Fighting for bees in Skokie

July 28, 2013

Are honey bees welcome in Skokie?

Before we start this conversation, I want to call your attention to some facts. The number of people in the U.S. who are killed each year by “bee” stings (and nobody bothers to differentiate among bees, paper wasps, yellowjackets, and hornets) is around 50. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the National Safety Council, and the World Health Organization (WHO). you are more likely to be killed by

  • lightning strikes
  • tornadoes
  • legal execution (thank you, Texas)
  • air travel accident
  • electrocution
  • bicycle accidents
  • guns (well, DUH, we’re the United States of Armed-merica)
  • falling down
  • falling off a ladder
  • inhaling your food

That’s the kind of perspective I try to hold onto when I hear that one municipality or another is set to enact a ban against beekeeping, especially in light of what seems like an epidemic of bee deaths world wide. In this case, it’s the Village of Skokie. A couple of weeks ago I was copied on an email that was making the rounds of environmentalists and like-minded folk. At the center of this controversy was Skokie resident and beekeeper Theo Watanabe, who wrote:

Skokie’s argument is that we have small lots, live close together, and bees may bother our neighbors.  There was not a focus on bees being dangerous, but more that they are a nuisance to neighbors.  They didn’t seem to ‘get’ that bees are already present everywhere and having a hive here or there is not going to change anything.

At that point, Watanabe wrote that there would be a hearing on July 15th, at 8pm at Skokie Village Hall, where the new ordinance would be read for the first time at the scheduled Board of Trustees meeting. They would also be allowing public comment.

According to the local media coverage, about 16 people testified, and all but two were in favor of home owners being able to keep honey bees on their property. Unfortunately, Dr. Catherine Counard, director of the Skokie Health Department, was less than enthusiastic about beekeeping in her remarks. According to the Skokie Patch, Counard

said the decline of honeybee populations in the country is spurring concern that many crops and foods may not get pollinated and thus not grow. However, she said hobby beekeepers don’t keep bees in great enough numbers to solve the problem.

She was also concerned about potential risks of bee stings to people, particularly people who are allergic to them. Based on Skokie’s population, she said 1,300 to 3,200 people could be allergic.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to have (beehives) on small lots with a dense population,” she said, noting that they might be better suited to other towns which have larger lots or more space between homes, so that bees would not be so close to neighbors.

Regardless, Watanabe thought that a lot of good came out of the hearing and she is now focusing on a future Board of Trustees meeting.

I welcome her to the show today, along with Oak Park beekeeper Debbie Becker, who was involved in a similar controversy in that suburb a couple of years ago. She wrote to tell me that the new ordinance, with all its restrictions, makes it difficult and expensive to be a beekeeper in Oak Park. How? Here’s a list of hurdles that beekeepers must overcome:

• A permit is required, along with a $75 annual fee
• Inspection of the beeyard by a health-department worker
• Registration with the state department of agriculture
• Langstroth hives only
• A source of water on the property near the hive(s)
• Bee colonies must be monitored at least every other week during the active season
• Detailed maintenance records are to be kept and produced upon request
• Beekeeper has to own the property (renters need not apply). No hives on vacant property.
• The hives shall be at least five feet from all property lines
• No more than two hives per property
• A “flyway barrier”–a six-foot fence or dense shrubbery in front of the hive, with a 10-foot flyway between the hive and the barrier
• The rest of the beeyard is to be surrounded by a five-foot-tall barrier–fence or vegetation
• A latched gate with a sign stating, “Warning–Beehives on Property”
• The village now maintains a registry of people who have proven, with a doctor’s note, that they have bee-sting allergies. Beehives may not be established within 150 feet of any resident who has registered for this list.

My advice to beekeepers: be careful what you wish for.

Debra Shore and the Watershed Management Ordinance

It’s an understatement to say that we’ve had a rainy year in the Midwest…so far. But as this Illinois State Climatologist blog post notes, that can change in a hurry. But those of us in the media (and I must include myself, unfortunately) tend to speak of these things in apocalyptic terms, saying that this or that event was a “100-year storm.”

Leave it to Commissioner Debra Shore of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) to set me straight. She sent out a newsletter with some interesting information, such as

When we refer to the 100-year storm, we mean there is one chance in a hundred (1%) that a storm of that magnitude will happen every year, not that such a storm will happen once every 100 years. A 25-year storm event means that there is one chance in 25 (4%) that such a storm will happen every year.

Well, heck, I didn’t know that. Here’s another myth that she destroys:

Another common misconception in some communities along the North Shore is that the Mayor of Wilmette (or someone else) has a magic key that unlocks the gate at the Wilmette Pumping Station to release stormwater from the North Shore Channel out to the lake. No one has such a key – it’s an urban legend. The gates are opened by agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers only when the water level in the North Shore Channel reaches capacity (about 4.5′ above the level of Lake Michigan). Opening the gates any earlier, as many mistakenly demand, would not only fail to provide any flooding relief, but also unnecessarily pollute our drinking water source.

She notes that this year’s flooding across Cook County (whether or not you call the events “100-year storms”) are a call for better stormwater management regulations. To that end, the MWRD has drafted a Watershed Management Ordinance (WMO) to establish uniform stormwater management regulations across Cook County.

Shore says the purpose of the WMO is to prevent flood damages that can result from upstream developments. Cook County is already two decades behind DuPage and Lake Counties, which have similar ordinances in place. You can read the draft ordinance for yourself by clicking on the link.

Then comes the important part, which is to submit your comments by email or postal mail by the August 9, 2013 deadline. You can also attend one of the three remaining public meetings in the next two weeks. All meetings are from 7 to 9 p.m.

Monday, August 5, 2013
Southwest Conference of Mayors
Chicago Ridge Village Hall
10455 S. Ridgeland Avenue, Chicago Ridge

Wednesday, August 7, 2013
Northwest Municipal Conference
Mount Prospect Village Hall
50 S. Emerson Street, Mount Prospect

Thursday, August 8, 2013
South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association
1904 W. 174th Street, East Hazel Crest

Written comments may be submitted by either email or mail to the addresses below.

Email
WMOInbox@mwrd.org

Mail
Catherine A. O’Connor
Director of Engineering
Metropolitan Water Reclamation District
100 E. Erie Street
Chicago, IL 60611

It’s a pleasure to have MWRD Commissioner Debra Shore on my show again today.

I’m giving away 2 tix to the SETF “Down in the Dumps,” tour

A couple of weeks ago, Lisa Albrecht talked about being part of the Energy Solutions Ecotour, sponsored by the Southeast Environmental Task Force.,It went from coal plants to urban solar farms and everything else inbetween…and it was sold out!

Well, here we go again, on August 10, with the SETF Down in the Dumps Tour, from 10:00 am – 2:00 pm. As the SETF writes:

It may sound nasty, by it really is a fascinating trip through the southeast side by comfortable coach bus, visiting a variety o f past & present waste sites (of which there many!) located in our area of the city.

We’ll tour these operations and learn how Chicago deals with garbage, sewage and waste treatment in general. This unique narrated tour highlights the Southeast Side’s overabundance of treatment facilities – huge landfills, recycling centers, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District wastewater treatment plant and sludge drying fields, as well as several former notorious illegal dumps.

The tour originates and ends at the Chicago Cultural Center downtown at Randolph & Michigan The regular cost of $35.00 is reduced for “early bird” registrants to $25 –which includes lunch at Phil Stefani’s Pier 37 Restaurant. This picturesque location is at the famed Harborside International Golf Course on Lake Calumet -a remarkable facility built upon a former dump!

Register by July 31 by visiting setaskforce.blogspot.com — there you will find a PayPal option or call 773-646-0436.

Or…you just might win a couple ot tickets on today’s show. Tune in!

The Starved Rock battle continues…petition Governor Quinn

Though I haven’t talked about it on the air for while, the fight to keep an open pit frac sand mine outside of the eastern entrance of Starved Rock State Park continues. I was pleased to receive a message this week that contained a pdf created by Ottawa, Illinois resident Ashley Williams.

She calls it the Starved Rock Frac Sand Mine Fact Sheet, and it beautifully encapsulates the issue in a couple of short pages. This is a document that you might want to keep handy. She has also started a Move On.org petition called Governor Quinn: Stop the Mississippi Sand Frac Sand Mine Near Starved Rock! which already has more than 16,000 signatures on its way to 20,000. I signed it. I hope you will, too.

This Wednesday, Ashley Williams will be delivering petitions to Governor Pat Quinn at 1:00 p.m. at
The James R. Thompson Center, 100 W. Randolph St, 16-100, Chicago, IL 60601. If you’re interested in joining her, show up in the Lobby of the Office of the Governor.

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Organic gardens and toxic chemicals

July 21, 2013

From the Ground Up: not your average foodie book

If you’ve ever visited The Edible Gardens at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo, or been to the country’s first organic rooftop farm on top of Uncommon Ground Restaurant on Devon Avenue, you’ve seen the handiwork of Jeanne Nolan.

She is also the the founder of The Organic Gardener Ltd., which has designed and installed vegetable gardens on rooftops, in schoolyards, and in suburban backyards all around Chicago. So you might think that she’s just another foodie…and you would be wrong.

She and I appeared together on a panel a couple of years ago for the Good Food Festival in Chicago. I only wish I had known then what I know now about her background, which is revealed in her new (and first) book, FROM THE GROUND UP: A Food Grower’s Education in Life, Love and the Movement That’s Changing the Nation (Spiegel & Grau Hardcover).

If you pick up this book (and I suggest you do), don’t assume that you’re opening just another “how to” publication about growing food, though Jeanne has plenty of gardening wisdom to share. For instance:

[G]rowing plants need a minimum of six hours of sun a day, eight or more if possible. When growing in the lower range of sun exposure, it’s safe to plant beans, peas, herbs, all of the leafy grens, and some small fruiting plants such as cherry tomatoes and cucumbers. In these limited-sun gardens, seedlings and big seeds (for peas and beans) do best; tiny seeds often don’t come up. I’ve found that carrots, potatoes, and other root vegetables need at least eight hours of sunshine, and plants such as tomatoes, peppers, melons and squash will not produce large fruits that ripen to color without full sun. Plants draw energy from sunlight, and producing a large, colorful fruit requires much more energy than producing a small fruit or leafy vegetable.

She also weighs in on environmental issues, which, as I often say, cannot be disconnected from the food we eat:

It’s a stunning fact that roughly forty known carcinogens are currently used a ingredients in EPA-approved pesticides. Moreover, on average,, eighteen new pesticides are submitted to the EPA for approval each year. The approval process hinges on a disturbing cost-benefit analysis: The agency green-lights new chemicals if it decides that the “benefits” of their crop and economic yield outweigh the potential “costs” to health and the environment. What’s worse, chemical manufacturers often claim that they can’t publicly reveal the ingrediients in their products because it’s proprietary inormaiton, which makes it “almost impossible,” according to the Department of Health and Human Services report, “for scientists and environmentalists to challenge the release of new chemicals.”

You wouldn’t guess from the above passages that the story itself is a kind of “tell all,” but it is Jeanne herself who is revealed, as she struggles to find her place in a world she had once utterly rejected and suddenly finds herself on the crest of the local food wave.

I can appreciate the circuitous route that her life has taken–if only because I feel as though I have been a traveler on a similar path. Of course, I didn’t end up on a commune for 17 years, as she did with Zendik Farm, and was faced with reinventing a life that she felt had come to a dead end. On the other hand, that was where she learned and refined her organic gardening skills, which would prove so valuable when she returned to what the commune called the “death culture” of modern society.

Basically, it’s a great story and you will find it hard to put down.

If you pick up the book only for the Appendix with “Ten Lists of Ten Essentials for Every Aspiring Gardener,” you will have made a wise choice. I’m very pleased to have Jeanne Nolan on the show today to talk about FROM THE GROUND UP: A Food Grower’s Education in Life, Love and the Movement That’s Changing the Nation.

Unacceptable Levels…why do we put up with them?

Jeanne Nolan is just one of thousands of people who rail against the use of toxic and unnecessary chemicals in our air, water and food every day. And yet, it often seems as if too few peoplel are paying attention–and those people are not the ones making our laws.

Another one of those people is filmmaker Ed Brown, who has created Unacceptable Levels, documentary that attemps to examine why we allow some 80,000 different chemicals to be unleashed in our environment, often without regulation or real understanding of how they affect us–singularly and in combination with each other.

Ed was moved to make this film basically because of two things: he started a family and he started asking questions. Along the way, he talks to people like

  • Ralph Nader
  • Dr. Devra Lee Davis, Founder and President, The Environmental Health Trust
  • Stacy Malkan, Co-Founder of The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics
  • Ken Cook, President and Co-Founder, The Environmental Working Group
  • Christopher Gavigan, Former CEO of Healthy Child Healthy World and CPO of The Honest Company
  • Dr. William Hirzy, Chemist in Residence, American University
  • Dr. Richard Clapp, Professor of Environmental Health, Boston University
  • Dr. Tyrone Hayes, Biologist, The University of California Berkeley
  • Jeffrey Hollender, Former CEO, Seventh Generation
  • Randy Hayes, Founder, Rainforest Action Network

and more.

The film is having its Chicago premiere this Wednesday, July 24, at 7:30 p.m. at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), 220 E. Chicago Avenue. Tickets are $12. Ed Brown will be there after the film to answer questions. If you want to spend some extra cash and be part of a 6:30 p.m. pre-event cocktail reception featuring Ed Brown and actress eco/activist Mariel Hemingway, that will cost you $75.

You can also follow the film on Facebook. Ed Brown joins us on the show today.

Tree Talk w/ The Care of Trees: Time for dormant pruning already?

Well, no, it’s not. It’s just time to start thinking about dormant pruning.

That’s why certified arborist David Horvath, who is with my sponsor, The Care of TreesA Davey Company, is on the show today to urge you to think ahead to the winter, when it’s easier to prune trees, for a number of reasons. Here are three:

  • Visible Branching Patterns
    The absence of leaves allows the branching patterns of trees to be easily seen. One of the major benefits of pruning is improved tree structure. Crossing branches and weak
    crotches are more visible during the winter months. This enables the arborist to correct faults and help the tree to grow into a safer tree with a better form.
  • Increased Growth Response
    When a portion of a tree’s canopy is removed during the dormant season, we often notice an increase in new growth from the remaining branches. This occurs because the energy stored in the roots and branches is channeled to fewer growth points. Because the same amount of energy is spread among fewer growth points, each new shoot grows a little more than it would have if the tree had not been pruned.
  • Improved Equipment Access
    The cost of dragging brush or cutting up and carrying large logs out of a yard can often amount to a substantial percentage of the total job cost. During the winter months, equipment can often be moved closer to the trees being pruned. This is possible because the frozen ground is not as vulnerable to injury caused by heavy equipment. Frozen ground can mean the difference in allowing a chipper or log loader immediate access to debris, thereby
    reducing costs.

We’ll cover more when David Horvath stops by today to explain why now is a good time to put dormant pruning on your schedule.

Sheffield and Dearborn Garden Walks are today

Just a reminder that today is the second and final day of the 45th Annual Sheffield Garden Walk and Music Festival.

A $7 suggested donation gets you in–$10 after 3pm. As I mentioned last week in my talk with co-Chair Laury Lewis, this event features more than 90 gardens to view, but it many people think about the music. Here’s today’s lineup:

July 21
8:00 pm – POI DOG PONDERING
6:00 pm – Big Sam’s Funky Nation
3:45 pm – Flow Tribe
2:00 pm – Funkadesi
12:30 pm – School of Rock

It’s all organized by the Sheffield Neighborhood Association and its more than 450 volunteers. The not-for-profit association provides support for neighborhood schools, local institutions and community projects. In addition, proceeds are allocated to the association’s Beautification Program, a 7 – 10 year plan to maintain Sheffield as the Garden District of Chicago.

The Dearborn Garden Walk is the grandaddy of Chicago garden walks, celebrating its 55th year in 2013. There’s always a theme associated with this event, and this year it is the life and works of Nobel Prize winning author Ernest Hemingway. Today’s walk is from 12pm-5pm. Tickets are $35 at the gate.

So what exactly does it mean to have a Hemingway-themed garden walk? The North Dearborn Association describes it this way:

During the walk, guests will have the opportunity to follow the adventurous and well-documented life and times of Ernest Hemingway as they tour garden vignettes inspired by his life and works. Chicago designers are set to create dramatic outdoor spaces utilizing a variety of outdoor tables, chairs, colorful cushions, linens, floral decorations, and other accessories including fine china, crystal, and flatware. From Cuba, Paris, and Spain with a nod to Oak Park, Illinois, this will certainly be a most spectacular interpretation of all things Hemingway.

I hope you have the opportunity to attend at least one of these great Chicago traditions.

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Walking the garden walk(s)

July 14, 2013

If it’s July, it must be time for Chicago’s garden walks:
Sheffield Garden Walk and Music Festival…

My friend and former Chicago Gardener of the Year Laury Lewis is back in the studio to answer gardening questions but primarily to promote the 45th year of the Sheffield Garden Walk and Music Festival, Chicago’s best garden party of the year.

A $7 suggested donation gets you in–$10 after 3pm. What separates this garden walk from others is the full range of activities that are part of the event. In fact, even though there are more than 90 gardens to view, I would guess that most people think about the music when they talk about this weekend. So let’s get right to the lineup for July 20 and 21:

July 20
8:15 pm – JC BROOKS & THE UPTOWN SOUND
6:00 pm – Gaelic Storm
3:45 pm – Carbon Leaf
2:30 pm – Archie Powell & The Exports
1:15 pm – Vintage Blue
12:15 pm – The Outfit

July 21
8:00 pm – POI DOG PONDERING
6:00 pm – Big Sam’s Funky Nation
3:45 pm – Flow Tribe
2:00 pm – Funkadesi
12:30 pm – School of Rock

There’s even live big band music at the Little Sisters of the Poor (Belden at Magnolia) provided by Barry Winograd 2-5pm on Saturday and the Alternatives Little Big Band 1-4pm on Sunday.

Among the other treats provided by this festival are kid’s activities, architecture tours, food, drink and a lot of fun. It’s all organized by the Sheffield Neighborhood Association and its more than 450 volunteers. The not-for-profit association provides support for neighborhood schools, local institutions and community projects. In addition, proceeds are allocated to the association’s Beautification Program, a 7 – 10 year plan to maintain Sheffield as the Garden District of Chicago.

Let’s get a list of the events:

Guided garden tours boast some of the most beautiful blossoms in Chicago, including award winners. Tours leave at 3:30 pm Saturday and Sunday from the information booth in front of St. Vincent DePaul Church (1010 W Webster Avenue)  These tours fill up quickly, so visitors are encouraged to sign up in advance.

If you’d rather view the gardens on your own, you can get a guidebook with garden and festival information as well as maps to help navigate the walk. Gardens are open from noon to 5:30 pm.

Guided architecture toursalso leave from the information booth and are offered at 2 and 4 pm on Saturday and 1 and 3 pm on Sunday. The featured sites include the McCormick Row House District—landmark buildings with over 100 years of history—and other Victorian-era wonders.

Kid’s Corner features a ferris wheel, petting zoo, pony rides, face painting stations, arts and craft areas and more. Story Time with the Chicago Public Library, a special visit from the Chicago Fire Department, and various musical activities are all on the agenda for the weekend. Kid’s Corner is located on Kenmore between Webster and Belden and is open from noon to 5:30 pm. Free admission.

Food and drinks are available all weekend from local restaurants like Robinson’s Ribs, Quang Noodle, Derby Bar & Grill, and Beyond Borders Food Truck. Separately, the St. Vincent DePaul church will once again be offering food and drinks and Friends of Mayer will be serving in kid’s corner.

The location is Webster and Sheffield, just one block from the Fullerton El stop. The 11 and 74 buses can also bring CTA-riders to the Sheffield Garden Walk and Festival but for those who drive, 12-hour parking will be available for $6 at the DePaul garage at Clifton Avenue, just south of Fullerton. In addition, bike racks are available on the DePaul campus.

For more information on the 2013 Sheffield Garden Walk & Music Festival, go to www.sheffieldgardenwalk.com.

…and the 55th Dearborn Garden Walk

The Dearborn Garden Walk is the grandaddy of Chicago garden walks, celebrating its 55th year in 2013. There’s always a theme associated with this event, and this year it is the life and works of Nobel Prize winning author Ernest Hemingway. The walk takes place on Sunday, July 21 from 12pm-5pm. Tickets are $30 in advance and $35 at the gate.

So what exactly does it mean to have a Hemingway-themed garden walk? The North Dearborn Association describes it this way:

During the walk, guests will have the opportunity to follow the adventurous and well-documented life and times of Ernest Hemingway as they tour garden vignettes inspired by his life and works. Chicago designers are set to create dramatic outdoor spaces utilizing a variety of outdoor tables, chairs, colorful cushions, linens, floral decorations, and other accessories including fine china, crystal, and flatware. From Cuba, Paris, and Spain with a nod to Oak Park, Illinois, this will certainly be a most spectacular interpretation of all things Hemingway.

As an added perk to the program this year, visitors will also have the opportunity to listen to Hemingway author and scholar Dr. Nancy Sindelar, a member of the Board of Directors of The Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park, Illinois and author of the forthcoming publication, Papa’s Places. Dr. Sindelar will be speaking at dedicated times throughout the afternoon at the Hotel Indigo at 1244 N. Dearborn Parkway. Stuart W. Hubbard, a former Associate Professor of English at the University of Kansas where he taught undergraduate classes on American Literature and Composition and Rhetoric, will be leading an informal discussion on “Ernest Hemingway in Chicago” outlining his early life in and around the city and the effect the area had on his personality and writing. Hubbard’s discussion will take place in the rear courtyard of Hemingway’s former residence at 1239 North Dearborn Parkway.  Access to the courtyard is through the hallway of the building in which visitors will have the opportunity to take a look at a collection of Hemingway memorabilia that will be on display.

By the way, all advance ticket purchasers are automatically entered in drawings for goods and services from neighborhood businesses. Admission includes a Dearborn Garden Walk program with a map for a self-guided tour of the gardens, live jazz and classical music in select gardens, and guided architectural walking tours of historic Dearborn Parkway.

I’m pleased to welcome Greg Hodapp and Woody Olsen. They’ve been involved with the Dearborn Garden Walk for over twenty years, and have co-chaired the event since 1994. For ticket purchase information, please call: 312-632-1241 or visit online at: http://www.DearbornGardenWalk.com .

One more event: The Chicagoland GreenBuild Home Tour

If you’re not particularly into gardening but you do appreciate green living, here’s another event next weekend. The Chicagoland GreenBuilt Home tour is Saturday, July 20 and Sunday, July 21.  This self guided tour will showcase sustainable, healthy homes in Northern Illinois. What’s in store? 16 exceptional, award-winning, and nationally-recognized Chicago area homes which highlight sustainable building practices that are attractive, practical and affordable. All homes on the tour have undergone third-party verification through programs such as: ENERGY STAR for Homes, LEED for Homes, the National Green Building Standard, and Passive House.

During this two-day tour event, you will see how some of your neighbors are living in energy-efficient homes that encourage health and well-being, and learn ways the built environment can contribute to a healthier community. Homes will be open from 10 am – 6 pm both days.

You’ll need to buy tickets online in advance.  And if you are looking for builders, contractors and designers and homeowners they have a list of contractors that were involved in these healthy green homes. Be sure to check out Solar Service, where our very own Lisa Albrecht works as a energy system designer.

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