BY LISA PERKINS
FRANKFORT — Buying fruits and vegetables at her neighborhood farmers market is one of Anna Blessing's favorite things.
The author of "Locally Grown: Portraits of Artisanal Farms from America's Heartland," Blessing says she finds the stories each farmer has to tell as intriguing as the recipes she prepares with their produce.
"These farmers are my heroes, what they are doing is literally the hardest work I have ever seen in my life," Blessing said.
The author, and part-time Frankfort resident, will be on hand to sign copies of her book featuring 20 Midwest farms from 1 to 5 p.m., Saturday, at Charlie's Natural Food Market, 76 Airport Road in Frankfort.
"Locally Grown" profiles farmers and the sustainable farming practices they use to provide fresh ingredients to Chicago's top restaurants, as well as recipes from their chefs.
Abra Berens, one of the proprietors of Bare Knuckle Farm in Northport, found it humbling to being included in the portrait of American farmers.
"I know most of the farms in the book. They grow absolutely beautiful produce and to be included among them is reinforcing that we are succeeding at what we are trying to do," she said.
Berens and her business partner, Jess Piskor, have been tending the small-scale operation on a two acre plot owned by Piskor's grandfather since 2009.
Blessing recounts the pairing of the unlikely couple who grow 32 varieties of tomatoes, an abundance of beans, beats and Brussels sprouts as well as Swiss chard, pumpkins and parsnips:
"The story of how Abra Berens and Jess Piskor came together to farm a small plot of land nestled between fruit orchards far, far north on the lower peninsula of Michigan begins differently than most urban dwellers who set out to farm in the country. Before starting a farm from scratch, Abra and Jess barely knew each other."
"If there is a duo to represent the new face of small-scale farming, Jess and Abra are it. Even their cool logo is likely to catch the attention of other young farmers-to-be and local food followers."
Berens, a trained cook who spends part of the year working in Chicago, says Blessing's focus on the strong bond between farmers and restaurateurs reflects her own experience.
"Everyone has been so gracious and generous in their support of our efforts," said Berens, whose farm supplies ramps to several Chicago eateries each spring and hogs that forage underneath the farm's organic cherry and apple trees.
Blessing says she hopes her book reminds consumers to take a second look at the growers who put food on our tables.
"Getting to know your local growers gives you such an appreciation for the food they grow and that their efforts have a positive impact on the taste of the food and the health of our environment," Blessing said.
Anna Blessing lives in Chicago with her husband and daughter.
"Locally Grown: Portraits of Artisanal Farms from America's Heartland" is $22.95 and is available at local book stores.