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Posts Tagged ‘jam’

Send Bureaucrats, Bicycles, and Beer

April 20, 2011 1 comment

I took a half day off of work, yesterday, as I didn’t feel like sitting in the office staring at the rain all day. I had things to do that I had been putting off for a couple of weeks. Jenne was up in Milwaukee, attending her mother’s retirement luncheon (I remain shocked that she’s actually, finally retiring), so it was just me for the afternoon.

After a leisurely lunch at home, first stop for the afternoon was the McHenry County Clerk’s office. After three years, I’m still used to Marion County, Iowa, where all the government offices you needed were in the small courthouse in the center of Knoxville. In McHenry County, the Clerk’s office is NOT in the County Government Building, with the imposing security guards and metal detectors, but rather in the County Administration Building, which is down the street and around the corner. Once I found the office, the Clerk herself signed my business license paperwork, I handed over the $5 fee, and was given more paperwork in return. One of those pieces of paper was a public notice which has to be run in a local newspaper for three weeks. This led me to the Woodstock Independant, where I put down an $85 (urrk) fee for the three week run. At least they mail the Clerk’s office confirmation for me. Sometime next month, I’ll get an official business license from the county for Maple Avenue Preserves.

Speaking of the jam business, we’re still taking tiny steps forward with it. We’ve looked at two kitchens, both of which turned out to be unsuitable for different reasons, despite willingness by the owners to rent to us. We have a couple more possibilities I need to follow up on this week. This remains our largest hurdle right now. Second largest hurdle will be county and state Health Department permits, but I can’t do those until I have a space to permit. I have some domain names purchased and I’m squatting on a Twitter name, but there’s nothing there, so no point in linking them, yet. Jenne’s working on some logo and label designs, and still playing with recipes. Not sure if we’ll be operating by strawberry season, but there’s still time.

After the newspaper, I hit Outdoor Recreation to pick up a bike helmet. Yes, I’ve been riding without a helmet. Now I’ll ride with a helmet, despite my grumblings. The owner of the bike shop apparently has one of those memories for faces, he remembered me and what bike I bought as soon as I walked in. I like him, and his store. I walked out with a reasonably-priced bike helmet ten minutes later.

According to my DailyMile profile, I’ve ridden 116 miles on the bike already. I can do a 12 mile ride without feeling too wiped out; my longest so far is about 14 miles. On a good day without nasty headwinds, I could probably do over 20 with some effort. I’m no speed demon; a 14mph average speed is pretty good for me, and I stop three or four times over the 12 miles to catch my breath.  But it’s fun, I feel good (if a bit wobbly-kneed) after rides, and between the biking and the elliptical workouts over the past few months, I’m actually losing weight. I started the year somewhere around 190 (didn’t actually have a scale until late February, when I weighed in at 185), and I’m down to 180, now. My pants are fitting looser, and I’m down to the last notch on my belt.

So I can say I’m pretty pleased with my bike purchase. Now if I can just keep up some semblance of weekly riding when I’m working my busy spring schedule…I may actually start biking to and from work a few days a week. That’ll amuse my coworkers. If the weather clears up this weekend, I will probably try for a 20 mile ride to prove to myself that I can do it.

After the bicycle store, it was a quick set of three more stops. Armanetti Liquors’ new store to get a couple packs  of beer (yeah, I still buy some despite homebrewing)–Great Lakes Brewing’s Doppelrock, and Tyranena’s Headless Man Amber Alt. Starbucks in downtown for a latte; I had intended to sit down and read the copy of the Independent I had picked up, but it was pretty busy, and had even worse seating arrangements than the location in McHenry I usually end up at. Finally, Jewel for a couple grocery items. I got home a little after 5pm, just in time to meet Jenne as she got back from Milwaukee.

A fun and productive afternoon off, despite 33 degree temperatures and rain. The day was capped off by a surprising Blackhawks victory over the Canucks. I’ll take it!

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Categories: Personal Tags: ,

On a More Personal Note

March 7, 2011 2 comments

Lots of ag, not much life on the blog, lately. It’s been a long, sometimes difficult winter. I’m never in the best of moods during winter; it’s decidedly my least favorite season. Just ask Jenne about putting up with me through most of January. So I’m really, really looking forward to putting winter behind me, and moving into the part of the year where I actually accomplish things. That said, this winter wasn’t a complete letdown, I tried to lay the groundwork for a couple of things I really want to accomplish this year.

First, I started actually working on my personal fitness. It’s always been something I basically ignored, and tried to convince myself that walking around corn fields and throwing seed bags for a few months out of the year would keep me ‘in shape’. The fact is, that my weight has been creeping up over the last couple of years, and tossing 20 bags of seed got me winded a lot faster than it used to. My cholesterol levels in the blood test I took for life insurance last year showed the ‘bad’ stuff somewhat higher than it should be. When I go to meetings for work, many of my older colleagues are decidedly round, overweight, and look like they’d have trouble walking to their truck outside, much less a mile across a field of corn stubble. I don’t want to be that guy. So, I started to think about what to do to NOT be that guy.

I got lucky, and ended up with an unused elliptical machine from a couple of friends who were moving cross country, and didn’t want to take it with them. I’ve kept up a pretty regular schedule 3-4 times a week since mid-January on the machine. Aside from a brief flirtation with a gym membership a few years ago, I’ve never exercised regularly, so this is something of a breakthrough. I don’t know what I weighed when I started (didn’t own a scale until recently), but I currently weigh in at 185…I’ve been as high as 210 in the past, so anything under 190 makes me pretty happy. My endurance has increased a lot, and I think I just generally feel a bit better…I almost look forward to coming home from work and running. I should probably figure out something to do upper body-wise, but for getting the heart rate up, this has worked well.

I have a Trek 7300 bicycle on reserve as soon as I bother to get down to the bike store in Woodstock and pick it up. As soon as the weather warms up, I’ll be out on the bike path near my house, seeing if I can put on some mileage. I’ve set myself a few goals. I want to bike to work, occasionally. That’s 7 miles one way, all on the path except for the trip through town at the end. Once I can manage that, I want to make it to McHenry for coffee via The Prairie Trail. That’s 17 miles one way, and I’d have to do the return trip for a total of 34…maybe be a bit much to bite off right away. If that goes well, I might try the 50 mile route of the Harmon Hundred in September. Maybe. I know me…I sometimes have wild-eyed, lofty ideas that never quite get followed through on…but I think I’d like to do this.

Speaking of wild-eyed, crazy ideas, Jenne and I are still thinking about the jam-making business. I haven’t been as pro-active about this as I probably should have, I’ve been a bit despondent about actually finding a commercial kitchen to rent, and if I can’t find that, there’s little point in doing any of the other prep work. Jenne has continued to fiddle with recipes (we need to give away more jam. Anyone?), and I finally got the idea to talk to the county health inspector. We had a phone conversation last Friday, and he seemed to know where I was going with things. We have a meeting this coming Thursday, and I’m hoping he can help me make sense out of the confusing morass of regulations and statutes that I’ve been reading. And maybe give us a lead on kitchens.

And in the ‘oops’ category, I’ve blown my attempt at a 365 photo project. I made it almost all the way through February, which is actually farther than I thought I would make it. And although I can’t claim to have taken a picture every day this year, anymore, I’m still going to take a lot of photos on a lot of days. Here’s one of my favorite shots from the month, to close out with.

February 5

Categories: Personal Tags: , , ,

A Berry Good Idea?

December 13, 2010 8 comments

Figures. A day after I complain about not being interested in the #reverb10 prompts, the one for Monday morning is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot over the last year, and especially the last two months.

December 13 – Action When it comes to aspirations, it’s not about ideas. It’s about making ideas happen. What’s your next step?

There’s some background I have to cover before I get to the idea. My wife, Jenne, is unemployed. Well, right now she’s working a seasonal job doing data input. She had this same job last year for a little over a  month, this year they hired her back in October. But it’s going to come to an end before Christmas. She hasn’t had a full time job in a few years, and it’s got to the point now that she’ll send out resume after resume, and not even get a ‘thanks but no thanks’ letter. The black hole, she calls it. If we want her to be employed full time and not sitting around the house going stir crazy 10 months out of the year, we have to start a business ourselves.

She tried the craft fair circuit in Des Moines a few years ago with fabric crafts. That didn’t work out. However, I noticed that the people who always had good sales, and lots of them, were people selling things you could eat or smell. Soaps, baked goods, jelly and jam. Jenne’s been doing a lot of home jam making the past couple of years. Our ‘root cellar’ room in the basement has three shelves covered with different jams, jellies, conserves, and apple sauce.

So that’s idea #1. Commercially produce small-batch jam, and sell it at farmer’s markets and craft fairs. Lots and lots of them in the Chicago area, definitely a better market than Des Moines, and a more interesting product, as well. I remember the lines around the building to sample Clear Creek Orchard’s jams at the Iowa State Fair, I’m sure we could move product.

The biggest hurdle to this idea is food safety. I have a lot of research to do to figure out exactly what regulations and testing we need to comply with. The biggest one is that we need a certified commercial kitchen to prepare the jam in. Not exactly sure where I would go to rent one of those. There are some ‘kitchen incubators’ in Chicago and close-in suburbs that rent kitchen space by the hour to small entrepreneurs, but that’s a good 1.5-2 hours away from us. I’m going to be researching this in the coming months, and we’ll get Jenne in a class to get her foodservice sanitation certificate.

Separate but closely related is idea #2. To me, it’s the more exciting one, but certainly the much more challenging one. Let’s grow some of this fruit we want to process ourselves! My family’s home farm is in a rapidly urbanizing (okay, honestly, it’s already urbanized) part of northeast Illinois. It sits on a major state road only a few miles from I-94, and the amount of vehicle traffic the road has these days is staggering. You could not ask for a better location to do value-added agriculture.

My initial plan would be to start with a small planting of raspberries, perhaps an acre’s worth. This is something that I could manage myself part-time, with drafting some help in during harvest season. Taking this idea to the perhaps logical conclusion would include more raspberries, strawberries, rolling in and expanding my mother’s small sweet corn business, a you-pick operation, and a nice building to contain Jenne’s commercial kitchen, storage, and a small retail store front.

This is the pie-in-the-sky idea. The biggest hurdle, and probably the one that is near-impossible to overcome is family (the second being money, but if I can’t overcome the first hurdle, no need worrying about the second). I don’t have any say into the running of the home farm. If it was just my parents, I think we could work something out. But there’s an uncle and an aunt on the farm as well, and another aunt off the farm. When my grandmother passes it’s fairly likely there won’t be a farm anymore…which is another blog entry entirely.

So how am I moving these ideas forward for 2011? As I mentioned earlier, have Jenne get her sanitary certificate. That’s a useful bit of knowledge to have, anyway. Start to research food safety regs for canning. Call around, and see if I can finagle a tour of some of the other small-batch jam makers to see what equipment and processes they use. Find a commercial kitchen we can rent. We could realistically get this idea going by the end of the summer and be selling product before Christmas 2011.

For idea #2, well…Jenne and I have decided to go to the Wisconsin Small Fruit and Vegetable conference in January. It’s closer than the Illinois version that is in Springfield. Again, more knowledge can’t hurt, and I can get some ideas on just how much work I’d be biting off in moving this idea forward. Beyond that, I’m not sure. Have some more difficult conversations with my parents, I suppose. I brought the topic up with my mother, recently, which is good since she will probably see this blog (hi mom!).

So, anyone want to buy some jam?