Saving Starved Rock and Losing Logan Square Kitchen

May 20, 2012

Starved Rock update: IEPA hearing next week – you can weigh in

I received a newsletter the other day from Tess Wendel at the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club concerning the ongoing process to site an open pit sand mine next to the eastern entrance of Starved Rock State Park. It read in part:

The fight to protect Starved Rock State Park from Mississippi Sand’s frac sand mine isn’t over! Our push for transparency and public involvement in the permitting process has paid off.

The Illinois EPA is holding a public availability session to answer questions about the permits Mississippi Sand has applied for and collect comments related to the air and water permits under their jurisdiction.

Representatives from DNR and the Historic Preservation Agency and Mississippi Sand will also be available to answer questions.

Mississippi Sand has applied for its mining permit from the Department of Natural Resources and related air and water permits from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency but none have been granted due to the numerous concerns voiced by Sierra Club and our partners.

The Sierra Club has coordinated with locals in the area to write a detailed citizen complaint letter to the IDNR about our concerns for the project and to request a public hearing under the Illinois Rivers and Streams Act. We also requested a hearing for the air permit and asked that Mississippi Sand be required to obtain an individual permit for wastewater discharge from the mine, which will offer more opportunity for additional environmental protections. Recently we have been working with the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and local tribes to require Mississippi Sand to do a phase one archeological survey because a 1987 University of Illinois study found relics from as far back as 10,000 years old on the site.

There is a link to a page on the Sierra Club site where you can write to IEPA to voice your concerns. There is also a page of talking points about this issue.

Tess Wendell is on the show this morning to talk more about the meeting next Wednesday, May 23 at at Illinois Valley Community College, 815 N Orlando Smith Road, Oglesby, IL 61348 from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m.

She tells me that this should not be considered a traditional public hearing because it is more informal than that. She likens it to an open house, where each agency will have representatives to answer questions about the permits and how the mine will affect their organization and constituents. She’s also counting on the IEPA to report pertinent comments and information to other agencies, including the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

She considers the session an opportunity to ask tough questions about how the natural areas near the site as well as the health of residents and visitors to the area will be protected. Ultimately, IEPA has to decide if the project is likely to cause enough detriment to deny permits.

What I can’t figure out is why the IDNR hasn’t played a larger role in this decision…at least not to this point. After all, it is the IDNR that issues the mining permit and, according to Illinois Sierra Club, must “consider the short and long term impact of the proposed mining on vegetation, wildlife, fish, land use, land values, local tax base, the economy of the region and the State, employment opportunities, air pollution, water pollution, soil contamination, noise pollution and drainage.”

Wendel argues that IDNR should have its own public hearing and comment period. And it’s strange that IDNR did not particpate in the LaSalle County hearings on the proposed mine, even though they are an adjacent landowner. Says Illinois Sierra Club:

The Department did not represent the citizens of the state to protect OUR lands. IDNR needs to establish a mechanism by which it can both serve its role as the permitting agency for activities such as mining and oil and gas drilling while also standing up as the protector of our state’s lands.

I received this message just the other day from Vicki Tracy, a concerned citizen who lives in Ottawa:

Since the initial flurry of activity when Mississippi Sand first made their intentions known, it seems that there has been the feeling that…..well, that Mississippi Sand has gotten their way. What people need to know is that it is not a done deal, this is not some forgotten piece of land, abandoned to those who see no other value in it except the dollars that they can put in their pockets at the expense of our native people’s ancestral history, or the water and air quality of future generations. Do we really think people want to come to Starved Rock to breath the freshly disbursed silica dust?  This land sits at the feet of our crowned jewel!

This whole thing reminds me of the story of “The Goose that Laid the Golden Egg”. Are we really that eager to tear open this beautiful land, rich in great natural diversity and of archeological importance. The only gold in this goose is for Mississippi Sand, and the people of LaSalle County will be left with the carcass.

This should not be a rush to rip open the land only to find later that we should have thought about it more carefully, studied it more thoroughly and planed out what kind of legacy we really want to leave future generations. I understand there needs to be a balance. There comes a point however when the scale may tip  in the wrong direction and we have thrown away what can not be replaced.

If you want to get involved, write to Tess Wendel at All comments to the IEPA should be submitted by May 31st to Brad Frost, Illinois EPA, 1021 N. Grand Ave. E., P.O. Box 19506, Springfield, IL 62794.

Chicago bureaucracy wins; Logan Square Kitchen will close

I can’t believe that it’s been more than two years since I first reported on the difficulties that shared use kitchens were facing in the City of Chicago. It started when Department of Health inspectors destroyed thousands of dollars of fruit purees owned by pastry chef Flora Lazar and stored at Kitchen Chicago.

It wasn’t a health issue, it was a licensing issue. And while the food destruction was not repeated over the next couple of years, the harassment of shared use kitchens by various city agencies, specifically the Dept of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP), continued. Why? That’s the $64,000 question. To some degree, it was because shared use kitchens represented something bold and new–and bureaucracies abhor pretty much anything bold and new.

In January of 2011, I met Zina Murray, owner and operator of Logan Square Kitchen, in my own neighborhood. In fact, I spent some time in court with Murray last August, when she fought and successfully beat an attempt by the Chicago Department of Health to fine her $500 for a violation that she considered “groundless.” This was after LSK was inspected 19 times in 2 years (the law requires 2 inspections per year, FYI).

But Murray continued to fight, coming up with a 5 step program to reform the Chicago Department of Health. This was on the heels of a city ordinance that was passed in May of 2011 and which was suppose to make it easier for shared use kitchens to exist.

And then, wonder of wonders, Mayor Rahm Emanuel himself showed up at Logan Square Kitchen on April 17 to announce a new ordinance that would streamline business licensing, making it faster and easier for businesses to operate in Chicago.

Less than a month later, Zina Murray announced that Logan Square Kitchen would close forever on June 28.

What the hell happened? From her own post about her decision, Murray writes:

It’s a sad time when our government kills the very things that can heal our City.  Logan Square Kitchen was designed to heal the local economy, environment and food system all at once.  It was an innovative, bold idea that never had its chance.  The Dept of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP) began hammering nails in its coffin before we even opened our doors in 2009 and hasn’t stopped.  Unfortunately, we see no end to regulatory burdens, which will continue to block our ability to grow a healthy business.

Over and over we heard, “you did everything right.” See the Alderman before building purchase. All City Depts approve us through Green Building Permit Program. Go to BACP in advance of applying for license, completely disclosing the business model.   Spend 3 months talking about what licenses we needed. Apply as directed.  Told we ‘misrepresented’ our business. Told we can’t have license caused we’ve failed our “furniture inspection.” Correct that, and get licenses contingent on conditions we can’t meet.  Then the Zoning folks try to shut us down. 20 health inspections.  18 months wrapped in red tape.  Enduring intimidation and harassment, the resources we set aside to ramp up the business were instead used to pay lawyers and our mortgage while we were denied the right to operate.

When our licensing difficulties ceased, they were just beginning for our clients. Before the “helpful” Shared Kitchen Ordinance that took effect Sept 1, 2011, we got clients licensed in a week or two.  Of course, we had to be inspected by Health each time. Now, we’re the inspections have stopped, but it takes 1-3 months and multiple trips to City Hall.  Unfortunately, Mayor Emmanuel’s new ‘streamlining’ of business license ordinance that passed last week does not offer any streamlining for shared kitchens.

It should come as no surprise that we must close.  LSK is collateral damage from choices that City employees make each day—people that have lost the ability to connect their actions with the consequences they cause.  In all the many, many meetings I’ve had in City Hall in the past three years, there’s a question no one ever asks.  “Is it good for our City?”

That prompted a response from the city, specifically the BACP:

“We are sorry to hear that an innovative, neighborhood business such as Logan Square Kitchen is closing. From Day 1, BACP worked with Logan Square kitchen to properly license their facility – just as other businesses with the same activities require – and even helped them with their state liquor license. BACP has not had any issues with LSK or issued any citations since assisting them through the permitting process. The City wants to help businesses while also ensuring that they are safe, sanitary, and operating legally. This is why we now have an emerging business permit to help new business models get up and running while we determine how to license and regulate.”

And that led to this from Murray:

As many times as I’ve heard these statements of deep denial, I’m blown away every time. I imagine that BACP Commissioner Rosemary Krimbel approved this statement for release. And you can see her standing behind the Mayor in the video of the press conference at our place (she’s the blond in the black jacket.) So how does she reconcile this statement with the statements the Mayor made, as she nods away? About 9 minutes in to the video, the Mayor describes how the proliferation of licenses and burdensome process has “small businesses focused on City Hall and not on their customer. And that is wrong.” As I said yesterday, we are BACP’s collateral damage. Yet here we are, staring at BACP’s statement that my experience is required and BACP conduct was normal.

The Mayor said he believes that “small businesses are the lifeblood of economic activity and job creation” in Chicago. Unfortunately, too many of us leave too much blood on the 8th floor of City Hall.

Here’s the real problem that the BACP statement illustrates. The same people and culture are still in place. Many BACP bureaucrats said NO to LSK to relieve themselves of the responsibility of YES. And plenty more watched silently while we twisted in the wind. We are all responsible for our conduct. And our conduct defines our character. We must hold our public servants accountable for their actions– otherwise we give tacit approval to their behavior, and on it goes.

In the green world, we would describe BACP’s behavior as unsustainable– it is destroying the resources upon which it depends. It’s a pretty short walk from vital business activity to the salaries, benefits and pensions of our public servants. BACP, your choices have consequences, and the LSK closure is the tip of the iceberg. I hope you can begin to connect the dots, cause we don’t get out of this mess unless we work together.

Last but not least, Murray thinks that Mayor Rahm Emanuel is unfairly being blamed for the demise of her facility. In her post, Our Mayor’s getting a bum rap, she explains that he was a victim of bad timing.

Well, Ms. Murray is entitled to her opinion and I’m entitled to mine. Just as I hold former Mayor Richard M. Daley accountable for not getting recycling done in Chicago, I can hold Mayor Rahm Emanuel accountable for not reigning in unreasonable bureaucrats. That’s part of the job, you know. If you want to take credit for the City’s accomplishments, you have to take some of the heat for its failures. Logan Square Kitchen should never have been allowed to go under.

Finding funding for Cook County Extension

May 13, 2012

Another year, another Cook County Extension crisis

Here we go again. I received an email last week from my friend Ron Wolford, Cook County Extension Educator, under the subject line “It’s Back!! Another Cook County Extension Budget Crisis.” It seems that every year, some governmental body or another decides that Illinois Extension is some kind of frivolous expense and needs to be trimmed.

Sigh. So we’ll try to explain it one more time. Legislators and policy makers everywhere, this time please pay attention. I’ll start with an excellent post by Beth Botts, who is co-hosting the show this morning. She titles it Cook County Extension needs your help telling its story to fight new funding threat. From the post:

In the Chicago area, if people have heard about the Extension at all, they may have some dim sense that it has something to do with farmers or 4-H. It seems like a vestige of the agricultural past. In a time when county staffers and commissioners are trying to close to close an estimated $427 million shortfall in the county budget, they see funding for what they think is an anachronism as an expendable frill.

So board president Toni Preckwinkle is planning to eliminate Cook County’s entire $411,000 contribution to the Extension budget. Since state and federal matching funds and grants are based on local funding, Cook County Extension director Willene Buffett estimates that this would end up costing more than $740,000, or about 65 percent of the Extension budget in Cook County. It could end Extension programs in the county. “How can you say that the largest populated county in the state will not have an Extension program? How can you say that?” asks Buffet.

Indeed, how can you say that? Especially when Cook County Extension, in one way or another benefits these institutions and programs:

• Garfield Park Conservatory
• Oak Park Conservatory
• Forest Park Community Garden
• Wicker Park Garden Club
• Cheney Mansion
• St John’s Lutheran Church
• Polaris Charter Academy
• PAEC Elementary
• Chicago Talent Development Charter High School
• Pritzker Elementary
• WestSide Youth Tech Entrepreneurial Center
• New Birth Christian Center
• Westside Health Authority
• Museum of Science and Industry
• CEDA PLCCA Maywood Head Start
• CEDA Resurrection Health PRO CARE
• Head Start –Bellwood
• Nobel Elementary
• Ryerson Elementary
• Morton Elementary
• Orr Community Academy High School
• Cease Fire
• Chicago Talent Development Charter High School
• Garfield Elementary School
• First Congressional Baptist Church of Chicago
• Children’s Health Clinic
• Maywood Youth Mentoring Program
• John Hay Academy
• Hope Institute Learning Academy
• Neighborhood Recovery Initiative

And that’s just in District 1. There are 16 other districts!. Furthermore, There are 5.5 million Cook County residents, and Extension has reached nearly 1 million residents since January 2011 through face-to-face teaching by staff and volunteers, and web-based outreach. 60,000 volunteer hours were contributed by Extension volunteers – a program value estimated at $1,307,400.00

Given those fact, it’s impossible to say that Cook County Extension isn’t efficient or cost effective. Joining me today to talk about this issue is Julie Emerick, a member of the Cook County Extension Advisory Council since 2007. Julie, Beth and I are all Master Gardeners, so you can understand our concern.

How can you help? The Cook County Board is meeting Monday, May 14, and this is a good time to contact your commissioner and tell him or her how important Extension is for the well-being of Cook County.

Send your message to:

Toni Preckwinkle, President, Cook County Board
118 N. Clark St., Room. 537
Chicago, IL 60602
Phone: (312) 603-6400
Fax:  (312) 603-4397

Commissioner Robert Steele
3936 W. Roosevelt Rd., 1st Floor
Chicago, IL 60624
Phone: (773) 722-0140
Fax: (773) 722-0145

Commissioner Bridget Gainer
5533 N. Broadway
Chicago, IL 60640
Phone: (773) 561-1010
Fax: (773) 561-1025

To find your local county commissioner’s name and address, click here .

Got organic veggies? Kilbourn Park Greenhouse does!

Well, if you’re planning on getting your vegetable garden started, I would certainly advise doing it in the next few weeks. The weather has been absolutely fabulous and you don’t want to get too far behind. And if you haven’t had a chance to plant seeds, I have good news. The annual Kilbourn Park Organic Greenhouse Plant Sale is next Saturday and Sunday, May 19 and 20.

Kilbourn Park floraculturist Kirsten Akre once again stops by to preview the 2-day event that features more than 150 varieties of organically-grown vegetable, herb, and flower seedlings.The admission is free and plant prices vary. In fact, if you to see the full spectrum of what’s available, check out the Catalogue of Seedlings for sale.

The sale features a wide variety of open-pollinated and heirloom tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.  Other highlights include an assortment of greens and onions.  These seedlings are grown with the support of a team of dedicated volunteers who make this Plant Sale possible.  This yearly fundraiser supports the greenhouse and our work to connect kids to nature and healthy foods.

Here’s the info:

Kilbourn Park Organic Greenhouse
3501 N. Kilbourn Avenue
Chicago, IL , 60064

More on the fate of Chicago’s landfill ban

Last week, Tom Shepherd from the Southeast Environmental Task Force and Mel Nickerson from the Environmental Law and Policy Center appeared on the show to talk about three possibilties:

1) That waste hauler Land and Lakes might legally grab Chicago property that was once an active landfill. The property is on the Chicago-Dolton border along 138th Street and the waste company wants it annexed to a neighborhing Dolton site, which is still an active landfil.


2) That an ordinance proposed by 9th Ward Alderman Anthony Beale that would lift a moratorium on landfill dumping within the city limits of Chicago would be passed.


3) That the state would get involved and pass legislation banning landfill dumping in all of Cook County. State Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) introduced Senate Bill 3728, which would prohibit new or expanded Cook County landfills. But just as quickly, the bill was pulled from the Senate Environmental Committee hearing, which was cancelled and the vote delayed.

The first two possibilities are unacceptable. Which leaves option #3.

Where are we a week later?

That legislation continues to be debated. On Wednesday, an Illinois Senate Committee unanimously approved legislation to prevent new or expanded landfills in Chicago and Cook County. The legislation, HB 3881, introduced by Sen. Harmon and supported by dozens of community and environmental groups, will preserve Chicago’s 30-year-old landfill moratorium.Without a landfill ban, waste companies will once again be able to ship garbage into the area.

This is where all of you come in. HB 3881 will be voted on by the full Senate next week and my environmentalist friends tell me that the waste industry will be fiercely opposing it. You can find out more about the issue by going to the No Chicago Landfills website or their Facebook page.

Meawnhile, it’s important that you write to your state legislator to demand that the ban be preserved. Log onto No Chicago Landfills page to send a message today!

Battling landfills and pollen

May 6 , 2012

The fight against dumping waste in Chicago continues…

About two months ago, I learned about an ordinance, proposed by 9th Ward Alderman Anthony Beale, that would lift a moratorium on landfill dumping within the city limits of Chicago. That moratorium has been in effect since 2005 and was supposed to last until 2025.

In a bit of tortured logic, Beale says that he’s doing it to protect the people of his ward. He points to waste hauler Land and Lakes’ effort to legally grab Chicago property that was once an active landfill. The property is on the Chicago-Dolton border along 138th Street. Land and Lakes wants to annex it to the Dolton site, which is still an active landfill. Beale, fearing that the courts will allow the annexation, was quoted by WBBM Radio as saying, “If they’re going to be able to continue to dump, let’s see what agreement we can get where the community can benefit from it at the end of the day.”


The latest twist in this saga occurred in Springfield last week, when State Sen. Don Harmon introduced Senate Bill 3728, which would prohibit new or expanded Cook County landfills. But just as quickly, the bill was pulled from the Senate Environmental Committee hearing, which was cancelled and the vote delayed. Word is that the waste industry is putting full court pressure on this one, especially because the bill is receiving support by environmental and community groups. Other key legislators behind the proposed ban are State Rep. Constance Howard and State Rep. Thaddeus Jones.

The next step is a press conference to show support for preserving the moratorium on landfill dumping in Cook County and Chicago on Monday morning at 10:00 a.m. at the James R. Thompson Center at 100 W. Randolph. Among the attendees will be

State Rep. Constance A. Howard (34 th district)
Ald. John Pope (10 th Ward)
Southeast Environmental Task Force
South Chicago Neighborhood House
People for Community Recovery
Illinois Environmental Council
Environmental Law & Policy Center
Chicago Recycling Coalition.

I will be there representing the Chicago Recycling Coalition and, of course, myself. Today, I welcome to the show Tom Shepherd from the Southeast Environmental Task Force and Mel Nickerson from the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

You can get involved, too, by mailing this post card to the Chicago City Council, telling them not to undo thirty years of environmental progress with one misguided law. You can also go to No Chicago Landfills on Facebook and Like them.

One man’s fight against rampant pollen pollution

Did you know that it is illegal to plant or sell a male juniper in Albuquerque, New Mexico? I’ll give you a hint. The ban is under their city Pollen Control Ordinance. I think I’ll let Tom Ogren explain it himself, from his website Allergy-Free Gardening:

All junipers (commonly called “cedars”) are separate-sexed (dioecious) and each one will be either a male plant, or a female. The female junipers produce juniper berries but NO pollen. The males always produce pollen. For some very dumb reason, modern horticulture has propagated and sold hundreds of millions of male juniper trees and shrubs. In city after city almost all the juniper bushes planted are now male clones. All of them, like the male tree in this video, all of them will release huge amounts of allergenic pollen each year. Often they will bloom twice, in spring and fall, and will shed pollen each time.

I don’t know about you, but I’m still coughing and sneezing, just from WATCHING that video.

I’ve know about Tom Ogren for a number of years, since I interviewed him at Gargantua Radio Down the Dial. At that time, I was struck by how much sense his ideas made. I haven’t changed my mind at all about that, even though some of my horticultural friends have looked at me askance. Of course, they do that anyway.

But back to Tom. He earned his MS degree studying the plant-allergy connection and how plant flowering systems differ. Along the way, he would come across advice from lung associations or allergy groups that suggested no one plant certain trees or shrubs–plants such as yew, yew pines, willows, ash, mulberry, Pistache, pepper trees, junipers, maples, box elders, poplars, aspens, and more. Why? They triggered severe allergic responses.

More from Allergy-Free Gardening:

Eventually it occurred to him that since so many of these “very worst” plants were dioecious, separate-sexed, where one tree would be all male, and another all female, that in truth only the males produced pollen. He also concluded that since female plants never produced any pollen, that they were the ones that would be most truly allergy-free. He was the first to notice and then write and publish about how the sex of plants influenced pollen allergies.

After some years of research Tom started to photograph flowers of suspect trees and shrubs. Rather suddenly he discovered that although it was easy to find plenty of males to photograph, female landscape plants were surprisingly rare. He found this same situation in city after city. This important discovery, now termed “botanical sexism” in scholarly journals, exists worldwide in most modern landscapes.

Of course, it’s not like the Republican “War on Women,” which is about taking away hard-earned rights. This war is more of a “War on Fruit.” You see, in America, we’re neatness freaks. We can’t stand the thought of messy fruits, seeds, flowers or seedpods that come from the female plants. My God! We might have to rake or sweep them up! We’d rather create an epidemic of asthma!

So Tom now finds himself north of the border. He has been hired by Johnson & Johnson to do an allergy audit of the five biggest Canadian cities this spring, based on how allergenic their current landscapes are. There’s also a follow up–Tom is grading them, based on a projection into the future on what (if any) changes they’re making in tree and shrub selection per allergies/asthma.

Here’s what the Canadian press is saying about his work:

The Vancouver Sun
Edmonton Journal
The Star Phoenix, Saskatoon
Canadian Gardening Magazine

And this morning, I welcome him back to my show to talk about plants and allergies.