Food, Farms, Trees and Holiday Decorations

November 21, 2010

The Holidays Loom…

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” according to the song. In my opinion, the jury is still out. However, most of us don’t have the choice of opting out of the madness, so I guess we should make the best of it. For instance, if you’re going to put Christmas lights on your outdoor trees, you should know what you’re doing. And I can’t think of a better source of tree knowledge than The Care of Trees.

Thom Kraak is Senior Designer for The Care of Trees, which means he’s the go-to guy for outdoor decorating. If you’re interested in having your lights hung professionally, you can always check out the services offered by The Care of Trees. However, Thom is also on the program today to offer some simple wisdom for doing the job yourself. Don’t forget that if you miss today’s live broadcast, you can always listen to podcasts of The Mike Nowak Show.

Shawn Kingzette is District Manager of the Chicago Office for The Care of Trees, and a long-time friend of this show. I dragged him into this discussion because I wanted to get an arborist’s advice about preparing your outdoor trees and shrubs for the coming winter. In addition, I’ve been harping on how little rain we’ve had in the past several months. My view is corroborated by the Morton Arboretum, which sent out this advisory this week.

…but there’s no need to panic if you need a beautiful display

Are you one of those people who can grow practically anything if it’s in your garden bed, but is completely baffled when it comes to containers? Fear not–Marni Wilson, garden designer at Mariani Landscape, is here to offer some great advice on creating attractive holiday scenes. Wilson says that you don’t necessarily need to get everything done at once–it’s possible to start a landscape and add to it later. Of course, she has tips on quick and easy holiday decorating–especially containers, which can be very rewarding, if you get it right. And, something that makes me happy, Wilson has information about how to reuse some of your decorations (mostly greens and boughs), when you’re ready to take down the display.

Good Growing: Illinois Local Food, Farms and Jobs Council

“Illinois consumers spend $48 billion annually on food. Nearly all of this money leaves the state.”
All I can say is “Mind boggling.” That quote (the first one, not mine) is from the Executive Summary of a report called “Local Food, Farms & Jobs: Growing the Illinois Economy,” written just about a year and a half ago as an introduction to the creation of the Illinois Local Food, Farms and Jobs Council. Its work–to keep a larger share of Illinois food dollars in Illinois–has really just begun.

Tom Spaulding, is Director of the council, and Executive Director for Angelic Organics Learning Center. He’s on the show to talk about what has been accomplished so far and what can be expected from this important public act. An important part of the mission is to train new farmers, agriculture laborers and food entrepreneurs over the next decade, in an attempt to keep food dollars in Illinois.

He’s provided me with some good links about farming and related issues:

In Praise of Recycling, Gardening, Green Building and Chickens

November 14, 2010

America Recycles Day is November 15…make the most of it

Like Christmas, America Recycles Day comes around only once a year. Geez, I hope that most of you recycle a little more often than that. But it is our annual reminder of how important indivdual and group recycling efforts are. ARD hasn’t been celebrated all that long–since 1997. And, of course, I have a stake in recycling because I’m the president of the Chicago Recycling Coalition. In case you’re wondering, I don’t make a dime for holding that position. In fact, I generally lose money. But I digress.

Statewide, the recycling mission is being furthered by the Illinois Recycling Association. I’m pleased to have IRA Executive Director Mike Mitchell back in the studio to talk about the various ways our neighbors, friends, employees and customers can get involved in local recycling programs. One way is a new effort called the Dell Reconnect Program. Consumers can drop off any brand of used computer and technology equipment at participating Goodwill donation centers located across Illinois, not to mention the rest of the U.S. and parts of Canada.

Meanwhile, the IRA website is chock full of helpful links and videos about recycling and ways that average citizens can reduce their consumption of wasteful products and packaging. Among the most interesting are RECYCLING WORKS: A Toolkit for Reducing Waste in the Workplace (pdf) and the Virtual Tour Videos of of various recycling facilities across Illinois.

The 2010 Chicago Gardener of the Year:
The Joy Garden at Northside College Preparatory High School

I was pleased to be part of the final Mayor Daley’s Landscape Awards Ceremony last week at the Hyatt Regency Chicago. It’s the final, not because the city will no longer be presenting gardening awards (I hope), but because Richard M. Daley has decided not to run for re-election and there will be a different mayor next year.

It appears to me that, especially when it comes to recent environmental events, Hizzoner is taking a bit of a victory lap. He is warmly received and is obviously enjoying the accolades that are coming his way. Of course, Chicago still doesn’t have anything resembling an effective recycling system, and the city is still in a fiscal hole, but I can understand why gardeners and envrionmental types are getting a little weepy about the thought of not having Richie Daley around to promote the green agenda. But I digress…again.

As I have for the past umpteen years, I’m talking to the Chicago Gardener of the Year on my radio show. And, as occasionally happens, the winner is not a single person but a group of people. This time, it’s the folks who are responsible for the Joy Garden at Northside College Preparatory High School at 5501 N Kedzie Avenue. Two of those people are Nick Petty and Mike Repkin, who were designers and project coordinators for the garden.

Interestingly, the Joy Garden is just part of a larger Master Plan for NCPHS being developed by Urban Habitat Chicago. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Mike Repkin and other UHC members were on this show at the end of September. Small world, eh?

Others who are likely to be in-studio on Sunday morning are Bathsheeba Birman, Student parent and President of Urban Wildlife Coalition UWC; Lee Bouchard, Urban Habitat Chicago UHC executive director; Mike Coy, NSPHS Teacher; and students Luis Mesa, Edgar Ortege and Ariel Basora. I don’t know exactly who will show up. Hey, we don’t have room for them anyway!

Get ready for a week of Greenbuild 2010

As I reported several weeks ago, Greenbuild 2010, returns to Chicago November 17-19 at Chicago’s McCormick Place West. In case you didn’t know, Greenbuild, presented by the U.S. Green Building Council, is the world’s largest conference and expo dedicated to green building. Thousands of building professionals from all over the world come together at Greenbuild for three days of outstanding educational sessions, renowned speakers, green building tours, special seminars, and networking events.

However, It’s nice to see that the expo doesn’t just feature architecture and green building materials. On Saturday, November 20, there will be a half day tour called Growing Green Jobs in Urban Farming, which will take people to various urban agriculture sites in Chicago. These include The Chicago Sustainable Manufacturing Center, a green business incubator that houses 14 green companies, including The Plant Chicago, which grows food using aquaponics, providing locally-raised tilapia to restaurants in the area, and the Growing Home Urban Farm and Job Training Center, which is the first certified organic farm in Chicago.

Of course, this is a five-day event, and there’s more on the docket than I can possibly talk about in one short radio segment. I’ll leave that to Lois Vitt Sale, Chair of the GreenBuild Chicago Host Committee. She’ll tell us about the speakers, including General Colin L. Powell, who is the keynote speaker on Wednesday, November 17 at 8:30 a.m. There are also educational sessions and more events than you’ll have time to attend.

Good Growing: The chickens are back! (Did they ever go away?)

The Good Growing correspondent this week is Martha Boyd, who is the program director for the Chicago Urban Initiative of the Angelic Organics Learning Center. She’s reporting on the growing popularity of raising chickens in and around Chicago. Is this a fad? Or a lasting contribution to the urban agriculture culture?

Here are some recent developments and events. Judge for yourself.

I still think that anything to do with chickens is funny. But it might just be good for us, too.

Winter markets, farming classes and wicked, wicked plants

November 7 , 2010

Winter is fresh food time

Yes, I know. That sounds like a contradiction, especially for those of us who have gotten hooked on all of the fresh goodies we’ve been picking up at our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) locatiions or farmers markets during the growing season. Kathleen and I have learned a lot this year about preparing foods that not only did we never eat before, but in some instances had never even heard of before. For instance, among the things we’ve consumed this year are Malabar spinach, kohlrabi, bok choi, kale, tatsoi and turnips.

Some of that probably doesn’t sound particularly adventurous at all. However, I’m known as a pretty fussy eater–one of those “I don’t live to eat, I eat to live” kind of guys. So when I choose to chow down on something called tatsoi, it’s pretty much a leap of faith. I’m happy to say that Kathleen found some pretty good recipes–mostly online–and I don’t think I complained once. (Of course, that really wouldn’t be in my best interest, since I’m not much of a cook.)

But back to the coming winter and why it’s a time that you can still eat fresh and healthy foods. Even though the outdoor markets have pretty much shut down, there are still plenty of places you can go to for your fresh produce and other foods. The Local Beet has a good list here.

Another organization that is spreading the, um, gospel of farmers markets is an organization called Faith in Place. Since 1999, Faith in Place has partnered with more than 600 congregations in Illinois–and those faiths run the gamut: Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Zoroastrian, Baha’i and Unitarian religions. Faith in Place promotes clean energy & sustainable farming and works towards helping people of faith understand that issues of ecology and economy—of care for Creation—are at the forefront of social justice.

Erika Dornfeld, who is part of their Congregational Outreach and Support staff, says that the Faith in Place Winter Farmers Markets are gearing up. Unlike traditional markets, these are not held at the same location every week or every month. Instead, the venues change from week to week, giving people throughout the area a chance to find things like yarns, woolen goods & raw fibers; honey; preserves & fruit butters; fresh & dried herbs; apples & cider; dried fruits; mushrooms; pastries, breads, croissants & tarts; spa & beauty products; salsas, soups & sauces; sprouts & micro-greens; cheese, yogurt & eggs; fresh lettuce & greens; squash & root vegetables; flour & corn meal; locally-sourced ice cream & sorbet; fair-trade coffee and chocolate; pickled vegetables; recycled wearables… and a lot more. Here’s a list of the markets for the next month or so:

Nov 13, 2010, 9am-1pm
Church of the Holy Nativity
9300 South Pleasant Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643-6344

Nov 14, 2010?, 12pm-3pm
Unitarian Universalist Church of Elgin
39W830 Highland Ave.
Elign, IL 60124

Dec. 5, 2010 10am-2pm
North Shore Unitarian Church
2100 Half Day Rd. (Rt. 22)
Deerfield IL 60015

Dec. 12, 2010 12-3pm
First Evangelical Free Church
5255 N. Ashland Ave.
Chicago IL 60640

To sign up for the newsletter that will keep you informed about upcoming Winter Farmers Markets, click here.

Plants are out to get us (really!)

Timing is everything, so they say. Which makes me ask: “Just who are they, anyway?” The point is that Halloween was last week but I couldn’t get Amy Stewart on my show until this week. Why is that so important? Well, she’s talking about her most recent book Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln’s Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities.The plant that did in Honest Abe’s mom, by the way, was White Snakeroot (Eupatorium rugosum), which is related to Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum), which I grow in my back yard.

In fact, let that be a warning. I grow literally dozens of specimens that are either poisonous, hallucinogenic, or otherwise dangerous–both outside my house and inside. And so do you. The list of plants that could–and occasionally do–kill or maim us seems to be limitless. Of course, they can also get us high…or make us psychotic. And Stewart covers them all in her refreshingly no-nonsense, straightforward prose. Let me give you some quick examples, which will make you swear off gardening for a good, long time–if not forever:

  • Cashews are part of the same botanical family as poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. The nut itself is fine, but don’t ever mess with any part of the shell.
  • Even corn can be dangerous. It that’s all you ever eat, you risk suffering a severe niacin deficiency called pellagra.
  • In 2005, more people called poison control centers about possible poisoning from peace lilies than from any other plant. Don’t Peace me, Bro!
  • Some mushrooms…well, don’t get Amy started on mushrooms.
  • Ever drunk May Wine made from sweet woodruff? At high doses, the drink causes dizziness, paralysis, and even coma and death. Fortunately, the U.S. government frowns upon the traditional formula for this concoction.
  • Love your hydrangeas? Guess what? They contain low levels of cyanide. I wouldn’t advise using them as a garnish.

And on and on and on. It’s not surprising that the book has become a New York Times best seller. I hate her for that (though I’m really quite fond of her). Hmm, I think I’ll send her a nice azalea plant. Don’t worry. I doubt that she’ll eat it. Because she knows that it can cause heart problems, vomiting, dizziness, and extreme weakness. Unless I coat the leaves with chocolate. Bwahahahahahaha!! (Like I said, we should have had this conversation last week.)

By the way, Amy Stewart is part of the Garden Rant crowd, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at her slighty off-center choice of literary material.

Good Growing: So you wanna be a farmer, eh?

Then you might be interested in a course called Farm Dreams: Assessing Risks & Resources to Start a Small Farm or Market Garden. Farmer trainer Tracey Hall is on our “Good Growing” segment today to talk about this interactive workshop, which teaches folks about sustainable farming careers in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin. Tracey knows something about this because she has her own outfit, called Grace Note Farm, situated on just under twelve acres of land at the bottom of the Kettle Morraine State Forest in Southeastern Wisconsin. She also teaches a class called “Farm Beginnings.”

Farm Dreams is just one of the public programs of Angelic Organics Learning Center, which will be a regular contributor to “Good Growing” on The Mike Nowak Show.