All posts by Mike Nowak

August 21, 2016 – Launching G-Ride; Building School Gardens; Planting Natives

The Return of the G-Master

He’s baaaaack!

A couple of months ago, Peggy and I talked to a guy named Stephen M. Cutter, who was working on a ride-sharing company…but not just any ride sharing company. He calls it G-Ride and, in their own words,

G-Ride is the first Eco-Conscious ride share company that makes it simple to have a positive impact on the environment. G-Ride is only utilizing Eco-Friendly vehicles and plants a tree with every ride, plus every 100 rides saves an acre of rain forest! Our mission is to make it easy and cost effective to go green and make your voice heard. Now all you have to do to start being the change you want to see in the world is switch the app you use to get around.

Piece of cake, eh? Except that there’s that little detail about raising the capital to get the business started. I don’t know exactly what Cutter has been doing behind the scenes for the past couple of months, but I do know that he’s been busy. In fact, I showed up a one of his events (see the photo below), just to meet him in person and see the kind of folks who are interested in changing the world…which is pretty much everybody I know.

Stephen Cutter

Well, now G-Ride has just (today, 8-21-16!) launched its Indiegogo campaign and all they’re hoping to do is raise a cool couple of million dollars. Excuse me while I perspire heavily. Anyway, why should you invest in, ride in or even drive for G-Ride?

Their answer is that riders will not be subjected to “surge” pricing; the drivers will be well-trained; there will be “green bonus” programs; and the company is planet-focused. They will  also raffle off a bicycle for every 1000 downloads (presumably of the app) and offer $20 off the first ride in a Tesla. (I’m not sure exactly what that means, so I’ll ask Stephen.)

If you want to drive for G-Ride, they claim that they will offer higher compensation than other ride-sharing companies; drivers can earn equity and will have tip options, not to mention a seat on the board of directors; and there will be a vehicle payment program for drivers, as well as residual income opportunities.

The G-Ride team finishes with the populist notion that “Your contribution will allow G-Ride to fulfill its green mission. G-Ride is beholden to the people and the planet, not investors!”

Sign me up! I mean, uh, sounds good. We’ll find out more this morning.

Creating Community Through Food

I had a vague knowledge about what was happening in the Chicago Public Schools via the work of The Kitchen Community, but sometimes there are so many groups out there doing so much good work that you can’t keep track of it all.

Well, I’ve been doing a little catching up and I discovered that back in 2012, The Kitchen Community began working with the Chicago Public Schools to create something they call Learning Gardens. By the end of 2013, there were 100 Learning Gardens in the CPS, providing, according to the City of Chicago, “hands-on nutrition and science education opportunities” for more than 50,000 children across the City.

12.06.13LearningGarden

A Learning Garden from The Kitchen Commmunity is a specific set of raised bed planters made of LLDPE (Linear-Low Density Polyethylene), art poles, benches or boulders and a shade sail system, all of which serve as an outdoor classroom.  The Kitchen Community customizes the gardens to specific schools and states, offering 9, 12 and 15 bed package systems.

I say “specific states” because The Kitchen Community is working with nearly 100,000 children a day at 300 Learning Gardens in schools and community organizations across the country, including in Denver, Los Angeles and Memphis.

So it was a fortunate set of circumstances when Whitney Richardson, who is a garden educator with The Kitchen Community Chicago, attended the premiere of the At the Fork documentary several weeks ago.  Peggy and I knew that she’d be a great fit for The Mike Nowak Show, and today she is in  the Que4 Radio studio with Chicago Director Tovah McCord.

 

The Return of the Natives

 

Stephen Cutter is not the only person who is returning to the program this week. Nick Fuller is the owner/operator of Natural Communities Native Plants, which, in the interest of full disclosure, is a sponsor of The Mike Nowak Show. Actually, I’m quite proud of that, because I think more people should be putting native plants in their yards and gardens.
Ephemeral_large

Nick returns to talk about natives as we head towards the fall planting season. He has a blog that you should know about, which you can find here. And at this time of year, he’s answering questions about planting natives before the cold weather hits. Here’s some of his advice about whether milkweed can be planted:

I would say yes, with one caveat. I would caution you against planting Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly Milkweed) super-late in the season, i.e. after say the 15th of October.  It would probably be OK, but Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly Milkweed) seems to be the most finicky of the milkweeds around here.  Really they should all be fine, but if your really wanting to hedge your best go with Asclepias incarnata (Swamp Milkweed) or Asclepias verticillata (Whorled Milkweed), they seem to overwinter in the pots the best, which is about the most extreme you can get for plants.  They are not connected to the ground for warmth nor are they connected for water.  So super-cold and dry is not good for plants.

 

 When plants including milkweeds are planted in the fall like September they send most of their energy into developing roots, this plus the ground provides insulation and moisture over the winter, it gives them a nice place to hibernate and live.

 

I love having smart, knowledgeable people on the show. I hope you  tune in and I hope you ask some questions. Call us at 312-985-7834, post on The Mike Nowak Show on Facebook, tweet to us at @MikeNow, or post a pic at @themikenowakshow on Instagram.

August 14, 2016 – Suds for Sustainability; Fixing Chicago’s Plastic Bag Mess; Building a Better Light Bulb

The 9th Annual Oak Park Micro Brew Review from
Seven Generations Ahead

Quick Question: What event features…

More than 200 kinds of beers
From 80 Micro and Craft Breweries
12 live bands
10 Restaurants and/or food trucks
The largest zero-waste craft beer fest in the Midwest!
And a ton o’ fun
That all support a really good cause?

Well, if you read the headline above, you know that I’m talking about the 9th Annual Oak Park Micro Brew Review, which helps raise funds for Seven Generations Ahead. It happens in downtown Oak Park on Saturday, August 20.

Mike's Food ScrapsMike composts his food scraps with garden debris.
It ain’t pretty but it works.

And if you wonder what Seven Generations Ahead does, here’s a partial list.

  • As part of the Illinois Food Scrap Coalition Food Scrap Composting Challenges and Solutions in Illinois project, SGA is organizing forums across the state to discuss challenges, strategies and solutions for advancing food scrap composting in Illinois.
  • PlanItGreen is a collaboration among the Oak Park/River Forest Community Foundation, Seven Generations Ahead, and multiple institutions,  to implement an Environmental Sustainability Plan for Oak Park and River Forest.
  • Illinois Farm to School Network – a people-powered movement that seeks to teach students where food comes from and how delicious it can taste when eaten in season.
  • Other initiatives include Sustainable Communities, Healthy Communities, Zero Waste and Learning Forums.

You can read through all of those initiatives, but maybe the best way to support Seven Generations Ahead is to grab a brewski and some good food next Saturday! Gary Cuneen, founder and executive director, joins Peggy and me this morning on The Mike Nowak Show. It’s obviously a YUGE organization, so we’ll get through whatever we can in the allotted time.

Chicago’s Plastic Bag Ban, Part Deux

You know that a law is probably on the “FAIL” side of the ledger when you see a headline that reads, Chicago’s So-Called Plastic Bag Ban Goes Into Effect For Smaller Stores. Yikes. That story in the Chicagoist highlights how little regard many  people have for the ordinance that went into effect on August 1, 2015.

Count me as one of those people.

You see, I played a small role in the passage of the ordinance, along with Jordan Parker from Bring Your Bag Chicago–who is on the show today–and representatives from other environmental organizations.

Jordan ParkerJordan Parker and “friends.”

We knew from our research that pretty much the only way that a “plastic bag ban” would work is if there were a fee attached to any bag that was given to customers. That’s the argument we made to Aldermen Proco Joe Moreno and George Cardenas. However those guys were worried about it being viewed as another city tax. Remember 2015? It was an election year.

So, in their infinite wisdom, they chose NOT to assess a fee of any kind, though businesses had the option to assess a charge for any bags they provided. In addition, the new law banned single use plastic bags but allowed stores to provide reusable bags, papers bags or commercially compostable plastic bags.

The big loophole was that while single use plastic bags cannot be used, reusable plastic can be given out for free. Which means that stores simply switched to a plastic that is about four times as thick as the plastic for single use bags. What does that mean? Read and weep:

According to an example provided by the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, one independent Chicago grocer gave out 20,000 plastic bags a week before the ban. After: 10,500. (That decrease, the store reports, is less about reuse and more about fewer customers demanding double-bagging.) But because the bags are thicker, that nets out to twice as much plastic usage as before.

The other caveat was that, for the first year, the law applied only to chain stores with floor areas greater than 10,000 square feet. As of August 1, 2016, the ordinance now applies to  chain stores that are smaller than 10,000 sq. ft. By the way,  chain stores are defined as “three or more stores with common ownership” or part of a franchise. Restaurants and non-chain stores are still off the hook.

Here’s the upshot. The bag ban was supposed to help people change their behavior and encourage them to bring their own bags. The evidence so far is that folks are NOT reusing the thicker plastic bags and simply accept them each time they go into a store. Heck, I could have told you that!

What we have here, folks, is a failed ordinance. My concern is that revisiting it could make things worse. Jordan Parker, who was on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight program just a few days ago, joins us in studio to talk about the fallout of a badly thought-out ordinance.

Going–and Growing–On and Off the Grid

I received an email from Polly McGann recently to bring me up to speed about the kinds of things she and her husband, Victor Zaderej, are doing lately. I interviewed him about their passive solar house in Oregon, Illinois a little while back. We also talked then about the annual Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair, which is presented each year by the Illinois Renewable Energy Association.

When I went back to see exactly when we had last talked, I discovered that it was six years ago, in 2010! Hokey smokes.

Which means that they’ve had time to do a lot, like start their own LED light company, called Happy Leaf LED. Polly explains that the business was started

to sell commercial quality grow lights to consumers and small greenhouse applications.   We are targeting the ‘modern homesteader’ and master gardener audiences…Our lights are actually manufactured in the Chicago area, using German LEDs.    There are several unique features and technical details to these lights, many of which are detailed on the website.

Okay, so I went to the website to see the details and I discovered that

To encourage growth, most plants require approximately 200 micromoles per square meter per second of PAR. Keep the light approximately 5 – 8 inches from any plants that need to grow. Adjust as the plant grows. 

I get the second part. Not so much the first.

Happy Leaf LED kitMike’s V2 LED Grow Light from Happy Leaf LED.
It worked–Mike is very, very happy!

However, that’s why Vic is back on The Mike Nowak Show  this morning, to explain exactly why his LEDs are superior to others. He is joined by Josh Nelson, who is the Ag teacher at the Oregon High School.

He will be presenting at the fair about his efforts to combine renewable energy and food production:

Josh Nelson, Oregon High School Agriculture teacher, will discuss the Oregon High School off-grid greenhouse which will be tested for alternative planting and lighting options by students in his classes. The Illinois Renewable Energy Association donated the greenhouse. After experimenting with it for several years, IREA decided that it should serve an educational purpose in addition to testing the concept. Its use will tie into existing courses as well as new.

This summer, it was moved to the school site, set on a new foundation with earth sheltered space beneath, fitted with extremely efficient windows and equipped with new LED grow lights and solar panels to power them. Automated blinds will control the temperature.

The greenhouse, which was financed by grants and donations, might be the first step in an Off The Grid Greenhouse training center, where students experiment with new technologies for growing food.

It’s all terrific stuff, and I’m pleased to have both Victor Zaderej and Josh Nelson on the show this morning. I hope I can keep up.

August 7, 2016 – The Air We Breathe and the Insects That Fly In It

Kathleen Thompson and the Mold Report

If you’re someone who spends a lot of time outdoors, you’re probably very aware of any sensitivity you might have to weed, tree or grass pollen. You might not be so aware of one of the biggest problems during the growing season in the Midwest—mold. Starting in the spring and usually peaking the October, mold causes problems for a lot of people in the Chicagoland area, which is ranked third in the nation among the worst cities for mold allergies by Indoor Restore Environmental Services. (Their ratings use data from the Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America and Quest Diagnostics.)

Mold can cause an allergic reaction that is very similar to that caused by pollen—sneezing, itching, runny nose, congestion and dry, scaling skin. Or it can go into the lungs and trigger an asthmatic reaction—difficulty getting a breath, a tight chest, coughing at night, possibly wheezing. One result of the latter symptoms is that you don’t get enough oxygen and may suffer from exhaustion, difficulty concentrating and drowsiness. If you have never been diagnosed with asthma, these symptoms can feel a lot like anxiety and depression.

Writer Kathleen Thompson–who just happens to be part of The Mike Nowak Show team– joins us to talk about how a sensitivity to mold can seriously reduce your enjoyment of gardening and other outdoor activities and why this year is particularly brutal. She’ll let you know how you can monitor mold activity at the National Allergy Bureau™ (NAB™) and what steps you can take to make life more livable.

Doug Taron and respect for insects

If it’s summer in the Midwest, it’s time to be obsessed by insects. A few weeks ago, I saw a story that Cecil Adams wrote in The Straight Dope called Why Are Humans So Afraid of Insects?  Good question, Cecil. Unfortunately, he wasn’t exactly able to answer it.

A couple of weeks later, there was this one in Triple Pundit: A Growing Crisis: Insects are Disappearing–And Fast. Hmm. That can’t be good news, unless you’re entomophobic. Look it up.

Then, just a couple of days ago, this one showed up in DNA Info Chicago: Giant Dragonfly Swarms Are Taking Over Chicago, But Don’t Be Afraid. Explain how to keep calm to all of the entomophobic people in your building.

SymmetryI took this photo in my garden a number of years ago, thinking it was an extremely exotic species. Now I realize that it’s just a green darner, one of the most common dragonflies in Chicago. Sigh…

Instinctively, I knew it was time to call upon the go-to guy for bug questions in Chicago–Doug Taron, curator of biology at Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, who hasn’t been on my program for a couple of years, so he was overdue.  I’ve heard him called “The Butterfly Guy” but his reach is obviously much greater than that. In fact, I discovered from the DNA Info story that he’s an administrator with the International Migratory Dragonfly Partnership.

Well, I didn’t know that there was such a thing and I certainly didn’t know that certain dragonfly species–like monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus)–have annual migrations. Well, maybe bi-annual migrations. Or not. It’s hard to know because we haven’t studied them as extensively as the monarch butterfly. Which makes me laugh because it wasn’t until the late 1970s that we even knew where monarchs overwintered in Mexico. We  haven’t exactly studied them with laser-like intensity either. At least not until they started to disappear.

Which brings us to a paper that Taron and some colleagues had published in 2015 about how we monitor monarch populations and what that means for interpreting their decline. They suggested that when and where you monitor monarch populations has a bearing on how you interpret the health of the species.

Wilmette Prairie 2Monarch on a butterfly weed (what else?) at
Wilmette Centennial Park Prairie

Well, that led to a rebuttal from another team of scientists, which led to a  “rebuttal of the rebuttal,” as Taron puts it, and more.  You can read the papers for yourself here, here, here and here.

Here’s the point. We’re still figuring out what’s happening to the monarch. We think they’re in decline but what we might be witnessing is a variability in numbers that has been happening for centuries. The loss of milkweed might be significant…but it might not be, either. That’s what scientists do. They suggest theories based on the best science available and then they punch each other a bit until the best theory wins.

Meanwhile, Doug points out that there are other species of butterfly out there–like the Baltimore checkerspot (Euphydryas phaeton), which he is attempting to reintroduce to Bluff Spring Fen in western Cook County, after it disappeared about four years ago.

And he cares about moths, too, including a stem-boring moth called Papaipema cerina, which doesn’t seem to have a common name, which is just sad. Anyway, he may or may not have successfully introduced it to Bluff Spring Fen in the early 1990s, as its numbers were dwindling in northeastern Illinois and in other parts of the U.S. as well. Now he’s trying to determine whether the moth has survived there for almost 25 years.

Doug is also excited about the Regal Fritillary being listed as one of 12 so-called “priority species” in this region by Chicago Wilderness. Monarchs are also on that list, and it’s something else we’ll talk about this morning.