Promoting Bioneers and Protecting Starved Rock

October 21, 2012

What are Bioneers and why are they coming to Chicago?

Just when you thought you had seen and experienced every kind of green festival and conference that it is possible to present, here comes The Great Lakes Bioneers Chicago and The Living City for three days at the UIC from November 2 to 4.

Featuring an all-star cast of movers and shakers in the sustainability world, like Vandana ShivaJohn EdelStarhawk and more, this event goes beyond lectures and workshops. More than 60 interactive sessions and inspirational talks are planned. These will be interspersed with some of Chicago’s finest poets, storytellers, dancers and musicians who will focus on the relationship between our environment and justice for all living things. Each day will open and close with ritual and excitement. The theme, The Living City, is about using the body as a metaphor for the critical systems needed to keep Chicago alive, healthy and thriving.

Which still doesn’t answer the question, “What are Bioneers?” and is that singular or plural? Inquiring minds want to know. Well, as long as you asked, the term Bioneers was coined in 1990 by founder Kenny Ausubel to describe a group of people from many disciplines who see themselves as social and scientific innovators. They employ what they describe as nature’s principles–kinship, cooperation, diversity, symbiosis and cycles of continuous creation absent of waste—to move toward a more equitable, compassionate and democratic society.

Great Lakes Bioneers Chicago is one of the chapters, which states as its mission:

to promote sustainable community that fosters life-giving relationships, nurtures connections, and celebrates solutions for restoring and healing Earth’s communities. We do this through a variety of strategies including:

  • Educating the community on innovative solutions.
  • Offering a systemic framework, i.e. a way of “connecting the dots” that is holistic, systemic, and multi-disciplinary.
  • Linking individuals and networks in order to foster connection, cross-pollination, and collaboration of people and ideas, all focused on positive change.
  • Advocating for opportunities to heal and restore our damaged and depleted community.
  • Being an oasis of hope that sparks mass creativity and engagement.

In anticipation of the Great Lakes Bioneers Chicago event, I’m pleased to welcome to the studio Lan and Pam Richart, who are co-founders of the non-profit organization Eco-Justice Collaborative.  Pam is a land use planner by profession and Lan is an ecologist. ECJ is lead organizer and fiscal sponsor for The Living City.

Joining them on the show today is one of those all-stars that I mentioned before, namely John Edel, Executive Director of The Plant Chicago. Back in February, I took a tour of The Plant, thanks to Blake Davis from the Illinois Institute of Technology, who has been a key part of the work there. If you haven’t heard about this remarkable project, The Plant is basically a way to combine industrial reuse and aquaponics to create the nation’s first vertical farm. Located in a former meatpacking facility in Chicago’s historic Stockyards, The Plant will be powered entirely by the waste of neighboring businesses.

It’s not surprising then, that Edel’s talk at the The Living City will be

The Plant, Rethinking Food Production

What happens when you combine urban agriculture, alternative energy and a food business incubator?  The Plant is repurposing a century old meatpacking facility to explore the intersection of recycling, job creation and local growing.  By harnessing food waste, this 95,000 sq ft vertical farm is shooting for net-zero energy use while recycling waste products, energy and gasses within the structure between manufacturing, office and growing areas. Nothing leaves but food!

I’m really looking forward to this conversation.

Rally for Starved Rock on October 28!

It’s been about ten months since I heard about how the LaSalle County Board was about to cravenly sell out the environmental integrity of Starved Rock State Park for a handful of sand mining jobs. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the attempt by Mississippi Sand LLC to establish an open pit sand mine next to the eastern entrance of the jewel of the Illinois state park system, you can read about it here.

Since the county approved the petition for the sand mine, it has become a race by environmental, historical and social groups to derail the establishment of what will certainly diminish the natural integrity of the park, and quite possibly be a health hazard to nearby citizens. Here’s a timeline that gives you a rough idea of the work that has been going on behind the scenes.

But what really hits home is when you talk to the people who will be living next to this scar on the earth, like Susan and Merlin Calhoun. Merlin has already been on my program to talk about his opposition to the project. Last week, his wife penned this message, which sums up the past year:

To All: When I got my letter that informed me of what was about to happen all around me, my heart sank because I feared that my life… The life I so cherished and absolutely loved coming “home” to was going to change forever!!  I sat on my lawn mower and sobbed…..!  Almost a year later, my heart is even heavier and my hope is slowly diminishing.  I always defended this county, this state because its the place I was born and raised in…. Growing up, I loved my neighbors and respected… Even admired the “farmer” in question as he farmed the land around me… Friendly waves to him from my bicycle because I had such respect and adoration because my Grandpa and Stepfather (true stewards of this land)instilled those feelings in me.  In the last year I’ve watched my neighbors turn their backs on the situation……politicians deal my way of life away without even blinking!!   My husband was approached just this week by a “township official” (why I feel the need to not mention his name … I don’t know) the conversation went something like this: so, I hear that all the sand mine groups and power line groups are still trying to fight the fight?  After this is all said and done, I’d like to hook up with these groups and tell you all “what was REALLY going on!”  oh ya and by the way, when all is said and done…. There’s a total of 12 sand mines coming into LaSalle County!!

I can say that in my mind, what is really going on is a bunch of under-handed, narrow-minded, self-serving crap!!!  It saddens and sickens me to know that my tax dollars are going in the pockets of these seat holders that deal our lives away.  We’ve got an election coming up and my suggestion would be that if you’re not happy with your seat holder…. And they have an opponent…. Then vote them OUT!! (wonder if write-ins are acceptable?) I was thrown into this unexpectedly and my  naivety of how things have transpired are so disappointing to me, especially the political side and the way these big buck companies come in under the “holiday radar”…. And just do basically anything to make themselves justified, and deserving even!  I guess this is a different way of doing business…. But in my opinion it severely lacks character and integrity!!

I continue to look at my personal safety totally different than I did a year ago.  Things still happen at my residence that make me wonder…. Is it just kids being kids….. Or is it something else? I’m tired of feeling this way and based on the past and what I know now, I doubt those deep seated feelings will ever subside. On a much more positive note… This experience has brought me even closer to my dear husband and together we’ve discovered that re-inventing ones self is limitless!  Also, I have had the great fortune of meeting and getting to know all the kind souls who stand side by side with myself and Merlin…. Regardless of what you are fighting for!!  I hope that these friendships will continue to grow and that we can accomplish some version of what we all set out to do!! Bee Great! Susan

I have talked to others who live near the park, who grow more and more certain that their fight to save Starved Rock is a lost cause. Yet, many people continue to fight. Among them are the guests on my show today: Susan Calhoun, Daphne Mitchell from the Illinois River Coordinating Council and Tracy Yang from the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club.

But now you (yes, I mean YOU) have a chance to make your voice heard next Sunday, October 28. Illinois Sierra Club is holding a Rally for Starved Rock at the park itself. Come early and walk the trails of the park. There will then be a tour of the perimeter where the mine will be sited, followed by a chance for the public to speak up at Grizzly Jack’s Bear Resort, 2643 Illinois Rte. 178 in Utica, Illinois.

I can’t put too fine a point on it. This might be the last chance you have to weigh in on this debate. If you love Starved Rock State Park and want to see it saved, this is your opportunity.

Don’t forget about the Great Apple Pie Bake-Off today…

In the words of Jessica Rinks (a.k.a. @snappyjdog on Twitter):

The Forest Park Community Garden (which I am involved in) is having a fundraiser on Sunday October 21st from 2 to 5pm. We’ve tried to think outside the box as far as fundraisers go so we’ll be having an apple pie bake-off being held at Molly Malone’s pub in Forest Park and will also include a silent auction (Troy-bilt snowblower, bulls opening game tickets, for example) and door / raffle prizes. We need pie baker contestants and we need people to buy tickets to attend the event (and we’re always delighted to accept more raffle/silent auction item donations). Proceeds from the event will go to help us pay for garden maintenance for 2013.

If you love apple pie–and even if you don’t–they could use a little community garden love.

…and Boo-Palooza at Wicker Park next week

Speaking of great community organizations, I truly love the folks at the Wicker Park Garden Club. And with Halloween just around the corner, it’s time for their annual Boo-Palooza, next Saturday, October 27 at Wicker Park, 1425 N. Damen in Chicago. Click on that link, and if you can’t find an activity that will entertain you, your children or even your dog, you probably don’t like Halloween.

Bringing Nature to DuPage County

October 14, 2012

Welcome to “Home Grown National Park”

Has it really been four years since author Doug Tallamy was on my show? He and I were both pretty flabbergasted when we realized that was indeed the case. Regardless of how long it’s been, I’m thrilled to have him back.

In fact, I might ask him to write me a check. That’s because Tallamy is the author of a book that I have been promoting ever since I got my hands on it: Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens. He is also Professor and Chair of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware in Newark, Delaware, where he has written more than 65 research articles and has taught insect taxonomy, behavioral ecology, and other subjects.

He will be in town next Saturday to speak to the Greater DuPage Chapter of Wild Ones. They teamed with the Illinois Native Plant Society, Forest Preserve District DuPage County, The Conservation Foundation, Sierra Club – River Prairie Group and Forest Preserve District of Will County to make this appearance happen. However, if you’re thinking about attending the talk, you can pretty much forget about it, because all of the seats have been reserved. If you feel like taking a chance, walk-ins will be seated without advanced reservation only if seats are available 15 minutes after the start of the event. It will be held at the Holiday Inn, 205 Remington Boulevard in Bolingbrook.

If you miss this event, never fear. If you’re near Bloomington, Illinois, tomorrow, October 15, he will be making a presentation for the Wild Ones Illinois Prairie Chapter. That will be at 7:00 pm at Heartland Community College, Astroth Community Education Center Auditorium. Professor Tallamy will also be appearing at the Wild Things 2013 Conference on Saturday, February 2, 2013 at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

So why is Tallamy’s book such a big deal and why has it sold more than 45,000 copies? (It was updated and expanded in 2009.) It’s because he offers an entirely new way of looking at why native plants are important. Tallamy explains in his book that when we use “alien” plants in our landscapes–that is to say, plants that come from other continents–we are failing to provide nourishment for our own native insects. Why? Because insects have spent tens of millions of years evolving with the plants around them and are either incapable of or not interested in consuming the alien species. As a result, birds, amphibians, lizards, fish and mammals who rely on insect populations to thrive have less food and see their populations decline.

Look at the landscapes around you and you might get some understanding of what I’m talking about. Plants like Norway Maples, Bradford Pears, privet, oriental bittersweet, burning bush, English ivy, Japanese maple and even daylilies are not native to North America, and are not valuable food sources for insects.

So individual land owners really play a huge role in maintaining insect populations. Tallamy says that the way you landcape your yard is going to determine how much life you have in your yard.

For instance, he has been studying Carolina chickadees on his own property as a way of determining how much food is needed to support certain foodwebs. From personal observation, he has determined that to feed a chickadee from hatching to the point where they can leave the nest, it takes 4800 caterpillars.

Should I let that sink in? 4800 caterpillars to bring one chickadee clutch (around six eggs) to independence–and a chickadee weighs 1/3 ounce! A chickadee takes about sixteen days to leave from the nest. If you do the math, that’s an average of 300 caterpillars per day, or one every three minutes! Not only that, but the chickadees generall forage within 50 meters of the nest (that’s about 164 feet, in case you don’t have your handy “convert meters to feet” tool handy).

The point here is that if you have a lawn–which some people consider a “biological desert”–you’re probably not providing enough habitat for even one chickadee chick to survive.

So Tallamy has hatched an idea called “Home Grown National Park.” He posits that if we all convereted 50% of our lawns to biological corridors, we would create 20,000,000 acres of viable habitat–more than three times the size of Denali National Park in Alaska. As you can see, he’s not talking about abandoning “traditional” landscaping altogether–just making room for wildlife other than your neighbor’s teenage son.

Meanwhile, Tallamy wants people to get on board with his citizen science project to determine exactly which birds are eating which insects. If you take photos of your prized backyard birds–especially if they’re in the process of eating insects–consider sending them to Doug Tallamy at Tallamy would like to establish a website based on those photos that would help entomologists determine the feeding habits of birds.

This week’s items of interest

  • Here’s a short note from friend of the show Jessica Rinks (a.k.a. SnappyJDog):

The Forest Park Community Garden (which I am involved in) is having a fundraiser on Sunday October 21st from 2 to 5pm. We’ve tried to think outside the box as far as fundraisers go so we’ll be having an apple pie bake-off being held at Molly Malone’s pub in Forest Park and will also include a silent auction (Troy-bilt snowblower, bulls opening game tickets, for example) and door / raffle prizes. We need pie baker contestants and we need people to buy tickets to attend the event (and we’re always delighted to accept more raffle/silent auction item donations). Proceeds from the event will go to help us pay for garden maintenance for 2013.

  • The City of Durango, Colorado is in the middle of a battle about using pesticides on its public lands. It led to parents canceling yesterday’s entire slate of youth soccer games because the playing fields had been sprayed with synthetic chemicals. You go, Durango!
  • Who likes organic and non-GMO foods? Rich and powerful people, that’s who.
  • Don’t forget that Green Town Highland Park, a zero waste, carbon neutral event, is later this week, October 18-19 at The Art Center in Downtown Highland Park, Illinois.
  • CitiesAlive: 10th Annual Green Roof and Wall Conference, is being held from October 17 to 20 in Chicago. And why not? The Windy City has more completed green roof projects than any North American city.
  • The Southeast Environmental Task Force and Friends of the Parks invite you to explore the Millennium Resrve/Calumet Core on their Open Spaces/Green Places Tour on Saturday, October 20.
  • Cermak Road in Chicago seems an unlikely place to show off green technology, yet Grist reports that the The Cermak/Blue Island Sustainable Street Scape is blazing a green trail.
  • Hubboy, just when you thought it was safe to raise chickens in the city, there’s a new concern…lead in eggs.
  • Tweet of the week from @MaryAnn DeSantis. Who knew that LBJ was capable of such a statement?
  • And, for you astronomy fans, how about a planet that contains a thick layer of diamonds? You can’t make this stuff up, folks. Actually, you can but this appears to be the real deal.

Joe Gardener, Niki Jabbour and GreenTown Highland Park

October 7, 2012

Oh, my goodness…

I am surrounded by smart, good lookin’ women today! It starts with Cook County Master Gardener Coordinator Sarah Batka, who returns after taking a week off to escort her nephew to the zoo. (I’ll talk to her about that some other day.)

Also joining me in studio is Lisa Albrecht from Solar Service, Inc and formerly with the Illinois Solar Energy Association. You’ve heard her on Mighty House and on my show in the past. She’s going to offer commentary on green energy problems and solutions.

Then, in the second hour, I’m doing a simulcast with Niki Jabbour, who has her own radio show in Halifax, Nova Scotia called The Weekend Gardener. More on that below.

I’m going to be scrambling just to hold my own.

Joe Gardener talks tools

Well, his name is actually Joe Lamp’l, but Joe Gardener® is a lot easier to remember, even with the trademark symbol. Perhaps I should have gone with something like Mike Mulch…or Mike Manure…or Mike Mildew…or Mike Microclimate…or…Mike Mitosis. Heck, I like all of them!

Anyway, Joe is kind of a horticultural industry unto himself. Right now, his main claim to fame is as creator, host and executive producer of the award-winning national public television series, Growing a Greener World ®, which focuses on the stories of people, places and organizations that are doing good things for the planet, with an emphasis on gardening.

He’s also the author of The Green Gardener’s Guide, writes his own syndicated column, has been host of Fresh from the Garden on DIY Network and GardenSMART on PBS.

In 2011, Joe received The American Horticultural Society’s B.Y. Morrison Communication Award , which recognizes effective and inspirational communication—through print, radio, television, and/or online media—that advances public interest and participation in horticulture.

Today, he’s here to talk tools with me–with a special emphasis on the Fiskars company. I didn’t realize that they are the World’s number one pruning brand–even though almost all of my pruning tools in the garage and in the basement and in the trunk of my car and in the wheelbarrow and even lost in my backyard shrubbery are Fiskars tools. I’m especially enamored of their PowerGear® tools, which feature a patented gearing mechanism that makes snipping a lot easier than it used to be.

So it’s not surprising that many of Fiskars PowerGear® garden tools carry the Arthritis Foundation® Ease-of-Use Commendation. In fact, they are the only pruners and loppers in the U.S. to be recognized in this way. And for those of you who want to grow your lawns in the greenest possible way, you might want to give up on that pollution-spewing relic you’ve owned forever and try one of Fiskars’ StaySharp™ Reel Mowers. You’ll be doing the planet a favor.

The battle (not really) of the radio shows!

Who knew that there were other radio shows running at the same time as mine?

I’m not exactly sure how I discovered this amazing (and somewhat disturbing) fact, but I subsequently learned that a woman named Niki Jabbour hosts a program called The Weekend Gardener on in Halifax, Nova Scotia from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Atlantic Time. In case you don’t have all of the world’s time zones memorized, that happens to be at exactly the same time as my radio show. The nerve of some people!

I figured I would punish her by invading her show with mine. Or is it the other way around? Whichever, Niki and I will be sharing the radio airwaves for about half an hour on Sunday morning, shortly after 10am Central Time (which is 12 noon Atlantic Time, in case you’ve already forgotten). In anticipation of the event, just as I’m blogging about her show, she’s blogging about mine.

I’m doing this just in time, because it’s Niki’s final show of the year. Never fear, however, she manages to keep pretty busy even when she’s not doing radio. She’s found time to write The Year Round Vegetable Gardener, which won the 2012 American Horticultural Society Book Award. Niki also contributes regularly to magazines like Garden Making, Canadian Gardening, Gardens East and Fine Gardening.

Here’s how she describes The Weekend Gardener:

This is season 6 of the show We do call-in’s, but it is mainly a fun show that talks about all aspects of gardening with experts and gardeners from around the world.  I’m always looking for innovative and unique ideas and perspectives We have a Facebook page – The Weekend Gardener With Niki Jabbour

I live near Halifax, Nova Scotia on the east coast of Canada. We are almost completely surrounded by the ocean here in NS and it’s zone 5. We have had pesticide by-laws since 2004 and can’t even spread weed and feed on our lawns. Initially there was a bit of a stink, but it’s totally accepted. We also have been recycling glass, paper, etc for decades and have been composting food/garden waste municipally for about a decade. No food is allowed in the garbage. It’s quite an extensive program, but remarkably easy to do for homeowners.

I have a 2000 square foot veggie garden where I grow a huge range of edibles – year round without heat. I rely on cold frames, etc.. there are plenty of photos if you scroll back on my blog (just click on blog at the top)

Of course, one of the best things about living in Canada (aside from their superior health care system) is that most of the country has banned so-called “cosmetic” pesticides. Niki says that there were laws passed in Nova Scotia in 2000 and 2003 that forbade lawn pesticides and herbicides. In other words: No Weed N’ Feed!

Here’s what happened, according to Niki:

First the reaction was public concern over a takeover of weeds/bad insects.

9 years later that has not come to pass.. we have gotten smarter and I think most gardeners realize that keeping their plants healthy is key.

People either compost or they use the municipal compost produced from our kitchen scraps/garden waste that is collected in our green carts and composted on a large scale by the cities/towns.

The biggest issue is lawn weeds, but there are some natural solutions – corn gluten meal for example, but we also have a new way of thinking – weed tolerance is better. Plus, many are seeding plants like white dutch clover as an alternative lawn cover.

Oh, Canada!

Green Town Comes to Highland Park

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about a conference called Green Town Valparaiso. It was just one of three events scheduled for this fall in the Midwest, all of them designed to help create sustainabile communities.

In fact, they are all under the umbrella of GreenTown: The Future of Community, featuring gatherings this fall in Valparaiso, Indiana, Highland Park, Illinois and Toledo, Ohio. Believe it or not, these Green Towns have been going on since 2007 in an effort to bring together mayors and other elected officials, city managers, public works directors, park district directors, planners, developers, builders, architects, landscape architects and engineers, school leaders and many other disciplines. The over-arching goal? To engage these various people in conversations about how municipalities can plan more sustainable development.

The project is the brainchild of a5, a Chicago-based marketing and communications firm, and Seven Generations Ahead, a non-profit organization whose mission is to build ecologically sustainable communities. SGA’s Fresh from the Farm program was recently lauded by Mother Nature Network as one of the 10 most impressive farm-to-school programs in the country.

Not surprisingly, GreenTown is a zero waste, carbon neutral event.

The second stop in the Green Town tour for 2012 is Green Town Highland Park, October 18-19 at The Art Center in Downtown Highland Park, Illinois

Thursday kicks things off with the intriguing topic: Waste Not: Advancing Commercial Food Scrap Collection in the Chicago Area. It will address the question of how to increase commercial food scrap collection in the Chicago area?

Then, on Friday, there is a full day of speakers, including Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering and Gary Cuneen from Seven Generations Ahead, both of whom join me on the program this morning. The day will also feature a talk from Debra Shore, Commissioner from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, Mark Fenton, Host of “America’s Walking” on PBS, and more.

I am pleased to welcome Mayor Rotering and Mr. Cuneen, who will talk with me about the importance of green communities for the health of our planet and its occupants.