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How I became the smallest farmer in the Midwest

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Gardeners are widely known as generous folks, eagerly giving away home-grown flowers and food to anyone who asks. The late-summer surfeit of produce often forces us to be extra-generous.

But this year, I took the exchange a step further. This year, I sold a good part of my harvest, making me arguably the smallest farmer in Midwest.

Unexpected harvests

Like any less-than-expert gardener, my vegetable patch generally turns out about 50 percent different than I planned.

This year, for instance, I wanted to try companion planting, so I sowed zinnias with my baby broccoli. An early heat wave murdered the broccoli, leaving the flowers to take over an entire bed. I now have enough to cover a Rose Bowl float.

The same mad, Murphy-esque method left me with an enormous sage plant but no potatoes to season with the herb; hundreds of grape tomatoes but only a handful of slicing ones; and an equal number of delicious but pea-sized heirloom cucumbers.

You could say I specialize in hard-to-eat crops.

Found: a solution

To buy all the ingredients I had failed to grow, I headed to a storefront grocery in my Chicago neighborhood, a friendly shop called Open Produce. It’s a small operation run by young people that stocks a little bit of everything, including lots of local produce.

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