Fertile Ground: John Ivanko and Lisa Kivirist's Farmstead Chef

cover of the farmstead chef cookbook, which features illustrations of vegetables growing in the groundLisa Kirvirist and John Ivanko’s new cookbook, Farmstead Chef, is a great eco-activist resource that could easily be placed next to the novel you’re reading on your nightstand. Not only is it plump with yummy, mostly vegetarian and low-on-the-food-chain recipes, but it also has inspiring stories from the authors’ own lives dotted throughout the book, as well as profiles of other food activists and farmers in today’s local foods landscape.

Kivirst and Ivanko left their corporate jobs to homestead in Wisconsin years ago. They now run a small farm and a bed & breakfast, all powered by wind and sun. Their eco-homesteading has brought about years of wisdom that they willingly share in Farmstead Chef, but you don’t have to live on five acres in the midwest to use their tips. Touching on everything from urban permaculture to climate change to the evils of bottled water, this book is inspiring without being all doom-and-gloom, making it an enjoyable, tree-hugging read as well as a hunger-inducing one.

The book features farmers’ stories from across the country, but in true locavore fashion, sticks mainly to the midwest. Just as many women farmers contribute as men, with a special section detailing the rise of female farmers organizing. Iowa farmer Denise O’Brien, founder of the Women, Food, and Agriculture Network is one of the faces of this uprising, and discusses in the book the importance of supporting women farmers as well as squashing (pun intended) stereotypes of farming being a male-only field. Author Kirvirist herself followed O’Brien’s lead by later launching the Rural Women’s Project for the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service.

Though it covers many topics, this is definitely still a cookbook. The recipes are very simple. It is apparent that Kivirist and Ivanko are cooks and not professional chefs, which is refreshing in a sea of recipes full of lengthy ingredients and complicated cooking instructions. (The authors say that all their recipes pass the “grandmother’s test”: not too many and all easily recognizeable ingredients, and not too difficult). Recipes from beet burgers to winter squash fritters to Wisconsin’s classic beer-and-cheese soup are all featured, along with even simpler ones, like lemon balm iced tea and salad dressings. It even carries kid-friendly fare ideas, like tortilla wraps.  

Farmstead Chef is great for local food lovers, eco-nerds, and eco-activist cookbook junkies alike. (Also, major bonus: The book profiles my cookbook author crush, Bryant Terry!). If you are looking for a cookbook this summer to help you with your CSA box or farmers market outings, this one should help get your belly fire started.  

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by Alison Parker
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