June 5, 2016 – Wisconsin Vegetables; Irish Bridge; South Side Nature

Holly and Joey Baird are the Wisconsin Vegetable Gardener(s)

There’s a lot of good growing that happens north of Illinois, regardless of the fact that my Milwaukee friends often talk about how their season is usually two or three weeks behind ours here in the Windy City.

But that doesn’t seem to bother folks like Holly and Joey Baird, who are busily creating a horticultural empire in the  Badger State. They are the proprietors of a number of podcast, video, and web sites, collectively known as The Wisconsin Vegetable Gardener. In fact, there’s a rumor that they will launch their own radio show next year…but you didn’t hear that from me.

From their website:

WI VeggieAlong with traditional ground gardening they also grow indoors year-round using up and coming methods along with winter growing in cold frames and low tunnels.

Their goal through their videos and social media pages is to show the average person how easy it is to grow food, store food, and reuse everyday items. Their motto is “for the average gardener, simple home living, and using what you already have.”

That is right up my alley, as you might have surmised, and, in fact, this year I was absorbed into their burgeoning empire: I began doing a series of environmental reports on their bi-weekly podcast. You can check out The Wisconsin Vegetable Gardener Podcast 24 (including my latest enviro report) here.

Or, if you just want a good “how-to” video, take a look at How we Grow our Tomatoes- Revised The Wisconsin Vegetable Gardener, which just came out on May 31.

Joey and Holly join me on my own show this morning. I hope I don’t have to pay royalties.

Bridging the Gap between Chicago and Ireland

Pat FitzGerald has been a friend of mine for a number of years, though we have never met. Back when I was at Progresso Radio, we began following each other on the Facebook appliance and the Twitter contrivance.

He runs an outfit called, not so coincidentally, Fitzgerald Nurseries, which is located in the Republic of Ireland, and which is one of the reasons why we have never met face to face. They say they have developed a unique range of plants suitable for all year round colour (Irish spelling) in small garden spaces, planters and containers.

Well, this year they teamed up the Chicago Park District to put together a display for an event in Ireland called Bloom, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary. The site of Bloom this year is Phoenix Park in Dublin, Ireland, hence the name at Bloom In The Park 2016.

The project itself is called Chicago Bridge the Gap Garden, a commemoration of all the Irish Emigrants that crossed the ocean in search of a brighter future. A fundraiser that benefits the Chicago Parks foundation explains the installation:

FitzgeraldOur design features two, large living sculptures that can be seen as two separate bridges. One bridge will represent Ireland while the other bridge represents the United States. The two bridges appear to intersect, yet they do not connect, there remains a gap. Using the two viewing sides to observe the structures crossing the garden, patrons will be able to see through the negative space created by the bridges and notice patrons viewing from the other side. Without anticipating a connection, the patrons are now part of the garden and part of the story by bridging the gap.

Each bridge is populated solely by one kind of plant. One is EverColor® Carex Everillo which was bred by FitzGerald and is available in garden centers and box stores throughout the U.S.  Everillo, which is a chartreuse colored hardy sedge, is part of FitzGeralds EverColor® range (www.evercolorplants.com) which is Ireland’s most successful international ornamental plant export, selling over 2 million plants each year in 26 countries .

The other is Sunsparkler Sedum Dazzleberry from USA breeder Chris Hansen of Garden Solutions in Holland, Michigan. Having two nursery plantsmen from different sides of the Atlantic once again exemplifies the garden theme Bridging the Gap.

As you can see from the photo, it’s a stunning design, and it captured a Gold award from the event. Pat Fitzgerald joins me on the program this morning, along with two of the Chicago Park District folks who were involved in the project: Peggy Stewart, Assistant Director of Culture, Arts and Nature, and Matthew Barrett, Deputy Director of Conservatories.

Eden Place Nature Center keeps on keepin’ on

Go to the website for Eden Place Nature Center and you’ll see a lot of the same stuff that many not-for-profit ventures have on their sites:   “Eden Place is dedicated to growing opportunities for learning, recreation, health and employment in the areas of nature conservation and urban agriculture.”

But unless you know Michael Howard, the driving force behind Eden Place, and have talked to him at length, you miss the reality of what it’s like to try to create something out of nothing on the south side of Chicago.

Wait. It was worse than that. Howard and friends have created something out of less than nothing. Because when they started, all they had was an illegal, toxic dumping ground in the Fuller Park neighborhood.  How toxic? Enough so that Howard’s son had high levels of lead in his blood.

Of course,  the lead poisoning wasn’t coming just from that lot, but that’s where Michael Howard drew the line and decided it was time to give his kids and all of the people in the community a chance to observe nature–any kind of nature–in their own neighborhood. It took three years for the citizen volunteers just to remove the construction debris. Then eight inches of top soil were added.  In 2003, Eden Place Nature Center opened.

Thirteen years later, Eden Place hosts a range of programs that help urban residents connect with nature, grow healthy food, and preserve the region’s biodiversity.  These programs include Eden Place Farms, Wild Indigo Nature Explorations, Monarch Propagation and Monitoring, Dr. George Washington Carver Research Station, Earth Day celebrations, a Pumpkin Festival and more.

You can go there and watch kids transfixed by the site of ducks and Eden Placechickens and goats and other farm animals.

Mission accomplished, right? Not so much. Money is always an issue (you can contribute to Eden Place here), and after operating out of a trailer for years, Michael Howard wants a permanent Nature Center for Eden Place that will house classrooms and after school programming for the community. He has already built the foundation of the building–literally–and now he needs to fund the rest of it.

That’s where one of their sponsors comes in. Howard joins me this morning to talk about an upcoming fundraiser sponsored by the Brookfield Zoo, which might finally get the job done. He’s determined guy. And a patient guy. But I know that patience has its limits, too. I welcome him, once again, to my program.

May 29, 2016 – Healthy Lawns: Healthy Non-Fossil-Fuel Investing

The logic of natural lawn care

Even if you host a program that often concerns itself with growing food, the subject of lawns is going to rear its ugly head eventually. Hey, lots of us have lawns. I even have enough of a lawn to have to mow every now and then, though it exists mainly as a reason for me to walk barefoot through my small Logan Square yard.

When it comes to how I treat my lawn, however, I think the appropriate phrase is “benign neglect”: no fertilizers, no pesticides, almost no watering, hand-weeding, perhaps a little compost applied every couple of years. The result? It looks good and it makes me happy and that’s all that counts, right?

Which leads us to our first guest today, Steve Neumann of Logic Lawn Care in Evanston, Illinois. Their goal is to be sustainable in everything they do. They define sustainability as

An approach that meets the needs of our customers today, while focusing on improving, not harming, the environment and natural resources for future generations.

It’s with that philosophy in mind that Logic approaches fertilization, weed control, pest and disease control, landscape maintenance, design and installation and even edible gardens.

Because the average American homeowner is obsessed by lawn care, this conversation could last a few days. We have about half an hour, so get your questions in early.

Learn about urban gardening and food forests this summer!

What can you say about an organization that has donated more than 20,000 pounds of organic food to pantries and food kitchens in Chicago? I’m talking about the KAM Isaiah Israel Food Justice and Sustainability Committee, which first broke ground in April, 2009. Since then, they have grown food, taught others to do the same and even collected produce that would otherwise have gone to waste as part of their White Rock Gleaning program.

In addition, for seven years they have presented their Martin Luther King, Jr.  Food Justice and Sustainability Weekends in the dead of winter (usually around my birthday). In other words, they’ve been incredibly effective during a relatively short period.

The point person–but by no means the only fiercely dedicated individual–for these efforts has been architect Robert Nevel. He has appeared on my show many times and is back to promote the KAM Isaiah Israel Farm & Food Forest School 2016.

It’s an intergenerational experience designed to teach folks Interested in learning about growing food, designing and installing food forests and more. There are eight free workshops in July and August at KAM Isaiah Israel’s award winning micro-farm and food forest in Hyde Park. The class is filling up and Nevel will tell you how to get involved.

Remembering Margaret Eyre

There have always been a number of reasons to visit Rich’s Foxwillow Pines in Woodstock, Illinois: the exquisite selection of rare and and dwarf conifers and other trees, the chance to hear Rich Eyre wax poetic on his travels to collect those specimens, and the disarming wit of his partner in crime Susan Eyre.

But perhaps the best treat was the opportunity to talk to the MargaretandMikeirrepressible Margaret Eyre, who was the force behind the “Hosta Happenings” on site and, indeed, the nursery itself. She died in January of 2016 at the age of 97 and June 4 is the date of the  first Hosta Sale without her comforting presence.

As always, there will be more than 500 varieties of Hostas for sale, (at the very reasonable prices of $5 and up) to benefit Heifer International, and Bolivian handicrafts for sale to benefit Mano a Mano International Partners.

In addition, Heifer International will present a tribute to Margaret Eyre at 10am.  Rich and Susan Eyre are back on my show this morning to talk about this terrific event.

Investing in funds that allow you to sleep at night

I’ve discovered that I have something in common with Donald Trump. It’s pretty simple, actually. If you look at our tax returns, you’ll see that we make much less money than most folks think we do. However, doing that is a problem, because I don’t care who sees my tax returns. Not so much for The Donald.

Which leads us–indirectly, I confess–to the idea of financial investments. There are a lot of folks in the 21st Century who would like to sock their money into entities that will return a profit–but not at the expense of the planet. That is to say, they would prefer not to put money into the pockets of the oil, gas and coal industries, among others. Good luck with that, honey, has always been my advice.

However, I recently received a news release about a business called ETHO Capital, which stated that

ETHO, the world’s first broadly diversified, socially responsible and fossil-free exchange-traded fund (ETF), is available for trading on the New York Stock Exchange…

The ETHO ETF is based on the Etho Climate Leadership Index (ECLI), an index of 400 U.S.-listed stocks that is completely divested of fossil fuel companies, rigorously screened for sustainability criteria, and constructed of only the most climate-efficient companies in each sector.ian-monroe

“Uh…okay,” I said, skeptically. Let’s have you on the show to talk about how that works. To that end, co-founder, president and chief sustainability officer Ian Monroe joins me on the program this morning. He is also Founder of Oroeco and a lecturer on climate change and life cycle assessment science at Stanford University.

In the meantime, I remembered that I had run into a fellow named Tom Tom_Nowak2013Nowak (no relation) at an environmental rally at Daley Plaza about a year and a half ago. Since I never, ever delete emails (not something I recommend as a standard business practice.–except to Hillary Clinton), I was able to track him down.

Tom is founder and Principal of an outfit called Quantum Financial Planning LLC, a Fee-Only financial planning and Registered Investment Advisory firm located near Grayslake, Illinois. I’ll be honest with you–I don’t even know what “fee-only” even means.

However, he sent me a website about Low Fee Socially Responsible Investing. That site can send your down a number of roads, including “fossil free,” “political accountability,” “racial harmony,” “peak water portfolio” and more.

I have always thought that no matter who is doing the talking, the people behind leading you through investments are basically sharks who have smelled your blood in the water. To that end, you should check out this article from Grist called Looking for a Fossil-Free Investment Fund? Check the Fine Print. You might also want to look at this story from The Guardian.

I also suspect that most folks are like me in that a) they don’t trust investment companies and b) they don’t have any money to invest anyway.  Am I wrong? Perhaps I’ll get some answers this morning.



May 22, 2016 – Mike and Peggy Murder Two Hours on the Radio

One of the things I’ve noticed about America is that if you work on Sundays, you’re going to get left out of most of the good stuff–parties, weddings, Super Bowls, graduations, Sunday brunches, picnics, reading the Sunday paper, listening to NPR (and if you say that out loud in my presence, you can expect to find a dead fish on your doorstep on Monday morning), and more.

Well, I have worked on Sundays for pretty much the past decade, and when it comes to booking guests, I’ve heard every excuse in the book. But there comes a time when you soldier on and do the show anyway, if only to protest against a day that 90% of the population treats as a holiday (or holy-day, but don’t get me started) and that for you is just another work day.

Today is a day to soldier on. Fortunately, I have the stalwart Peggy Peggy and MikeMalecki from Natural Awakenings Chicago sitting in with me.  In the first hour, we will do a kind of potpourri of gardening, environmental and green living stories. Who knows where that will take us?

I should say, however, that I expect a visit from a horticultural buddy of mine, Annie Haven from Authentic Haven Brand out in California. They make a product called #MooPooTea, which is manure based. As they describe it,

Manure tea is very similar to compost tea, in fact, it is compost tea but uses composted livestock manure.Annie Haven

The manure is collected and composted in the sun over the course of several months.

The livestock are raised in pastures that contain native grasses, where the cattle are allowed to graze just as nature intended.

Manure teas are used as a soil conditioner in vegetable gardens, flower gardens, lawns and compost piles. Watering plants with manure tea conditions the soil so plant roots can better absorb nutrients. It also provides valuable nutrients, minerals and beneficial microorganisms that supports growing strong and healthy plants.

In the second hour, we welcome in Stephen M. Cutter, who I first talked to when I was doing my show at Progresso Radio down the dial. He and friends have developed an idea for a ride-sharing company…but not just any ride sharing company.

G-RideG-Ride, as they call it,

is a conscious rideshare company promoting the utilization of hybrid and electric cars, focusing on sustainability for both drivers and riders.  With our IMPACT into the market, we are planting a tree with every ride, and since rideshare companies are currently giving millions of rides per day, with G-Ride we could potentially be planting millions of trees per day, every 100 rides saving an ACRE of rainforest.

They’re hoping to launch the effort within months, and given the controversies surrounding the ride sharing company Uber, it should be interesting to watch what happens.

Last but not least, meteorologist Rick DiMaio is off watching one of those aforementioned graduations today, but in his place is Patrick Skach, who is retired co-op weather observer with the National Weather Service and a climate research contributor with the College of DuPage Meteorology Department…and a really good guy.

And it just happens to be Pat’s birthday today! As least some people don’t use every little excuse to take the day off.