Celebrating Earth Day with Melinda Myers

April 22, 2012

Melinda Myers co-hosts today’s show

There’s nothing I like better than being surrounded by beautiful babes. Especially if they know how to prune a hydrangea. Which is why I’m pleased to have Melinda Myers back on the show…especially because she’s sitting in for the whole two hours!

Some of you might not know Melinda, but you should. She’s from slightly north of the border (meaning Wisconsin), has more than 30 years of horticulture experience and has written over 20 gardening books (I’m still working on my first. Just sayin’.) She hosts the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment segments which air on more than 100 TV and radio stations throughout the U.S. She is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine as well as a columnist for Gardening How-to magazine and Wisconsin Gardening magazine. Melinda hosted “The Plant Doctor” radio program for over 20 years as well as seven seasons of Great Lakes Gardener on PBS.

The plan of attack today is to sit around and answer some gardening questions. What could be simpler? We hope you’ll call (773-763-9278), Tweet or post on Facebook if you have any pressing or not-so-pressing garden questions.

Our planet is under attack. From us. Happy Earth Day!

I wish I could say “Happy Earth Day” without feeling like a hypocrite. So I won’t. A lot of greenwashing sentiments will be spewed today, so cover yourself with a plastic wrap. Oops. That’s not so green, is it?

I guess what I’m saying is that I’m not that optimistic about the fate of our planet on this 32nd anniversary of Earth Day. It probably has something to do with the various issues I’ve covered on the show recently. Those include

The problem is that it doesn’t stop there. It includes Asian carp, mercury and carbon-spewing coal plants, plastics floating in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and, and, and…well, you get it. I hope.

Unfortunately, our own Illinois General Assembly doesn’t seem to get it, which forces me to ask the question…

What the heck is going on in Springfield? (Illinois, that is)

Last week, I brought up the subject of an unfortunate bill that has already passed the Illinois Senate 52-0 (!) and is on its way to the House. The NRDC calls SB 3414 “Orwellian” because of what it would do to not only neuter but reverse the goals of the states Pollution Control Board:

Specifically, SB3414 would amend the Board’s emergency rulemaking authorization – the one that allows the Board issue expedited regulations to address a threat to “public interest, safety, or welfare” – by redefining a threat to the public interest to include any “significant economic harm or hardship” to a polluter. That’s right. A polluter, not the public.


I think somebody slipped something into the water in Springfield…probably big wads of cash. Fortunately, groups like Openlands and the Illinois Environmental Council are attempting to derail this obscene environmental travesty. .

But no sooner do I find out about that monstrosity than I receive a message from Emily Carroll at Food & Water Watch about yet another horrible bill: SB 3573 – the Illinois Water Privatization Bill. According to Carroll,

SB 3573 allows companies like Illinois American Water to automatically raise rates for existing customers in order to earn a return on their acquisitions. This bill modifies the Public Utilities Act such that the private utilities can bypass the standard regulatory process that is meant to protect consumers from the exploitative prices possible from monopolies like private water utilities.

The House version of the Illinois Water Privatization bill is HB 1955. According to an article in the Chicago Independent Examiner,

Currently pending in the House Rules Committee, the bill would authorize corporations to control not only the state’s drinking water, but the price of it. The bill encourages a monopoly and provides for one “large public utility” – in other words – one for-profit corporate monopoly.

Like I said before: what the heck is going on down there? Emily Carroll from Food & Water Watch stops by to help answer that question.

“To the Arctic” celebrates life at the top of the world

I have to get the taste of bad legislation out of my mouth and I can’t think of a better way than to talk to Florian Schulz, award-winning nature photographer, who has graced us with a spectacular large-format photo book called To The Arctic.

The book is the official companion volume to the documentary adventure To The Arctic from Warner Bros. Pictures, MacGillivray Freeman Films and IMAX Corporation, which opened Friday, April 20 at the IMAX® Theatre at Navy Pier, narrated by Oscar® winner Meryl Streep and featuring music by Sir Paul McCartney (where’s Heather Frey when you need her?). As far as I can determine from the IMAX® site, the film runs through December 2012.

Though German born, Schulz has spent considerable time documenting North America’s natural riches. His first book, Yellowstone to Yukon: Freedom to Roam (2005) from Braided River and the Mountaineers Books, received the Independent Book Publisher Award: “Outstanding Books of the Year.” Florian has received prestigious honors such as the title “Environmental Photographer of the Year 2010? and “Conservation Photographer of the Year” by Nature’s Best Photography Awards and the National Wildlife Federation in 2008. His images have won  recognized awards in some of the most important nature photography competitions like the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition and the European Photographer of the Year Competition.

Schulz spent more than 15 months in the Arctic over the course of six years, and also traveled with the film crew on several occasions. Many of the 200 color images in the book closely follow the film’s central storyline of a mother polar bear and her twin seven-month-old cubs as they navigate the changing Arctic wilderness they call home.

In To The Arctic, Schulz lays out photographs that touch your heart and leave you breathless, in a land that is as far from bleak as it can be. He follows musk oxen, caribou, seals, snowy owls, and some of the most extraordinary images ever captured in the wild of a mother polar bear and her two cubs. I am very psyched about talking to him and seeing the film. I already have the fabulous book and I will cherish it.

Speaking of films, Earth Film Festival is this week

As I mentioned last week, a grassroots group called Green Community Connections is presenting the first ever Earth Film Festival 2012 in the Oak Park and River Forest communities.

The One Earth Film Festival will take place Fri-Sun, April 27-29, 2012 at multiple concurrent venues in the Oak Park & River Forest IL area. The Green Carpet Gala that kicks off the fest is Friday, April 27th from 7:30-9:00pm, at the Oak Park Conservatory.  Tickets must be purchased in advance for the Green Carpet Gala.

This all comes at a reasonable cost. With a few exceptions, most films are FREE to the public with a suggested donation of only $5. However, because of limited seating registration is required.

Among the films that will be screened:

  • A Fierce Green Fire: The Battle for a Living Planet
  • Angela’s Garden (Local Film Maker)
  • A Sense of Wonder (A Clip to be featured in Rachel Carson tribute program)
  • Dirt! The Movie
  • Food Patriots (Local film maker)
  • Fresh: New Thinking About What We’re Eating
  • Fuel
  • Greenwashers
  • Waste Land

and more. A good way to get caught up on your greenness.

Rollin’ on da river (a good thing) and choppin’ down da trees (not so good)

April 15, 2012

Are you ready to Dig In® Chicago?

If you regularly log on to this website, you’ll have to forgive me for relentlessly plugging Dig In® Chicago. It’s not every day that I start a new television venture (when I get to that day, somebody please whup me upside the head with a rolled up newspaper to keep me humble). Co-host Jennifer Brennan, horticulture information specialist (and she really knows her stuff) and I are extremely excited to have our first episode air next week. For those of you unclear about our new gardening and cooking TV show, here’s the basic info.

  • Dig In Chicago premieres Saturday, April 21
  • It is a half hour local gardening and cooking show
  • You can find it on Comcast/Xfinity Channel 102
  • It airs weekly at 10:00 a.m. Saturday mornings
  • There will be 12 new episodes; each will be repeated once, for a total of 24 weeks
  • If you don’t have Comcast service, episodes will be available online at MyDigInChicago.com

I think that covers it. Tune in next Saturday and don’t forget to Like us on Facebook!

The Chicago River is on a roll…so roll on, reversed river!

It’s incredible to think that a mere twenty years ago the Chicago River was a lost cause. Its banks over-built or just neglected, a dumping ground for pollutants of all kinds, it was a body of water that you hoped you never fell into. It needed some friends.

It found them in Friends of the Chicago River. In 1992, 25 brave, dedicated souls signed on to drag old shopping carts, mattresses, plastic bags and much worse from its banks. They called it Chicago River Day, and the hill these concerned people were attempting to climb seemed insurmountable.

Fast forward 20 years, and the announcement from Illinois Governor Pat Quinn that Illinois will contribute $10 million to help make stretches of the Chicago River system safer for recreation. The state is chipping in to cover about half of the design costs for disinfecting the river. Right now,m Chicago is the only major U.S. city that skips the disinfection step when treating sewage. That was before Friends of the Chicago River and other river advocates began agitating to clean up the waterway that touches the lives of so many Chicagoans. It didn’t hurt when the Obama administration ordered state and local officials to comply with federal Clean Water Act standards that already apply to most other cities.

So now, twenty years since those first tentative steps to clean up this blighted and neglected civic resource, Friends of the Chicago River is celebrating with something they call Chicago River Day 20/20. From April 23 through May 12, there will be 20 days of activities on and beyond the banks of the Chicago River. They range from family-friendly scavenger hunts and animal action days to river tattoos, the Chicago River Summit, and even a river-edge pub crawl.

I’m please to have Margaret Frisbie, Executive Director of Friends of the Chicago River, back on the show this morning to whip us all into a frenzy of celebration. After we’ve had our coffee, of course.

The early warm spring takes a bit out of apples

I hate to say “I told you so” but…I told you so! Actually, both meteorologist Rick DiMaio and I warned folks a month ago that the record-breaking warm weather that we experienced in March might have a down side.

Welcome to the Freeze of April. Last week, an article in the Northwest Herald out of McHenry County chronicled a difficult couple of days for apple growers in the region. Some of the growers worried that they might lose their entire apple crop. All of this has come about as many plants–including fruit trees–blossomed as much a month early, setting up the potential for a disastrous cold snap that could destroy the blooms, meaning that the crop would fail, too.

Cathleen Harder from All Seasons Apple Orchard-Pumpkin Patch-Corn Maze, west of Woodstock, was one of the people quoted in the article and she joins Rick DiMaio and me this morning to talk about what we can expect from the apple crop and other fruits in Illinois in 2012.

Nightmare on 91st Street

Sometimes an act is so unbelievably vile and unnecessary that it takes your breath away.

Welcome to the wonderful world of retail development in America, specifically in the Chicago suburb or Evergreen Park. Just a few days ago, the axes and chain saws came out and about 300 old growth trees were felled in what was once the Evergreen Park municipal golf course. Why? So that a shopping center with a Meijer and a Menards and a few other smaller businesses could be built on that 50-acre site.

If, at this point, you’re asking “what’s wrong with that?” you already have a problem. I just said 300 old growth trees, some of which had been there for as long as anybody can remember, were just reduced to kindling. That part of the area is already more than congested. In addition, according to the Beverly Improvement Association:

The issue is simple, a couple blocks down the street is the failed Evergreen Plaza mall which is now scheduled for redevelopment. We say, we won’t shop, if you chop; build the development on nearby by vacant commercial land.

In addition, there is a former Webb Ford dealership nearby that sits idle. And they will continue to be blights on that neighborhood, while precious open space is defiled to sell cheap Chinese plastic goods…or whatever the hell they sell at Meijer and Menards. I really don’t give a tinker’s dam. I’m done with those companies.


We can get the word out and stop this unholy development. The Beverly Improvement Association has joined forces with Friends of the Forest Preserves to stop the development. The trees have been removed, but that doesn’t mean that the concrete must be poured.

FOTFP Executive Director Benjamin Cox stops by the new WCPT studios today to discuss this travesty. Meanwhile, here’s what you can do.

STEP 1. Call or write Meijer and Menards and tell them to move to nearby vacant retail space and that you won’t support their stores if they build on the golf course. If either the Meijer or Menards pulls out, the whole development stops.

Meijer Real Estate Department
2929 Walker Ave., NW
Grand Rapids, MI 49544-­9424
(877) 363-­4537
Email Meijer

Menards Real Estate Division – Dispositions
5101 Menard Drive
Eau Claire, WI 54703
(715) 876-­2532
Email Menards

Sign the petition

Celebrate Earth Month by seeing a film…about the Earth, of course

A grassroots group called Green Community Connections is hoping to make a splash with the first ever Earth Film Festival 2012 in the Oak Park and River Forest communities.

The One Earth Film Festival will take place Fri-Sun, April 27-29, 2012 at multiple concurrent venues in the Oak Park & River Forest IL area. The Green Carpet Gala that kicks off the fest is Friday, April 27th from 7:30-9:00pm, at the Oak Park Conservatory.  Tickets must be purchased in advance for the Green Carpet Gala.

This all comes at a reasonable cost. With a few exceptions, most films are FREE to the public with a suggested donation of only $5. However, because of limited seating registration is required.

Among the films that will be screened:

  • A Fierce Green Fire: The Battle for a Living Planet
  • Angela’s Garden (Local Film Maker)
  • A Sense of Wonder (A Clip to be featured in Rachel Carson tribute program)
  • Dirt! The Movie
  • Food Patriots (Local film maker)
  • Fresh: New Thinking About What We’re Eating
  • Fuel
  • Greenwashers
  • Waste Land

and more.

Ana Garcia Doyle, who has had a large role in pulling the event together, stops by this morning to talk about what she hopes this first of a kind film festival will achieve.

Recoverable waste and edible treasures

April 8, 2012

Two weeks to the premiere of Dig In® Chicago

I’m trying to remember the last time I worked as hard as I did on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, as we shot the first three episodes of Dig In® Chicago. Co-host Jennifer Brennan, Executive Producer Blaine Howerton (who IS the video crew) and I started at sunrise on Monday and finished at sunset on Wednesday. Along the way, we visited

Lurie Garden in Millennium Park
Lurvey Landscape Supply in Des Plaines
Pesche’s Garden Center in Des Plaines
The Shedd Aquarium
The Field Museum
Tavern at the Park in Millennium Park
La Encantata Restaurant in Humboldt Park
Emerald Ash Borer treatment site in Park Forest
The Growing Place in Naperville
Spring Bluff Nursery in Sugar Grove
and more…

We have some slide shows of stills from the three days’ shooting on our own Dig In® Chicago page on this website. Check them out.

Whew! I need a nap. More about all of this as we get to our premiere on Saturday, April 21 at 10:00 a.m. on Comcast/Xfinity Channel 102. Please tune in. And don’t forget to Like us on Facebook!

Recycling, consumption and waste in Chicago

You might have seen video of Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the past couple of days announcing that the City plans to supply Blue Carts to approximately 340,000 Chicago homes that do not currently have them. The City says it has saved $2.2 million during the on-going “managed competition” between city workers and private contractors. The press release from the Office of the Mayor states

The current cost for providing residents recycling services for six months under competitive bidding is $4.1 million, compared to pre-competition costs of $6.3 million – a 35 percent decrease. In addition, the savings are 10 percent greater than initially projected, thanks to cooperation between labor unions and City government to create efficiencies in the blue cart recycling program. Since the competition began in July, the City’s crews have worked to close the gap between the private haulers’ $2.70 price per cart by reducing their costs by 35 percent from $4.77 to $3.28 per cart.

“The success of the recycling competition would not have been possible without the partnership of the unions, as well as the hard work and professionalism of both the City and private crews,” said Commissioner Thomas G. Byrne, Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation. “We look forward to the opportunity of bringing the best possible recycling services to all Chicago residents in 2013.”

While it’s great to hear that recycling is coming, at long last, to so many Chicago residents, we are still a long way from having a reliable and comprehensive recycling program in the city. For instance, the Blue Cart program applies only to residential buildings with four units or fewer. The rest of Chicago–in what are sometimes called high-density residential buildings–must contract with their private waste hauler for their recycling. The problem is that many of those high rises don’t have recycling programs and the city doesn’t enforce its own recycling law that requires those systems to be set up.

Not only that, but even when people have blue carts, they often don’t use them properly. In my own neighborhood in Logan Square, we received our blue carts in the past week. When the City delivers them, the carts are left in front of the buildings, to be taken to the alley and placed next to the black garbage containers. However, a week after delivery, many blue carts on my block are still in front. Do my neighbors understand how the system works? I don’t know. But there isn’t much in the way of education to help them out. I mean, when’s the last time you saw a TV public service announcement or an ad on the “L” about recycling? Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about.

In the midst of this, I’ve just received a copy of a two-volume set called Encyclopedia of Consumption and Waste: The Social Science of Garbage. I’m pleased to say that the editor of this substantial book is my friend and fellow board member at the Chicago Recycling Coalition, Carl Zimring. He also happens to be one of co-founders of the Sustainability Studies program at Roosevelt University. Speaking of the way that this reference is unique, Zimring focuses on their approach to the subject of cars. “Other reference books would highlight other aspects of the automobile, but this one focuses on the ways in which automobiles shape waste streams. We tried to take that approach for various other goods, from toys to audio equipment.”

This is from the entry “Automobiles”:

Despite calls for an industrial ecology approach to automobile assembly and disassembly that would eliminate hazardous wastes, more attention is paid to performance of the machine, safety of the driver, and fuel efficiency of the engine than the life cycle of the product. The automobile has become more complex over time because of innovations that increase the enjoyment and safe use of the vehicle, but they also complicate disassembly. Over time, shredding and burning of junked automobiles has had environmental consequences, including the release of hazardous, corrosive, and carcinogenic substances into the ground, air, and water.

Not exactly light reading, but for some of us, fascinating stuff.

Edible Treasures at The Field Museum of Natural History

One of the stops on the Great Dig In Chicago Spring 2012 Tour last week was The Field Museum of Natural History. Jennifer Brennan and I were there to see some treasures…but they weren’t dinosaur bones or Egyptian mummies. Rather, they are horticultural treasures–heirlooms, in fact.

The Edible Treasures Garden is a community vegetable garden and a partnership among The Field Museum, Jewell Events Catering and The Peterson Garden Project. The goal is simply, really–to demonstrate how easy it is to grow your own healthy, nutritious and tasty vegetables, even in the shadow of one of the world’s great institutions. The Edible Treasures Garden name is a play on words relating to the world-famous gem collection at the museum. The garden will introduce visitors to a cultural treasure we all share – the value and diversity of heirloom seeds.

Of course, if you see the name The Peterson Garden Project, you know that the irrepressible LaManda Joy must be nearby. Indeed, she’s one of the movers behind this project, and she joins me on the show today. Also on the program is Diane Ott Whealy, co-founder and vice-president of Seed Savers Exchange (SSE), the largest non-profit seed bank in the United States. She is also author of the book Gathering: Memoir of a Seed Saver. Whealy chose the seeds for the Edible Treasures Garden, focusing on growing “seeds with stories.” Fittingly, the garden was planted and will be tended by museum employees who donate their time. The garden was designed by Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects and installed by Kimora Landscaping. Additional support is provided by CEDA and Cook County.

Join me at the Green Metropolis Fair at the Green Exchange

It’s Earth Month, and next week, more than 100 local businesses and organizations are getting together for an event that celebrates spring, sustainable living & wellness. It’s called the Green Metropolis Fair and it’s being held at the Green Exchange at 2545 W. Diversey, just off the Kennedy Expressway in Chicago.

I’m doing a talk called The Urban Organic Garden – Food, Flowers, and Landscaping from 2:45 to 3:25. I’lll give a quick course how to bring all the elements of gardening together in an organic way–food, function and beauty.

I can’t possibly list everything else that will be happening at this event, but here are just some of the activities and seminars.

  • Barnyard Friends – meet farm animals!
  • Rain Barrel Bonanza! – The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District is donating 7 rain barrels to be raffled off each hour. Stop by the table and register!
  • Ask a Master Gardener/Composter
  • I-GO Car Sharing – Learn about car-sharing, how it works, and what you can do to help free yourself from owning a car. Demos at 12pm & 2pm.
  • Green Exchange Information – Learn about the history of this remarkable building
  • Yoga at the Fair – Free yoga classes! Bring your own mat.

Then there are seminars on gardening:

  • Starting a Community Garden
  • Going Native – Why Fight Mother Nature?
  • Backyard Chickens-Yes, You Can!
  • Keeping Bees
  • Urban Composting
  • Balcony Gardening for Apartment Dwellers
  • Organic Alternatives to Garden Chemicals

And about greening:

  • USGBC-Illinois presents Turning Existing Homes Green
  • Johnny Appleseed: Presentation for kids and families.
  • Safeguarding our Most Precious Resource: water
  • Green Exchange Tenants Panel Discussion
  • Dr. Don Harris – Nutrition and Health

Co-sponsors of the event are Green Parents Network and the Green Exchange. Maureen Ewing from the Green Metropolis Fair joins me this morning to talk about the reasons you should participate. I hope I see you there.