Tag Archives: Good Growing

The environment, elections, shared kitchens and seeds

January 9, 2011

Environmental groups unveil the Green Growth Platform:
20 Questions for the Chicago Mayoral Candidates

Seventeen leading Chicago environmental and conservation groups held a news conference last Thursday to present what they call 20 Key Questions on Improving Our City’s Environment,
Creating Jobs and Growing Our Green Economy.
The groups had met over the past two months to frame these questions, which they call The Green Growth Platform for Chicago’s Next Mayor. You can see all of the questions by clicking on the above link.

In the interest of full disclosure, I was at the table during the meetings at which those questions were crafted, in my position as president of the Chicago Recycling Coalition. I will also disclose that I don’t make a dime in that position (not that I wouldn’t like that to change…but that’s a story for another day). The remaining candidates have been sent the questions and have been asked to respond by January 12. After that, their answers will be posted online, on my website and elsewhere.

The coalition of environmental groups was organized by the Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC), and Executive Director Howard Learner is here to talk about what the coaltion hopes to accomplish to asking these questions. He is joined by President and CEO Gerald Adelmann of Openlands. Among the things we will discuss: will the environmental agenda play a real role in this election, and what are the consequences if the new mayor relegates green issues to the back burner?

Speaking of the candidates, they will have a chance to answer some of these questions in public on Wednesday, January 19. The Chicago Mayoral Forum on Community and Environmental Issues has been organized by Friends of the Parks (FOTP) and the Streeterville Organization of Active Residents (SOAR) in partnership with a number of community and environmental organizations (including the Chicago Recycling Coalition). Here’s the info:

Date: Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Time: 7- 9 pm registration opens at 6 pm
Location: Chicago Marriott Downtown
540 N. Michigan Avenue, 7th Floor
Moderator: Andy Shaw, Executive Director, Better Government Association

FYI, I will be giving away some tickets to this event on my show. Keep listening.

You think your life is hard? Try running a shared kitchen

Before you read any further, I want you to know that Zina Murray‘s Logan Square Kitchen is up and running and healthy and in possession of all of its licenses. And, thanks to the sensitivity of planning and design, it’s absolutely gorgeous. That’s important to keep in mind when you read about the endless hoops of bureaucratic fire through which she has had to jump in the past couple of years.

So where was I? Oh, yes…speaking of Chicago mayoral candidates. I stopped into a meeting in my neighborhood last Wednesday to hear Miguel Del Valle speak to a room full of folks who are concerned about food policies in the coming new administration. Actually, to his credit, Del Valle mostly listened to the group, which consisted of small farmers, business people and activists in the rapidly growing local food movement.

The site was the aforementioned Logan Square Kitchen, a LEED Gold-certified shared-use kitchen that has experienced more than its fair share of problems in dealing with the City of Chicago bureaucracy in the past couple of years. You might remember that I devoted several show segments to the controversy that arose when nearly $10,000 worth of food was destroyed by city health officials at Kitchen Chicago in West Town in February of last year.

If you thought that the issues surround the use of shared-use kitchens had been resolved in the interim, you only need look at this story about Logan Square Kitchen owner Zina Murray in the October 2010 Chicago Reader. While the city hasn’t made headlines lately by trashing perfectly good food, Zina can–and will on today’s show–tell you war stories about dealing with city departments that make Jekyll and Hyde look like a model of sanity.

In a nutshell, shared-use kitchens and urban farms and aquaponics facilities are all part of a food world that is changing much faster than large municipalities can possibily cope with. That’s why it was encouraging to see candidate Del Valle listening with such interest. But how much do the other candidates know about these issues? And how effective will the new mayor be in working with entrenched bureacracies and archaic laws? Stay tuned.

Good Growing: One Seed Chicago says vote early…if not often

After a holiday hiatus, Good Growing returns with the irrepressible Mr. Brown Thumb. Not only is MBT back, so is One Seed Chicago, the annual vote to determine the most popular seed in town. Each year (this is the fourth), GreenNet-Chicago works with One Seed Chicago and selects three candidate plants, alternating each year between ornamentals and vegetables. MBT says that the candidates this year are all vegetables, in an effort to create a dialogue about growing healthy food, childhood nutrition and Chicago’s food deserts.

This year’s candidates are (in alphabetical order): eggplant, radish and Swiss chard. Here’s the way the competition works: Chicago area residents vote for their favorite between 1/01/11 and 4/01/11 and are rewarded with a packet of winning seeds. By the way, teachers can request a classroom size packet along with an educator guide.In addition, this year One Seed Chicago is teaming up with Chicago chefs who will provide recipes for each of the three vegetables.

One Seed Chicago is a not-for-profit project of NeighborSpace, Chicago’s land trust for community gardens. The goal of One Seed Chicago is to engage current gardeners, nurture new gardeners to green Chicago by growing gardens across the City. You can log onto the One Seed Chicago Facebook page here.

Mr. Brown Thumb asked me not to reveal my own preference until show time. However, I should warn him that several years ago, I managed to steal the vote in a contest run by the Chicago Tribune to determine the city’s favorite wildflower. In the best corrupt Chicago tradition, I had my listeners stuff the ballot box for Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum), and the rest was history. (By the way, if anybody asks, I didn’t do nuthin’.)

One other thing that Mr. Brown Thumb has written about lately is the MLK Food Justice Weekend from January 14-16th at KAM Isaiah Israel Congregation in Hyde Park. This is a weekend-long education and advocacy program focused on food justice and sustainability. A symposium will be held on Saturday, and Sunday features a slate of classes on local food production and urban ecology. All events are held at KAMII, 1100 East Hyde Park Boulevard (across the street from President Barack Obama’s house, in case you’re interested) and are free and open to the public.

I was privileged to get a tour of the KAMII gardens last summer, thanks to congregation member Robert Nevel, who is an architect and chair of the Social Justice Committee. He even enlisted me to help deliver produce picked fresh from the garden to a local church, where it would be used to feed people who probably see far too little healthy food. I know it’s a cliche, but at KAMII they’re truly walking the walk.

Interviewing mayoral candidates, radio show hosts and farmers

December 5, 2010

Mayoral candidates roasting on an open fire…

As well they should be. It’s true that The Frozen Robins and I were just poking a little fun at Rahm Emanuel and other candidates like Carol Moseley Braun on the show last week when we sang our soon-to-be smash hit of the caroling season, “Oh Rahm, O Rahm Emanuel” (please link to it and help it go viral. Hmm. Do I sound needy?). However, the truth is that if you expect to be mayor of one of the greatest cities in the world, you should also expect to be asked more than a few tough questions.

That’s why a number of organizations are lining up to host mayoral forums in the next couple of months. By my own count, there are at least a half dozen–and probably more–on the way. One of the first, and the one that seems to have set the bar for participation by Chicago mayoral candidates, is being held this Monday, December 6 by Foresight Design Initiative. It’s technically a Foresight Design Green Drinks event, which the organization presents monthly. These gatherings focus on environmental issues, and this mayoral forum will be no exception.

Unfortunately for you (if you don’t have a reservation), it’s sold out. As of now, the candidates who are expected to show up include Gery Chico, Danny Davis, Miguel Del Valle, and Carol Moseley Braun. Will Mr. Emanuel grace the room with his presence? Who knows? However, even if you can’t be there, Foresight Design board member Scott Schecter knows that each candidate will have ten minutes to answer these three questions:

1. What role do sustainability issues play in the future of Chicago and how
should they be best balanced with other pressing concerns, particularly
given the city’s significantly constrained financial resources?

2. What are 2-3 of the most pressing sustainability-related issues in
Chicago and how would you direct your administration to address them?

3. Are there examples of sustainability-related programs from other cities
that you would like to see implemented here?

At that point, there will be more questions from the attendees. I intend to tackle the moderator and grab his microphone if I have to…though I don’t really want to spend the night in the slammer. So perhaps I’ll politely wave my question card and see what happens. By the way, if you haven’t been able to keep track of who’s doing well and who’s not, never fear. There is a website doing it for you. It’s called the Chicago Mayoral Scorecard, and it has the latest on each of the would-be mayors. Enjoy.

Interview with the Interviewer

(Note: Bryan Ogden’s piece for Metropolitan Gardening about his experience on my show is now posted here.)

In case you haven’t noticed, bloggers have taken over the world…at least for now. At some point, Facebook posters will take over the world, followed by Tweeters, followed by…well, whatever game-changing technology none of us really wants to learn. God. I’m exhausted already.

But since we’re still talking about blogging (which I do myself, though I barely understand why), let me introduce you to Bryan Ogden–no relation to Ogden Nash…I think. Bryan is a blogger whose site, Metropolitan Gardening, focuses on urban greening and horticulture, news, interviews, current events, book reviews, food, eco-fashion, humor and more!

Recently, he did a profile of my good friend, sometime co-host, and REAL host of next week’s show, Beth Botts. Shortly after that–and I have no idea what possessed him– he tweeted me (yes, tweeted me) to ask if we could do an interview. I asked, “Am I interviewing you or are you interviewing me?” To which he replied (or something to this effect), “Well, I thought I would interview you, but that’s very interesting.” To which I replied, “Why don’t you interview me while I’m interviewing you ON THE AIR!

So that’s what we’re doing. If you’re confused, imagine how I feel!

Good Growing: How farmers learn from other farmers

I’m pleased to have another member of Angelic Organics Learning Center on my show. Sheri Doyel is the Program Director for their Farmer Training Initiative. More than 400 million acres of farmland will change hands in the next twenty years, as older farmers turn their lands over to their successors. But will that land be farmed? And, more importantly, especially to the health of our national food system, where will the next generation of farmers come from?

AOLC’s Farmer Training Initiative is not only training the next generation of sustainable farmers, they are also helping urban and rural people learn directly from our region’s best farmers. Part of that effort is the Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training (CRAFT), a farmer network that Doyel facilitates. The network is made up of about 80 “farm” members, about 65 “friend” members (most of whom live in Chicago or near burbs) and about 40 interns that work on “farm member” farms.

Another intitiative is the Stateline Farm Beginnings class that just started, with 28 students.  Farm Beginnings is a year-long program that focuses on business planning for 6 months and then field days and mentorship for 6 months. It is now in its sixth year, and there are only nine in the entire country.

Two other programs, which were mentioned a couple of weeks ago on this site, are the Farm Business Development Center at Prairie Crossing and the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, which are both partners of AOLC and which provide training and resources for new farmers.

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: