8900 is only worth $43.00 to Nextworth – about $200 less than an Ebay or Craigslist sale you net you.

That said – removing the hassle and risk involved with selling online is certainly worth something. By using Nextworth, you don’t have to worry about non-paying buyers, or other scams.

The whole process is very easy, and their web site makes the trade in or recycling process as painless as possible. Once you have found your product on their site, you describe it as accurately as possible, print a prepaid shipping label, and drop it off at the post office. About ten days later, they’ll cut you a check (if the product is indeed as you described). For products with no value, the process about the same, without the check part.

For some products the price offered by Nextworth may seem a little insulting (would you sell your 16GB iPhone 3GS for $270?), but others are very reasonable, and their free shipping and offer to recycle any gadget for free make it a very green service.

Gadling’s Guide to traveling Green

Travel as we used to know it is changing for the better, thanks to green initiatives like LEED for building projects, carbon offsetting for flying, and green outfitters like Go Lite. There are so many reasons travelers should travel greener and no reasons not to. But what does traveling green look like, and is it harder to do?

Here are a few tips on how to travel green. Odds are you’re already greener because you have a greener conscience, so instead of thinking of these as preachy steps to make you eco-conscious, take these tips as a green refresher.

  • Walk or bike, don’t drive: This is a given. Your feet don´t ruin the environment unless you leave a blaze of fire behind you (which you don´t). This is kind of travel, which many call “slow travel,” is often the best way to travel anyway, as you can take your time soaking in the sights and sounds around you.
  • Take public transportation if you have to: …and I don´t mean a taxi. If you´re traveling far, hop on a ferry, bus, or train. Spare the gas spent solely for you. Limited resources like fossil fuels really will run out one day, so save them when you can.
  • Travel light — and turn off the lights: The less weight you carry, the easier it will be to get around — and the less burden you have for others. Always remember to save energy when you can by turning off lights you don´t need to use.
  • Reuse and recycle: Those plastic bottles that you buy abroad can be reused! So can scraps of paper, lines of rope. Be resourceful when you can, use new products only when necessary.
  • Buy local: Definitely avoid fast food joints when you´re abroad. You´re better off eating street food anyway. Buy fruits and veggies from the local farmers´markets and artisans´goods from small kiosks. Your money to them goes much farther.
  • Take fewer, longer trips: This is a no-brainer to some, but the hardest thing to do for others. Since I live in Hawaii I´m always trying to consolidate my travels. Whenever I need to make a journey across the ocean I always try to tack on another journey with it. It saves time, and more importantly it saves precious resources.
  • Offset your carbon footprint if you can: All of the major airlines are encouraging sustainable travel by informing travelers of ways they can calculate their carbon footprint. More importantly, most airlines like Continental are providing innovative ways to give back to the environment exactly what we are taking away by traveling.
  • Take a “clean break” by staying in green eco-lodges: If you haven´t heard of green resorts and eco-lodges, you will soon enough. There are some really affordable ones popping up all over the world, so being green no longer means you´re spending more money. It just means you´re being more conscious of your effects on the environment — and that´s always a good thing.

This HowCast video offers a nice summary of the tips detailed above.

It is possible to travel green and responsibly! Now go out there and have fun.

Airports go green with new eco-friendly initiatives

Airports are little cities unto themselves. Many are even large enough to have their own zip codes. With so many people coming in and out, cars dropping off and picking up, and planes departing and landing, airports produce a whole lot of air pollution and physical trash. But, many are making an effort to reduce their environmental impact by implementing new green features. Here are some of the coolest green initiatives at airports around the world.

Using Alternative Power
Last July, Boston Logan Airport installed 20 wind turbines that will offset about 3% of the building’s annual energy needs (doesn’t sound like much, but consider the amount an airport uses), and it’s not the only airport investing in alternative sources of energy. The airports of Munich, Zurich, San Francisco and Denver have also installed solar panels to help power their buildings. Dallas/Fort Worth Airport converted its bus and shuttle fleet to run on compressed natural gas and hydrogen-based fuel, as has Mineta San Jose. Heathrow is testing its new Personal Transport Pods, battery-powered, zero-emission vehicles that will whisk passengers from the terminal to the parking lot, and Boston provides preferred parking spots to drivers of hybrid cars.

Refilling Empty Water Bottles
The Portland Airport allows travelers coming through the security line with water bottles to dump the liquid but keep the container to refill once they pass security. That doesn’t sound like a big deal until you realize that other airports, like Chicago O’Hare, require the bottles to be thrown out. Not only does that policy generate tons of unnecessary waste, but all those full or half-full bottles weigh more and therefore the removal produces more emissions. Portland’s rule seems pretty green in comparison. San Francisco Airport goes one step further than Portland by providing water refill stations past the security checkpoint so people can refill their water bottles free of charge.

Recycling and Composting
Many airports have limited recycling programs in place, but some are going above and beyond when it comes to making sure that nothing that can be recycled gets added to a landfill. Seattle-Tacoma Airport, rated by the Clean Airport Partnership as one of the greenest in the country, charges concessionaires by the pound for waste(but doesn’t charge for recycling), encouraging vendors to recycle as much as possible. Portland makes it easy on flyers as well by providing a “single sort” recycle bin. Everything gets tossed in one bin and later sorted by a recycling company, so people don’t have to worry about which receptacle they throw their items into.

Seattle doesn’t end its recycling efforts with paper, plastic, glass and aluminum – it also composts 145 tons of coffee grounds per year and recycles 1,000 gallons of cooking oil each month, which is then used to produced biodiesel fuel. Munich Airport has a similar program: the organic waste from the airport’s restaurants is collected, sent to a farm, and used as pig feed. San Francisco hopes to require its concessionaires to serve all food in containers that can be composted and turned into fertilizer and Denver Airport will begin its own composting program this January.

Other green airport practices include using energy-efficient LCD screens on all computers and monitors, landscaping with native plants, installing low-flow toilets, and replacing paper towel dispensers with electric hand dryers. With the amount of waste and emissions airports produce as a result of their sheer size, the have a long way to go to truly be called “green”, but it’s nice to know that many are taking steps to reduce their environmental impact in whatever small ways they can.

Top Five Whale Watching Destinations in America

Ever wonder what the big deal is about whale watching? Well then, my guess is that you haven’t been whale watching.

Whale watching is a serene and eco-friendly activity. Actually seeing a whole darn whale in its own habitat is truly astonishing, and will fill you with wonder. What’s more, whales will often “play” with whale watchers — they know you’re watching, and it turns out they’re kind of into that. They come up to the surface and say hello, breaching and waving at you with their unique-like-snowflakes flukes.

If you’re the kind of person who can watch fishing or golf, whale watching will rock you to the core. Kidding, kidding — but it can be a lot of sitting around for just a few minutes of splendor, or worse: Sometimes you pay for a whale watching tour and see no whales at all. Still, whale watching has actually become more profitable than “whale whacking” in recent years. According to, Australian Minister for the Environment Peter Garrett has said: “Whales are worth more alive than dead!”

You don’t have to go to Australia or Portugal to watch whales (though those are great places to do it). These five American states have it all — scenery, weather, and a really good chance of seeing whales.