Tag Archives: Mr Brown Thumb

Flower and food festivals come to Chicago

March 11, 2012

“Hort Couture” sashays into the Chicago Flower & Garden Show

Hokey smoke, Bullwinkle, it must be spring!

How do I know? It’s not just the crocuses popping up in my yard, about three weeks early. It’s also the annual arrival of the Chicago Flower & Garden Show at Navy Pier. This event, now through Sunday, March 18, shows off some of the best and brightest in Chicago’s horticultural world–and beyond. More than 32 exhibits highlight not only plants, ornamental and edible, but hardscapes (you know, the bricks and pavers and trellises and containers that contribute to a landscape), water features, lights, and a few things you just don’t see in a garden every day.

The theme is “Hort Couture,” which is probably fitting, because I’ve always described garden shows as about 80% show biz and 20% horticulture, give or take a few percentage points in either direction.

You can get at least a little flavor for this year’s edition by checking out some of the photos I took at the opening night gala preview benefit “Evening in Bloom” (hey, there have to be SOME perks in this profession.) Of course, there’s much, much to the show than just the garden. Here are some of the other features that are part of the nine-day extravaganza:

  • Seminars and Workshops – This is where the real horticultural learnin’ takes place. Experts and professionals from academia, business and garden centers cover just about every gardening topic that you can imagine.
  • Garden Gourmet – 36 top Chicago chefs show you how it’s done in the kitchen. There are at least three daily demonstrations–and you might just get a chance to sample some of that culinary goodness.
  • Potting Parties – They’re back by popular demand. Four times each day–11:00a, 1:00p, 3:00p, 5:30p—you can be part of a hands-on workshop where industry professionals teach you techniques and insight on creating your own containers.  Yes, there is a $20 fee, but you get to take your creation home with you.
  • The Marketplace – C’mon, you know you can’t resist the bulbs and the containers and the seeds and the colorful chotchkies.

And, new to the Flower & Garden Show this year, is the “Great Chicago Seed Swap.” It happens today, March 11, from 3PM until…”they kick us out,” it says on the Garden Show website. Mr. Brown Thumb will be there and he’s on my show this morning to talk about how it will all come together. There will be a table for annual seeds, perennial seeds and edibles. Backyard gardeners, community gardeners, school gardeners are all welcomed.

Here are some tips to help you participate:

Package your home saved seeds in paper coin envelopes or plastic baggies. Print (as clearly as possible) the name of the plant and any other information you think a gardener would need to grow it successfully. Part of the appeal for me of swapping seeds is passing on their history and my experience with them.

By the way, the Chicago Flower & Garden Show is still a great bargain–and even better if you purchase your tickets online. Here are the prices:

$15 Weekday tickets purchased online
$17 Weekday tickets purchased at the Navy Pier Box Office
$17 Weekend tickets purchased online
$19 Weekend tickets purchased at the Navy Pier Box Office
$  5 Children 4-12 years old

Hours are Monday – Saturday  10:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m., and Sundays  10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.

FamilyFarmed Expo is now the Good Food Festival

Speaking of great events, the FamilyFarmed Expo is back with a name change, but it’s still working to change the way we think about food. Now called the Good Food Festival and Conference, the three day event is about growing, cooking, selling, and celebrating healthy, nutritious food. It takes place at the UIC Forum, 725 West Roosevelt Road, Chicago, IL

Over three days, farmers, educators, business people, cooks, policy wonks and others gather together in a sort of “state of the local food movement” celebration. The three days are organized this way:

  • Financing Conference, Thursday, March 15
    This is for food producers and farmers looking to expand their businesses and make them more profitable. They can learn about about funding opportunities and connect with banks and investors interested in financing growth. Seminars feature success stories, alternative funding, finding solutions to urban food deserts and more.
  • Tradeshow Conference & Policy Summit, Friday, March 16
    Some of the most difficult questions regarding food policy and its consequences will be discussed on this day. Obviously, policy makers will be there, along with food advocates representing varied programs and organizations. Seminars will look at how to affect the laws that affect local food, scaling up urban agriculture, food hubs and local procurement, and much more.
  • Good Food Festival, Saturday, March 17
    This is the grand finale of the three days, when the doors are opened wide to anybody who loves good, sustainable food. There are educational seminars and workshops all day along about growing and making food, along with chef demos, family-friendly activities, and plenty of vendors to keep you engaged. It’s usually noisy, busy, fun and charged with great energy.

As a matter of fact, I will be moderating one of the seminars on Saturday. Seneca Kern from WeFarm America, Jeanne Pinsof Nolan of The Organic Gardener and I will do a talk called “Small Space Gardening” from 3:30 to 4:45 in Room F. For a full schedule of seminars, click here.

The man behind the plan is Jim Slama, founder and president of FamilyFarmed.org, which encourages the production, marketing and distribution of locally grown and responsibly produced food. Earlier this year, FamilyFarmed.org has partnered with DCEO, Illinois Department of Agriculture, and the University of Illinois’ Business Innovation Services to create the guidebook, Building Successful Food Hubs: A Business Planning Guide for Aggregating and Processing Local Food in Illinois.

The guide serves as a resource for communities, businesses, not-for-profits and others interested in establishing food hubs. The guide includes descriptions of key functions, best practices, and “how-to” strategies for establishing and operating food hubs that are based on successful food hubs operating in other regions, specifically adapted for application in Illinois’ food system.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one more part of the Good Food Festival and Conference– Localicious on March 16th from 7:00pm to 9:30pm at UIC Forum. It’s a celebration of the farmers and chefs and it features fabulous food and drinks, live music, and an opportunity to connect with other good food enthusiasts.

Ag-Gag laws and the threat to free speech

I don’t even remember how I stumbled upon the article in the Chicago Tribune last week titled CAFO protection law passes in Iowa, Illinois hearings held Wednesday. Written by the excellent reporter Monica Eng, it detailed how Iowa Governor Terry Brandstad had just signed a bill that would outlaw undercover investigations at concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in that state. The Des Moines Register says that the bill could stifle free speech. However, those in favor of the legislation say it prevents photos and videos of CAFOs from being release “out of context.”

What alarmed me as much as this dangerous law was that I hadn’t heard about this effort to stifle documentation of illegal actions at factory farms, even though an earlier version had been introduced in Illinois in 2002. Fortunately, the word got out about how bad this legislation is and the Illinois version never made it out of committee.

Predictably, aligned on the side of transparency are groups like Illinois Citizens for Clean Air and Water, Mercy for Animals, the Humane Society of the U.S and Food & Water Watch. On the other side of the fence Illinois Farm Bureau, Monsanto and other agri-business interests.

The agri-business types like to point at people like me as examples of whistleblowers who don’t know anything about farming. Actually, I don’t know much about farming. But I do recognize the argument that “by exposing health and pollution problems, reporters are putting responsible farmers out of business” for what it is–old, tired and untrue.

That’s why I pleased to have Karen Hudson on the show today. Not only is she an Illinois farmer, but she is with Illinois Citizens for Clean Air and Water and Socially Responsible Agricultural Project and has been fighting factory farms since 1996, as you can see in this video of a presentation she did at TEDxManhattan last year. Karen knows, as do I, that the businesses interested in covering up abuses on factory farms will continue their efforts to pass laws all over the country. And, yes, they will be back in Illinois, too. A reason to be ever vigilant.

Starved Rock Update: Will there be IDNR public hearings?

It’s been awhile since I talked about the dire situation at Starved Rock State Park. And, to be clear, it IS dire. There’s a pretty darned good chance that an open pit sand mine will be dug just outside of the east entrance to the jewel of the Illinois State Park system. It will cause untold environmental damage near–and even in–the park.

Why? Because the LaSalle County Board, in its infinite wisdom, caved to short term interests in allowing Mississippi Sand LLC to transform farm land into mining land where it can do tremendous harm.

Since that unfortunate vote, local residents, aided by groups like Illinois Sierra Club and Openlands have been clinging to a public dissent strategy to slow down the mining juggernaut that is about to descend upon LaSalle County. On Monday March 12, the county board will decide whether or not to request that the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) hold a public hearing on Mississippi Sand’s proposed sand mine next to Starved Rock State Park.

There’s a question about whether the board will be voting only on whether the conservation and reclamation plan for the site should be the subject of a public hearing. From information I’ve received, the “Surface-Mined Land Conservation and Reclamation Act requires the IDNR determine the adequacy of the conservation and reclamation plan based on a number of criteria. Specifically the Act states: The Department shall consider the short and long term impact of the proposed mining on vegetation, wildlife, fish, land use, land values, local tax base, the economy of the region and the State, employment opportunities, air pollution, water pollution, soil contamination, noise pollution and drainage.”

The way I look at it, the LaSalle County Board is meeting on Monday to decide whether they’re interested in democracy.

If you love Starved Rock State Park, it would be a good idea for you to contact members of the LaSalle County board and tell them they should vote YES to ask IDNR to hold a public hearing.
If you can show up at the meeting, even better. It will be held at Festivities Unlimited, 1504 Poplar at Route 6 & Poplar in Ottawa, Illinois.

John McKee, President of the Starved Rock Audubon Society, joins me again to talk about this latest effort to save this important Illinois natural resource.

I hope that Governor Quinn is listening.

Herbs, urban gardens and household batteries

January 22, 2012

Countdown to Decision Chicago! The Great Herb Debate

Mark your calendars, sharpen your debating skills and get your seed packets lined up. Sunday, February ,5 is the date of the inaugural Great Herb Debate. The ubiquitous Mr. Brown Thumb and I have concocted this scheme in honor of the One Seed Chicago 2012 competition…and because I want to hear somebody wax poetic about chamomile.

As you might already know, One Seed Chicago–a partnership between NeighborSpace and GreenNet–is an urban greening project. Folks vote for their favorite seed from among three chosen each January 1st. Regardless of which seed you vote for, you receive a packet of the winning seed just for participating in the competition.

This year’s choice is among basil, chamomile and cilantro. Mr. Brown Thumb and I are lining up surrogates who are willing to defend their candidates on my show. I hope to announce those names next week. However, any and everybody is welcome to voice an opinion before and during the debate via email, Twitter and Facebook. Send in those comments now. I’ll post them on the Decision Chicago page (click on the image on the left) as I receive them.

And I’m still waiting to be bribed to throw my support to one of the seeds. Sheesh. What does it take in Chicago (!) to get a decent gift to help throw an election? C’mon, Chicagoans! Our checkered reputation is at stake!

Learning about and growing urban gardens in Chicago

A couple of years ago, I was hoping to set up a community garden in my neighborhood. I can’t remember exactly how it happened, but Openlands Community Outreach Coordinator Julie Samuels, who is a friend and colleague of mine, told me about a half-day seminar that Openlands was sponsoring to help neighborhood groups plan and and build community gardens.

My community garden didn’t happen for another year, but I was able to use many of the lessons I learned at that seminar to help start Green on McLean at the end of my block. Two years after that first class, the HomeGrown Chicago Network has expanded to a four-week course that focuses on

  • Finding and securing land,
  • Establishing a sustainable organizational structure,
  • Designing a garden and growing food organically, and
  • Building garden structures.

I’ll be talking with Julie today about the program, which begins on March 24. It also provides customized workshops for garden groups; offers a program manual; donates lumber, soil, seeds, and other materials; and encourages participants to share advice and seeds at the beginning of each growing season. The cost is $150, which will cover four people from your gardening organization for the four-week course.

But wait, there’s more! That’s not the only gardening program that Openlands sponsors. If you hurry, you can still register for Building Urban Gardens (BUGs), which begins January 28 (next Saturday) at Garfield Park Conservatory. Whether you’re working in a community garden or you just want to grow plants in your own backyard, here’s what you’ll learn in this six-week course, which covers

  • Planning and Designing Your Ecological/Organic Garden
  • The Basis of an Organic Garden: Healthy Soil and Composting
  • Vegetables for Your Beautiful, Edible Garden
  • Perennials and Herbs for Diversity and Flavor!
  • Insects and Weeds: A Place for Everything & Everything in its Place
  • Container and Raised Bed Gardening.

Once you finish the BUGs course, you can join a citywide corps of volunteer gardeners who care for community spaces throughout Chicago. Openlands thanks the Dr. Scholl Foundation for its support of this program.

For more information about the class and to register, please contact Julie Samuels via e-mail or by phone at 312-863-6256.

Coal pollutes Chicago air while batteries go back to the landfills

I received a message this week from my friend Qae-Dah Muhammad, who is with the Ashe Park Advisory Council & Garden Club. She wrote:

Yes it is true. No more recycling your dead batteries. I searched for this information until my eyes watered. Went into the South Shore Library and my tired eyes landed on the flyer sitting on the information rack. The Illinois EPA says that you can throw them in the regular trash.

She included a link that sent me to the City of Chicago website, where this appears:

As of January 1, 2012, Chicago’s Battery Recycling Program has been discontinued, including collections at Chicago Public Libraries. Rechargeable batteries can still be recycled at multiple locations throughout Chicago, such as the Household Chemicals and Computer Recycling Facility . Find additional locations at www.call2recycle.org .

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency recommends disposing of alkaline batteries with regular household trash. Alkaline batteries contain no hazardous waste and little recyclable materials. Previous environmental hazards associated with alkaline batteries were due to their mercury content.  The federal Battery Management Act of 1996 phased-out the use of mercury in alkaline batteries and today few, if any, alkaline batteries contain mercury.

My reaction could be categorized as WTF? I hadn’t heard about this at all and, as many of you know, I’m President of the Chicago Recycling Coalition. Oops. I called Mike Mitchell, Executive Director of the Illinois Recycling Association and he confirmed that the IEPA had made some kind of determination last year.

So I did some searching on both the Illinois Evironmental Protection Agency site and the EPA site. Nothing. Zip. Nada. If they are changing the rules regarding the disposal of household batteries, they are certainly keeping it quiet.

I am determined to find out what’s going on. I hope to contact the IEPA this week to get more information. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, Meteorologist Rick DiMaio wrote today to tell me about this front page story in Sunday’s Chicago Tribune: Coal plants dominate list of Chicago’s biggest polluters. Ya think? Michael Hawthorne writes:

No other polluter comes close to the 4.2 million metric tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide churned into the atmosphere by the two coal plants in 2010, according to a new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency database that for the first time allows people to compare major industrial sources of greenhouse gases

That’s why it is so important for the Chicago City Council to finally pass the Chicago Clean Power Ordinance, reintroduced in late July 2011 by Ald. Joe Moore (49th Ward) and Ald. Danny Solis (25th Ward). Considering that the ordinance has 35 co-sponsors, one wonders why it hasn’t been passed yet. It would require that the Fisk and Crawford coal plants reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 50% and particulate matter by 90%.

Perhaps it’s time for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to step up and protect Chicago citizens from the ravages of these two ancient power plants, which continue to do more harm than good.

New Year, New Chance, New Seed Competition, New Cookbook

January 1, 2012

A new year…and D. Landreth Seed Company can see the light

One of the most inspirational stories of 2011–and now of the new year–has been the continuing struggle of the D. Landreth Seed Company, as the 227 year-old business claws its way out of near financial ruin. If you’re a regular listener to this show, you know that I started following this story after I was made aware of it in a post by Mr. Brown Thumb (more on him later).

Basically, a note was called on the outstanding debt of the company and they had about a month to show that they could paid the bill. Their goal was to sell one million catalogs in…who knows how long. The original deadline was September 30th but that was extended as orders came in. Owner Barbara Melera appeared on my show a number of times to talk about how things were going. While she was always upbeat, she wrote that behind the scenes, things were tougher than they needed to be because of their credit card processor, First Data Merchant Corporation:

On October 14th we received a letter from First Data telling us that they refused to be our credit card processor and that they were terminating the relationship on October 27, 2011, BUT they were keeping at least $50,000 plus any transaction funds posted after 10-27-2011 for six months, supposedly to cover all of the refunds they were going to have to make because of the scam we were running.

Scam?? If that’s the case, then Melera is one of the great scam artists of all history. I mean, not only did she con me (easy enough to do), but she dragged along people like Oprah, Martha Stewart, Ellen Degeneres and Rose O’Donnell, not to mention companies like John Deere and Organic Valley, as well as organizations like the Sierra Club and Mother Nature Network. So I was gratified to see this posted on the Landreth Seed Company Facebook page this week:

GREAT NEWS!! Your facebook posts, letters and emails and voicemails WORKED. We have just received a call from FDMC, literally moments ago, and they are releasing our funds which should be in our account by Friday. YOU DID THIS. They would never have listened to us, but they did listen to all of you. It is now being said that social media will mean the democratization of process and you have just proven this. You have proven that true justice can be accomplished, quickly and efficiently, even in America. Thank you, Landreth friends.

Well, after seeing that, I knew that I was going to have Barb back on the show on this New Year’s Day. Meanwhile, keep the orders coming! Listeners to my show have really stepped up, which makes me feel like a proud pappa. You can get a sense of the quality of this catalog by linking to sample pages here. Log onto these various social media sites to continue to get the word out: Landreth Seed Co, Save Landreth Seed Company, Order their 2012 Catalog!, and more. If you’re on Twitter, use the hashtag #savelandreth. If you just want to make a contribution, go to ChipIn.com and click the icon on the upper right hand side of the page.

One Seed Chicago contest goes online LIVE on my show!

Mr. Brown Thumb, who I mentioned above in reference to the D. Landreth Seed Company, is back on the show today to announce the contestants in the One Seed Chicago 2012 competition. He is joined by Ben Helphand, Executive Director of NeighborSpace, Chicago’s land trust for community gardens, which is the chief organization behind the competition.

Each year One Seed Chicago selects one plant to be the focus of a season-long celebration. Actually, One Seed Chicago chooses three plants, and voters decide which is most worthy of being celebrated. In the past, the votes have alternated between flowers and vegetables. If you watched the competition last year, you know that the contestants were radish, eggplant and Swiss chard.

Of course, it was hardly a fair fight, once I threw my support behind Swiss chard. At that point, my loyal followers (all 3 or 4), stuffed the ballot box, if only to keep me from sulking. At the end of the voting, when Swiss chard was announced as the winner, I was declared Chard Overlord and accorded all of the rights and privileges therewith (and post haste, if I’m not mistaken). As a result of my stomping all over the democratic process last year (which I thoroughly enjoyed), I’ve decided TO NOT STEAL THE ELECTION THIS YEAR!

I’m not sure how much I’m supposed to reveal about this year’s vote, so I’m going to let Mr. Brown Thumb handle that duty. In fact, not only will MBT be revealing the three seeds, but he promises to hit the switch that puts the contest online LIVE DURING THE SHOW! It will be an unprecedented marriage of the broadcast and Internet media. Well, perhaps not unprecedented, but pretty cool, anyway.

As I mentioned , One Seed Chicago is a project of NeighborSpace, in partnership with GreenNet Chicago. Other sponsors are Openlands, Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance and Illinois Extension-Cook County. Residents from the Chicagoland area vote on their favorite as a reward for your vote (it’s kind of a bribe, I guess), you receive a packet of seeds of the winning plant. Teachers can request a classroom size packet along with an educator guide.

Sustainable Food Fundamentals
“Farmstead Chef”: fixin’ good food fixins that’re good for the planet

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not big on cookbooks, chiefly because I don’t cook. I don’t draw, either, whether with ink, pencil or crayons. Other than that, I’m pretty open to things.

That being said, however, I’m not an idiot and I know when a book–even a cookbook–has a lot going for it. Which is why John Ivanko and Lisa Kivirist, authors of Farmstead Chef  are on the show today. Okay, that and we happen to have mutual acquaintances. More on that in a moment.

If you have any sensitivity at all towards the local/sustainable/healthy/whateveryouwantotcallit food movement that is taking our country and its kitchen tables by storm, this is the cookbook for you. Regardless of how appealing it sounds, not everybody is going to do what Ivanko and Kivirist did–start Inn Serendipity, an organic and largely fossil fuel-free farm complete with Bed and Breakfast in Wisconsin.

Which is why it’s such a good thing that they are passing along their knowledge of what it’s like to live–and eat–close to the land. But they do it by suggesting rather than preaching. As they say in the book:

Farmstead Chef showcases the creative and budget-friendly side to eating lower on the food chain more often, while taking responsibility for the food we put into our bodies–by growing it, sharing it, savoring it. By lower on the food chain we mean more fruits and vegetables and less meat. Not “no meat”…This “farmsteadtarian” cookbook–preparing healthy meals with ingredients sourced as close as possible from a farm, ranch or artisan food purveyor–is anything but prescriptive, proclaiming you will die an early death if you touch an ounce of sugar, eat meat or unwind with a strawberry daiquiri at the end of the day.

Whew! They had me worried for a second. Pass the merlot.

The chapters feature the various types of meals that we eat: breakfast entrees, breads, soups, “sides, sauces and salads,” nibbles (appetizers), main dishes, “cakes, pies and sweets,” and drinks. There is a final chapter devoted to their son Liam’s favorites and tips on pantry stocking. The recipes are simply and efficiently explained so that even a novice like me can follow them (no small feat). Ivanko and Kivirist stress eating “seasonally,” but they are not dogmatic about it, mercifully.

Along the way there are tips about cooking and sustainability and healthy eating. There are also short articles, which they call “Kitchen Table Talks,” that feature farming friends, urban gardeners, chefs and the like. That’s where our mutual acquaintances come in–Beth and Jody Osmund of Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm, who have been on my show several times. Farmstead Chef devotes a Kitchen Table Talk segment to the Osmunds under the title “Meet Your Meat Maker.” See? I told you that they weren’t dogmatic about food. Meat is certainly welcome on the table, as long as it is raised and killed humanely and sustainably.

There’s a lot I’m missing here, including the dishes, like

  • zucchini feta pancakes
  • fresh tomato breakfast pie
  • winter squash spice muffins
  • homemade vegan pitas and pita chips
  • cheese roasted asparagus
  • creamy spinach salad
  • vegan hearty root vegetable dip
  • creamy leek pastries
  • herb-infused spare ribs
  • fried green tomato & basil sandwich
  • beet burgers
  • Italian sausage risotto (courtesy of Beth and Jody Osmund)
  • strawberry dessert pizza
  • pear crumb pie
  • homemade graham crackers

Hey, you’ll just have to get the book. You’ll think that the 20 bucks you paid is the best bargain you’ve made in all of 2012. That’s a joke, of course, but the cookbook is terrific.

Saving Starved Rock State Park

The controversy surrounding Starved Rock State Park and the attempt to put an open pit sand mine next to its entrance is still on my radar…and should be on yours. I will be discussing this issue on next week’s show. In the meantime, find out more about the issue from the Illinois Sierra Club. You can submit a comment to the LaSalle County Board here.

New electronics recycling law for 2012

As of this morning, if you throw out those old electronics, you could be fined for it. That’s the result of a new law that went into effect as of January 1, 2012. Mike Mitchell, Executive Director of the Illinois Recycling Association, talked about this a few weeks ago on the show. The new law expands the number of covered electronic products in Illinois from four to seventeen. Here’s the full list:

  • Televisions
  • Monitors
  • Printers
  • Computers ( laptop, notebook, netbook, tablet )
  • Electronic Keyboards
  • Facsimile Machines
  • Videocassette Recorders
  • Portable Digital Music Players
  • Digital Video Disc Players
  • Video Game Consoles
  • Small Scale Servers
  • Scanners
  • Electronic Mice
  • Digital Converter Boxes
  • Cable Receivers
  • Satellite Receivers
  • Digital Video Disc Recorders

While you could be fined for throwing out any of these devices, the real purpose of the law is to hold the manufacturers accountable for the growing amount of electronics in landfills. According to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, “For calendar year 2012 all manufacturers of the new list of covered electronic products must now register with the Illinois EPA and meet an annual recycling goal.” Any manufacturer not complying with the Illinois Electronic Products Recycling and Reuse Act is liable for a civil penalty not to exceed $10,000 for the violation and an additional civil penalty not to exceed $10,000 for each day the violation continues.

Click here for more on the Electronic Products Recycling & Reuse Act and the responsibilities to manufacturers.

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.