Category Archives: Information from Past Shows

August 28, 2016 – Protecting Our Land, Our Water and Our Right to Play

Playing in the garden…literally!

It isn’t every day that I climb on top of a five foot tall hollowed-out log and decide to sprawl out on a lawn (if you know me, you know that I’m not a huge fan of lawns). But that’s a different story at the Chicago Botanic Garden‘s brand spanking new Regenstein Learning Campus, which opens with a couple of days of celebration on September 10 and 11, with activities taking place from 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. each day.

As the folks at CBG explain it,

The seven-acre campus is designed to serve learners of all ages, and facilitate connections between people and the environment.  The centerpiece of the Learning Campus is the new Learning Center, a 26,700 square-foot building that features 12 indoor and two outdoor classrooms, a nature laboratory, early childhood classrooms, the ITW kitchen and spaces for wellness classes. The Nature Play Garden, with its rolling hills and series of multisensory gardens, provides areas for hiding, exploring, learning and gathering.

The Learning Campus, open daily, will be the new headquarters for the Joseph Regenstein, Jr. School of the Chicago Botanic Garden, which offers 1,500 classes, day camps and programs, including a Nature Preschool, one of only two located in a botanic garden in the United States.  

Peggy and Carol at CBGPeggy and Carol Cichorski splashing at the Regenstein Learning Campus

Peggy Malecki and I stopped by for a press preview the other day, and all you had to do is see the reaction of the kids in attendance to know who this the outdoors part of the exhibit is aimed at. I guess that includes me, too.

But indoors are classrooms that will feature all kinds of programming, including art and gardening classes, field trips and teacher professional development programs, yoga and other wellness offerings.

It’s One Stop Horticultural Shopping, so to speak. Peggy and I welcome Director of Education Eileen Prendergast to The Mike Nowak Show this morning to further explain the wide range of activities that this new interactive exhibit will provide for kids young and old.

Turn Here Sweet Corn comes to the Chicago stage

Here’s a tip for all of would-be farmers out there. If you’re cultivating land and you can see the tallest building in the nearby large metropolitan area from your porch, you might be in trouble.  At that point, you need to pay attention to the sign, “Warning, tall buildings are closer than they appear.” What I mean is that, unless you’re independently wealthy, your land is likely to be gobbled up by developers and turned into suburbs

Which is exactly what happened to a woman named Atina Diffley and her family in Minnesota about 25 years ago. That would be bad enough, except that when she and her husband Martin managed to purchase another property, they were informed that Koch Industries (yes, that Koch Industries) was planning to run a crude oil pipeline straight through their organic farm.

The saga of those years of pain, uncertainty, sweat, strength and, yes, joy, love and community, were told in her book Turn Here Sweet Corn: Organic Farming Works, which garnered Diffley a 2013 Minnesota Book Award in the category of Memoir and Creative Non-fiction  from Friends Of The Saint Paul Public Library. It also made her an icon in the organic farming world. Well, that she helped to create an Organic Mitigation Plan for organic farms in Minnesota.


Now, that book is coming to the stage in Oak Park for four performances. Turn Here Sweet Corn, an adaptation by playwright Jim Stowell,  has its world premiere at Madison Street Theatre Thursday, September 1 through Saturday, September 3 at 8:00 pm and on Sunday, September 4 at 5:00 pm. Tickets are only $20 and you can order them here.

It features storyteller and actress Megan Wells, the 2016 recipient of the National Storytelling Network’s Oracle Circle of Excellence Award, which recognizes master storytellers who set the standards for excellence and have demonstrated a commitment and dedication to the art of storytelling. The piece is directed by an old theatre colleague of mine, Scott Jones. (Please don’t ask how far we go back…and to what.)

It’s a pleasure to have them both in the Que4 Studio this morning to discuss the launch of this production.

The battle to keep oil in the ground and out of our waterways

I’m betting that a week ago, most of you had never heard of something called the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL).  And that’s because there hadn’t been much coverage in the corporate media. Folks were getting their information from their social media connections.

Regardless, the word was getting out, and within a few days, reportedly thousands of people, mostly native Americans, had gathered in a place called Cannon Ball, North Dakota, which is near the home of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.

Their goal: to stop construction of the Dakota Access, a $3.7 billion, 1,170-mile pipeline owned by a company called Energy Transfer Partners, with the capacity to deliver 570,000 barrels of Bakken crude oil daily from North Dakota to a refinery in southern Illinois (yay, Illinois!) It is, in fact, only nine miles shorter than the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which was ultimately stopped by the Obama Administration.

According to an article in Raw Story,

The Army Corps of Engineers gave DAPL permission to build in late July, despite pending lawsuits and active local resistance. One of those lawsuits, filed in federal court by the Standing Rock Sioux tribes against the Army Corps of Engineers, is the one being heard in federal court in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday.

The suit claims the pipeline will cause “irreparable” damage to sacred lands at the confluence of the Cannonball and Missouri Rivers. “Industrial development of that site for the crude oil pipeline has a high potential to destroy sites eligible for listing in the National Register,” according to the lawsuit. It further alleges that Dakota Access LLC failed its responsibility to adequately consult with tribes before construction, in violation of the National Historic Preservation Act. The Missouri River (Standing Rock’s only water source) and “water” itself is of vital cultural importance, the suit adds.

That suit was heard last Wednesday and Federal District Judge James Boasberg announced that he would issue a ruling by Sept. 9. Knowing that an appeal will follow, no matter what he rules, there will be another hearing the following week.

Meanwhile, the situation in North Dakota has been exacerbated by the declaration of an emergency  by Gov. Jack Dalrymple, followed by the decision of North Dakota’s homeland security director to remove state-owned trailers and water tanks from the protest site.

David Archambault II, who is  chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, writes:

It’s a familiar story in Indian Country. This is the third time that the Sioux Nation’s lands and resources have been taken without regard for tribal interests. The Sioux peoples signed treaties in 1851 and 1868. The government broke them before the ink was dry.

When the Army Corps of Engineers dammed the Missouri River in 1958, it took our riverfront forests, fruit orchards and most fertile farmland to create Lake Oahe. Now the Corps is taking our clean water and sacred places by approving this river crossing. Whether it’s gold from the Black Hills or hydropower from the Missouri or oil pipelines that threaten our ancestral inheritance, the tribes have always paid the price for America’s prosperity.

Meanwhile, a thousand miles to the east of Cannon Ball, N.D., lies something called the Enbridge Line 5. It is another oil pipeline, but it was built 63 years ago and it just happens to pass under the Straits of Mackinac.  In case you didn’t grow up in Michigan as I did, the Straits of Mackinac connect Lake Michigan with Lake Huron. Together, and with the other three Great Lakes, they represent about 20% of the fresh water on this planet.

Now, what could possibly be the problem with a 63 year old pipeline running under one of the most sensitive fresh water sources in the world?

Do I really have to answer that?

An environmental organization called Oil & Water Don’t Mix notes that nearly 23 million gallons of oil flow through two 20-inch diameter pipelines at the bottom of the straits each day. Here’s what it looks like in video from the Oil & Water Don’t Mix site, courtesy of the National Wildlife Federation:


Enbridge installed several support structures under the pipelines in 2006 and again in 2010, following the company’s oil spill into the Kalamazoo River – the nation’s largest-ever land-based oil spill. Enbridge officials have said that properly maintained pipelines can last indefinitely, but the company’s history of major spills in Michigan and across North America proves otherwise. Today, much of the oil flowing through the Line 5 pipelines is coming from Canada and taking a shortcut through Michigan and the Straits of Mackinac before crossing back into Canada near Port Huron.

Yup, in the case of the Canadian-based Enbridge, Inc., the United States of America is fly-over territory, a convenient way for the company to get its product from western to eastern Canada.

Even Enbridge, however, seems to understand that pipes don’t last forever. They recently agreed to pay $3.6 million to have the State of Michigan select two contractors to asses the spill risk of the Enbridge Line 5.

Oil & Water Don’t Mix and their dozens of supporting groups and thousands of individual backers aren’t waiting around for the results of that study.

This week, Michigan Native American tribal members and supporters of the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign are spearheading Pipe Out Paddle Protests around Labor Day weekend in Chicago and the Straits of Mackinac.


The Mackinaw City flotilla, in its second year,  is aimed at raising awareness of the threat to the Great Lakes and native fishing grounds from potential oil spills.

Peggy and I are pleased to welcome Mitch McNeil from Surfrider Chicago, one of the supporting groups, which is sponsoring a Pipe Out Paddle Protest this Thursday, September 1 at Montrose Beach in Chicago.

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.


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.

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.