Holiday suggestions and environmental warnings

December 11, 2011

Want to give “green” this year?

Each year, I am more than a little disturbed by the obscene display of materialism that is “Black Friday” in America. Not to mention the following and equally obnoxious “Cyber Monday.” Yeah, I know I’m swimming against the tide but, geez, is this our defining characteristic as a society? Buying more stuff than we know what to do with? Really?

However, I do understand that you want to be a generous friend or relative during the holidays. In which case, I suggest that you buy “green.” Thanks to my beautiful and talented webmaster Kathleen, we’ve posted a web page that will help you find some items that fill the bill as far as sustainable and/or socially aware items go.

Of course, you can give the gift of food–and by this I mean seeds–to the ones you love…especially those who like to garden. Many of you have been following the campaign of the historic D. Landreth Seed Company , which is attempting to sell one million catalogs to keep the 227 year-old company alive. Owner Barbara Melera stops by again this morning for another update on how the mission is doing. By the way, as I mentioned last week, she donated about one hundred packets, featuring cilantro, chervil, basil and chives seeds, to the WCPT Holiday Harvest Food Drive. She’s the best.

The 2011 Chicago Gardener of the Year: Enrique Gonzalez

Last week I mentioned that the community garden on my block in the Logan Square neighborhood, Green on McLean, had won a third place prize in the Mayor’s 2011 Landscape Awards competition. I’m proud of all of the people–adults, teens and kids–who helped to transform the double lot on a drug-dealing corner from a litter-strewn eyesore to a place for families to grow vegetables and have potluck dinners.

And I’m happy to continue a tradition I’ve had on my radio show for what must be a decade or more now, of interviewing the Chicago Gardener of the Year. For 2011 it’s Enrique Gonzalez of Hoxie Prairie Garden at E. 106th Street and S. Hoxie Avenue in the Pullman neighborhood. When I read this story, which appeared in the Chicago Tribune two years ago, I realized that Enrique and his neighbors have experienced a lot of the same things that I’ve seen in my own neighborhood. My hat is off to him and to all people who take control of their lives, garden by garden, throughout Chicago and every city in America.

Our national environment under attack (mainly by Republicans); NRDC’s Josh Mogerman reports on Keystone XL Pipeline and more

For years I have worried about painting with a broad brush when it comes to politics and the environment. That is to say, it seemed unfair to say that Democrats are generally for environmental issues and all Republicans are generally against them. After further review, however, there’s no way to get around it. That statement is absolutely true. Yes, there are some Democrats (far too many, actually), who are toadies and stooges for corporate polluters. Shame on them.

But there’s really no way to say that Republicans, to any significant degree, give a rat’s you-know-what about our environment. It disgusting and terrifying, really. And if you care about our planet at all, you should run screaming from the Republican party and how, if they were given the chance, they would drain the Great Lakes and set up a big industrial park if they could. For instance, take a look at this article on the website of the Natural Resources Defense Council called Anti-Environmental Budget Riders: A significant assault on health and environmental protection is underway in Congress.

In this story, the NRDC looks at the12 spending bills for fiscal 2012 that Congress must pass to fund the government and the anti-environmental policies that some House Republicans want to push through at the same time. It’s not that those policies have anything to do with funding the government. It’s just opportunism rearing its ugly and environment-destroying head.

It is disturbing that House Speaker John Boehner has announced that he plans to hold payroll tax cuts and unemployment benefits hostage to a bill that would rubber stamp approval of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. If you’re not familiar with Canadian tar sands oil, you probably need to tune into my show today (or the podcast, once the show is over), to hear NRDC’s Josh Mogerman wax poetic on how environmentally destructive extracting oil from tar sands really is. Or how we have been sold a bill of goods about how many jobs would be created by running a 1700 mile pipeline through the middle of the United States.

In fact, just a short month ago, when Keystone XL protestors marched around the White House and many were arrested, and then the Obama Administration decided that it would delay a decision until 2013, it seemed as if it was a clear cut victory for environmentalists. Perhaps not so much now, even though we’re pumping more CO2 into the air than ever.

I wish I could say that’s the only issue that should be on everybody’s radar. Alas, our Great Lakes continue to be in peril, thanks to zebra mussels, quagga mussels and other invasive species, including Asian carp. Unfortunately, if big business continues to get its way, there will be little in the lakes except invasive species. We’ll get to as many of these issues as possible…but we probably need more than two hours.

Don’t burn your Christmas trees in your house…for more reasons

Last week, I talked briefly about why you shouldn’t burn Christmas trees in your fireplace. The answer is the creosote build up and the danger of starting a fire. After the show, I received an email from a Dave Zaber, a listener and environmental consultant who wrote:

Just a quick caution: unless the purchaser has explicit information regarding the use of pesticides on Christmas tree farms, any number of very toxic insecticides could be used directly on the trees.  Some are even allowed to be applied up to the end of October. 

In most cases, very little is known about the chemicals that result when these pesticides (and/or other ingredients) are burnt.  In many cases, particularly when they are sprayed earlier in the year, natural processes will break down some of these chemicals before harvest.  In other cases (e.g. dinotefuran), the systemic absorption of the chemical by the tree means that  it will be spread throughout the living tissues and therefore unsusceptible to wind, rain, and sunlight. 

So, other than organic or no-spray trees, don’t burn them indoors. 

A list of neurotoxic insecticides that the State of Pennsylvania extension recommends for application on Christmas trees includes the following:

Organophosphate/carbamate anti-cholinesterase insecticides: highly toxic to mammals, birds, fish, bees.  Exposures can result in long-term central nervous system effects.
Acephate
Carbaryl
Chlorpyrifos
Oxydemeton-methyl

Neonicotinoids: Super toxic to bees, systemic, persistent in water. Thiamethoxam
Imidicloprid -systemic
Dinotefuran
Spirotetramat

Synthetic pyrethroids: highly toxic to fish, carcinogenicity. Bifenthrin
Deltamethrin
Esfenvalerate

Here’s even more information about pesticides and Christmas trees that you might find useful. Dave joins me today to talk more about this issue. And the NRDC has information about real v. fake trees and Christmas tree care in this article: The Tree Choice: Care and Decorating Tips for the Holidays.

GreenPrints, “The Weeder’s Digest,” for the holidays

Pat Stone, editor of GreenPrints, is back on the program to talk about winning the Garden Writers Association award in 2011 for over Best Product for Magazines with under 200,000 circulation. Pat has been putting together funny, inspirational, moving and weird stories about gardening for more than twenty years into this easy to handle, easy to read publication.

This just might be a perfect holiday gift for one of those hard to please people on your shopping list. Check out the link above, where you can get a sample of what they have to offer.

The Big Holiday Harvest Broadcast

December 4, 2011

Welcome to the WCPT Holiday Harvest Broadcast!

The WCPT Holiday Harvest Food Drive is up and running, and I hope that means you’re planning to stop by one of our drop off locations throughout the Chicago area and contribute healthy, local and sustainable goods (that’s our suggestion, though we’ll take anything that a food pantry normally accepts) for distribution to people in need. The drive runs through December 11 and we’ve teamed with the great people at Faith in Place to make it happen.

Mike Sanders, host of Our Town, and I teamed up for a three hour WCPT Holiday Harvest extravaganza on Sunday, December 4. You can listen to the podcast from that broadcast HERE. We were broadcasting indoors and out and this was the guest list:

Here’s the full list of places where you can leave your contributions:

  • WCPT AM & FM, 6012 S. Pulaski Road, Chicago, IL 60629
    Donations are accepted:
    Monday-Friday 9:00am-5:00pm, Saturday-Sunday 8:00am-2:00pm
    Ring the bell during the week to drop off food
    Donations will go to one of the participating Holiday Harvest food programs.
  • First Evangelical Free Church , 5255 N Ashland Ave Chicago, IL 60640
    Donations accepted:
    Tuesdays & Thursdays 9:00am to 4:30 pm
    Wednesdays from 6:30 to 8:00 pm, Sundays 9:30 am to 4:00 pm
    Site of Faith in Place Winter Farmers Market on December 11. You can purchase local, sustainable goods, turn around and drop them right in the WCPT bin!
    Donations will go to Breakthrough Urban Ministries
  • Healthy Horizons Inc, 7034 Indianapolis Blvd # 1, Hammond, IN 46324-2244
    Donations accepted:
    Monday-Friday 9:00am-8:00pm
    Saturday 9:00am-6:00pm
    Sunday 12:00pm-5:00pm
    (Purchase some of their healthy grocery items, turn around and put them in the WCPT bin!)
  • Little Mountain-Hope Ministries, 5716 South Ashland Avenue, Chicago, IL 60636-1723
    Donations currently accepted Tuesday evenings and all day Sunday. More times to come. Donations will go to the Little Mountain food program.
  • Travelers Rest Spiritual Church, 7030 S Racine Ave, Chicago , IL 60636
    Donations currently accepted Tuesday evenings and all day Sunday. More times to come.
  • Amor De Dios United Methodist Church, 2356 South Sawyer Avenue, Chicago, IL 60623
    Donations currently accepted Thursday afternoons and all day Sunday. More times to come.
    Donations will go to the Amor de Dios food program.
  • Euclid Avenue United Methodist, 405 South Euclid Avenue, Oak Park, IL 60302
    Site of Faith in Place Winter Farmers Market on March 24, 2012
    Donations go to the Oak Park/River Forest Food Pantry
  • North Shore Unitarian Church, 2100 Half Day Rd Deerfield, IL 60015
    Donations accepted:
    Monday-Friday 10:00am – 2:00pm
    Sundays 9:00am-1:00pm
    December 4th Special Hours: 8:30am-3:00pm
    Site of Faith in Place Winter Farmers Market on December 4! You can purchase local, sustainable goods, turn around and drop them right in the WCPT bin!
    Donations go to their local food pantries.

If you’re wondering what a “healthy, local and sustainable” food drive is, check out the Holiday Harvest page on this website, where we have tried to show how very possible it is to donate healthy protein-rich foods, preserved and canned goods, healthy grains and dried fruits and more. We’re also promoting local purchases. For more information about that, go to Local First Chicago and read about their city-wide Buy Local campaign for the 2011 Holiday Season called “Unwrap Chicago: Eat, Drink & Buy Local.”

My thanks also to Barbara Melera at the historic D. Landreth Seed Company for donating about one hundred packets, featuring cilantro, chervil, basil and chives seeds, which we are forwarding to the various churches and food networks.

“Green on McLean” community garden takes home an award

I have repeatedly told the story on my show of the “miracle” of the community garden at the end of my block in the Logan Square Neighborhood. A group of us got together in the spring to create the garden on land owned by a local realtor. We knew that because the land is privately owned, we could be kicked off at any time.

Actually, that’s a challenge that many urban community gardens face. But we took it on because we knew that the neighborhood needed change. The litter-strewn lot needed a face lift. The gangbangers on the corner needed to go. And the people of the neighborhood needed to meet each other in a way that they hadn’t in decades.

Thus, Green on McLean was created and, if you’ve heard the story before, you know that we accomplished most of the goals stated above. We grew some pretty decent vegetables, taught the neighborhood kids how to plant seeds, seedlings and potted plants, taught them how to water and care for those plants, and even battled aphids and cucumber beetles. We put up a blog, had pot luck dinners in the garden and watched as the garden grew and became a sacred place in the neighborhood (no gangbangers allowed–and they respected that rule…most of the time).

We even entered the Mayor’s 2011 Landscape Awards competition. We know that ours is far from the most impressive community garden in the city, but we were proud of what we had accomplished. And, on Saturday, December 3, five of the garden stalwarts–Olga, Carrie, Daeshawn, Moncerratt and I–picked up our 3rd Place Award for Community Landscapes in Region 1. Some of the photos are on this site. It’s pretty neat.

By the way,continuing a tradition I have followed for about a decade, I will have the 2011 Chicago Gardener of the Year, Enrique Gonzalez of Hoxie Prairie Garden, on the show next Sunday.

“Feed the Need” with the WCPT Holiday Harvest Food Drive

November 27, 2011

WCPT Holiday Harvest Food Drive begins December 1–Feed the Need!

Gosh, I’m so excited that you would think Christmas was coming or something. Or maybe it is. Or maybe next Thursday, December 1 is the first day of the WCPT Holiday Harvest Food Drive, which runs through December 11. Our thanks to our partner, Faith in Place, which has lined up a number of the drop off locations listed below.

When you bring your locally bought, healthy and sustainable foods (though we’ll take anything, really), you should look for the barrel marked with the WCPT Holiday Harvest logo (pictured left). Of course, you can’t just show up at 3:00 a.m. and expect to drop in your goodies, so here are the times that we know about so far. If a location in your area doesn’t have all of the information you need, never fear–I will be updating this page as I receive it:

  • WCPT AM & FM, 6012 S. Pulaski Road, Chicago, IL 60629
    Donations are accepted:
    Monday-Friday 9:00am-5:00pm, Saturday-Sunday 8:00am-2:00pm
    Ring the bell during the week to drop off food
    Of course, Mike Sanders and I will be standing outside to receive your donations during our special Holiday Harvest Broadcast on December 4 from 8:00 to 11:00 a.m.
    Donations will go to one of the participating Holiday Harvest food programs.
  • First Evangelical Free Church , 5255 N Ashland Ave Chicago, IL 60640
    Donations accepted:
    Tuesdays & Thursdays 9:00am to 4:30 pm
    Wednesdays from 6:30 to 8:00 pm, Sundays 9:30 am to 4:00 pm
    Site of Faith in Place Winter Farmers Market on December 11. You can purchase local, sustainable goods, turn around and drop them right in the WCPT bin!
    Donations will go to Breakthrough Urban Ministries
  • Healthy Horizons Inc, 7034 Indianapolis Blvd # 1, Hammond, IN 46324-2244
    Donations accepted:
    Monday-Friday 9:00am-8:00pm
    Saturday 9:00am-6:00pm
    Sunday 12:00pm-5:00pm
  • Little Mountain-Hope Ministries, 5716 South Ashland Avenue, Chicago, IL 60636-1723
    Donations currently accepted Tuesday evenings and all day Sunday. More times to come. Donations will go to the Little Mountain food program.
  • Travelers Rest Spiritual Church, 7030 S Racine Ave, Chicago , IL 60636
    Donations currently accepted Tuesday evenings and all day Sunday. More times to come.
  • Amor De Dios United Methodist Church, 2356 South Sawyer Avenue, Chicago, IL 60623
    Donations currently accepted Thursday afternoons and all day Sunday. More times to come.
    Donations will go to the Amor de Dios food program.
  • Euclid Avenue United Methodist, 405 South Euclid Avenue, Oak Park, IL 60302
    Site of Faith in Place Winter Farmers Market on March 24, 2012
    Donations go to the Oak Park/River Forest Food Pantry
  • North Shore Unitarian Church, 2100 Half Day Rd Deerfield, IL 60015
    Donations accepted:
    Monday-Friday 10:00am – 2:00pm
    Sundays 9:00am-1:00pm
    December 4th Special Hours: 8:30am-3:00pm
    Site of Faith in Place Winter Farmers Market on December 4! You can purchase local, sustainable goods, turn around and drop them right in the WCPT bin!
    Donations go to their local food pantries.

As noted above, Mike Sanders of Our Town and I will join forces for a three hour Holiday Harvest Broadcast on December 4 from 8:00 to 11:00 a.m. (I can’t mention that enough.)

As I have mentioned repeatedly, our goal is to do a drive that is “healthy, local and sustainable,” at least to the extent possible and practical. Over the past several weeks on the Holiday Harvest page on this website, we have tried to show how very possible it is to donate healthy protein-rich foods, preserved and canned goods, healthy grains and dried fruits and more.

Last week I talked to Suzanne Keers, co-founder & executive director of Local First Chicago, about their city-wide Buy Local campaign for the 2011 Holiday Season called “Unwrap Chicago: Eat, Drink & Buy Local.” The idea is to educate citizens on the importance of buying locally. Of course, WCPT and The Mike Nowak Show hope that you shop and buy local food, which you will then donate to the WCPT Holiday Harvest. Simple, no?

This week, I’m pleased to be able to talk to Rev. Dr. Bill Shereos, Senior Pastor of First Free Church in Andersonville, which is one of our drop off locations. They will be sending their collection to Breakthrough Urban Ministries in the Garfield Park neighborhood.

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.

Will the prairie–and bison(!)–make a comback in Illinois?

Okay, kids. Time for a quick quiz. (Bet you didn’t see this coming.) Of the 21 million acres of prairie that were originally in the Prairie State (um, that’s Illinois, in case you’re stumped), what percentage is left?

A. 10%
B. 1%
C. 0.1%
D 0.01%

If you answered D.–ding, ding, ding!–you’ve been paying attention to just how cavalierly Americans over the centuries have treated their natural resources. I’m getting ahead of myself here, but take a look at the Timeline of the American Bison, courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Believe me folks, it ain’t pretty.

But back to praires. In 1996, a remarkable thing happened for the remaining prairies in Illinois. The Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie was established on the former Joliet Arsenal. What made Midewin (prounounced mi-Day-win, and pronouncing it correctly is kind of the secret handshake of Illinois environmentalists) so remarkable is that, among other things, it was the first national tallgrass prairie in the country. The long-range goal was to take 20,000 acres of military and farm land and bring back as much prairie ecosystem as is humanly possible.

Interestingly, Midewin, just a stone’s throw from Chicago in Wilmington, Illinois, is part of the National Forest System, which might seem odd because it is far from being a forest. Perhaps that’s not so bad because the National Forest Foundation, a nonprofit group that works with the U.S. Forest Service to provide financial and technical support, announced in October that it was putting it’s muscle behind the restoration.

About 2,000 acres of prairie fields have already been restored at Midewin, but the land is still dotted with military bunkers and checkered with abandoned farm fields. Much needs to be done, which is why the NFF announced a 10-year plan to restore another 18,000 acres and even reintroduce bison on to the property–hence the bison reference earlier. C’mon, how cool is that? I’ll bet you didn’t even know that there were bison roaming Illinois at the beginning of the 19th Century…unless you clicked on the link above.

Midewin is the eighth site to be part of NFF’sTreasured Landscapes campaign. What does that mean? Well, money, for one–to the tune of helping to raise $174 million for the 10-year restoration project. To get a sense of what they hope to accomplish, take a look at this video. One of their partners in this unique venture is The Wetlands Initiative.

I’m pleased to welcome Mary Mitsos, Vice President of Conservation Programs for the National Forest Foundation and Paul Botts (in the interest of full disclosure, he is Beth Botts’ brother), who is Executive Director of The Wetlands Initiative, to talk about how the future of prairies of Illinois is about bringing back some of its past.

Sustainable Food Fundamentals
The D. Landreth Seed Company 2012 Catalog is on its way!

This is just a quick note to let you know that if you’re one of the people who are trying to keep the historic D. Landreth Seed Company in business by ordering a catalog, there will soon be one in your mailbox. A friend of mine who ordered five catalogs received hers on Black Friday (seems fitting, somehow, that she didn’t have to be among the crazed shoppers).

Barbara Melera, owner of D. Landreth, the oldest seed house in America, wrote to me on Facebook that people who ordered multiple copies are already receiving theirs. If you requested only one (stupid me!), they will arrive soon.

You can get a sense of the quality of this catalog by linking to sample pages here. It makes a great gift for your gardening friends, and they’re only five bucks a pop. Meanwhile, you can log onto these various social media sites to continue to get the word out: Landreth Seed Co, Save Landreth Seed Company, Order their 2012 Catalog!, and more. If you’re on Twitter, use the hashtag #savelandreth. If you just want to make a contribution, go to ChipIn.com and click the icon on the upper right hand side of the page.

A couple of articles about climate change

Meteorologist Rick DiMaio is a wealth of information, not only about the weather, but about climate change, and he’s always alerting me to stories about the latest in climate science and news. This one echoes Rick’s own thoughts about how a little bit of warming can lead to weather extremes.

However, it can be difficult to have a civil conversation over the holiday dinner table with climate skeptics. If you find yourself in that situation, Mother Nature Network has some tips about the subject in an article called How to discuss climate change with your uncle during the holidays. It might just save your self-esteem…if not your sanity.