4xForth: Cortney Ahern of Feeding America and Slow Food Chicago / by Clare Johnson

Each Friday, we feature one of the incredible women in our community by asking about her favorite Chicago hot-spots, restaurants, websites, day trips and more. This week, we're featuring the wonderful Cortney Ahern of Feeding America and Slow Food Chicago.

Cortney's work is all about good food and good people - a mission we can certainly get behind! We first met Cortney during our Summer Salon (hosted at Greenhouse Loft) where she blew us away with her kind spirit and undeniable passion for her work. Cortney serves as President of the board of Slow Food Chicago, an organization that thrives on the idea that all people deserve access to high-quality food, produced in a sustainable way. Good food = good people. Simple as that.

Continue reading to find out even more about Cortney and her top-notch recommendations. Places I frequent in Chicago:

  1. Vietnam Veterans Memorial Park - Tucked behind the busy intersection at Wacker and Wabash on the Chicago River Walk, this beautiful park is right outside my office at Feeding America. I come here a few times a week for a quiet moment on the tiered grassy landings to drink my coffee, read, and watch the boats go by.
  2. Chicago Public Libraries - Free Books. We all know that’s what you get at the library, but when you stop to think about it, it’s pretty amazing, right!? I like to walk down to Harold Washington at lunch and sit in the 9th floor atrium, or pop by my neighborhood Logan Square branch. On my queue right now: Americanah, The Whale, Proof… and $9 in late fees.
  3. preSERVE Garden - As a former farmer, living in Chicago with no outdoor space has been an adjustment. All growing season, you can find me at the preSERVE Garden to satisfy my agricultural kick. The preSERVE Garden in North Lawndale is a partnership with Slow Food Chicago, the Chicago Honey Coop, the North Lawndale Greening Committee and Neighborspace. We have monthly volunteer harvest days (next one on August 8th, join us!). Last month we harvested potatoes, apricots, kale, holy basil, celery, raspberries, rhubarb and arugula.
  4. The Hideout - The first time I came to The Hideout, I felt like I had found my “people” in Chicago. Whether it’s for their annual Block Party, Soup and Bread all winter long, Veggie Bingo, Write Club, or just to grab a beer, I try to stop by The Hideout as often as I can… and plan to even more now that Local Foods has moved in down the street.

Best Bites in Chicago:

  1. Calumet Fisheries - It’s not summer without a few trips to Calumet Fisheries. I’m partial to the fried smelt (Smelts? What’s the plural of smelt?), smoked trout, and fried pickles, but everything is delicious. Nothing beats sitting on the one picnic table, watching the bridge go up and down, and licking the grease off your fingers.
  2. Lula - Lula is the first restaurant in Chicago I fell in love with. Whatever you’re in the mood for, it’s perfect: sitting alone at the bar reading and drinking coffee; taking your Mom to a fancy celebration dinner, having a nightcap of pie and cocktails with friends in the neighborhood; or just grabbing a turkey sandwich.
  3. Sticky Rice - For a while, Sticky Rice was the closest source of food to my house… and that was a problem. They specialize in Northeastern Thai cuisine - a region where I lived during college - which is hard to come by. I always order the duck lychee with curry and kai jeow (a Thai style omelet that is like no egg you’ve had before). You can also ask for the “secret menu” to get truly authentic Isaan Thai dishes… including insects!
  4. Reno - I have been known to eat breakfast and dinner at Reno in the same day. You can find me there on Tuesdays for the 2 for $20 pizza deal, Wednesdays for the $5 pasta and $5 glasses of wine… and just about any other time of day. The staff is delightful, the carbs are on point (old bay bagel, pizza crust, savory bread pudding!) and the price is right.

Sites I lurve:

  1. On Being - This podcast and website have been getting under my skin these last few months. It tackles the complexity of life’s big questions from a variety of perspectives - science, religion, philosophy, music, poetry, mathematics. Listening to an episode on my Monday morning commute makes me feel curious, connected and ready to encounter the world.
  2. NPR First Listen -  Aside from my friend Jessica, NPR Music keeps me up to date on current music. I stream new albums while I’m working on projects, doing dishes, or writing emails.
  3. LadyGuns - LadyGuns is a new website that celebrates and tells the stories of talented, driven, inspiring women around the world who are working in a variety of fields. I was so honored that my dear friend Emily nominated me a few months ago, and couldn’t have been happier to keep the LadyGun love going by nominating the incomparable Eva Deitch. If you’re looking for a dose of inspiration and proof that there is a powerful force of good in the world, look no further. (Psst, anyone can nominate a LadyGun so share the love!)
  4. Restaurant Guru - My favorite question: “Where should we go to eat?” But admittedly, I get stumped sometimes. That’s where Restaurant Guru comes in. Matt Kirouac has taken the guesswork out of restaurant choices by visiting, reviewing, categorizing and recommending his favorites around Chicago for you. His wit, charm and palate will not lead you astray.

Favorite places to visit outside the city/day trips from Chicago

  1. Milwaukee - I head to Milwaukee a couple times a year for a day trip or weekend getaway. Favorite spots are Honeypie, Comet Cafe, Growing Power, and anywhere with cheese curds.
  2. Mama J’s - My mom recently moved to the Chicago area from Minnesota. Having her nearby means lots of Sunday dinners, Ravinia concerts, cooking and family time. Hopping on the Metra even a few miles away to the land of yards and houses can be such a relaxing shift away from the city.
  3. Ox-bow - My boyfriend Chris works for Ox-bow, an artists residency in Michigan. Occasionally I get to tag along and spend the weekend in Western Michigan hanging near the sand dunes, picking up growlers of cider, and eating my weight in cherries.
  4. Local Farms - Anytime I find myself on a farm, it’s a good day. Slow Food Chicago organizes Crop Mobs for folks to lend a hand and experience a day in the life as a farmer. I am lucky to have connected with amazing farmers and producers through Slow Food and farmers markets, and try to make it out to volunteer or take a tour whenever I can. On my list for this summer and fall: Montalbano Farms, The Pie Patch, Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm, The Plant, and Angelic Organics Learning Center.

Thank you for sharing, Cortney!

Reading your answers brought a huge smile to my face. As a fellow urban agriculture enthusiast, I have to say - bravo! Your work is inspiring and Forth is very lucky to have you as part of our community. Anytime you need some farm help, you know who to call!

Be sure to follow Cortney on Twitter and Instagram, as well as Slow Food Chicago's Twitter/Instagram and Feeding America's Twitter/Instagram. AND! If you're interested in attending a Slow Food event, check out a few events coming up in August on our Your Week in Awesome post! I'm sure you'd be able to find a Forth member (or ten!) who'd love to join you.