Tag Archives: One Seed Chicago

The Great Herb Debate

February 5, 2012

Which side are you on? The Great Herb Debate” is here!

[Update: Audio of “Decision Chicago! The Great Herb Debate” is now posted here. ]

Are you strapped in? Ready to rumble? “Decision Chicago! The Great Herb Debate” is finally here on The Mike Nowak Show.

Today’s debate is part of the One Seed Chicago 2012 vote to determine which of three herbs will be the plant of the year. Here are the teams, the people who will be speaking for each herb, and a short statement about the plant.

#TeamBasil is represented by Anthony Todd (@FoodieAnthony), who is food and drink editor for Chicagoist. His statement on Basil:

“I’m Italian, so I was practically born with a sprig of basil in one hand and a tomato in the other.   It’s the tastiest, most useful herb I know, and you should vote for Basil for One Seed Chicago.

Unlike my colleagues, I’m not a gardening expert; in fact, I’m something of a novice.  I have tried to grow herbs in my windows and on my porch countless times, and the I have the skeletons of thyme, lemon verbena and, yes, cilantro plants to show for it.  But Basil has never let me down.  It’s almost laughably easy to grow – and it lasts forever.  Most people have never seen a full-grown basil plant, just the babies at the store.  They can grow to be the size of a small bush!

Basil originally came from India (and is prominent in Indian cuisine) but most Americans identify it with Italy.   Pasta sauce would just be red goo without it, and pesto would be nothing but pine nuts soaking in olive oil.   I dry it, freeze it, and put it in my canned goods so I can use it all year round.

Basil comes in many varieties, each of which is a little different.  Purple basil, licorice basil, lemon basil, thai basil.  Once you’ve grown one, you’ll want to try the whole rainbow of options.  Is it healthy?  It might help fight arthritis and other inflammatory diseases.  Plus, basil essential oil can repel mosquitos.  What’s not to love?”

#TeamChamomile, is represented by Linda Tyson (@ssgardengirl), who blogs as Garden Girl. Her statement:

“I chose chamomile for it’s pretty, daisy-like little blooms.  I’ve never grown it, but would like to give it a try in the garden.  I buy, and use chamomile tea often.

Chamomile is an aromatic plant, and makes a good companion for vegetables in the brassica family. It’s said to enhance their flavor, discourage cabbage worms, host hoverflies and wasps, and to accumulate minerals such as calcium, potassium and sulfur in the soil.

The January, 2005 Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry published a study showing chamomile tea is an immune system booster, and helps relieve muscle spasms and cramps.  Other studies have shown it provides relief from anxiety, panic attacks, and insomnia, soothes the digestive tract, and can be  helpful for relieving migraine headaches.

As a compress, chamomile can help relieve under-eye circles and other skin discolorations, and the tea is an effective treatment for mild cuts and burns.  It may also be beneficial for hair and scalp as a rinse, and is sometimes included in chemical-free shampoos, conditioners, and skin-care products.

Camomile is drought-tolerant once established, and will grow in full to part sun.  Camomile tea can help prevent damping off of seedlings, Because of its antibacterial and antifungal properties, chamomile tea can be used to treat fungal diseases including black spot and powdery mildew.”

#TeamCilantro is represented by Jessica Rinks (@SnappyJDog) a regular contributer to this show who is a blogger for and President of the Forest Park Community Garden. Here’s her statement:

“Multicultural appeal and easy to grow!  You should vote for Cilantro!

Coriandrum sativum , commonly known as either coriander or cilantro, is an ancient herb native to southern Europe and the Middle East.  Coriander is mentioned in the Old Testament and coriander seeds were recovered from King Tut’s tomb in Egypt.  Historically the leaves, seeds, and essential oils were used for various medicinal, religious, and culinary purposes.

The herb was brought to the Americas by European explorers and was eventually popularized as a culinary herb particularly in Mexican cuisine.  However, cilantro’s utility goes far beyond just salsa.   Worldwide, cilantro is used in many cuisines including Indian, Chinese, and southeastern Asian cultures.

Cilantro is an easy herb to grow in a home garden, as it can be directly sown into your garden plot (no need to start indoors under lights) and grows quickly (harvest leaves in as little as 6 weeks and seeds in 9 weeks after sowing). It works well as a container plant too.  Cilantro can tolerate cooler temperatures, so you can sow seeds a few weeks prior to last spring frost to get a head start.   Also, it is very easy to save seeds from cilantro to replant in your garden.  Cilantro seeds will not cross-pollinate with any other of your garden crops.  Also, cilantro will often self-seed on its own.  Cilantro plants are also good garden neighbors as it is thought to repel undesirable insects such as aphids and to attract beneficial pollinators.

All in all, cilantro’s ease of culture and breadth of use make it the best  choice for One Seed Chicago.”

I will moderate the debate, since I have not decided which seed I will support…yet. In addition, I will have a true herb expert on board–Sal Gilbertie, co-author of Herb Gardening from the Ground Up: Everything You Need to Know about Growing Your Favorite Herbs. Gilbertie is the third generation owner/proprietor of Gilbertie’s Herb Gardens located in Westport, Connecticut. Established in 1922, Gilbertie’s is the largest herb grower and supplier in the United States today.

My thanks to Mr. Brown Thumb, who helped to pull this debate together. I understand that he will be working Twitter and Facebook this morning during festivities. Don’t forget to go to One Seed Chicago 2012 to cast your vote.

Fighting for a clean, healthy environment in an election year

Who said this?

“We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly one hundred years…Experts believe this will support more than 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade.”

A) An oil and gas industry lobbyist
B) The current President of the United States

If the quote sounded familiar to you, it might be because you watched President Barack Obama‘s State of the Union Address, where he made the above statement (I removed the phrase “and my Administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy” because I didn’t want to give away the answer.) He also said that he will direct his administration to open more than 75% of the nation’s potential offshore oil and gas resources for development, and indicated that nuclear energy and so-called “clean” coal are on his list.

This had organizations like Food & Water Watch scratching their heads. I guess that’s environmental politics in an election year. But Environment Illinois Program Director Max Muller says it’s important to remember tha,t at the same time, the Obama Administration has been moving ahead with a number of rules required under the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act to protect public health and the environment. The Bush administration put these on hold, creating a backlog of rules that the Obama administration has been making progress on. These Include:

But make no mistake. If enviros have problems with some of Obama’s decisions, they need only look at what Republicans would do if they regained the White House. They are already incuding hundreds of anti-environmental riders and amendments in budget bills.

And, much like Glenn Close in “Fatal Attraction,” the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline threatens to rise out of its oily bathtub and grab America by the throat. It might be attached to a transportation funding bill that would, among other things, open the Atlantic and Pacific coasts as well as the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, while cutting all funding for biking and walking safety and stifling environmental review for transportation projects.

Gotta admire the consistency of those Republicans. It’s the consistency of oil, I think.

Of course, there are always local environmental issues to be concerned about. For instance:

  • “Clean Coal” in Illinois (the Tenaska bill). The State House will be voting on this soon and Environment Illinois is strongly opposed.

Max Muller stops by the new WCPT studios this morning to discuss all of the above…and possibly more. So much environmental degradation, so little time, eh?

What does climate change look like?

Meteorologist Rick DiMaio and I often discuss climate change when he does his weather segment on my show. I don’t think I’ve seen it brought into starker terms than on this post I found on Daily Kos. Please read and be prepared to discuss on my show Sunday morning.

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.

Bad Day at Starved Rock

January 15, 2012

A message from LaSalle County: “Piss on Starved Rock.”

Those of you who follow my Facebook or Twitter posts already know that last Thursday’s meeting of the LaSalle County Board did not go well for supporters of Starved Rock State Park. In a 20 to 6 vote, board members voted to Mississippi Sand LLC to create an open pit sand mine on what is now a slightly more than 300 acre farm adjacent to Starved Rock State Park in Utica, Illinois.

According to a number of accounts, the two hundred or so people crowded into the Ottawa Knights of Columbus Hall were evenly split on the issue. However, my sources, who were also at the meeting, report that the sentiments ran decidedly against approval of the sand mine. This, despite the presence of union workers, who are hoping to see the sand mining jobs brought to the county.

What is undeniable is that it is an emotional issue on both sides. One of the people I interviewed on my show last week was told by a high-ranking LaSalle County Democratic official and union leader, “Piss on Starved Rock.” Nice. This is what happenswhen the old “jobs v. the environment” meme is trotted out. It doesn’t help when the Chicago Tribune reinforces this tired, discredited concept in the headline “Sand mine proposal near Starved Rock pits company against environmentalists.” Oh, and by the way, Trib and Sun-Times, thanks for getting on board with this story the day before the vote. Well played.

Even a last-minute plea from Lt. Governor Sheila Simon to delay the vote until more study could be done failed to budge the board members from their laser-like focus on approving the 90-foot deep pit outside the eastern entrance to the jewel of the Illinois State Park System. LaSalle County Board member Rick Scott, who appears on the show this morning, introduced a motion to postpone the vote, but it was defeated handily. His concern was that people who own property next to the proposed mining site have had very little time to present their side to policy makers in the county.

Also on the program this morning is Cindy Skrukrud, Clean Water Advocate for the Illinois Sierra Club, who has had her hands full lately trying to prevent a coal strip mine from being approved near Canton in Fulton County. John McKee, President of the Starved Rock Audubon Society, who joined me last week, also stops by. The focus now shifts to agencies like the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), which is not only responsible for natural areas like Starved Rock but is charged with regulating the mining industry. Some people, like McKee, are concerned over what has been a deafening silence so far from DNR.

Among other places to look for help might be the Illinois EPA, the Lt. Governor’s office (how does Ms. Simon feel about being summarily ignored at the LaSalle County board meeting?), the Governor’s office (any comment, Mr. Quinn?) and U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (ditto, Mr. Durbin).

This story is a long way from over…but Thursday’s action in LaSalle County just made saving Starved Rock State a lot harder.

Winter arrives…a month late. How are plants holding up?

Well, we knew it wouldn’t last forever. In fact, I’m one of those people who was actually happy to finally see some snow. But a lot of folks are concerned–and rightly so–with how their outdoor plants will react to getting faked out by warm weather and then whupped upside the head by Mother Nature.

Never fear: Cindy Baker, Manager of Horticultural Services at the Chicago Botanic Garden, is here to tell you what–or what NOT–to do. She should know her stuff. After all, she has been at the Garden for 24 years and she supervises more than100 acres there, including the Berm garden along the Edens Expressway. And if you can keep plants alive along an expressway, you must know what you’re doing.

One Seed Chicago update: Nope, no decision yet

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.

On the other hand, somebody suggested to me on Twitter that I should have a debate on the show among the three contestant and then declare a winner. Hmm. It certainly would be a lot less stupid than the continuing reality show that are the Republican presidential debates.

Perhaps chamomile will have an “oops” moment. Could be fun.