Drinking and Paddling for a Cleaner River, Thanks Leinenkugel’s

By Leah Pietrusiak

So Mike and Heather paddled down the Chicago River as part of the Leinenkugel’s Canoes for a Cause event on July 9 — co-sponsored by Friends of the Chicago River — to bring money and attention to cleaning up the city’s bacterial cesspool. Mike slacked on his paddling duties to take photos (of everything but the floating garbage) and Heather got her purse all wet. “That’s why God created bleach!” she said. “Or matches,” said her significant other, who — along with myself — joined up with them at the after-party at Dick’s Last Resort downtown, right on the water.

CARP SHOOT Mike and Heather shoot the carp, I mean the crap—and down some Leinie's—with Margaret Frisbie of Friends of the Chicago River at Dick's Last Resort on July 9

Margaret Frisbie, executive director of Friends of the Chicago River, said that up to 70 percent of the river water is bacterial sewage from treatment plants. But Chicago doesn’t require that this bacterial hodgepodge be disinfected before its released into the waterway — even though cities like Gary, IN, New York and LA do. It’s been the crusade of Friends of the Chicago River to change that. And Leinenkugel’s is helping — and you can too: “Like” Leinenkugel on Facebook through July 31, and they’ll donate money for each click.

And who doesn’t like Leinie’s?! Their Berry Weiss is like alcoholic liquid-candy, and their Summer Shandy is like fresh-squeezed lemons topped off with lemonade and weiss beer. (Yeah, I have a sweet tooth, but they have more robust beers too, like 1888 Bock and Creamy Dark.) Check out Mike’s interview with Jake Leinenkugel below. Leinenkugel donates 80 percent of their corporate community dollars to events that care about water restoration and preservation (as their beer is, of course, 92 percent water).

LEMONHEADS Summer Shandy, slurp, slurp. When life gives you lemons, make some weiss beer with lemonade! And "like" Leinenkugel's on Facebook to help raise money to make the Chicago River more lemonade-like!

The canoe outing coincided with the Dave Matthews Caravan fest weekend…which maybe they should’ve named the Dave Matthews Caravan of Crap. Remember that? Not-so-private defecation dump on the Chicago River? By their tour bus going over a bridge? That landed on a tour boat filled with people? Margaret had actually been on a canoe trip on the river that day, and had just passed under the bridge, missing the sh*tstorm. But one of Margaret’s neighbors happened to be on the targeted tour boat and he said it took them a full year before they could tell it as a funny story. He said they stood standing there — for longer than anyone one would like — because the land and marine police forces were arguing over whose duty is was to report to the scene, arguing about whether it was a land or water-based incident. Ugghh. Good thing Dave Matthews donated $50,000 to Friends of the Chicago River, and another $50,000 to the Chicago Park District.

But seriously, Dave Matthews will never live down that his tour bus took a dump on the people of Chicago and the Chicago River. With incidents like this, and the fact that our “river” is basically bacterial sewage, isn’t it funny that people are worried about dyeing the river green on St. Patrick’s Day? I think the only danger there is that some drunky might think the water is green beer, and drink it. (As a sidenote, Margaret did say that’s okay to recreate on the river — just keep your eyes and mouth closed if you fall in, and make sure you wash your hands afterwards.)

But speaking of green, on another note — I rode my bike to Dick’s Last Resort that day, and part of the trip was on the new green-striped bike lane along Kinzie, where Milwaukee Avenue forks into  about three different directions by Blommer’s Chocolate Factory. It’s been a not-so-sweet intersection historically. Bikes blow through lights, and in all different directions because there’s no clear route, it’s like an explosion of bicycles and you never know where each one is going to land — which of course isn’t safe for cyclists, motorists or pedestrians.

But with this new lane system —  which the city just announced on July 25 is complete — the path that bicycles are supposed to take across the intersection is much more clear. And once they get past the intersection, the bike lane becomes an area completely separate from the street, marked by flexible white posts. Check it out in my video below.

Oh yes, and I am humming to the Wicked Witch bike-riding theme from The Wizard of Oz. Speaking of green again, Heather’s guest joked that if she’d fallen in the river and her skin turned green, she could just get a job in Wicked. I’d wished that I’d gone on the canoe ride so I could’ve dipped my hands in and maybe come out with 20 fingers so I could type faster. (Ha, remember in the Simpsons movie, where the squirrel jumps in the uber-polluted Lake Springfield and comes out with like 20 eyes?)

But seriously, when it comes to cleaning up the Chicago River — disinfecting the bacterial sewage before its released — it of course comes down to money. And by the end of the day, we all decided that if you’re a good business person, you can make any venture profitable. So will someone out there do that already?




Financial, physical, composting and watering pain

July 24, 2011

So long, Sid’s Greenhouses

When I started broadcasting at Chicago’s Progressive Talk a little more than three years ago, one of the very first companies to sign on as a sponsor was Sid’s Greenhouses in Palos Hills and Bolingbrook. I knew the company president, Phil Schaafsma, Sr., having interviewed him when I was at WGN Radio. Given that it was now 2008 and the economy was already tanking, it was not exactly a great time to start Mike Nowak LLC and my new show at WCPT 820AM.

When I asked Phil if he would advertise on my new show, he didn’t hesitate, and Sid’s became one of my major clients. It meant a lot to me because they took out 52-week contracts each year, whereas most garden centers preferred to run commercials during just the spring growing season.

Last Friday, I received a call from Sid’s Marketing Director, Scott Henderson, who told me that the company was planning to shut down. Earlier this week, it became official and, thus, one of the great garden centers in the Chicago area becomes part of history.

This is a sampling of the response I received when I posted the news on Facebook and Twitter:

  • Awww! So sad.
  • Every Spring in the seventies, my family would make regular weekend trips out to Sid’s on Southwest Highway. My parents will miss the getting gardening advice from the professionals and Schaafsma family members who worked there. Sad to see them go.
  • Wow, purchased from them all the time. Thanks for telling us.
  • Sorry Mike, you lost a good sponsor. Sorry for the Schaafsma family, sorry for all the workers. We are a sorry mess.
  • Sad news. I went into my favorite nursery the other day and discovered the place half empty. I’m sure it’s also “circling the drain.” It’s all depressing.
  • Very sad indeed. An institution.
  • Oh Noooooo! Sid’s is my favorite garden store! This is devastating.
  • Terrible shame. Wonderful stores, wonderful people. Don’t suspect we could have made a go of the magazine without their unflinching support. (from Bill Aldrich, who started Chicagoland Gardening Magazine)
  • Very sad and telling. They were one of the best.
  • A worker at the Menards garden center here told a friend of mine that her garlic mustard was a cool wildflower! Don’t go, Sid’s!!
  • Who will be left standing, Mike?

The last question is particularly pertinent, as the recession continues and more independent garden centers close. Are box stores killing the IGCs? Or is something else going on? Regardless, Phil Schaafsma is being a stand-up guy by stopping by Sunday morning’s show to answer questions about the demise of one of Chicago’s great garden centers. If you want to show your support for IGCs, log onto the Facebook page “Locally Owned Garden Centers or Nurseries (LOGON)”

Yes, Virginia, you can garden without pain

Maybe I should have done this show segment earlier in the gardening season, but I suppose that anytime is a good time to learn how to work in your garden without messing yourself up physically. Dr. Bonny Flaster, of River North Wellness, is not only my friend, she’s also a chiropractor, acupuncturist and natural healer.

Bonny has some simple tips for surviving your own garden in her post I’VE GOT A GOAL – GARDENING WITHOUT BACK PAIN. Most of them involve common sense…which is why they’re so often ignored. Another problem for a lot of gardeners is allergies and, yes, Bonny says that she has had success treating those, too, using NeuroModulation Technique (NMT). It’s a pleasure to have Bonny in the studio this morning.

Green Organics: bringing Illinois composting into the 21st Century

It’s hard to believe that less than three years ago, food scraps were pretty much categorized as toxic waste in the state of Illinois. Then, with the passage of SB99, things changed. Not only did the cost to set up a food-composting facility come down dramatically, SB99 also exempted facilities that accept food waste for composting from pollution control facility requirements. Also, it opened the door for food waste composting businesses, creating jobs for Illinois, and creating a new Illinois made product – food waste compost – that can be sold around the country.

At least that’s how it’s supposed to work. Are we there yet? You kids just sit quiet in the back of the car and play with your food scraps! Sorry, I went somewhere for a few seconds.

Anyway, Green Organics is a company that had already been composting yard waste from waste companies, garden centers and landscapers since 1999. But with the passage of SB99, their mission changed considerably, according to a Chicago Metropolitan Area for Planning (CMAP) Case Study:

Before the passage of Senate Bill 99, this facility was not allowed to accept food waste for composting. This bill helped to distinguish food scraps from “pollution” and allows them to be treated as a resource, rather than a nuisance. Made effective in January of 2010, the bill allows commercial landscape-composting facilities to accept food waste – up to 10% of their total intake, without modifying the existing siting permit. They could accept more if their permit were modified…

Green Organics has begun the process to become OMRI-listed, which allows them to sell compost to certified organic farms. Their compost is a valuable soil amendment that provides fertilizer and pest control to soil, reducing the need for toxic fertilizers and helping conserve our region’s water quality. In addition to the various environmental benefits to the land, reducing the amount of waste that we send to landfills will also reduce future municipal landfilling costs, reduce GHGs, and protect water quality.

David Gravel is Vice President of GO and he joins me in studio to talk about how Illinois has progressed in the area in food scrap composting and where it still needs to go. By the way, he will be speaking on Thursday, July 28 at 1:45 p.m. for the International Erosion Control Association Roadshow at the Bartlett Nature Center, 2054 W. Stearns Road in Bartlett, Illinois.

Beth Botts tells you how to water…and you better listen!

You know the lyrics to the song “What a difference a day makes, 24 little hours.” Well, geez Louise, those words couldn’t more appropriately describe what happened between Friday and Saturday. One day, I’m riding my bicycle in 100+ heat index weather (well hydrated, of course), and the next night, I’m wading in 8″ deep water in my basement, frantically trying to move my belongings to higher ground. Welcome to climate change, folks!

The point is that when Beth Botts, award-winning horticultural writer and occasional guest-host of The Mike Nowak Show, showed me the two fabulous blogs on her site Growing in Chicago that she had written about watering your garden, it was in the middle of a heat wave that was producing very little rain. I said, “Great! Let’s talk about it on my show on Sunday. What can possibly happen before then?”

Cue the 7 inches of rain that hit Chicago on Friday night.

Regardless of that, more heat is on the way, and you should read her two posts: How to water: a manifesto, and What to water with. Bookmark them, print them out, carve them into stone, graffiti them onto your garage door, tattoo them on your left leg. Whatever. They will come in handy. Trust me.

Walking around in the heat

July 17, 2011

Just in time for garden walks…the hottest weather in 6 years

Sometimes you just have to wonder why folks schedule garden walks for the summer. I mean, aside from the fact that that’s when plants are growing. If it were me, I’d look at January. Aside from the occasional blizzard, there’s not a lot going on in that month, and you certainly don’t have to deal with heat waves. As you can tell, I’m not much of a fan of hot weather. And we’re going to get it in spades this week.

I can always tell when we’re about to encounter a weather anomaly because meteorologist Rick DiMaio starts sending me websites to peruse. This week, he even sent me a PowerPoint presentation called “Heat Waves and Droughts: A Silent Killer.” You might want to check it out.

Rick also has some very important information regarding kids and cars. He says that, on average, nearly 50 children die in cars each year due to heat.  Pets are also susceptible and should not be taken for granted. There’s more at this website.

Like I said, however, a lot of garden walks happen at this time of year. To get an overview of what’s out there for July, you can click onto Chicagoland Gardening Magazine’s garden walks page. One of the country’s oldest events of this kind is the Dearborn Garden Walk, now in its 53rd year. That walk is being held today, July 17 from noon to 5 pm. Tickets are $35 each and the entry is at The Latin Lower School, 1531 North Dearborn in Chicago.

The 43rd Annual Sheffield Garden Walk and Festival is a the younger sibling by 10 years but it doesn’t take a back seat in terms of fun. Master Gardener and former Chicago Gardener of the Year Laury Lewis stops by the studio today for his annual visit to plug the two day event and to help me answer gardening questions. Here’s most of what you need to know:

  • More than 90 gardens to view on a self-guided tour, Saturday and Sunday noon – 5:30 pm
  • Guided Garden Tours 3:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
  • Guided Architectural Tours, Saturday at 2:00 pm and 4:00 pm, Sunday at 1:00 pm and 3:00 pm. Italianate, Romanesque and Queen Anne architectural styles will be viewed.
  • Ask a Master Gardner, Saturday and Sunday 1:00 – 4:00 pm
  • Bands each day from 12:15 to 10:00 p.m., including Soul Asylum and Poi Dog Pondering
  • Kids’ Corner – free family entertainment
  • Barry Winograd and the Alternatives Big Band will play on the grounds of the Little Sisters of the Poor, on Belden between Lakewood and Racine, Saturday 2:00 – 5:00 pm. On Sunday, Barry and the Alternatives Little Band will entertain from 1:00 – 5:00 pm.
  • Food Vendors, featuring Robinson’s Ribs, Sal’s Deli, Quang Noodle, Kasia’s Deli and St. Vincent de Paul.

Impressively, about 450 volunteers contribute their time and effort to this community event. Proceeds provide continued support for neighborhood schools, local institutions, and community projects. In addition, proceeds are allocated to SNA’s Award-Winning Beautification Program, a 7-10 year plan to maintain Sheffield as the Garden District of Chicago.

Information for one other garden walk of note today was sent to me by Doug Wood of the Wicker Park Garden Club. He says that the Graceland West Community Association’s 29th annual Garden Walk (also known as Donna Forsberg’s Garden Walk) will take place this afternoon from noon-5PM, free.

This is a self-guided tour of 50 gardens including our famous Warner Park which was voted  one of the “best places to relax and read” in Chicago. Enjoy our friendly neighbors on tree lined streets with lovely homes on spacious lots.

Pick up a map at 4334 N. Greenview (DONNA’S HOUSE). The boundaries are Clark-Ashland-Montrose-Irving Park. For more info, donnaforsberg@sbcglobal.net

Gardening and environment stories on my radar

Since Laury Lewis and I will be chatting about gardening and other things, I thought I’d list a few items that have caught my eye recently. I hope you will find them useful.

  • I mentioned this WAY too briefly on my show last week. Julie Bass, a ,mother of six in Oak Park, Michigan (not to be confused in any way, shape or form with Oak Park, Illinois or any other Oak Park in the nation) was cited by her city for growing vegetables in her front yard. Ring a bell? That’s what happened last fall in the Chicago suburb of Northbrook, when Alex Lyakhovetsky and his mother Dora quickly became the poster children for the suburban Locavore movement. In that case, it ended happily, when Northbrook decided to allow front yard vegetable gardens without size restrictions. Not so much–so far–in Oak Park, Michigan. Only God knows why a city government–WHICH HAS ALREADY LOST THIS BATTLE IN THE COURT OF PUBLIC OPINION–would dig in its heels. And yet, it does. All you have to do is scroll through a few of the latest posts on Julie’s blog, Oak Park Hates Veggies, to see that Oak Park is acting pretty much like a fourteen-year-old who can’t believe that it isn’t getting exactly what it wants. Our love of lawns, benign shrubs and pesticides that will will wipe out anything that doesn’t remotely look like a blade of grass has gone far beyond fetish. When it keeps people from growing their own food, simply because their neighbors don’t like the “aesthetic,” we have become a gravely ill society.
  • DuPont recently had an herbicide called Imprelis approved by the EPA for use on lawns. It was supposed to be more environmentally friendly than other lawn treatments, while killing pernicious weeds like creeping charlie and violets (if you consider them weeds–it’s all in the perception, kids). Now Imprelis has been implicated in the death of thousands of Norway spruces, eastern white pines and other trees on lawns and golf courses across the country. Oops, our bad.
  • As we head into a week of plus-90 temperatures, Paul Tukey has some good advice about lawns, cool-season grasses and fungal diseases.
  • Remember earlier in the year when I applauded Governor Pat Quinn for vetoing a bill that would have created a coal-gasification plant on Chicago’s southeast side? I take it back. This week, the governor approved the plant, after “consumer protections” were added to the bill. The NRDC’s Rebecca Standfield takes Quinn to task for his short-sighted decision.
  • I was on Mighty House Saturday morning and Ron Cowgill asked me why I planted onions next to strawberries in the WCPT Parking Lot Farm. He wondered if I was trying to mix the flavors. Well, what I was doing is practicing something called “companion planting,” which is when you mix certain crops and ornamental plants to increase yield. You can find specific lists of plants and their buddies on these pages at Seeds of Change and Golden Harvest Organics.
  • Climate change is already taking a toll on five national parks in the Great Lakes region, according to a new study by the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization (RMCO) and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The major factors of decline are higher temperatures, less winter ice, erosion of shorelines and dunes, loss of wildlife and loss of birds.
  • File this under the heading “No Brainer.” A new study from the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) concludes that the simplification of the landscape has led to an increased abundance of crop pests and therefore higher use of insecticides.