Category Archives: Information from Past Shows

June 26, 2016 – Protecting Monarch Butterflies and the Great Lakes Water Supply

Every monarch deserves a milkweed!

That phrase comes from Kay MacNeil, who is chair of the 2015-2016 Garden Clubs of Illinois President’s Project, Milkweed for Monarchs. This is the first year of the project and, as MacNeil notes, will not be the last.

Monarch numbers have been up in the past couple of years. Check out this chart.  monarch-population-figure-monarchwatch-2016
But, as you can see, the uptick in the past two years is in comparison to the near-catastrophic numbersthe insect recorded in the winter of 2013-2014. In fact, there is some seriously bad news, which was reported at The Monarch Joint Venture website earlier this year;

A new study by the Monarch Conservation Science Partnership reveals there is a substantial probability of “quasi-extinction” of the Eastern monarch butterfly migratory population within 20 years if ambitious habitat restoration and conservation goals are not achieved. Quasi-extinction means that the population reaches levels that are so low that it would be unlikely to recover.

Part of the problem with trying to rescue this iconic butterfly is that we don’t really know why they’re disappearing. Sound familiar? That’s often the explanation–or lack of it–for honey bee loss, too. All I can say is that there’s one common denominator–human beings.

In the case of monarch butterflies, the factors seem to include disease, climate change, drought, deforestation, habitat loss and herbicide use, especially against milkweed in farm fields.

And it doesn’t help when there’s a late winter storm in Mexico, as happened this year. The problem is that researchers haven’t been able to nail down a mortality rate. But the anecdotal evidence coming out of Mexico and out of Texas as the monarchs move north isn’t good.

MonarchWhich is why the State of Illinois just passed a bill to create a butterfly-themed license plate sticker that would generate revenue for planting milkweed along highway medians. The U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to spend $4 million this year in 10 states, including Illinois, to help the monarchs. But is it too little too late?

Not if Kay MacNeil and her gardening friends have anything to say about it. She hopes to distribute one million swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) seed packets this year! She says that IDOT will use as much seed as they can give them in interchanges and road projects around the state.

To that end, Kay is collecting milkweed seeds by the big, black plastic bagful. And she says that she’ll send them to you, too. To get samples of three different kinds of milkweed and lots of information, send a stamped self addressed business sized envelope and $2 cash to:
Garden Clubs of Illinois Milkweed For Monarchs Chairman Kay MacNeil, 689 Golf Club Lane, Frankfort, IL 60423.

She joins Peggy Malecki and me on The Mike Nowak Show this morning.

Great Lakes water diversion: good idea or slippery slope?

In 2008, the The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact became law. It brought together eight U.S. states–Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin–in an agreement that would chart the future management of the water supply of the Great Lakes. The compact operates under the Great Lakes–St. Lawrence River Basin Sustainable Water Resources Agreement, which also includes the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

This week, the first exception to that compact was approved by the governing bodies. The City of Waukesha, Wisconsin was granted permission to tap into the Great Lakes watershed, though it technically lies outside of it.

This was  a decision ten years in the making, as Waukesha sought to LakeMichiganhave access to Lake Michigan water due to radium contamination in its own groundwater. The city was forced to make numerous changes to its proposal before it was finally accepted by representatives of the eight governors:

The added provisions include requirements that Waukesha restrict its water service area to the city’s borders, excluding surrounding communities; reduce the amount of water the city can withdraw, from an original request of 10 million gallons a day, to an average of 8 million gallons; and submit to performance audits whenever a request is made.

Not surprisingly, reaction to the move is split, with environmental groups not so happy but others declaring that the decision is fair. There are those, however, who worry that this sets a bad precedent, and that water could some day flow to Texas, Arizona and elsewhere.

The reaction from the Alliance for the Great Lakes was one of caution. In a statement release on June 21, spokesperson Jennifer J. Caddick said,

We appreciate the seriousness with which members of the Great Lakes Regional Body and Compact Council undertook their responsibility to review Waukesha’s diversion application. While we have always believed that Waukesha has a reasonable water supply alternative, we understand that the Regional Body and Compact Council saw that issue differently.
Today’s vote is not the end of the story. Great Lakes advocates will need to be vigilant in making sure that the city of Waukesha and the State of Wisconsin honor the terms of the agreement. We will be strong watchdogs to ensure that the Great Lakes are protected. We expect that the Compact Council and its members will act promptly if Waukesha and Wisconsin do not meet every requirement imposed by the Council. And, if necessary, we will take action to compel compliance with the Compact Council’s requirements.

We’re pleased to have Lyman Welch, Legal Director for the Alliance for the Great Lakes, on the program this morning to discuss the diversion decision and its repercussions.

June 19, 2016 – Big Crickets; Traveling Soilmobile; At the Fork Chicago Premiere

Crickets don’t taste like chicken…necessarily

It is estimated that insects form part of the traditional diets of at least 2 billion people. More than 1900 species have reportedly been used as food. Big Cricket FarmsInsects deliver a host of ecological services that are fundamental to the survival of humankind. They also play an important role as pollinators in plant reproduction, in improving soil fertility through waste bioconversion, and in natural biocontrol for harmful pest species, and they provide a variety of valuable products for humans such as honey and silk and medical applications such as maggot therapy.

I think you can see where this is going. With the world population now topping 7 billion, providing enough food to go around is only going to get more difficult. Unfortunately, in many western countries, entomophagy–or the practice of eating insects–has long been taboo…or just icky, which is kind of the same thing.

Apparently, though, that is changing. A year after the U.N. study came out, an enterprising man named Kevin Bachhuber, who had already tasted insects during a trip to Thailand, decided to give the business model a try. He and a group of friends set up Big Cricket Farms in Youngstown, Ohio, which became first state and federally approved edible insect farm in the country.

Since then, they’ve gotten a ridiculous amount of attention (for instance, here, here, here and here.) If you’re wondering, among the 1900 species of insects, why they chose crickets, which is sometimes called “the gateway bug,” I’ll let Big Cricket Farms answer in their own words:

Crickets offer marvelous advantages over traditional protein sources like beef. Crickets need only about two pounds of feed per pound of usable meat; for beef, it takes 25 pounds of feed for the same pound of meat. Likewise, it only takes about 1 gallon of water to raise one pound of crickets, compared to 51 gallons of water for a pound of cow. And crickets produce 100 times fewer greenhouse gasses than cows.

Nutritionally, crickets offer advantages, too: they have half the fat and a third more protein than beef.

Finally, crickets just taste good!

Jason Schuster, who has worked on the farm, visits The Mike Nowak Show this week to talk about one possible future of food on our planet.

The Soilmobile comes to Kilbourn Park

I’ve known Sandy Syburg (pronounced “SEE-burg,” by the way) from Purple Cow Organics for a number of years.  And I love their organic, soil enhancing products, because this is a company that understands what I mean when I say, “It’s the biology, stupid.”

Soil Mobile at Kilbourn ParkSandy and the folks at Purple Cow know that soil organisms–whether micro or macro–play a huge role in helping your plants grow vigorously.

Which is why Sandy is on a mission–a bus driving mission–to get the word out about healthy soils and healthy plants. As you can see in the photo, he’s behind the wheel of something that his company calls the Soilmobile.

He driving it all around the Midwest, stopping to speak to kids and grown-ups and anybody who will listen to his story about organic growing methods.  Even the repurposed school bus runs is part of the message. It runs on alternative fuels–including vegetable oil–and who can resist a bus with a purple cow on the back?

I caught up with Sandy a few weeks ago at the Kilbourn Park Organic Greenhouse, where we chatted about a few things near and dear to our hearts. I play that interview on today’s show.

At the Fork premieres in Chicago on July 13

In the past couple of weeks, you’ve heard me talk to my terrific co-host Peggy Malecki from Natural Awakenings Chicago about a documentary that makes its Chicago premiere on Wednesday, July 13. It’s called At the Fork, and I urge you to take a look at the film trailer here.  By the way, the premiere is Wednesday, July 13 at at AMC River East 21, 322 East Illinois Street , Chicago, IL, US, 60611, and the ticket is only $13.00, which you can purchase here.

At the ForkI’m thrilled to have the film’s director, John Papola, on the program this morning. He is just your average  meat-eating filmmaker who is married to a vegetarian wife. Happens every day, right?

Anyway, after ten years of wedded but not necessarily food bliss, she finally gets him to think about where the meat that he and his family love so much actually comes from. So they set off on a film adventure to witness the good, the bad and the ugly of raising animals for consumption in the U.S.

I will tell you right here that the film is not an advertisement for veganism. On their journey, they learn that most farmers and ranchers care deeply about their animals. One of those farmers, Kevin Fulton, a Nebraskan who is also on today’s show, puts it in perspective in a High Country News article:

“If we can provide an environment where our animals only have one bad day in their lives, we’ve done our job,” he said. “That’s in contrast to the animals in factory farms who only have one good day in their lives — the day the misery ends for them. That’s a big difference.”

Unfortunately, there are too many facilities–CAFO’s, or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations–where pigs or chicken or cattle spend their lives simply surviving intolerable conditions. In a country where so-called Ag-Gag Laws are keeping more and more people from knowing the truth about how their food is produced, it is surprising to see the heartbreaking images that Papola manages to produce.

John Papola is on location for a new film today, so our chat will be brief. After that, Kevin Fulton and Chris Petersen will be joining me on the show to talk about the financial, health and moral issues surrounding the raising of animals for our consumption.

Kevin Fulton operates Fulton Farms, a holistically managed organic grazing operation near Litchfield, Nebraska.  This diversified livestock farm includes cattle, sheep, goats, poultry, pigs, and horses along with grain and hay enterprises.  Around 2001, the farm started making the transition away from conventional farming practices in an effort to increase sustainability and improve the environment.

Temple Grandin and KathleenTemple Grandin, who is interviewed in At the Fork, with my partner
Kathleen Thompson. I posted this just because it’s cool that we ran into her at Women and Children First bookstore a couple of years ago.

Fulton is no stranger to controversy, having raised eyebrows and hackles in the Nebraska community by not only joining HSUS but daring to get farmers to create a Humane Society Agricultural Advisory Council. He now serves as the chairperson on the national version of that organization. He is famous for having stated, “I am HSUS; I am Nebraska”  in response to Governor Dave Heineman’s comment that he would “kick [HSUS’s] ass” out of Nebraska. Yow.

Chris Petersen is a board member and past president of the Iowa Farmers Union. He is also a bit of a muckraker, having appeared in 2000 on 60 Minutes (part 1; part 2)  to question the motives and efficacy of the very powerful Farm Bureau. He has been an independent family farmer his whole life, raising row crops, livestock and local foods. He writes,

I am concerned 94% of independent pig farmers are gone but [we] have the same number of pigs in Iowa– along with massive problems in Iowa we now have caused by industrial agriculture.

Traditional independent family farmers take better care of the animals, land, environment,make better neighbors,and provide consumers with a safer, higher quality product. We as farm family have always practiced true animal husbandry with all of our livestock. We as a nation are at a threshold- the question is- family farms in our future or industrial modeled agriculture? – its your choice being the public, being all consumers.

If you’re getting chills, it’s because you recognize the words of people who can’t be bought or bossed, which is, unfortunately, very rare. I hope you tune in on Sunday or catch the podcast at

June 12, 2016 – Victory Farming in Naperville; De-Lighting the Night in Chicago

The Heroes of Veterans Victory Farms in Naperville

Veronica Porter grew up in Naperville when it was still considered a small farm town.  She caught the end of an era when you grew, gathered and prepared your own food.  It was a time that you learned from your elders, explored with your friends and followed in the footsteps of time worn traditions.

The words above are Veronica Porter‘s own. The values that she learned growing up west of Chicago stuck with her and made her want to share her knowledge about organic gardening, cooking, and food preservation.

In fact, that’s how I first met her. Veronica and I were both on the docket at Good Greens, a group that is run through the Midwest Regional Office of the USDA Food and Nutrition Service.  At that meeting in downtown Chicago, she introduced me to Ask Aunt V, which at the time was a restaurant and has now morphed into a cooking school.

She also told me about another project she was working on that intrigued me–the idea of creating Veterans Victory Farm:

The Mission of Veterans Victory Farms is to provide local, organic, Veterans Victory Farm 2heirloom variety produce, fresh picked daily, using regenerative, permaculture growing methods. The purpose of the farms is to provide training and employment for recently discharged Veterans, including Veterans suffering from Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and young men and women who are highly capable with special needs or hidden disabilities.

In addition, Veterans Victory Farm is a member of Illinois Homegrown By Heroes and the Farmers Veteran Coalition.

Meanwhile, in the far away land known as Chicago, people continue to grow food as well, but sometimes it requires more than just putting a seed in the ground and watering. Sometimes it requires a million dollars or more to dig out the existing soil, which is often Englewood farms 1contaminated, truck in a few tons crushed stone, then cover with another few tons of compost.

That’s what our own Patrick Barry reports on the Chicago Farm Report in a story called How Chicago preps vacant land for farms. If you’ve ever gardened in your own backyard, I think you’ll find it fascinating that larger institutions often need to jump through hoops of flaming manure just to get the land prepared properly.

Along that line, he also writes about the changing landscape of Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood.  He writes:

A business plan created by Englewood stakeholders and farm-support organizations envisions a collection of job-producing farms along the future Englewood Line Nature Trail, between 58th and 59th Streets in Chicago.

The Englewood Community Farms Prospectus and Business Plan, published by NeighborSpace and Grow Greater Englewood, calls for the cleanup and reuse of vacant properties on either side of a 1.7-mile elevated rail viaduct between Wallace Avenue on the east and Hoyne on the west.

Finally, Patrick takes us out to DeKalb, Illinois, where Patty Ruback has discovered that living in a town surrounded by farms–even if it’s a college town–isn’t necessarily the best place to easily purchase local food. The story is called Eat Local DeKalb, and he reports on that on today’s show, too.

Our last best chance to see stars in the Chicago night sky

It’s been a couple of years since Audrey Fischer was on The Mike Nowak Show. Audrey is a huge fan of our planet’s environment–but mostly because she wants it to be a little darker. And I completely agree! When I see photos of our planet at night, it makes me cringe. A lot of folks see a “jewel bedecked ornament in the vastness of space.” Okay, I just made up that quote.

But the problem is not looking at the earth from space. The problem is looking at space from earth. Meaning that you can’t see it. You can’t see stars. You can’t see planets. You can’t see comets. You might be able to see the asteroid that kills us all, but your post will never make it to Instagram because you’ll be dead.

But back to why we can’t see the Milky Way in our night skies, especially in big cities.  It’s because we don’t know how to–or we’re not interested in–controlling the direction in which we spread the light that illuminates our streets and homes. Which results in “light pollution.” Which results in kids who have no idea what a constellation is.

Which is why, when the City of Chicago announced that it was launching something called the Chicago Smart Lighting Project, which will “upgrade” more than 270,000 of the city’s street, alley and park lights to more reliable and higher-quality LED lighting, Audrey and her colleagues realized that this might be the last chance for generations to get it right. That is to say, to direct the lighting so that it didn’t cause unneeded sky glow, and would allow Chicago citizens to once again see the stars the way their parents and grandparents did.

So Audrey launched a petition called Bring Back Chicago’s Starry Night With Responsible City Lighting, which you can still sign, and I hope you do! It asks the City to

  • do away with the mandate of Chicago lights to shine from  the streetlights to the “keyhole of the front door” of the typical Chicago home.
  • avoid the bright white blue-rich color spectrum of LED lights
  • shield street lamps so light shines only downward
  • use timers, dimming and “smart grid” technologyStarry Night.

And they might be getting help  from a  group of students at Amundsen High School in Chicago. Their Starry Chicago project qualified them to compete nationally at the Aspen Ideas Festival. In a competition that featured 20 Chicago Public School high schools, Amundsen created a program that they hope “educates the community about the importance of preserving the night sky and that advocates for dark-sky friendly policies.”

They are accompanied by Colleen Murray, their teacher and coach on the Starry Chicago project.

Also joining us is Diane Turnshek, a faculty member in the Physics Department of Carnegie Mellon University, where she teaches astronomy. Carnegie Mellon’s Remaking Cities Institute (RCI) recently worked with the City of Pittsburgh on a study called the LED Street Light Research Project when the city announced that it intended to replace its entire inventory of40,000 street lights with light-emitting diode (LED) fixtures over a five to ten year period.

About a year ago, she did a TEDxPittsburgh talk called “De-Light the Night (Light Pollution Solutions), which you can watch here.

She is a member of the International Astronomical UnionCommission but she says her real passion is writing science fiction fantasy and horror stories. She runs Alpha, a workshop for teens who like to write genre fiction.

I am very excited about having these smart, concerned people on my show this Sunday. Please tune in!