Tag Archives: EPA

Herbs, urban gardens and household batteries

January 22, 2012

Countdown to Decision Chicago! The Great Herb Debate

Mark your calendars, sharpen your debating skills and get your seed packets lined up. Sunday, February ,5 is the date of the inaugural Great Herb Debate. The ubiquitous Mr. Brown Thumb and I have concocted this scheme in honor of the One Seed Chicago 2012 competition…and because I want to hear somebody wax poetic about chamomile.

As you might already know, One Seed Chicago–a partnership between NeighborSpace and GreenNet–is an urban greening project. Folks vote for their favorite seed from among three chosen each January 1st. Regardless of which seed you vote for, you receive a packet of the winning seed just for participating in the competition.

This year’s choice is among basil, chamomile and cilantro. Mr. Brown Thumb and I are lining up surrogates who are willing to defend their candidates on my show. I hope to announce those names next week. However, any and everybody is welcome to voice an opinion before and during the debate via email, Twitter and Facebook. Send in those comments now. I’ll post them on the Decision Chicago page (click on the image on the left) as I receive them.

And I’m still waiting to be bribed to throw my support to one of the seeds. Sheesh. What does it take in Chicago (!) to get a decent gift to help throw an election? C’mon, Chicagoans! Our checkered reputation is at stake!

Learning about and growing urban gardens in Chicago

A couple of years ago, I was hoping to set up a community garden in my neighborhood. I can’t remember exactly how it happened, but Openlands Community Outreach Coordinator Julie Samuels, who is a friend and colleague of mine, told me about a half-day seminar that Openlands was sponsoring to help neighborhood groups plan and and build community gardens.

My community garden didn’t happen for another year, but I was able to use many of the lessons I learned at that seminar to help start Green on McLean at the end of my block. Two years after that first class, the HomeGrown Chicago Network has expanded to a four-week course that focuses on

  • Finding and securing land,
  • Establishing a sustainable organizational structure,
  • Designing a garden and growing food organically, and
  • Building garden structures.

I’ll be talking with Julie today about the program, which begins on March 24. It also provides customized workshops for garden groups; offers a program manual; donates lumber, soil, seeds, and other materials; and encourages participants to share advice and seeds at the beginning of each growing season. The cost is $150, which will cover four people from your gardening organization for the four-week course.

But wait, there’s more! That’s not the only gardening program that Openlands sponsors. If you hurry, you can still register for Building Urban Gardens (BUGs), which begins January 28 (next Saturday) at Garfield Park Conservatory. Whether you’re working in a community garden or you just want to grow plants in your own backyard, here’s what you’ll learn in this six-week course, which covers

  • Planning and Designing Your Ecological/Organic Garden
  • The Basis of an Organic Garden: Healthy Soil and Composting
  • Vegetables for Your Beautiful, Edible Garden
  • Perennials and Herbs for Diversity and Flavor!
  • Insects and Weeds: A Place for Everything & Everything in its Place
  • Container and Raised Bed Gardening.

Once you finish the BUGs course, you can join a citywide corps of volunteer gardeners who care for community spaces throughout Chicago. Openlands thanks the Dr. Scholl Foundation for its support of this program.

For more information about the class and to register, please contact Julie Samuels via e-mail or by phone at 312-863-6256.

Coal pollutes Chicago air while batteries go back to the landfills

I received a message this week from my friend Qae-Dah Muhammad, who is with the Ashe Park Advisory Council & Garden Club. She wrote:

Yes it is true. No more recycling your dead batteries. I searched for this information until my eyes watered. Went into the South Shore Library and my tired eyes landed on the flyer sitting on the information rack. The Illinois EPA says that you can throw them in the regular trash.

She included a link that sent me to the City of Chicago website, where this appears:

As of January 1, 2012, Chicago’s Battery Recycling Program has been discontinued, including collections at Chicago Public Libraries. Rechargeable batteries can still be recycled at multiple locations throughout Chicago, such as the Household Chemicals and Computer Recycling Facility . Find additional locations at www.call2recycle.org .

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency recommends disposing of alkaline batteries with regular household trash. Alkaline batteries contain no hazardous waste and little recyclable materials. Previous environmental hazards associated with alkaline batteries were due to their mercury content.  The federal Battery Management Act of 1996 phased-out the use of mercury in alkaline batteries and today few, if any, alkaline batteries contain mercury.

My reaction could be categorized as WTF? I hadn’t heard about this at all and, as many of you know, I’m President of the Chicago Recycling Coalition. Oops. I called Mike Mitchell, Executive Director of the Illinois Recycling Association and he confirmed that the IEPA had made some kind of determination last year.

So I did some searching on both the Illinois Evironmental Protection Agency site and the EPA site. Nothing. Zip. Nada. If they are changing the rules regarding the disposal of household batteries, they are certainly keeping it quiet.

I am determined to find out what’s going on. I hope to contact the IEPA this week to get more information. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, Meteorologist Rick DiMaio wrote today to tell me about this front page story in Sunday’s Chicago Tribune: Coal plants dominate list of Chicago’s biggest polluters. Ya think? Michael Hawthorne writes:

No other polluter comes close to the 4.2 million metric tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide churned into the atmosphere by the two coal plants in 2010, according to a new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency database that for the first time allows people to compare major industrial sources of greenhouse gases

That’s why it is so important for the Chicago City Council to finally pass the Chicago Clean Power Ordinance, reintroduced in late July 2011 by Ald. Joe Moore (49th Ward) and Ald. Danny Solis (25th Ward). Considering that the ordinance has 35 co-sponsors, one wonders why it hasn’t been passed yet. It would require that the Fisk and Crawford coal plants reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 50% and particulate matter by 90%.

Perhaps it’s time for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to step up and protect Chicago citizens from the ravages of these two ancient power plants, which continue to do more harm than good.

Attack of the Congress and the Tweeters

March 6, 2011

Congress attacks the Clean Air Act…and that’s just for starters

As if it’s not bad enough that 80 years or more of collective bargaining rights in America are suddenly being trampled like so much turf at an outdoor rock concert, the quality of the very air we breathe is also in serious jeopardy. On Thursday, a bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives that would permanently block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions. Hey, and while we’re at it, why don’t we just legalize soot? All in favor…

It kind of feels like piling on, considering that the measure to fund the government through the
remainder of the fiscal year, known as the Continuing Resolution, is being calledthe
greatest legislative assault on the environment in decades by the League of Conservation Voters, which recently released its National Environmental Scorecard for the Second Session of the 111th Congress. However, given the extraordinary nature of the the proposed budget, the LCV put out an addendum, stating,

The introduced text of H.R. 1, the Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act of 2011, contains numerous so-called “policy riders” that block enforcement of vital environmental and public health laws, which jeopardize the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the wildlife and wild places we hold dear. These include provisions undermining the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the federal “Wild Lands” policy that restores our ability to set aside backcountry lands for Congress to determine whether they merit the ultimate protection of Wilderness.

And that’s just the measure that would keep our country running for another few months. Isn’t politics fun, kids?

Another group that is keeping an eye on how well our elected officials are caring for our air and water is Environment Illinois. Director Max Muller returns to the program this morning to talk about the Illinois delegation scorecard. If you want to know whether or not your representative is interested in protecting you from environmental harm, tune in or catch the podcast.

Growing the good life, one vegetable at a time

[Update: Michele Owens’ appearance on the show prompted a flurry of Tweets from listeners who thought that she gave out bad information after a caller wanted to know how to plant a vegetable garden in an area of his yard that had previously been occupied by his dogs. If you want to hear the entire conversation, log on to my podcast of the show. The conversation with Michele starts about halfway through the file. She also wrote about the incident a few days later on the Garden Rant Blogsite.]

I’m thinking about posting something on Garden Rant. I’ll get to that in a second. You might recall that Garden Rant is a blog site devoted to…um, ranting about all kinds of gardening things. You might also remember that the four protagonists (conspirators?) of Garden Rant were in town last year for the annual Independent Garden Center Show at Navy Pier, where I served them mimosas. I am nothing if not a gracious host.

One of the four, Michele Owens, is back in the city for the Chicago Flower & Gardens Show, mainly because she has come out with a book, Grow the Good Life: Why a Vegetable Garden Will Make You Happy, Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise. Now to my rant:

I hate it when people write the book I wish I had written! And do it with wit and ease and charm. She writes in complete, understandable and often memorable sentences. What’s up with that? Geez, she makes growing vegetables sound like something everybody should do. Who is she kidding? She tells you that cultivating your backyard might actually be good for you on many levels–contributing to the health of your body, your psyche, your wallet and even your taste buds. Tell it to the judge, girlie! And if that isn’t bad enough, this Owens dame is fomenting revolution. A lot of you are going to finish the book, march out the back door, grab a pitchfork and scratch some soil with it. Then you’re going to plant seeds! Outrageous! What’s next? Watering and caring for your seedlings and watching them grown and harvesting them and eating them? Quelle 19th Century! So go ahead. Buy the book. I mean it. Buy the darned thing. Make Michele Owens rich. See if I care. I’m going back to bed.

Good Growing: Who the heck is MOSES?

Actually, I should be asking “What the heck is MOSES.” Because the answer is Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service. Sheri Doyel, Program Director of the Farmer Training Initiative at Angelic Organics Learning Center, is just back from the 22nd Annual Moses Organic Farming Conference in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. It’s largest organic farming conference in the country, and this year set a new a new attendance record, as 3,000 attendees, mostly farmers, showed up. Sheri gives us the scoop on what she–and they–learned.

I’m speaking at the Chicago Flower & Garden Show

As I mentioned earlier, this is the week to get all hot and bothered about spring in Chicago…even though you really won’t be doing anything for at least another month. However, that’s what the Chicago Flower & Garden Show at Navy Pier is all about–whipping gardeners into a frenzy, and then sending them home into the snow to sulk. Hey, it IS Chicago, after all. And it IS still March.

Anyway, I’m speaking there this Wednesday, March 9 at 11:30 a.m. My topic: Trowel, Spade and Google. Don’t be frightened, little ones. It’s just a talk that will help you maximize your Internet use for gardening purposes. I hope you can stop by. Meanwhile, here’s when some of my friends are speaking:

  • Sun, March 6, 12:15 p.m. – Melinda Myers Year Round Garden-tainment
  • Sun, March 6, 2:30 p.m. – Jeff Lowenfels No More Chemicals in the Garden
  • Sun, March 6, 2:45 p.m. – John Eskandari Nativars in the Landscape
  • Mon, March 7, 12:15 p.m. – Rich Eyre Captivating Conifers for the Landscape
  • Mon, March 7, 6:15 p.m. – Rich Eyre Inspirational Gardens
  • Tues, March 8, 6:15 p.m. – Beth Botts Start Here: Basic Steps for the New Gardener
  • Wed, March 9, 2:45 p.m. – Doris Taylor Shade Gardening: Planting Under Mature Trees
  • Wed, March 9, 6:15 p.m. – Nancy Clifton What’s Hot in Pots: Trends for 2011
  • Thur, March 10, 2:30 p.m. – Christy Webber Green Roofs in Chicago: Leading the Way
  • Thur, March 10, 6:15 p.m. – Ken Benson Winners for the Midwest
  • Fri, March 11, 2:45 p.m. – Jim DeHorn Become Your Own Tree Expert
  • Sat, March 12, 12:15 p.m. – Beth Botts Taming the Wild Ones: How to Welcome Native Plants into a Well-Behaved Garden
  • Sat, March 12, 2:30 p.m. – LaManda Joy Chicago Victory Gardens: Yesterday and Tomorrow
  • Sun, March 13, 11:00 a.m. – Ken Benson Designing with Hydrangeas
  • Sun, March 13, 1:30 p.m. – Nancy Clifton A What’s Hot in Pots: Trends for 2011

Voting in Chicago, caring for natives in McHenry, and delivering fresh food throughout Chicagoland

February 20, 2011

If you live in Chicago, please exercise your right to vote this Tuesday

I was thinking about Chicago’s municipal election as I sat in City Hall last Monday, listening to witnesses testify in 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore‘s ad hoc hearing on the long-delayed Clean Power Ordinance. We’re not a nation that particularly cares about its constitutional voting privileges–a mere 37% of Americans bothered to get to the polls last November–and a lot of Chicagoans are likely tostay home this Tuesday.

That would be a big mistake. We tend to think that the big national races are the ones that really count. But the truth is that individual citizens are likely to have much more influence with their local officials than with their U.S. Senator. And while our Congress is busily working to gut the EPA, it’s quite possible that by putting pressure on their aldermen, Chicagoans might actually be able to shut down the Fisk and Crawford coal-fired plants within the city limits.

It’s something to think about. What if, instead of waiting for the feds to take action, we did it ourselves and, by doing so, set a new standard of environmental actions for the country? I’m just sayin’. Meanwhile, if environmental concerns are on your radar screen at all when it comes to electing our new mayor, you might want to take a look at this story in this week’s Chicago Reader.

“Tending the Earth” next week in McHenry County

I have a soft spot for the Wildflower Preservation and Propagation Committee, or WPPC (and I keep telling them that they need a name that rolls off the tongue a little more easily) up in McHenry County. It’s not just that they’ve asked me to speak there at least a couple of times…though that doesn’t hurt. I guess it’s more about the great conferences they have each year. For a very reasonable price–this year the admission is $30 in advance, $35 at the door–attendees get some fabulous information from terrific speakers about landscaping with native plants.

WPPC spokesperson Nancy Gonsiorek says that the 19th annual Natural Landscaping Seminar is on Saturday, February 26, 2011 from 8:00 am to 3:45 pm at McHenry County College Conference Center, 8900 US Route 14 in Crystal Lake, Illinois. The program is called“Tending the Earth” and one of the featured speakers is Carole Brown, who will be presenting the talk “Ecosystem Gardening: Native Plants are Essential.” She is a conservation biologist, passionate naturalist, photographer, author and educator.

If you want to know more about what she does, click on to her website Ecosystem Gardening. She says on the website that conservation begins in your own backyard and that she wants to teach people to become stewards of their properties. It starts with these 5 pillars:

1. Sustainability
2. Soil Health
3. Water conservation
4. Invasive plant removal
5. Plant more native plants

When we do these five things, says Brown, we will begin to see more wildlife in our gardens. Every small action can have almost immediate benefits. Okay, let’s do it.

Good Growing: Irv & Shelly’s Fresh Picks

If you listen with any regularity to my program (don’t forget that you can always download a podcast if you miss The Mike Nowak Show on Sunday morning), you know that I talk a lot about CSAs. That stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and it’s a way for local farmers to get their goods to people in their area. They grow the food, you sign up to receive a shipment of their latest harvest for a prescribed period, and they either deliver to you or you pick it up. The only limitation is that, generally, you are required to take what they give you, regardless of whether you know how to prepare bok choi or not. However, it’s a good way to stretch your culinary palette.

But there’s another, closely related model to a CSA that, until this week, I was unaware of. Irv & Shelly’s Fresh Picks offers year-round home delivery in the Chicago area of local and organic produce, meat, dairy and eggs. The difference between what they do and the standard CSA is that you choose the specific items you want. Of course, you can go the CSA route, too, and opt for a Fresh Picks Box that is automatically delivered to your door weekly or bi-weekly.

Irv Cernauskas says that his company is committed to working with local sustainable farms it personally knows and trusts. Irv is also a member of the Illinois Local Food, Farms and Jobs Council. So, in addition to talking about his unique business, he is giving me an update on the council’s work in 2011.