Tag Archives: local food

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.

Cleaning up water, passing a farm bill and squashing squash bugs

June 24, 2012

Debra Shore of the MWRD

It’s a pleasure and a privilege to have Commissioner Debra Shore of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago back on the program…especially on Pride Day. The LGBT community couldn’t find a better representative in public office than Shore, who, in the March 22 primary, once again garnered the most votes–more than 190,000–and who will undoubtedly be elected to another six year term in November.

That’s a good thing because Shore is a true environmentalist in a job that calls for people with that sensibility. After all, as she says on her website,

…water matters. The District, with its mission to protect the drinking water supply for five million residents of Cook County (by treating sewage and keeping it out of Lake Michigan), has enormous impact on our quality of life. Through its policies and practices for stormwater management, the District affects flooding, beach closings, and the health of our streams and rivers. As owner of more than 7,000 acres of land, the District protects vital habitat, including several dedicated Illinois nature preserves.

Perhaps the most important accomplishment of the MWRD during her tenure was the vote last year to (finally!) approve disinfection of the wastewater discharged into the Chicago waterways at two large treatment plants to improve water quality and recreational use. But there are many issues to address. After all, the MWRD has an annual budget of more than $1 billion and most people have no idea what it does.

Debra Shore will help us understand that on the show today. Then she’s marching in the 2012 Pride Parade. Good thing that rain isn’t in the forecast. She would be spending most of her time explaining how the MWRD is helping to keep it out of our basements.

Understanding the 2012 Farm Bill…one issue at a time

Many of you are aware that the 2012 Farm Bill is making its way through the hollow…er, hallowed halls of Congress. But even if you saw the headlines the other day trumpeting the fact that it managed to survive 73 amendments in the U.S. Senate, I’m pretty sure that most of you don’t have a clue as to what is actually in that bill. I’ll bet that many of our lawmakers are just as clueless. Probably more so.

And since most of us don’t have the time or energy to figure out the byzantine ways of Congress, I can give you a crash course on what you can expect from the bill by offering this article by author Michael Pollan and this op-ed in the New York Times, which present a slightly bigger picture of how the more things don’t change, the more they remain the same, to coin a phrase.

But back to the accomplishment of the Senate. It’s been non-stop voting in the Senate on amendments on the 2012 Farm Bill (S.3240 Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2012) lately. As I said, seventy-three amendments were proposed. The Senate rejected some that needed to be rejected but also rejected an amendment that would have allowed states to label GMO products. The bill puts limits on the crop subsidies that are given to the wealthiest farmers, thanks to an amendment co-sponsored by Dick Durbin, who came through all this looking darned good. The full Senate voted 64-35 to pass the final bill. According to Wes King of the Illinois Stewardship Alliance, who commented in an Advocates for Urban Agriculture post,

The sustainable agriculture and good food movement did fairly well when it came to positive amendments that improved upon the committee’s bill and defending against attacks on commodity subsidy reform, conservation and local foods. Senator Durbin voted with the good food movement and sustainable agriculture on nearly every single pertinent amendment.

Click here for a list of some of the key amendments . You can also get a pretty good overview of the Farm Bill at Huffpost. King also suggests that you look at what the Environmental Working Group and Food & Water Watch have to say about the bill.

And if you feel overwhelmed by all of this, welcome to U.S. legislation in the 21st Century: hard to understand, even harder to control.

When squash bugs attack

In other breaking news, it’s time to protect your squash, cucumbers and other cucurbits from some critters who are determined to do them in. Cucumber beetles, squash vine borers and the like are poised to wipe out your crop, but you can do something about them.

Cucumber Beetles are a triple threat. Adults that have overwintered munch on young plants and deposit larvae in the soil. The larvae eat tender young roots and then turn into a new generation of adults that chow down on plants leaves and blossoms. They also transmit bacterial wilt and squash mosaic virus, according to the University of Minnesota .

The Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach is to begin with delayed planting, floating row covers and trap crops, which are only practical if you grow lots of cucurbits. (Trap crops are squash varieties that beetles love even more than your zucchini. The pests go after them and leave your less tasty (to beetles) plants alone.) Predatory organism can help you out—if you don’t mind trying to attract bats and wolf spiders to your garden. More attractively, there are some earth-friendly insecticides, such as neem oil and cedar oil.

Squash Vine Borers are thedirty little sneaks of the cucurbit world. They get inside the squash vine and feed away. You don’t even know they’re there until your whole zucchini plant collapses in a heap.

It may be too late for the first line of defense. Dr. Wally of Pesche’s says you shouldn’t plant your vines until the first of July. He swears that’s the best defense against borers. The second line of defense also may be moot at this point. Baby borers hibernate in the soil over winter, so you need to get rid of them before you plant if you had an infestation last year. Cultivate your soil an inch or two down and kill the little buggers between garden-glove clad thumb and finger. The same thing applies if you’re using floating row covers.

Jennifer Brennan , my esteemed co-host on Dig In Chicago , likes to cover the vines with mulch so that the borers can’t get in. You can also wrap the vines with the row cover material. Finally, you can spray the vines with insecticidal soap or BTK, or even better, wipe them down with same every week. And watch for that tell-tale borer hole. If you spot one before the plant starts to collapse, you can slit the vine carefully with a razor, take out the borer and apply the afore-mentioned thumb and finger technique. You can find more information about Squash Vine Borers at Gardens Alive or at the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture .

And last, but not . . . well, actually, it is the least. The squash bug is nasty, but it’s somewhat easier to control than the cucumber beetle or the squash vine borer. For one thing, you can see their eggs. They lay them on the underside of the leaf, in the angle between veins. You’ll see groups of a dozen or so reddish eggs, and you can just wipe them off. You have two weeks to do that before they hatch. You can find out more at the University of Minnesota Extension .

Saving urban trees and creating a political food agenda

June 17, 2012

Are these Evanston trees in trouble?

A few days ago, I was copied on a letter that was written to Marshall Stern, host of Awakened America on Chicago’s Progressive Talk. Here’s how it read:

This is the story about the trees on Maple St. , Evanston, the block where the Century 21 movie [theater] is located.  A very tough cable has been wound around the trunks of all the trees on this block, both sides of the street.  It is meant for decoration, I think, posssibly electrical lights to be installed in the future.  The cable is very tight, you cannot get your finger under it, and it spirals up the trunk so that the entire surface of the trunk is covered.

The woman, Jane Alexander, said she believed that the trees had been paid for by Church Street Plaza Management, and that she had contected Mark Younger from the City of Evanston Forestry Department about the matter.

I wrote to her and asked whether she could send me some photos. She immediately responded with the pictures on the left side of this page. As you can see, the cable does seem to be wrapped tightly around the trees, and I suspected that the trees would soon be under stress, if not already. So I did what any red-blooded American radio host would do…I got a second, and a third, and a fourth opinion from some of my arborist friends. Here’s how they responded:

As long as the (rope lights?) are loose enough so that the trunk has adequate space to allow for development of the annual growth ring, they should be OK.  Eventually, they will need to be loosened to allow for that expansion.  Being in sidewalk cutouts, the trees may not be putting on a lot of radial growth each year, but that is determined by the size and quality of the soil allocated for them.  If the coils of the cable can slide up or down a bit, there is still some expansion room left.  If they can’t, then they should be removed or at least loosened.
Dr. Rex Bastian, The Care of Trees

Mike, I agree with Rex’s comments. The rope lights can probably stay up for the growing season but for sure check the tightens in the fall and think about loosening them or removing them in the fall.
Doris Taylor, The Morton Arboretum

Mike, they look like hollow tubing with the lights already inside. I’ve seen such things somewhere else but not up close. It’s possible that the tubing has some built-in stretch capacity, which would help. But Ginkgo often grows pretty slowly, especially during the first few years after transplanting, so you probably have a significant grace period for action anyway. Vandals might solve your problem before it becomes critical (!), but if not, be sure someone is aware that the light strings need to be rewound each year. On a more general note, I think it’s a little sad that people think they can improve upon the natural beauty of trees by adding gaudy plastic lights. 
Guy Sternberg, Starhill Forest Arboretum

Tree bondage. Would expect to see this in certain parts of Chicago.  As long as it is loosened each year, OK. If these are LED they emit no heat thus not injuring the bark. The zip tie is likely to cause more damage as it looks pretty tight. Most people forget to loosen, this is what then kills the tree.
Scott Jamieson, Bartlett Tree Experts

I certainly agree w/ what both Rex and Guy said. Over the years I’ve seen plenty of cases where wires (covered w/ rubber hose at the point of contact with the tree’s trunk) used to stake trees after planting, have actually become engulfed by the tree itself. This is especially the case when they are left on too long and not adjusted or loosened to allow for the gradual expansion of the tree’s trunk, as it grows. The same goes for plastic collars left on too long and not adjusted, that were meant to protect a tree’s trunk from damage by string trimmers and deer rubbing.
Although these trees often appear to grow fine with a foreign object stuck beneath its bark/scar tissue, one can certainly conclude that it can’t be good for it in the long run, especially in cases where the wound doesn’t close fully, presenting an opportunity for disease or insects to harm the tree.  And in more severe cases, where a cable, for example, is wrapped very tightly around a tree, it’s certainly easy for such an object to girdle a tree’s vascular system resulting in eventual death.
In general, we recommend that nothing should be left on trees long term, whether it be ropes/wires used for staking, holiday lights, etc…Here at the Arb we take the time to both install and remove all holiday lights used on our trees for both the health of the trees and to recycle/reuse our energy efficient, costly LED lights.  In most cases, nothing should really be allowed to be hung, tied, draped, attached, etc…to a tree in the first place, otherwise it gives some people ideas which can quickly get out of hand, which include the installation of hammocks, garden art, baby swings, tree houses, outdoor lighting, outdoor speakers, bike racks, signage, etc…While bubble lighting in the photos is likely harmless in the short term, it sets a bad precedent for the average Joe who doesn’t fully understand the ramifications of such actions in the long run.
Todd Jacobson, The Morton Arboretum

And then I received a phone call on Friday. It was from City of Evanston Arborist Mark Younger, who said he was checking out the trees to make sure the the lights weren’t wrapped too tightly. He also sent this letter of Jane Alexander:


I wanted to follow up with you regarding the parkway trees located at Church Street Plaza along the 1700 block of Maple Street in Evanston.  I inspected the string lighting attached to the tree trunks again this morning.  As you mentioned they have become snug against the trunks.  I met with the Director of Operations for Church Street Plaza, Mr. Robert Gilbert, and we reviewed the trees together.  Rob is having all the lighting adjusted today, and has assured me that they will adjust the lights regularly as needed in the future.   The attached email from Rob shows the management companies commitment to our urban trees. Thank you for making us aware of this situation.  Please let me know if you have any further questions.

That’s what I call a rapid response. Mark Younger joins me on the program this morning to talk about the dangers of “decorating” trees with lights and other objects. We will also chat about an event that takes place this Saturday, June 23 in McHenry County. It’s the Ride for Research to benefit the TREE Fund.

It’s a 35-mile loop through McHenry County with members of Team Illinois (go team!) from the 2012 STIHL Tour des Trees. After the ride, there’s food, fun and music. The donation to ride is $50 and that gets you the post-ride barbeque. Or, if you just want to wave to the riders and eat barbeque, the fee is only $25. For more information, call April Toney at 877/617-8887 or email: iaa@wi.rr.com. Organizers ask that you RSVP by Wednesday, June 20.

I’m also pleased to have Mary DiCarlo, Fund Development Specialist for The TREE Fund on this morning’s show.

Is “food” a campaign issue in 2012?

If there’s a person more passionate about food issues than Debbie Hillman, I can’t tell you who it is. I met her several years ago, when I did the Rooted in Austin broadcast from the Third Unitarian Church of Chicago in the Austin neighborhood.

Debbie is a Chicago native who has lived in Evanston since 1976. For 25 years, she was a professional gardener for 25 years. But it was her work as an community activist that helped her use her horticultural background to become an urban agriculture zealot. In 2005, she co-founded the Evanston Food Council, a grassroots organization.

In 2006, Debbie and the Evanston Food Council began working with Evanston’s State Representative Julie Hamos and a large statewide coalition. They helped alert citizens to the awful truth that a state with some of the richest farm land on the planet was importing 95% of its food. As a result, the Illinois Food, Farms, and Jobs Act. was passed in 2007.

Debbie coordinated the 2-year task force created by IFFJA.  Based on the task force report  (Local Food, Farms, and Jobs: Growing the Illinois Economy , 2009), the Illinois General Assembly created a permanent state body (Illinois Local Food, Farms, and Jobs Council) to create an Illinois-based food and farm economy.

And now she is announcing the first project of her brand new food system consulting business,
D. Hillman Strategies: Food Policy for Voters. Debbie has created an Illinois Food Survey, which will measure just how important food issues are to Illinois voters. The Illinois survey is a pilot for a national survey which will be activated in June, following the June primaries in 15 states

As she explains on her website:

For 60+ years, American voters’ food attention and resources have been over-focused on creating a global food system, to the detriment of every local farm and food economy in the world, including local food economies in the U.S.  Symptoms of local food system disfunction are manifest in every American community, in every sector of community life.

Public health : Reduced lifespan, skyrocketing healthcare costs
Increasing infant mortality
Hunger, malnutrition, over-nutrition, mono-nutrition, eating disorders
Epidemics of obesity, diabetes 2, cardiovascular disease
Suicides and chronic mental health problems of farmers, mothers, and other caretakers who can’t make the $$ and hours add up no matter how hard they work

Education : Loss of basic life skills and cultural heritage
Loss of food literacy (nutrition, health, soil, water, climate, energy, history, culture, biodiversity, farming and food traditions)
Loss of food skills (growing, shopping, storing, cooking, feeding, preserving, composting)
Reduced competency in collective decision-making, especially through government
Confusion about money, banking, basic financial operations

and more.  Can Debbie Hillman help draw attention to food issues in time to make a difference in the 2012 election? We’ll know in a few months. Meanwhile, she stops by to talk to me in studio this morning.

Two bills: Governor Quinn, sign one, veto the other

As the General Assembly in Springfield wrapped up its legislative business at the end of May, one of the victories for Chicago environmentalists was the passage of HB 3881, which will effectively ban landfills in Cook County…assuming that Governor Pat Quinn signs it.

Right now, it sits on his desk, and the Southeast Environmental Task Force (SETF) is urging its supporters to call the governor’s office to tell him to affix his signature to the legislation.That number is 312-814-2121. You can keep track of the progress of the bill by loggin on to the No Chicago Landfills Facebook page.

And while you’re on the phone to the governor, you should tell him to veto another bill that is on his desk. That one is SB 3766, which, according the SETF, would force Ameren, People’s Gas and Nicor to purchase more expensive synthetic gas produced by Leucadia’s proposed coal gasification plant on the southeast side. In addition to being bad for Illinois gas customers, it’s yet another environmental slap in the face to the southeast side of Chicago.

Repeat after me: There is No Such Thing as Clean Coal.

The Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club agrees and you can log in here to voice your concerns to the governor. In the words of the Sierra Club, “SB3766 would not only force NICOR and Ameren ratepayers to buy the dirty synthetic gas produced by Leucadia, it also forces themto finance 100% of the construction costs for the scuzzy coal-to-gas plant!”

This sweetheart deal is bad for our pocketbooks and bad for the environment. The plant is planned for the heart of Chicago’s southeast side, just two blocks from Washington High School. The project’s pollution will impact more than 10,000 students and the many families who live nearby over the 30-year project life.”

You know what to do. Let’s get it done.