Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Pushing the Envelope Farm

Will work for food: Community farm offers free garden plots, outreach
By Rachel Baruch Yackley | Daily Herald Correspondent
Published: 7/26/2010 12:00 AM

Have you ever dreamed of having your own farm, where you can grow fresh, healthy food for yourself and your family? Now you can, and for free, too, thanks to the efforts of a few local Geneva residents.

Making something from nothing and sharing all with the community is the heart of what's happening at Pushing the Envelope Farm, a nonprofit community farm in Geneva.

Full-time farm manager Libby Voss and a wealth of volunteers hoe, till, plant and harvest edibles at Pushing the Envelope Farm. This venture offers 10-by-20-foot plots, free, to anyone in the community, as well as to Continental Envelope employees.

Diana Morin of Geneva works on her quarter of an acre at the farm, which is bigger than the plots farmed by families for home use.

Morin sells some of what she grows on her plot at the weekly Geneva Green Market, held on Thursdays at 75 N. River Lane.

Lovage, dill, snow peas, sorrel, and Swiss chard have been her biggest producers, so far.
"I've been (farming) here only this year, but I've been doing this for four years, and taken what I grow to the Market," said Morin, as she bent over her rows of plants and plucked out the weeds.

Owner Fred Margulies also farms his own plot, where Brussels sprouts, collards, tomatoes, borage, and lemon verbena can be found.

Kale, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, potatoes, peas, asparagus, raspberries and more fill the rows of the farm's one-acre market plot, also called The Market Acre. Money earned from the weekly market goes toward covering the farm's expenses.

Thirteen years ago, brothers Fred, Norman, and Sheldon Margulies bought 23 acres of land on Averill Road in Geneva, just north of Roosevelt Road. About seven acres were used to build their business, Continental Envelope.

At that time, most of the remaining land was used by a local farmer, who, in 2008, decided to farm elsewhere. The land lay fallow for a time, until Fred, his wife Trisha, and their adult children decided to start a community farm on their property.

"Our three younger kids (Elisheva, Elan and Ariel) are very helpful and knowledgeable, and concerned that the values we're working on are transmitted. We have learned from them. The values we're working on now are values our children have taught us," Trisha Margulies said. "This whole enterprise is one they are involved in. It's very fulfilling."

The seeds for the farm idea sprouted three years ago, after Fred, Trisha, Elisheva, Elan, and Trisha's mother, Esther Shendelman, attended the annual Hazon Food Conference, first in 2007 and then again in 2008, which "inspired us," Margulies said.

Hazon is a Jewish organization which work to "create a healthier and more sustainable Jewish community and a healthier and more sustainable world for all," which parallels the Margulies's vision.

"It's about being more aware of choices, more aware of food, responsibility for family and for the environment," said Margulies. "It's about families planting, growing, and eating together."
Getting started was a big hurdle, as the Margulieses had never done anything like this, before.

"I went to the Geneva Green Market, where I met people and introduced myself. I was amazed there was such a commitment here, with the Green Market, and two organic farms, nearby," said Margulies, who began meeting with people like Green Market founder Karen Stark, as well as the owners of Erewhon Farm in Elburn and Heritage Prairie Farm in La Fox, for advice and help.

"They said this is what you have to do with the soil: let it lie fallow, and put in coverage crops," she said.

Finally, in 2009, Tim Fuller of Erewhon Farm came out and plowed the land.

Then it was time to bring the concept to life.

"We wanted to make this a community farm for people who didn't have land to grow their own food. And we wanted to do it as a nonprofit," Margulies explained.

"We want to help people know what it is like to grow and pick a fresh carrot. We want to share diversity. We want to teach people from farm to table, and do it for the whole community."

The first people to dig in the dirt were employees of Continental Envelope. About a dozen people from the factory plus several area residents each have their own plots.

Various groups have also gotten involved, including a group of Asian refugees in a mission program from Baker Memorial United Methodist Church in St. Charles, who have their own plot.

Volunteers are always welcome to work on The Market Acre. A group of young people age 18 to 24 from Maywood, who are gaining valuable experience through a Loyola University Medical Center outreach program - Cook County Green Corps - come out weekly and work on weeding and harvesting produce for the Geneva Green Market, as well as clients from AID (Association for Individual Development) in St. Charles.

Voss, the farm manager, who came from Washington State with a wealth of knowledge and experience, will have her first intern when a student from the Hadassah College in Jerusalem arrives for the summer.

It's not all about growing and weeding: the farm also offers educational opportunities to learn about food consumption, the morality of food production, and the importance of a locally produced meal.

There is a religious component to all that's being done here, too. The Margulies family is dedicated to contributing to and enhancing the Jewish community in the area. As such, they are offering the farm as a place for children working on their bar or bat mitzvahs to do the typically requisite mitzvah project - a volunteer outreach project - by volunteering in The Market Acre.

Members of Fox Valley Jewish Neighbors in Geneva, as well as interested people from area synagogues, are encouraged to contact the farm about starting their own plots and getting involved.

Plans are already underway for a Jewish nature camp, programs on Jewish holidays, and educational opportunities on the relationship of Judaism to agrarian traditions.

In the secular community, school-age children are equally welcome to volunteer on the farm, as well as college students looking for alternative learning experiences.

"The bottom line is we all need more education. We can't eat better, nor grow better, if we don't know better," Trisha Margulies said.

This is not a certified organic farm, but keeping things natural is the focus. Hence, no chemicals are used. Use of the land is free, and "farmers" need only provide their own seeds and plants.

"You can always do short season stuff and have things (to eat) throughout the season," said Voss, who reminds everyone that almost any produce can be preserved by freezing, canning and pickling, to "extend the eating season," and enjoy all year long.

More from the farm
• Visit the Pushing the Envelope Farm stand on Thursdays, at the Geneva Green Market, and buy truly locally grown produce. Keep an eye out for a future On-Farm Stand, as well.
• Volunteers are welcome to come out to the farm to lend a hand and gain knowledge about farming.
Anyone interested in farming a plot for themselves should contact Voss for more information.
• Free community potluck and movie nights are planned for the fourth Saturday of the month this summer. A potluck dinner gathering kicks things off at 7:30 p.m., and the movie starts at 9 p.m. Bring a dish to share and your own washable dishes. These movie nights are appropriate for all ages.
• Contact farm manager Libby Voss for more details on all the opportunities at the farm, at lvoss@pushingtheenvelopefarm.org. Be sure to check out the Web site: www.pushingtheenvelopefarm.org.

Geneva Arts Fair

Geneva Arts Fair features top talent from around the country
By Rachel Baruch Yackley | Daily Herald correspondent
Published: 7/23/2010 12:01 AM

The range of the shades of gray is Fred Ullrich's specialty, one might say.

The product of this Geneva-based photographer's talent is replete with a veritable palette of grays, all of which combine to create stunning black and white photography.

See for yourself at this year's ninth annual Geneva Arts Fair, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, July 24 and 25, on Third Street in downtown Geneva.

A veteran exhibitor, Ullrich is back, with his unique prints of architecture, nature, rural images, glimpses of Europe, and photographs of what he calls "quiet spaces."

Not only are his images unique, but Ullrich's techniques almost put him in a category all his own.

"I work with a 4-by-5 wooden field camera. I shoot with 4-by-5 black and white film, and I develop with pyro (pyrogallol film developer). Paul Strand and all the masters used it. It really expands the zonal range, the varying range of grays you can get," said Ullrich, who is retired from his years as manager of Fermilab's visual media services.

"When I'm working well, working with the camera and looking at an image, form is more important than color. I look for everyday objects that resonate with me," he said. "You can render things in great detail, to infinity. The size (of my photos) is big - three times the resolution. I let the light speak for itself."

Ullrich does not use digital photography as an art form, and his techniques differ from it, in many respects. While developing, he wears gloves and a respirator, because of the chemicals used in this traditional "wet chemistry" developing process. The time factor is significantly longer, too.

"The shooting takes maybe three hours; the processing two hours, and the printing takes eight hours," he said.

The results of all this work are unique 16-by-20 inch fine prints, hand printed on fiber base paper.

To illustrate the visual difference, Ullrich will have one of his prints alongside a digital copy on display at the show.

Over 20,000 visitors are expected at this year's Geneva Arts Fair, presented by the Geneva Chamber of Commerce. This juried show was voted a Top 200 Fine Craft Fair for 2010 by Art Fair SourceBook, and was a 2009 winner of "Best Craft or Art Show" by West Suburban Living Magazine.

Among the artists will be Rosie and Dave Claus from Naperville, with their stunning gourds, topped with beautifully woven fiber embellishments. This year's show also includes ceramic creations by Glenn Woods and Keith Herbrand of Pottery Boys Clay Studios in Blue Island, Ill., unique must-have furniture by Charlie and John Sweitzer of Champaign, and many more artists from New York, Florida, Minnesota, and all points in between.

An emerging artist section will again be included this year, as well as a hands-on art activity for children, where they can put their own imaginations to work to create a mural.

On Saturday, eight $500 awards of excellence will be presented for two- and three-dimensional work. Emerging artists will also be competing to win Geneva Cultural Arts Commission awards as a kickoff for their careers.

Visitors can dine without having to drive anywhere else, as Geneva restaurants and merchants will be providing guests with sales, food and wine specials throughout the weekend.

Details, including a list of artists, are available at www.genevachamber.com/artfair.html.

"As You Like It"

Shakespeare troupe brings 'As You Like It' to Island Park, Geneva
By Rachel Baruch Yackley | Daily Herald correspondent
Published: 7/15/2010 12:01 AM

All ages are invited to experience a unique take on the Shakespeare comedy classic, "As You Like It," when Geneva's annual Shakespeare in the Park brings the Midsummer Theatre Troupe back to Island Park Saturday.

Sit back on your blanket, enjoy your picnic dinner, and watch Rosalind, the daughter of a banished duke, fall in love with Orlando, the disinherited son of one of the duke's friends.

When Rosalind is banished from the court by her uncle, Duke Frederick, she disguises herself as a boy, and travels with her cousin Celia and the jester to the magical Forest of Arden, where her father and his friends live in exile. Never fear: a happy ending is guaranteed for all.

Performed outdoors on a stage surrounded by the beauty of Island Park, this performance will entertain and delight viewers with unique characterizations and unexpected twists.

A touch of Cirque du Soleil even comes into play, thanks to the creative prowess of artistic director Toni Hix.

"It's just sort of colorful, and the characters are characters, with a little bit of exaggeration," Hix said. "Once (the actors) enter the magical Forest of Arden, everything is colorful and bright."

One of Shakespeare's idiosyncrasies is his prolific use of figurative language, which can pose a problem for modern ears. To overcome what can be a disconnect for the audience, Hix has incorporated more action into the play to convey the meaning of the words "through the physicalities," she said. "I cut a lot of the descriptive passages related to mythology and to religion in Medieval times."

Hix also reduced the length of the play, limiting it to 90 minutes, and there is no intermission.

Live music will be performed during the play, the likes of which are sure to surprise and delight the audience.

Five actors will be playing ukuleles - not your typical Shakespearean instrument - and the musical selection, such as songs by John Mayer, will be like nothing you've ever heard in a show like this, before.

The configuration of the cast also differs, Hix said, as "I've condensed the cast to 12 people," although a few actors will reappear throughout the performance, after quick wardrobe changes, as more than one character.

Working together in this unique production is "really for our own enjoyment," said Hix. "I love Shakespeare so much, I just want people to like it. I love it when people come up to me and say, 'I got it!'"

As a traveling troupe, much differs from what you may expect. Tents, lights, a prop box, two benches, and sound equipment make up their set and staging equipment.

Depending on who you ask, some say an outdoor performance is the best way to enjoy Shakespeare.

"There are two different kinds of Shakespeare, outside. There's those that do it in an outdoor space with an attached building, like (the American Players Theatre in) Spring Green, Wi., and those who do it like we do," said Hix.

"I think we're the only ones who travel. We do only comedies, which are best suited for families with children, who are looking for a Ravinia-like experience."

Midsummer Theatre Troupe flourished in 2001, after getting its start as part of a troupe which used to perform in Batavia. This Shakespearean traveling theater performs one production each summer, in a few different venues.

In addition to the upcoming performance in Geneva, you can also see this comedy performed outdoors at 7 p.m. Friday, July 16 at Central Park in Naperville (free); 6 p.m. Sunday, July 18 at Cantigny Memorial Park in Wheaton ($10); and 7 p.m. July 20 and 27 at America's Historic Roundhouse in Aurora (free).

The Midsummer Theatre Troupe is fortunate to be under the leadership of Hix, who has experience as a casting director for feature films, television and live theater production in both Hollywood, Calif. and Chicago. She has been with Warner Bros., Samuel Godwin, Daystar, Touchstone, NBC and ABC/Harpo Productions, and has worked with Adrianne Barbeau, Lou Gossett, Jr., Beverly D'Angelo, Timothy Bottoms, Lou Diamond Phillips, and Danny Glover, among others. While teaching drama in L.A., she was Cuba Gooding Jr.'s sole drama teacher.

Shakespeare in the Park is hosted by the Geneva Cultural Arts Commission.

"It's one of our events," said Cultural Arts commissioner Vic Portincaso, who will also be performing as two of the characters, Sir Oliver Martext, and Lord Vic.

"This is our fourth year doing this. We hire in the troupe, and Toni does such a great job. It's geared toward families, so bring the kids and introduce them to Shakespeare," he said.

Hundreds of people have filled the park for the troupe's performances in years past, so come early, set down your blankets or chairs, and claim your spot. There is no rain date scheduled.

While you wait for the performance to start, enjoy a bite to eat or some refreshments which will be for sale in the park by Mill Race Inn, Stockholm's Restaurant, and Graham's Chocolate. Live music will also be performed before the show.

Admission is free, although a $5 donation is suggested. Seating will be on the lawn, and audience members are encouraged to bring blankets, chairs and picnics.

Island Park is along the east side of the Fox River at the intersection of State (Route 38) and Bennett streets (Route 25) in Geneva. Free parking is available at the government center on First Street. It's just a short walk on the covered bridge across the river to Island Park.

'As You Like It' cast and crew
Aurora: Robert Becker, Tim Lieske, Connie Pfister, Gary Puckette, Don Reid, Colette Shelby, Todd Von Ohlen
Batavia: Peter Hix, Toni Hix, Nicolette Pollack
Chicago: Walter Bezt, Mark Brouwer
Geneva: Kristen Duerdoth, Sandy Portincaso, Vic Portincaso
Naperville: Robbie Holden, Dan McQuaid
North Aurora: Robb Cleave
South Elgin: Katrina Syrris

Storefront Shakespeare

Storefront Shakespeare performs first shows in Geneva
By Rachel Baruch Yackley | Daily Herald Correspondent
Published: 7/2/2010 12:00 AM

Turning a dream into reality can take a lot of sweat and greasepaint.

Just ask Nora Manca, president and artistic director of Storefront Shakespeare, a new theater company which recently performed the first week of its very first production of William Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

"I've achieved my career goal; I'm the director of a Shakespearean theater," Manca said.
Storefront Shakespeare is a mobile theater company, which uses empty storefronts and other large spaces.

Using Promenade, a nontraditional form of theater in which the entire space becomes the stage, this theater company's performances engage the audience in an interactive as well as an entertaining experience.

For the company's first production, Manca chose to direct a cast of about 25 actors in this tale of four intertwining stories, written by her favorite bard.

"Shakespeare's stories are so interesting and so complex, and the language is so beautiful and witty," she said. "I saw my first play when I was four, and have been obsessed with it ever since. It was 'Taming of the Shrew,' and I was so bothered by (the character) Petruchio. When I found out he was a wife beater (in the play), I was so mad at him," but she was hooked.
Another fan of Shakespeare is cast member Nadia Handler, a 15 year-old high school student from St. Charles, the youngest performer on stage.

Auditions were open to actors ages 16 through adults, but Handler's talents got her in the door and into the cast.

Handler appeared in "Beauty and the Beast" at Noble Fool Theatricals, and as the fairy Peaseblossom in a production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at Thompson Middle School.
In Storefront Shakespeare's version of this play, she is performing the role of Hermia, who loves one man, but is loved by another.

"The actors are part of the audience, and the audience is part of the play. It's wonderful," Handler said. "They follow along, watch, and laugh. They even move around if they can't see."
Handler met Manca while performing at Noble Fool. She learned about auditions for this current production through a Facebook posting.

"I really like Shakespeare. It's hard, but once we learn the meaning of the lines, it's really fun. It's a great experience for actors," Handler said.

Besides appearing in "A Midsummer Night's Dream," Handler is preparing for her lead role in "Tied to the Tracks," a musical melodrama opening at Steel Beam Theatre in St. Charles Thursday, July 15.

Manca, who lives in North Aurora, has been working up to this her entire life.

"I've been doing theater since I was about 10 years old," she said. "I just had a passion for it. I started a mini theater company when I was 13; we did 'Romeo and Juliet' for three years."

After high school, she attended North Central College, and completed a bachelor's degree in theater performance, with an emphasis in directing. She also minored in art. She has directed four previous productions: "Steel Magnolias" at the Geneva Underground Playhouse; "Potea Safari" at the Masala Yangu restaurant in Naperville; and "Euripides' Medea: A Director's Nightmare" as well as "An Ideal Husband" as guest director at Benedictine University.

She was the assistant director for "Beauty and the Beast" at Noble Fool Theatricals in St. Charles.

"Last year I got the idea for a promenade-style production of 'Midsummer Night's Dream,' but no theater was right for what I had in mind. Some friends and I started brainstorming and decided we needed to form our own company and use empty storefronts. We wanted to be right where the people were," she said.

Preparations for this premier production involved a bevy of talented friends who pitched in with everything from creating costumes to crafting sets. Props and decorations were cobbled together from donated items, as well as from bits and pieces found at yard sales and the Goodwill store, enabling this company to function with absolutely no budget.

What made this all come together into a run of performances already enjoyed by many was the availability of a vacant storefront in downtown Geneva.

Manca explained that she and executive director Racole Fisher "went walking around downtown Geneva. We wanted a place with a lively and active downtown. We took down phone numbers (of vacant stores), and made calls. Then we got approval and a permit from the city of Geneva."

The two women were able to find a temporary home for the company's first production at an empty storefront at 228 S. Third St. They may have gotten more of a "lively and active downtown" than they could have imagined, as their play opened and ran the week of Geneva's annual Swedish Days festival.

"We had pretty good attendance, especially for our first week," Manca said.

Upcoming performances of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" will take place today through Monday, July 5, at 228 S. Third St. in Geneva, with shows at 7 p.m. each evening, and additional 3 p.m. matinees on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $10 and may be bought on line at www.storefrontshakespeare.org, or at the door. Only cash or checks will be accepted at the door.

Monday's performance offers $8 pricing for Industry Night, to active and interested performers, tech and crew people, especially those who are interested in auditioning for the company's next performance. General admission remains $10 per person.

The following week, Storefront Shakespeare will move "Midsummer Night's Dream" to Sky Yoga Studio, 2035 S. Washington St., Suite 147 in Naperville. This is not an empty storefront, but is owned by a friend.

Shows will be at 7 p.m. July 9-11, with a 3 p.m. matinee on Saturday, July 10, only.
The next production by Storefront Shakespeare will be "As You Like It," with a Bollywood twist.
"I hope we can find a (performance) space near an Indian restaurant, and tie it all in," Manca said.

Whether you want to learn more, buy tickets, or audition for the company's next production, visit www.storefrontshakespeare.org, or call (630) 677-0983.