Terra Brockman describes her new quarterly newsletter, “Food & Farm Notes,” as a “sort of virtual dinner party–a mingling of people and thoughts, food and conversation.” In the first issue, an expanded version of the one-page weekly newsletter she’s been handing out at her family’s stand at the Evanston farmers’ market, she promises to write about everything “from garlic to Galen, beans to Bogart, genius to madness (ripeness to rottenness), and from Jean-Paul Sartre to rhubarb tart.”

A central Illinois native with a graduate degree in English literature from Illinois State University, Brockman has worked as an editor, living in Japan and New York City, for more than 15 years. In 1997 she moved to Evanston and in her spare time began helping out on the family farm in Congerville, 150 miles southwest of Chicago. The farm is run by her brother Henry and his wife, Hiroko Kinoshita, but three generations of Brockmans help plant, weed, pick, and pack the 500 varieties of organic vegetables they grow for the Evanston market and for individuals who are part of their community-supported agriculture project.

When Brockman’s parents bought the 66-acre farm in the 1960s the land served as a source of food for the family. Her father was a geneticist at ISU who conducted research on environmental mutagens. “That was his life’s research, basically–things that cause mutation and may cause cancer,” says Brockman. “So everything we grew was always without pesticides or herbicides.”

The family has been selling their produce at the Evanston farmers’ market since 1992, and Brockman began putting out the free weekly newsletter in 1997. “People would come by the stand just for it sometimes,” she says. “So that’s when I thought, well, I’d like to expand it. And now that I have a little more time, I decided to try to make it into a quarterly and see if I can get some subscriptions.” She laughs. “It’s not exactly packing my mailbox full of subscriptions so far, but I’ve got a lot of good response.”

In the first issue–the second should be out this week–she traces the etymological roots of arugula, puts asparagus in the context of the Roman Empire, and invokes authors who’ve been inspired by vegetables–Walt Whitman by dandelions, Pablo Neruda by onions, Proust by asparagus. She also includes nutritional facts and several recipes for each vegetable discussed.

Brockman has also persuaded her brother to write about organic farming. “There are a lot of food letters out there,” she says. “I think what’s unique about mine is that it brings you [to food] from the soil, from the land itself, with my brother’s voice. And I think people hardly ever, if ever, hear what the farmer does–the kind of thinking that you have to do when you’re not just a commercial farmer.”

Subscriptions to “Food & Farm Notes” are $25 for one year (four issues), and single copies are $7 (make checks payable to “Food & Farm Notes” and send to 586-1 Sheridan Square, Evanston, IL 60202). The farm also has a Web site (www.henrysfarm.com), or you can visit the stand at the Evanston farmers’ market, at Maple and University, 7:30 AM to 1:30 PM Saturdays through late October. –Susannah Felts

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Newberry.