Tag Archives: GMO

Of funding fights, GMOs and “Beetniks”

May 15, 2011

Update on funding for Illinois Extension

The budget negotiations continue in Springfield and the amount of funding for Illinois Extension is still up in the air, though things look more promising than they did a week ago. Last Sunday, I talked about how Extension lost $7.6 million for Fiscal Year 2011. That meant that the number of units across the state were reduced from 76 to 27, counties were forced to combine operations with neighboring counties, and 120 academic professional positions were cut. Last week, it looked as though Extension might suffer even more cuts for FY2012.

This week, the numbers look better. On May 13, both the House and Senate passed their versions of the Department of Agriculture’s budget. As you can see below, there are some differences. The House version is House Bill 124 (HB124), House Amendment #1 and the Senate version is Senate Bill 2408 (SB2408, Senate Amendment #6. Here are the Extension numbers for those competing versions:

County Board Match:

Governor’s Proposed Level – $10,800,000
House Version – $10,800,000
Senate Version – $10,000,000

Youth Educator:

Governor’s Proposed Level – $1,047,100
House Version – $994,700
Senate Version – $1,047,100

Cook County Initiative:

Governor’s Proposed Level – $2,893,900
House Version – $2,749,200
Senate Version – $0

Now the House and Senate will hammer out the final numbers that will result in a bill being submitted to Governor Pat Quinn. As you can see above, the real hit seems to be in the allocation to Cook County, which the Senate version zeroes out completely. Speaking as a Cook County Master Gardener, I think that would be a shame. As Beth Botts points out in her excellent blog post on the subject, Cook County contains 40 percent of the state population. Because Cook County Extension serves so many people and does so much good work, it’s only fair that more money be alloted here. After all, the Cook County Initiative was at $5 million until last year. There has been plenty of belt-tightening in the unit already, and eliminating the the special monies would certainly gut many local programs.

Pam Weber is a spokesperson for Extension Partners, a group dedicated to furthering the work of Illinois Extension. She stops by the show to bring me–and you–up to speed on what is likely to happen in Springfield in the next couple of weeks. You can view the bills and amendments at the General Assembly website www.ilga.gov. Enter the bill number and then click on “full text” at the top of the page and then the amendment number.

Of course, there’s still time to contact your legislators to make your voice heard. Please do.

GMOs: Time for truth in labeling?

Sometimes it seems as though GMOs are a tidal wave that will eventually wash over and obliterate any vestiges of organic growing in America. In January, the Obama Administration surprised and disappointed many supporters of organic food when USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack okayed the planting of genetically altered alfalfa without restrictions. Little more than a week later, the green light was given to Monsanto’s GE sugar beets. To some people, it signaled the beginning of the end for organics in America.

However, the organic industry continues to fight back. In March, a group of organic farmers and food activists, with the help of the not-for-profit law center The Public Patent Foundation, turned the tables on Monsanto. They sued the agricultural giant, which has a history of taking farmers to court for patent infrigement when Monsanto’s GE seeds drift onto the farmers’ lands. The activists hope that their lawsuit will put an end to Monsanto’s “patent infringement” cases.

Another area where consumers are starting to make themselves heard is in the area of labeling food products that contain GMOs.If you believe several polls that have been taken on this issue, somewhere around 90% of Americans want labels on GMO food. The Non-GMO Project is North America’s only third party verification and labeling for non-GMO food and products.(The European Union already requires labels on GE foods.) And now the Organic Consumers Association, is calling attention to the fact that “the overwhelming majority of non-organic processed foods currently sold in the U.S. contain unlabeled Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) derived from GE soybeans, corn, canola, sugar beets, cottonseed oil, or growth hormones.”

Alexis Baden-Mayer, Political Director of the OCA, just made a shopping trip to the Whole Foods Market at 1550 N. Kingsbury Street in Chicago. On Tuesday, she will dumpher purchases in front of that store in an effort to get the nation’s grocers to voluntarily adopt Truth-in-Labeling practices for non-organic foods sold in their stores.

She is also appearing at 5th annual Chicago Green Festival, which is in its second and final day at McCormick Place.Some highlights include:

• Twelve thematic Pavilion/Stages areas including the Main Stage, Mother Earth News Pavilion, Green Business Pavilion, Green Building & Renewable Energy Pavilion, Fair Trade Pavilion, Green Living Stage, Sustainable Home & Organic Gardening Pavilion, Green Kids Zone, Community Action Pavilion, Yoga & Movement, Music Stage and Green Cinema.
• Organic Food Court with Local Restaurants and the Organic Beer & Wine Garden
• Green Festival’s Café and Store

Note: for the past two days, I have been unable to log onto the Green Festival Chicago site. Perhaps they’re having issues. Just an FYI.

Sustainable Food Fundamentals: Are you a “Beetnik”?

The 2011 Farmers Markets season just kicked into high gear this week with the start of the 32nd Chicago Farmers Market season. So this is the perfect time for Rob Gardner to stop into the beautiful showcase studio on South Pulaski Road to talk about what’s new at his blogsite, The Local Beet.

Rob says that there are a bunch of new “Beetniks” on board–new market correspondents, CSA subscribers and more. But he’s really proud of the site’s New Local Beet Farmer’s Market Locator, which includes over 110 markets. It focuses on Chicago markets, as well as places like Evanston and Oak Park. It also currently include some markets from Wisconsin, they expect to add more markets from downstate Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan.

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.

Garden Writers Association launches GRO 1000

Because I have been known to do some garden writing from time to time (sometimes even on this very page!), I am a proud member of the Garden Writers Association. One of the best things about GWA is their Plant A Row for the Hungry program, which is all about getting folks to donate surplus garden produce to local food banks, soup kitchens, and service organizations to help feed America’s hungry.

Now GWA and Plant a Row have teamed with ScottsMiracle-Gro, Keep America Beautiful, National Gardening Association and Franklin Park Conservatory (Columbus, Ohio) to develop and install 1,000 community gardens and green spaces in the U.S., Canada and Europe by 2018.

This Thursday, May 19, work will begin on one of those gardens, as land is reclaimed from two unused tennis courts in Chicago’s Gage Park on the southwest side. In their place will be a series of edible gardens, a sensory garden and a bird habitat. The new gardens will be integrated into the Chicago Park District’s Harvest Garden Program, which focuses on in-depth edible gardening education for children. And in the spirit of Plant A Row for the Hungry, a portion of the Gage Park garden harvests will be donated to a local food pantry.

But wait! There’s more! ScottsMiracle-Gro is also supporting two Chicago-area gardens through its GRO 1000 Grassroots Grants program, including the Iron Street Urban Farm Project, which will transform an abandoned seven-acre industrial warehouse to a sustainable garden, and an Inspiration Kitchen project, which will create a 2,000 sq.ft. edible garden in Garfield Park.

Congratulations to all involved!

The USDA unleashes GE alfalfa and sugar beets: What’s ahead for the Organic Community?

February 6, 2011

First alfalfa, now sugar beets. Are the GMO floodgates open?

Enviros were shocked but probably not surprised when, on January 27, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said that farmers could proceed with planting genetically altered alfalfa without restrictions. Little more than a week later, the green light has been given to Monsanto’s GE sugar beets, and some people think that this could be the beginning of the end for organics in America. Quoted in the New York Times, Keith Menchey, manager of science and environmental issues for the National Cotton Council of America called it “a Pandora’s box.”

Not only that, but in a turn of events that should have Monsanto executives smiling over their martinis (don’t forget the GE olives, please), the organic community has shown signs of splintering over Obama Administration’s decision. Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumers Association, writing in Huffington Post, blasted what he called the “Organic Elite” for “surrendering” to Monsanto. That left companies like Stonyfield Farm defending themselves and other observers simply scratching their heads over the attack.

One company that was part of the effort to stop or at least slow down the roll out of GE crops is Organic Valley, the nation’s largest organic farming cooperative, with more than 1,600 farmers in 33 states. They have already released a statement condemning the USDA’s decision to allow farmers to plant Roundup Ready® sugar beets. Their press release is echoed by the Center for Food Safety, which calls the decision illegal, as it defies an earlier court order.

Theresa Marquez is Chief Marketing Executive for Organic Valley and has been in the business in one job or another for thirty-five years. She joins me on the program this morning to talk about these two potentially disastrous decisions by the Obama Administration and where organic farming in America goes from here.

Whoo-ee, baby! Won’t you let me take you on a sea cruise?

I’m not exactly sure how all of this happened, but a year from now I hope to be accompanying a group of 50 or so on a tour of a few places that are as far removed from 20 inches of snow as you can get: Nassau, St. Thomas, San Juan, Great Stirrup Cay and more. And all of you are invited!

The Mike Nowak Caribbean Garden Cruise launches from Port Canaveral, Florida on February 25, 2012 and returns on March 3 on Norwegian Cruise Line’s “Norwegian Sun.” I’m working with the folks from CruiseWorks, Inc., who actually proposed the idea to me. Don and Marky Fenwick suggested that some of my listeners might want to take a break from the brutal Chicago winter and tour some great tropical gardens in the Caribbean. Who was I to say no?

The gardens that are on the tentative schedule include Ardastra Gardens on Nassau, a more than 70 year-old preserve on five acres of sun and rain that not only features fabulous flora but attracts wild birds of all species. Then there’s St. Peter Great House and Botanical Gardens, nestled high in the volcanic peaks of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, with a Nature Trail, streaming waterfalls, tropical bird aviaries, fish ponds, more than 20 varieties of orchids and 150 species of Caribbean plants and fruits. The San Juan Botanical Garden, also known as the Botanical Garden of the University of Puerto Rico, is a lush 300-acre “urban garden” of native and exotic flora that also serves as a laboratory for the study, conservation and enrichment of plants. While we’re on the island, we just might make a dash to the cool, mountainous, sub tropical rainforest called El Yunque. And if you’re just looking to cool your heals in a Caribbean lagoon, NCL will make a stop at Great Stirrup Cay, where we can stop talking about plants for awhile and perhaps just sip on a pink drink and watch the sun set over the powdery white sands.

If you’re wondering what I know about tropical gardens…well, let’s just say that we’ll all learn together. But on the way, I will give a horticultural talk or two…and who knows? I might just do a little impromptu entertaining. The cost starts at $759.00 per person, double occupancy, plus air add-on from most major cities.

For more information, give CruiseWorks a call at 800/876-6664.Or write to CruiseWorks, Inc., 7033 Sunset Boulevard, Suite 214, Hollywood, CA 90028. And tell ’em Mike sent you.

Good Growing: Sweet Home Organics returns

Back in December, I talked to Kim Marsin of Sweet Home Organics. She and partner Rachel Reklau are part of a new breed of “commuter farmers,” who don’t own the land on which they grow crops. This is their second year of business, and I’ll be following their progress as we move through the growing season.

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.

As always, my thanks to the good folks at Angelic Organics Learning Center, my partner in crime for the Good Growing segments on The Mike Nowak Show.

It’s Super Sow Sunday!

Whatever that is.

No, no, no, I’m just kidding! This is the day that you skip the football game and plant seeds Whoo-hoo! (Um…I have a question. Can we do both? You know, plant seeds AND watch football? Just wonderin’…)

Meanwhile today is the second annual Super Sow Sunday on Twitter. The way you get involved is to type #supersowsunday into your search function (assuming you’re on Twitter), which will hook you up to all kinds of people who love to plant seeds and who aren’t particularly found of football.

The event goes from about 6:30 -8:30 p.m. ET–you know, basically during the football game. During that time tweeters will connect with hundreds of gardeners from across the world and share planting tips, how to sow, and what seeds were successfu. You’ll also be able to ask questions of seed representatives from around the country. Apparently, there will also be some big seed giveaways. So, if you hate the Green Bay Packers as much as most Chicagoans do, and don’t give a rip about the crop of new commercials, this is one way to stay entertained.

As I mentioned last week, though, it’s still a little early to be starting seeds in Chicago. After all, we still have 20 inches of snow on the ground.. But you can do something called winter sowing. It’s a method for planting seeds in containers now and putting them outside, so that they begin to sprout when nature gives them the right conditions. Our Little Acre blog site provides a step by step photo essay on one way to accomplish this.

Clean Power Ordinance “people’s hearing” reminder

49th Ward Ald. Joe Moore was on the show last week to talk about how a hearing on the Clean Power Ordinance, which he introduced last year, had been put on the back burner by the Chicago City Council.

I’m here to remind you that Alderman Moore is still planning to convene his own ad hoc hearing on the Ordinance on February 14th in the City Council chambers. The ordinance was co-sponsored by 16 Aldermen and backed by the The Chicago Clean Power Coalition, an alliance of over 50 health, community, environmental and business groups.

If you believe in clean air for Chicago, be there. Aloha.

2010 stories that fell through the cracks

December 26, 2010

“O Rahm, O Rahm Emanuel” tops 1,000 views

While I’m not going to take credit for Rahm Emanuel passing the first hurdle in his sprint to become Chicago’s next mayor, I’m not going to rule anything out. After all you can’t buy the kind of publicity that my caroling group,The Frozen Robins, have given him in the past few weeks, thanks to our holiday hit, “O Rahm, O Rahm Emanuel.” Makes me wonder what he’s going to do to get in the public eye now that the holidays are almost over. Well, I’m sure he’ll think of something.

As we lurch toward a new year…what did I miss?

It’s that time of year, kids, when I look back at all of the worthy news stories that should have made it to my program and say, “How the heck did I miss that?” Which is why I am doing my second annual list of stories that caught my eye at one time or another…and which I completely forgot in about twenty seconds.

This might have to be the quote of the year:

A lawn is nature under totalitarian rule. – Michael Pollan
(The quote heads the chapter on herbicides/pesticides in the recent book “Slow Death by Rubber Duck: The Secret Danger of Everyday Things,” by Canadian environmentalists Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie.This information was sent to me by listener Jeffrey Kunka)

Under the wire: Year-end contributions you should consider

If you have last minute, end-of-the-year decisions to make about charitable contributions, you might consider one or more of these groups that work tirelessly to save our environment and make life better for everyone in our area. These are some of our favorite groups, most of which have been featured on The Mike Nowak show. Any money sent their way is going to help do some real good.

Angelic Organics Learning Center

Chicago Audubon Society

Chicago Recycling Coalition

Chicago Wilderness

Environment Illinois


Friends of the Chicago River

Friends of the Forest Preserves

Friends of the Parks

Growing Home Chicago

Openlands Project

Safer Pest Control Project

Sierra Club, Illinois

Urban Habitat Chicago