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The story behind Family to Table

Updated: Apr 21, 2019

The motivation to start this project began years ago. Actually, I think the interest came by way of a trait passed down to me from my ancestors. Perhaps it was an interest sparked out of a previous job (Director of Urbana's Market at the Square). Mostly, though, it developed from my role as a mother and my deep-rooted interest in health and wellness. All of these things triggered a connection with food and the people that grew it. And the story became even more interesting when I connected it to my family roots.

My family first came to Champaign County, Illinois in mid-1850's. Over the years my family kept meticulous records including journals, photographs, newspaper clippings and magazine articles, family heirlooms, and more. My mother and grandmother, the keepers of many of these items, have shared all of these keepsakes with me. These include stories about the Schwengel farm, purchased in 1857 and awarded with an Illinois Centennial Farm designation. You can see the Stone House, below, behind a crowd of Champaign County women attending an event hosted by my great-grandmother and great- great-grandmother. The house is no longer owned by our family but is still stands strong and proud on Duncan Road in Champaign.

Champaign County Women in front of the Stone House in Champaign
My great-grandmother Mary Emily Schwengel (seated in the front row in a polka dot dress) and her mother-in-law, my great- great-grandmother Nellie Opal Schwengel (first person in the second row), along with a group of Champaign County women, in front of the Stone House.

I enjoy learning about my roots and connecting them with present day Champaign. Last week I read excerpts of my great- great- great-grandparent's travels from Champaign to Europe, the Middle East, and back. They journaled the entire trip from their doorstep on Prospect Avenue in Champaign to Egypt and back. I can't wait to share that story, and the photos that go along with it, in a future post.

What sparks my interest the most are the journals and notes penned by my great- great-grandmother Nellie Opal Schwengel. She passed away a few years before I was born, however, I've made numerous connections with her through her journaling. I am very interested in her notes about food and family. She journaled recipes and clipped articles about all sorts of cooking tips and trends. She was interested in organic food marketing and health food and contributed to many University of Illinois agriculture and home economics project and programs. How neat is that? I can't wait to share these stories in future posts.

Most of all I love that I have all of this history available to me to explore and share with my children, the eighth generation. My older daughter is picking out recipes to cook and share with you on this website. My younger daughter is interested in history and stories - requesting that we go find all of the places noted in the journals. This is the exact connection I was hoping for. The connection between past and present.

My plan for Family to Table is to share stories from the farm, recipes from the kitchen, and traditions from the table. Join me on this ride, and consider your own roots, as we move forward along this journey.


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