Tag Archives: sustainability

The state of urban agriculture and new environmentalists

May 26, 2013

The state of urban agriculture in Chicago

Ten years ago, if you had said that the City of Chicago might someday be known for its farms and farmers, I’m pretty sure that people would have looked at you as if you had misplaced your meds. But just a few weeks ago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Growing Power announced the formation of an“accelerator farm” called South Farm Chicago. It’s part of an initiative called Farmers for Chicago, which is all about training farmers. Here. In Chicago. Really.

If you’re even a casual listener to my show, you know that I’ve been talking about the rise of urban agriculture for years. And I’m not talking about community gardening, though that is a huge part of the effort. I mean real, working urban farms like Growing Home, City Farm, Windy City Harvest and, of course Growing Power.

As the number of farms and gardens has increased, so have the organizations that address the needs of a new breed of farmer. One of those groups is Advocates for Urban Agriculture. If you’re somebody who wants to take advantage of growing opportunities in the city, AUA has a Resource Guide that provides information on

How to Get Land
Seeds, Compost, Soil, Building Materials, and Other Supplies
Education and Training
Livestock – Bees, Chickens, and more
Composting and Vermicomposting
How to Start a Community Garden
Grants and Funding
Neighborhood Greening Groups
How to Set Up a Farmers Market

and more. Billy Burdett is coordinator for AUA, and a few weeks ago he presented a report about what he called the “State of Urban Agriculture” in Chicago. Today, we’ll talk to Billy about where we are headed in this brave new growing world.

The next generation of environmentalists

I can’t believe it’s been almost four years since Michele Hoffman was on the show. She is an educator, speaker, author, photographer, and consultant with over fifteen years of experience and education in marine science and law. She is on the faculty at Columbia College, the School of the Art Institute and Roosevelt University, and now she is making a documentary about the microscopic universe in the ocean and its impacts.

It’s called Microcosm and its Kickstarter campaign has already been successful. But with 5 days to go, I’m sure that Michelle won’t mind if you add a few dollars to the coffers of the project. As she describes it, “A really big issue here is that we are talking about the world we don’t see, and though it produces well over 50% of our planetary oxygen supply, it is largely undiscovered, under discussed, and certainly not protected in any way.”

Unfortunately, there are so many parts of our natural world that are under assault that it’s hard to know where to start. That’s why we need all hands on deck, including the next generation of environmentalists. Michelle is joined in the WCPT studios this morning by Megan Isaacs, who is a fourth year undergraduate student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC).

Megan is involved in a couple of environmental student groups at SAIC. One is called the Chicago Youth Climate Coalition (CYCC), an intercollegiate youth coalition dedicated to ending the consumption of fossil fuels and creating a just and sustainable society. It includes members from Columbia College, Roosevelt University, DePaul, UIC, Northwestern and SAIC. The other is SAIC for the Future.

Megan says that both groups have the goal of a more sustainable world and support Fossil Free, the nationwide divestment campaign that Bill McKibben and his 350.org group have started. Megan and her allies have nothing less in mind than to get the School of the Art Institute to divest from companies that profit from the use of fossil fuels. She says that the group has already gotten more than 1,000 student, faculty and alumni signatures on a divestment petititon.

I talk to Michele and Megan as the Illinois General Assembly is discussing the future of fracking in Illinois and there is a rally planned for next Wednesday in Chicago to get President Barack Obama to say no the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Sustainability, flooding, “farm to school” and extinct species

April 28, 2013

What the heck does having a “sustainable” garden mean?

Several years ago I saw a landscaper named Tom Lupfer do a talk at a conference sponsored by the Midwest Ecological Landscape Alliance (MELA). It was about how to install a garden in a sustainable way, and while today I can’t tell you exactly what he said, I remember that Tom approached the subject in a very down-to-earth, practical way–so simple, in fact, that even I could understand it.

Tom Lupfer is President of Lupfer Landscaping, a famiily owned and operated, award winning company that is located in Lyons, Illinois and serves suburbs such as Western Springs, Hinsdale, Oak Brook, Riverside, River Forest, Oak Park and more. As they say on their website, they pride ourselves on quality sustainable landscaping.

Why is Tom on the show today? 1) He’s a good guy, which I know because I have interviewed him and because I know that he does a fair amount of pro bono work for worthy causes. 2) His Maintenance Supervisor, Donna White, is a huge fan of the show and you don’t mess with Donna.

So let’s move onto what Tom considers the definition of sustainability. In this case, he uses a quote from Gro Harlem Brundtland, who in 1987 was the Norwegian Prime Minister:

“…design, construction, operations, and maintenance practices that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

That, if you think about it, is precisely the opposite of pretty much everything we do in America today.

As Tom points out, the three components of the environment are soil, vegetation and water. If you look at the Venn Diagram of soil, vegetation and water, you’ll see that sustainabilty is the confluence of all three components. Tom also has goals for each of those components:

• Soil – Restore the soil so that it can support healthy vegetation and filter pollutants.

• Vegetation – Plant site appropriate vegetation that can help regulate ambient temperature, filter water and provide animal habitat.

• Water – Manage on-site water so that it mimics and enhances natural water cycles by: increasing infiltration, reducing run-off, and eliminating most potable water used in the landscape.

The remain question, then, is “how”? That’s why Tom is on the show this morning. I hope we all learn a little bit about sustainability.

The Morton Arboretum: Don’t worry, that’s LAST week’s pic

This past week, I received a message from Todd Jacobson, Head of Horticulture at The Morton Arboretum. The photo below was attached and the message read, ” We were hoping for moisture to help with our drought, but this was a bit over the top!”

But fear not, gentle reader. Friend of The Mike Nowak Show and occasional substitute host Beth Botts, who is now Senior Writer at the arboretum, wrote with a follow up to the scene above:

“[T]he Arboretum is still in business despite the flood. We had serious flooding last Thursday and Friday when the DuPage River rose 10 feet, and one of our buildings was badly swamped and had a lot of damage. But the grounds are fine, everything but a few trails is open, the daffodils and wildflowers are blooming, the plant sale is still on for this weekend. Our permeable paver parking lot was about a foot under water but drained quickly, and the bioswales worked, channeling water to Meadow Lake, our big retention lake. Out in the East Woods the restored wetlands are handling water like nature intended, holding water until it soaks into the groundwater. Lots of ducks, egrets and frogs.”

Whew! You had me worried there. Beth makes a brief appearance on the show today to let us know how quickly the water is draining in Lisle, Illinois.

“Farm to School” wants to make our children healthier

One of the hottest trends in local food is something called “farm to school” programs. The USDA Food and Nutrition Service describes them this way:

Across the country, an increasing number of schools and districts have begun to source more foods locally and to provide complementary educational activities to students that emphasize food, farming, and nutrition. This nationwide movement to enrich children’s bodies and minds while supporting local economies is often referred to as “farm to school.” The term encompasses efforts that bring local or regionally produced foods into school cafeterias; hands-on learning activities such as school gardening, farm visits, and culinary classes; and the integration of food-related education into the regular, standards-based classroom curriculum. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) supports such efforts through its Farm to School Program, which includes research, training, technical assistance, and grants.

Locally, organizations like Seven Generations Ahead have created programs such as their Fresh from the Farm program, which is presenting Educator Training Workshops on May 8, 15, 16, 18 and June 1 in the Chicago area.

Recently, USDA Food & Nutrition Service Administrator Audrey Rowe , who oversees 15 nutrition assistance programs including school meals, visted Evanston schools meet with school nutrition staff, Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl and others. The purpose was to announce a new and unprecedented approach to local food sourcing for Farm to School from a company called FarmLogix. FarmLogix brings farms and commercial end users together–whether they’re restaurants or schools–through online technology.

These efforts are in the wake of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative, which seeks to address child obesity. The Farm to School programs introduce healthier foods to schools by reaching out local farmers, creating economic opportunities for those food producing businesses. This can translate to everything from fresh fruit and vegetables to beans for chili, rice for stir fry and even cheese in quesadillas. Farm to School programs also reduce food travel and related CO2 emissions while they support the development of lifelong habits among children of eating fresh fruits and vegetables.

I am pleased to welcome to the studio some key players in local Farm to School efforts:

Steven Obendorf, Chef at The Latin School of Chicago, Dr. Bill Stone, owner of Brightonwoods Orchard in Burlington, Wisconsin, Linda Mallers, Founder, FarmLogix, a farm to school technology platform, and Alan Shannon, Director of Public Affairs for the Midwest Region of the USDA Food & Nutrition Service.

There are seven regional office of the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, and each has a Farm to School Regional Lead who is available to provide farm to school related support to state agencies and other entities in their region. A list of regions, along with the names and contact information for regional and national USDA Farm to School Program staff, can be found here. To receive information and updates about USDA’s Farm to School Program, please sign up for the Farm to School E-letter.

The cautionary tale of the passenger pigeon

Next year, we obvserve an ignominious anniversary in America…and the world. One hundred years ago, we managed to wipe out a species of bird that only fifty years before had numbered in the billions. And when I say “wipe out,” I mean that on September 1, 1914, Martha, the last living passenger pigeon, died in the Cincinnati Zoo.

Last year, I welcomed Chicago naturalist Joel Greenberg to the show to talk about Project Passenger Pigeon, which will mark this anniversary and promote the conservation of species and habitat, strengthen the relationship between people and nature, and foster the sustainable use of natural resources.

He’s back on the show today, and this time he brings film documentary writer and producer David Mrazek, who is working with him on a film called From Billions to None : The Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction. But this is just one part of what the PPP folks call “an ambitious multi-media project that uses the passenger pigeon story to explore today’s issues of habitat survival and species extinction” with more than 140 North American institutions participating.

The point of all of this is not to wonder why we killed the passenger pigeon, which would be a worthy effort in itself. Rather, it shines a light on human participation in what is sometimes referred to as the Holocene extinction or the Sixth Great Extinction. Whether fish, amphibians or great mammals, species all over the planet are disappearing at an alarming rate. And if you want to know who to blame, look in a mirror.

From Billions to None points out that the passenger pigeon is proof that super abundance is not enough to protect a species from extinction. All species are vulnerable.

Greenberg is a naturalist, writer, environmental consultant and author of A Natural History of the Chicago Region , coauthor of A Birder’s Guide to the Chicago Region , and editor of Of Prairie, Woods, and Water Two Centuries of Chicago Nature Writing . Oh, and he’s the chief cook and bottle washer of The Birdzilla Blog.

Mrazek recently co-produced and co-directed The Principal Story , which aired nationally on the PBS documentary series, P.O.V. Other programs include NEH-funded projects such as Woodrow Wilson , which won the 2002 International Documentary Association Achievement Award for Limited Series, and the Peabody, duPont-Columbia and Emmy-Award winning ten-part series The Great War and the Shaping of the Twentieth Century .

For more information on Project Passenger Pigeon, you can also like them on Facebook.

May is Illinois Invasive Species Awareness Month

A funny thing happened to me in Peru, Illinois yesterday while speaking to the good folks at “A Garden Affair” at St. John’s Lutheran Church. Not only did I run into a llama (see the home page), but I bumped into Cathy McGlynn, Coordinator for the Northeast Illinois Invasive Plant Partnership.

The llama had nothing to say to me. However, Cathy wanted me to remind my listeners and readers 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.

Speaking of the Garlic Mustard Challenge, during May 2011 NIIPP partners participated in and won the United States Forest Service’s Garlic Mustard Challenge with a total of 52,606 lbs of garlic mustard pulled. Lake Forest Open Lands Association was the champion garlic puller.  In 2012, thanks to the abnormally warm weather, garlic mustard started blooming in late March in some areas!

This year, things are relatively normal but garlic mustard is still invasive and relentless. So if you are planning to host work days and garlic pulls please contact Cathy at 847-242-6423 or cathy.mcglynn@niipp.net so that she can post your events on the NIIPP website.

Promoting Bioneers and Protecting Starved Rock

October 21, 2012

What are Bioneers and why are they coming to Chicago?

Just when you thought you had seen and experienced every kind of green festival and conference that it is possible to present, here comes The Great Lakes Bioneers Chicago and The Living City for three days at the UIC from November 2 to 4.

Featuring an all-star cast of movers and shakers in the sustainability world, like Vandana ShivaJohn EdelStarhawk and more, this event goes beyond lectures and workshops. More than 60 interactive sessions and inspirational talks are planned. These will be interspersed with some of Chicago’s finest poets, storytellers, dancers and musicians who will focus on the relationship between our environment and justice for all living things. Each day will open and close with ritual and excitement. The theme, The Living City, is about using the body as a metaphor for the critical systems needed to keep Chicago alive, healthy and thriving.

Which still doesn’t answer the question, “What are Bioneers?” and is that singular or plural? Inquiring minds want to know. Well, as long as you asked, the term Bioneers was coined in 1990 by founder Kenny Ausubel to describe a group of people from many disciplines who see themselves as social and scientific innovators. They employ what they describe as nature’s principles–kinship, cooperation, diversity, symbiosis and cycles of continuous creation absent of waste—to move toward a more equitable, compassionate and democratic society.

Great Lakes Bioneers Chicago is one of the chapters, which states as its mission:

to promote sustainable community that fosters life-giving relationships, nurtures connections, and celebrates solutions for restoring and healing Earth’s communities. We do this through a variety of strategies including:

  • Educating the community on innovative solutions.
  • Offering a systemic framework, i.e. a way of “connecting the dots” that is holistic, systemic, and multi-disciplinary.
  • Linking individuals and networks in order to foster connection, cross-pollination, and collaboration of people and ideas, all focused on positive change.
  • Advocating for opportunities to heal and restore our damaged and depleted community.
  • Being an oasis of hope that sparks mass creativity and engagement.

In anticipation of the Great Lakes Bioneers Chicago event, I’m pleased to welcome to the studio Lan and Pam Richart, who are co-founders of the non-profit organization Eco-Justice Collaborative.  Pam is a land use planner by profession and Lan is an ecologist. ECJ is lead organizer and fiscal sponsor for The Living City.

Joining them on the show today is one of those all-stars that I mentioned before, namely John Edel, Executive Director of The Plant Chicago. Back in February, I took a tour of The Plant, thanks to Blake Davis from the Illinois Institute of Technology, who has been a key part of the work there. If you haven’t heard about this remarkable project, The Plant is basically a way to combine industrial reuse and aquaponics to create the nation’s first vertical farm. Located in a former meatpacking facility in Chicago’s historic Stockyards, The Plant will be powered entirely by the waste of neighboring businesses.

It’s not surprising then, that Edel’s talk at the The Living City will be

The Plant, Rethinking Food Production

What happens when you combine urban agriculture, alternative energy and a food business incubator?  The Plant is repurposing a century old meatpacking facility to explore the intersection of recycling, job creation and local growing.  By harnessing food waste, this 95,000 sq ft vertical farm is shooting for net-zero energy use while recycling waste products, energy and gasses within the structure between manufacturing, office and growing areas. Nothing leaves but food!

I’m really looking forward to this conversation.

Rally for Starved Rock on October 28!

It’s been about ten months since I heard about how the LaSalle County Board was about to cravenly sell out the environmental integrity of Starved Rock State Park for a handful of sand mining jobs. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the attempt by Mississippi Sand LLC to establish an open pit sand mine next to the eastern entrance of the jewel of the Illinois state park system, you can read about it here.

Since the county approved the petition for the sand mine, it has become a race by environmental, historical and social groups to derail the establishment of what will certainly diminish the natural integrity of the park, and quite possibly be a health hazard to nearby citizens. Here’s a timeline that gives you a rough idea of the work that has been going on behind the scenes.

But what really hits home is when you talk to the people who will be living next to this scar on the earth, like Susan and Merlin Calhoun. Merlin has already been on my program to talk about his opposition to the project. Last week, his wife penned this message, which sums up the past year:

To All: When I got my letter that informed me of what was about to happen all around me, my heart sank because I feared that my life… The life I so cherished and absolutely loved coming “home” to was going to change forever!!  I sat on my lawn mower and sobbed…..!  Almost a year later, my heart is even heavier and my hope is slowly diminishing.  I always defended this county, this state because its the place I was born and raised in…. Growing up, I loved my neighbors and respected… Even admired the “farmer” in question as he farmed the land around me… Friendly waves to him from my bicycle because I had such respect and adoration because my Grandpa and Stepfather (true stewards of this land)instilled those feelings in me.  In the last year I’ve watched my neighbors turn their backs on the situation……politicians deal my way of life away without even blinking!!   My husband was approached just this week by a “township official” (why I feel the need to not mention his name … I don’t know) the conversation went something like this: so, I hear that all the sand mine groups and power line groups are still trying to fight the fight?  After this is all said and done, I’d like to hook up with these groups and tell you all “what was REALLY going on!”  oh ya and by the way, when all is said and done…. There’s a total of 12 sand mines coming into LaSalle County!!

I can say that in my mind, what is really going on is a bunch of under-handed, narrow-minded, self-serving crap!!!  It saddens and sickens me to know that my tax dollars are going in the pockets of these seat holders that deal our lives away.  We’ve got an election coming up and my suggestion would be that if you’re not happy with your seat holder…. And they have an opponent…. Then vote them OUT!! (wonder if write-ins are acceptable?) I was thrown into this unexpectedly and my  naivety of how things have transpired are so disappointing to me, especially the political side and the way these big buck companies come in under the “holiday radar”…. And just do basically anything to make themselves justified, and deserving even!  I guess this is a different way of doing business…. But in my opinion it severely lacks character and integrity!!

I continue to look at my personal safety totally different than I did a year ago.  Things still happen at my residence that make me wonder…. Is it just kids being kids….. Or is it something else? I’m tired of feeling this way and based on the past and what I know now, I doubt those deep seated feelings will ever subside. On a much more positive note… This experience has brought me even closer to my dear husband and together we’ve discovered that re-inventing ones self is limitless!  Also, I have had the great fortune of meeting and getting to know all the kind souls who stand side by side with myself and Merlin…. Regardless of what you are fighting for!!  I hope that these friendships will continue to grow and that we can accomplish some version of what we all set out to do!! Bee Great! Susan

I have talked to others who live near the park, who grow more and more certain that their fight to save Starved Rock is a lost cause. Yet, many people continue to fight. Among them are the guests on my show today: Susan Calhoun, Daphne Mitchell from the Illinois River Coordinating Council and Tracy Yang from the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club.

But now you (yes, I mean YOU) have a chance to make your voice heard next Sunday, October 28. Illinois Sierra Club is holding a Rally for Starved Rock at the park itself. Come early and walk the trails of the park. There will then be a tour of the perimeter where the mine will be sited, followed by a chance for the public to speak up at Grizzly Jack’s Bear Resort, 2643 Illinois Rte. 178 in Utica, Illinois.

I can’t put too fine a point on it. This might be the last chance you have to weigh in on this debate. If you love Starved Rock State Park and want to see it saved, this is your opportunity.

Don’t forget about the Great Apple Pie Bake-Off today…

In the words of Jessica Rinks (a.k.a. @snappyjdog on Twitter):

The Forest Park Community Garden (which I am involved in) is having a fundraiser on Sunday October 21st from 2 to 5pm. We’ve tried to think outside the box as far as fundraisers go so we’ll be having an apple pie bake-off being held at Molly Malone’s pub in Forest Park and will also include a silent auction (Troy-bilt snowblower, bulls opening game tickets, for example) and door / raffle prizes. We need pie baker contestants and we need people to buy tickets to attend the event (and we’re always delighted to accept more raffle/silent auction item donations). Proceeds from the event will go to help us pay for garden maintenance for 2013.

If you love apple pie–and even if you don’t–they could use a little community garden love.

…and Boo-Palooza at Wicker Park next week

Speaking of great community organizations, I truly love the folks at the Wicker Park Garden Club. And with Halloween just around the corner, it’s time for their annual Boo-Palooza, next Saturday, October 27 at Wicker Park, 1425 N. Damen in Chicago. Click on that link, and if you can’t find an activity that will entertain you, your children or even your dog, you probably don’t like Halloween.