July 3, 2016 – Sisters of the Soil, Water and Strawberries

The continuing quest to save the Marshall Strawberry

I first spoke to artist Leah Gauthier in May of 2013 when she appeared on my program to talk about the Marshall Strawberry.

You should know, however, that her background is about exploring foodgrowing, eating, cooking, preserving, scent and memory, food as sculptural material, history of food and agriculture, revival and protection of endangered food plants, urban agriculture, sustainable and transitional growing, food as cultural identity and as an agent of social change.

I guess that’s what getting a BFA at the Art Institute of Chicago will do to you. But back to the Marshall Strawberry.


In brief, it had once been on top of the culinary fruit bowl, lauded by no less than James Beard as the best tasting berry in Christendom. But by 2007, it was down to three solitary plants at the USDA’s Germplasm Repository in Corvallis, Oregon.

Somehow, Gauthier managed to talk those researchers into providing her with three runners that she turned into hundreds of plants, including now about a dozen in my own back yard!

She returns to the show today to talk about art, moving from Indianapolis to Maine, and, of course the continuing progress of the Marshall Strawberry.

Soil Sisters: the book and the celebration

Speaking of people who have been on my program before, farmer and author Lisa Kivirist returns to The Mike Nowak Show today. She and husband John Ivanko talked to me about their book Farmstead Chef in January of 2012.  I can’t believe it’s been that long. By the way, they operate Inn Serendipity Bed & Breakfast at their organic farm near Monroe, Wisconsin

In 2015, they put out another book together, Homemade for Sale: How to Set Up and Market a Food Business from Your Home Kitchen. And this year, Lisa penned her own, called Soil Sisters: A Toolkit for Women Farmers. All three books are published by New Society Publishers.

The latest two books acknowledge that when it comes to food, we live in a changing world. More people want to grow their own, and many of those folks want to cook, bake or preserve products of their own design. The majority of those people are women. Kivirist and Ivanko address the need for some basic “how to” information for that segment of the population and they provide it in spades.

In an article in Natural Awakenings Chicago, Kivirist writes:

When the commercial organic industry launched in the 1990s, women organized to provide overlooked and undervalued perspectives. The wakeup call for Denise O’Brien, an organic vegetable farmer and owner of Rolling Hills Acres, near Atlantic, Iowa, came during the farm economic crisis of the preceding decade. Although still considered “just” farm wives, “It was the women on the farms that had foreseen where things were heading, because they often kept the accounting books, though nobody took their voices seriously,” O’Brien recalls.

Indeed, as Kivirist notes in Soil Sisters, simply saying the word “organic” 30 years ago could get women in trouble with their male Soil Sisterscounterparts. But progress has been made. She writes that after a century of working to gain respect from their male counterparts, “there are nearly one million women farmers today, representing about 30 percent of all farmers.” However, she notes that “Per the Census of Agriculture, our famrs are definitely smaller than the average: 54 percent of our farms are smaller than 50 acres in size.”

But more and more, women look to themselves to learn about farming. Which is why the Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) is sponsoring a workshop called In Her Boots: Sustainable Agriculture For Women, By Women.

It’s a one-day workshop and tour of Sandhill Family Farms, 560 Harris Road, Grayslake, Illinois 60030 on Friday, July 15 from 10am to 3pm. You can register here.

That will be followed in August by a three-day event called, unsurprisingly, Soil Sisters: A Celebration of Wisconsin Farms & Rural Life. It runs from August 5 to 7:

From heirloom tomatoes to cottage food products, sheep to solar energy, bed & breakfasts to beef, the farmers and artisan food producers share a unique diversity of farm experiences showcasing the summer’s bounty.  Choose from a variety of activities including Dinner on the Farm, plentiful on-farm “Green Acres” workshops, a Taste of Place culinary event, plus area restaurants featuring “locavore” specials throughout the weekend.

Linda Kivirist joins Peggy and me on the show this morning. She is joined by Jen Riemer of Riemer Family Farm.  Jen and her family sell their meat at the Woodstock Farmers Market and also supply the meat share for Sandhill Family Farms.  Her farm will be on the Soil Sisters Tour in August.

Life in a Great Lakes ravine

Some women make their marks in the soil by saving heirloom strawberries and creating farms. And some women do it by preserving some of the rarest ecosystems in the world, which, by the way, if you happen to live near Lake Michigan, are right in your backyard.

The woman to whom I’m referring is Rebecca Grill, Natural Areas Manager for the Park District of Highland Park, and the ecosystems are the ravines on the western shores of Lake Michigan. Highland Park is home to 10 named ravines, more than any other community in Illinois.  These steep valleys and streams run direct to Lake Michigan and support interesting plant animal and insect species–as well as beauty for residents.

They face some challenges, too.  Since the 1930s they have been used to convey storm water away from homes and businesses resulting in disturbance of the stream channel and sediment loading to the Lake–which 8 million people (in Milwaukee and Chicago alone)  rely on for drinking water, recreation and enjoyment.

In 2013, I learned something about the Lake Michigan ravines in Highland Park when I was able to tour the brand new Openlands Lakeshore Preserve with Openlands COO Bob Megquier.

Grill is now working to engage citizens to learn about those fragile and endangered topographical features by going to a website called HP Ravines. I was struck by a quote on the site from Highland Park High School students Arielle and Jenna, who state that “Both residents and non residents don’t know enough information about this precious ecosystem, and are hurting it by default through their lifestyles and choices.” Ravine 7L

Grill would also like people to get involved with The Highland Park Ravines Project. They

work to protect the ravine environment through partnership with the City of Highland Park, the Gary Borger chapter of Trout Unlimited, Highland Park High School, local elementary schools and countless other members of the community. Our efforts are supported by the USEPA’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI),  the US Army Corps of Engineers Great Lakes Fishery and Ecosystem Restoration (GLFER) program and the IDNR’s Illinois Coastal Management Program (ICMP).

The  importance of the ravines can be lost on the average citizen. Fish making their way upstream use pools as places to rest and hide from predators. In the past few years, fish ladders have been constructed  to allow fish to move upstream more easily, from pool to pool. Rock overhangs have been added above the pools to provide additional places to hide.

And that’s just the beginning of what we can all learn. It’s been years (I don’t remember exactly how many!) since Rebecca Grill was on my program. I welcome her back.

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 www.mikenowak.net/podcasts.