Tag Archives: organic farming

Natives, organics and conservation in McHenry County

May 5, 2013

Taking the show on the road to McHenry County

If you’re a fan of native plants and you’re in the vicinity of Crystal Lake, Illinois on Sunday morning, you might want to consider stopping by McHenry County College at 8900 US Hwy 14 as the Wildflower Preservation and Propagation Committee (WPPC) holds its 2013 Native Plant Sale.

Exactly what is this group with the unwieldy name? They are a non-for-profit organization dedicated to:

  • Promoting the use of native plants in the landscape through preservation, propagation, and education
  • Advocating the conservation of open space, natural landscapes, wildlife habitat, scenic resources, and water in McHenry County and neighboring areas for the benefit of the general public
  • Engaging in and otherwise promoting the scientific study of and educating the public regarding local natural resources

Although the sale doesn’t start until noon, I will be broadcasting my show from the cafeteria of the college, where the action will be happening.

The sale is only three hours long, but what a wealth of plant material is available! In general, prairie plants and grasses will go for $ 2.50, while woodland plants and ferns are $3.00 to $6.00 There are more than 150 species available for every environment–prairie, savanna, woodland and wetland. To get the full list of plants, click here.

In addition, organic heirloom garden vegetables and herbs from W & M Landcorp Organic Nursery, and Native Trees and Shrubs from Ohana Farms are available.

I have to thank the WPPC’s Nancy Gonsiorek for the opportunity to bring The Mike Nowak Show to this venue. Several years ago, I spoke at their Natural Landscaping Seminar, but I have not had the chance to attend the Native Plant Sale.

Nancy will help walk me through the plant sale and the good work of the WPPC. But she has also helped to put together a great line up of guests. Here they are.

Rich Tobiasz
You know things are going to be interesting when your first guest is not only an organic gardener, but has been Fire Chief of nearby Spring Grove for 20 years. Rich Tobiasz and his wife Wendy live on five acres that they call Evergreen Oasis Farm. Though it is zoned for agricultural use, they are surrounded for the most part by a later-developed subdivision.

Along with 56 species of trees (at last count), there are gardens that include a fruit orchard, a small fruit area, grapes (for wine, jam, juice and eating), an herb garden, three vegetable gardens, an English garden, a Japanese contemplative garden, a bulb garden, and some perennial beds…all organic. But that’s not all. They also have a barn with 6 sheep for wool (Wendy spins and knits), 6 goats (milk and I make cheese), a chicken coop with 25 laying hens.

Rich says that the operation is mostly sustainable from the standpoint that they make their own compost, fertilizer and food–and house is passive solar! Even though they import hay, they try to minimize other inputs. They compost their own manure for fertilizer, not to mention growing heirloom plants so they can save the seeds.

Sounds pretty sustainable to me.

Cindy Skrukrud
Cindy Skrukrud is Clean Water Advocate for Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club. She’s been on my show before to talk about issues like the proposal to put an open pit frac sand mine outside of Starved Rock State Park. Today, however, she’ll talk about how native plants can help address the nutrient pollution problem in Illinois rivers, lakes and streams.

That pollution–excess nitrogen and phosphorus–comes primarily from three sources:

  • Agricultural Runoff contributes a significant amount of nutrients to our waters via direct runoff from soils enriched with fertilizers and animal manure.
  • Sewage Discharges and Combined Sewer Overflows: Many sewage treatment plants do not remove nutrients from their treated effluent before it is discharged into waterways. Studies estimate that 47% of the phosphorus in Illinois rivers comes from sewage effluent. In addition, some cities, like Chicago, store runoff in the same system as the city’s sewage, known as a combined sewer. During storms, these sewer systems can become overwhelmed and overflow a mixture of stormwater and untreated sewage.
  • Urban Surface Runoff picks up nutrients from private lawns and gardens, thus introducing more nutrients into our rivers, streams and lakes.

You can find out more about what you can do to keep are lakes and streams cleaner by clicking onto this newsletter from the Illinois Sierra Club that outlines Reduction Strategies for Homeowners.

Cindy is also a founding member of Friends of Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge, which takes us to our next guests:

Nancy Williamson and Steve Byers.
They are also founding members of Friends of Hackmatack. Nancy works for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) and Steve was the long time McHenry County coordinator for the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission.

In case you missed it, the Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge was established in November of 2012 on 11,200 acres of land that straddle Illinois and Wisconsin. A couple of things make the refuge interesting–among them, its proximity to both the Chicago and the Milwaukee metropolitan areas, and that the property is noncontiguous. In fact, if you look at a map, you see that it is basically donut-shaped. However, this land includes tallgrass prairies, wetlands and oak savanna areas.

The refuge will be a home for 109 species of animals — including birds, fish, mussels, reptiles and one amphibian — and 47 plants, and will also proviide outdoor recreation opportunities. What began as a dream among forward-thinking environmentalists in 2004, is now moving forward.

Lisa Haderlein
Lisa is the Executive Director of The Land Conservancy of McHenry County. Since 1991, The Land Conservancy has helped protect over 1900 acres of McHenry County’s prairies, wetlands and woodlands by working with private landowners, communities and other partners. They do this by direct acquisition of property (through purchase or donation), or the establishment of conservation easements. When these sites are taken under care, it is with the intention that they will be protected on behalf of the community in perpetuity.

One of the initiatives of The Land Conservancy is Project Quercus. Project Quercus was to explore options to protect, preserve and regenerate the oak woods. Project Quercus is a diverse coalition that brings together public and private, government, corporate and non-profit interests, working collaboratively to create solutions to the problem of oak woodland loss.

A little more than four years ago, TLC also began the Oak Keepers. The vast majority (83%) of the county’s remaining oaks are on private land. If these trees are going to continue to be a significant part of the landscape, maintaining them on private land will be essential. The idea for the Oak Keepers ® program arose from recognition that there is a need to understand what the condition of the remaining oak woods are today, to begin building relationships with oak woodland landowners, and to give more local residents the skills they need to evaluate oak woods.

Speaking of spring plant sales…

Just because you can’t get out to McHenry County doesn’t mean that you can’t still pick up some spring plants for your garden. Doug Wood from the Wicker Park Garden Club sent out a list of area plant sales that are happening over the next couple of weeks:

May 11 & 12, 10am – 2pm – Paseo Prairie Garden Plant Sale 2614 N. Milwaukee, Chicago, IL Perennials, Organic Vegetables and Herbs, Native Plants Native Illinois/Midwest plants are eligible for the on-site 50% rebate from the City of Chicago Sustainable Backyards Program FOR CHICAGO RESIDENTS

May 11, 10am – 3pm Lurie Garden Plant Sale – A variety of perennials and grasses to provide interest throughout the seasons, as well as food and shelter for local fauna. All proceeds support Lurie Garden public programs.  The event also includes tours, hands-on gardening tips, plant-based crafts for kids, face painting, activities by local organizations and more. Quart size plants cost $5 and gallons cost $10. Please bring your own bags or boxes to transport your plants Here’s the PlantList

May 11 and May 18, 9am-1pm – Perennial Divide Plant Sale  – P. Holt (773) 412-1232 2260 W. 108thPlace, Chicago Epimedium, Monarda, Black Cohosh, Hosta Varieties, Solomon’s Seal Sundrops, Brunnera, Pulmonaria, Bearded & Japanese Iris, Lamium, Wild Ginger, Sweet Woodruff, Stella del Oro Daylily, Archangel, Coneflower, Rose Campion, Hakone Grass, Ribbon Grass, Cupflower and more

May 17 (9am – 6pm) & 18 (9am – 4pm)
Hyde Park Garden Fair – Chicago’s Oldest Community Garden Sale – Annuals, Container Plants, Groundcover, Hanging Baskets, Herbs, House Plants, Perennials, Shrubs-Vines-Roses, Vegetables, Wildflowers, Fall Fair – Sale Held at Hyde Park Shopping Center, 55th Street and South Lake Park, Chicago, IL 60615

May 18 & 19, 10am to 2pm each day – Kilbourn Park Organic Green House Plant Sale. More than 150 varieties of organically grown vegetables, herbs, and flowers. Cash only. Help them recycle/reuse:  Please bring your own plastic flats or cardboard boxes to hold your plants. If you have extras from last year, bring them to share with other shoppers. Here’s the plant list.

May is Illinois Invasive Species Awareness Month

And while we’re on the subject of keeping our natural areas healthy, I just want to remind you that May is Illinois Invasive Species Awareness Month. Educational events, field days, hay-wagon tours, workshops, presentations, volunteer workdays, ‘Garlic Mustard Challenges’, training events, and interpretive hikes are just some of the different types of events that have been held as part of ISAM in the past.

If you are planning to host work days and garlic pulls, please contact Cathy McGlynn, coordinator for the Northeast Illinois Invasive Plant Partnership, at 847-242-6423 or cathy.mcglynn@niipp.net so that she can post your events on the NIIPP website.

The benefits of trees, CSAs and funding the IDNR

December 2, 2012

Dr. Rex Bastian helps your trees recover from a tough 2012

One thing I’ve learned over my years as a gardener and a gardening radio show host is that there is no such thing as a “normal” growing year. No matter how you slice it, there’s always going to be some kind of weather anomaly that causes trouble, whether it’s cold, heat, storms, drought, flooding or some combination of the above.

That being said, 2012 will be remembered as a year where very little seemed to be “normal.” It started with an abnormally warm winter that turned into an off-the-charts string of 80 degree days in March. It was the warmest March in the contiguous 48 states in our history. That led to excessive heat in much of the country in spring and summer, accompanied by drought in a many areas, including the Midwest. Once again, we hit a new high, as July became the hottest month ever recorded in the United States.

The heat abated in some areas, but the drought has persisted, leading Illinois Extension and its counterpart at Purdue to create websites devoted to drought information.

If you’re a gardener, it’s relatively easy to see when your annuals and perennials take a hit from heat and lack of water. However, the average person isn’t always aware of the damage being done to trees, which often take much longer to respond to environmental changes. But if you’re a tree farmer, you know that it has not been a good year for your crops, and the effects could be around for awhile.

That’s why I’m pleased to welcome Dr. Rex Bastian from The Care of Trees back to the show. As you might know, The Care of Trees has been a loyal sponsor of The Mike Nowak Show ever since I started at Chicago’s Progressive Talk in 2008. Dr. Bastian is Vice President of Field Education and Development for TCOT and has a Ph. D. in Entomology from Iowa State University

And he knows his stuff. Get ready with your tree questions at 773/763-9278. We will discuss how this year’s amazing weather has affected your trees and the insects and diseases that can prey upon your trees. We’ll also tell you what to look for next spring, as your trees begin to leaf out after being subjected to all kinds of indignities in 2012.

Meanwhile, I asked Dr. Bastian to supply me with some of the websites he likes. Lo and behold, many of them are the ones I recommend to my listeners and readers. Great minds…oh, you know.

Trees Are Good – Website sponsored by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) that provides good information and links on proper tree care and Certified Arborists

Morton Arboretum Plant Health Care Report – Periodic updates during the growing season addressing current tree/landscape issues/concerns. Chicago area focus.

Chicago Botanic Garden Plant Information Services – Plant information, fact sheets, diagnostic services. Chicago area focus.

University of Illinois Home, Yard, and Garden Pest Newsletter –  Periodic updates during the growing season addressing current tree/landscape issues. State wide focus.

National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center – Short/long term estimation of future weather conditions.

Kim Marsin has a CSA for you (it might be hers)!

Speaking of being at the mercy of Mother Nature, there’s nothing like growing food to keep you humble. I know about it from a very small scale, but people like Kim Marsin and her partner Rachel Reklau at Sweet Home Organics know about it up close and personal.

They’re part of the new breed of organic farmers. You’ve heard me call them “commuter farmers” because they don’t live on the land that they cultivate…though rumor has it that they’re in the midst of moving closer to their operation at Primrose Farm, which is part of the St. Charles Park District.

And just yesterday (Saturday, December 1), they were doing a presentation on marketing to this year’s class of Stateline Farm Beginnings® students at Angelic Organics Learning Center. The program is a farmer-led training and support class designed to help people plan and launch sustainable farm businesses. Since 2005, graduates of the program have launched more than 35 new sustainable farms in our region.

I will finally get to meet Kim in person at the WCPT studios, after having spoken to her by phone perhaps a half dozen times on my show. She’s currently using her seemingly boundless energy to encourage folks to sign up for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs, like the one at Sweet Home Organics.

The way it works, according to Local Harvest, a website that helps you track down CSAs in your area is that

a farmer offers a certain number of “shares” to the public. Typically the share consists of a box of vegetables, but other farm products may be included. Interested consumers purchase a share (aka a “membership” or a “subscription”) and in return receive a box (bag, basket) of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season.

In addition to Local Harvest, Marsin recommends checking out Family Farmed.org’s CSA page with the caveat that the 2012 CSA data is still posted.

More funds for IDNR…will that help Starved Rock?

I received a message from Jennifer Walling at the Illinois Environmental Council yesterday:

I am very pleased to let you know that the funding bill for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources passed the Illinois Senate.  This bill passed 39 yes – 11 no.

Today’s roll call is available here. The Governor will have to sign the bill before it can become law.

Thank you to Representative Frank Mautino and Senator Toi Hutchinson, the sponsors of this bill in the House and Senate.  It’s a great day for conservation in Illinois thanks to these legislators, our array of advocates through Partners for Parks and Wildlife , the staff at IDNR, and all of the supporters and advocates who championed this legislation.

As anybody who has listened to my program lately knows, I have been frustrated by IDNR’s seemingly contradictory roles as protector of natural resources in Illinois but also as an agency that facilitates their havesting and sale.

The case in point is the proposed open pit frac sand mine outside the eastern entrance of Starved Rock State Park. IDNR says on its website that “Outdoor recreation opportunities such as boating, camping, fishing, hunting, picnicking, sightseeing, wildlife observation, swimming and trail use create a $3.2 billion annual economic impact in Illinois, supporting 33,000 jobs statewide.”

And yet, those very activities near Starved Rock State Park are under threat because of the proposed sand mine.

I hope Jennifer has good news about how the monies coming to IDNR will be good for our natural environment.

Bill McKibben’s “Do the Math” tour comes to Chicago

What do the numbers 2, 565 and 2,795 have in common?

Before you reach for The Google and start typing “prime numbers” into the search engine, let me use two words: Global Warming. Here are two more words: Bill McKibben . He was one of the first people to raise the alarm about climate change, in his 1989 book, The End of Nature , and went on to found the group 350.org , which is based on the number of CO2 parts per million (ppm) in the atmosphere that many scientists claim is the safe limit for humanity. Unfortunately, we’re already up to 392 ppm…oops, our bad. And it gives you an idea of why McKibben speaks about the subject with a certain amount of urgency.

His latest attempt to cut through the clutter about Justin Bieber and fiscal cliff nonsense is something he calls the “Do the Math” tour, which arrived in Chicago on Wednesday evening on the way to completing its 21-city U.S. run in a little under a month. Lisa Albrecht and I (and a few hundred friends) watched McKibben and others take to the stage to impress upon his audiences that we’re already speeding toward an environmental cliff and, instead of putting on the breaks, we keep hitting the accelerator.

That’s where the numbers 2, 565 and 2,795 come in. The 2 stands for the the global temperature rise that would have “catastrophic” consequences for our planet. That won’t happen unless the world releases 565 gigatons of carbon dioxide that are stored in its fuel reserves. Unfortunately, fossil fuel companies already have 2,795 gigatons of carbon dioxide in their fuel reserves and, at the current rate of consumption, they’ll get to the 565 mark in 16 years. Think those oil guys are interested in slowing down or switching to cleaner and sustainable energy sources? If you do, you haven’t been paying attention to the political debate in the past 30 years or so.

So forget the Mayan Calendar. The McKibben Calendar has the planet set to enter uncharted waters (and air) in 2028. Unless we do something right now.

McKibben’s strategy–and it makes as much sense as anything else I’ve heard to this point–is to go on the offensive by encouraging individuals, churches, schools/universities and municipalities to disinvest in the oil companies. “we are asking that people who believe in the problem of climate change stop profiting from it.”, said McKibbon. The movement is laid out in the campaign Fossil Free, where you can find a campaign, start a campaign, download a disinvestment toolkit, sign up for updates and more.

Looks like we’d better get started. We’re already in way over our heads.

Food Day, food inspired and food harvest

October 23, 2011

Mike welcomes U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky

Last week I reported on Food Day, which will be celebrated tomorrow, Monday, October 24. The organizers, including the Center for Science in the Public Interest, have a goal of educating Americans about healthy, affordable food produced in a sustainable, humane way. If you’re interested in being a part of this celebration, it’s pretty easy to get involved. This link takes you directly to events being staged in and around Chicago.

One of the people on the advisory board of Food Day is the Hon. Jan Schakowsky, U.S. Representative from Illinois’ 9th district. I am pleased to have her on the show this morning to talk about Food Day issues. I saw her a few days ago when I attended a Move the Money Chicago rally at Chicago Temple last Thursday. She spoke eloquently about the need for a more equitable American society, making reference to her plan to tax millionaires at a 45 percent rate and billionaires at 49 percent. This would raise $4 trillion over the coming decade…and it still doesn’t approach the tax rates of the Reagan years. She has also, along with 44 colleagues, introduced “The Emergency Jobs to Restore the American Dream Act” (H.R. 2914) to create over 2.2 million jobs for two years. But I digress.

After the gathering, which also featured words from Representative Danny Davis, Jesse Jackson and others, there was a march to Grant Park, to meet up with the Occupy Chicago group. I was impressed Rep. Schakowsky not only marched all of the way, but stayed to listen to Occupy Chicago conduct their business for the evening.

We will talk food issues this morning but you never know what else will come up.

BTW, here’s something that came to my attention this week. It seems, perhaps in honor of Food Day (that’s irony, folks), the powers that be will begin spraying a very toxic chemical, methyl iodide, on strawberry crops in California on…wait for it…here it comes…October 24. Also known as Food Day. Gotta love it.

[Podcast of interview with Rep. Schakowsky is now available here.]

Sustainable Food Fundamentals
Inspiration Kitchens now inspires people in Garfield Park

I had the pleasure of enjoying a lunch at a fabulous dining establishment several weeks ago, made even more enjoyable by the knowledge that it was helping the homeless and lower income people.

Several years ago, when I was working at Gargantua Radio down the dial, I was invited to visit what was then called Cafe Too in Uptown. Since then, they have renamed themselves Inspiration Kitchens, and they assist more than 3,000 individuals and famiies through employment, housing and supportive service programs.

In this case, I need to thank Sarah Batka, who is not only a friend of the show, but who is an Illinois Master Gardener who I have been privileged to meet on several occasions, and who is also a volunteer at Ellis View Cooperative Garden in Chicago. She is now an advocate for Inspiration Kitchens and it couldn’t be a better fit.

Frankly, I didn’t know that Inspiration Kitchens was now operating just down the block from the Gafield Park Conservatory. If you’re visiting the conservatory, which, as Beth Botts reported on this show a couple of weeks ago, is in need of funds to help repair storm damage from last spring, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t walk less than a block to the Inspiration Kitchen and be treated to a gourmet meal.

At the same time, you will be supporting a 13-week job training program that enables homeless individuals, ex-offenders and other low-income individuals to obtain career-track employment in the food industry. Students receive pre-employment instruction, restaurant training, sanitation certification, internship experience, and job-placement and follow-up support services.

In class, students learn knife skills, soups and sauces, baking and how to work with meats, poultry, fish, and vegetables. All students test for a City of Chicago and State of Illinois food service sanitation management certificates. Training also includes employment preparation, such as writing resumes and interviewing. During the thirteen week program, students should be prepared to train during brunch, lunch, dinner, and weekend shifts. They work along side chef instructors and graduates of the program to learn on the job.

Oh, and did I say that the food is wonderful? Call 773.275.0626 for IK-Uptown or 773.801.1110 for IK-Garfield Park. They accept all major credit cards, encourage guests to BYOB, and offer free wireless Internet. In addition to Sarah, I’m joined today by Mike Webb and Master Gardener volunteer Anna-Marie Leon (who are both cultivating the small but productive garden outside of the restaurant), and Director Margaret Haywood.

[Podcast of Inspiration Kitchens interview is now available here.]

Finishing the harvest at Sweet Home Organics

Even though I’ve never met Kim Marsin of Sweet Home Organics, she is my favorite organic farmer. That’s possibly because she’s willing to be on a radio program and talk about what it’s like to be an organic-farmer-in-training. Regardless, we’re getting to the tail end of the growing year at the fields she works with partner Rachel Reklau at Primrose Farm, which is part of the St. Charles Park District.

Today we heard stories of trying to grow tomatoes in fields that retain too much water. Can I see some hands out there from people who have been down that road? She also talked about the productivity of the broccoli plants, which, wonderously, continue to send up side stalks after the main florets are harvested.

The Sweet Home Organics farm stand will be up for one more week, so if you want to take advantage of local, healthy food, stop by. The address is 5N726 Crane Road (near the intersection of Crane and Bolcum) in St. Charles, Illinois.

Some stories I’ve been following that you might have missed

  • In June of 2009, the Illinois General Assembly passed a bill that legalized commercial food-scrap composting in Illinois. How are we doing so far? Um, not great.
  • The planet’s population just hit 7 billion. How do we feed it when there are 10 Billion, which is being predicted for the end of the century?. Grist says it can be done…but it won’t be easy.
  • Chicago City Employees are handling the managed competition to retain their recycling jobs better than many people expected, according to the Sun-Times.

Free Green Can, which I’ve talked about on this show, continues to show up in and around Chicago.