Tag Archives: Chicago River

Prairies, rivers, veggies and bonsai

July 10, 2011

10,000 native wildflower plugs seeking a good time, er, home

That headline is just a tiny bit misleading. It implies that those native plants don’t have a place to be planted. They do, actually, and it’s at one of the great restoration projects of the 21st Century. If you are not familiar with Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, you should be. And If you believe in returning at least part of the prairie to “The Prairie State,” you might want to stop by next weekend and help put those plants in the ground.

Here’s the story. I received a message the other week from Allison Cisneros, Volunteer Coordinator for The Nature Conservancy at Midewin. She said that they had received a grant from the National Forest Foundation to purchase these plants. The problem, as you can see, is that there are 10,000 of them and they need to get in the ground quickly. Midewin relies on its volunteers to help with many projects, and they make a huge difference.

The planting dates are

Saturday, July 16
Sunday, July 17 (only if the July 16 date is rained out)
Monday, July 18
Tuesday, July 19

RSVP to Gemma Guenther at 815.423.2148 or gguenther@fs.fed.us

Work starts at 9am and ends at 2:30pm. Meet at the River Road Seedbeds/Trailhead (directions here). Allison says she’ll take a half-day if that’s all you can spare. Her goal is to get at least 50 people ages 7 and up.The plugs will be planted near the beginning of the Prairie Creek Woods Trail where they can be enjoyed by hundreds of visitors each year.

Midewin will provide tools, safety gear and water.  Remember to wear layers, field boots and a hat. Bring your own lunch if you plan to stay. After the workday, you can reward yourself by hopping on your bike or grabbing your binoculars to explore their trails or hike through a woodland or prairie restoration.

Last but not least, if you’re intererested in keeping up with what’s going on at Midewin, you can subscribe to the Meadowlark Newsletter.

Mike and Heather paddle the Chicago River…and live to tell the tale

It didn’t hurt that yesterday might have been a perfect summer day. Temps in the mid-eighties, brilliant sunshine, a little cooling breeze. And with that as confidence-builder, Heather and I lauched our canoe into the Chicago River and paddled from roughly Lane Tech High School to Dearborn and…um, the river.

Upon finishing the several-mile journey, I heard a couple of interesting reports. One was from Margaret Frisbie, Executive Director of Friends of the Chicago River, who was on my radio show last week. Her report? “I haven’t seen it that dirty in years.” Whoa. Another comment came from Jake Leinenkugel, whose company is behind Canoes for a Cause, which organized the “Friendly Float” event. Said Jake, “That river needs a lot of help.” Ouch.

And, you know what, they’re right.

After all, the Chicago River was recently called one of the “most endangered rivers” in the country, due to high levels of pollutants in the waterway. You might have heard me interview the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Josh Mogerman about their lawsuit to stop the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District from dumping raw sewage mixed with stormwater, as well as algae-fueling pollution, into the Chicago River system. Fortunately, after pressure from NGOs like NRDC and Friends of the Chicago River, as well a ruling from the U.S. EPA, which demanded more stringent pollution controls, the MWRD finally saw the light. Just how long a clean up will take is anybody’s guess at the moment–perhaps years–but it will happen…and not a moment too soon.

There are parts of the stretch we canoed that don’t seem too bad, but others that are covered in debris, scum, and dead fish. I even spotted a whole pinapple floating among the flotsam and jetsam of a major midwestern city. And, of course, much of the shoreline simply does not exist anymore. It has been replaced by iron pilings. Heather and I noticed one barge that looked as though it had been parked in its spot for half a century or more. We were warned before the trip that

“Should you fall in, do not ingest river water. If you do there is a chance that you will suffer an intestinal upset within the next 24 hours. Take a shower when you get home. Put antibacterial ointment on any open cuts.”

That pretty much put the fear of God into Heather and me. NO WAY were we going to risk capsizing.

I think it’s crucial that businesses like Leinenkugel’s to get on board with cleaning up the river. Leinie’s already has a history of protecting waterways in the Midwest, and now they’ve teamed with Friends of the Chicago River to create Canoes for a Cause, an online resource that encourages Chicagoans to join Leinenkugel’s in improving the Chicago River. For every new “like” on the Leinenkugel’s Facebook page, Leinenkugel’s and its partners will make a monetary donation to Friends of the Chicago River up to $15,000. But you can also donate to the cause individually via a Friends of the Chicago River donation link.

Jake is on the show today to say that the dealine for participating in this fundraising effort has been extended until the end of July, even though the original conclusion date was July 9. So get online, click the “Friend” button on the Leinie’s page and help leave the Chicago River for our children in better shape than we found it.

The irrepressible Bill Aldrich

If it weren’t for Bill Aldrich, I wouldn’t be torturing people in Chicagoland Gardening Magazine. I don’t mean that I’m torturing the people who write for the magazine. I mean it’s possible that I’m torturing people who read it. And you can blame Bill Alrich, who, some eight and a half years ago, hired me to write my column.

He also started Chicagoland Gardening Magazine, and is the author of a number of books. Here’s what Amazon.com has to say about Bill.

WILLIAM ALDRICH is publisher of Chicagoland Gardening, a magazine he founded in 1995 to provide regionally focused gardening information. He is a certified Master Gardener and has been a garden writer for more than 20 years, mostly with the Chicago Tribune. Bill, a past-president of the Garden Writers Association, has written six Lone Pine gardening books designed for Midwest gardeners.

More recently, Bill has been Seminar coordinator at Chicago Flower & Garden Show. I like to have him stop by my show from time to time, if only because he always has interesting things to say about horticulture and the people who practice it.

Bonsai and gardening tips for the week…from Dan Kosta

If you listen to my show long enough you will hear a phone call from Dan Kosta. Dan works at Vern Goers Greenhouse in Hinsdale and, I am happy to say, is a friend fo the show. Of course, that doesn’t stop him from correcting me when I get something wrong, or just offering what is usually excellent gardening advice.

He is also a serious collector of bonsai and a member of the Prairie State Bonsai Society. He’s here today to talk about Prairie State’s annual show at the Morton Arboretum on July 16 & 17. . Hours are 10am – 6pm on Saturday and 10am – 4pm on Sunday. There will be bonsai demonstrations, workshops, vendors, and a display of members’ trees. The show is free but you must pay for admission to the Arboretum. The show is located in the Arboretum visitor’s center. You can register for workshops 630-719-2468 or registrar@mortonarb.org

Dan says this a great event for anyone who wants to learn more about the art of bonsai as well as those who are experienced in growing bonsai, or just curious of what bonsai all about. Of course, he will be making a presentation himself–a workshop on Dawn Redwood trees on Saturday morning and another demonstration on Sunday.

Okay, that’s the bonsai stuff. Dan has also written to me lately about other matters, including the hail storm that hit the squash plants in the Green on McLean community garden on my block. His advice, per the subject line of his email, is to “toss the squash.” Here’s why.

Rip out the damaged squash. Do not save them. Replant seed. This is when I always plant my squash seed and this is not just because I am crazy. The squash borer female is out in June laying her eggs. By the first of July she is gone (aka dead) and so you avoid getting borers. This is something I got from the extension service a few years ago and it works. You will still get plenty and no borers killing the vines. I have even told this to customers and it works for them. The warm soil will make the seeds germinate quickly and the vines grow fast as well.

He also commented on other plants:

One of my customers said he has plenty of flowers on his tomatoes but only 2 fruits. Most flowers fall off. I am guessing a pollination problem, lack of bees. There have been other unusual problems brought in as well. Apple scab seems to be big this year and lots of verticillium problems on tomatoes, especially heirloom types. Just another one of our usual strange years.

He added this in another email:

More garden problems are being brought in. One woman brought in a bunch of aphids of a real pretty red color. Don’t recall seeing that color aphids before. A lot of leaves that have torn themselves up as well. That’s due to fluctuating temperatures. Its an easy one to spot if you know what to look for.

Since Dan has so much good information for me, I am happy to say that I was able to return the favor. You might recall that last week I had Robert Nevel of KAM Isaiah Israel on the show. While he was in the studio, he happened to mention that his cucumbers were not growing up to expectations. I commented that we had experienced the same thing on McLean. LaManda Joy, who was also on the show, confirmed our complaint.

And then, this week, Kathleen and friend Mac stopped in at the Green City Market in Lincoln Park. They just happened to mention the cucumber problem to an organic farmer…who immediately knew what they were talking about. We’re embarrassed that we didn’t get this farmer’s name, because her advice makes lots of sense.

She said that she was experiencing the same problem on her farm. She blamed it on the cool weather that occurred while the cucumbers should have been growing vines. The temperatures caused the vines to be slow in developing. Then, suddenly, hot weather hit, which sent a signal to the plants to start producing fruit. The problem was that because the plants were so small, there was no way that they could sustain fruit growth.

The farmer said that she hit her plants with a a double dose of nitrogen-rich fish emulsion, to immediately stimulate plant growth. She suggests that it should be done a week later, to insure that the plants get up to speed. It makes sense to me, and I suspect that it will work on other cucurbits and perhaps even other plants that have been lagging because of our inconsistent weather. If you happen to try this approach, drop me a line and let me know how your veggies respond.

Saving the Garfield Park Conservatory, cruising on the Chicago River, and documenting food issues

July 3, 2011

Five minutes of hail = five million dollars of damage

I heard a noise on Thursday evening. It was coming from the back of the house. “Now what?” I thought. Remember, mine is a neighborhood where gang bangers shoot craps on the sidewalk in front of my 89-year-old neighbor’s house (I watched this happen on Thursday). Where the fire hydrant at the end of block, which was going to be the source of water for our community garden, has now become a gang-themed water park for this block and many others in the area. Where my most loathed holiday of the year is the Fourth of July because I know that most of the fireworks that are sold in Indiana will end up on my block.

With all of that in mind, I made a move toward the back door. Then I heard a noise in the front. Then on the skylight. Then on the roof. Then…everywhere. It wasn’t squirrels, it wasn’t gang bangers (who often behave like squirrels), it was…hail. Not just any hail. This was the hail that you see in news stories that you’ve never experienced. Golf-ball-sized hail. I always thought that was an exaggeration. A myth.

Now I was watching it cover the sidewalk and street and litter both with leaves and branches. It was scary. In my neighborhood, it lasted no more than five or seven minutes. That was all it took to wreak havoc on my personal garden (the hostas are toast) and on our community garden, Green on McLean. The full effects of the storm are documented in a video that webmaster Kathleen put together for the blogsite.

But that damage pales in comparison to what happened to the Garfield Park Conservatory. In a few short minutes, somewhere around half of the glass panels of the conservatory were smashed, resulting in millions of dollars’ worth of damage. That has left GPC to send out a plea for help, as priceless plants are at the mercy of Mother Nature. While it might seem odd that tropical plants should need protecting in the middle of a Chicago summer, you should know that different rooms in the conservatory have different needs.

For instance, the historic Fern Room requires high humidity to support its collection of rain forest plants, while the Desert House requires arid conditions. With the rooms now open to the skies, those conditions are not sustainable. Yesterday I tracked down Miguel del Valle (no, not the former city clerk and mayoral candidate, but his son), who is General Foreman for the Garfield Park Conservatory.

He and his team were busy picking glass out of the Fern Room displays, while contractors were already on site, beginning repairs on the glass panels overhead. Del Valle says that his crew was also working feverishly to keep the rain forest plants under canopies, because exposure to the mid-June Chicago sun would fry many of them. However, the canopies need to be portable, so workers can easily move from place to place.

Del Valle joins me on the program this morning to talk about the repair work being done, how Chicagoans can help, and where the conservatory goes from here. Fortunately, even though it is only a few miles away, the Lincoln Park Conservatory suffered no damage except for erosion of the whitewash on some glass roof panes. There was also no damage at the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool except for a few fallen tree limbs.

“Like” Leinenkugel and help the Friends of the Chicago River

If you thought that letting Heather and me loose on the Pride Parade was bad enough, just imagine what could happen if they put us together in a canoe on the Chicago River.

Stand back. It’s going to happen. Next Saturday morning, July 9, Heather and I will participate in the Canoes for a Cause “Friendly Float” canoeing event on the Chicago River. They’re calling it a “leisurely canoe float”, meaning that it’s not a race, which is a good thing for Heather and me. The point is to show that the Chicago River is a valuable recreational resource, which in turn helps demonstrate appreciation for the River and its potential.

Canoes for a Cause is the brainchild of Jake and John Leinenkugel, whose company, the Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company, is proud of its history of improving water resources in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and now Illinois. Among their accomplishments is the installation of a new pasteurizer at their plant in Chippewa Falls, which reduces water consumption by 20 million gallons each year.

Now they’ve teamed with Friends of the Chicago River to create Canoes for a Cause, an online resource that encourages Chicagoans to join Leinenkugel’s in improving the Chicago River. According to “Friends” Executive Director Margaret Frisbie, for every new “like” on the Leinenkugel’s Facebook page, Leinenkugel’s and its partners will make a monetary donation to Friends of the Chicago River up to $15,000. But you can also donate to the cause individually via a Friends of the Chicago River donation link.

You have officially until July 9 to “like” Lenenkugel on their Facebook page and insure that money goes to the Friends of the Chicago River. However, I will be talking to Jake Leinenkugel on next week’s show, and a little birdie told me that the deadline might just be extended to the end of the month…or at least the end of the day on July 10, to allow folks listening to my program to participate. Now THAT’S Chicago–and Wisconsin–clout!

Sustainable Food Fundamentals: Food Deserts in a Land of Plenty

In May of 2009, I did a special program from the Third Unitarian Church of Chicago in the Austin community on the west side. It was called Rooted in Austin and, in a significant way, it was my introduction to the myriad of complex issues surrounding urban agriculture and food justice in America. I invited a panel of experts, all of whom were in the front lines fighting the battle for health and food security for people in all walks of life.

In the front row of the audience was a woman with a video camera, who had asked if she could shoot some footage of the event. Her name was Sarah Carlson and the comments from my experts were to be a tiny part of a documentary she was putting together called GROW. At the time, I think I asked her some questions about how she was funding the piece and how long it would take to edit.

Fast foward two years to next Thursday, July 7 at Jane Addams Hull-House Museum at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where a preview of Food Deserts in a Land of Plenty will be shown in a private screening. Sarah says that Food Deserts in a Land of Plenty is actually a shorter version of GROW, which she is still editing.

In case you don’t know, it’s not easy being an independent film producer, and this very important fill could use some (financial) help. In fact, you can see the trailer of GROW and contribute to the documentary right here.

Here’s how Sarah describes her documentary:

The contrasting and converging landscapes of rural and urban Illinois provide the setting for a new movement of people reconnecting to their food. No longer able to rely on the presence of national grocery chains and distributors to bring fresh, healthy items into their “food desert” communities, residents of Grand Crossing on Chicago’s South Side and down state’s Bureau Valley begin collectively solving the problem through a new agrarianism. GROW turns a lens to activists, Chicago Public School students, single mothers, farmers and legislators helping to shape the developing regional food system by becoming urban rooftop growers, first generation farmers and public policy champions.

KAM Isaiah Israel receives 2011 Gourd Award (it rhymes!)

it makes sense to have Robert Nevel of KAM Isaiah Israel stop into the studio while Sarah Carlson is here. Both of them are working towards similar goals–though in different ways. With its Food Justice and Sustainability Program, KAM continues to expand its operations in their Hyde Park Neighborhood. Last fall, volunteers took up about 1,000 square feet of sod at the Kenwood United Church of Christ at 46th and South Greenwood. It’s part of KAMII’s effort to transform congregational lawns into food producing gardens.

KAM also continues to win awards. This time, The Urban Health Initiative of the University of Chicago Medical Center, SSHVS, presented them with the 2011 Gourd Award, which is given to groups helping to improve health on the South Side of Chicago. The GOURD Award Review Committee was impressed with how KAM Isaiah Israel Congregation is utilizing urban agriculture to creatively address food injustice through community education, engagement, and advocacy.

Not only that, KAM is launching the Food Justice and Sustainability Young Leadership Summer Program. The free program is four Sundays long and open to high school students entering grades 9 – 12. There are two sessions, one in July and one in August. Students who complete the Program may be eligible for community service credit.

According to KAM:

Each Sunday will start with two 45 minute workshops. The first workshop will be
taught by leaders of the faith community and will be centered on what different
faiths teach about sustainability and food justice. The second will be led by
experienced practitioners and will focus on land use, sustainability, urban farming
and local food production. The workshops will be followed, in the afternoon, by 2.5
hours of hands on work in the KAMII food producing gardens. The emphasis will
be on learning methods of urban food production and sustainability.

Celebrate food independence with The Peterson Garden Project

Anybody who knows me also knows that the 4th of July is not my favorite holiday. In fact, I would say that it’s my least favorite, mainly because I don’t think that two Americans in a hundred actually think about why they have the right to blow off a couple of fingers at midnight just outside my bedroom window.

But I digress. Or I’m right on target.

Here’s a much better way to celebrate. Stop by The Peterson Garden Project at Peterson and Campbell on Chicago’s northwest side, bring a potluck dish, dress your kids or pets as vegetables for the annual Veggie Parade, and chat with folks who like to garden. There’s also face painting, a lemonade stand and decorations by the awesome event team! Ahhh, that’s living.

Of course, I’m going to be there as the erstwhile MC (don’t know exactly what I’m supposed to do but I’ll do it), and it’s a great cause. LaManda Joy is on the program this morning to tell you all about it.

Festivities start this afternoon, Sunday, July 3 at 4:00 and go until 8:00 p.m…just in time to go home and listen to fireworks outside your bedroom window.

New models for recycling in Chicago, cleaning our river, and organic farming

June 12, 2011

If the Cubs can recycle, so can Chicago. Here’s Free Green Can.

There isn’t much that the Chicago Cubs have gotten right in the past few years. Hey, I should know–I was at Gargantua Radio down the dial for a long, long time and I witnessed their futility first hand. In fact, I was at the infamous “Bartman” game that broke Cubs fan hearts all over the planet. However, I applaud them for something they did just last year…and it has nothing to do with baseball.

The Cubs hired a company called Free Green Can to create a “Recycle on the Go” program by distributing 25 dual-purpose containers around Wrigley Field. They provide year-round opportunities for Cubs fans and Wrigleyville residents to recycle glass, plastic, paper and aluminum, as well as keep trash out of the neighborhood.

Free Green Can founder and CEO Steve Holland came up with the idea after attending his 11-year-old son’s baseball game at a local park. He passed a plastic water bottle to his son, who noticed that the one recycling can at the park was full and the waste cans were overflowing with recyclable containers. His simple-yet-profound question was, “Why aren’t there MORE recycling bins than trash cans?”

Holland didn’t have an answer. Predictably, his town said they couldn’t afford more recycling bins. So Holland decided to come up with an economic model that would provide recycling opportunity where there is a trash opportunity. The Free Green Can is a dual purpose recycle/trash container. The tasteful advertising on the outside of the container generates revenue that is shared with the municipality, venue or entity hosting the bin at no cost. Here’s how it works:

  • There are two separate and easy to remove 30+ gallon insert liners. One for recyclables (plastic, aluminum, paper, and glass) and the other for trash.
  • It is installed by using four grass or concrete anchors.
  • It has a lifetime guarantee.
  • It has a specially designed top to keep weather elements from entering and/or filling the Free Green Can.
  • Its unique design complements both modern and historical settings.

Holland and senior vice president of sales & marketing, Dave Whorton, say they have now contracted with the Chicago Park District and you will soon be seeing Free Green Cans in parks along the lakefront. This doesn’t address the lack of blue carts in 400,000 yards, or the fact that high rise recycling is awful, but it’s a start. Perhaps Mayor Rahm Emanuel is paying attention.

The MWRD does the right thing…finally

After more than a decade of opposing the measure and 13 million dollars spent fighting it, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago finally voted last week to endorse a new policy that backs more stringent water quality standards, which includes disinfecting wastewater dumped into the Chicago River from two of its treatment plants. The vote was 8-1 and the only dissenter was board president Terrence O’Brien.

The move was hailed by groups like Friends of the Chicago River, the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council., which said, in a release sent out this week:

Last week, the Illinois Pollution Control Board, which has been the venue for a record breaking debate over disinfection, issued a proposed decision that largely reinforces the policies put forth by U.S. EPA. The Pollution Control Board will take public comments this week before issuing their final decision on June 16

Congratulations to the people who have worked so hard for so long to clean up this waterway.

Sustainable Food Fundamentals:
She’s baaaack…farmer Kim Marsin from Sweet Home Organics

When we last visited with “commuting farmer” Kim Marsin of Sweet Home Organics. she and partner Rachel Reklau had just purchased a used tractor at their first auction. I guess I need to ask how the machine is holding up.

I reached Kim on the phone Saturday and she says that Sweet Home Organics is well into their farmers market season. You might remember that Kim and Rachel are part of a new breed of farmers who don’t own the land on which they grow crops. Primrose Farm, where they lease land, is owned by the St. Charles Park District. The farm itself is the last of a line of what used to be 3-5 working dairy farms. The former neighboring farms have since been torn down or turned into homes. The park district runs the farm as a living history farm open for the public for tours (on Wed and Saturdays).

Since Angelic Organics Learning Center has been so instrumental in helping me line up guests for Sustainable Food Fundamentals and, before that, Good Growing, I want to plug their summer and fall workshop calendar. There is a ton of stuff going on at various locations. Here are some of the highlights:

  • More classes on raising goats and chickens (which are very popular), and a new class on applying Biodynamic principles and practices in your yard at home.
  • Food preservation, winemaking, cheesemaking (including a 1 day class which combines cheesemaking with earth oven bread baking), pizza making, plus a new class all about apples in September.
  • Family camping opportunities at the farm, including Father’s Day weekend, Labor Day weekend, and a five day program at the beginning of August.
  • Even more day camps (filling quickly!), including an option for middle schoolers and a shorter animal camp for younger children
  • Even more family programming, with extra ice cream and farm animal days throughout the summer.

As always, Sustainable Food Fundamentals is sponsored by Pearl Valley Organix. 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. I’m proud to have them as a sponsor on The Mike Nowak Show.
“Green on McLean” update

I would be remiss if I didn’t include a link to Green on McLean community garden blogsite, particularly because Webmaster Kathleen has been working so hard on it. The garden is planted and growing and we now have TWO videos of two different workdays. Check it out!

Chicago Sustainable Backyard Program

Speaking of gardens, the Chicago Department of Environment’s has a great initiative underway, called the Sustainable Backyard Program. It promotes more environmentally -friendly landscapes in front, side, and backyards across the city. Not only that, but the city is giving out rebates just for doing the right thing. Their goal is to distribute 2,000 rebates citywide. Here’s the qualifying materials and plants:

TREES (up to $100 back)
NATIVE PLANTS (up to $60 back)
COMPOST BIN (up to $50 back)
RAIN BARREL (up to $40 back)

Funding for rebates comes from the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Pollution Prevention Program and a USDA Forest Service Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Grant.

On Tuesday, June 14th, DOE will be hosting its 3rd city-wide workshop from 6:00-8:00pm at the Friends of the Chicago River Conference Room (28 E. Jackson, Suite 1800).

Meanwhile, you can “Like” the Chicago Sustainable Backyard Program on Facebook.