Season Extension Tools

What’s the purrrr about cat tunnels? Well let’s start at the beginning by describing what a cat tunnel is. Cat tunnel, short for caterpillar tunnel, is a season extension tool much like a high tunnel only smaller. A high tunnel is similar to a greenhouse with no electricity. So let’s recap from the end back to the beginning. Greenhouse ($$$) -> High Tunnel (no electricity $$) -> Caterpillar Tunnel ($).


Living in the Midwest season extension tools are an absolute MUST! The market I am trying to reach is the student market when the university is in session. That means August – May I want to be producing vegetables. Our season starts later thus needing to end later or not at all, preferably.


I was lucky enough to get approved for not one but two caterpillar tunnels this year. We chose this structure over the other two described above because they can be easily put together and taken apart in one day and they are relatively inexpensive compared to their big brother… the high tunnel. The caterpillar tunnels are basically the top bar of chain link fencing that has been bent to make ribs. Thick plastic then covers the ribs making a protective growing environment underneath with a 20-25 degree variant temperature from the outside. These two tunnels will be used for tomato production in the summer and then the ground will be worked and reused for greens and hearty winter crops in the fall, winter and spring.


Spring has Sprung

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Spring has sprung which means I have been sowing the seeds of love! With the official first day of spring this week my cabin fever subsided and it was time to get the hands dirty!! I love starting seeds. As the farm plan changed with the addition of two high tunnels this year and how to best utilize them, it was challenging adjusting the plot map and plant count so everyone had a proper home. Once that was all figured out I was good to go. I seed the plants in order of how long it takes them to germinate. Herbs were seeded first since I will be able to plant the roof before the field. Next I seeded cauliflower because it seems that it takes 1/2 a year for those plants to produce (probably an over exaggeration but you know what I mean). I planted over 800 pepper plants yesterday consisting of a good mix of sweet and hot peppers. I am always very careful when seeding plants in the greenhouse because seed depth and water can affect germination of the plant. I am excited to see signs of life in a couple weeks. Next up: Beneficial Flower Mix, Turnips, Beets and Tomatoes!!!

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Winter 2016/ 2017


Hibernation Station?? Not this girl! Instead of hiding out, gaining weight and binge watching Netflix this winter I have been a busy little bee. Well, maybe I did get a little winter fluff. 🙂 So many exciting things have happened in the past three months that I’m not even sure where to start. When I left you in December of last year I was closing down the farm and gathering my summaries for the year. Since then, I am so excited to announce that Hendrick House has received a grant through the NCSARE (North Central Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education). This grant will be used to provide education to chefs, the community, area farmers and youth with regard to cooking, sourcing and eating fresh local farm produce. The first of our youth workshops will be held next month and I will keep you updated as to how it progresses.


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I briefly mentioned at the end of 2016 that I was taking over a roof top garden to redesign and make more efficient. This has been a challenging yet invigorating process, primarily due to the fact that anything we add or subtract to the roof has to be moved four stories up and down. The roof top garden is located in the heart of downtown Urbana on the roof of Hendrick House Dorm. The roof was renovated in 2009 turning it into a green roof. Green roofs are designed to hold growing medium with rubber layers used for proper drainage. So far, I have removed the raised beds allowing for maximum use of space. The entire roof is planned to be turned into a high production herb garden and I am most excited that it will have drip irrigation ON A TIMER! No more coming to town to water for two hours. Wahoo!! The progress has been exciting to see so far. I will explain more about this project as the season progresses.

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The weather has been incredibly warm this winter which makes me want to plant so badly. I have been talking myself out of it everyday but finally couldn’t hold back and seeded all of the herbs for the roof last week. It is so exciting seeing the first plants sprout. Only one more week and it will be time to seed the entire farm in the greenhouse!!

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Be on the lookout for Allerton’s annual Forest to Mansion dinner sponsored by Hendrick House, May 7th featuring locally sourced food and foraged ingredients from Allerton Park and Retreat Center. The dinner will be prepared by myself and four of the area’s finest chefs (Alisa DeMarco, Drew Starkey, Adam Shallenberger and Mark “Shades” Hartstein)!! Tickets go on sale soon on the Allerton website or by phone at 217-333-3287!

Here is a sneak peak at the menu 😉

Chefs/ Menu 2017 Allerton Forest to Mansion Dinner

Alisa DeMarco – 1st Course

Whipped Salmon Rillette, Allerton Wild Ginger & Morel Mushroom Relish, Toast

 Chef Alisa DeMarco led the kitchen at Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery for 8 years, where her farm dinners and breakfasts earned her a reputation for outstanding local and seasonal cuisine.  Alisa learned the pleasures of eating locally at an early age, helping her mom in the garden, fishing for dinner in the river behind her house, foraging for mushrooms with her grandmother, raising her own laying hens and eating beef raised by the neighbors across the road. Her formal training at the Culinary Institute of America solidified her beliefs in seeking out the best ingredients and forming relationships with local farmers and artisans in order to do so.  Alisa lives in Savoy with her husband Jeff and their son Cole. She enjoys gardening, yoga, music and anything and everything involving food and wine.


Drew Starkey – 2nd Course

Wild Allerton Ramp Gnocchi with Smoked Lamb Shoulder and Fried Morels

Drew Starkey is the Chef/ Owner of Bacaro, which is a high end restaurant located in downtown Champaign. Chef Drew, who has been cooking for more than 14 years, is committed and passionate about using fresh local produce and meats provided by area farmers.


Ann Swanson – 3rd Course

Pistachio and Allerton Stinging Nettle Flatbreads with Pickled Allerton Ramps, Prairie Fruits Farms Goat Cheese topped with a Truffled Fennel, Radish and Blood Orange Salad

Ann Swanson is the Director of Operations at Hendrick House Farms. Hendrick House Farms consists of a three-acre vegetable farm, hydroponic facility and 1,000 sq/ft urban rooftop herb garden. Ann is a trained chef and spent the majority of her career in South Carolina where she found her passion for farm to table cuisine.  She is now committed to providing and educating students, cooks and the community on the importance of fresh, locally grown food.


Adam Shallenberger – 4th Course

Sugar Grove Family Farm Berkshire Grilled Pork Belly & Sassafras Root Braised Pork Butt – Foraged Morels and Ludwig Cheddar Grits, Dehydrated Wild Ginger, Stinging Nettle Stems, Sassafras Reduction, Pickled Red Bud Flowers

Awarded Chef Adam Shallenberger is as local as they come. Raised in central Illinois and graduating from Mahomet Seymour High School, he returned home with his culinary finesse in 2013. A Le Cordon Bleu Atlanta alum, he honed his skill working in kitchens from Savannah, GA to Fort Worth, Texas. At Ellerbe Fine Foods serving as sous chef he helped achieve the Bon Apetit award of one of the Top Ten Best New Restaurants opened in America in 2010. He met his lovely fiancé, Madeleine, in Texas and they have a precious 5 year old son, Miles.  Coming “home” and bringing the skills with it, he was the executive chef at 3 established local restaurants. Most recently he opened and was executive chef and General manager to V. Picasso. While there he participated in numerous charity events, winning the Central Illinois Artisans Cup, a fundraiser for The Land Connection. His style can be defined as southern comfort with bold flavors and unique ingredients. His next move has been to transition from the brick and mortar grind to his brand new food truck, FIRED, coming to Champaign this April. Be on the look out for his latest conquest and be surprised by the integrity of locally sourced and creative street food.


Mark “Shades” Hartstein – 5th Course

Wild Allerton Japanese Knotweed Mousse, Rhubarb-Sassafras Jam, Butter Mochi Cake and Caramelized Skyr

Mark “Shades” Hartstein projects include “Shady Dawgs,” a mobile hotdog and sausage cart; “Saru Ramen,” an infrequent ramen pop-up; “The Urbana Pickle Project,” a private larder club; and (partnered with Leslie Bettridge) “CuSP: Champaign Urbana Smørrebrød Project,” a Danish sandwich pop-up to raise funds for the Eastern Illinois Food Bank. He is currently the chef/owner of Watson’s Shack & Rail. Stay tuned for the next adventure.