Tag Archives: farming

Burning cleaner, the new farming, and “It’s a Wonderful Slice of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’”

December 19, 2010

“Oh Rahm, O Rahm Emanuel” UPDATE:

My thanks to Beth Botts for filling in for me last week whileThe Frozen Robins and I entertained the kiddies and not-so-kiddies at the Wonderland Express exhibit a the Chicago Botanic Garden. “O Rahm, O Rahm Emanuel” continues to roll along…pretty much like the candidate himself. We now have nearly a thousand views on YouTube. Help us get over the top by clicking on the link above. I don’t make any money on this, nor are there proceeds that go towards some great cause. It just makes me feel like I’m King of the Internets! (How sad is that?)

Going green for the holidays Part I: Enviro-Log

One of the serious drawbacks to the holidays is how much junk (and I mean JUNK!) is produced each year to fill the Christmas maw. You know what I’m talking about. You need a gift for Uncle Pete but you have no idea what he might like. So you pick up some “cute” chotzke that he has no use for, and it ends up in a landfill. It makes me want to join the War Against Christmas.

Some of us are getting smarter about holiday gift-giving. I have some suggestions for ways that you can break the vicious “stupid stuff cycle” below.

Meanwhile, what if you could give a gift–or buy one for yourself–that not only didn’t contribute more junk to landfills, but actually helped to keep stuff out of landfills? I’m talking about the more than 1.5 million wax corrugated cardboard containers that are produced every day in the United States. That translates to 600,000 tons of was containers that are sent to landfills each year.

Enter a company called Enviro-Log. President Ross McRoy says that currently, the only cost-effective way of keeping those containers out of the landfills is a patented process that produces firelogs and firestarter products. If you’re wondering if we’re just exchanging one type of pollution for another–that is to say smoke–Enviro-Logs have a number of benefits over wood. They generate more energy per pound than wood or other firelog brands, burn 60-70 percent cleaner than wood, and can be used for cooking, heating, and recreational purposes.

In addition, burning Enviro-Logs produce 50% more energy per pound and result in 30% less emissions, including 80% less carbon monoxide and 86% less creosote. In addition, The firelog product is listed by the California EPA, supported by the USDA and Georgia Department of Natural Resources. I’m not saying that you should build a fireplace just to use this product, but if you already have one, it might not be a bad idea. You can also follow Enviro-Log on Facebook.

Going Green for the holidays Part II: Worthy Organizations

As I mentioned before, we would all be a lot better off if we didn’t buy so much stuff–regardless of what “experts” tell you about jump-starting the economy. Frankly, I don’t believe that the worth of our country should be determined by how much we purchase. Nearly a quarter of all retail goods move out of stores and into homes between Thanksgiving and Christmas That’s grotesque.

So if, in these last few days before Christmas, you’re looking for some alternative gift ideas, or even some ways to assuage your guilty conscience, here’s a short, and by no means comprehensive list f ideas.

It’s a Wonderful Show!

Well, I like to think that it is every week, but I mean something different. For the second year, I will be performing my holiiday piece, “It’s a Wonderful Slice of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’” LIVE on the radio. I’ve taken the entire movie and mashed it into under fifteen minutes. I play all of the characters except Mary, who will be done by producer Heather Frey.

There will also be another guest artist this year. Jim Solum is a listener who tracked me down at the Chicago Botanic Garden last Sunday while I was caroling. I wouldn’t exactly say he’s blackmailing me, but he did videotape a lot of the performance by the Frozen Robins. To make sure that the tape stays in the right hands, he will be apearring via phone during “Wonderful Slice” today. I haven’t even given him a role yet. I’m still too worried about the videotape…

(UPDATE: The podcast of “It’s a Wonderful Slice of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’” is now posted.)

Good Growing

Our Good Growing segment features Kim Marsin of Sweet Home Organics. We’re talking about how she and partner Rachel Reklau decided to go into farming (they’ve been doing it for about a year). Their farm is part of an incubator program that allows them to have access to land they don’t own. Their farming home is Primrose Farm Park, a 1930s heritage dairy/livestock farm in St. Charles, Illinois. They are their first “incubating” farmers, meaning that they lease land and equipment, such as tractors and implements, from Primrose .

Kim and Rachel, who employ organic practices, grow on two acres and keep two in cover crop, which helps build the soil for future years of growing. So, like many of us, they commute to work. The difference is that we might go to an office or a retail establishment or even a radio station, while they go to the farm. We’ll also discuss their  “feed a family” program where they provide produce to a families in need.

My thanks to the good folks at Angelic Organics Learning Center for setting up this interview.

Food, Farms, Trees and Holiday Decorations

November 21, 2010

The Holidays Loom…

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” according to the song. In my opinion, the jury is still out. However, most of us don’t have the choice of opting out of the madness, so I guess we should make the best of it. For instance, if you’re going to put Christmas lights on your outdoor trees, you should know what you’re doing. And I can’t think of a better source of tree knowledge than The Care of Trees.

Thom Kraak is Senior Designer for The Care of Trees, which means he’s the go-to guy for outdoor decorating. If you’re interested in having your lights hung professionally, you can always check out the services offered by The Care of Trees. However, Thom is also on the program today to offer some simple wisdom for doing the job yourself. Don’t forget that if you miss today’s live broadcast, you can always listen to podcasts of The Mike Nowak Show.

Shawn Kingzette is District Manager of the Chicago Office for The Care of Trees, and a long-time friend of this show. I dragged him into this discussion because I wanted to get an arborist’s advice about preparing your outdoor trees and shrubs for the coming winter. In addition, I’ve been harping on how little rain we’ve had in the past several months. My view is corroborated by the Morton Arboretum, which sent out this advisory this week.

…but there’s no need to panic if you need a beautiful display

Are you one of those people who can grow practically anything if it’s in your garden bed, but is completely baffled when it comes to containers? Fear not–Marni Wilson, garden designer at Mariani Landscape, is here to offer some great advice on creating attractive holiday scenes. Wilson says that you don’t necessarily need to get everything done at once–it’s possible to start a landscape and add to it later. Of course, she has tips on quick and easy holiday decorating–especially containers, which can be very rewarding, if you get it right. And, something that makes me happy, Wilson has information about how to reuse some of your decorations (mostly greens and boughs), when you’re ready to take down the display.

Good Growing: Illinois Local Food, Farms and Jobs Council

“Illinois consumers spend $48 billion annually on food. Nearly all of this money leaves the state.”
All I can say is “Mind boggling.” That quote (the first one, not mine) is from the Executive Summary of a report called “Local Food, Farms & Jobs: Growing the Illinois Economy,” written just about a year and a half ago as an introduction to the creation of the Illinois Local Food, Farms and Jobs Council. Its work–to keep a larger share of Illinois food dollars in Illinois–has really just begun.

Tom Spaulding, is Director of the council, and Executive Director for Angelic Organics Learning Center. He’s on the show to talk about what has been accomplished so far and what can be expected from this important public act. An important part of the mission is to train new farmers, agriculture laborers and food entrepreneurs over the next decade, in an attempt to keep food dollars in Illinois.

He’s provided me with some good links about farming and related issues:

Winter markets, farming classes and wicked, wicked plants

November 7 , 2010

Winter is fresh food time

Yes, I know. That sounds like a contradiction, especially for those of us who have gotten hooked on all of the fresh goodies we’ve been picking up at our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) locatiions or farmers markets during the growing season. Kathleen and I have learned a lot this year about preparing foods that not only did we never eat before, but in some instances had never even heard of before. For instance, among the things we’ve consumed this year are Malabar spinach, kohlrabi, bok choi, kale, tatsoi and turnips.

Some of that probably doesn’t sound particularly adventurous at all. However, I’m known as a pretty fussy eater–one of those “I don’t live to eat, I eat to live” kind of guys. So when I choose to chow down on something called tatsoi, it’s pretty much a leap of faith. I’m happy to say that Kathleen found some pretty good recipes–mostly online–and I don’t think I complained once. (Of course, that really wouldn’t be in my best interest, since I’m not much of a cook.)

But back to the coming winter and why it’s a time that you can still eat fresh and healthy foods. Even though the outdoor markets have pretty much shut down, there are still plenty of places you can go to for your fresh produce and other foods. The Local Beet has a good list here.

Another organization that is spreading the, um, gospel of farmers markets is an organization called Faith in Place. Since 1999, Faith in Place has partnered with more than 600 congregations in Illinois–and those faiths run the gamut: Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Zoroastrian, Baha’i and Unitarian religions. Faith in Place promotes clean energy & sustainable farming and works towards helping people of faith understand that issues of ecology and economy—of care for Creation—are at the forefront of social justice.

Erika Dornfeld, who is part of their Congregational Outreach and Support staff, says that the Faith in Place Winter Farmers Markets are gearing up. Unlike traditional markets, these are not held at the same location every week or every month. Instead, the venues change from week to week, giving people throughout the area a chance to find things like yarns, woolen goods & raw fibers; honey; preserves & fruit butters; fresh & dried herbs; apples & cider; dried fruits; mushrooms; pastries, breads, croissants & tarts; spa & beauty products; salsas, soups & sauces; sprouts & micro-greens; cheese, yogurt & eggs; fresh lettuce & greens; squash & root vegetables; flour & corn meal; locally-sourced ice cream & sorbet; fair-trade coffee and chocolate; pickled vegetables; recycled wearables… and a lot more. Here’s a list of the markets for the next month or so:

Nov 13, 2010, 9am-1pm
Church of the Holy Nativity
9300 South Pleasant Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643-6344

Nov 14, 2010?, 12pm-3pm
Unitarian Universalist Church of Elgin
39W830 Highland Ave.
Elign, IL 60124

Dec. 5, 2010 10am-2pm
North Shore Unitarian Church
2100 Half Day Rd. (Rt. 22)
Deerfield IL 60015

Dec. 12, 2010 12-3pm
First Evangelical Free Church
5255 N. Ashland Ave.
Chicago IL 60640

To sign up for the newsletter that will keep you informed about upcoming Winter Farmers Markets, click here.

Plants are out to get us (really!)

Timing is everything, so they say. Which makes me ask: “Just who are they, anyway?” The point is that Halloween was last week but I couldn’t get Amy Stewart on my show until this week. Why is that so important? Well, she’s talking about her most recent book Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln’s Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities.The plant that did in Honest Abe’s mom, by the way, was White Snakeroot (Eupatorium rugosum), which is related to Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum), which I grow in my back yard.

In fact, let that be a warning. I grow literally dozens of specimens that are either poisonous, hallucinogenic, or otherwise dangerous–both outside my house and inside. And so do you. The list of plants that could–and occasionally do–kill or maim us seems to be limitless. Of course, they can also get us high…or make us psychotic. And Stewart covers them all in her refreshingly no-nonsense, straightforward prose. Let me give you some quick examples, which will make you swear off gardening for a good, long time–if not forever:

  • Cashews are part of the same botanical family as poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. The nut itself is fine, but don’t ever mess with any part of the shell.
  • Even corn can be dangerous. It that’s all you ever eat, you risk suffering a severe niacin deficiency called pellagra.
  • In 2005, more people called poison control centers about possible poisoning from peace lilies than from any other plant. Don’t Peace me, Bro!
  • Some mushrooms…well, don’t get Amy started on mushrooms.
  • Ever drunk May Wine made from sweet woodruff? At high doses, the drink causes dizziness, paralysis, and even coma and death. Fortunately, the U.S. government frowns upon the traditional formula for this concoction.
  • Love your hydrangeas? Guess what? They contain low levels of cyanide. I wouldn’t advise using them as a garnish.

And on and on and on. It’s not surprising that the book has become a New York Times best seller. I hate her for that (though I’m really quite fond of her). Hmm, I think I’ll send her a nice azalea plant. Don’t worry. I doubt that she’ll eat it. Because she knows that it can cause heart problems, vomiting, dizziness, and extreme weakness. Unless I coat the leaves with chocolate. Bwahahahahahaha!! (Like I said, we should have had this conversation last week.)

By the way, Amy Stewart is part of the Garden Rant crowd, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at her slighty off-center choice of literary material.

Good Growing: So you wanna be a farmer, eh?

Then you might be interested in a course called Farm Dreams: Assessing Risks & Resources to Start a Small Farm or Market Garden. Farmer trainer Tracey Hall is on our “Good Growing” segment today to talk about this interactive workshop, which teaches folks about sustainable farming careers in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin. Tracey knows something about this because she has her own outfit, called Grace Note Farm, situated on just under twelve acres of land at the bottom of the Kettle Morraine State Forest in Southeastern Wisconsin. She also teaches a class called “Farm Beginnings.”

Farm Dreams is just one of the public programs of Angelic Organics Learning Center, which will be a regular contributor to “Good Growing” on The Mike Nowak Show.