Working to save D. Landreth Seed Company, celebrating the #2 pencil, and encouraging Chicagoans to “eat, drink & buy local”

November 20, 2011

Help keep the historic D. Landreth Seed Company alive:
Give the gift of one of their fabulous 2012 catalogs!

If you’re a regular listener to the program or if you’re a serious gardener, you are aware of the plight of the historic D. Landreth Seed Company. The oldest seed house in America, dating back to 1784, had its accounts frozen by a garnishment order on August 31 of this year. Owner Barbara Melera and her husband Peter had thirty days to sell one million 2012 catalogs to satisfy their creditors and keep the doors open.

And then a kind of miracle began to unfold. Word got out in the social media, including Twitter and Facebook. which spread to the mainstream media and even further. I first got wind of the story in a post by Mr. Brown Thumb and quickly invited Barbara to be on my show on September 11. At that point, though things looked bleak, various people, organizations and companies began lending their support and the orders were starting to roll in.

You can see the full list of Landreth supporters on the company’s home page, but it includes names like Huffington Post, American Express, The Fabulous Beekman Boys, Planet Green, Martha Stewart, National Public Radio, Oprah Winfrey, The View, Elen Degeneres, Organic Gardening Magazine, Rosie O’Donnell, Sunset Magazine, John Deere Company, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, The Sierra Club, Mother Nature Network, Slow Food USA, Farm Aid, Organic Valley and dozens more. I’m proud and honored that The Mike Nowak Show is #4 on the list.

By the time Barbara visited with me again on October 2, the company had received enough orders to buy more time. At that time here are what the numbers looked like, thanks, in part to the legendary “Mike Nowak Bump”:

Online orders: $122,096
Phone orders: $635
Contributions via $7,643

Tota Raisedl: $130,374

Here are the numbers as of today, November 20, 2011:

Online orders: $148,150.61
Phone and mail orders: $7,329.00
Contributions via chipin: $12,162.50

Total Raised: $167,642.11
Equivalent Catalogs Ordered: 33,528

As you can see, it ain’t easy to sell a million catalogs. But once they start landing in mailboxes all over America, the sheer quality of this publication will encourage a new spurt of orders. How do I know? I happen to have in my hot little hands a printer’s proof of the actual catalog, courtesy of Barb Melera. It’s so valuable, in fact, that after this morning’s show she is making me mail it back to her.

The 2012 D. Landreth Seed Company catalog is indeed a treasure. It features reproductions of past catalog art, etchings, drawings, photographs and quotes from past catalogs, like this from the 1848 catalog:

“The Lettuce is a hardy annual, introduced or cultivated in England since 1562, but from what country is unknown. The use of Lettuce, as a cooling and agreeable salad, is well know; it is also a useful ingredient in soups. It contains, like the other species of this genus, a quantity of opium juice, of a milky nature, from which of late years, medicine has been prepared under the title of Lactucarium, and which can be administered with effect in cases where opium is inadmissable…”

Hmm. No wonder lettuce shows up in so many salads. Then there’s this from the May 3, 1934 address by Burnet Landreth, Jr. before the Poor Richard Club of Philadelphia on the One Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the D. Landreth Seed Company:

“In 1849 David Landreth, Jr. was the first to graft in the greenhouse a tomato on a potato root. In this instance, the tomato plant nourished by the potato roots produced tomatoes in the usual form, but in the second place the potato stem grafted on a tomato root could not produce its tubers under the ground, but produced fruit the size of a small pea at the access of all the stems, a most curious result, show how Nature strives always to reproduce itself.”

There are plenty more goodies like that in the catalog. And, of course, the seed lists for the incredible variety of heirloom vegetables, herbs and flowers. If you haven’t purchased a catalog yet, do it today. Or even better, order several as holiday gifts for your friends and family.

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.

Where would we be without Faber-Castell and the #2 pencil?

It’s hard to believe that in one show I could be spotlighting two companies that are more than 200 years old. The pencil and premium writing company, Faber-Castell, is even older than D. Landreth Seed Company and, as they celebrate their 250th Anniversary this year, they do it in sustainable fashion. Not only is Faber-Castell CO2-neutral but its operations absorb more carbon dioxide than they produce. In fact, they are 3 times carbon neutral.

If you’re wondering how that is possible, all you need to know is that, two decades ago, Faber-Castell initiated a pioneering plantation project in Brazil on former grassland with a poor sandy soil. It is, located in the middle of the Brazilian savannah near Prata (Minas Gerais state), more than 2,500 kilometres away from the Amazon rainforest. The pine used for the woodlands is a tropical species called Pinus caribea, which grows quickly, can flourish even in poor conditions, and is easy to replant.

Since 1999 the Faber-Castell plantations have also been certified by the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council): a demanding international standard for “environmentally compatible, socially equitable, and sustainable forestry”. The Chain of Custody (COC) certification guarantees furthermore that the origin of the wood can be traced all the way from harvesting the timber to packaging the pencils. Faber-Castell maintains its own tree nurseries. Seedlings are continually planted out to replace each row of trees felled: a sustainable ecological cycle. In addition, their forest project offers 30% of the land as a refuge for endangered species in Brazil – over 280 species live on this land

Of course, many people know Faber-Castell as the company that invented the #2 pencil. They currently produce 2 billion pencils every year and they were the first manufacturer in the industry to make water-based varnish, which is safer for factory workers and consumers (think about all the kids and adults who like to chew on pencils).

While I was angling to have CEO Count Anton von Faber-Castell on the show (mainly because I’ve never spoken to a real count), I’m pleased to talk to Jamie Gallagher, President and CEO of Faber-Castell USA/Creativity for Kids, based in Cleveland, Ohio.

Sustainable Food Fundamentals
Unwrap Chicago: Eat, Drink & Buy Local for WCPT’s Holiday Harvest

Things are really coming into focus for the WCPT Holiday Harvest from December 1 through December 11. We’ve identified most of the drop off locations, which will include

  • North Shore Unitarian Church
    2100 Half Day Rd Deerfield, IL 60015
    (Their farmers market is on December 4th)
  • First Free Angelical Church
    5255 N Ashland Ave Chicago, IL 60640
    (Their farmers market is on December 11th)
  • Amor De Dios United Methodist Church
    2356 South Sawyer Avenue
    Chicago, IL 60623-3331
  • Euclid Avenue United Methodist
    405 South Euclid Avenue
    Oak Park, IL 60302-3901
  • Healthy Horizons Inc
    7034 Indianapolis Blvd # 1
    Hammond, IN 46324-2244
  • Englewood Food Network
    (Site to be determined)

And, of course, the WCPT studios of Chicago’s Progressive Talk, where Mike Sanders of Our Town and I will join forces for a three hour Holiday Harvest special on December 4 from 8:00 to 11:00 a.m. Our thanks to our partner, Faith in Place, which has lined up several of the drop off locations.

Our goal is to do a drive that is “healthy, local and sustainable,” at least to the extent possible and practical. Last week, on the Holiday Harvest page on this website, we discussed the preserved and canned goods. This week, the focus is on local, and I couldn’t have found a better fit than Suzanne Keers, who is co-founder & executive director of Local First Chicago.

Local First Chicago is teaming up with City of Chicago’s Department of Housing and Economic Development, the Chicago Office of Tourism & Culture and more than 50 neighborhood chambers of commerce, community organizations and businesses in a city-wide Buy Local campaign for the 2011 Holiday Season. They’re calling it “Unwrap Chicago: Eat, Drink & Buy Local” and the purpose is to educate citizens on the importance of buying locally.

They are asking each household in Chicago to pledge to redirect at least $100 of planned holiday spending from chain stores to locally owned merchants. Why? For one, pledge signers will be entered in a raffle for local gift certificates More importantly, though, it would result in $25 million being pumped into the local economy. In addition, buying locally

• Puts more dollars back into your community,
• Creates and preserves local jobs, and
• Reduces your carbon footprint.

I couldn’t agree more, especially when it comes to WCPT’s Holiday Harvest. One of the reasons we are working with Faith in Place and using their Winter Farmers Markets locations as drop off places is because we hope you will purchase something there, turn around and put it in one of our bins. Voila! Shopping locally!

We are continuing to update the Holiday Harvest page, and I hope I hope you’ll check it out from time to time and begin gathering food to donate during our drive. Our motto: Feed the Need. Thanks for whatever you can do.

Putting gardens to bed, waking up recycling in Chicago, and promoting WCPT’s food drive

November 13, 2011

Dr. Wally helps you put your garden to bed for the winter

A gardener’s work is never done, it seems. Even as we roll, kicking and screaming, into the holiday season (at least some of us), it’s important to remember that a little attention paid to your garden’s soil at this time of year will reap huge benefits in the spring.

That’s why I welcome “Dr.” Wally Schmidtke, manager at Pesche’s Garden Center in Des Plaines, back to the show for some advice on how to get a head start on spring…as odd as that sounds in the days just before Thanksgiving. Wally has put together a very helpful page of tips that I think you will find useful, especially if you like to grow vegetables.

Speaking of Pesche’s, I want to personally thank Chris Pesche for helping Green on McLean, the community garden on my block in the Logan Square neighborhood. Thanks to a generous donation of Back to Nature Cotton Burr Compost, we have been renewing our planting beds–just as Wally suggests–in anticipation of an even more productive 2012 growing season.

America Recycles…can Chicago?

This Tuesday marks the 14th annual America Recycles Day, the only national day dedicated to recycling in America. And once again, Mike Mitchell, Executive Director of the Illinois Recycling Association, joins me to talk about the state of recycling in the state of Illinois.

Of course, that means Chicago, too. So, I gird my loins once again as I prepare to talk about recycling in the Windy City. (Full disclosure, I am the volunteer president of the all-volunteer Chicago Recycling Coalition) However, as many of you know, things have begun to change under the Rahm Emanuel Administration.

On October 3, Emanuel’s “managed competition” program began. Now and for the next half year or so, public and private employees are engaged in a three-way fight for the right to run all or part of Chicago’s recycling program. Those workers are represented by the city’s Department of Streets and Sanitation, and private companies Waste Management and Sims Metal Management Municipal Recycling.

At the outset, it seemed a foregone conclusion that city workers would never be competitive enough to hold onto their recycling jobs. However, a couple of weeks into the competition, the Sun-Times reported that city union workers were “holding their own” by working more efficiently and, remarkably, reducing the absenteeism rate to zero. It does make one wonder why that couldn’t have been done when those workers weren’t under the gun. But I digress.

Under Mayor Emanuel’s plan, the city has been divided into six areas, two served by city workers, three by Waste Management and one by Sims Metal Management. I’m pleased to be able to talk today to Tom Outerbridge, General Manager of the Municipal Recycling Division. We’ll see what the state of curbside recycling is a little more than a month since the start of managed competition.

Tomorrow, Monday, November 14th, the day beforef America Recycles Day, Sims will be doing an e-waste pick up and a full day of recycling education at Wadsworth School, at 6420 S University Avenue in Chicago. Given that education is such a vital part of any recycling program, it’s good to see Sims reaching out to this south side community.

Last but certainly not least, plastic bags have gotten back into the news, thanks to Alderman Proco Joe Moreno of the 1st Ward. He has proposed an ordinance that would outright ban them in the City of Chicago. In 2008, the City Council passed an ordinance that called for plastic bag recycling containers in retail or wholesale businesses other than food service establishments where 25% or more of gross sales include medicines (I never understood that part) and/or food.

Since its inception, the ordinance has been marked by confusion as to which businesses must recycle, and a general reluctance on the part of smaller companies to comply. In The 2010 Annual Plastic Bag Recycling Report Update, two items caught my eye:

The biggest difference from 2009 to 2010 is the increase in number of businesses reporting that they did not recycle any plastic bags, which went from 95 to 486. Based on phone calls and report entries, the primary reason for this was that although businesses placed a container in their store, customers did not return plastic bags.


The maximum amount reported in 2010 (Jewel Foods) is a business with multiple store locations across Chicago and accounts for 47% of the total weight reported. In addition, almost 90% of the plastic reported as recycled was from only five companies (Dominick’s, Jewel Foods, Trader Joe’s, Walgreens, and GM Warehouse), all of which were either large-footprint stores and/or have multiple
locations in Chicago.

We’ll see just how much traction Alderman Moreno’s proposed ordinance has. Already, the dark side is making its voice heard.

Sustainable Food Fundamentals
The latest on WCPT’s Holiday Harvest

Last week, Mike Sanders of Our Town joined me in studio to announce the WCPT Holiday Harvest, which we are doing in partnership with Faith in Place. Our goal is to do a drive that is “healthy, local and sustainable,” at least to the extent possible and practical. The drive will be from December 1 to December 11 of this year. On December 4, Mike Sanders and I will have a joint broadcast of Our Town and The Mike Nowak Show from 8:00 to 11:00 a.m., when we will talk to food experts, our listeners, and perhaps even welcome people to the WCPT Studios parking lot to drop off their goodies.

Last week, on the Holiday Harvest page on this website, we discussed the importance of non-perishable protein. This week, the subject is preserved foods–dried and canned.

As I said last week, I’ve taken on this challenge as a chance to teach folks about the kinds of foods–and other goods–that can and should be donated to food pantries. It’s not simple, and I hope my listeners and followers on this site and on Facebook and Twitter will help me figure things out.

We are continuing to update the Holiday Harvest page, and I hope I hope you’ll check it out from time to time and begin gathering food to donate during our drive. We will have a number of drop off locations in the Chicago area, which we hope will make it easy for you to contribute to the cause. Our motto: Feed the Need. Thanks for whatever you can do.

Suzanne Malec-McKenna and the future of Chicago’s environmental programs

November 6 , 2011

A conversation with Suzanne Malec-McKenna, former Commissioner of the former Chicago Department of the Environment

For those of us who had been paying attention, the announcement that Mayor Rahm Emanuel‘s 2012 budget did not include funds for Chicago’s Department of the Environment was not exactly a surprise. In fact, even though the department officially ceases to exist as of January 1, 2012, its presence has already been scrubbed from the City of Chicago website and replaced by a page that simply talks about “Environment.”

According to the Emanuel Administration, they wanted sustainability issues to be addressed in a more centralized way. To that end, the city promoted Chief Sustainability Officer Karen Weigert to the Mayor’s Office. The Mayor also created a Sustainability Council–which he will chair–with a mandate to create and deliver a sustainability plan incorporating goals outlined by his transition team and the Chicago Climate Action Plan. It includes the Chief Sustainability Officer and commissioners of Housing and Economic Development, Transportation, Streets and Sanitation, General Services, Water Management, Aviation, Buildings, and Procurement.

Call me skeptical but this also looks like a way to bury environmental concerns deep in the city bueaucracy. By the way, Weigert was on the hot seat a couple of weeks ago at a gathering of environmentalists and concerned citizens who wanted to know when Chicago will get its act together about recycling. Hey, that’s something I ask all the time!

Like I said, all you needed to know about the direction in which the city was headed was when the new mayor took office and immediately fired Suzanne Malec-McKenna as Commissioner of the DOE. Malec-McKenna was appointed commissioner in 2007 and had been a member of the department for seventeen years. Her list of accomplishments is pretty impressive. These are some of the projects that she either helped create or fostered during her tenue:

Greencorps Chicago
Chicago Center for Green Technology
Chicago Conservation Corps (C3)
Calument Stewardship Initiative
Water Quality Unit
Chicago Climate Action Plan
Waste to Profit Network
Energy Action Network
Recycling Block Club Captains
Restoration and Expansion of North Park Village Center

And more. No wonder Chicago’s environmental community already misses her. In fact, I received this email just yesterday from a listener and community activist who heard that Malec-McKenna was going to be on the show:

Suzanne Malec-McKenna has been the champion for the Lake Calumet Area for her years at DOE. We cannot thank her enough for all she has done. We are crushed that she was not asked to be a part of Rahm’s administration. Now that DOEnv. is in danger, we see why.

What are Suzanne’s thought about the Millennium Natural Reserve that the Gov. will announce next week? How can we smooze this into “protection” for our (ever-assaulted) area? Her expertise is more important than ever!

Thank you –

Sharon Rolek
C3 Leader
Lake Cal Area

One thing Malec-McKenna is still proud to be involved with is the The Prairie Research Institute, If you don’t recognize that name, it might be because it was originally called The Institute of Natural Resource Sustainability. From their website:

Created in July of 2008 to house four state scientific surveys — Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS), the Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS), the Illinois State Water Survey (ISWS), and the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) — as a group under the auspices of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign . Then in 2010, the Illinois Transportation Archaeological Research Program (ITARP) became the fifth division under the new name of the Illinois State Archaeological Survey , further expanding the Institute’s research and service capabilities. The Institute’s mission and vision statement reflect the importance of sustaining our state’s natural resources.

Malec-McKenna is currently working on her Ph.D. in communication. Even with unemployment high in America, this is one talented, smart person who should have a bunch of companies lining up to hire her. I’m honored to call her my friend and I’m very pleased that she is taking time to speak to me on the show.

Mike and Mike work on WCPT’s Holiday Harvest

Last week, when the Faith in Place folks were on the show, I hinted about the possibility of teaming with them to do a healthy, local and sustainable food drive. Well, it’s pretty much on track and this morning, Mike Sanders of “Our Town” and I will be talking about it on my show.

When I say “healthy, local and sustainable,” it turns out that those are terms that can be difficult to define for a food drive. For instance, if you donate canned tuna, which contains lots of protein and is fairly healthy, it’s probably not local. It might not even be sustainable, depending on how the tuna is being caught. Or maybe you want to donate organic potatoes to the drive. Well, some food banks won’t accept produce because it can spoil. See the problem?

I’ve taken on this challenge as a chance to teach folks about the kinds of foods–and other goods–that can and should be donated to food pantries. As I said, it’s not simple, and I hope my listeners and followers on this site and on Facebook and Twitter will help me figure out things.

The Mike Nowak Show staff (uh, that’s pretty much Kathleen Thompson), has set up a page about our drive that has some basics right now, and will be updated in the next few weeks. I hope you’ll check it out from time to time and begin gathering food to donate during our drive. We think we will have a number of drop off locations in the Chicago area, and those should be announced by next week.

The drive will be from December 1 to December 11 of this year. On December 4, Mike Sanders and I will have a joint broadcast of Our Town and The Mike Nowak Show from 8:00 to 11:00 a.m., when we will talk to food experts, our listeners, and perhaps even welcome people to the WCPT Studios parking lot to drop off their goodies. Perhaps we’ll see you there.