Out and Proud in Chicago

June 26, 2011

In Illinois and New York, a real reason to be proud

I will be the first to tell you that today’s radio program will be unusually light on gardening, green living and environmental stuff and more focused on the kinds of things that happen when somewhere between 200,000 and 400,000 people gather to celebrate human diversity. And you know what? That’s okay with me.

The Mike Nowak Show is broadcasting from the Center on Halsted as part of a special day of radio On Chicago’s Progressive Talk. I’m on at my usual time, from 9:00 to 11:00 a.m.. Then,Stephanie Miller, Hal Sparks and John Fugelsang step up to the mic for a special broadcast of the annual Chicago Pride Parade from noon to 3:00 p.m. At that point, producer Heather Frey and I will wade into the dancing masses to report on…well, on anything that seems remote interesting, and report back to the anchor desk.

Here’s the rundown for my two hours on Pride Parade Day.

We start with Modesto Tico Valle, Chief Executive Officer of the Center on Halsted. It would be hard to overstate the impact of this facility in the East Lakeview community. If you just look at just its green chops, the 175,000 square foot building is Silver LEED Certified, has a gray water system, uses recycled building materials, employs a day lighting system, as well as computerized control of HVAC and lighting.

But that doesn’t even begin to show how COH addresses issues like

  • Bisexual Programs that include social networking, movies and discussions
  • A Community Technology Center that provides assistance to 2,000 patrons annually with free internet access; tech. training in MS Word, MS Excel, etc.
  • Community & Cultural Program that served 5,000 participants in 2010
  • Family Programs that allow LGBT and ally families to gather in a positive and affirming environment
  • Recreational Programs featuring volleyball, basketball, hockey and yoga
  • SAGE (Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders), serving15,000 meals to 800 seniors annually, as well as coffee and conversation, cultural outings, movie nights and workshops
  • Transgender Programs, with open mic, seminars and movies
  • Women’s Programs that feature topics including health, arts and politics

My introduction to the next show segment starts with me asking whether you think President Barack Obama’s basically-non-endorsement of gay marriage is troubling to you. Well, it probably depends on where you stand on that issue. Me? In this regard, I think he’s putting “Slick Willie” (remember him? a guy named William Jefferson Clinton) in the shade. It’s sad, really, that a black man won’t stand up for his gay brothers and sisters.

Which brings us to Tracy Baim, who is publisher and executive editor at Windy City Media Group, which produces Windy City Times, Nightspots, and other gay media in Chicago. She’s been in this fight longer than many of you have been alive. She is also author of the 2010 book Obama and the Gays: A Political Marriage, which looks at Obama’s decidedly backsliding support of gay marriage. In case you’re wondering what I’m talking about, you might want to take a look at a 1996 survey filled out by then-candidate for Illinois State Senate, Barack Hussein Obama.

But getting back to Ms. Baim, she co-founded Windy City Times in 1985 and Outlines newspaper in 1987. She has won numerous gay community and journalism honors, including the Community Media Workshop’s Studs Terkel Award in 2005. She is also the co-author and editor of Out and Proud in Chicago: An Overview of the City’s Gay Community (2008, Agate), the first comprehensive book on Chicago’s gay history.

In the 10:00 a.m. hour, things really turn political when I talk to Illinois State Representaive Greg Harris and Illinois State Senator Don Harmon. You might recognize Representative Harris as one of the chief sponsors of the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act., which went into effect on the first day of June. Harris has been fighting for gay rights for years, having introduced civil union legislation every year since 2007. Senator Harmon also played a key role in the passage of the bill, working with Senator Heather Steans and Representative Deborah Mell to defeat amendments that would have gutted the law.

Just yesterday, New York was added to the list of states that recognize the right of same sex couples to either marry or enter into a civil union. While this is a clear sign that the gay rights agenda is picking up steam across the country, there are still sticking points. For instance, lawmakers in Illinois were blindsided by the Illinois Department of Revenue, which says it will not allow couples in civil unions to file joint state income tax returns.

Not only that, but Illinois is finding that it must now deal with religious organizations who do not approve of the the new law. For instance, Catholic Charities elected to terminate publicly funded foster care and adoption services on June 1 when civil unions went into effect. The termination is effective June 30. What kind of strain that puts on the child welfare system in Illinois remains to be seen.

Wrapping things up is a chat with Brandon Haydonof Chicago Diner, an institution at 3411 Halsted Street for decades. In fact, its slogan is “Meat Free Since ’83.” That’s when Marshall “Mickey” Hornick went from restaurant dishwasher to manager to owner–all in about one year. With his business and life partner “Chef Jo” Kaucher, he decided to open a “veggie diner.”

Their start wasn’t auspicious. According the Chicago Diner website:

When Hornick and his partner, “Chef Jo” Kaucher, opened the restaurant in 1983, critics, loan officers and family members alike scoffed at the idea, some vehemently. “It’s like we were going against apple pie and mom and the whole thing,” Hornick recalled. “Big shot advertising guys came in and said you’re pissing against the wind.

Their answer was to create an atmosphere as American as mini malls, decorating the place with vintage ads and neon lights and serving up heaping helpings of comfort food, but without the meat. “Instead of burgers, we have veggie burgers,” explains Kauchner, who, together with a long line of collaborators in the kitchen, created the Diner’s menu and authored The Chicago Diner Cookbook. “Instead of french fries we serve home fries,” she adds. They also offer vegan milkshakes, a Philly Cheese “Steak,” with homemade seitan in place of beef, biscuits & vegetarian gravy and “not” dogs for the kids….

28 years later, they’re still going strong, and they’re an integral part of the neighborhood. We’ll see what’s on the menu today.

Of pride parades, shifting hardiness zones and vulnerable honey bees

June 19, 2011

Mike and Heather broadcast with Pride next week

If you like fun and you like parades, there’s no better place to be on the final Sunday in June than on Halsted, Broadway, or one of the neighboring streets in Boys Town. Of course, Chicagoans know that I’m talking about the annual Chicago Pride Parade, celebrated in the Lakeview East neighborhood. This year’s event is the 42nd edition and, for some reason, I find myself and my show in the middle of it.

Of course, that’s partly because Chicago’s Progressive Talk will be covering the parade, in a special broadcast from the Center on Halsted featuring Stephanie Miller, Hal Sparks and John Fugelsang. The Mike Nowak Show will also broadcast from the center, at its usual time of 9:00 to 11:00 am CDT. However, things get even more interesting at that point.

Producer Heather Frey and I are going to dive into the masses as on-the-street reporters for Stephanie, Hal and John during their show. We’ll be checking out the floats, interviewing parade participants and spectators and generally looking for anything interesting…and I’m sure there will be a lot. TUNE IN NEXT WEEK!

Are gardening zones changing…and how quickly?

If you’re even halfway serious about being a gardener, you’ve at least heard of the USDA Hardiness Zones. First published in 1960, they divide the country into 11 regions, based on the average minimum temperature for an area. I recently received a newsletter from Diane Blazek at the National Garden Bureau about this very subject and I thought it would be a good idea to pass along this information.

Explains NGB board member Janis Kieft:

Each zone is determined by a 10-degree Fahrenheit difference in the average minimum temperature. Zone 1 is the coldest and Zone 11 has the warmest winter temperatures.

A plant listed as hardy in Zone 4 indicates it should survive winter temperatures as low as 30 degrees below zero F. which is the average minimum winter temperature according to the USDA map. A Zone 9 plant is hardy only to 20 degrees F. Some references provide a range of zones in which the plant will grow. A plant listed as hardy in Zones 4-9 means it will grow in all of those zones. However, there are many factors that affect a plant’s ability to grow in a particular climate including exposure, altitude, moisture, soil type and even snow cover. These conditions create variations between and within zones.

If you’ve never checked your hardiness zone, you can do it at this National Gardening Association site by typing in your zip code. There’s even a U.S. Heat Zone map (pdf) that divides the U.S. into 12 heat areas. It was created in 1997 by the American Horticultural Society and it’s based on the number of days that are greater than 86 degrees F., the temperature at which plants start to suffer damage from high temperatures.

That’s the basic stuff. Where all of this gets controversial is when climate change is figured in. As the Chicago Climate Action Plan states: “Since 1980, Chicago’s average temperature has increased approximately 2.6 degrees.” How much higher will it go? Meterologist Rick DiMaio and I have talked about the issue recently, as some reports say that our climate will be like that of the deep south by the end of this century. Rick, for one, isn’t buying it.

He and Janis and I will talk about how this applies to hardiness and heat zones on Sunday’s show.

Sustainable Food Fundamentals:
Celebrate the Summer Solstice at Chicago Honey Co-op

Where, in the City of Chicago, can you find 60 chemical-free hives representing perhaps as many as three million honey bees? I must be talking about the Chicago Honey Co-op in the city’s North Lawndale community. It started in the winter of 2004, when three urban beekeepers decided that they wanted to create a job training program. That evolved into a long-term relationship with the community with emphasis on education, healthy eating and awareness of the natural environment. You can call it an apiary or you can call it a bee farm, as its organizers do.

One of the things they are trying to do is raise queen bees on site. If you saw the film documentary Queen of the Sun, you know that raising queens on “farms” results in less vigorous royalty, so to speak. Which is why Chicago Honey Co-op is trying a different model. But it takes time and money. The Co-op wants to raise $10,000 to get the program up and running. You can donate by going to their website.

Even though their honey became Certified Naturally Grown in 2010 (which is a grass roots alternative to organic certification), and you can find their products at Chicago’s Green City Market and Logan Square Farmers Market, storm clouds are brewing.

Sydney Barton and Michael Thompson point out they will probably lose their space at the end of the year. If they hope to keep their operation the same size, they will require an area no smaller than 6 city lots. Which is why their annual potluck event, sponsored by Slow Food Chicago, takes on extra urgency this year.

The event is this Friday, June 24 from 6:00-9:00 p.m. at Chicago Honey Co-op, 3740 W. Fillmore in Chicago. Rain date is Sunday, June 26th / 4:00-7:00 p.m. Cost: $10.00 for Slow Food and Honey Coop members + side dish or dessert. But don’t worry. Even if you’re not a member, it’s only $15.00 for non-members + side dish or dessert. Children are free

Meanwhile, Chicago Honey Co-op is looking for money and for a developer to help them continue on their remarkable journey. I hope that many of you can pitch in.

As always, Sustainable Food Fundamentals is sponsored by Pearl Valley Organix. They produce HEALTHY GRO™ products for your lawn and garden, as well as Pearl Valley Eggs. And they do it in a way that is sustainable, turning their chicken manure into several OMRI listed fertilizers, and even recycling their waste water on site at the Pearl Valley Farm. I’m proud to have them as a sponsor on The Mike Nowak Show.
Keeping your plants healthy

I’ve mentioned these two resources before but I want to remind you that they are out there if you have gardening questions about plant insects and diseases.

The University of Illinois Extenstion sends out a newsletter during the growing season called the Home, Yard and Garden Pest Newsletter. In it you will find information about seasonal insect and pest problems. It’s a good way to check up on problems, if you’ve spotted something and you’re wondering if anybody else has the same issue. Or you might want to see what the Extension experts are keeping their eyes on. Extension used to charge $20 a year for this excellent publication, but you can get it for free just by signing up.

Two great articles that have been in the HY&G newsletter in recent weeks both have to do with stress caused to trees not by insects or diseases but by site stress:

Another excellent resource is the Plant Health Care Report of The Morton Arboretum. A link to this report can be found on the home page of the Morton Arboretum. Like the HY&G, this report looks at current insectand disease problems. However, it also has a table of accumulated growing degree days throughout Illinois, precipitation, and plant phenology indicators to help predict pest emergence.

These are two extremely useful publications and, if you garden in Illinois, I hope you take advantage of them.

Speaking next Saturday at the Growing Place “Gardener’s Art Fest”

What are you doing next Saturday at 1:00 p.m.? If you said that you’ll be listening to me speak at the Gardener’s Art Fest at the Growing Place in Naperville, THAT’S THE RIGHT ANSWER!

This is the Growing Place’s 75th Anniversary (heck, they’re almost as old as I am), and their filling it with great events and, of course, great plants and products. Of course, if you shop there regularly, or even if you don’t, you should know that it is truly one of the great garden centers in a metropolitan area just filled with great garden centers. My talk next Saturday, June 25, will be “Good Planets Are Hard to Find.” (Sound familiar?) Here’s the full line up of the day’s activities.

See you there!

New models for recycling in Chicago, cleaning our river, and organic farming

June 12, 2011

If the Cubs can recycle, so can Chicago. Here’s Free Green Can.

There isn’t much that the Chicago Cubs have gotten right in the past few years. Hey, I should know–I was at Gargantua Radio down the dial for a long, long time and I witnessed their futility first hand. In fact, I was at the infamous “Bartman” game that broke Cubs fan hearts all over the planet. However, I applaud them for something they did just last year…and it has nothing to do with baseball.

The Cubs hired a company called Free Green Can to create a “Recycle on the Go” program by distributing 25 dual-purpose containers around Wrigley Field. They provide year-round opportunities for Cubs fans and Wrigleyville residents to recycle glass, plastic, paper and aluminum, as well as keep trash out of the neighborhood.

Free Green Can founder and CEO Steve Holland came up with the idea after attending his 11-year-old son’s baseball game at a local park. He passed a plastic water bottle to his son, who noticed that the one recycling can at the park was full and the waste cans were overflowing with recyclable containers. His simple-yet-profound question was, “Why aren’t there MORE recycling bins than trash cans?”

Holland didn’t have an answer. Predictably, his town said they couldn’t afford more recycling bins. So Holland decided to come up with an economic model that would provide recycling opportunity where there is a trash opportunity. The Free Green Can is a dual purpose recycle/trash container. The tasteful advertising on the outside of the container generates revenue that is shared with the municipality, venue or entity hosting the bin at no cost. Here’s how it works:

  • There are two separate and easy to remove 30+ gallon insert liners. One for recyclables (plastic, aluminum, paper, and glass) and the other for trash.
  • It is installed by using four grass or concrete anchors.
  • It has a lifetime guarantee.
  • It has a specially designed top to keep weather elements from entering and/or filling the Free Green Can.
  • Its unique design complements both modern and historical settings.

Holland and senior vice president of sales & marketing, Dave Whorton, say they have now contracted with the Chicago Park District and you will soon be seeing Free Green Cans in parks along the lakefront. This doesn’t address the lack of blue carts in 400,000 yards, or the fact that high rise recycling is awful, but it’s a start. Perhaps Mayor Rahm Emanuel is paying attention.

The MWRD does the right thing…finally

After more than a decade of opposing the measure and 13 million dollars spent fighting it, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago finally voted last week to endorse a new policy that backs more stringent water quality standards, which includes disinfecting wastewater dumped into the Chicago River from two of its treatment plants. The vote was 8-1 and the only dissenter was board president Terrence O’Brien.

The move was hailed by groups like Friends of the Chicago River, the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council., which said, in a release sent out this week:

Last week, the Illinois Pollution Control Board, which has been the venue for a record breaking debate over disinfection, issued a proposed decision that largely reinforces the policies put forth by U.S. EPA. The Pollution Control Board will take public comments this week before issuing their final decision on June 16

Congratulations to the people who have worked so hard for so long to clean up this waterway.

Sustainable Food Fundamentals:
She’s baaaack…farmer Kim Marsin from Sweet Home Organics

When we last visited with “commuting farmer” Kim Marsin of Sweet Home Organics. she and partner Rachel Reklau had just purchased a used tractor at their first auction. I guess I need to ask how the machine is holding up.

I reached Kim on the phone Saturday and she says that Sweet Home Organics is well into their farmers market season. You might remember that Kim and Rachel are part of a new breed of farmers who don’t own the land on which they grow crops. Primrose Farm, where they lease land, is owned by the St. Charles Park District. The farm itself is the last of a line of what used to be 3-5 working dairy farms. The former neighboring farms have since been torn down or turned into homes. The park district runs the farm as a living history farm open for the public for tours (on Wed and Saturdays).

Since Angelic Organics Learning Center has been so instrumental in helping me line up guests for Sustainable Food Fundamentals and, before that, Good Growing, I want to plug their summer and fall workshop calendar. There is a ton of stuff going on at various locations. Here are some of the highlights:

  • More classes on raising goats and chickens (which are very popular), and a new class on applying Biodynamic principles and practices in your yard at home.
  • Food preservation, winemaking, cheesemaking (including a 1 day class which combines cheesemaking with earth oven bread baking), pizza making, plus a new class all about apples in September.
  • Family camping opportunities at the farm, including Father’s Day weekend, Labor Day weekend, and a five day program at the beginning of August.
  • Even more day camps (filling quickly!), including an option for middle schoolers and a shorter animal camp for younger children
  • Even more family programming, with extra ice cream and farm animal days throughout the summer.

As always, Sustainable Food Fundamentals is sponsored by Pearl Valley Organix. They produce HEALTHY GRO™ products for your lawn and garden, as well as Pearl Valley Eggs. And they do it in a way that is sustainable, turning their chicken manure into several OMRI listed fertilizers, and even recycling their waste water on site at the Pearl Valley Farm. I’m proud to have them as a sponsor on The Mike Nowak Show.
“Green on McLean” update

I would be remiss if I didn’t include a link to Green on McLean community garden blogsite, particularly because Webmaster Kathleen has been working so hard on it. The garden is planted and growing and we now have TWO videos of two different workdays. Check it out!

Chicago Sustainable Backyard Program

Speaking of gardens, the Chicago Department of Environment’s has a great initiative underway, called the Sustainable Backyard Program. It promotes more environmentally -friendly landscapes in front, side, and backyards across the city. Not only that, but the city is giving out rebates just for doing the right thing. Their goal is to distribute 2,000 rebates citywide. Here’s the qualifying materials and plants:

TREES (up to $100 back)
NATIVE PLANTS (up to $60 back)
COMPOST BIN (up to $50 back)
RAIN BARREL (up to $40 back)

Funding for rebates comes from the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Pollution Prevention Program and a USDA Forest Service Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Grant.

On Tuesday, June 14th, DOE will be hosting its 3rd city-wide workshop from 6:00-8:00pm at the Friends of the Chicago River Conference Room (28 E. Jackson, Suite 1800).

Meanwhile, you can “Like” the Chicago Sustainable Backyard Program on Facebook.