BY Nick Kindelsperger

The line between farm and restaurant used to be crystal clear. Farmers grew crops on far off plots of land, some middleman assembled the bounty, and chefs purchased what they wanted to cook. But the demarcation of duties has begun to blur for a handful of Chicago restaurants, as owners look for ways to score fresher and more varieties of produce, often by cutting out the middleman entirely.

This isn't altogether a new concept. Chef/restaurateur Rick Bayless was a pioneer in the field, creating a sizable garden at his home decades ago to supply Frontera Grill. But some chefs are going even further, either by developing an intense garden on-site or looking to partner with individual farms that grow specifically for them.

Instead of all following the same path, each of the five restaurants featured here started its project differently. One lucked into a partnership with a farm, while another started as a farm before getting into the mobile pizza business. One rooftop garden is the centerpiece of the dining experience, while another garden is hidden in a former alleyway. One even has an Oprah connection. But each shares a passion for locally grown produce, and the belief that diners can taste the difference in the food.

Hearth & Market

Steve Zieverink and Wendy Uhlman first became interested in organic food when the couple lived in Chicago, though it wasn't a completely positive experience. "It seemed so expensive," says Uhlman. "And often it didn't taste that great," adds Zieverink. Fast forward a few years, and the two decided to purchase a farm in Coloma, Mich., both for a work space (Zieverink is an artist and Uhlman a designer) and to grow food. While they originally sold some of the produce at local farmers markets, including Green City Market, they weren't making enough to sustain the operation. To help increase the profit from the venture, they came up with the idea of turning the plot into a "pizza farm," as Uhlman calls it. They found a mobile pizza oven, and Hearth & Market was born.

It's initially surprising how much of the property, which they refer to as Live Station Farm, is covered with prairie and woods, but that's part of the design according to Zieverink. He's passionate about permaculture to help create a truly sustainable farm. "I like to look at nature and see how systems work," says Zieverink.

Walking around the property, it's clear that it's not laid out like most farms. Instead of row after row of one type of crop, multiple plants grow together. Though it can initially look haphazard, Zieverink has a clear plan for everything. For example, the perimeter of the garden is planted with marigolds, which naturally repel many pests, removing the need to use chemical pesticides. Plus, the flowers are edible.

They are sourcing local grain for the pizza dough, but they are growing just about everything else. That includes all the tomatoes, including one variety sourced from the Galapagos Islands. While they grow kale for salads, they also grow more unusual plants like lamb's quarters and spigarello (an heirloom broccoli leaf).

The Hearth & Market pizza truck visits the 61st Street Farmers Market (corner of 61st and Dorchester) in Chicago on Saturdays. It also visits North Pier Brewing in Benton Harbor, Mich., on Thursdays and Cultivate Brewing in Berrien Springs, Mich., on Sundays.