Tag Archives: Amy Stewart

BRT comes to Chicago and “Dr.” Wally goes to Berthold’s

April 7, 2013

Bus Rapid Transit comes to Chicago (almost)

On November 12, 2012, commuters along the Jeffery Boulevard corridor found that they had a way to get downtown a little faster. On that day, Chicago launched the Jeffery Jump J14 service, the first part of an effort to introduce Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) to the City.

The Jeffery Jump J14 service runs from 103rd Street to Metra’s Ogilvie and Union Stations. Corridor improvements have been made from 67th to 103rd Streets, with dedicated, rush hour lanes along Jeffery Boulevard between 67th and 83rd Streets. Jeffery Jump is an enhanced version of the existing #14 Jeffery Express service.

As I stated, this is just the first of at least three corridors that could have BRT runs within the next few years. But even the Jeffery Jump is only partially complete. There are a number of elements that make a BRT system different from tradition bus service, as listed on the Chicago BRT site:

  • Dedicated bus lanes or separate bus right of way from normal street traffic.
  • Traffic signal prioritization (TSP) which extends green lights and shortens red lights for buses.
  • The ability to bypass regular vehicular traffic
  • Fewer stops and additional customer amenities at special kiosks including pre-board payment stations, maps and digital customer information displaying bus and train arrival information.
  • A uniquely identifiable fleet with a distinct look and branding
  • BRT combines the efficiency and consistency of rail rapid transit with the flexibility and comparatively lower cost of bus service. BRT service has been implemented in cities throughout the world, including several U. S. cities.

In the case of the Jeffery Jump, dedicated lanes have been designated on only a portion of the run–the two miles from 67th to 83rd Streets–and even those lanes are bus-only during the rush hour times of 7-9am and 4-6pm weekdays. Also missing are the prioritized traffic signals, the ability to pay before boarding, and bus stops in the medians.

BRT systems have been shown to work in other cities. A notable example is the HealthLine in Cleveland, where the BRT has pumped as much as $4.3 billion into the City’s economy. Other cities that have incorporated BRT elements into their transportation systems are Los Angeles, New York and Eugene, Oregon. Not every city implements every aspect of BRT systems, yet the roll out of even parts of the concept have been shown to improve commuting experiences.

If you’re wondering where the money is coming from, the Jump is funded by an $11 million Federal Transportation Administration grant. There are also a lot of partners in this venture, including the Chicago Transit Authority, Chicago Department of Transportation, Chicago Architecture Foundation, Active Transportation Alliance, Metropolitan Planning Council, Urban Land Institute Civic Consulting Alliance, Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, and The Chicago Community Trust, with support from The Rockefeller Foundation

What’s next? The Central Loop BRT Corridor will move express buses along Washington and Madison streets, connecting Union Station, Ogilvie Transportation Station, North Michigan Avenue, and Navy Pier. Six current bus routes will benefit from BRT improvements. Service along the Central Loop Corridor is expected to begin in 2014 and it’s financed by a $24.6 million Federal Transit Administration grant and $7.3 in local Tax Increment Financing funds.

When funding becomes available (always a sticking point), the City is exploring options for a BRT service on Western and Ashland Avenues. A study is being conducted for the approximately 21 mile length along Western and Ashland Avenues, from Howard Street on the north to 95th Street on the south.

I’m pleased to have Christopher Ziemann, Chicago BRT project manager, in studio this morning. Funded through support from the Rockefeller Foundation, Ziemann works between the Chicago Community Trust, the CTA and the Chicago Dept. of Transportation, and coordinates the efforts of civic nonprofit groups with city agencies.

“Dr. Wally” is back…and now he’s at Berthold’s!

If “Dr. Wally” is in the house this morning to answer questions, it has to be spring! For years, he has been a fixture at Pesche’s Garden Center. But with a new growing season, comes a new location. “Dr. Wally” Schmidtke (and you should know that he’s not a real doctor, he just likes the “M.D” license plates on his Radio Flyer Wagon), is now holding court at Berthold’s Floral, Gift and Garden, though we just call it Berthold’s Garden Center.

At the same time, Berthold’s has become a new sponsor of The Mike Nowak Show. Coincidence? I’ll leave that to you to figure out. Here’s what they have to say about bringing Wally into their operation:

Wally will lead us in various areas including:

  • Digital Pathology – Bring in a sample of a plant material with an insect or disease problem for diagnosis using a Celestron digital microscope.
  • Emails with topical gardening information.
  • Workshops and seminars presented at Berthold’s Seminar Building.
  • Presentations to garden clubs on various horticultural topics.
  • Expanded selection of ‘green’ gardening of curatives and amendments and how to properly use these organic/natural products.
  • Additional varieties of vegetables and herbs that perform well in our Chicago land area.

If you need any horticultural help, please stop in and find out why Wally has earned the nickname “Dr. Wally” from his customers and associates in the industry!

I couldn’t have said it any better. Throughout the year, you can expect gardening tips from “Dr. Wally,” some of which will be posted on this very website.

Amy Stewart: In search of the perfect horticultural cocktail

Here she goes again.

Amy Stewart has a knack for writing horticultural books that…well, that people actually want to read. C’mon, who wouldn’t want to cozy up in the bathroom with titles like Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln’s Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities or Wicked Bugs: The Louse that Conquered Napoleon’s Army & Other Diabolical Insects or The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms. I’ll bet you want to click on one of those links and order a book this very minute.

This time, she’s written a book about the world’s favorite pasttime: drinking. To be more precise, the book is called The Drunken Botanist: The Plants that Create the World’s Great Drinks, and it’s about how horticulture and alcohol intersect. She writes:

It would be impossible to describe every plant that has ever flavored an alcoholic beverage. I am certain that at this very moment, a craft distiller in Brooklyn is plucking a weed from a crack in the sidewalk and wondering if it would make a good flavoring for a new line of bitters. Marc Wucher, an Alsatian eau- de- vie maker, once told a reporter, “We distill everything except our mothers- in- law,” and if you’ve ever been to Alsace, you know he wasn’t exaggerating.

Here is how the book is organized:

Part I
we explore the twin alchemical processes of fermentation and distillation, from which wine, beer, and spirits issue forth Proceeding in an Orderly Fashion through the Alphabet: The Classics, from Agave to Wheat, Then Moving onto a Sampling of More Obscure Sources of Alcohol from around the World: Strange Brews

Part II
we then suffuse our creations with a wondrous assortment of nature’s bounty Herbs & Spices, Flowers, Trees, Fruit, Nuts & Seeds.

Part III
at last we venture into the garden, where we encounter a seasonal array of botanical mixers and garnishes to be introduced to the cocktail in its final stage of preparation Sorted in a Similar Fashion: Herbs, Flowers, Trees, Berries & Vines, Fruits & Vegetables; including Recipes and Sufficient Horticultural Instruction

Stewart also includes a fair number of cocktail recipes, including

Classic Margarita
The French Intervention
The Vavilov Affair
Prickly Pear Sangria
Bison Grass Cocktail
Moscow Mule
Dombey’s Last Word
Dancing with the Green Fairy
The Douglas Expedition
The Frank Meyer Expedition
Buena Vista’s Irish Coffee
Blushing Mary

And a list of syrups, infusions and garnishes such as

Prickly Pear Syrup
Homemade Maraschino Cherries
Brine Your Own Olives
Limoncellow and Other Liqueurs

Before you get started on your own, Stewart offers a few words of advice:

To those of you with more than a passing interest in distillation or mixology, I urge you to be wary of experimenting with unknown plants. As the author of a book on poisonous plants, I can tell you that dropping the wrong herb into a still or a bottle for the purpose of extracting its active ingredients might be your last act of creativity. I’ve included some warnings about deadly look-alikes and dangerous botanical relatives. Do remember that plants employ powerful chemicals as defenses against the very thing you want to do to them, which is to pluck them from the ground and devour them. Before you go foraging, get a reputable field guide and follow it closely.

By the way, Stewart will be in the area for the next couple of days. On Monday, April 8th, at 7 p.m., she appears at The Bookstall at 811 Elm Street, Winnetka. Then, on Tuesday, April 9th, The Standard Club of Chicago will be hosting a reception and luncheon for Stewart at 11:30 a.m. That evening at
7 p.m., Anderson’s Books in Naperville will be hosting a Drunken Botanist party with an assortment of cocktail-friendly plants!

Who says horticulturists don’t know how to party? Ladies and gentlemen, start your cocktails!

Sand mine moratorium in LaSalle County?

File this story under the heading, “Too little, too late.” County Board to consider moratorium on new sand mines, reads the story from The Times in Ottawa, Illinois, dated April 3, 2013. The article was sent to me by a concerned citizen down that way. Here’s how it starts:

Next Thursday [April 11] the La Salle County Board will consider placing a moratorium on new sand mines in rural areas.

The moratorium would extend until Friday, Nov. 1, to give the county time to update its 5-year-old comprehensive plan.

The moratorium would not cease operations for any existing sand mines or prevent the start of sand mines “grandfathered” in the county zoning ordinance.

Neither would it prevent municipalities from annexing land for sand mine operations, such as Utica has done.

So while it might prevent future rural sand mines in the area, it doesn’t seem to have any bearing on the proposed mine outside of Starved Rock State Park. One more part of the story that I think you should read:

[ Mike Harsted, the county’s director of Environmental Services and Land Use] was philosophical on the issue.

“Ten years ago if the citizens of La Salle County would have taken part in the preparation and processing of the La Salle County comprehensive plan and the La Salle County zoning ordinance we probably wouldn’t be having this discussion on sand pits today,” he said.

“But instead, everybody spent their time and money in voting against countywide zoning because it put too many restrictions on the citizens. Well, guess what? Ten years later, low and behold, we didn’t put enough on. And they rely on you to right this for them.”

Cautionary tale?

Tracy Yang from the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club writes to people in LaSalle County::

Now is our chance to start making a difference. We are planning to get something out on Monday next week, but if you all have time to pass on this list (http://www.lasallecounty.org/flctybrd/board_members.htm ) to your local networks before then, I would encourage you to get the word out to others and start making these calls now!

I also encourage you all to be present during the vote to continue applying pressure on your board members.

Good service and wicked plants

August 26, 2012

Give back to nature on September 29

September 29, 2012 happens to be National Public Lands Day (NPLD), the nation’s largest, sIngle-day volunteer for public lands. NPLD will be held on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2012. To register a public land site, click here. To volunteer, view our Find a Site map here.

It began rather inauspiciously in 1994 with three sites and 700 volunteers. In 2011, more than 170,000 volunteers worked at 2,067 sites in every state, the District of Columbia and in many U.S. territories. NPLD volunteers: This is just some of what those volunteers accomplished:

  • Collected an estimated 23,000 pounds of invasive plants
  • Built and maintained an estimated 1,500 miles of trails
  • Planted an estimated 100,000 trees, shrubs and other native plants
  • Removed an estimated 500 tons of trash from trails and other places
  • Contributed an estimated $17 million through volunteer services to improve public lands across the country

In the Chicago Wilderness area, there are plenty of places where you can give back to nature and offer residents a chance to help protect and restore the region’s natural areas. In fact, it is being called the Chicago Wilderness Corporate Council Day of Service.

But you need to register to be part of the action. Simply complete this form , then email to dayofservice@chicagowilderness.org ; fax to 630.829.6547 ; or mail to Patricia Cassady, Chicago Wilderness, c/o Benedictine University, 5700 College Road, Lisle IL 60532 . Registration deadline is September 19, 2012. Unless otherwise noted, all activities are 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.

Meredith Cywinski of SET Environmental, Inc. is a Chicago Wilderness Corporate Council officer, who has served as our Day of Service coordinator in the City. She stops by today to talk about the valuable work that will be done in little more than a month.

Wicked Amy Stewart returns to the show

Any person who has written books titled Wicked Bugs: The Louse that Conquered Napoleon’s Army & Other Diabolical Insects and Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln’s Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities (among others) is always welcome on my radio show.

Let’s face it, Amy Stewart is probably the best horticultural writer in the business right now. Normally, that would make me jealous. But she’s also smart, cute and has always been very kind to me. It would be a little ungrateful to be that petty, don’t you think? (Not that I’m not capable of being very, very petty.)

And now she is appearing at the lovely Fernwood Botanical Garden and Nature Preserve in Niles, Michigan on Saturday, September 8 for a talk called A Natural Murder: Using Poisonous Plants and Venomous Bugs to Create the Perfect Crime. If you’re a mystery writer, you’re going to plotz. But if you’re just a gardener or even thinking of doing in your spouse, this talk is for you.

The talk will be from 3:00 to 4:00 pm on the 8th. The cost is $25, or $20 if you’re a Fernwood Member. Click Here to register, which you need to do by September 6.

However, I happen to have a pair of tickets to this event in my hot little hands, which I will be giving away on today’s show. I will also be sending some luck people copies of Amy’s books Wicked Plants, Wicked Bugs and The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms.

Amy is also going to be in Normal, Illinois, on the campus of Illinois State University for almost a full day of events on September 6. They include a talk on Wicked Bugs at 9:30 a.m., a Garden Soiree with Amy Stewart from 4 to 6 p.m., and a Midwestern Night in the Garden of (not so) Good and Evil, where Amy talks about Wicked Plants.

Unfortunately, I don’t have tix for those events. But if you hit the above link, you can get more information on how to reserve tickets.

Congratulations to Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge

As I like to say, sometime the good guys win. That’s the case of Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge, which I’ve discussed on my show and which became a reality on August 15 when Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar made the announcement.

It’s hard to believe that this will be the first refuge in our region, which is why so many groups, like the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club, Openlands, Friends of Hackmatack, The Trust for Public Land and people like Senator Richard Durbin fought so hard for its establishment.

According to the U.S. Department of the Interior press release:

The refuge, which will not be officially established until the first parcel of land is purchased, will provide for restoration of wetlands, prairie and oak savanna habitat and provide a home for 109 species of animals and plants that are of concern. The list includes 49 birds, five fishes, five mussels, one amphibian, two reptiles and 47 plants.

The Service will also provide ample environmental education and recreational opportunities for visitors, including the 3.5 million people within 30 miles of the refuge.

Good stuff, folks. Congratulations to all!

The return of Beth Botts and Heather Frey…

…for a week, at least. I’m taking the day off next Sunday, September 2 and leaving my show in the capable hands of horticultural writer Beth Botts and good buddy Heather Frey. Be nice to them, okay? Of course, the enigmatic Denny Schetter will be spinning the dials. You don’t have to be quite as nice to him. I’m not exactly sure why.

3rd Anniversary Show: Coal (burning) plants, wicked bugs, rabbit poo and Sustainable Food Fundamentals

April 24, 2011

“The Mike Nowak Show”: Three years and still kickin’. Thanks!

Who’da thunk it? That three years and 156 shows later, I’d still be turning on a microphone at Chicago’s Progressive Talk every Sunday. Of course, the starting hour has changed a couple of times, as has my producer, not to mention the length of the program, but the boat is still relatively without leaks and I’m looking forward to doing this for a long, long time.

Thanks to everybody who has made my show possible: Newswebradio Company, which owns Chicago’s Progressive Talk; Harvey Wells, who first hired me; Joe McArdle, who shepherded me through the first few tricky months; producers John Uher and Heather Frey; the beautiful Kathleen Thompson, who is my sweetie and webmaster (go wherever you want with that); my first class meteorologist Rick DiMaio; Intrepid Green Reporter Leah Pietrusiak, who helps behind the scenes with much of the ad copy; my fabulous advertisers; and last, but certainly not least, all of the people who listen to the show, whether regularly or not. My heartfelt thanks to ALL OF YOU!

Coal power plays hardball at Chicago City Council

Last week I talked to Lan Richard from the Eco-Justic Collaborative about Thursday’s City Council hearing about the Clean Power Ordinance introduced by, 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore to force the Fisk and Crawford coal-fired plants to reduce or clean up their emissions or shut down permanently. The measure was introduced a year ago but had been consistently denied a hearing. However, with 26 co-sponsors now supporting the measure, retiring Alderman Virginia Rugai, chair of the Energy, Environmental Protection and Public Utilities Committee finally agreed–in the eleventh hour of the Daley Administration–to hear discussion, and possibly bring the ordinance up for a vote.

Lan and the more than 50 organizations that comprise the Chicago Clean Power Coalition were savvy enough to know that, in Chicago politics, very little happens without some kind of shenanigans. The idea was to encourage Chicago citizens who want cleaner air to show up at City Hall to voice their support. Furthermore, to encourage the aldermen who had co-sponsored the ordinance, a website called “WHERE’S MY WALDERMAN?” was set up, where folks could keep tabs on the whereabouts of aldermen during the hearing.

Three days after Thursday’s hearing, environmentalists are still trying to get the license of the truck that hit them.

Midwest Generation, which owns the two plants, got there early with hundreds of its workers that it bused in from all parts of the state and quickly grabbed most of the seats in the council chamber, effectly excluding all others from participating in the hearing.

Lan Richart was one of the few environmentalists who got into the room and he sent me his observations of the proceedings:

MWG representatives testified that the Fisk power plant has 65 employees, 13 of whom are Chicago residents. The Crawford plant has 120 employees, but they did not know how many were Chicago residents.

Alderman Rugai…refused to set a hearing until the very last week of the administration, then opened the hearing by saying the committee would not be taking a vote, because the issue warranted a great deal of study and consideration.

MWG pulled out all stops. Despite all of this, the Coalition widened public understanding of its message, got excellent press coverage and maintained momentum that will assure that the issue will be addressed by the new administration. We walked away having learned a few lessons about chicago politics, but even more determined to see this through. I think that that is the real message.

Lan’s wife Pam Richart, also of the Eco-Justic Collaborative, is on the show today with a look back at how things went down at City Hall.

Amy Stewart is baaaaack…with “Wicked Bugs”

It was last November when I last had author Amy Stewart on my show. At that time, she regaled–and terrified–Heather and me with tales of plants that are poisonous, hallucinogenic or otherwise harmful. That was the subject of her book Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln’s Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities. Of course, Heather immediately wanted a copy, which is now part of her bathroom decorations. And if you thought that knowing about plants that could kill and maim you was enough to keep you awake nights, you ain’t heard nothing yet.

Amy is back, with her latest book, Wicked Bugs: The Louse that Conquered Napoleon’s Army & Other Diabolical Insects. I haven’t slept in months, since I read her first book, and I’m preparing for a sleepless decade. Before I get into the gory details, here’s a short passage from Amy’s book that should give you pause:

To date, over one million species of insects have been described worldwide. It is estimated that there are ten quintillion insects alive on the planet right now, which means that for each one of us, there are two hundred million of them.

It didn’t help much when I saw this article on Mother Nature Network earlier this week. If that isn’t enough to send your reaching for the Raid, here’s more:

  • Female praying mantids are notorious for biting the heads off of their mates during copulation. However, that particularly un-ladylike behavior is also exhibited by fireflies, golden-orbed weavers, crab spiders and more.
  • Speaking of the dainty sex, the “fact” that the bite of a black widow spider is almost always fatal is a myth. And regardless of whether you think you’ve seen a brown recluse spider, let alone been bitten by one, you probably haven’t. They get blamed for a lot.
  • If you’ve spent most of your life in northern climes, as I have, you might not be aware that you can scorpions glow under ultraviolet light, making them easy to spot next to your Jimmy Hendrix poster. Scorpion stings are rarely fatal–expect in children. Fortunately, there is a new antivenin called Anascorp, which is saving lives. In case you haven’t figured it out, there’s a reason I stay in northern climes.
  • After Columbus’s second trip to the New World and his establishment of a colony on Hispaniola, it’s likely that his crew found it necessary to cut off some of their toes because of infestations of the chigoe flea.
  • Over half a million English drivers have had a car accident caused by the distraction of a bug in the car. Please don’t do that study in the United States. I don’t want to know.
  • The Colorado potato beetle is so devasting that in World War II the Germans believed that Americans were dropping the beetles from planes as a form of aerial agricultural warfare.
  • Some ant facts: Fire ants are not just feared for their sting. Their chewing ability has disabled traffic lights, shorted out air conditioners and even imperiled the now-defunct super-collider project in Texas. The bullet ant gets its name from the unfortunate fact that its bite feels like a gunshot. And entomologists believe that the population of Argentine ants that extends from San Diego into northern California is one giant supercolony of genetically similar ants. Have a nice day!

By the way, if the name Amy Stewart seems familiar, she is part of the Garden Rant crowd. The last time one of the gals dropped into the studio, Twitter Nation went berserk. I can hardly wait to see what happens this time. By the way, Amy is in studio, which means she’s in town for a bunch of appearances. You can catch her at

Monday, April 25, 2011 7 pm
Anderson’s Bookshop
Naperville, IL

Tuesday, April 26, 2011 5:30 pm
Boerner Botanical Gardens
Milwaukee, WI

Wednesday, April 27, 2011 6 pm
Overture Center for the Arts
A special event with artist Briony Morrow-Cribbs
Madison, WI

Thursday, April 28, 2011 7 PM
Morton Arboretum
Lisle, IL

Answering the “rabbit poo” question

Last week, listener Hannah called to ask if it was okay to use rabbit droppings as a fertilizer without composting them first. I did a little searching and came up with some information from Cornell University. I advise reading the whole post, but here’s a quote from the article:

Manures differ from each other because of their source, their age, how they were stored (piled, spread, turned over or not), and the animal bedding material, which may be mixed in. For that reason it is difficult to provide precise guidance about how long manure should be aged before use, or how much to use.

Composting is the safest way to make the most of manure’s nutritional potential – if the logistics of making and hauling compost are viable. For direct use in the garden, first aging manure for 6 months is a good rule of thumb. Many farmers and gardeners spread fresh manure in the fall or winter, and till or turn it in at spring planting time.

Farm animal manures provide NPK – nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). Generally, cow and horse manures are more readily available than other kinds of animal manures. For nutrient analysis of manure from eight kinds of farm animals, as well as other kinds of organic matter, refer to Cornell’s Eco-Gardening Factsheet #8, A Guide to the Nutrient Value of Organic Materials.

Some more information that might be useful is this from Plantea.com:

No matter what kind of manure you use, use it as a soil amendment, not a mulch. In other words, don’t put raw manure directly on garden soils. Raw manure generally releases nitrogen compounds and ammonia which can burn plant roots, young plants and interfere with seed germination. In fact, it’s recommended that all animal manure should be aged for at least 6 months. Many gardeners spread fresh manure in the fall and turn it in to the top 6 inches of soil a month before spring planting.

A better treatment is to hot-compost manure before applying it to the garden. Hot composting, where the pile reaches at least 150 degrees F) helps to reduce the probability of passing dangerous pathogens on to people who handle the manure or eat food grown with manure compost.

While the chance of contamination is slim, severe sickness and even death may occur if contaminated produce is eaten. To be safe, either compost your manure or apply it in the fall after harvest. Wash up after handling manure and don’t forget to rinse the vegetables and fruit well before you eat them–always a good idea whether your use manure or not.

I hope this helps.

Welcome to Sustainable Food Fundamentals:
How the USDA supports local food and local farms

Here are a few facts that might interest you.

  • The number of farmers markets has more than tripled in the past 15 years and there are now more than 6,100 around the country
  • In 1986 there were two community supported agriculture operations, today there are over 4,000
  • There are farm to school programs in 48 states, totaling more than 2,200 and up from two in 1996
  • All 50 states in the U.S. have agricultural branding programs, such as “Jersey Fresh” or “Simply Kansas”
  • As Governor of Iowa, Tom Vilsack started one of the first food policy councils. Today there are over 100 food policy councils
  • And the National Restaurant Association surveyed “locally sourced meats and seafood” and “locally grown produce” as the top two trends for 2011 .

You might be even more interested to know that those facts come from a United States Department of Agriculture website called Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food (KYF2). Yes, the USDA is a huge organization, with a budget of $25 billion dollars, give or take a few billion. And while they oversee agencies like The Farm Service Agency, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Food and Nutrition Service, and even the Forest Service, the USDA is also supporting local farmers. Bet you didn’t know that, huh?

That’s why I’m pleased to have Alan Shannon, who is the Director of Midwest Region Public Affairs for the USDA Food & Nutrition Service Midwest. One of things I’ll ask him about is the Peoples Garden Initiative, which challenges USDA employees to establish People’s Gardens at USDA facilities worldwide or help communities create gardens.

And I’m happy to have Pearl Valley Organix as a sponsory for Sustainable Food Fundamentals. They produce HEALTHY GRO™ products for your lawn and garden, as well as Pearl Valley Eggs. And they do it in a way that is sustainable, turning their chicken manure into several OMRI listed fertilizers, and even recycling their waste water on site at the Pearl Valley Farm.

The Pearl Valley people were kind enough to give me a tour of their facility, about 150 miles northwest of Chicago near Pearl City, Illinois. I was astonished by the cleanliness of the the place (I swear you could have lunch on the floor of the egg-packing building). I was even more impressed by the way founder Dave Thompson approaches his business. It’s about health, and it’s about science. It’s also about respect for their neighbors and for the planet. Dave’s goal all along has been to produce eggs that are the best on the market by keeping chickens in a healthy, humane way, while taking pains not to despoil the land.

He has succeeded admirably. I challenge you to crack open a Pearl Valley egg next to a traditionally raised egg and tell me what you see. It will be no contest. As for their fertilizers, I’m just starting to use them. I’ll keep you posted on this website and on Chicago’s Progressive Talk. Meanwhile, if you want to know more about Dave and Pearl valley, check out this article that appeared in USA Today.