Glamourous plant fashions, natural lawns and organic vegetable farmers

March 20, 2011

LIghts! Fashion! Glamour! Leaves! Stems! Hot glue guns!

Um…where did I go off the rails? Seriously, folks, those words all come together at the third annual FLEUROTICA (and they seem to insist on capital letters) fashion show at the Garfield Park Conservatory on Friday, March 25, 2011. If you like flowers (and who doesn’t?), this seems like a great way to combine, horticulture, fashion and show biz.

Some of Chicago’s fanciest floral designers are probably furiously sewing and taping and hot-gluing plant material even as you read this.( See?, I’m not completely clueless. I’ve watched Project Runway.) Stacey Bal, AIFD (American Institute of Floral Designers) is a floral specialist at Whole Foods Market South Loop. She is an award-winning designer who teaches floral design workshops at WFM. She stops by this morning to discuss the perils and rewards of designing with plant material.

Garfield Park Coservatory Alliance board member Perri Knight says that In addition to the runway action, guests can always duck out to see LIVE plants in their full glory in the Garfield Park Conservatory, truly one of Chicago’s gems. There’s also a live-auction, cocktails and hors d’oeuvres.The doors open at 6:30 pm and the runway show starts at 7:30

Does your lawn need an intervention to get it off of drugs?

You might think I’m kidding but, truly, when you’re using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides on your lawn, your lawn is a junkie and you are the junkie dealer. Your turf depends on you to provide it with chemical nutrients and poisons, completely by-passing–and even destroying–the biology in the soil that would normally supply nutrients in a gentle way to your plants, whether they’re grasses or perennials or trees or shrubs.

This method of “lawn care” is not “care” at all, but true insanity. Not only does it destroy nature’s balance, it puts your family, your pets and you at risk from proven carcinogens and endocrine disrupters.

There is another–and better–way. The Illinois Landscape Contractors Association (ILCA), Midwest Ecological Landscaping Association (MELA), Safer Pest Control Project (SPCP), Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), Sea Grant Great Lakes Network, and the University of Illinois Extension have teamed to present a Natural Lawn Care Workshop this Wednesday at Oakton College in Des Plaines.

To be sure, it’s not aimed at the average home owner. Rather, this is a workshop for landscape companies, turf managers, homeowner associations and public employees. If you listen to my show or visit this website and you belong to any of the above categories, I urge you to consider attending this conference. Especially you folks in homeowner associations. I can’t tell you how many times I hear from people who would like to stop the spreading of chemicals on the lawns surrounding their townhouses or condos but are thwarted by the “condo association.” Our nation desperately needs to break free of the idea that we can bend nature to our will in the service of a “perfect lawn.” Lord, help us all. How about a serviceable, healthy lawn that you’re not afraid to have your kids play on?

The rock star of this conference is Chip Osborne of Osborne Organics, who I’ve seen speak before. He knows his stuff–meaning science–and he will be leading a number of seminars at the conference.He bases his business on these tenets: the use of natural, organic products as dictated by soil testing; an understanding of the soil and its biomass; and sound cultural practices. When you visit his website, you see a child in a baseball uniform standing in a field of grass. For you parents out there, the next time you see your own son or daughter in a similar field, ask yourself this question: I wonder what they sprayed on that lawn and how long ago was that? If you can do that, you will never question natural lawn care practices again.

Join me next Saturday and Sunday at Naperville Home Showcase™

If you’re out Naperville way on either Saturday, March 26 or Sunday, March 27, head on out to Naperville Home Showcase on the campus of North Central College in the “New” Residential Hall/Recreation Center, 440 S. Brainard Street Naperville, IL. I’m not exactly sure why they call it the “New” Hall. Maybe it’s really old. Maybe it’s just an Inside joke. Who knows?

The point is that I will be speaking there on BOTH days at 1:00 p.m., which makes attendance MANDATORY. Dennis Carroll, who is with the Home Show Pros, stops by to talk about what you can expect at this suburban extravaganza…besides me, of course.

Good Growing: being organic before organic was cool

David Cleverdon of Kinnikinnick Farm in Caledonia, Illinois, told me a story the other day about what it was like to be an organic farmer in Illinois in 1994. He said when he would offer his vegetables at the Rockford Farmers market, people would see his sign, say something like ” He’s that organic guy,” and continue walking by.

My, how times have changed in less than two decades.

Well I can say that I’m proud to have a trail blazer on the show this morning. Kinnikinnick Farm is an established, cerified, organic farm that sells produce directly to Chicago chefs and farmers market customers. The farm grows a wide variety of greens, heirloom tomatoes, root crops, and seasonal vegetables starting with asparagus and snap peas in the Spring and ending with butternut squash and sun-chokes in the Fall.

They sell their produce every Wednesday in Chicago at the Green City Market in Lincoln Park and every Saturday at the Evanston Farmers Market, corner of University Place & Oak Ave.

Future landscapers and current food lovers

March 13, 2011

Let the horticultural games begin!

Well, the future landscapers of America have to come from somewhere, don’t they? And in just a few days, those thousand or so college students who think they want to choose horticulture as a career will descend on Joliet Junior College for the 35th Annual Student Career Days, presented by the Professional Landcare Network (PLANET).

This is an annual three-day competitive event for students enrolled in interior and exterior horticulture programs at two- and four-year colleges and universities from across the country. Each year, a different host location is selected, which gives the participants a chance to see different parts of the country and also increases the level of difficulty for some of the outdoor competitions. The event also serves as a kind of jobs fair, where students meet with prospective companies and employers.

In case you’re wondering just what kinds of events these kids will be competing in, here’s a list:

3D Exterior Landscape Design
Annual & Perennial Identification
Arboriculture Techniques
Business Management
Compact Excavator Operation
Computer Aided Landscape Design
Construction Cost Estimating
Exterior Landscape Design
Interior Landscape Design
Interior Plant Identification
Irrigation Assembly
Irrigation Design
Irrigation Troubleshooting
Landscape Maintenance Operation
Landscape Plant Installation

And to think that when I was in college, I majored in pinball. Times have changed. I’m pleased to have a JJC student, Kathy Manow, in studio to talk about what it’s like to study horticulture at a time when the word “sustainability” is so prominent in the industry.She is joined by Roger Phelps, promotional communications manager for STIHL Inc. who is also a member of the PLANET board. I met him last year when I participated in the Stihl Tour des Trees ride through northern Illinois and I will just say that he has more energy than any six people you know. Good thing he’s on the phone.

THE local food event of the year is the FamilyFarmed Expo

Notice how I capitalized and italicized THE in the headline? It’s because during the three days of FamilyFarmed Expo you can do and learn just about anything related to local food. The festival takes place from Thursday, March 16 through Saturday, March 18 at the UIC Forum at the University of Illinois at Chicago, 725 West Roosevelt Road in Chicago.

Jim Slama, founder and president of, says that each of the three days represents different aspects of the local food movement:

Thursday: Financing Farm to Fork conference, supporting the local food movement by encouraging investment in farm and food production, processing and distribution businesses.

Friday: the Midwest’s leading local food trade show, a major school food track, the Meet the Buyers reception, the Food Policy Summit, and the one-of-a-kind Localicious Party to cap the day.

Saturday: cooking demos from celebrity chefs, educational workshops, Sally Fallon and an interactive Kids Corner.

I will actually be a part of one of those Saturday workshops:Small-Space Gardening How to grow food in your back yard, on rooftops, back porches, and in container, both indoors or out, from 2:00 to 3:15 p.m. I will be the humble moderator, in a conversation that features Milton Dixon, Permaculture Productions, Ron Nowicki, The Land Office. and Jeanne Pinsof Nolan, The Organic Gardener.

Another seminar, that will be held just after the one I’m moderating, is Cheap Food is Not Healthy Food. It takes a look at how sustainably raised food benefits public health, the environment, and animal welfare. Among the panelists is Bob Martin, who is with the Pew Environmental Group.One of the issues that is front and center with Pew is how to “save antibiotics” by reducing their use in food animal production. From the Pew website:

Up to 70 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are given to healthy food animals.The American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Public Health Association, Infectious Diseases Society of America and other leading medical groups all warn that the routine use of antibiotics in food animals presents a serious and growing threat to human health because it creates new strains of dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Bob Martin also joins me on the program this morning. If you’re interested in attending FamilyFarmed Expo, there are various fee structures that you can examine here.

Good Growing: moving urban agriculture forward in Chicago

As you can see above, Friday’s sessions at FamilyFarmed Expo include the 6th Annual Chicago Food Policy Advisory Council Summit, where community representatives, food businesses, farmers, city leaders, chefs, not-for-profits and other food advocates come together to discuss poliices and influence the future of Chicago’s Food System.

But that work is already in progress, thanks to Advocates for Urban Agriculture, a coalition of organizations and individuals open to anyone interested in learning about, networking and advocating for urban agriculture in the Chicago Area. AUA member Martha Boyd, who is also part of Angelic Organics Learning Center, says that AUA has been working with the City of Chicago Commissioner of Department of Housing and Economic Development (which includes Zoning). The goal is to arrive at rules that don’t just get out of the way of urban food production, but actually help encourage it.

if you’re interested in this process, you might want to click onto these documents. The first is a letter crafted by AUA, asking about current policies and how they are interpreted by the city. The next document is the response from Commissioner Andrew J. Mooney. Just to clarify, this pdf includes the city’s response and draft of an Urban Horticulture FAQ. followed by the orginal letter, then, the AUA’s response to the city’s response. Whew! A little convoluted, I know, but these are the documents I have of this date. Martha promises to post them at the AUA site in their proper order.

Meanwhile, if you’re interested in this disucssion, attend the Food Council Summit this Friday at FamilyFarmed Expo at the UIC Forum. There are TWO sessions on urban ag zoning and policy:

In the meantime, if you want to keep abreast of AUA activities, log on to the AUA Google site. It’s a discussion forum where new members are welcome. However, you need to join to be able to read all posts and add yours.

Attack of the Congress and the Tweeters

March 6, 2011

Congress attacks the Clean Air Act…and that’s just for starters

As if it’s not bad enough that 80 years or more of collective bargaining rights in America are suddenly being trampled like so much turf at an outdoor rock concert, the quality of the very air we breathe is also in serious jeopardy. On Thursday, a bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives that would permanently block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions. Hey, and while we’re at it, why don’t we just legalize soot? All in favor…

It kind of feels like piling on, considering that the measure to fund the government through the
remainder of the fiscal year, known as the Continuing Resolution, is being calledthe
greatest legislative assault on the environment in decades by the League of Conservation Voters, which recently released its National Environmental Scorecard for the Second Session of the 111th Congress. However, given the extraordinary nature of the the proposed budget, the LCV put out an addendum, stating,

The introduced text of H.R. 1, the Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act of 2011, contains numerous so-called “policy riders” that block enforcement of vital environmental and public health laws, which jeopardize the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the wildlife and wild places we hold dear. These include provisions undermining the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the federal “Wild Lands” policy that restores our ability to set aside backcountry lands for Congress to determine whether they merit the ultimate protection of Wilderness.

And that’s just the measure that would keep our country running for another few months. Isn’t politics fun, kids?

Another group that is keeping an eye on how well our elected officials are caring for our air and water is Environment Illinois. Director Max Muller returns to the program this morning to talk about the Illinois delegation scorecard. If you want to know whether or not your representative is interested in protecting you from environmental harm, tune in or catch the podcast.

Growing the good life, one vegetable at a time

[Update: Michele Owens’ appearance on the show prompted a flurry of Tweets from listeners who thought that she gave out bad information after a caller wanted to know how to plant a vegetable garden in an area of his yard that had previously been occupied by his dogs. If you want to hear the entire conversation, log on to my podcast of the show. The conversation with Michele starts about halfway through the file. She also wrote about the incident a few days later on the Garden Rant Blogsite.]

I’m thinking about posting something on Garden Rant. I’ll get to that in a second. You might recall that Garden Rant is a blog site devoted to…um, ranting about all kinds of gardening things. You might also remember that the four protagonists (conspirators?) of Garden Rant were in town last year for the annual Independent Garden Center Show at Navy Pier, where I served them mimosas. I am nothing if not a gracious host.

One of the four, Michele Owens, is back in the city for the Chicago Flower & Gardens Show, mainly because she has come out with a book, Grow the Good Life: Why a Vegetable Garden Will Make You Happy, Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise. Now to my rant:

I hate it when people write the book I wish I had written! And do it with wit and ease and charm. She writes in complete, understandable and often memorable sentences. What’s up with that? Geez, she makes growing vegetables sound like something everybody should do. Who is she kidding? She tells you that cultivating your backyard might actually be good for you on many levels–contributing to the health of your body, your psyche, your wallet and even your taste buds. Tell it to the judge, girlie! And if that isn’t bad enough, this Owens dame is fomenting revolution. A lot of you are going to finish the book, march out the back door, grab a pitchfork and scratch some soil with it. Then you’re going to plant seeds! Outrageous! What’s next? Watering and caring for your seedlings and watching them grown and harvesting them and eating them? Quelle 19th Century! So go ahead. Buy the book. I mean it. Buy the darned thing. Make Michele Owens rich. See if I care. I’m going back to bed.

Good Growing: Who the heck is MOSES?

Actually, I should be asking “What the heck is MOSES.” Because the answer is Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service. Sheri Doyel, Program Director of the Farmer Training Initiative at Angelic Organics Learning Center, is just back from the 22nd Annual Moses Organic Farming Conference in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. It’s largest organic farming conference in the country, and this year set a new a new attendance record, as 3,000 attendees, mostly farmers, showed up. Sheri gives us the scoop on what she–and they–learned.

I’m speaking at the Chicago Flower & Garden Show

As I mentioned earlier, this is the week to get all hot and bothered about spring in Chicago…even though you really won’t be doing anything for at least another month. However, that’s what the Chicago Flower & Garden Show at Navy Pier is all about–whipping gardeners into a frenzy, and then sending them home into the snow to sulk. Hey, it IS Chicago, after all. And it IS still March.

Anyway, I’m speaking there this Wednesday, March 9 at 11:30 a.m. My topic: Trowel, Spade and Google. Don’t be frightened, little ones. It’s just a talk that will help you maximize your Internet use for gardening purposes. I hope you can stop by. Meanwhile, here’s when some of my friends are speaking:

  • Sun, March 6, 12:15 p.m. – Melinda Myers Year Round Garden-tainment
  • Sun, March 6, 2:30 p.m. – Jeff Lowenfels No More Chemicals in the Garden
  • Sun, March 6, 2:45 p.m. – John Eskandari Nativars in the Landscape
  • Mon, March 7, 12:15 p.m. – Rich Eyre Captivating Conifers for the Landscape
  • Mon, March 7, 6:15 p.m. – Rich Eyre Inspirational Gardens
  • Tues, March 8, 6:15 p.m. – Beth Botts Start Here: Basic Steps for the New Gardener
  • Wed, March 9, 2:45 p.m. – Doris Taylor Shade Gardening: Planting Under Mature Trees
  • Wed, March 9, 6:15 p.m. – Nancy Clifton What’s Hot in Pots: Trends for 2011
  • Thur, March 10, 2:30 p.m. – Christy Webber Green Roofs in Chicago: Leading the Way
  • Thur, March 10, 6:15 p.m. – Ken Benson Winners for the Midwest
  • Fri, March 11, 2:45 p.m. – Jim DeHorn Become Your Own Tree Expert
  • Sat, March 12, 12:15 p.m. – Beth Botts Taming the Wild Ones: How to Welcome Native Plants into a Well-Behaved Garden
  • Sat, March 12, 2:30 p.m. – LaManda Joy Chicago Victory Gardens: Yesterday and Tomorrow
  • Sun, March 13, 11:00 a.m. – Ken Benson Designing with Hydrangeas
  • Sun, March 13, 1:30 p.m. – Nancy Clifton A What’s Hot in Pots: Trends for 2011