Food Day, food inspired and food harvest

October 23, 2011

Mike welcomes U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky

Last week I reported on Food Day, which will be celebrated tomorrow, Monday, October 24. The organizers, including the Center for Science in the Public Interest, have a goal of educating Americans about healthy, affordable food produced in a sustainable, humane way. If you’re interested in being a part of this celebration, it’s pretty easy to get involved. This link takes you directly to events being staged in and around Chicago.

One of the people on the advisory board of Food Day is the Hon. Jan Schakowsky, U.S. Representative from Illinois’ 9th district. I am pleased to have her on the show this morning to talk about Food Day issues. I saw her a few days ago when I attended a Move the Money Chicago rally at Chicago Temple last Thursday. She spoke eloquently about the need for a more equitable American society, making reference to her plan to tax millionaires at a 45 percent rate and billionaires at 49 percent. This would raise $4 trillion over the coming decade…and it still doesn’t approach the tax rates of the Reagan years. She has also, along with 44 colleagues, introduced “The Emergency Jobs to Restore the American Dream Act” (H.R. 2914) to create over 2.2 million jobs for two years. But I digress.

After the gathering, which also featured words from Representative Danny Davis, Jesse Jackson and others, there was a march to Grant Park, to meet up with the Occupy Chicago group. I was impressed Rep. Schakowsky not only marched all of the way, but stayed to listen to Occupy Chicago conduct their business for the evening.

We will talk food issues this morning but you never know what else will come up.

BTW, here’s something that came to my attention this week. It seems, perhaps in honor of Food Day (that’s irony, folks), the powers that be will begin spraying a very toxic chemical, methyl iodide, on strawberry crops in California on…wait for it…here it comes…October 24. Also known as Food Day. Gotta love it.

[Podcast of interview with Rep. Schakowsky is now available here.]

Sustainable Food Fundamentals
Inspiration Kitchens now inspires people in Garfield Park

I had the pleasure of enjoying a lunch at a fabulous dining establishment several weeks ago, made even more enjoyable by the knowledge that it was helping the homeless and lower income people.

Several years ago, when I was working at Gargantua Radio down the dial, I was invited to visit what was then called Cafe Too in Uptown. Since then, they have renamed themselves Inspiration Kitchens, and they assist more than 3,000 individuals and famiies through employment, housing and supportive service programs.

In this case, I need to thank Sarah Batka, who is not only a friend of the show, but who is an Illinois Master Gardener who I have been privileged to meet on several occasions, and who is also a volunteer at Ellis View Cooperative Garden in Chicago. She is now an advocate for Inspiration Kitchens and it couldn’t be a better fit.

Frankly, I didn’t know that Inspiration Kitchens was now operating just down the block from the Gafield Park Conservatory. If you’re visiting the conservatory, which, as Beth Botts reported on this show a couple of weeks ago, is in need of funds to help repair storm damage from last spring, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t walk less than a block to the Inspiration Kitchen and be treated to a gourmet meal.

At the same time, you will be supporting a 13-week job training program that enables homeless individuals, ex-offenders and other low-income individuals to obtain career-track employment in the food industry. Students receive pre-employment instruction, restaurant training, sanitation certification, internship experience, and job-placement and follow-up support services.

In class, students learn knife skills, soups and sauces, baking and how to work with meats, poultry, fish, and vegetables. All students test for a City of Chicago and State of Illinois food service sanitation management certificates. Training also includes employment preparation, such as writing resumes and interviewing. During the thirteen week program, students should be prepared to train during brunch, lunch, dinner, and weekend shifts. They work along side chef instructors and graduates of the program to learn on the job.

Oh, and did I say that the food is wonderful? Call 773.275.0626 for IK-Uptown or 773.801.1110 for IK-Garfield Park. They accept all major credit cards, encourage guests to BYOB, and offer free wireless Internet. In addition to Sarah, I’m joined today by Mike Webb and Master Gardener volunteer Anna-Marie Leon (who are both cultivating the small but productive garden outside of the restaurant), and Director Margaret Haywood.

[Podcast of Inspiration Kitchens interview is now available here.]

Finishing the harvest at Sweet Home Organics

Even though I’ve never met Kim Marsin of Sweet Home Organics, she is my favorite organic farmer. That’s possibly because she’s willing to be on a radio program and talk about what it’s like to be an organic-farmer-in-training. Regardless, we’re getting to the tail end of the growing year at the fields she works with partner Rachel Reklau at Primrose Farm, which is part of the St. Charles Park District.

Today we heard stories of trying to grow tomatoes in fields that retain too much water. Can I see some hands out there from people who have been down that road? She also talked about the productivity of the broccoli plants, which, wonderously, continue to send up side stalks after the main florets are harvested.

The Sweet Home Organics farm stand will be up for one more week, so if you want to take advantage of local, healthy food, stop by. The address is 5N726 Crane Road (near the intersection of Crane and Bolcum) in St. Charles, Illinois.

Some stories I’ve been following that you might have missed

  • In June of 2009, the Illinois General Assembly passed a bill that legalized commercial food-scrap composting in Illinois. How are we doing so far? Um, not great.
  • The planet’s population just hit 7 billion. How do we feed it when there are 10 Billion, which is being predicted for the end of the century?. Grist says it can be done…but it won’t be easy.
  • Chicago City Employees are handling the managed competition to retain their recycling jobs better than many people expected, according to the Sun-Times.

Free Green Can, which I’ve talked about on this show, continues to show up in and around Chicago.

National Food Day, Magnificent Landcapes and Suspect Orange Juice

October 16, 2011

Food Day is October 24, and Elgin celebrates…a little early

It’s quite possible that you haven’t heard about something called Food Day, which will be celebrated on Monday, October 24. The organizers, including the Center for Science in the Public Interest, have a goal of educating Americans about healthy, affordable food produced in a sustainable, humane way. Seems pretty reasonable to me, though, if it were that easy, nobody would be eating Cheetos.

At this point, there are thousands of events scheduled in homes, schools, churches, farmers markets, city halls and state capitals all across this great, wide land. In Illinois alone, you can find something near you pretty much anywhere in the state and nearby environs.

Elgin Green Drinks & Food is jumping the gun–in a good way–by presenting a two-day Food Day kick off and community awareness celebration called Mindful Mouthfuls: Back to Nature FOOD DAY Fair & Tasting in Elgin on Saturday and Sunday, October 22nd and 23rd. The admission is free, although the group is requesting a donation at the door of a jar or can of food for the hungry, which will be donated to Feeding Greater Elgin.

I’m delighted to have Elgin Green Drinks & Food founder and director Kathleen Haerr stop by today to talk about the event. She also runs Hear the Earth, a green essentials shop inside Simple Balance Holistic Center in Elgin, and is the force behind Local Green Connect, offering green living home and garden design, consultation, sustainability workshops and event coordination. Whew.

Anyway, you’ll be hearing a lot about Food Day in the next week. I hope you hear it here first.

The Magnificent Mile® honors the best landscapes for 2011

It’s hard to imagine Chicago without The Magnificent Mile® (and who knew that it was a copyrighted name?). Regardless of where you live in the city or suburbs, this stretch of businesses along North Michigan Avenue is a magnet for tourists from all over the world. Part of what gives this business district its appeal (aside from high-end retail goods), are the landscapes on parkways, in containers, and wherever else landscapers can squeeze in annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees amid the concrete and asphalt.

This doesn’t happen by accident, of course. The Greater North Michigan Avenue Association (GNMAA) has been around since 1912 (!) as a private, non-profit membership organization charged with preserving, promoting, and enhancing a unique Chicago. Within that group is the Public Way Committee, which annually awards the properties with the best landscapes. I’m pleased that co-chair Erik Grossnickle, Arborist Representative at Bartlett Tree Experts, is on the program this morning.

This year, the Public Way Committee handed out 47 Beautification Awards during GNMAA’s annual membership luncheon on September 28. The President’s Award, the highest level of recognition, was given to the 669 North Michigan Avenue Building managed by U.S. Equities Realty, LLC. You can see some of their efforts on the left.

In the past, the Public Way Committee has only hosted garden walks during the spring, summer and fall seasons. However, if you’ve ever shopped along the Mile during the winter season, you know that efforts to spruce up the street don’t stop when the weather gets cold. So the committee is adding a winter/holiday walk, which will create an opportunity to visit the gardens year round.

If you’re like me, you wonder how the trees along the Mile manage to survive at all, with pedestrian traffic, reflected heat, lack of water and automobile and bus exhaust all combining to create a hostile environment.

So I was fascinated to hear that Bartlett Tree Experts conducted a tree inventory for The Magnificent Mile in late 2010. It was the first time a tree inventory had been conducted on The Magnificent Mile, and the team at Bartlett Tree Experts, led by Scott Jamieson (who is a regular listener to my show, thank you very much) and Erik Grossnickle, donated their time, talent and resources to perform the audit.

More than 300 trees were inventoried and data was collected including height, diameter, condition, species and more. This data has been submitted to the U.S. Forest Service, which will be able to provide statistics on the value of the trees, such as the ability to capture storm water and pollutants, cooling benefits and more. This information will be used to managed trees along the avenue now and in the future.

Sustainable Food Fundamentals
What’s squeezed more: orange juice or the consumer?

I have to thank Producer Heather Frey for this story, as she’s the one who stumbled across an online article titled: Orange Juice a Luxury Item? REAL OJ Already Is on a website called Florida Citrus Mutual. If you want to know why she was reading that publication, you’ll have to ask her.

Anyway, the point is that we know a lot less about the food–and drink–we consume every day than we should. Which should be no surprise to people who have been following the GMO controversy for the last decade or so.

Enter Alissa Hamilton, who wrote a book in 2009 called Squeezed: What You Don’t Know About Orange Juice, published by Yale University Press. In it, she answers questions like why so many people drink orange juice and how it turned from a luxury into a staple in just a few years (back in the 1960s) and why we don’t really understand how it is produced.

The weird thing is that Hamilton’s book came out more than two years ago, which is one of the things that the Florida Citrus Mutual article addresses. In fact, they wonder why this book and the ideas it illuminates didn’t become viral at the time. I wonder that myself. For instance, the technology of where the flavor in orange juice originates is fascinating. As Hamilton writes in an article called
Freshly Squeezed: The Truth About Orange Juice in Boxes, which was published before the book came out:

The technology of choice at the moment is aseptic storage, which involves stripping the juice of oxygen, a process known as “deaeration,” so it doesn’t oxidize in the million gallon tanks in which it can be kept for upwards of a year.

When the juice is stripped of oxygen it is also stripped of flavor providing chemicals. Juice companies therefore hire flavor and fragrance companies, the same ones that formulate perfumes for Dior and Calvin Klein, to engineer flavor packs to add back to the juice to make it taste fresh. Flavor packs aren’t listed as an ingredient on the label because technically they are derived from orange essence and oil. Yet those in the industry will tell you that the flavor packs, whether made for reconstituted or pasteurized orange juice, resemble nothing found in nature. The packs added to juice earmarked for the North American market tend to contain high amounts of ethyl butyrate, a chemical in the fragrance of fresh squeezed orange juice that, juice companies have discovered, Americans favor. Mexicans and Brazilians have a different palate. Flavor packs fabricated for juice geared to these markets therefore highlight different chemicals, the decanals say, or terpene compounds such as valencine .

I don’t know about you, but the idea that my orange juice flavor is being provided by Calvin Klein makes me just a little bit queasy. Just sayin’.

Still fighting to save Landreth Seeds

October 2 , 2011

Marketing Miracle? Landreth Seed Co. fights on

I began tellilng the story of the historic D. Landreth Seed Company a few weeks ago, after reading posts by Mr. Brown Thumb and following activity on Twitter and Facebook.

Basically, the oldest seed house in America is in deep financial trouble and is on a mission to sell one million dollars’ worth of catalogs in a very short time. Orginally, it was one month. Now, after weeks of good publicity in the traditional and social media, owner Barbara Melera, who I interviewed on September 11, thinks she may have bought herself another 60 days. She sent me a report of the developments in the past month. You can read the full report here. Here are some of the highlights:

The weekend of September 10-11, the orders started to ease, but our facebook genius, Christin, was contacting organizations like John Deere, ABC News, Oprah, etc. and our Fabulous Beekman Boys were lighting up TreeHugger and Planet Green. Mr.BrownThumb, a very popular Chicago-based blogger, made several posts, and during that weekend, on the Mike Nowak Radio Show in Chicago, I was invited to give an interview. By Monday, the order rate was again at about 1 per minute. Mike’s outreach to the Chicago community was impressive and sustained itself for almost 10 days.

Below is the comparison for facebook activity throughout the past month.

Monthly Active Users
# of Likes
Wall Posts

Most of the orders (more than 80%) were either for more than 1 catalog or a catalog and other product. I do not have firm numbers right now, but it looks like the average order size was about $20.00.

We have only had 2 organizations place a bulk order for catalogs for their constituents. This has been the only disappointment in this effort and it has proven to be a real impediment to driving the numbers substantially higher. We currently have one order for 100 catalogs and one order for 60 catalogs. The catalog would make a great giveaway for any of the audience driven TV shows like Rachel Ray, Martha Stewart, Emeril, etc.

I believe, but I do not know, that we have made enough progress, that we can buy our selves another 60 days. We’ll see. We have been selling catalogs one person at a time throughout America. I told you at the start that I have always felt this was America’s company. This process has been uniquely American and if it succeeds, it is beginning to look like it will be exclusively American.

Here are the numbers as of Saturday, October 1: $7,643 via chipin and $122, 096 in
online orders plus $635 phone orders. Total – $130,374.

They still have a long way to go, which is why I’m happy to have Barb on the program again this morning. Once again, here are various links that you can use to get the word out: Facebook sites Landreth Seed Co, Save Landreth Seed Company, Order their 2012 Catalog!, and probably more. If you’re on Twitter, use the hashtag #savelandreth. If you just want to make a contribution, go to and click the icon on the upper right hand side of the page.

Sustainable Food Fundamentals
Return to Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm

It’s been almost nine months since we visited with Jody and Beth Osmund from Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm in Ottawa, Illinois. In their own words, “We raise and animals in ways that nurture and respect nature’s systems.” Cedar Valley is an old-fashioned family farm on the banks of Indian Creek, where Jody and Beth returned a few years ago to become sustainable farmers and raise their sons: Richard, Duncan and Jack.

Here’s their report on 2011 to date:

Our year has gone well, especially on the production end. Our meat chickens performed very well this season with better survivability and growth which allowed us to finish our season a few weeks early. Also, some small innovations on the farm paid big dividends in labor savings. CSA sales growth has slowed, however, our numbers are a bit ahead of last year. With more marketing efforts this fall and winter, we plan to spark more growth of the CSA. As part of that effort, Cedar Valley Sustainable Farmstays in touch with its customers and members through a Facebook page.

Jody continues his work on the Illinois Local, Food, Farms, and Jobs Council  to help foster our local food economy with the goal of all state institutions sourcing 20% of their food needs in IL by 2020. Policy wins in 2011 include passage of the Illinois Cottage Foods bill and the establishment of the the Illinois Farmers Market Task Force. The whole family participated in Illinois Stewardship Alliance’s lobby day last spring–working for passage of these bills.

Along with Greg Gunthorp, an innovative hog and poultry grazier in Indiana, Jody is serving on a grant advisory panel for the Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT). The grants which will begin next spring, will help livestock farmers move toward more humane management practices that emphasize grazing. There will be a Fund-A-Farmer launch party October 24th at Uncommon Ground in Chicago at 7:00pm. Jody will speak about Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm’s practices and its pioneering Meat CSA program.

Next week, Beth will continue to hone her organizational skills and explore future leadership roles by attending the White House Project’s Go Run event in Northbrook, IL.

Jody & Beth continue other leadership roles serving on the vendor board for the Logan Square Farmers Market and serving as farmer faculty for CRAFT’s Farm Beginnings farmer training program and the Michael Fields Agriculture Institute. They continue to guide the North Central Illinois Farmer Network greenfarmers. In January, Beth and Jody will be presenters at the Illinois Organic and Specialty Crop Conference. We are, also, a soccer family. CVSF sponsors a team. Jody coaches two rec. league teams, and their oldest has joined the Chicago Magic travel soccer club. Needless to say, our schedule is very full.

Yikes! And I thought I was busy. Not only that, but they wrote that whole report. I’m thinking of hiring Jody and Beth to do my website work each Saturday. Of course, I can’t afford them. As always, my thanks to the great folks at Angelic Organics Learning Center for connecting me with great farms like Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm.

Eco-system restoration as a fall (and winter) sport

Stephen Packard is a bit of an icon in the Chicago and Midwest environmental community. He has long been involved with the National Audubon Society, Chicago Region, as well as Chicago Wilderness, The Nature Conservancy and more. He has developed programs of restoration and monitoring for tallgrass prairie, savanna, woodland and wetland ecosystems.

So I was surprised and pleased when I received an email from him this week asking me if I would be willing to talk about a first-of-its-kind restoration project at Deer Grove East in Palatine, which has its kickoff celebration this Saturday, October 8 at 10:00 a.m.

Packard joins me this morning and says that, in the past, when a concerned group of citizens wanted to restore a natural ecosystem to a developed area, it was often take decades of work with handsaws, loppers and people ripping out invasive annuals and perennials. But thanks to an infusion of $2.5 million from Openlands, the area was cleared with bulldozers, back hoes and brush clearing machines to re-establish the wetlands and generally get the project off to a running start.

This is a unique opportunity for residents, families and friends of all ages to learn how to be a preserve steward (or to help teach others, if you already know) for prairies, wetlands and woodlands. You can also work with experts like Packard, Doug Stotz (Field Museum ornithologist, author and Amazon explorer), Linda Masters (Openlands restoration ecologist who has been managing the professionals who’ve started the project), and Bill Koenig (Forest Preserve District volunteer coordinator). They will not be lecturing–instead, they will be giving one-on-one lessons about the ecosystems while you work with them. It sounds like a fabulous and unique opportunity.

For two years, professionals working with Openlands have cut 125 acres of brush, controlled 150 acres of noxious weeds, planted 52 acres of wetland and 66 acres of prairie and are working on 50 acres of oak woodland. Total project area so far: 175 acres. But this work just gets the ball rolling. Many of the most crucial parts over the next few years will depend on trained and empowered volunteers who will learn how to start on the 8th.

Here’s how the day will work:

  • Refreshments 10:00 AM –
    Gather just beyond the west end of the Deer Grove East parking area.
  • 10:15 AM – Short Informational Program
  • 10:30 AM – Tours Begin (Dress for weather & possible wet or muddy ground)
  • 11:30 AM – Return for Refreshments, Q&A, Meet the Experts
  • Noon – Additional Tours available for interested parties

For directions and more information go to the Dear Grove East website, (still under construction). The reason for the headline of this article is that once work begins on a site like this, it never really ends. So be prepared to work through the fall, into the winter and beyond. But in the service of making the earth whole again, how can you really call it work?

Will Chicago finally get real recycling?

The world changes tomorrow. Well, perhaps only if you live in Chicago and you happen to have a blue recycling cart.

That’s the day that Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s “managed competition” program starts. For the next six months, three groups will be engaged in a head to head to head battle for the right to run all or part of Chicago’s recycling program: Department of Streets and Sanitation workers, Waste Management and Sims Metal Management Municipal Recycling. Before Richard M. Daley left office, his administration devised a plan to divide the city into six service areas, all of which were to be outsourced to private companies.

Mayor Emanuel modified that plan by assigning two of those areas to city employees to see if they can effectively compete with private companies. Waste Management is responsible for three areas and Sims has one. The City is giving all three groups exactly six months to prove that they can handle Chicago’s recycling efficiently and, at the same time, help cut into the city’s massive budget deficit. At that time, reportedly, a cost-benefit analysis will determine which group(s) will continue to handle recycling. (The map of how the city is divided into service areas is on the home page of this website.)

As you might know, I am the president of the Chicago Recycling Coalition (full disclosure: I do not receive a penny for my work there. I wish I did make money and I would be happy to disclose that, too.) We at the CRC have a few questions about this “competition” that will play out over the next six months.

Among the questions: What are the exact criteria for the cost-benefit analysis? How fair will the competition be, and how transparent? Is six months is enough time to determine whether a recycling group should be locked in for the next seven years? And on and on. Log onto the CRC website to keep abreast of what we discover over the next few months. Meanwhile, if you live in Chicago and want more information about the blue cart recycling changes, log onto the Chicago Recycling Coaltion or this City of Chicago web page.