Tag Archives: KAM Isaiah Israel

Food justice…today and 50 years from now

January 13, 2013

Food Justice: KAM Isaiah Israel walks the walk.

It’s fashionable these days to talk a lot of smack about “urban agriculture,” “local food,” “sustainability” and more. But if you want to meet people who really walk the walk, you should set aside a few hours next weekend and pay a visit to KAM Isaiah Israel Congregation in Hyde Park. Of course, you’ll have to say hello to the Secret Service agents, who keep an eye on President Barack Obama’s Chicago home, which is right across the street. But I digress.

On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, January 18-20, KAMII presents its fourth annual MLK Food Justice and Sustainability Weekend Program, in celebration of the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr. This year’s event is titled “Shmita: Food Security and Sustainable Design in the Sabbatical Year and Beyond” and it promises to be a dynamic and inspiring weekend. By the way, it is all free and open to the public.

The Saturday program should especially interesting, as it will be a hands-on Community Design Workshop. Expert growers and planners will, with input from the audience and community partners, lay out a half-acre urban farm for a South Side site, with the design goal being sustainable food security. The workshop leader will be Robert Nevel, architect and chair of KAM Isaiah Israel ‘s Social Justice Committee. Designers will be Kitt Healy, farmer relations and outreach coordinator for Green City Market and farm manager of the K.A.M. Food Justice and Sustainability Program; Mitch Yaciw, farm manager at Unity Gardens; Michael Thompson, farm manager of Chicago Honey Co-op; Ken Dunn, founder and director of Resource Center and Elan Margulies, director of Pushing the Envelope Farm.

What’s fascinating about the “South Side site” is that it is still undisclosed. Hmm. perhaps I can get a scoop on my radio show this morning. I’ll be joined by Robert Nevel, who has been on the program repeatedly, and congregation member Gloria Needlman, who last stopped by in 2010.

While the MLK weekend is great, remember what I said about the KAMII folks “walking the walk?” Really, the most impressive aspect of their social justice work is their garden and the gardens they have helped to build in the community. They started their own garden in 2009 and began donating the produce to area food shelters and hot meal programs. In 2011, they expanded to include a garden at Kenwood United Church of Christ.

In 2012, they reached out to the Church of St. Paul & the Redeemer on nearby Dorchester Avenue in their continuing mission to transform congregational lawns into food producing gardens. You can see the fruits of their labor on the left.

Here is some of the other work they do, from the KAMII website:

  • Three times a week during the growing season, workers from the congregation and the community tend and harvest KAMII’s three gardens–the Star Garden, the South 1080 (along Hyde Park Boulevard), and the Apple Tree Garden. Before the growing season, workers prepare the earth, plants seeds, tend seedlings indoors, and prepare for harvest.  After harvest, workers put the garden to bed and prepare for the next year.
  • With our White Rock Gleaning Program, the garden workers collect and distribute otherwise unharvested food from three community gardens.
  • Our Crop Mob Constructions transform congregational lawns into food producing gardens. With grant money from One Nation Chicago Fund at The Chicago Community Trust, we have constructed a 1,000 sq. ft. food-producing garden at Kenwood United Church of Christ, just outside the soup kitchen where we delivered much of our 2010 harvest.
  • In the summer of 2011, we began our Food Justice and Sustainability Young Leadership Summer Program, in which high school students from around the city gathered on Sundays to attend seminars about food justice and sustainable land use and urban farming, and to help tend our three gardens.
  • The bimah decorations for the High Holidays are harvested and arranged by members of the Social Justice Committee.  The flowers and produce come from our KAMII gardens that the committee tends.  All of the produce was donated to local soup kitchens after each service.

They are impressive, and it’s my honor to welcome them back to the show.

A 50 Year Plan for Surviving Climate Change

Sometimes a radio show segment is just so in tune with current events that you might think that I’m actually putting some thought into booking guests. No, really!

Take this past week:

All of that in ONE WEEK!!

That last bullet point in particular is a perfect lead in to my second hour guest, Blake Davis. He is Adjunct Professor of Sustainability and Urban Agriculture at the Illinois Institute of Technology. I first got to know him when he gave me a private tour of The Plant on Chicago’s south side, and then appeared on the show to talk about this remarkable look into the future of sustainable technology.

But about a month ago, show contributor Sarah Batka told me about a talk he had given at the Great Lakes Bioneers Chicago gathering in November called “A 50-year Survival Plan for Climate Change.” In fact, she couldn’t stop talking about it. So what could I do but invite him back to the show to talk about that very issue?

Here’s what Blake Davis himself has to say about it:

“Ordinary people want to know if they need to worry about climate change, yet.  What is the “canary in the coal mine” that will warn them that it is time to do something immediately.  Is it the melting of the arctic ice, a series of extremely hot summers or cold winters or an increase in the number and intensity of hurricanes?  And the answer is….the collapse of the economy.

Nature has several hundred million years of experience in dealing with adversity, modern economies less than 300.  Our economy and our way of life is built on ever-increasing use of energy and an expansion of economic output of at least 2% a year…..forever.  Neither of these preconditions are possible as we approach the carrying-capacity of the earth.

The next 50 years will present insurmountable challenges for our society and culture.  Where we live, what we do for work and even how we raise our children will be radically different than they are now.  The government and business are committed to a course of action which will exacerbate the problem of climate change and cause tremendous blow-back for the average citizen.  Unless we want to participate in an elaborate “duck-and-cover” drill, we must all take immediate personal action to protect ourselves, our families and our communities.

A 50-year Survival Plan for Climate Change takes our current knowledge of climate change and forecasts what it will mean for average people over the next 50 years.  It will allow you and your community to start working on surviving the challenges of a less stable and less abundant future.”

Whoa. I’d tune in, if I were you.

New studios, social justice and Starved Rock

January 8, 2012

New studios! And a new call-in number: 773-763-9278

I need a new introduction to my radio show. The one that talks about being midway between Zacatacos and Paco’s Tacos is now obsolete. As of January 7, Chicago’s Progressive Talk is now on the north side of town…which means that I will get a lot of grief from my south side friends. By the way, we have a whole slew of new phone numbers, so if you’re a regular listener, you might want to keep this link handy.

And while we’re not exactly in a glass bubble on Michigan Avenue, we are now housed in pretty-much state of the art digs at our new location on Milwaukee Avenue, midway between Lido Banquets and Andy’s Deli & Mikolajczyk Sausage Shop, which is a lot harder to pronounce, especially if your Polish is as bad as mine.

And on this first day in the new studio, I have the honor of not only doing my own show, but filling in for Mike Sanders, host of Our Town. It’s a little complicated, but in a nutshell, Mike also serves as engineer on Sunday mornings. And since we’re in a new studio with new equipment, we thought it would be a good idea to keep Mike as undistracted as possible by things like, oh, a show and guests and phone calls and that sort of thing. So Mike will be playing technical geek while I’m on the air. Works for me.

I’ll be joined by Mike’s co-host, Julia Shu, who has promised to read one of her famous lists of the interesting, the odd and the ridiculous. And, in a kind of Self-Help Sunday reunion, Ron Cowgill of Mighty House has promised to stop by and chat about green home improvements. And even though we have barely experienced winter in Chicago, I want to talk to him about keeping your walks and driveways free of ice and snow. Our very own Beth Botts wrote about this in Chicagoland Gardening Magazine. And recently, I saw another article by the Chicago Botanic Garden‘s Tim Johnson in the Chicago Tribune.

But what really intrigued me was a product that Ron mentioned on his Saturday show called Propellant 49. The website looks like it was put together by a high school graphics student on a five minute deadline. Sorry, but look at it yourself. And it doesn’t help that NOWHERE on the site can I find the active–or even ANY–listed ingredient. Hmm. We’ll chat about that, too. I hope you tune in.

KAM Isaiah Israel puts food–and social justice–on the table

It was two years ago that I first met Robert Nevel, architect and chair of KAM Isaiah Israel‘s Social Justice Committee. I’m not exactly sure how he discovered my show, but he was eager to tell me about the Hyde Park congregation’s food justice and sustainability program, including their gardens, education advocacy programs, interfaith outreach, and young leadership summer program. Mostly, he wanted to promote their first Martin Luther King, Jr. Social Justice Weekend, featuring respected speakers and seminars on food justice, urban farming and the environment.

Fast forward to 2012 and the third annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Social Justice Weekend.Nevel and his colleagues have long since earned my utmost respect. I’ve watched the garden at their congregation expand and mature, and I’ve seen them spread the gospel, so to speak, of growing your own. They have, with their harvests and their White Rock Gleaning program, delivered thousands of pounds of fresh produce to local soup kitchens and shelters, even dragging me along to help.

So it’s a pleasure to have Robert Nevel back on the show today, along with Doriane C. Miller, M.D., Director of the Center for Community Health and Vitality at the University of Chicago Medical Center. Dr. Miller is presenting the keynote address on Friday evening, January 13, “Health and Food Justice: Observations from the South Side.” Here’s what the entire weekend looks like:

Friday, January 13: 

8:00 PM:  Shabbat Service
9:00 PM:  Lecture: “Health and Food Justice:  Observations from the South Side”

Saturday, January 14: 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.

Panel Discussion: “From Plant to Plate – Distribution of Locally Grown Food”

Sunday, January 15: 11:00 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.

Workshops:  “From Plant to Plate – Practical Learning” – 18 Workshops and Presentations with Lunch and Cooking Demonstrations at Noon

All events are free and open to the public  Pre-Registration is strongly recommended for the Sunday workshops, as class space is limited.  You can RSVP for workshops here.

Still working to save Starved Rock State Park

When I first reported on this story on December 18, the LaSalle County zoning board of appeals had just approved a sand-mining operation on a 350 acre parcel of what is now farm land just south of the town of Ottawa. The problem is that the land is adjacent to one of the most visited natural areas in Illinois, Starved Rock State Park.

The vote was unanimous, despite the fact that so many people turned out to the meeting that it had to be moved to a larger location and then held over two days. In the wake of that meeting, I interviewed Jack Darin, director of the Illinois Sierra Club, which urged people to write to the LaSalle County Board and tell them to reject the zoning board’s decision. A couple of local residents, geologist Mike Phillips and city planner Debbie Burns, echoed that sentiment, citing damage that an open pit sand mine could do to wetlands and to the quality of the experience for visitors to Starved Rock. The good news: Jack Darin tells me that 6,000 people have taken action this week at this site.

One would hope that the average county board member, after receiving 6,000 requests, might get the idea that people feel passionately about an issue. Still, the prognosis might not be that good for a happy environmental ending. My sources have told me that they expect the full board to rubber stamp the zoning board’s vote, regardless of the growing controvery surrounding this decision. Even though this part of Illinois, and north into Wisconsin, are prime areas to mine silica that is used in fracking, more and more citizens and environmental groups are challenging the industry’s argument that the mining work has minimal impact on surrounding lands.

With the full board’s vote scheduled for Thursday, January 12, LaSalle county residents have started to organize opposition to the proposed Mississippi Sand LLC operation. A number of those people are joining me on the show today: John McKee, President of the the Starved Rock Audubon Society; Daphne Mitchell of the Illinois River Coordinating Council; Joseph Standing Bear from Midwest Soarring Foundation; Merlin Calhoun, whose LaSalle county property is in the firing line of the proposed sand mine; Tracy Fox, activist and technical writer, who reportedly spoke eloquently but futilely at the zoning board meeting; Katie Dumke Troccoli, who is helping to organize a rally against the decision tomorrow in Ottawa; and perhaps more.

As I dig deeper and deeper into this issue, I have a number of questions, some of which I hope can be answered on this morning’s program:

  • I have been told that, in Illinois, once the zoning board votes, it is a done deal. Really? Then why bother with a vote of the full board?
  • I have also been told that the County Board fears being sued by Mississippi Sand, should it rule against the company. Again, I ask: Really? On what grounds? Exercising its municipal rights and duties?
  • There is a deal currently being considered for a sand mine in Utica, too. That operation would be north of the Illinois River, whereas Starved Rock is south of the river. How many other operations are being considered and how many ecologically sensitive areas would they affect?
  • How will archeologically important and sacred indigenous areas be affected? Perhaps Joseph Standing Bear will have some answers.
  • Apparently, there have been no permits yet requested for the operation, perhaps because it hasn’t been officially approved. Is this significant?
  • Lt. Governor Sheila Simon’s chief of staff Deirdre “DK” Hirner will reportedly be at Thursday’s board meeting. Does this mean that the Governor’s office plans to get involved in this controvesy?
  • How many jobs will be created by this operation? The numbers I keep hearing are 38 or 39. Is that right? Ransoming the future of the “jewel” of the Illinois State Park system for 39 jobs? What about the jobs in the park that will be lost if key parts of that land are degraded and people start staying away?
  • Finally, where is the money trail? My sources tell me that the county stands to make very little money on this deal. I’m told that the taxes raised on this parcel will be insignificant. So how is the county benefitting? Who’s making the money?

As I mentioned earlier, there is a rally Sunday at 2:00 p.m. at Jordan Block (Main and LaSalle St) in downtown Ottawa. Concerned citizens are being asked to ring signs, candles, and solidarity to the event. More information, including a map, is available on the event Facebook page.

One Seed Chicago update: Mike is still deciding

For those of you who are wondering which seed I have decided to favor in the One Seed Chicago 2012 competition, I’m still deciding. The choice is among basil, chamomile and cilantro, and I’m still waiting to be bribed to throw my support to one of them. In the event that nobody wants to bribe me, I will make a sudden, petulant decision, then throw my entire media empire behind one of the seeds.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

And don’t forget to recycle your holiday trees and lights

I have no idea what Chi-Town Cheapskate is, but I give them kudos for putting together a one-stop shopping guide to recycling not just Christmas trees, but the lights, too. So in the interest of giving credit where credit is due, I’m posting the link to their recycling article, mainly because, unlike most of the stories I’ve seen, they also include suburban locations. Good on you, Chi-Town Cheapskate, whatever you are.

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.