from Past Shows

home about Mike about the show this week past shows resources contact us advertising

Christy Webber

Sarah Surroz, conservation and outreach manager for Conserve Lake County

Jim Anderson, natural resource manager for the Lake
County Forest Preserve District

Mary Beth Rebedeau of Green Parents Network

Melind Myers, author of too many books to count,
including the Midwest Gardener's Handbook.

Vicki Nowicki, founder of Liberty Gardens


Robert Colangelo of Green Sense Farms

Kate Sackman, of EcoMyths Alliance


Lamanda Joy of the Peterson Garden Project

Guy McPherson, author of Going Dark



Kari Lydersen, author of Mayor 1%



Doug Taron, of the Peggy Notebaert Museum


A monarch on the sumac in Mike's backyard


The swamp metalmark


Audrey Fischer


Mark Hammergren


David Blask


Mike at Reelabilities after scenes from
The Signal Season of Dummy Hoy


Miriam Goldbers, author of Taming Wildflowers




Cathy McGlynn, of the NIIPP




Jim Slama of

Paul Saginaw of Zingerman's Delicatessen


Paczkis at Kolatek's

Caramel bacon paczkis . . . OMG


Jeanne Nolan, The Organic Gardener, and her girls

Jill Niewoehner of MamaGrows

Dan Kosta with Mike, among the bonsai

Stevphen Jones from the Bread Lab

Gilbert Williams of Lonesome Stone Milling







Michelle Parker of the Shedd Aquarium


Josh Mogerman of the Natural Resources
Defense Counsel


The three defendants in the Enridge protest trial. Photo by Jeph Farr

Chris Wahmhoff



Mike with Jack Pizzo at one of Jack's prairie restorations



Paul Wilson, professor of engineering physics, and faculty director for advanced computing Infrastructure, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


John Kutsch, director of the Thorium Energy Alliance



Helen Yoest

Julie RIzzo of Recycled Granite

Debie Coble of Goodwill Industries

Joe Pye Weed


At an open-pit sand mine

Monty Whipple

Susan Fox

Debbie Hillman

Tim Magner




Joel and Holly Baird

Robert Nevel

Martha Nussbaum

Dr. Frederic Miller


Naturalist and author Joel Greenberg






Passenger pigeon by Audubon



Ron Cowgill as Uncle Billy and the Truck Driver

Lisa Albrecht as Mary

Dennis Schetter as St. Joseph, Mr. Welsh, and
assorted  residents of Bedford Falls

 Rob Kartholl as Peter Bailey, Martini, Mean Man,
Bert and Harry

Carol Brewer as Violet and Ernie

Sarah Batka as Janey, Zuzu and Young Harry

Tom Shepherd of the Southeast Environmental
Task Force

Petcoke piles in Chicago

Byron nuclear generating station near Byron, Illinois

Nuclear power plant near Zion, Illlinois

Clinton nuclear power plant near Clinton, Illinois

David A. Kraft, director of the Nuclear  Energy
Information Service

Tom Watson, King County Recycling and
Environmental Services

Give an experience this Christmas . . .

. . . or give a good, warm feeling, and a cow.

Melinda Myers



Ellen Phillips

St. Charles Horticulture Research Center


85 Andersonville households are currently participating in what is Chicago's largest residential compost collection pilot, Andersonville Community Compost

One of the new Andersonville bike corrals

People Spot installed in front of Coffee Studio and Piatto Pronto. This new public space is made entirely from reclaimed materials courtesy of the non-profit Rebuilding Exchange.



Clouds of petcoke dust on the southeast side
of Chicago

An early petcoke protest


Fracking sand mounds next to a farm in
LaSalle County, Illinois.

The Frozen Robins at Chalet Nursery




The view from the 106th St. Bridge. Photo courtesy of
Josh Mogerman

Petcoke clouds in southeaest Chicago



Jody Osmund

Wes King

Lisa Albrecht with Brandon Leavitt and Mike at the
clean energy rally this week in downtown Chicaogo. 
They're standing in front of a balloon replica of a coal plant.



Sandra Henry, the "energy doctor," Is also a great
gardener, as witness this gorgeous tomato
from her garden.


Mike at The Plant about a year and a half ago, in what was formerly either a meat smoker or a storeroom on the Starship Enterprise.


The net-zero plan of The Plant

Lisa and friend at the protest against the Keystone XL pipeline
in Washington, D. C.

Christy Webber

Christy with Jennifer Brennan, Mike, and some of her crew at Christy Webber Farm  Garden Center

Roosevelt University's chair of the Department of Sustainability Studies (and Mike Nowak Show friend) 
Mike Bryson at Bioneers Chicago



April 13, 2014

Batten down the hatches--Christy Webber is back!

I know I've said this before but I'm going to say it again. The reason I love having Christy Webber on my radio show is not because Christy Webber Landscapes and Christy Webber Farm & Garden are great sponsors of my program (they are) or because she knows a ton of stuff about landscaping (she does). It's simply because Christy Webber is GREAT RADIO.

Basically, I wind her up, sit back and she does all the work for me. Not only does she love talking about the horticultural industry, but she regales me with tales of business and political intrigue (not all of those make it to the airwaves) and she's about as real a human being as you're going to get. And she's funny. What's not to like?

There's a lot going on at Christy Webber's enterprises this year. Let's start with Christy Webber Farm & Garden, which has a slightly new name and a brand new website. But they're stil there to promote urban gardening and farming of all types--including chicken raising. In fact, you can go to their Useful Info page where you can download pdfs from workshops and classes, and gather information on

Seed Starting workshop
Fertilizer infographic
Chicken Fun Facts
Urban Chicken Keeping Class
Planting Spring Bulbs
Beekeeping class: Forging a New Relationship with Bees

Of course, there are the usual suspects at the Farm & Garden--annuals and edibles, seeds and bulbs, lawn and plant care, perennials and ground covers, garden tools and supplies, shrubs and trees, tropicals, fruit trees, planters, baskets, containers and a lot more.

Also, Christy Webber Landscapes is one of the sponsors of something special in June--a conference called Soil in the City 2014: Enhancing Urban Soils for Living Landscapes and Healthy Communities. It will be held in association with from June 29 to July 2, 2014 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, 160 E. Huron Street in Chicago. The conference will focus on three themes: Urban Gardening, Green Infrastructures, and Greening Brownfields.

The event is for anyone working with planning, designing, constructing, and/or maintaining urban infrastructures and outdoor areas, including engineers, landscape architects, designers, biosolids management leaders, contractors/consultants, developers, builders, city planners, arborists, foresters, urban gardeners, researchers, and educators

It will even include a tour of what is being called "America's Greenest Street"--the Chicago Department of Transportation’s (CDOT) $14 million Cermak-Blue Island Sustainable Streetscape Project. According to the promotional piece for the conference, the first phase was completed in 2012 and the 1.5-mile stretch of Blue Island Avenue and Cermak Road incorporates eight sustainability performance areas. Some of them include native plants, recycled and local materials, and energy efficient kiosk lighting that is partly powered by wind and solar. High-albedo pavement reduces the urban heat island and photocatalytic cement helps remove nitrogen oxide from the air. The site also uses no potable water and prevents 80% of average annual rainfall from entering nearby combined sewers.

Of course, Christy and I will talk about the usual stuff, too--the harsh winter, getting your garden going for the spring and a lot more.

Preserving oaks and more with Preserve Lake County

There are a lot of great conservation organizations in the Chicago region and Conserve Lake County is one of them. It started out in 1995 as the Liberty Prairie Conservancy by citizens concerned about development pressures that threatened a unique public/private conservation effort known as the Liberty Prairie Reserve. That effort focused on land use planning and ecological restoration within the 5,800 acre reserve and was successful in protecting more than 3,300 acres and hundreds of acres of habitat are being restored.

In 2004, the mission became county-wide, and since then, programs were launched like Conservation@Home, which helps citizens protect nature in their own backyards, and the Local Food Initiative, which is designed to bring more local food production and sustainable agriculture to Lake County.

Preserve Lake County is also interested in preserving our oak trees and, to that end, has instituted a program called the Chicago Region Oak Recovery Program. You might remember that author Doug Tallamy, who wrote the book Bringing Nature Home, has appeared on my show several times, and he considers oak trees to be among the best plants to support biodiversity. Preserve Lake County says simply, "Plant an Oak Tree."


According to Sarah Surroz, Conservation and Outreach Manager for Conserve Lake County,

Oaks are considered “keystone” species in Northeastern Illinois, driving much of the
biodiversity in the region.

Unfortunately, oak ecosystems are in decline across the state, and significantly so in the Chicago area. Oak ecosystems are under intense, combined pressure from a number of threats including

• habitat fragmentation
• development
• direct cutting
• invasive species
• changing climate
• lack of management
• severe reproductive failure

There is an urgent need for action, and it must be coordinated across a range of institutions and geographies. No single agency or organization can address this issue alone. This project will establish the framework for a comprehensive, coordinated oak recovery effort across NE Illinois. This directly targets the needs identified by the IL Forest Action Plan, which identified oak decline as a major threat to woodland resources. Furthermore, the project meets many of the priority actions of the Forests Campaign and Green Cities Campaign in the Illinois Wildlife Action Plan. It also supports priority goals and objectives at regional and national levels.

According to Surroz, it is estimated that only 12% of our oak communities remain compared to the 1830’s. And while some oaks are protected on public lands, the trees that grow on private property need to be protected, too. Protecting the oaks species will, in turn, protect many, many other species.

I'm pleased to have Sarah on the program today. She is joined by Jim Anderson, who is Natural Resource Manager for the Lake County Forest Preserve District.

The Mike Nowak Show comes to the Green Metropolis Fair on April 27!

We hit the road again in a couple of weeks, as The Mike Nowak Show will be broadcast live at the Green Metropolis Fair on Sunday, April 27. from 10am-5pm at the Irish American Heritage Center, 4626 N. Knox Avenue, Chicago IL 60630. In addition to my show from 9:00 to 11:00 a.m., here's what you can look forward to at this FREE EVENT:

  • Hands on family-friendly activities: farm animals, composting, gardening stalls and more!
  • Retail market with local sustainable business vendors.
  • Food market with local restaurants and chefs.
  • Presentations on organic gardening, sustainable living, energy savings, composting, CSAs, and more!

The full program is HERE.

There is plenty of free parking, and the center is conveniently located off 90/94. However, if you want to be greener, take the CTA Blue Line to the Montrose stop and walk from there, or grab a bus. If you want to be REALLY green, ride your bike!. Bike parking is available.

Of course, check them out on Facebook.

This morning, event organizer Mary Beth Rebedeau of Green Parents Network (GPN) joins me on the show. You can contact her via email (above) or at 708.361.6000 or 708.641.2752 (cell).


April 6 , 2014

Thank you for your support of Attack of the Killer Asparagus!

It's all done but the shouting. We made our $5,000 Kickstarter goal and then some, finishing with a total of $5,875 in backing for my very first book, Attack of the Killer Asparagus and Other Lessons Not Learned in the Garden, with illustrations by Allyson Hunter, published by Around the Block Press.

All I can say is THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU to all of our backers! Now to the hard work of getting the book into print. More to follow.

Keeping your lawn eco-friendly with Melinda Myers

The last time my buddy Melinda Myers was on the show was on December 8 as we were heading into the Christmas season. At the time, her new book, The Midwest Gardener's Handbook, had just been published. Not only that, but she was in the process of unveling THREE other books...while I'm happy just to have ONE which is about to be released. Sigh.

The others are the The Minnesota and Wisconsin Getting Started Garden Guide, the Michigan Getting Started Garden Guide .and Month-by-Month Gardening Minnesota & Wisconsin, all of which were released mid-January..

Melinda describes the Midwest Gardener's Handbook as "for the more experienced intermediate to advanced gardener." It's nice to see that, because, in my opinion, when a book tries to include novice gardeners as well as veterans, it can sometimes shortchange the more experienced gardeners.

Believe me, if you've been out in your back yard once or twice before, you will find this book to be an invaluable resource. When she says "Midwest," she ain't kidding. Melinda even has specific Hardiness Zone maps for Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Ohio, and Wiscosnin. Now, I suppose you could argue that some of those are "plains" states, but she's not taking any chances.

Then she divides the book into the categories of plants you are likely to grow, including annuals, bulbs, groundcovers and vines, lawns, perennials and ornamental grasses, roses, shrubs, trees and vegetables. There are even quick primers on pruning and creating raised beds.

For each category of plant, there is an overview, a look at design, oil preparation and potential pests and diseases. Then there's a list of what are basically the most well-known plants in that category, along with their particular needs and traits. Finally, in each section there's a calendar of when to get things done for that particular kind of plant.

Along the way, there are numerous sidebars, with tips on things like forcing and storing bulbs, how to buy the right number of plants for an area, a look at common rose diseases, trannsplanting trees and shrubs, even how to make growing vegetables fun (because sometimes, honestly, it isn't).

Today she is back, in honor of spring, which, I swear, might actually arrive someday. The timing is good, because I just finished back to back talks for the Linn County, Iowa Master Gardeners and for the good folks up at the Klehm Arboretum & Botanic Garden, both on the subject of natural lawn care, which I call "Guys on Grass." (You can see the photo of the attendees to the Klehm Arboretum talk with me on my home page.)

Which means that I'm prepared to discuss eco-friendly lawn care and weed control strategies today with Ms. Myers. We'll talk about proper care (including fertilizing) along with other practices that are your best defense against weeds. Another thing you should know about is how weeds are indicators of other issues, and we'll throw in some basic lawn selection and care.

A seed-lending library takes root in Downers Grove

Take a look at the logo in the left column. According to Vicki Nowicki, founder of Liberty Gardens, it represents the American Family Tree of our Food Heritage from Native American foods to the complex cuisines that were brought here by millions of immigrants over 500 years which have combined to make an incredible, diverse food supply. Unfortunately, as she points out, more than 90% of those varieties have vanished now.

But she intends to do something about that, starting Saturday, April 12. And she's looking for folks to join in her mission.

On that date, Liberty Gardens will open a "seed-lending library" in Downers Grove at 2:00 p.m. at the Downers Grove Historical Museum at 831 Maple Avenue. Here's how it works. There will be a free, comprehensive, educational program on how to save seeds. People will then be invited to pick out 5 varieties of "starter" seeds and asked to sign a pledge that they will indeed grow the seeds and let a few plants go to seed.

After recording what they are taking home, they will choose a bonus packet of novelty seeds that can be grown without saving. If they follow through, they will be able to actually return what they borrowed and someone else will be able to check out seeds for that variety. People will even vote on the vegetable they most want to grow, which will be listed on the Seed Savers Exchange Yearbook.

Vicki reports that as of this moment, there are almost 3000 packets of heirloom and open-pollinated seeds ready to be lent out.  Some are rare and endangered varieties. She notes that they have 4 acres of land at the Museum for display gardens and even a garden that will allow people to practice harvesting seeds.

Why is she doing it? She writes:

 A library like this is intended to put our seed supply back into the hands of the families and the communities and help people become aware of their heritage.  We will try to make our seeds precious again, even sacred.

Amen, sister. She joins us briefly this morning on the show.

Robert Colangelo and the challenge on the new urban farm

If you're a listener to Chicago's progressive talk, the name Robert Colangelo might sound familiar. That's because, for a short time, his program, Green $ense Radio, was a part of the lineup on Chicago's Progressive Talk. Nowadays, you can find Green $ense Radio--in short form (one minute) and long form (30 minutes)--on a number of stations around the country, including WBBM in Chicago. Here's how he describes it:

Green $ense Radio provides an inside look at the different market sectors that make up the New Green Economy, so you can decide which sustainable long term growth opportunities will create profit for people and benefit the planet. Green $ense Radio is here to empower you to make valuable decisions that will change your world and your wallet!

But that's just one aspect of what Colangelo is doing. He's not just talking the talk, he's walking the walk with Green Sense Farms, located just across the state line in Portage, Indiana. He has taken local, indoor, urban farming to a new level:

At Green Sense Farms we take an eco-friendly approach to farming by creating an indoor vertical farm close to the consumer. Our growing facility allows us to control the environment so that we can consistently grow a high quality crop that can be harvested many times per year. The quality and freshness of our produce is enhanced through our ability to precisely control the temperature, humidity, light, water and organic nutrients that are delivered to each plant, thereby maximizing the yield and minimizing the footprint of our farm by recycling water and nutrients. Our produce is harvested and available to the retail consumer 365 days a year and can be delivered to a store near you within 48 hours.

I spent a couple of hours at his operation and I was blown away by what Colangelo has been able to accomplish. He's literally looking to transform the production of fresh, healthy vegetables by using a controlled environment that takes the guesswork out of soil, seeding, fertilizing, light, and even weather! He calls it an indoor vertical farm, and I can pretty much guarantee that you've never seen anything like it.

He says that it took his team about eight years to perfect their system...and they're still working on it, so perhaps it's not quite perfect. Again, from the Green Sense Farms website:

Our technology consists of trays that sit on 25 foot tall carousels in an indoor growing room with a specially designed air circulation system and energy efficient LED growing lights. This combination of technology allows us to create the perfect growing conditions and a pristine, chemical free environment. Through continual research we are always improving the system to optimize the computer operated delivery of water and nutrients so what is not used by the plants is recycled.

Recognizing that food travels many miles from the farm to the table we spent a considerable amount of time selecting a location for our farm so that our locally grown vegetable can be delivered fresh to the consumer year round. Nine million consumers are within a 100 mile radius of our Portage, IN farm.

This might very well be the future of farming in America, and the world.

I'm pleased to have Robert Colangelo in the studio with me this morning.

Debunking bad science one Eco-myth at a time

As you can see, there's a lot of stuff on the show today. But I decide that had to squeeze in one more thing.

EcoMyths Alliance is a not for profit media organization based in Chicago that uses science to debunk myths about the environment. Their goal is to make conservation science approachable and entertaining and, at the same time, empower people with simple solutions to make more sustainable choices in their daily lives. Works for me.

Among the myths they have tackled lately:

That last one is of particular interest to me, as I just finished a couple of talks about that very subject (see above)

Anyway, EcoMyths Alliance has an upcoming event, which they call the Naturally Funny Gala, which  will support the development of both EcoMyths' new environmental science curriculum for middle and high school students, and their complementary myth-busting video series.

EcoMyths' STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education partner in this project is National Wildlife Federation's Eco-Schools USA. The series of EcoMyths video shorts will be written, acted, and produced by The Second City.

To talk about this unusual event, EcoMyths founder and president Kate Sackman stops by the WCPT studios this morning. If she doesn't bust myths for me, she darned well better be funny. Uh...that's a joke.


March 30, 2014

Just hours left to support Attack of the Killer Asparagus!

We crashed through our $5,000 Kickstarter goal several days ago but that doesn't mean that you can't jump on the bandwagon and support my very first book, Attack of the Killer Asparagus and Other Lessons Not Learned in the Garden . The deadline is Tuesday, April 1 at 8:41 a.m. CDT. And to encourage folks to become backers, we just added a couple of nifty premiums.

  • For a $200 pledge (and you can always upgrade to that if you've already pledged less), you and a guest will attend an exclusive luncheon at the fabulous Uncommon Ground Restaurant on Devon Avenue with publisher Kathleen Thompson of Around the Block Press, and author whatshisname (that's me). As a bonus, you will be treated to a tour Uncommon Ground's organic rooftop farm--the first such certified farm in America.
  • For $250, you will sit in as a guest on The Mike Nowak Show and go out for lunch afterward with Mike (again, that's me) and publisher Kathleen Thompson. And, yes, you will receive a book, too. (There's only one of these left.)

There are also the other premiums--autographed books and even art by my wonderful illustrator Allyson Hunter. But you have mere hours to get on board!

And to the hundred or so folks who have already signed on, all I can say is "thank you." I think you will enjoy the book.

Fearless Food Gardening in Chicagoland with LaManda Joy

If LaManda Joy from the Peterson Garden Project is back in studio this morning, surely that must mean that the growing season is just around the corner. I do have seeds growing in my house even as you read this but I have begun to fear that there will never be another summer in Chicago. Heck, I've already given up on spring and I'm putting my sights on June.

Even if gardening still seems like a long way off, LaManda has something to keep hope alive. It's a new book by the PGP called Fearless Food Gardening in Chicagoland, a month-by-month growing Guide for beginners. And not just any beginners--this book is for folks in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 & 6, which means Chicago and nearby communities, who want to grow their food organically.

What I like about this book is that it's not pretentious but it is specific. Authors Teresa Gale and LaManda set out to put folks at ease about growing their own food. I'm not exactly sure why, but many people seem almost proud about their ability to kill plants. I think that is often a cover for their insecurity.

Well, after reading this book, there will be no reason to be insecure about planting seeds, tending the plants as they grow and harvesting the literal fruits of your labors. The book takes you through the year chronologically--January to December--and includes tips, how-to illustrations and educational tidbits all along the way. For example, these are just some of the topics that are covered:

  • The truth about seeds
  • Crops for part sun and crops for dappled sun
  • Seeds or seedlings?
  • How to read a seed packet
  • Preparing your soil
  • Watering dos and don'ts
  • Pest and disease management
  • Harvest hints
  • Winter gardening

and much, much more. I've already learned a lot, and I think I knew a couple of things before I picked up the book. This belongs in your gardening library.

One more thing: the Peterson Garden Project has its own Kickstarter campaign going. They call it Fearless Food--A Teaching Kitchen for Everyone. They still have about three weeks left to raise a modest $2,000 or so to reach their goal of $5500. Here's how they described their project:

Peterson Garden Project will open The Fearless Food Kitchen community education teaching kitchen in the Broadway Armory on Chicago's North Side, with cooking classes for everyone, events, and community programming for families, kids and older adults. We're asking you to help us buy utensils and equipment, so poor Chef Jeff can open that wine. He really needs it after trying to scramble eggs without a bowl.

It's a great organization and a great cause. I hope you can help out.

It's the end of the world as we know it...but when?

A couple of weeks ago, this headline caught my eye:

Nasa-funded study: industrial civilisation headed for 'irreversible collapse'?
Natural and social scientists develop new model of how 'perfect storm' of crises could unravel global system

It was a story in The Guardian written by Dr Nafeez Ahmed, executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development and author of A User's Guide to the Crisis of Civilisation: And How to Save It among other books.

Well, when NASA is funding end of the world studies, it certainly makes me sit up and take notice. I can't speak for the rest of you. Ahmed points out that the study was independent and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center provided a minor grant to the project. But the results are not pretty--Ahmed reports that the study concludes that civilizations have collapsed before (Romans and Mayans) and there's no reason to think it couldn't happen again:

Modelling a range of different scenarios, Motesharrei and his colleagues conclude that under conditions "closely reflecting the reality of the world today... we find that collapse is difficult to avoid." In the first of these scenarios, civilisation:

".... appears to be on a sustainable path for quite a long time, but even using an optimal depletion rate and starting with a very small number of Elites, the Elites eventually consume too much, resulting in a famine among Commoners that eventually causes the collapse of society. It is important to note that this Type-L collapse is due to an inequality-induced famine that causes a loss of workers, rather than a collapse of Nature."

Another scenario focuses on the role of continued resource exploitation, finding that "with a larger depletion rate, the decline of the Commoners occurs faster, while the Elites are still thriving, but eventually the Commoners collapse completely, followed by the Elites."

In both scenarios, Elite wealth monopolies mean that they are buffered from the most "detrimental effects of the environmental collapse until much later than the Commoners", allowing them to "continue 'business as usual' despite the impending catastrophe."

It was with that in mind that I listened to a conversation just a few days later on the Thom Hartmann Program on Chicago's Progressive Talk. The guest was Guy R. McPherson, Professor Emeritus of Natural Resources and Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona. He has a blog called Nature Bats Last, which contains something he calls his Climate-change summary and update. That's a pretty innocuous-sounding title for a blog that contains world-shattering conclusions:

If you're too busy to read the evidence presented below, here's the bottom line: On a planet 4 C hotter than baseline, all we can prepare for is human extinction (from Oliver Tickell's 2008 synthesis in the Guardian ). Tickell is taking a conservative approach, considering humans have not been present at 3.5 C above baseline (i.e., the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, commonly accepted as 1750). According to the World Bank's 2012 report , “Turn down the heat: why a 4°C warmer world must be avoided” and an informed assessment of “ BP Energy Outlook 2030 ” put together by Barry Saxifrage for the Vancouver Observer , our path leads directly to the 4 C mark. The 19th Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 19), held in November 2013 in Warsaw, Poland, was warned by professor of climatology Mark Maslin: “We are already planning for a 4°C world because that is where we are heading. I do not know of any scientists who do not believe that.” Adding to planetary misery is a paper in the 16 December 2013 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concluding that 4 C terminates the ability of Earth's vegetation to sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide.

I'm not sure what it means to plan for 4 C (aka extinction). I'm not impressed that civilized scientists claim to be planning for it, either.

By the way, if you want to hear McPherson's conversation with Thom Hartmann, you can find the video on this page. What caught my attention as I listened that day was his dire prediction that the beginning of the end could occur not by mid-century, as many predict, but in less than a decade. This, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is prepared to release its latest report tomorrow. According to The Guardian:

Climate change has already left its mark "on all continents and across the oceans ", damaging food crops, spreading disease, and melting glaciers , according to the leaked text of a blockbuster UN climate science report due out on Monday.

And from The Associated Press:

The key message from leaked drafts and interviews with the authors and other scientists: The big risks and overall effects of global warming are far more immediate and local than scientists once thought. It's not just about melting ice, threatened animals and plants. It's about the human problems of hunger, disease, drought, flooding, refugees and war, becoming worse.

McPherson will likely consider this information too little, too late. He points his finger at politicians, heads of non-governmental organizations, corporate leaders and, of course, the media. He writes:

If you think we'll adapt, think again. The rate of evolution trails the rate of climate change by a factor of 10,000 , according to a paper in the August 2013 issue of Ecology Letters . And it's not as if extinction events haven't happened on this planet, as explained in the BBC program, The Day the Earth Nearly Died .

The rate of climate change clearly has gone beyond linear, as indicated by the presence of the myriad self-reinforcing feedback loops described below, and now threatens our species with extinction in the near term. As Australian biologist Frank Fenner said in June 2010 : “We're going to become extinct,” the eminent scientist says. “Whatever we do now is too late.” Anthropologist Louise Leakey ponders our near-term demise in her 5 July 2013 assessment at Huffington Post and her father Richard joins the fray in this video from December 2013 (see particularly 1:02:18 – 1:02:56). Canadian wildlife biologist Neil Dawe joins the party of near-term extinction in an interview 29 August 2013 and musician-turned-activist Sir Bob Geldof joins the club in a Daily Star article from 6 October 2013 . In the face of near-term human extinction, most Americans view the threat as distant and irrelevant, as illustrated by a 22 April 2013 article in the Washington Post based on poll results that echo the long-held sentiment that elected officials should be focused on the industrial economy, not far-away minor nuisances such as climate change.

I certainly don't have time to go into all of the reasons why he sees this happening, but above and beyond our ability to pump unlimited amounts of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane into our atmosphere, McPherson identifies 32 self-reinforcing, exponential, non-linear feedback loops that human activity has triggered.

Not surprisingly, McPherson is a controversial figure. In various blog posts, he refers to himself as a prophet, a court jester and as throwing Molotov cocktails into conversations. He lives in a place he calls the "Mud Hut." He calls people who think we can reverse or even mitigate the environmental damage we have caused "hopium" addicts. Yet, Thom Hartmann himself thought it necessary to pen a piece called Hope Dies Last in response to McPherson's bleak outlook. Perhaps it's because one of Hartmann's favorite phrases is "Despair is not an option."

Scott K. Johnson, a geoscience educator, hydrogeologist, and freelance science writer contributing at Ars Technica , rebuts McPherson's claims in a piece called How Guy McPherson gets it wrong. Writes Johnson:

In many ways, McPherson is a photo-negative of the self-proclaimed “climate skeptics” who reject the conclusions of climate science. He may be advocating the opposite conclusion, but he argues his case in the same way. The skeptics often quote snippets of science that, on full examination, doesn't actually support their claims, and this is McPherson's  modus operandi . The skeptics dismiss science they don't like by saying that climate researchers lie to keep the grant money coming; McPherson dismisses inconvenient science by claiming that scientists are downplaying risks because they're too cowardly to speak the truth and flout our corporate overlords. Both malign the IPCC as “political” and therefore not objective. And both will cite nearly any claim that supports their views, regardless of source— putting evidence-free opinions on par with scientific research. (In one example I can't help but highlight, McPherson cites a survivalist blog warning that Earth's atmosphere is running out of oxygen.)

McPherson bills himself as a scientist simply passing along the science (even as he dismisses climate scientists and their work), but he cites nearly as many blog posts and newspaper columns as published studies. When he does cite a study, it's often clear that he hasn't taken the time to actually read it, depending instead on a news story about it. He frequently gets the information from the study completely wrong, which is a difficult thing for most readers to check given that most papers are behind paywalls (not to mention that scientific papers aren't easy to understand).

We'll find out how McPherson responds to that criticsm because he's in studio this morning in anticipation of Guy McPherson: Climate Talk in Chicago at Multikulti Chicago this (Sunday) afternoon from 3-5pm. Then, tomorrow evening, he will be speaking at Paul Henry's Art Gallery in Hammond, Indiana on Tuesday, April 1st at 7pm. McPherson will offer a 1 hour presentation and then a question and answer session for a second hour.

I'm also pleased to have Kari Lydersen in studio with me today. As she explains on her website, she is a "Chicago-based reporter specializing in energy, the environment, labor, public health and immigration issues, and the myriad and complicated way such topics intersect." Indeed.

As a contributor to Midwest Energy News, a not-for-profit site dedicated to keeping citizens informed about the clash of new and old energy systems, Kari has covered many of the issues that often find their way onto my own program. Here is a sampling of her latest work:

She is the person who broke the story about how petcoke piles were appearing on Chicago's southeast side.

And she has written several books, including her recent effort about Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Mayor 1%. Unfortunately, a discussion about that will have to wait for another day. This morning we have more pressing matters to talk about--like the end of the world.


March 23, 2014

Support Attack of the Killer Asparagus!

We're in the home stretch for the Kickstarter campaign for my very first book, Attack of the Killer Asparagus. With 9 days to go, we just passed $4,000 on our way to $5,000. All the money will go towards publication of the book by Around the Block Press, And don't forget that there are cool premiums, like autographed books and illustrations by Allyson Hunter.

Help me get over the top! Become a backer today!

Doug Taron delivers his "State of the Butterflies" report

That monarch butterflies are in deep trouble should not be a surprise to anybody who is paying the least bit of attention to our environment. This December article in the New York Times presents for staggering and disturbing numbers:

The migrating population has become so small — perhaps 35 million, experts guess — that the prospects of its rebounding to levels seen even five years ago are diminishing. At worst, scientists said, a migration widely called one of the world's great natural spectacles is in danger of effectively vanishing.

The Mexican government and the World Wildlife Fund said at a news conference on Wednesday that the span of forest inhabited by the overwintering monarchs shrank last month to a bare 1.65 acres — the equivalent of about one and a quarter football fields. Not only was that a record low, but it was just 56 percent of last year's total, which was itself a record low.

At their peak in 1996, the monarchs occupied nearly 45 acres of forest.
(Italics mine.)

A story in the Washington Post attributes the decline to three major factors:

Deforestation in Mexico, recent bouts of severe weather, and the growth of herbicide-based agriculture destroying crucial milkweed flora in the Midwest.

Is there a chance of turning this around or will the iconic butterfly disappear completely within our lifetimes? In February, US President Barack Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced that their countries would set up a task force to create a plan to for protecting the monarch migration, which occurs in all three countries. As the monarchs prepare for their northward migration in 2014, things don't look very good, according to USA Today:

One of the sure signs of warmer months to come — monarch butterflies — might be harder to find this year, according to butterfly tracker Craig Wilson, a senior research associate at Texas A&M University.

In fact, 2014 may go down as one of their worst years ever because of several issues now occurring in Texas, Wilson said.

The colorful insects are under stress because of ongoing drought, an unusually cold winter and a lack of milkweed, their primary food source.

"Unfortunately, the harsh and lingering cold conditions mean that the milkweed plants that monarch caterpillars must have to live have yet to start growing, and these are the only plants on which they can lay eggs to provide food for their caterpillars," he said.

But is the monarch the only butterfly in decline or is it just the one with the highest profile?

One of the people who has been to Mexico to visit the monarch's winter home is Doug Taron, PhD, Curator of Biology and Vice President of Conservation and Research at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum . Personally, I think of him as "the butterfly guy," for his work on imperiled butterflies in the Midwest, particularly butterflies of the wetlands. He also leads the Museum's work with Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network, which engages citizen scientists to collect data on butterfly populations.

In case you haven't been to the museum, it is home, among other exhibits, to the Judy Istock Butterfly Haven, which houses 75 species of exotic butterflies and stunning bird species from the Southern hemisphere in a 2,700 square-foot greenhouse.

One of the Midwest species that Taron and his colleagues have been trying to help is the swamp metalmark. Late last summer, he and his crew released about 20 of the butterflies in Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin. Think about it--they released 20 adults and considered it a huge victory, after having painstakingly raised them over the course of months!

There are other endangered butterflies that Taron has worked with, including the Regal Fritillary. I'm pleased to have Dr. Taron on my show this morning, after an absence of too many years.

By the way, if you're interested in how you can help the monarch, the first place to go is Monarch Watch, "an educational outreach program based at the University of Kansas that engages citizen scientists in large-scale research projects. This program produces real data that relate to a serious conservation issue."

If you want to start your own monarch butterfly garden, here's a place to start.

What has happened to the stars?

At 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 29, parts of Chicago will be going dark, including

  • Willis Tower
  • Chicago Title and Trust Building
  • John Hancock Center

It's all in the service of Earth Hour, the single largest, symbolic mass participation event in the world. Earth Hour encourages millions of people in 7,000 cities and towns across 152 countries and territories to switch lights off for an hour as a massive show of concern for the environment.

The World Wildlife Fund, which is behind the effort, suggests ongoing ways to reduce your carbon footprint, including

  • Reducing Electricity Use : Go solar; switch to LED light bulbs in your home; turn off your AC in the summer when you leave your home.
  • Changing your Method of Transportation : Ride your bike or public transportation (if you live in the city); switch to a hybrid or electric vehicle (in you live in the suburbs).
  • Eliminating Food Waste : Americans throw away between 30-50 percent of their food. A small, simple solution is to mark an area in your fridge as “eat now” so you throw away less food.

While the idea of Earth Hour is to make us look at our energy use, there is another benefit to turning off the lights.

You can see the stars.

It saddens me to think that many urban (and suburban!) children have never seen the Milky Way. Once you have, your understanding of the universe is never the same again. To get an idea of what you're missing, look at this time lapse video by TSO Photography, which was taken on El Teide, Spain´s highest mountain and one of the best places in the world to photograph the stars

And, as this video shows, excessive light isn't just about losing the stars. I can have profound and negative effects on many animals--including adverse health effects on humans.

That's why groups like the Illinois Coalition for Responsible Outdoor Lighting challenges businesses and individuals to reduce the amount of wasted ambient light. Here, they show the difference between good and bad light fixtures.

Audrey Fischer is director of the Chicago Astronomical Society (founded 1862!) and founder & co-chair of One Star at a Time / Global Star Park Network. She is working to get the City of Chicago to reduce its light pollution. She advocates

• A total re-thinking of how to light Chicago to dramatically reduce light pollution and noticeably increase starlight over Chicago, and its neighbors.
• Why there should be a moratorium for installation of bright white/ high blue spectrum LED streetlights.
• Why Chicago ought to stop its current lighting mandate that demands streetlights shine to-the-keyhole-of-the-front-door of typical residential Chicago home. This same light trespass also filters in through many bedroom windows… causing harm to citizens (by interrupting essential melatonin production).
• Lighting options that can increase efficiency by up to 80% without harming people or environment.

She notes that if Chicago makes a transition to bright white LEDs, it could increase it's light pollution to up to five times the current levels because blue scatters the most of any color in the spectrum. She notes that according to satellite readings, Chicago is already the most light-polluted city in the world, affecting communities as far as 150 miles away. In 2012, Cook County passed legislation to reduce the effects of light pollution.

If you're wondering why energy-saving LEDs are a problem, Fischer notes they are most efficient in the blue-white spectrum, which creates the most light pollution. LEDs can be manufactured to perform using a different part of the spectrum, but they won't be quite as efficient...which is quite a dilemma. Even with LEDs in place, the simplest answer seems to be to turn them off once in awhile!

As I mentioned before, excessive light can also cause physical problems. And because the National Park Service predicts that by 2025, 90% of Americans will never see a starry night sky in their whole lives, the health implications are enornous.

Again, from Audrey Fischer:

Light pollution is linked to significantly higher rates of breast, prostate and colon cancers; type 2 diabetes; mental, memory and mood disorders including depression and suicide; and obesity. . . all commonly linked to the circadian disruption literally turning "off" the switch for the body's ability to produce essential melatonin. Wildlife and ecosystem is also harmfully impacted through circadian disruption and other issues of manmade light pollution.

I'm please to have her in studio this morning, along with Mark Hammergren, PhD, Astronomer and Director of the Astro-Science Workshop at the Adler Planetarium. Joining us on the phone to address the medical aspects of this problem is Dr. David Blask, Professor of Structural and Cellular Biology at the Department of Structural & Cellular Biology, Tulane University School Medicine and the Tulane Cancer Center.

Strap in--it's going to be a star-studded ride.

March 16, 2014

Kudos to the Team for last week's show!

I start with a round of thank you's to my great team for filling in last week while I was off on my great New York adventure--Lisa Albrecht, Dennis Schetter, guest star Kathleen Thompson and Kerry Morris, who stepped in at the last minute to help us on the phones.

To recap my week, I attended the ReelAbilities: NY Disabilities Film Festival in Manhattan, where scenes from The Signal Season of Dummy Hoy, a play I co-authored with Allen Meyter 28 years ago, were performed. The play is based on the true story of William Ellsworth Hoy, a deaf baseball player who was in the major leagues from 1888 to 1903. In April, the play will have a full production, presented by the New York Deaf Theatre.

The ReelAbilities event was an honor for Allen and me, as was the chance to sit in on a couple of rehearsals of the production by the New York Deaf Theatre, which will open on April 3. I'm definitely going back to Nueva York to see one or two performances of the play, though I will make sure it's on a weekday night, so I don't have to miss my radio show on Sunday. I can't handle the withdrawal symptoms.

And, while it might seem to be annoying at this point, I do have to continue to promote the Kickstarter campaign for my very first book, Attack of the Killer Asparagus. Kathleenh Thompson, bless her soul, talked quite a bit about it last week. That's because she's not only my partner and webmaster, she is the founder and queen bee of Around the Block Press, which is publishing this magnum opus.

We're right on schedule to raise enough money to get the book published, but only if folks keep on signing up to be backers. I hope you click on the link above and get involved. I will sleep better.

She's "Taming Wildflowers" but who will tame Miriam Goldberger?

Long time listeners will remember that for awhile, one of my sponsors was a product called Eco-Lawn. It was developed by the people at a place called Wildflower Farm, and they described it as

a blend of carefully selected fine fescue grass seeds developed by Wildflower Farm.
Eco-Lawn is a lawn grass that grows in full sun, part shade and even deep shade! Highly drought tolerant Eco-Lawn has a beautiful deep green grass colour. Eco-Lawn requires less fertilizing and can be mown like a regular lawn or left un-mown for a free-flowing carpet effect.

Of course, the give away is the way the word "colour" is spelled. They're freakin' Canadians! Run for your lives!!

Or not.

Miriam Goldberger and her husband Paul Jenkins are actually quite nice people who are doing their best to introduce gardeners to the wonderful world of native plants. And they've been doing it since the 1990s, which, is a long time ago, unhappily for people like me who still remember the 60s. And after working this long with those plants, Miriam decided to write a book to help spread the gospel of natives.

Thus was born Taming Wildflowers, published by St. Lynn's Press. In it, Ms. Goldberger attempts to introduce the non-initiated to a few native plants with which they can feel comfortable--about 60, all told. That's a pretty manageable number, given how many native plants are out there.

And one of the tricks she uses to ease her readers into her world view is to use the term "wildflowers" as often as possible. Yes, I'm sure it has something to do with reinforcing the name of her company, but I think it also puts people more at ease to talk about "wildflowers" instead of "native species."

As in many gardening books, she walks us throught the list of her favorite wildflowers, giving the basic facts, such as height, color, bloom time, soil, moisture, deer resistance (always helpful), edible/not edible (again, always helpful, especially if you've been stranded on a prairie), and the places that the plant is native to.

But she also has chapters on the various kinds of pollinators--from bees to moths to butterflies to flies to human beings. She echoes the sentiment of the widely respected Doug Tallamy, who says that if we don't have native plants, we lose our insect biomass. If we lose our insect biomass, we lose our birds and mammals that depend on insects for food. If we lose birds and mammals...well, we're screwed. It's pretty simple, really.

Miriam also has sections on seed starting, how to plant various types of gardens with wildflowers, creating wildflower bouquets, and how to weave wildflowers into a wedding design.

If you think that you could never do what Miriam Goldberger does, consider this from the book:

I never planned to fall in love with wildflowers. In fact, my interest in wildflowers began purely as a business relationship. I was growing thousands of high maintenance annual and perennial flowers for my pick-your-own flower farm. I needed to grow more flowers but couldn't afford the time or money it would cost to grow more high maintenance flowers. What to do? Over and over, my research led to the same conclusion: perennial wildflowers and native grasses lived longer, needed minimal maintenance, and were stunningly beautiful in both garden and vase. Then and there, this desperate and exhausted gardener began to grow wildflowers from seed. And I haven't looked back.

Let me put it this way. If you've been intimidated by the idea of putting native plants in your yard, you should pick up this book. It will put you at ease. One of the ways Miriam does that is by including some of her favorite plants that are NOT natives. She understands that it's a big world and that including non-natives in moderation is not a sin. You go, girl!

It's a treat to have my friend Miriam Golderberger back on the show this morning.

Speaking of wildflowers, Cathy McGlynn has some advice

Cathy McGlynn of the Northeast Illinois Invasive Plant Partnership is back on the show this morning, to tell us about her participation in the Chicago Flower & Garden Show, which opened yesterday. She tells me that she is appearing there in an effort to get gardeners make informed choices about the plants they put in their yards.

This was brought home to me last fall when I attended an NIIPP seminar at the Chicago Botanic Garden called "Invasive Ornamental Plant Symposium and Working Group." It brought to light that a number of plants that are regularly sold at garden centers are now suspected of being invasive. One of those plants is a big favorite in the "green" industry: Callery Pear. You might be growing a cultivar called Bradford Pear in your yard right now.

Here's what the National Park Service has to say about it:

Once established Callery pear forms dense thickets that push out other plants including native species that can't tolerate the deep shade or compete with pear for water, soil and space. A single tree can spread rapidly by seed and vegetative means forming a sizeable patch within several years. Its success as an invader results from its capacity to produce copious amounts of seed that is dispersed by birds and possibly small mammals, seedlings that germinate and grow rapidly in disturbed areas and a general lack of natural controls like insects and diseases, with the exception of fire blight.

Yeesh. That's why people like Cathy McGlynn are so important and why I enjoy having her on my show.

March 9, 2014

While Mike's away, Mike's Team will play...and broadcast

First, I want to thank everybody involved in the Big Broadcast last week from Kolatek's Bakery & Deli. Not only were they gracious hosts on a snowy Sunday morning (most of us left the premises loaded down with incredible food), but Bart Kolatek was a wonderful guest. We're looking forward to coming back to the store in November for another show.

And thanks to Kolatek's for being a proud sponsor of Chicago's Progressive Talk.

As for this week's show, well, I'm not going to be here. I'm off to New York City to take part in a presentation that will happen at something called ReelAbilities: NY Disabilities Film Festival. A play I wrote with Allen Meyer in about 28 years ago will have scenes performed.

The play is called The Signal Season of Dummy Hoy and is based on the true story of William Ellsworth Hoy, a deaf baseball player who was in the major leagues from 1888 to 1903. In April, the play will have a full production, presented by the New York Deaf Theatre. By the way, if you want to see a video of Allen and an impossibly young version of me talking about the play when it first came out in 1987, take a look at this.

The point is that I am otherwise disposed this Sunday, so I'm putting Team Members Lisa Albrecht, Carol Brewer, Dennis Schetter and Kathleen Thompson in charge. I'm bringing them into the studio, locking the door and not letting them out until the dirty deed is done. Actually, I won't be around, so I don't know if the door will be locked. But I do know that my show is in capable hands.

One of the things that I'm sure will come up in conversation is the Kickstarter campaign that Kathleen and I started last Sunday to raise money to publish my very first book, Attack of the Killer Asparagus. Kathleen is not only my partner and webmaster, she is the founder and queen bee of Around the Block Press. And since that's the outfit that's publishing the book, she's going to say a few words on my behalf. Perhaps it's just as well that I'm out of town.

The Good Food Festival, Part Trois

For the past two weeks, I've been happy to be one of the media sponsors for the Good Food Festival--three days of teaching, learning, buying, schmoozing and eating...all in the name of local food. This is the 10th anniversary of what was a unique event when it started, and continues to be unique today.

This week, I'm pleased to have my Team talk to the big cheese himself--Jim Slama, who is the founder and president of, which is the organization behind the event. And because he's the man with the plan, he can explain the events of all three days:

Thursday, 3/13/14 - Good Food Financing & Innovation Conference
This is a day that connects funders with food businesses seeking financing. Past participants of the Financing Fair have raised over $5 million in funding. This year, Walter Robb, Co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, presents the keynote address.

Friday, 3/14/14 - Trade Show, School Food, and Policy Summit
These three tracks--food industry experts and a trade floor, discussions on advancing healthier foods for our schools, and discussions about food policy and networking--are introduced by Deborah Kane, Director of the USDA Farm-to-School Initiative who will be at the opening symposium.

Friday, 3/14/14, 7:00 - 9:30 p.m. - Localicious Party
Friday evening pairs Chicago's premier chefs who value local food sourcing with farmers for an evening of delicious food, the best local wines, beers and spirits and a live bluegrass band! It will also include a farmer and producer talent show!

Saturday, 3/15/14 - Festival and Workshops
Saturday brings together family farmers, local food artisans, chefs, educators, families and Good Food enthusiasts for a day of learning, eating, and connecting!  With a 3 hour Master Class, dozens of workshops, vendors, a Kid's Corner, chef demonstrations, and a Good Food Court, there's no better way to celebrate the Good Food Movement!

Joining Jim Slama is Paul Saginaw of the world famous Zingerman's Delicatessen in Ann Arbor, Michigan. What might be more impressive than creating a deli that has been called one of the best in America is creating the concept of the Zingerman's Community of Businesses. As they describe it on their own site,

The Zingerman's Community of Businesses (ZCoB) is a family of eight businesses all located in the Ann Arbor area and reflects the novel strategy for business growth created by Zingerman's Deli founders Paul Saginaw and Ari Weinzweig. Rather than replicating their deli through the franchise model, Paul and Ari instead chose to develop new, independent businesses, all rooted in our local community that work together as one organization. Each business is operated by one or more managing partners who share ownership and put their particular expertise to work in the day to day running of their business.

The Good Food Festival blog also has a piece about Zingerman's. Paul is talking twice on Friday, March 14 at the Good Food Conference--first at the Opening Symposium from 9-10:15am, then in a workshop called Grow Your Business With Value-Added Products from 2:30 to 3:45pm. In that one, Paul moderates the conversation with Chris Covelli, Tomato Mountain; Lee Greene, Scrumptious Pantry; Eric Rose, River Valley Ranch and Rick Terrien, Innovation Kitchens.

Going Green Matters in Wilmette

If you're looking for a way to spend a late winter afternoon thinking about ways to save the planet, you might want to consider heading north of Chicago to Wilmette for the eighth annual Going Green Matters community environmental fair presented by Go Green Wilmette and the Village of Wilmette.

The underlying theme for Going Green Matters 2014 is Water Matters.  Policy makers, experts and local and regional representatives will be there to field questions about Water Quality, Storm Water, Conservation and Recreation.  

In additions, there is are exhibits about gardening, natural spaces, and conservation. They range from a home-spun seed starting station to the exhibits of renowned national and regional organizations.  A quick sample of exhibitors includes: The Sierra Club, The Heller Nature Center,  the Climate Reality Project, The Peggy Notebaert Museum, Friends of Elmwood Dunes, The Organic Gardener, The Good Food Festival and Conference and Family Farmed.

Other highlights include cooking demonstrations by The Farmhouse Restaurant, the latest green cars, children's activities, the Go Green Café and native plant landscaping.  And something that is close to my heart is their popular recycling drive from 12 to 4 p.m. that includes electronics, styrofoam, textiles, shoes and bicycles.

Oh, did I mention that the Fair is entirely FREE...and that Lisa Albrecht will be there? It all takes place this afternoon, March 9, at the Woman's Club of Wilmette, 930 Greenleaf Avenue from 1-5 p.m. Grow Green Wilmette President Beth Drucker stops by this morning to talk to my Team about this great event.

March 2, 2014

Welcome to Kolatek's Bakery & Deli!

Anybody who is a regular listener to WCPT knows all about Kolatek's Bakery & Deli. They are a proud sponsor of Chicago's Progressive Talk, and we couldn't be happier that such a quality business likes what we do on the radio.

In fact, when I posted that we would be broadcasting The Mike Nowak Show from Kolatek's on Sunday, March 2, I was happy but not really surprised to see a tweet from friend of the show Rob Gardner at The Local Beet:

@ GoodFoodFestChi @ mikenow @ KolateksBakery -- wow. I've been singing praise of Kolateks for ages. In fact going today for smoked fish

If I actually knew how to do a screen shot, I would have posted that. steps. And the ironic thing is that, as I sit here writing this post, I am snacking on some of that incredible smoked salmon, and getting greasy finger prints all over my brand new laptop computer. AND I DON'T CARE!

We are going to have a ball this Sunday morning, regardless of how much snow comes down overnight. And I extend an invitation for you to stop by the store today, tomorrow or anytime, just because they are that good.

However, there is a bonus for braving the weather and showing up today. Kolatek’s Bakery and Deli along with WCPT and The Mike Nowak Show are going to make one lucky listener a “Bread Winner” FOR THE REST OF 2014! But what does that mean? You might be asking.

-Kolatek’s has 44 varieties of homemade, artisan breads, which are Non-GMO, fresh-baked and made with all natural ingredients and no preservatives.

-To celebrate this we are going to give ONE WINNER a “golden ticket” of sorts. The ticket will entitle the winner to choose a free loaf of bread from Kolatek’s every week for the rest of 2014!

-With 44 weeks left in the year, and 44 different artisan breads you can experience them all, or get your favorite loaf every week. The choice is yours. (pending availability)

-To Enter: all you have to do is get down here to Kolatek’s Bakery and Deli (2445 N. Harlem Ave.) today during the live broadcast of The Mike Nowak Show and enter to win, ITS THAT SIMPLE! You must be present to enter, but not to win.

-The winner will be selected on Monday March 3rd, and will be contacted by WCPT staff, and mentioned on The WCPT FACEBOOK Page as well as on the MIKE NOWAK SHOW WEBSITE AND FACEBOOK PAGE.

C'mon, how cool is that?

And, during the show, I will be talking to Bart Kolatek about how his family started the business and the amazing variety of local, fresh, unusual and healthy foods they have in the store. Well, this is starting to sound like a commercial, so I'll leave it at that. And I hope you join us, whether in person or on the radio.

The Good Food Festival, part deux

Last week, I wrote about the tenth anniversary of what is now known as the Good Food Festival--three days of teaching, learning, buying, schmoozing and eating...all in the name of local food. Here is how the three days come together:

Thursday, 3/13/14 - Good Food Financing & Innovation Conference
Farmers, investors and Good Food business owners come together to to forge new connections and learn how to grow the Good Food system

Friday, 3/14/14 - Trade Show, School Food, and Policy Summit
Farmers, trade buyers, and other stakeholders learn to grow their businesses, discover new techniques and tips and interact with policy makers.

Friday, 3/14/14, 7:00 - 9:30 p.m. - Localicious Party
The party pairs family farmers with chef-driven restaurants for a sampling of homegrown cuisine and local libations to wash it all down.  Celebrate the farmers who grow our food and the chefs who transform it!

Saturday, 3/15/14 - Festival and Workshops
A crazy (in a good way) day, featuring an exhibit hall with more than 150 farms, local food artisans, restaurants, and non-profits, not to mention chefs demonstrations, workshops, food classes, a CSA farmer pavilion and more!

This is the second of three weeks that I am making room on my show for the Good Food Festival, as one of the media sponsors. Last week, I talked to Stephen Jones from the Bread Lab at Washington State University and Gilbert Williams of Lonesome Stone Milling in Wisconsin about the Spotlight on Ancient and Heirloom Grains workshops--one on Friday  and two on Saturday.

This week, I want to focus on Festival and Workshops on Saturday March 15th. During the day, you can visit

But there are also a boatload of workshops all day long. Some go as long as three hours, like the Urban Farm Tour, or the Good Food Master Class: Brew Your Own Beer seminar. Many are an hour and fifteen minutes long, such as So You Want to Start a Food Business? or Preserving Biodiversity: Practical Strategies for Home Gardeners or So You Want to be a Farmer?

One of those workshops is called Organic Vegetable Gardening for the Backyard Farmer and it features Jeanne Nolan, who was on the show last summer, when her book, FROM THE GROUND UP: A Food Grower's Education in Life, Love and the Movement That's Changing the Nation was published. You might also know her as the brains behind The Edible Gardens at Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo , or part of the team that put together the country's first organic rooftop farm on top of Uncommon Ground Restaurant on Devon Avenue.

She is also the the founder of The Organic Gardener Ltd. , which has designed and installed vegetable gardens on rooftops, in schoolyards, and in suburban backyards all around Chicago. So, obviously, she knows her stuff. I'm thrilled to have her stop by Kolatek's to be on the show.

In the back of FROM THE GROUND UP are "10 lists of 10 Essentials for Every Aspiring Gardener." The lists I hope we can touch on this morning are "How to Grow a Food Garden, in Ten Steps," "Ten Ways to Tackle Weeds and Pests Without Chemicals," and "Ten Easy-to-Grow Vegetables for the Beginner Gardener." We'll see how much time we have.

There's another part to the Good Food Festival that people can take advantage of...especially if they don't think they can handle sitting in one place for too long. The Good Food Commons is also on Saturday, March 15th, but its each of its sessions is only 20 minutes long. They include Herbal Infusions for Cooking, Introduction to Cheese-making, Beekeeping in the City, Improving Organic Soil and much, much more.

The one I'm featuring today is called Oh Shiitake Mushrooms! How to grow your own in your backyard, and it will be taught by Jill Niewoehner of MamaGrows. As she states on her website, Jill doesn't grow just mushrooms, but that's the part that is really fascinating, if you ask me. In fact, she sent me a link to site that is for the novice who wants to tackle growing mushrooms. Here's a post that Jill wrote called "Mushrooms are Really Fun Guys." guys...uh...fungis? Oh, never mind.

Anyway, if you find this at all interesting, she will be teaching several courses at the Oak Park Conservatory in June. I suggest you keep her blog link handy.

February 23, 2014

Need gardening help? How about Smart Gardener?

As we grind slowly towards spring, some of you are already panicking because I did a show last week on seed starting with Mr. Brown Thumb. Since then, The Mike Nowak Show team member Sarah Batka, who is also Horticulture Program Coordinator with the University of Illinois Extension, has come up with several sites that offer great information about getting up and running. Here's one from the University of Illinois Extension, and another that combines information from Ohio State University and Iowa State.

But getting back to those of you who are sobbing, "But I haven't even shoveled my walk yet! I don't have TIME for seed starting!" Never fear--I might have an answer for you.

It's called Smart Gardener, and it's a Chicago-based start up focused on developing what they call hyper local food systems. The idea is that, via the Internet, the folks at Smart Gardener can help you through every phase of growing organic food, from a profile of who you are and what you want to selecting plants, creating a garden plan, keeping track of your "to do" list, keeping a gardening journal, and more.

Or, if you want somebody to actually do a lot of the work for you, there's the Smart Backyard option. For fees starting as low as $250, they'll design, build and install a custom garden according to your taste and needs. Here's how they describe it:

Smart Gardener Backyard offers a range of services from design, installation, planning, planting, caring for and harvesting a highly-personalized backyard fresh food garden. And the best part: each customer can customize the service to their own needs. The choice about how much each customer wants to tend his garden or how little is up to each individual.

Using all the great tools of, Smart Backyard begins by creating a personalized Smart Garden Plan for each customer, based on the specific needs of each family how much produce they eat, what kind and realistic projections based on the size of the growing area. Based on this plan, Smart Backyard's trained gardening professionals will monitor and maintain each garden; feeding, weeding, planting and clearing, and feeding the complete organic garden. When it's time for harvest, they will pick and clean the bounty and present a basket of beautiful produce that's ready for eating or cooking.

Sound too good to be true? Well, yeah, kind of...which is why I'm having Carl Alguire from Smart Gardener on the show this morning to talk about the company that was voted one of the Top 10 start-ups in Chicago for 2013 by both Red Rocket and Black Line Review for their innovative approach to applying technology to landscaping services.

What will really happen after all of the snow melts?

I always appreciate having meteorologist Rick DiMaio on the program, and not just because I like having my own personal weather guy (though you have to admit that's pretty cool.) But it's a pleasure to listen to him explain the science behind the predictions, and it's the idea of trying to see into the future that makes what he does even more fascinating.

I don't often ask my friends in the horticultural world to use their crystal balls, but that's kind of what I'm doing today in inviting my buddy Dan Kosta from Vern Goers Greenhouse in Hinsdale to appear on the show. By the way, you might want to check out their post from just a few days ago about growing tomatoes and peppers indoors. Yes, you read that correctly--indoors. But I digress.

I was hoping to get a couple of experts to take a look at what gardeners can expect to see in their yards this spring, after this unusual bout of winter cold and snow. And Dan said he wanted to invite a friend of his, Jeff Schulz from The Hidden Gardens in Willowbrook.

Together, the three of us (but mostly Dan and Jeff) will look at some of the challenges that might face gardeners as the temperatures begin to climb in a few weeks. For instance, will the excessive amounts of salt used this winter result in plant damage? Will we see snow mold on our lawns due to the long stretches of snow cover? How will the cold have affected populations of insects and other bugs?

Of course, these guys are not in the habit of prognosticating. But perhaps we can speculate a little bit. And your questions are welcome to, at 773/960-1139.

March is coming and, along with it, the Good Food Festival

Ten years ago, Jim Slama and the folks at launched what today is know as the Good Food Festival. Here's how he remembers it:

10 years ago we hosted the Local Organic Trade Show at the still under construction new Kendall College campus. It was the first, sustainable, local food trade show in America. 50 farmers and 300 restaurants, supermarkets, schools and advocates for Good Food attended.

Over the years, more than 700 speakers, including farmers, chefs, policy makers, financeers, conservationists, health experts, permaculturists, nutritionists, food entrepreneurs and even media types (I've spoken there five times, I was surprised to learn) have spent all or part of three days connecting with each other in an effort to promote the advancement of local food systems. To see the entire list of speakers over the years, click here.

So here we go again--three days of teaching, learning, buying, schmoozing and eating...all in the name of local food. Here is how the three days come together:

Thursday, 3/13/14 - Good Food Financing & Innovation Conference
Farmers, investors and Good Food business owners come together to to forge new connections and learn how to grow the Good Food system

Friday, 3/14/14 - Trade Show, School Food, and Policy Summit
Farmers, trade buyers, and other stakeholders learn to grow their businesses, discover new techniques and tips and interact with policy makers.

Friday, 3/14/14, 7:00 - 9:30 p.m. - Localicious Party
The party pairs family farmers with chef-driven restaurants for a sampling of homegrown cuisine and local libations to wash it all down.  Celebrate the farmers who grow our food and the chefs who transform it!

Saturday, 3/15/14 - Festival and Workshops
A crazy (in a good way) day, featuring an exhibit hall with more than 150 farms, local food artisans, restaurants, and non-profits, not to mention chefs demonstrations, workshops, food classes, a CSA farmer pavilion and more!

For the next three weeks, The Mike Nowak Show is featuring some of the stars of this foodie fest, including next week, when we broadcast live from Kolatek's Bakery & Deli.

This year, the Good Food Festival features a Spotlight on: Ancient and Heirloom Grains. There will be three Ancient Grains workshops, one on Friday  and two on Saturday. The idea is to recapture some of the nutrition and flavor we lost when large scale monoculture farming took over, and it seems to have gained traction at a conference that was held last fall and that might have been the opening salvo in a nacent seed to table movement.

I'm pleased to have Stephen Jones from the Bread Lab at Washington State University on the show this morning. What's the Bread Lab? From its mission statement:

The Bread Lab is a think tank and testing and demonstration laboratory for craft baking. Bakers can use the laboratory to test flours and techniques using local, regional, and nationally available commercial and experimental flours and wheats of all types. The goal is to combine science, art, curiosity, and innovation to explore ways of using local and unique grains in order to move the craft of bread baking forward.

Stephen is joined on the program by Gilbert Williams of Lonesome Stone Milling in Wisconsin. As they state on their website, they feature "Locally grown and freshly stone-ground organic wheat, rye and corn products from southwest Wisconsin"

Our grain products originate on family farms in Wisconsin's Driftless region. Each package is traceable back to the farmer who grew the grain. We locally produce stone-ground whole-grain products that are healthy and flavorful.

Let's get the conversation started about eating healthy.

February 16, 2014

Starting seeds this year? Talk to Mr. Brown Thumb

Another year, another chance to grow food. That's why it's great to welcome back the force of nature we call Mr. Brown Thumb to talk about what you need to know. I'm really, really, really pleased that he wrote his own blurb for me. Here's how it goes:

MrBrownThumb stops by the studio to give us tips on buying seeds for sowing this spring and summer in our garden. Have you considered seed starting soil? What are the good brands and what are the brands of seed starting soil we should avoid? Can you mix your own seed starting soil so you know exactly what you're growing your food in? 

Then there's the whole world of seed starting pots and greenhouses he'll help us navigate. Are the plastic pots and greenhouses the way to go? Or should we stick to biodegradable pots for starting our seeds? Maybe there are some things around the house and recycle bin we can upcycle into pots?

And we'll also cover lighting, can you start seeds in your windowsill, or do you need a special lighting setup? We'll also touch on the best times to start your seeds indoors and what you can plant outdoors as soon as this snow melts and the ground is workable.

Wow. I couldn't have said it better myself. Meanwhile, if you like working with people, our own Sarah Batka lists three seed swaps in the area:

5th Annual Peterson Garden Project Seed Swap
Sunday Feb 16, 2 pm
Swedish Covenant Hospital - Galter Medical Pavilion, 2nd floor, 5140 N. California Avenue, Chicago, IL 60625

Jane Addams Hull House Seed Swap
Sunday, March 10 | 1-4pm
Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, 800 S. Halsted, Chicago
Discover new ways to nourish a sustainable food system through demonstrations, workshops and conversations. Sharpen your seed skills in cleaning, swapping, making and cooking sessions.

Chicago Botanic Garden Seed Swap & Lecture
Sunday, February 23, 2014, 2 - 3 pm lecture, 3 -5 pm Swap
Chicago Botanic Garden, Alsdorf Auditorium
Ken Greene, founder of the Hudson Valley Seed Library
FREE; please register in advance to reserve your space

$15 billion to protect us from Asian Carp? Really?

In January of this year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (or USACE, if you're really cool and like to throw around acronyms to astound and confuse your friends) released it's long awaited GLMRIS (there we go again--it stands for Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study).

And, immediately, heads all over the Midwest began exploding. Why?

For those of you who like "source-y-ness," I suggest you read the Summary of the GLMRIS Report. If you're interested in reading the actual report, I must warn you that it's 10,000 pages long. The last I checked, that's anywhere from five to ten times as long as the Bible, which I'm not particularly eager to dive into, either.

But back to the exploding heads. In a nutshell, the USACE concluded that the cost of the effort would land in the 15 to 18 billion dollar range and take about a quarter century to complete. Their concern is that by that time, an Asian Carp will be President of the United States and would immediately stop construction on such a project.

Okay, I made up that last sentence.

But there are some who think that USACE intentionally came up with an overly complex and expensive solution to what is actually a serious problem--the contamination of the Great Lakes watershed by the Mississippi watershed...and vice versa.

Some of the best reporting on this issue has been done by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. For instance, they write that

The bulk of the Army Corps' $15 billion-plus estimate to restore the natural separation between the Lake Michigan and Mississippi River watersheds is yoked to projects that critics contend have little to do with directly stopping invasive species. They include some $12 billion to build things like new reservoirs, sewer tunnels and water treatment plants, as well as remove contaminated river sediments.

"The media has fixated on the $15 to $18 billion figure, and a number of politicians equate that with the price tag for (watershed) separation," said Tim Eder, executive director of the Great Lakes Commission, a body appointed by the region's governors and legislatures. "We don't accept that. We think that's based on flawed assumptions."

The newspaper goes on to point the finger at USACE.

Some see the proposal to build the exceedingly expensive, time-consuming tunnels and reservoirs as evidence the Army Corps flubbed its responsibility to develop a long-term solution to the immediate Asian carp problem — perhaps intentionally.

"If you actually wanted to solve the problem," said Thom Cmar, an environmental attorney and Great Lakes advocate, "you would not have gone about it this way."

The Journal Sentinel also explains why the current "solution" is destined to fail:

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Brig. Gen. Margaret Burcham is quite comfortable that the threat of a Great Lakes Asian carp invasion is under control.

"We've got our electric barrier," she said before a Jan. 9 public hearing on the Army Corps' new study that says it will take at least a quarter-century to erect barriers to block the rapacious fish from swimming into Lake Michigan. "And we're confident that it is doing the job."

No, it is not.

Not if you believe a video obtained by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that was taken by federal biologists last summer. Just one 3-minute clip reveals dozens of little fish swimming upstream through the swath of electrified water on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, only about 35 miles downstream from Chicago's lakeshore.


Despite the seeming cluelessness of the Corps and its stalling tactics regarding implementing a real solution, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) views the report as an opportunity for Chicago:

While we think the Army Corps' estimated timing and price tag are indeed overblown, a project to separate and improve the Great Lakes and Mississippi River systems would clearly be a multibillion dollar investment bringing lots of jobs, sustained economic activity and potential improvement to aging, failed infrastructure in this city that is harming the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River... And it has the added advantage of holding off the plague of Asian carp that would ravage Lake Michigan.

So, it won't be cheap. But what will be the impact of tourists being hit by flying 60 pound fish on North Avenue beach to Chicago's economy? What about the destructive impact of Asian Carp on the $7 billion per year fishing industry in the Lakes? The price of doing nothing is much, much higher than fixing the problem. 

Meanwhile, the Shedd Aquarium  reminds us that 36 million people in the United States and Canada depend on the Great Lakes for drinking water, employment and recreation. And they want to educate those folks--and countless others--about the impact that Asian carp could have on this precious resource.

Thus, the Shedd has launched two new digital resources: a first-of-its-kind online STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) curriculum called Asian Carp Exploration , as well as a series of educational video vignettes titled “High Stakes for the Great Lakes” - part of Shedd's Great Lakes conservation initiative, which seeks to inform and inspire the Great Lakes community basin-wide about the complicated issues affecting the Great Lakes including Asian carp.

I'm pleased to have Michelle Parker, Shedd's Vice President of Great Lakes and Sustainability, on the program this morning. She is joined by Josh Mogerman, Deputy Director of National Media Program for the NRDC. He has made numerous appearances on my show in the past, and has been following the Asian carp saga for some time.

And, believe it or not, you can submit your own comments about how you think the arrival of Asian carp will affect our Great Lakes. The public comment period lasts until March 31, and you can get involved by linking to this page at the Alliance for the Great Lakes.

Meanwhile, in the far-away land of Michigan...
...people are being arrested for trying to protect clean water

Has it really been three and a half years since 800,000 gallons of tar sands oil spilled into the Kalamazoo River, courtesy of Enbridge, Inc.? Gosh, it seems like just yesterday. In fact, the aforementioned Josh Mogerman wrote about it last July on the Switchboard blog for NRDC:

Switchboard has covered the disaster from all sorts of angles: the early industry effort to obscure the role of tar sands in the disaster (well, obscure undersells it since the pipeline company CEO flatly denied tar sands were involved until the Michigan Messenger and OnEarth Magazine forced him to retract and clarify his statements), surprise at the focus on skimming oil when the threat of the heavy oil sinking seemed like a bigger danger, disappointment that the cleanup wasn't finished at the first and second anniversaries, calling out unfounded claims of cleanliness , a whistleblower , difficulties faced by residents near the spill site and the damning picture painted by the federal investigation report on the disaster.

About the same time that Josh was writing that report, three activists decided that they needed to do something to call attention to the irreparable harm being done to our rivers and lakes, all in the name of dirty oil. According to a story in Aljazeera,

Three members of the group — the Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands (MICATS) — were arrested last July 22 and face up to two years in prison for locking themselves to excavators at a construction site of the Calgary-based company Enbridge near Stockbridge, Mich.

The group said the action was aimed at stopping work on Enbridge's Line 6B — the same pipeline that ruptured in 2010 near the Kalamazoo River.  That spill dumped more than 800,000 gallons of tar sands oil into a tributary of the river. The pipeline had been built in 1969 to transport conventional oil.

Of course, as we all know, "conventional oil" is sooo 20th Century. So that pipeline was pressed into service to transport tar sands oil. What could possibly go wrong? Oh, wait. See "800,000 gallon spill" above.

And if you thought things went badly for Enbridge, they have gone even worse for the three women who dared to stand up to Big Oil:

On Jan. 31, the three MICATS protesters, Vicci Hamlin, Barb Carter and Lisa Leggio, were found guilty in an Ingham County court for misdemeanor trespassing and also resisting and obstructing police. The latter, a felony charge, carries a maximum sentence of two years.

That's why Chris Wahmhoff from MI CATS, who recently appeared on Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman, is back on the show today. In addition to making the argument for freeing what has come to be called the Enbridge 3, he's also calling attention to the fact that there is an Enbridge pipeline running under the Straits of Mackinac. Try to imagine the chaos if that 60 year old pipeline burst in the greatest expanse of fresh water on the planet.

Of course, all of this is related to President Obama's decision on whether to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, especially in light of the State Department's determination that construction of the pipeline would not have much impact on climate change.

While our own government seems to brush off the seriousness of this endeavor, Josh Mogermann looks to Canada, where the oil originates, for a different assessment.

Josh sticks around for another segment and joins Chris Wahmhoff to talk about this far too important issue.

February 9, 2014

Restoration ecologist Jack Pizzo is back...with a new book

I don't know exactly how many times restoration ecologist Jack Pizzo has been on my program, but he always more than welcome. He once confided in me that he was interested in no less than changing the world. And if that's what he wants, I'm on his team

Jack has spent the past 25 years running Pizzo & Associates, Ltd.,

a firm with a core focus on Ecological Restoration contracting.  We create, restore, and steward natural areas and manage native, sustainable landscapes using cutting edge principles and techniques...As a result of our dedication to excellence, within the past six years our efforts have been recognized with over 80 awards from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S.E.P.A.), the Illinois Landscape Contractors Association (I.L.C.A.) and the American Society of Landscape Architects (A.S.L.A.) among others.

And now he has a new book, Green and Natural Spaces in Your Community: A Guide to Living With and Managing Naturalized Landscapes and Natural Areas. Yeah, it's a long title, but it's not a long book, and it gets to the point. Which is that

Everything in nature is connected; every landscape is connected to its surrounding environment. Therefore you have a stake in restoring the integrity of the natural world we share.

With that in mind, Jack has written the book for homeowners, landowners, board members, property managers, municipal officials, municipal employees and others who could be considered stakeholders in our environment. Hell, we're ALL stakeholders, and this book helps explain why our jobs as restorationists is so important

Here's an example. In answering the question, "What benefits do green and natural spaces in your community provide?" Jack comes up with these short answers:

A. Inflitrate stormwater
B. Improve Surface and Ground Water Quality
C. Stop erosion
D. Increase aesthetic value
E. Reduce landscape maintenance costs
F. Improve biodiversity
G. Increase game populations
H. Increase habitat size
I. Create/increase programming area
J. Solve nuisance wildlife problems
K. Reduce heat island effects
L. Mitigate global climate change

No, but how do they REALLY help? (Sorry, it was such a "duh" moment that I couldn't resist.)

It's always a pleasure to have Jack Pizzo on the show. He joins me again this morning.

Is Thorium the future of nuclear energy?

Let's make something clear: I'm not a nuclear scientist, okay? (No snickering in the back row, please.) But I am interested in discussing various ways to get us out of our petroleum-coal-nuclear-dirty-energy rut. Yes, there are folks out there who, despite the ongoing tragedy at Fukushima, Japan, maintain that nuclear energy is as safe as it needs to be...and has perhaps been the victim of extremely bad PR.

If you listen to this show regularly, you know that I did a show segment last fall that featured a report that "13 percent of America's 70,000 metric tons of the radioactive waste is stashed in pools of water or in special casks at the atomic plants in Illinois that produced it." My guest that day was David A. Kraft, Director of the Nuclear Energy Information Service (NEIS), who is no fan of nuclear power.

In fact, earlier this year, the NEIS posted a story about a press release titled, "Groups oppose top climate scientists’ call to embrace nuclear power." It was in reaction to Dr. James Hansen's recent endorsement of nuclear energy as a way to provide power for the planet while mitigating the effects of climate change.

But it was listener Tim Pearson, whom I refer to as "Amtrak Tim," who put me on the course to examine the future of thorium energy. It's an energy source that I was unaware of, but if you go to the website of an organization called the Thorium Energy Alliance, you will find this information:

Thorium is a natural occurring element found on earth, the moon, mars... essentially everywhere. It is a slightly radioactive metal and is about four times more abundant on Earth than uranium. Because of its fertility, it can be used as fuel in a nuclear power plant.

Why is thorium important if we already have uranium-fueled nuclear power plants? A thorium-fueled nuclear reactor generates hundreds of times the power of a uranium or coal power plant but produces essentially no waste. A thorium power plant would produce much less than 1% of the waste that a uranium plant of equal magnitude produces and, of course, would produce no carbon dioxide. More importantly, while the waste of a uranium power plant is toxic for over 10,000 years, the little waste that is produced in a thorium plant is benign in under 200 years. Even more impressive, the thorium power plant can be used to burn our current stockpile of nuclear waste. And yet, the benefits continue. The thorium power plant cannot "melt down", thorium cannot practically be used to make nuclear weapons, there is enough thorium in the United States alone to power the country at its current energy level for over 10,000 years, and the thorium power plant can be designed to be a plug and play module that could tap right in at the source of a current coal or uranium plant so there would be no need for laying a new grid.

Holy smokes! Why haven't we been using this energy source for decades? Well, it's apparently complicated, and it involves our military (surprise!), our energy policies, our politics (surprise again!) and money (big, big, BIG surprise!) In other words, there's really no good reason.

But there are a number of concepts one needs to understand before one can understand the TEA's urgency to move to Thorium. They include

and more. Like I said, I'm no nuclear scientist.

Which is why I'm pleased to have John Kutsch, director of the Thorium Energy Alliance, on the show this morning. He is joined by Paul Wilson, professor of engineering physics, and faculty director for advanced computing Infrastructure, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Professor Wilson is also a member of the American Nuclear Society, which has position papers on a number is issues, including The Use of Thorium as Nuclear Fuel (of course), The Safety of Transporting Radioactive Materials, and Licensing of Yucca Mountain as a Geological Repository for Radioactive Wastes.

And just yesterday, I received word from John Kutsch that "U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (Mo.) and U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (W. Va.) introduced the 'National Rare Earth Cooperative Act of 2014' this week, bipartisan legislation that relieves America’s dependence on China’s rare earth minerals, encourages private sector jobs and innovation, and preserves our the United States’ military technological edge. More information on that here.

Get ready to hear some science, some facts, some opinions and some passion. I report, you decide...or something like that.

An unhappy turn of events in Utica, IL

I received yet another email this week from from "fractivist" Ashley Williams regarding what I have referred to as the "never ending meeting in Utica" concerning a proposed frac sand mine. The meeting of the Utica Planning Commission and the Board of Trustees, which was a continuation of five other meetings over two and a half months, finally wrapped up on Wednesday, February 5.

It did not go well.

Following a unanimous recommendation from the Planning Commission that the sand mine NOT be constructed, the Board of Trustees voted 4-2 to APPROVE the mine.

Here's the latest report from Ashley:

On Wednesday evening, despite an unanimous NO recommendation by the Planning Commission; our calling and emailing campaign; hours of public testimony; hours of expert testimony from UW-Eau Claire Environmental Public Health Professor, Dr. Crispin Pierce and UW-Eau Claire Emeritus Professor of Ethics and citizen advocate, Dr. Ron Koshoshek; and masterful closing arguments by the attorney for the opposition, Walt Zukowski; Trustees Joe Bernardoni, Ron Pawlak, John Schweickert, Kevin Stewart, and Mayor Gloria Alvarado VOTED YES to the Ancell Sands frac sand mine, also known as the Aramoni LLC mine, which will soon be established in Waltham Township.  This decision was reached in a 4-2 vote, with Trustees Matthew Jereb and James Schrader accounting for the 2 votes in opposition. First and foremost, I must take a second and applaud these two Trustees for staying firm to their principles and doing their due diligence for their community and the people they represent. On the other hand, the Trustees, who voted yes, will be held responsible for this immoral decision that will not only decimate the public health of the community, but also communities throughout Illinois and the world at large, because our pollutants will continue to be found in the bellies of stillborn calves and in the mutated genes and disrupted hormones of present and future generations left in the fracking wake. Please know that we as a community are pulling together stronger than ever now and will continue to fight like hell. In the aftermath of the Village Trustees' deplorable decision, please remind yourselves "To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness (Zinn)." In conclusion, I must thank each and every single one of you for all the love and support you have given to our fight here in LaSalle County. It humbles me to my core to receive such an outpouring of support and to be able to call you all my friends and allies.  

To see more of the response from the disappointed--and in some cases, outraged--citizens, go to the Facebook page, Protect Starved Rock and the Illinois Valley from Fracking... The best post I saw there was a quote from photographer Ansel Adams, "It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment."

It is an unhappy truth.

February 2, 2014

Plants with Benefits...and somewhere a groundhog is blushing

As I wish you a Happy Groundhog Day, I'm desperately trying to find an explanation for why Helen Yoest wrote her latest book, Plants with Benefits, An Uninhibited Guide to the Aphrodisiac Herbs, Fruits, Flowers, & Veggies in Your Garden.

She's actually a very nice person. I've talked to her on my show in the past about her book and blog of the same name, Gardening with Confidence. I've appeared on horticultural panels with her (well, one, to be exact). And she always seemed very sane, very sweet.

And then she wrote Plants with Benefits. I suspect that she has been ingesting the very plants that she is writing about.

Let me give you an example. Most of us are familiar with nutmeg (Myristica fragrans). Heck, I use it at least once a year in my pumpkin pies. What could be more wholesome and family friendly than nutmeg? Welcome to the 21st Century, kids. In a chapter she calls "Viagra for women?" Helen Yoest writes about this sweet, benign spice:

Be careful with this one. Those nuts on your spice rack have a kick to them. Nutmeg is well known in the medical community to be a narcotic. In large doses, it can hallucinogenic, and too much can even cause death. Keep your use of nutmeg to eggnog, pies and a porridge sprinkling for a quick perk up. Malcolm X used nutmeg to get high while in prison when his marijuana stash ran low. You may want to hide it from the kids.

Well, coo, coo, ca-choo, Mrs Robinson! And don't bogart that nutmeg, please.

But don't feel left out, men. In the the chapter, "Sexual stamina in vegetable form," Yoest writes,

In certain corners of the alternative healthcare world, cucumbers have been linked to sexual stamina and have even been called the organic Viagra. Nutritionally, cucumbers are rich in potassium, which helps with hypertension (which can contribute to erectile dysfunction). It also provides a slew of other nutrients essential to maintaining sexual health.

Makes you look at cucumber sandwiches in a whole new light, doesn't it?

Along the way, Yoest introduces you to the usual suspects (cacao chocolate, jasmine, lavender, saffron, champagne), the not-so-surprising (almonds, asparagus, honey, banana, figs, ginger), the "are you kidding me?" category (carrots, celery, oats...really?), to the "whatever" (arugula, basil, cardamon, cloves, tomatoes).

Some aphrodisiac qualities have to do with shape (surprise!), some with smell,some with taste, many with nutritional properties and some are just urban legends. Like me. And I'm sorry, but cloves remind me of a visit to the dentist.

Yoest includes recipes, such as basil pesto, pumpkin pie tarts, roasted garlic butter, lavender cookies, and more. She's also the consummate horticulturist--how could you talk about these plants without tips on how to grow them?--which she provides.

And, for those of you who like to be titillated by your gardening reads, you'll enjoy the repeated references to stimulation, "the Big O," libido, blood flow, histamine production, semen production, phallic shapes, testosterone, aroma therapy, impotence, pheromones, vigor, potency, arousal, and a few more words I dare not mention on a Sunday morning.

Yoest's book seems to have aroused something in the critics. It's not every day that you get a write up in the New York Times.

But I have to finish this with my favorite quote from the book, which is in the chapter about lavender:

A study conducted by the Smell & Taste Treatment Research Foundation in Chicago exposed men to a variety of food aromas and then graded the level of their sexual arousal by measuring the blood flow to their genital regions. Lavender (in combination with pumpkin) measured a 40% increase in blood flow.This is significant when compared to cheese pizza, which only showed an increase of 5%, or buttered popcorn at 9%

Clearly, we should be adding lavender to our pizza and seasoning popcorn with this herb.

Helen Yoest joins me this morning. I will probably need a cold shower immediately afterwards.

Recycled Granite and spreading the gospel of reuse

I think it's been almost four years since Julie Rizzo joined me in the studio to talk about her company Recycled Granite. At the time, in 2010, she was just getting started on her mission to reclaim the up to 30% of granite slabs that were ending up in landfills because they are not large enough to create a countertop.

If that sounds crazy to you, you're in good company, because it sounds crazy to me and it seemed crazy to Julie.

The company she founded in 2009 has, since then, saved an estimated 30,000,000 pounds of granite remnants from being dumped into landfills. Not only that, the proprietary manufacturing processes that has enabled her to build a network of over 35 granite recycling companies in North America since 2010. Julie helps create green jobs, reduce waste, create cool products and stimulate local economies.

She has appeared on DIY & HGTV shows, such as Bath Crashers, Run My Renovation, I Want That and many more. While her way of approaching the landfill issue is innovative and new, she has teamed with a company that has been doing "old school" recycling--sometimes called "reuse"--for decades. That company is Goodwill Industries, which recycles tons of everything from clothes to electronics every day.

Julie says that her partnership with Goodwill Industries of Michiana, Inc. is ground-breaking. As Julie writes:

Granite is a construction material, but because of the way we have formulated the process we make it easy to manage.  They joined our network in December.  [President & CEO Debie Coble] came out to visit my special needs shop and saw my workers perform an installation. Since we manufacture so many different products, she felt it was a good fit for their clients to learn new innovative production skills. They service the under served population with barriers to employment in the community, give them job training, and help them find regular employment.

Their plant (which is huge) is in South Bend, but they also manage all of the Goodwill retail stores that are listed here. They will be selling all of the products that we manufacture from the wasted granite in the retail stores that they have and also at landscape locations in that region.

So what have you done with your life lately?

I'm pleased to have Julie Rizzo and Debie Coble in studio with me this morning.

Follow up to the never-ending frac sand mine meeting in Utica, IL

I received an email this week from "fractivist" Ashley Williams regarding the continuation of the meeting in Utica concerning another proposed frac sand mine in LaSalle County. The meeting of the Utica Planning Commission and the Board of Trustees, which was a continuation of four other meetings over two and a half months, was held Tuesday, January 28.

Here's the report from Ashley:

I wanted to extend a heartfelt thank you to Attorney Walt Zukowski, representing the mine opponents, for delivering a masterful closing argument at Tuesday's hearing, which drew a standing ovation from the crowd. Furthermore, I wanted to offer a special thank you to Warren Munson and the entire Utica Planning Commission for taking a stand and unanimously recommending a NO vote for the Waltham Township frac sand mine. Thank you for caring about your community and doing your due diligence! The ultimate vote is now in the hands of the Village Trustees. Will they or won't they honor the will of the people? We will finally know Wednesday. But first, I encourage every single signer, who is a Utica resident, to put in one last call to the Village Trustees and tell them to no longer dwell in the sands of the past, but to start looking to the future, one rich in prosperity and thriving tourism, rather than a gutted heartland. And the ONLY way to ensure that is through a NO vote! The final vote will be cast on Wednesday, February 5th at 6 p.m. at Grizzly Jack's Grand Bear Resort. Please come out and sit side-by-side in solidarity with me and all the other opponents of the mine with your dust masks on!

Ashley also sent links to two news stories about the issue:

It ain't over 'til it's over. Stay tuned.

January 26, 2014

Pat Hill's advice for great native plants for the winter

I've known Patricia Hill for several years, ever since I picked up a copy of her book Design Your Natural Midwest Garden at a MELA Conference. Since then, I've been on her mailing list and receiving wonderful advice about native Midwest plants.

If you go to her website, you'll see how Pat describes hereself:

A gardener since childhood, I turned my hobby and my passion into a business. After studying Ornamental Horticulture at McHenry County College in Crystal Lake, IL., I opened my landscape design business in 1982. My first view of prairie and prairie style landscaping came from visiting the then new Sears complex in Hoffman Estates. Awed, I then went on to visit many native areas around northeastern Illinois with camera and notebook and availed myself of classes and field trips offered by the St. Charles Park District taught by famed botanists and ecologists such as Dr. Gerould Wilhelm and Floyd Swink. I also took a week-long design class at The Chicago Botanic Garden from Darrel Morrison, former professor of Landscape Architecture at the University of Wisconsin and the University of Georgia and designer of the Lady Bird Native Plant Garden at Austin, Texas.

In 2000, I designed a display garden for the Batavia Plain Dirt Gardeners for the annual Flower and Garden Show held at Navy Pier in Chicago. The design featured native trees and shrubs, forbs and grasses, the Fox River, and an Indian Village with Indian artifacts and actual Indians. It won Best of Show.

Over a 10 year period I compiled my copious notes, designs, and photographs into a book, Design Your Natural Midwest Garden, which was published in Spring of 2007 by Big Earth Publishing of Madison, WI. It features 32 designs and over 200 color photographs of built and conceptual gardens. I also teach classes at Elgin Community College using my book as a text book.

Last week, I received another one of her posts, featuring native plants (some of them pictured on the left) that grace the winter landscape. Those include Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum), Purple Coneflower  (Echinacea purpurea), Compass Plant  (Silphium laciniatum), Prairie Dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum), Culver's Root  (Veronicastrum virginicum) and more.

And as I suffer through this brutal winter with the rest of you, I thought that anything that could remind me of the joys of summer--even this deep into the dark and cold--was a blessing. So I told Pat that it was about time to have her on the program. I'm pleased that she joins me this morning via phone In the Green Room.

The never-ending frac sand mine hearing in Utica, Illinois

I've been covering the frac sand mine issue in LaSalle County, Illinois for over two years now. It started with the news that a company called Mississippi Sand LLC wanted to dig an open pit sand mine outside of the eastern entrance of Starved Rock State Park. With what seemed like too much speed and too little deliberation, the LaSalle County Board approved those plans.

That led to the Sierra Club, Prairie Rivers Network, and Openlands filing a complaint in Circuit Court in Springfield against the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, accusing the agency of failing to follow state law in allowing the permit for the mine. That law suit has yet to be settled. You can sign a petition titled Governor Quinn: Stop the Mississippi Sand Frac Sand Mine Near Starved Rock! which already has 17,000 signatures. Will the "environmental governor" listen? He has been stone silent on the issue so far. Don't hold your breath.

While the Starved Rock case has captured most of the headlines, it's far from the only sand mine being proposed or approved in the area. In fact, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota are part of what is being called a "frac sand rush," primarily because the silica sand found in those states is perfect for the hydraulic fracturing or fracking process. The Chicago Tribune says that a future visit to Starved Rock could be a drive through "Illinois' largest sand box."

But as the land is sold and dug and converted from farm land--some extremely fertile, some not so much--to sand mines, these decisions are sometimes leaving bitterly divided communities in their wake. The documentary film The Price of Sand spells this out very clearly. Last year, filmmaker Jim Tittle appeared on my show to talk about how the mad dash to cash in on sand was killing communities in Wisconsin and Minnesota. That film, by the way, is being shown this afternoon by the Southeast Environmental Task Force (SETF) at their office, 13300 Baltimore in Chicago at 1:30 p.m.

The latest controversy surrounds an Oak Park investment company called Aramoni LLC and its attempt to get approval for a mine just north of the town of Utica. Ancell Sands would be located on land in Waltham Township that was annexed by the town several years ago. At that time, according to Monty Whipple, who lives across the road from where the mine would be built, the plan was to use the land for light industrial use. Then the economy tanked, fracking became the flavor of the year, and the stage was set for the fracking and anti-fracking forces to go head to head.

A hearing was convened to hear testimony on both sides, with both the Utica Planning Commission and the Board of Trustees in attendance. However, a funny thing happened on the way to finishing the meeting.

It didn't finish. Not after the first night. Or the second night. Or the third or fourth night.

Along the way, there was testimony by experts on the health hazards of silica dust by Dr. Crispin Pierce from the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire, as well as push back from Aramoni's lawyers. That's one of the reasons that Steven Penn, from the Penn Rakauski law firm, is on the show this morning. In the interests of full disclosure, they have recently become sponsors of The Mike Nowak Show. However, that's in part a function of my having reached out to them about the dangers of dust inhalation.

And now the hearing is heading to a fifth night of testimony this Tuesday, January 28 at 6 pm at Grizzly Jack's Grand Bear Resort, 2643 N IL Rt 178, Utica, Illinois 61373. To keep up to date, you can also go to the Protect Starved Rock and the Illinois Valley from Fracking and Mining Facebook page.

What's at stake? Perhaps the very future of farming and tourism in the area. Says Monty Whipple, who appears on my show this morning, "I'd think mining would want to be one of the last things you'd put in this area."

I'm pleased to have Monty Whipple, Steven Penn and self-described " fracktivist and fracsandtivist" Ashley Williams on the program this morning to discuss Tuesday's hearing.

January 19, 2014

Susan Fox prepares you for the 2014 rose growing seson

Some of you may ask, "Why are you discussing roses on January 19?" Here's the short answer.

I have communicated with Susan Fox on Twitter (@GagasGarden) for awhile, but I didn't get a chance to meet her until the #GardenChat Summer Party last August for the 2013 Independent Garden Show in Chicago. While sipping wine (which is what we gardeners do when we hobnob) at Dinotto Ristorante, we chatted about having her on my radio show. In August, the possibilities were endless.

Fast forward to January, 2014. With the snow falling and the temperatures dipping to negative numbers, I realized that I still hadn't made it happen. So I shot a note to Susan about her appearing on my new gardening segment, "In the Green Room with Mike." Now if you're like the general public, you might wonder what gardeners could possibly talk about in January.

But if you've been doing a radio show that covers gardening issues as long as I have, 52 weeks a year, you know that your gardening guests always have something to talk about.

As it so happens, on December 14, 2013, Susan Fox published a book called Four Seasons of Roses:
2014 Monthly Guide to Rose Care
. (If you want to know the story of why she wrote the book, the answer is basically that friends kept asking her to help them grow roses, and she wanted them to be able to succeed. Sounds like a plan to me.)

Voila! That's why we're discussing roses on January 19.

Here's a little more about Susan in her own words:

Susan Fox is a consulting rosarian that speaks, grows, photographs, and shows roses. Company founder of Gaga's Garden®, she was recently awarded the American Rose Society's (ARS) Presidential Citation "for Promoting the Rose and Rose Education Via Social Media." At her heart is a commitment to generating educational, entertaining content that profiles specific products, personalities, places and events that engage the larger audience through targeted social media campaigns. This and other acknowledgments in the gardening community has firmly established Susan as one of the most highly regarded rosarians and gardeners in the industry with a special talent for promoting garden related products, people or events via social media and content marketing.

By the way, you can even win a copy of her new book, along with the added bonus of a 3-pack of organic Alfalfa Tea from Authentic Haven Brand Natural Brew, thanks to Wallace Gardens. It's pretty simple to enter the giveaway. All you need is a shipping address in the United States or Canada, and you must “like” or comment on  this photo on Pinterest.

Cool NOAA website from meteorologist Rick DiMaio

As I was writing this website entry, I happened to spot a Facebook post from meteorologist Rick DiMaio:

Snow here in Chicago today! Cold! Tomorrow, sunny and a high of 57 in Denver as the Broncos take on the Patriots. Why am I here?

Good question, Rick.

Regardless, Rick is always sending me cool maps and charts and graphics from various sources. The latest is from the National Climatic Data Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

It's called Preliminary Significant U.S. Weather and Climate Events for 2013, and it maps drought, water levels, tornadoes, snow storms and more. Further down the page, you'll see insteresting information like

I can't get enough of this stuff. I hope you find it worthwhile, too.

Voting for food in 2014

It's been a while since I've had Debbie Hillman and Tim Magner on my show--and they have never appeared together. Yet, as we enter the off-year election season, they have combine forces to make sure that the voices in favor of enlightened food policy are heard.

But first, some background.

Debbie Hillman of D. Hillmann Strategies, is a Chicago native who has lived in Evanston, Illinois since 1976, where she was a professional gardener for 25 years (ornamental design, installation, maintenance) and a cabinet-making apprentice for 5 years. In 2005, she co-founded the Evanston Food Council and then, in 2007, she was instrumental in creating the Illinois Local Food, Farms, and Jobs Council to create an Illinois-based food and farm economy.

Tim Magner is the founder of Green Sugar Press, whose books have the goal of inspiring kids to get outside and wander, wonder, dig and climb. He also started a project called Truck Farm, a mini-farm planted in the back of a biodiesel-fueled pickup truck that visits schools, parks, farmers markets, and other community organizations to conduct programming connecting people to food and health. His latest effort is What the Hell's Going On?, which is a project to make the complex understandable by utilizing ‘slide show stories'

Now they have teamed up to present workshops

"For anyone interested in reclaiming knowledge of the farm-and-food economy and wanting to participate in the political process in a meaningful way -- meal by meal, day by day, year by year, place by place, generation by generation, species by species."

The first two are

Food, Farms, and Democracy: Making the 2014 Congressional Elections Relevant
Jan. 29, 2014 (Wednesday), 6:30 - 8:30 PM, $20
Civic Lab West Loop
114 N. Aberdeen, Chicago, IL
Register here

This class will take 30 intelligent but politically frustrated adults through a streamlined process to reclaim our food-and-farm system and reclaim our political power.  The process will include:  learning about the U.S. food system, drafting a 1-page fact sheet for Congressional candidates (and other voters), and drafting a simple action plan for building national political will around food-and-farm issues in 2014.   The Fact Sheet and Action Plan will be disseminated nationally to approximately 10,000 food-and-farm advocates who are members of local (Chicago-area), state (Illinois), regional (Midwest), and national (U.S.) list-servs.  During the class, participants will engage in a process to leverage all the food-and-farm issues into one branded campaign and craft a short, practical platform that any Congressional candidate (House of Representatives) can support.


Food Systems 101
Feb. 4, 2014 (Tuesday), 6:30 - 8:30 PM, $20
Mac & Cheese Productions
This is a residential venue; exact address given on registration.
Roscoe Village (near Belmont & Ravenswood). Chicago, IL
Register here

What is the Food System? What works well and what doesn't? Why does it matter? What's possible?Why do we eat what we eat? Who chooses what choices you have? What are the consequences? Come explore our Food System and be part of a pilot project to bring more democracy to it.

In this class you'll: 

*View 'Road Trip slideshow that explores the Food System in action 
*Map the parts of the existing Food Chain, from seed to stomach, and connections along the way. 
*Dig into responses to the status quo. 
*Explore Ideas for adding democracy to Food System, including being part of our pilot project to craft a practical platform to engage Congressional candidates for the 2014 election.

Participants can expect to walk away from the class with: 

*The ability to talk more in depth about Food issues 
*Solutions formatted in a Congressional platform

This class is perfect for anyone interested in reclaiming knowledge of the farm-and-food economy and wants to participate in the political process in a meaningful way.

I'm looking forward to talking food policy with Debbie Hillman and Tim Magner.

January 12, 2014

"In the Green Room with Mike" is the name of Mike's new segment...
and we welcome The Wisconsin Vegetable Gardener

This show segment about a couple of Wisconsin gardeners seems to have happened, oddly enough, via California, and my buddy Annie Haven of Manure Tea. I'm pretty sure that she's the person who recommended that Joey and Holly Baird of The Wisconsin Vegetable Gardener contact me.

Since 2010, the Milwaukee area couple has been producing weekly "how to" gardening videos, which you can find on their website or on their YouTube page. They specialize in growing food organically, reusing items around the home (a personal favorite of mine), and what to do after you've grown the food--namely, home canning and preservation. Here's a list of some of the topics they cover:

  • Urban gardening
  • Self sufficiency
  • GMO vs Non GMO (Monsanto)
  • Container Gardening
  • Traditional ground gardening
  • Backyard gardening
  • Canning
  • Homesteading
  • Freedom to grow your own food
  • Composting
  • Organic vs Non-Organic
  • Prepping
  • Growing in small areas
  • Growing indoors
  • Apartment/ condo gardening


Their motto, by the way, is “for the average gardener, simple home living, and using what you already have." I can't argue with that.

If you're up Wiscosnin way, they will be appearing at the Wisconsin Garden Expo in Madison on February 7th and 8th. Or you can write to them at

The 5th Annual MLK Food Justice and Sustainability Weekend

Robert Nevel tells me that I first interviewed him on my show five years least that's what he tells me. I think it was a mere four years ago, but why quibble?

The point is that he stops by each year at this time to promote what is rapidly becoming one of the most important food justice events in the region--perhaps in the country. And what makes the 5th Annual MLK Food Justice and Sustainability Weekend so significant, in my opinion, is the way, over three days, that it embraces the true spirit of ecumenism.

KAM Isaiah Israel created and presents the program each January:

KAM Isaiah Israel's strong commitment to social justice is exemplified by its award-winning, nationally recognized food justice and sustainability program. Since it was founded in 2009, the program has grown, harvested, and donated more than 12,000 pounds of fresh food. In addition, KAMII's social justice committee presents an annual program devoted to equal access to healthy food and sustainable land use in celebration of the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Friday evening's Shabbat Service and program features Keynote speaker Martha C. Nussbaum speaking on “The New Frontiers of Justice: Beyond the Social Contract.”  Nussbaum is the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics, Department of Philosophy and Law School, The University of Chicago.

Saturday features a community design workshop f rom 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. But I'm not talking about just any workshop. It's called "An Urban Food Forest Case Study," and during the two hours, expert growers and planners will design a one-acre, sustainable urban food forest with input from the audience and community partners. Nevel can't tell me the exact site, but he says it's on the south side and the alderman there is very interested in making this happen.

By the way, the Saturday panel includes Erin Dumbauld, Farm Manager, KAMII Food Justice and Sustainability Program; Ken Dunn, Founder and Director, Resource Center; Seneca Kern, Co-Founder of WeFarm America; Elan Margulies, Director Emeritus, Pushing the Envelope Farm; Dave Snyder of Chicago Rarities Orchard Project; and Michael Thompson, Co-Founder of Chicago Honey Co-op. Not too shabby.

Then Sunday gets absolutely crazy, with nineteen--count 'em, 19!--different workshops. Among the highlights:

  • Mark Moxley, Lake Street Supply, “Eat Food From Tree: Soils For The Modern Caveman and Cavewoman”
  • Sarah Batka, University of Illinois Extension, “Resources For Urban Growers”
  • Peter Zelchenko and Pan Lixin, Unscrew U.,“Bringing People Back To Baking Bread”  (Cooking Demonstration)
  • Kate Re, Pushing The Envelope Farm, “Illinois Fruit Bearing Bushes And Trees”
  • Ben Helphand, NeighborSpace, “Land Trusts, Leases And Lawns: Access To Urban Land For Growing”
  • Breanne Heath, Growing Home, “Identifying Pests And Beneficial Insects In Your Garden: How To Attract The Ones You Love And Discourage The Ones You Don't” 

Of course, there are many more, and you can find the entire schedule for all three days here. All events are free of charge and open to the public.  RSVP Here

It's always an honor to have Robert Nevel on the show. He joins me in studio this morning.

The end of Emerald Ash Borer? Uh...not so fast

Interesting weather week, eh? From snow storm to polar vortex to spring exactly seven days. Is this what we call climate variability? I guess that's up to meteorologist Rick DiMaio to determine.

But something--in addition to the weather--that caught my attention this week were news stories regarding the demise of the Emerald Ash Borer because of the cold temperatures. For example:

While it would be pretty to think so, my personal response was a series of alarms that went off in my brain. Just too simple, I thought.

So I put in a call to Dr. Frederic Miller from Joliet Junior College, who was on the program last June. He was the guy who taught my entomology course when I was studying to be a Master Gardener. He said he would join me on the phone this morning to talk about how serious a setback emerald ash borers will likely suffer because of the recent cold.

In a phrase, don't start planting ash trees again.

Dr. Miller joins me shortly after 10:30 a.m. to give me his scientific opinion about what we might expect to see regarding EAB--and other insects, good and bad--when spring arrives. I might even ask him about one more headline that I saw this week:

Emerald ash borer may have met its match

That story isn't about cold weather. It's about woodpeckers.and nuthatches and whether they have the potential to slow down the spread of EAB. 'Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.

January 5, 2014

Mike's new (as yet unnamed) radio gardening segment

Well, no sooner did I write last week about "nuisance" snow, than the real stuff appears on New Year's Day. Happy 2014, shovelers! Which gives me a chance to reprise last week's entry, which I meant to get to on air, but did not.

As I did say on the last show of 2013, I am making at least one small change to the program. Starting today, there will be a new gardening segment on the show each Sunday at 9:15 a.m. I don't even know what I'm calling it yet, so I welcome suggestions. For about fifteen minutes every Sunday, I will feature a gardening tip or a talk to an expert or a review a goodgardening book or comment on an article--IN ADDITION TO whatever other gardening segments I have.

So I obviously won't devote only fifteen minutes to gardening each week. On some shows, I am likely to talk gardening in the 10:00 hour, too. And occasionally, as always, the whole will be wall-to-wall gardening. The point is, while I think that covering environmental issues is crucial, I don't ever want to lose sight of the simple pleasures of gardening. Let me know what you think.

But back to S.N.O.W. Last week, I wrote about how difficult it is to find a de-icer that isn't wreaking havoc on your plants...and the environment. Here's what a site called Green Venture in Canada has to say about those products:

In August 2000 Environment Canada completed a five-year study of the effects of road salt on the environment. They concluded that road salts (sodium chloride, calcium chloride, potassium chloride, magnesium chloride, and ferrocyanide salts) are toxic to the environment, particularly in large concentrations. In the United States, deicing salt is considered a possible pollutant under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES).

The heavy use of road salts can lead to damage to vegetation, to organisms in soil, to birds, and to other wildlife. Almost all chloride ions from road salts eventually find their way into waterways, whether by direct run-off into surface water or by moving through the soil and groundwater. In surface water, road salts can harm freshwater plants, fish, and other organisms that are not adapted to living in saline waters.

But it doesn't stop there — road salts also threaten drinking water security. For example, the region of Waterloo has found chloride levels in its municipal water wells as high as 233mg/L, close to the unsafe level of 250mg/L set by the Ministry of the Environment.

And in the United States, we use anywhere from 8 million to 22 million tons of the stuff each winter, depending on which source you like to quote. Yikes. In fact, road salt accounts for 65% of U.S. salt sales. And while you think you might be doing the right thing by applying something that is less toxic to your plants than sodium chloride--say, potassium chloride or calcium chloride--you will be paying more for something that, in the end, is still chloride, meaning that salt is salt.

So what's an environmentally consciencious person to do? For those of us used to a quick fix, the options aren't wonderful. Our friends to the north suggest the use of sand, ashes, non-clumping kitty litter and even something called EcoTraction. (I can't vouch for it because this is the first time I've heard of the product.)

And, as if in response to last week's post, I received information from the Morton Arboretum this week about a product they use--beet juice mixed with rock salt.

Rock salt, or sodium chloride, can also dry out landscape plants, which causes damage that may not be visible until spring or even years later. The risk is greatest for plants along drives and walkways. To minimize damage, the Arboretum looked to National Seed in Lisle, which provides the beet juice for the mixture, called Ice Bite. The Arboretum is one of the first locations in the area that has utilized this new treatment, which is prepared on-site.

Beet juice is an effective alternative to salt alone because it lowers the freezing point of water to as low as -20 degrees. Salt only prevents water from freezing at temperatures of 5 degrees or higher. Salt also bounces from the roads; adding beet juice lowers the bounce rate from 30 percent to 5 percent, reducing the amount of salt used on the roads. With the new product, the Arboretum is using nine times less salt, saving nearly $14,000 in material costs.

This is not the first time I've heard about beet juice being used. This Mother Nature Network article from 2009 was already touting the mix--but also issuing warnings:

But even beet juice isn't completely innocuous. Adding it to water can have an impact says Sujay Kaushal, assistant professor of environmental science at University of Maryland's Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, and lead author of the PNAS study. “Organic matter—anything from leaves to amino acids—anything carbon based that breaks down, needs to consume oxygen,” explains Kaushal.

Oxygen-depleted water can also come at an environmental cost, killing animal and plant life. In one of the most extreme cases of oxygen depletion, known as hypoxia, more than 22,000 square km in the Gulf of Mexico lost much of its commercial fishing industry.

While Kaushal says he has not studied the effects of beet juice on fresh water specifically, he sees a larger problem with adding anything to our water systems. The solution, he says, lies in how and where we build our roads.

Anyway, here are several more articles that should give you a some perspective on how best to battle snow and ice in the upper Midwest.

A sad anniversary...and wonderful new book

2014 marks the 100th anniversary of one of the most ignominious events in recorded human history--the death of the last known passenger pigeon. Obviously, this is far from the first time that human beings have watched an animal become extinct--and probably far from the first time that we were the primary cause. Just take a look at this list of species that were officially declared extinct in 2013.

But in this case, there are two things that stand out strarkly. First, we know that the very last of her species was very likely a female named Martha (after Martha Washington), who died in the Cincinnati Zoo on September 1, 1914.

Second, the decline and end of the species happened in basically a 40 year span, from about 1860 to 1900. And we're talking about going from billions to zero. Let that sink in for a second. Naturalist and author Joel Greenberg, who is known primarily for his book, A Natural History of the Chicago Region, writes in his new book,

Nothing in the human record suggests that there was ever another bird like the passenger pigeon. At the time that Europeans first arrived in North America, passenger pigeons likely numbered anywhere from three to five billion. It was the most abundant bird on the continent, if not the planet, and may well have comprised 25 to 40 percent of North America's bird life. When the flocks moved for migration or foraging, the earth below would be darkened by shadows for hours: famed naturalist John James Audubon recorded a pigeon flight along the Ohio River that eclipsed the sun for three days.

You might recognize Greenberg from appearances he has made on my show in the past in regard to Project Passenger Pigeon, "an international effort to commemorate this anniversary and use it not only as an opportunity to familiarize people with this remarkable species, but also to raise awareness of current issues related to human-caused extinction, explore connections between humans and the natural world, and inspire people to become more involved in building a sustainable relationship with other species."

As part of Project Passenger Pigeon, Greenberg is releasing his new book, A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon's Flight to Extinction. In fact, he is appearing on my show two days before the book is officially released.

To be brief, the book is wonderful. Greenberg is a scientist, so it is impeccably researched and documented. The way he lays out the story and its tragic inevitability is a fascinating read, despite the knowledge that the story does not end well. And Greenberg is not one of those writers who simply observes human nature without comment. Late in the book he says,

I have been immersed in the passenger pigeon literature since August 2009 and have devoted little time to anything else. That this spectacular and horrific extinction happened is clear; nor it there doubt that ceaseless, unbridled slaughter by human beings caused it. But I hve struggled in accepting as sufficient the purported factors that reduced a billion or more birds to zero in four decades. This suddenness led to the fanciful explanations advanced during the early twentieth century and has long left me and others feeling unsatisfied.

While he charts the destruction of the passenger pigeon, Greenberg also attempts to recreate what living with rivers of birds in the sky might have been like in early America. (I for one want to know why my history courses failed to properly educate me about a species that could literally block out the sun!)

He examines how the passenger pigeon lived, the forests it inhabited, the food on which it subsisted and more, as preparation for understanding how this bird could so swiftly and completely have been wiped off the face of the earth. Of course, in unearthing the various chronicles of more than three centuries, he also reveals a sensibility--that extends into our own century, unfortunately--that could see these birds only as food, targets for sport or worse.

I'm referring to what is being called the Sixth Great Extinction, which Greenberg acknowledges in his book. He doesn't say it in so many words, but perhaps the demise of the passenger pigeon was the opening salvo in humanity's war on its own planet, a conflict that can only end badly for both.

The reviews are starting to come out for the book, including this in the New Yorker. Publisher's Weekly says,

Greenberg pulls together a wealth of material from myriad sources to describe the life and death of this species, describing the majesty of millions flying overhead for hours as well as the horror of tens of thousands of birds being slaughtered while they nested . He also examines the larger lessons to be learned from such an ecological catastrophe—brought on by commercial exploitation and deforestations, among other causes—in this “planet's sixth great episode of mass extinctions.” Greenberg has crafted a story that is both ennobling and fascinating.

Meanwhile, a lot of events are coming up regarding both A Feathered River Across the Sky and Project Passenger Pigeon. Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum  will be hosting a reception for
Greenberg on January 23 that begins at 5:30. It will feature a book singing, informal talk and slides, and the appearance of the last wild passenger pigeon for which there is an extant specimen. Ornithologist David Horne, of Milliken University, will talk about this bird which is in the university's collection. Notebaert has also installed some passenger pigeon related art work.

David Mrazek, director of the documentary "From Billions to None" for Project Passenger Pigeon, has made a rough cut of the film. Says Greenberg, "He still has a few more things he wants to shoot but the good news is we already have a surfeit of really good material. The rough cut has been entered in the Washington, DC, Film Festival. Through the effort of David Blockstein, one of the P3 founders, Defenders of Wildlife will be working with us to help spread the word."

In the near future, four orchestras will be performing "The Columbiad; or, Migration of the American Wild Passenger Pigeons." This is a symphonic poem composed by Anthony Philip Heinrich in the 19th Century. While born in Bohemia, he traveled to America, and eventually composed the piece on passenger pigeons. It will be performed at the University of Wisconsin (Madison), two regional symphonies in the state, and likely an orchestra of Yale students.

December 29, 2013

Odds and ends at the closing of the year

For the past few years, I've used the final show of the year as a catch-all for stories that I wanted to cover during the previous twelve months but somehow couldn't find the time. More likely, those stories got buried in the piles of email that I receive every day. Even more likely, my lizard brain simply lost track of them.

Whatever the reason, this is a day when I list a bunch of stories that are, at the very least, interesting. Even if I don't get a chance to refer to all of them on the program, here's an opportunity for you to see what you, too, might have missed during the year.

But before that...a word about de-icing your walks

I want to offer a little advice about keeping your walks ice and snow free during the winter. The cold weather started early this year, and we've already had enough "nuisance" snow to keep us annoyed. A lot of us think that the more salt we apply to our sidewalks and driveways, the better.

But I've been doing some research on this and have discovered that, really, there's no perfect way to keep your sidewalks passable. Not even close.

Why? The folks at Green Venture in Canada (who deal with a lot more of this stuff than we do) explain:

In August 2000 Environment Canada completed a five-year study of the effects of road salt on the environment. They concluded that road salts (sodium chloride, calcium chloride, potassium chloride, magnesium chloride, and ferrocyanide salts) are toxic to the environment, particularly in large concentrations. In the United States, deicing salt is considered a possible pollutant under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES).

The heavy use of road salts can lead to damage to vegetation, to organisms in soil, to birds, and to other wildlife. Almost all chloride ions from road salts eventually find their way into waterways, whether by direct run-off into surface water or by moving through the soil and groundwater. In surface water, road salts can harm freshwater plants, fish, and other organisms that are not adapted to living in saline waters.

But it doesn't stop there — road salts also threaten drinking water security. For example, the region of Waterloo has found chloride levels in its municipal water wells as high as 233mg/L, close to the unsafe level of 250mg/L set by the Ministry of the Environment.

And in the United States, we use anywhere from 8 million to 22 million tons of the stuff each winter, depending on which source you like to quote. Yikes. In fact, road salt accounts for 65% of U.S. salt sales. And while you think you might be doing the right thing by applying something that is less toxic to your plants than sodium chloride--say, potassium chloride or calcium chloride--you will be paying more for something that, in the end, is still chloride, meaning that salt is salt.

So what's an environmentally consciencious person to do? For those of us used to a quick fix, the options aren't wonderful. Our friends to the north suggest the use of sand, ashes, non-clumping kitty litter and even something called EcoTraction. (I can't vouch for it because this is the first time I've heard of the product.)

Anyway, here are several articles that should give you a some perspective on how best to battle snow and ice in the upper Midwest.

And now...a few interesting news stories

Happy New Year, everybody!

December 22, 2013

It's a Wonderful Slice of "It's a Wonderful Life"!

If it's the Christmas Show, then this must be the time for my annual production of "It's a Wonderful Slice of 'It's a Wonderful Life". Theoretically, this is my 10-minute version of the holiday movie classic, starring James Stewart. In the past, I 've been known to perform this magnum opus by myself or with the help of one or two folks, who I pop into various roles

However, over the past couple of years, the cast of the radio version has expanded, as my show team has expanded. Last year, it featured Ron Cowgill from Mighty House on Chicago's Progressive Talk. This year, I brought in most of my team, and even Robbie Ehrhardt from Mighty House stopped by to help out.

Here's the rogue's, cast:

Ron Cowgill - Uncle Billy, Truck Driver
Lisa Albrecht - Mary and Young Mary
Dennis Schetter - St. Joseph, Mr. Welsh, and assorted random characters
Rob Kartholl - Peter Bailey, Martini, Mean Man, Bert, Harry
Carol Brewer - Violet, Ernie
Sarah Batka - Janey, Zuzu, Young Harry
Robbie Ehrhardt - Salesman, Pete,

While I call it a 10-minute sketch, it often goes longer, thanks to various factors, including screw ups, laughter and other interruptions. The point is that I've taken the whole two and a half hour movie and boiled it down to its very least as I see it. I often perform the piece live at parties and events, but the radio version is a lot calmer--and I don't sweat as much

Anyway, I invite all of you to join us for the Annual Mike Nowak Christmas Extravaganza, from 9:00 to 11:00 a.m. There will be even more goofiness than "Wonderful Slice," if you can believe it. Tune in!

A salute to Master Gardeners (especially in Chicago & Cook County!)

I feel honored to have Sarah Batka as part of The Team for The Mike Nowak Show. Her official title is University of Illinois Extension Horticulture Program Coordinator for Cook County. I usually refer to her as Chicago Master Gardener coordinator, because she's the person who puts together lists of volunteer and educational activities for Chicago's MGs.

Frankly, I don't know how she does it--there are so many opportunities for Master Gardeners to get involved with local horticulture, civic and institutional groups. And the amazing thing is that Master Gardeners--not just in Chicago and Cook County and not just in Illinois, but in all fifty states--donate thousands of hours of their time for the common good.

That's why, on the Annual Mike Show Christmas Extravaganza, I salute Master Gardener everywhere--but especially those in Cook County and Chicago. I also want to make sure that you know about a couple of great Illinois Extension sites, ones that I've recommended to people for years:

  • University of Illinois Extension Gardener's Corner has tips for Spring, Summer, Winter and Fall, and even includes how-to videos
  • University of Illinois Extension Hort Corner features sections such as Lawn Talk, Selecting Trees for Your Home, Ornamental Grasses, Composting for the Homeowner and much more

To get a sense of the kind of events that Sarah keeps track of, here's a sample list that she put together for upcoming events.

  • Chicago Honey Co-Op Beekeeping Classes
    January 11, Jan 25, or Feb 1.   10 am – 3 pm
    Jane Addams Hull House Museum in Chicago
    Cost $78
  • Porter Co. IN Garden Show
    Saturday January 25, 2014,  8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m
    Speakers Greg Stack, Amanda Thompson, Dolly Foster, Jennifer Brennan and more. Seed and bulb Exchange, Vendors,
    $10 Cost
  • Lecture – Attracting Birds to your Garden
    Sunday January 19, 2014, 2:30 – 4:30
    Dominican's Priory Campus, Room 259, 7200 Division Street, River Forest, IL. 
    Stephen Packard, Director of Chicago Audubon, will be presenting on how to attract birds to your garden. Presented by West Cook Wild Ones.
  • Illiana Vegetable Growers Symposium
    Jan. 7 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
    Teibel's Restaurant, 1175 U.S. 41 in Schererville, IN
    Full Schedule
  • New Website - From Garden Gates to Dinner Plates
    Illinois Cottage Food Operation Information.
    In Illinois, new laws have gone into effect overseeing foods that are prepared for sale by a business operated by a person at the Farmers' Market who produces food in their kitchen for direct sale by the owner or a family member. This website includes information about what foods can be sold, safe food handling practices, food labeling, and frequently asked questions.
  • Small Farm Winter Webinar Schedule - Thursdays,  1:00 - 2:30
    Jan.  9, 2014          Managing Layers on Pastures           
    Jan. 16, 2014        An Overview of the Philosophy & History of Organic Agriculture
    Jan. 23, 2014        Pumpkins and Gourdes      
    Jan. 30, 2014        Approaches to Small-Scale Farm Composting
    Feb.  6, 2014         Organic Pest Management:  Insects
    Feb. 13, 2014       Organic Pest Management:  Disease  
    Feb. 20, 2014       Organic Pest Management:  Weeds
    Feb. 27, 2014       Asparagus Production
    Mar.  6, 2014        Small Orchard:  Insects
    Mar. 13, 2014       Small Orchard:  Orchard Management
    Mar. 20, 2014       Small Orchard:  Disease
    Mar. 27, 2014       Growing for Ethnic Markets

    Register Here

  • Wild Ones 18th Annual Conference
    Saturday, January 25, 2014 , 8 AM to 4:15 PM,
    Oshkosh Convention Center, Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
    Conference on Native Plants & Natural Landscaping, Sponsored by Wild Ones Fox Valley Area Chapter. Featuring Doug Tallamy of Bringing Nature Home Conference fee: Members $30, Non Members $35, Students $15 in advance. Add $5 to purchase at the door.

And that's just a sample! Is it any wonder that I'm in awe of Sarah Batka? Not to mention the rest of The Team, too. Merry Christmas, Sarah, Lisa Albrecht, Rob Kartholl, Carol Brewer, Dennis Schetter and Kathleen Thompson!

December 15, 2013

The latest on Chicago's petcoke problem

I had a chat with Tom Shepherd of the Southeast Environmental Task Force just the other day. You should remember that his group was the first to call attention to the serious problem of petcoke piles. along the Calumet River. In a relative short time (considering how many environmental issues get ignored by the media), it was a cause celebre, with the City of Chicago and the Attorney General's office getting involved.

Part of the reason I called him was this post on the SETF Facebook page:

The efforts of the community and the Southeast Environmental Task Force have resulted in the Beemsterboer Co. removing the mountains of petcoke from their property at 106th Street and the Calumet River.
Thanks to the hard work of many peopl e, and our environmental organizational friends. Also appreciation to Atty. General Lisa Madigan and the Ill. E.P.A.

As we work toward further solutions, we hope that others will be persuaded to do the same.

Attached to the post was a link to this coverage of the story by WTTW.

Wow. That's good news, despite the self-serving piece that appeared the other day in the Chicago Sun-Times by KCBX Terminals, the other company storing petcoke on the Calumet.

I'm pleased to have Tom Shepherd on the show this morning to give us an update.

The challenge of storing nuclear waste

You might not be aware that the state of Illinois has the dubious honor of leading the nation in the amount of stored nuclear waste. Here's how Bloomberg describes it:

About 13 percent of America's 70,000 metric tons of the radioactive waste is stashed in pools of water or in special casks at the atomic plants in Illinois that produced it, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute, a Washington-based industry group. That's the most held in any state.

Across the country, atomic power plants “have become de facto major radioactive waste-management operations,” Robert Alvarez, a former adviser to Energy Department secretaries during President Bill Clinton 's administration, said in a phone interview.

With no place to send their waste, power plants in 30 states -- which generate about 20 percent of the nation's electricity -- are doubling as dumps for spent fuel that remains dangerous for thousands of years.

Hooray for us!

In the light of that unfortunate bit of information, the Nuclear Energy Information Service alerted folks to a public meeting at on November 12, 2013 at the Oakbrook Marriott. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) held the meeting to discuss a new “waste confidence rule” that would allow spent nuclear fuel to be stored at reactor sites for 60 years after the plants close.

Disturbingly, in a story about the gathering, Kari Lydersen wrote in Midwest Energy News that

Residents who came from across Illinois for the hearing criticized the NRC for failing to publicize the hearing adequately; most said they had heard of it through the anti-nuclear Nuclear Energy Information Service or from environmental groups.

NEIS echoes that sentiment, also noting that the meeting was held just a couple of weeks before the holiday season, as if in an attempt to lower the number of attendees. Yet, according to NEIS, more than 140 people showed up. Furthermore, in their blog post on the meeting, NEIS reports that

NRC had not originally intended to hold a waste confidence meeting in the Chicago area.  They claimed that historically people in Illinois did not turn out to such meetings.  They instead scheduled one for Orlando, FL.  NEIS intervened, and asked both Illinois Senators Durbin and Kirk to request that Illinois be added to the list of sites.  Sen. Durbin's office did in fact send a request.  Shortly after NRC Chair Allison Macfarlane sent a letter informing us that Illinois would indeed get a meeting.  It is interesting to note that the Orlando hearing which preceded the Chicago session had 21 people total who spoke...

The "waste confidence" rule stems from the U.S. Government's continuing inability to create a permanent site for holding nuclear waste. In 1982, Congress passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, which directed the Energy Department to contruct a repository for spent nuclear fuel and other highly radioactive substances. In 1987, the Energy Department was told to study Yucca Mountain in the Nevada desert as a site for this facility.

Two decades later, in 2008, a construction license application was filed to begin work on the site. Yet, in 2010, the Obama Administration halted that project and ordered a commission to come up with a new policity for long-term storage of nuclear waste. Hmm. Wouldn't have anything to do with the fact that Senatore Majority Leader Harry Reid happens to be from Nevada, would it?

But in 2012, a federal appeals court ordered the NRC to re-examine the waste confidence rule. So where does that leave us? According to Lydersen in her story about the November 12 meeting:

The NRC told the crowd that the GEIS [ generic environmental impact statement ] supports the agency's belief that a mined geologic storage site will be available within 60 years of the closing of any reactors. Industry backers speaking at the hearing noted that the administrative and political process to store waste permanently at Yucca Mountain has been restarted, and that there is at least $26 billion in a fund for creating permanent waste storage, money paid by utility customers as required by federal law.

The waste confidence rule is not meant to address the impacts of permanent storage of nuclear waste, but waste could effectively end up being stored at the site of closed reactors indefinitely if a permanent storage site is not found.

The industry has proposed creating Centralized Interim Storage , or CIS sites, that would take waste off reactor sites and hold it until a permanent location is eventually developed. Illinois is among the top contenders for a CIS, which many industry critics fear would ultimately become a de facto permanent waste storage site

One of those critics is the NEIS. In a statement, they note that

These allegedly temporary storage sites – “ parking lot dumps ,” as some describe them -- are proposed in legislation before the Senate (S.1240).  Their purpose is to take and store the spent fuel from reactor sites until some magical time in the future when the nation finally opens a permanent, deep-geological disposal repository.  By creating a seeming urgency and need to act, however impulsively, the industry and its allies are creating the narrative to accept the only alternative out there – the one they propose and support, which is CIS.  Rather than having a needed intelligent debate and real scientific examination of options involving all affected segments of the population, the industry and its allies hope to project CIS as an inevitable fait accompli.

NEIS says people can let their voices be heard regarding the waste confidence rule through this this Friday, December 20. Here's how:

  • Online through the federal government's rulemaking website, using Docket ID NRC-2012-0246;
  • by e-mail to; by fax to 301-415-1101;
  • by mail to Secretary, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington DC 20555-0001, ATTN: Rulemakings and Adjudications Staff;
  • or by hand delivery to 11555 Rockville Pike, Rockville, Md., between 7:30 a.m. and 4:15 p.m. on federal workdays.

Meanwhile, the shuttered Zion nuclear power plant is being decommissioned and about to have its nuclear waste moved from wet to dry storage. From the Chicago Tribune story,

Four 10-man teams will work around the clock for a year to remove 1,500 tons of nuclear waste from pools of water where some of it has sat for 40 years.

Zion's nuclear waste, which will remain on site indefinitely, will be packed into 61 steel canisters, then sealed in concrete, garage-size casks. The casks, each weighing 150 tons, will sit atop a concrete pad and are designed to withstand 360-mph winds, missiles, flooding, fire and earthquakes. The plant itself is being scrapped and hauled off in rail cars to Utah for disposal at a low-level radioactive waste facility owned by EnergySolutions.

NEIS is worried that this project has minimal monitoring from NRC and the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA), including "no serious public oversight and transparency." In addition, the one billion dollar project is financed with public trust fund money from ComEd ratepayers bills.

David A. Kraft, Director of the Nuclear Energy Information Service, joins me this morning to discuss these issues.

December 8, 2013

Going really green for the holidays

Who says that you don't make any important connections on Facebook and Twitter? Well, perhaps nobody says that. And the reason is something that happened to me in the past couple of weeks. I received a message from a guy from the Seattle area named Tom Watson, who has been following me on Facebook and Twitter. Here's how he describes himself:

I've been with King County Recycling and Environmental Services for 21 years. As part of my job I've written the EcoConsumer column for the Seattle Times for eight years and have done EcoConsumer TV segments on KOMO4, the ABC affiliate, for six years. I also do a lot of radio interviews and guest segments. I have a gardening background also (like you), doing it myself (mostly veggies and natives) and doing public education about it, and I have been a regular guest on a Seattle radio gardening show.

What's not to like? So I contacted him, and on this morning's show Tom and I will expore ways to make your holidays greener. While he has a ton of suggestions, which I am about to get to, we welcome your calls at 773/763-9278, as well on my show page on Facebook and via my Twitter account, @MikeNow.

In a (Christmas) nutshell, here's Tom's advice for holiday consuming:

For gifts and decorations, consider buying less "stuff," especially stuff that's not needed and won't last. For gifts, consider giving "experiences" (like tickets to a show), practical gifts (like socks), locally- or regionally-made gifts, local foods (cheese, beer, wine, all kinds of stuff in jars), donating in someone's name, and volunteering in someone's name, just to name a few ideas. Make sure the gift recipient is receptive - don't force a "green" gift on someone who doesn't want it. For families, try to emphasize holiday traditions and special activities rather than gifts. Try to drive less (they say that waste increases 25 percent during the holidays, but I'll bet driving does too) by combining shopping trips, car-pooling to holiday activities, etc. 

Tom thinks that a good place to start is King County's Green Holidays page. It's divided into six major areas:

That last area, Get in the Know, contains links to articles that Tom has written as well as radio and TV segments about greening the holidays. He's also written an article titled 10 Creative Ideas for Greener Giving, which just appeared in AgeWise King County. So it's clear that Tom Watson never stops thinking about how we can reduce our impact on this tiny blue planet.

I did a little searching around myself, and here's what I discovered.

Send me your tips for a greener holiday season and I'll get them posted on this website in the next couple of weeks.

Melinda Myers is back...and she has four (count 'em, 4) new books!

I'll say something for my buddy Melinda Myers, she doesn't do anything in a small way. While many of us (okay, I'm talking about ME) would be happy to get ONE book published, Melinda is in the process of releasing FOUR books. I mean, c'mon, Melinda! Are you trying to give me a complex or something? You already do radio and TV, write a column and more.

Well, regardless of how many she's written, I'm only reviewing one: The Midwest Gardener's Handbook.

The others are the The Minnesota and Wisconsin Getting Started Garden Guide, the Michigan Getting Started Garden Guide.and Month-by-Month Gardening Minnesota & Wisconsin , which will be released mid-January, but both can be preordered now through

But let's get back to the Midwest Gardener's Handbook. Melinda describes it as "for the more experienced intermediate to advanced gardener." It's nice to see that, because, in my opinion, when a book tries to include novice gardeners as well as veterans, it can sometimes shortchange the more experienced gardeners.

Believe me, if you've been out in your back yard once or twice before, you will find this book to be an invaluable resource. When she says "Midwest," she ain't kidding. Melinda even has specific Hardiness Zone maps for Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Ohio, and Wiscosnin. Now, I suppose you could argue that some of those are "plains" states, but she's not taking any chances.

Then she divides the book into the categories of plants you are likely to grow, including annuals, bulbs, groundcovers and vines, lawns, perennials and ornamental grasses, roses, shrubs, trees and vegetables. There are even quick primers on pruning and creating raised beds.

For each category of plant, there is an overview, a look at design, oil preparation and potential pests and diseases. Then there's a list of what are basically the most well-known plants in that category, along with their particular needs and traits. Finally, in each section there's a calendar of when to get things done for that particular kind of plant.

Along the way, there are numerous sidebars, with tips on things like forcing and storing bulbs, how to buy the right number of plants for an area, a look at common rose diseases, trannsplanting trees and shrubs, even how to make growing vegetables fun (because sometimes, honestly, it isn't).

Curse you, Melinda Myers! You've done it again! This is a wonderful book and every gardener should be happy to have it on their shelf. In fact, get it as a holiday gift for a gardening friend.

Melinda is here for the second hour of the show today. We'll give away a book or two and answer as many gardening questions as we can get it. Hope you join us!

December 1, 2013

Welcoming Illinois Extension educator Ellen Phillips

Don't be misled by that headline. Ellen Phillips has been with Illinois Extension for a long time. She is a Local Food and Small Farms Educator whose programs have focused on increasing production, marketing, risk management on small farms while encouraging environmental stewardship. Works for me.

What I meant is that for a number of years, Ellen has been serving three counties in western Illinois--Boone, DeKalb, and Ogle--and five weeks ago returned to work in Cook County. And we're happy to have her. She and I first crossed paths when I interviewed her on Gargantua Radio Down the Dial. Obviously, that was a while ago.

The Extension website says that her her areas of expertise

include organic production, Good Agricultural Practices (GAPS), large scale and backyard composting, soil management, manure management, small farm crop production and marketing and livestock pasture management and grazing. In this role, she works closely with farmers, agri-business, homeowners and other agencies to identify educational needs, and deliver unbiased research-based information to clientele.

One of the things we'll discuss on the show this morning is the Illinois Specialty Crops, Agritourism and Organic Conference, which takes place in Springfield every year in the second week of January. In 2014, the conference runs Jan 9 and 10 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel and Convention Center in Springfield, Illinois.

The conference is open to everyone interested in local food and farming. I t provides professional training for farmers to learn the newest techniques for improving production, crop protection or ways to add value through post-harvest handling. In addition, there will be five pre-conference workshops:

  • pumpkin production
  • season extension and year-round markets
  • Good Agriculture Practices (GAPs) and food safety guidelines for Farmers Markets
  • optimizing plasticulture and drip irrigation practices
  • growing unique fruits and vegetables.

As you can see, GAPs, or Good Agricultural Practices, is another area that interests Ellen. These are the Best Management Practices that farmers use to minimize microbial contamination from seed to market. As Ellen tells me:

Farmers look at the farm from a whole farm perspective and develop a food safety plan including training their staff, record keeping, mock recalls and traceability. More and more markets (grocery stores, schools, and even farmers markets) are requiring farmers to become GAPs certified.

Gaps Certified means that a 3rd party organization such as USDA comes to the farm, evaluates if the farm is doing everything that is written in the plan. If they are, they are certified. The University of Illinois Extension has a cost-share program to help farmers cover the cost of the Audit which can be $1000 to $3000

There are a number of GAPs workshops in 2014. Each lasts from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. There will be on February 10  in Cook County. If you're intrested, contact   Ellen Phillips,, or            708/449-4320. Two of the workshops will be webinars, In April and June, there will be webinars on Mondays. For the April sessions, contact Ellen Phillips. For June, contact James Theuri,, or 815/933-8337.

Or perhaps you're interested in become a farmer. The University of Illinois has received a 3 year grant to train new farmers, after just completing the first year with almost 80 people trained. The Second year begins in December, 2014, and website registration begins July 1, 2014. In this part of the state, it's at the St. Charles Horticulture Research Center.

It covers everything from starting seeds, to marketing to writing a business plan.  There's also a workshop called "Is Entrepreneurial Farming for you?” on December. 5 at Westchester.

Last but not least, Ellen tells me that the Kendall County Board Tuesday approved a special use permit that will pave the way for a poultry and small animal processing plant near Newark. She says this is important for people raising chickens in Illinois because, as of now, there is only one processing plant in the state.

Al and Mary Maly are behind the effort. They live on a 13-acre farmette in Kendall County, raising about 600 chickens and turkeys on their site. Presently, they must take their animals down to Arthur, Illinois for processing. Their proposed plant would handle about 3,000 poultry per day.

Lots to discuss. Ellen Phillips joins me in studio.

More on compost pick up in Andersonville

A couple of weeks ago, I welcomed some folks from the EESP, or Edgewater Environmental Sustainability Project. and one of the things we talked about was a new composting program that had just started in the Andersonville Neighborhood on the north side of Chicago. The initiative, which is the result of a coordinated effort by the Andersonville Development Corp., Chicago Compost Coalition, Loyola University and the Chicago Resource Center, allows people to have their food scraps collected and composted for a small fee.

This week, I'm happy to talk to Ellen Shepard, Executive Director of the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce and the Andersonville Development Corporation. She writes that their composting program

is part of the Eco-Andersonville initiative of the Andersonville Development Corporation. We have been working on it for about three years, sitting on committees with Jen Walling [Executive Director of the Illinois Environmental Council], lobbying in Springfield to get the legislation changed, and finally, becoming Chicago's largest neighborhood-wide residential compost pick-up initiative. The program was the brainchild of Brian Bonanno, our Sustainability Programs Manager. The commercial side of the program, for Andersonville restaurant pick-ups, has been supported by Han Pham and the good folks at Loyola. They provided a grant to help keep costs down and compostable bags for the restauarnts. In addition to the four restaurants Han mentioned on your show, two Andersonville restaurants are now on board, and we are actively seeking more.

Shepard notes that Andersonville is working in many other ways to be a green community, including

· Streetscape recycling. First neighborhood in the city to do this.

· Parklets and bike corrals. First in the city to do parklets and the only neighborhood with two of them. We also have the most bike corrals and helped the city develop both of these programs.

· Green Building incentive program (we reimburse a portion of businesses' costs for select sustainability improvements). Improvements have included lighting retrofits, solar shades, and a bamboo floor.

· Sustainable Business “Merit Badge” program. This is an overhaul we are doing of our former Sustainable Business Certification Program, where business can earn “merit badges” for sustainability efforts in individual categories, such as energy efficiency, water conservation, etc.

· Andersonville Farmers Market. We just completed our fifth year. This was specifically designed to get Andersonville hooked into the local food system so that we can support local farmers and lesson the amount of fossil fuel and chemicals it takes to feed our community. We were the first in the city to do an evening market.

· Sustainability “blitzes.” We started with an exit sign blitz, where we got special pricing on retrofitting businesses' exit signs with LED lights, and we did a bunch of them at once. We also did this on a much smaller scale with low-flow water sprayers for restaurants' sinks.

· Green Gift Wrapping party. Coming up on Friday, December 20 at George's Ice Cream, 5306 N. Clark, as part of our Late-er Night Andersonville event. Every year we gather festive materials that would otherwise be headed for a landfill –blueprints, old movie posters, etc – and invite shoppers to come wrap their holiday gifts with them.

Brian Bonanno and Ellen Shepard are in studio today to talk about all of these efforts.

By the way if you're interested in the Andersonville Community Compost program, go to or call 773/728-7552.

Sauganash Prairie Grove Habitat Restoration and Potluck

Team member Rob Kartholl (@copedog on Twitter) asked me to plug what sounds like a great event: the Sauganash Prairie Grove Habitat Restoration and Potluck, next Saturday, December 7. It's a Habitat 2030 project. Those people describe themselves as

a group of dynamic young(ish) volunteers who care about the remarkable natural areas of the Chicago region. We are continuing the illustrious history of local volunteer stewardship and helping to build a culture of 20-30-40-somethings who will understand and care about our preserves long into the future. We gather at weekend workdays to remove invasive plants, gather and spread seeds, and more. After hard, satisfying work, we gather around the brushpile fire for brats, s'mores, and whatever else we can figure out. Everyone is welcome! We'll show you the basics and help you discover the overlooked ecological treasures within miles of our city.

Get folks interested and invested in our environment while they're young, I always say. Here are the details:

Sat, December 7, 10am – 1pm, Sauganash Prairie Grove ( map )

RSVP via Facebook,, or the Forest Preserves of Cook County Volunteer page

Sauganash Prairie Grove, a mosaic of oak woodland and prairie, resides within the Chicago city limits! We will be lopping and sawing invasive shrubs like buckthorn, with a brush burn pile if conditions permit. We'll work 10AM - 1PM and feast around the fire afterward. Bring something to share. The entrance to the preserve is between Kilbourn and Kenneth Avenues on Bryn Mawr, so park along a side street. All you need is a pair of tough shoes or boots, a sweatshirt and coat if it's cold, long pants, long-sleeved shirt, a water bottle, and a hat. We'll supply work gloves and tools. We strongly recommend against nylon or other synthetic fabrics, as sparks from the fire will melt holes in them.

Have fun!

November 24, 2013

Gettin' that Home Grown groove

A couple of weeks ago, I played a song that several people had alerted me to. This particular website says that "This May Be The Best Song Ever Made About Gardening." Of course, most gardening songs--in my humble opinion--are pretty lame. However, this one really IS good.

It's called "Home Grown" and it's written by a guy named Keith "Fathom" Cross, whose own website is tagged with the words r&b/soul, blues, hip hop, rap, jazz, neo-soul and soul California. So he's obviously trying a lot of different styles. (He's also a PhD candidate at Stanford University in his spare time.)

The lyrics start like this:

Chorus (4X):
Man I got that Home Grown.
I don't care ‘bout the Dow Jones.
The economy could crash tonight
And yo' whole life savin's couldn't save yo' life!

Verse 1:
I'm a crop farmer. I got what you need.
And I ain't blowin' smoke when I say I grow trees.
It's funny: this economy is based on greed,
But more people don't farm who got mouths to feed.
Some folks save money; I save seeds.
I don't water my lawn or spray weeds.
The money I do spend on waterin' crops
I get right back, cause I don't shop for groceries.
I got breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the yard,
So that recession ain't hittin' me as hard.
My stock grows exponentially.
What, the Wall St. Journal never mentioned me?

and there are two more verses, plus what could be described as an epilogue. Keith says this about the song:

This is a song about the freedom gained through growing your own. For me it is a dream which I've barely begun. I don't yet have the land or the skills to make it a reality. With your support, I will get there, and continue to motivate others to do the same. Given the content however, to charge for it may seem hypocritical, so if you want a free copy, just let me know:

That's a great attitude and I'm pleased to have him on the show this morning.

Petcoke Update

A lot has been happening on the southeast side of Chicago in the past few weeks regarding the storage of petcoke. For one thing, this has become a real news story, with real media outlets now regularly covering it. That's partly because the citizens of the East Side and South Deering neighborhoods decided they were mad as hell and they weren't going to take it anymore. That meeting was attended by our own Lisa Albrecht.

That can only be bad news for KCBX Terminals and Beemsterboer Slag Corp., the companies that are storing this by-product of the tar sands oil refining process. The constant glare of the media has forced Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the U.S. EPA, the Illinois EPA and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to at least make noises about getting something done to protect the health and well-being of the citizens.

The latest action is a lawsuit that has been filed agasint Beemsterboer by the City of Chicago and the Illinois Attorney General's Office. According to the Chicago Sun-Times story, the lawsuit

seeks a court order for the company to remove petcoke and metallurgical coke or “metcoke” from its 22-acre Chicago facility at 2900 E. 106th St. It also seeks to stop the company from storing, handling, screening, loading and unloading petcoke, metcoke and other “unpermitted” materials at its location until it obtains a permit from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

While KCBX is not mentioned in this lawsuit, they are are already under scrutinty from the U.S. EPA, which is seeking to determine if the company has violated provisions of the Clean Air Act.

Hell, even the circus that is the Chicago City Council has gotten into the act, with two aldermen proposing ordinances that would call for stricter regulation of the pet and metcoke or ban their storage outright.

Meanwhile, the pressure from the citizens of the area continues. This morning (Sunday, November 24) at 10:00 a.m., People against Petcoke will be holding a protest March. They will meet at 106th Street and Burley Avenue Chicago, IL (next to Riverfront Tavern) and will march to the KCBX south site on Burley Avenue.

Then, next Friday, December 6 from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m., the Southeast Environmental Task Force is presenting a photo exhibit called Welcome to Petcoke Town at Under the Bridge Studios,10052 S. Ewing Avenue in Chicago. It features works by Jeff Lucas, Lloyd Degrane and student photographers, all of whom live near the toxic pet coke piles.

A clarification regarding compost pick up in Andersonville

Last week we had some folks in studio from the EESP, or Edgewater Environmental Sustainability Project and one of the things we talked about was a new composting program that had just started in the Andersonville Neighborhood on the north side of Chicago. The initiative, which is the result of a coordinated effort by the Andersonville Development Corp., Chicago Compost Coalition, Loyola University and the Chicago Resource Center, allows people to have their food scraps collected and composted for a small fee.

Unfortunately, at the time, I didn't have the website handy for folks who want to get on board with the Andersonville Community Compost program. To do that, go to or call 773/728-7552.

We'll talk more about this next week.

Other things on the radar screen

The second hour today will feature a few things about this and that, including

  • A disturbing story in this week's New York Times called The Year the Monarch Didn’t Appear. If this doesn't get alarm bells ringing in your head, you might not be human.
  • For the first time, a power company has been fined for killing birds at a Wyoming wind farm.
  • Interested in keeping GMOs off of your Thankgiving table? Green America has some ideas.
  • I received this story from Pat Skach, who does the weather segment when Rick DiMaio isn't available: Global Warming Since 1997 Underestimated by Half. That can't be good news.
  • We might be releasing more methane into our atmosphere than we ever thought. And it's coming from leaks in our gas pipes...just another part of our fraying infrastructure
  • Last but certainly not least, Dr. Lora Chamberlain informs us that there is a public meeting about the new fracking regulations in Illinois this Tuesday, November 26, 2013, 6:30pm-8:30pm at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), 726 S. Halsted Street, Student Center East, Rm 302, Chicago IL 60607. As she points out, the hearing is two days before Thanksgiving (!), a nice strategy for keeping comments to a minimum.

More info as it comes out at:   and at

Information regarding the format of the public hearings and other cities hosting them can be found at :
Read the rules at

Comments on the proposed rulemaking may be submitted to the Department until
Friday, January 3, 2014 .
Electronically at:
Or by mail/hand delivery to the following address:
Robert G. Mool, Department of Natural Resources, One Natural Resources Way, Springfield IL 62702-1271, 217/782-1809

Dr. Lora asks that you copy all comments about the rules sent to the IDNR to:
–  , 
– (the General Assembly),    
–  Governor Quinn:

November 17, 2013

Visit "Illumination" at the Morton Arboretum for the holidays

If you're a regular listener (insert joke here about irregular listeners), you know that when the holiday season arrives, I don my gay apparel--vest, evening jacket, cravat and, of course, top hat and pitch pipe--and show up at dinner events, parties, and venerable institutions like the Chicago Botanic Garden and the Morton Arboretum to sing songs of the season.

My caroling group is called, appropriately enough, The Frozen Robins, and, in case you're interested, yes, we are for hire. (I'm so glad you asked!)

I'm particularly excited this year about a new event at the Morton Arboretum, at which we will be appearing numerous times during November and December. It's called Illumination: Tree Lights at the Morton Arboretum, and I get goose bumps just thinking about it, even though I haven't seen the lights yet. Here's some of the fun that will be part of the event:

Illumination is an outdoor event on a one-mile, gently rolling, paved path that takes approximately one and one-half hours to complete. Please dress for the weather. Food and beverage concessions are available for purchase. 

Walking along the paved trail you can:

  • Hug a tree to make it grow brighter
  • Sing to a tree and watch it change color
  • Interact with light and color with a swipe of your hand

Illumination runs November 22 to January 4, 2014* (closed November 28, December 2, 9, 16, 24, 25).
It starts each night at 4:30 with last entry at 8:30 p.m.  Building and grounds hours vary during Illumination. Please see admission & hours page for more information. You can purchase tickets online HERE.

Member: $10 Adult/$5 Child (2-17)
General Admission $15 Adult/ $10 Child (2-17)
A $5 transaction fee will apply to all phone orders.
General Admission: Daytime Arboretum admission for the same day as your Illumination ticket is included with your ticket price.

The Frozen Robins will be caroling for Illumination from 5 to 8pm on these dates:

Friday, November 22
Saturday, November 23
Saturday, November 30
Saturday, December 7
Saturday, December 14
Saturday, December 21
Saturday, December 28
Saturday, January 4

Join us for what promises to be a one-of-a-kind event! We might even invite you to warble a tune with us!

Chicagoans fight back against petcoke on the Calumet River

Three weeks ago I reported on how large piles of petroleum coke or "petcoke," a by-product of refining tar sands oil, were growing at an alarming rate along the banks of the Calumet River in southeast Chicago.

The irony is that just as the piles of coal that had lined the river for years have begun to disappear, thanks to the shuttering of three coal-fire plants in the Chicago area, the petcoke piles have begun to appear at KCBX Terminals and Beemsterboer Slag Corp. Residents in the neighborhood have been complaining about the black dust that settles on everything in their houses and, worse, ends up in their eyes and lungs.

With the controversial BP Whiting, Indiana refinery about to finish a $3.8 billion expansion, which will make it the world's second largest coker, the environmental future for the area looks dim, indeed. According to Henry Henderson at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) ,

BP Whiting is now the second biggest producer of petcoke amongst American refineries. They will be spitting out 6,000 tons of the stuff a day; more than 2 million tons annually.

Various local media also reported on this environmental catastrophe in the making, including the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Tonight on WTTW . After being alerted by the Southeast Environmental Task Force (SETF), the NRDC produced its own video of the rising piles of petcoke along the Calumet.

Earlier this month, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed suit against KCBX, charging that the company is violating state law by not safely storing the petcoke. Meanwhile, Beemsterboer is under investigation by the Illinois EPA for similar reasons.

So it's not particularly surprising that when KCBX requested for a permit revision to add conveyors and equipment to its facility near 107th and Burley, residents of the area finally decided that they had had enough. A loud and angry contingent of citizens showed up at a meeting called by the IEPA last Thursday to discuss the matter. You can see from this video shot by the Chicago Sun-Times that the IEPA folks had that "deer in the headlights" look in the face of community outrage.

The very next day, the U.S. EPA got into the act, announcing that it was conducting its own investigation of both KCBX and Beemsterboer, citing lack of compliance with the Clean Air Act.

Our very own Lisa Albrecht was at Thursday's meeting along with Thomas Frank, a resident of East Chicago, Indiana, a member of Tar Sands Free Midwest, an activist and artist. They will talk about standing up for the right to breathe (relatively) clean air.

Creating a sustainable Chicago neighborhood in Edgewater

In September I received an email from a colleague about a new composting program that had just started in the Andersonville Neighborhood on the north side of Chicago. The initiative, which is the result of a coordinated effort by the Andersonville Development Corp., Chicago Compost Coalition , Loyola University and the Chicago Resource Center, allows people to have their food scraps collected and composted for a small fee.

The program was launched on October 19 as the first of its kind in Chicago. However, sometimes new programs can travel a bumpy road on the way to being established (of course, I'm not talking about any kind of national health insurance program...those are a snap to roll out). In the case of the Andersonville effort, it's composting bins ready for pickup that have been either stolen or thrown away as garbage.

Hey, there will always be setbacks with ground breaking initiatives. That's to be expected. The fact that this is being done at all in Chicago (you know, the city that finds it difficult to recycle a soda bottle) is the remarkable thing. And the environmental progress in the Andersonville and Edgewater neighborhoods can be attributed to a group called EESP, or Edgewater Environmental Sustainability Project.

Their mission is encapsulated here:

We will collaborate with all who live and work in the Edgewater/Andersonvile area in order to create a model sustainable, green community within Chicago by establishing goals and timelines within the following target areas:

1) Energy Efficiency;
2) Planning & Development (including Transportation);
3) Green Schools;
4) Reduce, ReUse, Recycle;
5) Parks & Greening;
6) Water & Air;
7) Renewable Energy;
8) Public Education;
9) Neighborhood Beautification & Cleaning:

Somehow it's not surprising that a player in Edgewater's leap into the world of composting is Edgewater resident Senator Heather Steans, whose composting bill, SB 99, was passed in Illinois in 2009. The bill brought some badly needed common sense to the antiquated Illinois composting laws, thanks in part to staffers like Jennifer Walling, now Executive Director of the Illinois Environmental Council (IEC).

Joining me in studio today are Hahn Pham, Compost Coordinator at Loyola University, Chicago; Anne Comeau, EESP Co-chair; and Tom Murphy and Killian Walsh from EESP. On the phone will be Senator Heather Steans from the Illinois 7th District.

Band of Farmers expands the reach of CSAs

I didn't have much of a chance to visit the Logan Square Farmers Market this year, even though it's in my own neighborhood. The problem is that the market is held on Sunday morning and early afternoon, when I'm broadcasting and doing post-show work. End of story.

Or not. Late in the season I managed to carve out some time to stop by the market and was hailed by a friend of The Mike Nowak Show, Jody Osmund of Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm. It's been more than two and a half years since his wife Beth was on the show to talk about their meat CSA, which produces food that has been raised, slaughtered and processed in a humane fashion.

If you read their website, their philosophy is no accident:

We didn't become farmers because we are Local Foods activists.
We became activists because we are farmers making our living from local foods.

Kathleen and I bought some sustainably produced meat products and Jody promised to be in touch. He followed through this week when he alerted me to the upcoming 2013 Federal Employees’ Health and Benefits Fair hosted by the Chicago Federal Executive Board. It will be at the Metcalfe Building at 77 W. Jackson Boulevard on November 21. Chicago Health and Human Services is the main force behind the fair, which is for current and retired federal employees. and this is where it gets interesting.

According to Jody, this will be a historic event. For the first time, there will be a CSA (Community Supported Agriculre) Fair in conjunction with a Federal employee health benefits fair in Chicago. Around 1200 federal employees are expected to attend and will they have a chance to learn about getting healthy food from local farms.

The CSA part of this event came is a joint project of the Illinois Stewardship Alliance (ISA) and a budding CSA Marketing Coalition called Band Of Farmers.Their first official event was a CSA Fair and Farmer Talent Show in March of this year, and they plan even more events in the future, including another Band of Farmers Talent show at the Good Food Festival and Conference in March of 2014.

Wes King, Executive Director of the ISA, hopes the Federal Employees' Health and Benefits Fair will lead to bigger and better things. He points to the Fair Share CSA Coalition in Wisconsin, which has a CSA health insurance rebate program. Wes says that you can get a rebate for signing up for a CSA through the Fair Share Coalition. He hopes the same thing will happen in Illinois and he believes that the CSA fair is a good first step in that direction.

I'm pleased to have Jody Osmond and Wes King on the program this morning. And while I have him on the phone, I will get an update on the progress of a national Farm Bill from Wes.


November 10, 2013

Speaking and marching for clean energy

In September the EPA announced new emission standards for new power plants across the US and is currently working on standards for existing facilities that will be announced in June 2014. Even as the predictable opposition rolls out, the EPA has been hosting public listening sessions, soliciting community input, in 11 different cities across the country. Chicago was host Friday, the last day for live testimony with about 500 individuals giving 3 minute statements. The agency will continue to accept written comments until December 7th. So if you didn't get down to the listening, please submit your comments online!

Here's the statement that Lisa presented to the EPA:

Thank you for the opportunity to speak today. My name is Lisa Albrecht and I am a Renewable Energy Specialist at Solar Service, a local solar installer that has been building solar energy here in Chicago since 1977.  I serve on the Board of Directors for the Illinois Solar Energy Association, an organization dedicated to the education and proliferation of solar energy in our state. 

I am here today in support of strong emissions and pollution control standards for new power plants, particularly those using toxic, limited and dangerous fossil fuels.
The role of government is complex. However I feel that a major responsibility of our local, state and federal entities, and therefore the EPA, is to safeguard our future, not just for tomorrow but for generations to come. Our planet is in peril and we are already witnessing the impacts of dirty energy. 

The risks threaten our health, food, water, weather and even political stability.  I myself have asthma after living in Asia and being exposed for years to toxic coal emissions and many of those i know and love suffer from environmental illnesses. These new standards will ensure a healthier future. 

Fossil fuels have had their place in history. They have developed the worlds economies and gotten us to where we are today as a civilization. But they are yesterday's technologies built on yesterday's understanding of the risks and environmental costs of the emissions spewing constant pollution into our atmosphere. 

It is time to embrace a new tomorrow.  The new standards will offer a transition to a new energy era and an emerging economy, the clean energy economy. 

Renewable energies offer a sustainable, economic and affordable energy solution. They are clean, efficient, stable, safe and offer solutions to the many challenges we face as a planet today.  They are available everywhere, offering energy independence with abundant and free fuel source. 

The truth is that the more we invest in fossil fuels, the more expensive they become. We have mined the easiest fuels out of the ground and are now investing billions in extracting harder sources of energy in more vulnerable areas, threatening our very existence and vital resources we need for survival such as drinking water and farmland. 

But what is missed by many is that the more we invest in clean energy the less expensive and more efficient it becomes! Solar energy for example has delivered more power to the grid in the past two years than the prior 40. And that capacity will double in the next two years. Wind is already proving affordable energy to millions of us citizens. The opportunities for renewable energy are endless and logical. These are mulit-billion dollar industries and the combination of these with energy efficiency and new technologies we have yet to discover will employ those working today in displaced and aging industries.  

I urge the EPA to stay strong in their mission to deliver a better future. 

I encourage president obama to continue to develop clean, renewable technologies and ask ALL public officials to not take the easy road of status quo but to stand for our future by enforcing standards that will ensure our survival. Thank you for you leadership and courage. 

The Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club hosted a public rally at noon at the Federal Plaza with several hundred folks in attendance. In fact Lisa and I were there watching speakers like Cheryl Johnson of People for Community of Recovery, Brandon Leavitt of Solar Service, Inc. (where Lisa is employed) and Senator Michael Frerichs rev up the crowd as they called for clean energy standards and Eco-equality.

"Twist and Seal" can keep you safe from electrical shock

Question: How many of you have run indoor electrical cords out to your yard to run your Christmas lights or water features? Can I see some hands? Yep, I thought so. Uh, you know that's not very safe, don' t you? And even if you use outdoor cords, what about the connections that are exposed to rain and snow?

Enter local inventor Bryan Nooner, who has come up with a way to keep those exposed connections dry. Nooner says that “When you use a Twist and Seal, you eliminate the need for wrapping plug connections in duct tape or plastic bags.” Anybody out there who has ever done that? Can I see some more hands? Heck, even Nooner himself says he's done that. So have I.

It's called Twist and Seal because of the way it works. You place the connection inside a plastic shell that contains foam on the inside. To close, you push the shell together while twisting, which compresses the foam around the cord and holds the connection together. While the device isn't water proof (it should not be submerged), it is moisture resistant.

Since he invented what is now called the Twist and Seal Original for large connections, he has developed the Twist and Seal Mini, for holiday lighting, and the Cord Dome™, which protects multiple electrical cord connections of any size and shape.

Exposed extension cord connections bothered Nooner so much, in fact, that he invented a product called Twist and Seal that keeps cord connections safe and dry. The product's name—Twist and Seal—was derived from the way the device works. The foam on the inside of the unit is slightly larger than the plastic housing on the outside. As you push the shell together around two joined extension cord plugs and twist it, the foam compresses down to create a radial compression around the cord. Voila—the cord connection inside stays dry and the cords never get pulled apart.

Nooner must be doing something right--his device won the Silver Award for the Most Innovative Product of the Year at the National Hardware Show in Las Vegas in 2012. This year, he continued his streak, with The Mini being picked as Sky Mall magazine's “Top Pick” for the entire show, and the Cord Dome™ being pronounced the National Hardware Show's “Most Innovative Product of the Year” for 2013.

Bryan joins us in the studio today to tell us how he went from high school biology teacher to award-winner inventor.

Sandra Henry, ComEd's "Energy Doctor," is back in the house

On my Fifth Anniversary Show at WCPT on April 21 of this year, ComEd's "Energy Doctor," Sandra Henry appeared on the program to talk about her 20 years of experience in helping people make their homes and lives more energy efficient. Sandra is the program manager of ComEd's Energy Efficiency Portfolio. She is an elected regional director of the Illinois Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) . She is also a LEED Accredited Professional.

And now, I'm happy to say that, for the next few weeks, ComEd will be a sponsor of The Mike Nowak Show. This is a good time of year to talk about energy efficiency, as the "Hawk" begins to talk in Chicago and the temperatures plummet.

In fact, ComEd has launched its Smart Ideas awareness campaign. The purpose of this campaign is to encourage customers to become more energy efficient and conscious of the energy they use. Much of it is everyday, small acts that are more about commons sense than expensive retrofitting--things like turning off lights when leaving a room or switching to compact fluorescents. They call it “The Power of Small Changes.”

For instance, ComEd's Home Energy Savings program offers customers a comprehensive home assessment that evaluates opportunities for energy efficiency improvements and provides financial incentives for completing those improvements.

Meanwhile, in December 2012, ComEd launched its Smart Home Showcase contest to customers owning single- family homes in the communities that are part of the company's smart meter pilot program. There were four winners, who received free, ener gy efficiency home makeovers valued at $45,000 each. They are Alison Tisza from Chicago's Logan Square neighborhood; Lisa Polderman and Leticia Gonzales of Berwyn; and Brandon Smith of Maywood.

Brandon Smith stops by the studio today to tell us how the contest (and his good fortune) made him more aware of energy efficiency, whether his electric bills have gone down, and whether or not his family has made changes in their behavior to reduce their energy usage. Any bets on which side of the energy fence he's on now?

And, of course, the "Energy Doctor,' Sandra Henry is back in studio as well, to answer your energy conservation questions.

November 3, 2013

A potpourri first hour, starting with a KickStarter for The Plant...

It's a little bit of everything in the first hour of today's show, and we hope you'll join in the conversation at 773/763-9278 or post on Facebook at The Mike Nowak Show or tweet to @MikeNow.

I start with a request I received from John Edel of The Plant, who I ran into at the Bioneers Chicago event at Roosevelt University on Friday. If you don't know about The Plant, at 1400 W. 46th Street in Chicago, you should. It started as a 93,500 square foot meatpacking facility, but is being transformed into something quite remarkable.

The goal is to make The Plant a net-zero energy vertical farm and food business operation, and it's being done by integrating all of the businesses and operations that inhabit that building on Chicago's south side. Here's how they describe it:

[O]ne-third of The Plant will hold aquaponic growing systems and the other two-thirds will incubate sustainable food businesses by offering low rent, low energy costs, and (eventually) a licensed shared kitchen. The Plant will create 125 jobs in Chicago's economically distressed Back of the Yards neighborhood – but, remarkably, these jobs will require no fossil fuel use. Instead, The Plant will install a renewable energy system that will eventually divert over 10,000 tons of food waste from landfills each year to meet all of its heat and power needs.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. I advise you to peruse the website--especiall this page--to get an overview that will leave you shaking your head and wondering why the rest of the world doesn't operate this way.

Anyway, John wrote to me to say that that the folks at The Plant have launched a KickStarter Campaign to convert a loading dock into a new ADA-accessible entryway . From the street, you'll be able to see straight through to a new retail area where Plant businesses will sell their produce and foods--a co-op retail area featuring living walls.

He says that the building permits are in hand, so once the goal is reached, construction can start immediately. Here are some highlights of the KickStarter Campaign:

- Makes the Plant ADA accessible to all.
- Provides a welcome station with sustainability displays for the public.
- Includes a co-op retail area where people can purchase the foods made and grown at the Plant.
-Demonstrates closed-loop production and industrial reuse in an easy to understand way.

The living foyer will also provide space for tours to gather and for folks to lock their bikes. Much of the material for the ramp and living walls will be recycled from inside The Plant, but the glass wall, LEDs and all of the masonry work aren't cheap! And, to be honest, the campaign is off to a slow start. So if you believe in the future of sustainability...heck, if you believe in the future of anything, I urge you to log onto the KickStarter Campaign HERE and send a few bucks their way.

...followed by the Obama drama, "Waiting for Keystone XL"

Lisa Albrecht writes:

Hot off the presses Friday, the Obama administration issued an Executive Order “Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change”. While we're still digesting it, it appears that much of the content appears to be about adaptation, resilience and preparedness and not so much about conservation or prevention. Is the US government missing the mark here or is this just an opening move with more to come? Many environmentalists, including Bill McKibben, say the true test will be the final decisions on the Keystone Pipeline.

With so many great conferences and conversations about climate change, what will it take to start to turn the corner? Government regulations? Putting a price on Carbon? Or is there an opportunity for a clean energy economy to shift the tide? Al Gore And David Blood have an interesting OpEd this week in the Wall Street Journal titled The Coming Carbon Asset Bubble.

The irrepressible Christy Webber stops by

It's been awhile since Christy Webber was on the show, and that's a shame. I don't say that because her company, featuring Christy Webber Landscapes and Christy Webber Farm & Garden Center, is one of my sponsors (ding!) I say it because she is one of the most entertaining people in horticulture and she always makes great radio.

And she was just involved in a television venture that I'm sorry I haven't seen yet. It's called The Hiring Squad: Meet the New Boss, which just aired on Spike TV. As far as I can tell from the clip (which you can see by clicking on the above link), it's a reality show where Christy's employees vote for a new boss...and then hilarity ensues. Honestly, I'm not sure what it's all about, but I'm sure that Christy will have plenty to say about it.

But the serious reason that Christy is in studio this morning is something that she helped launch on September 3 of this year--the International Network for Urban Agriculture, or INUAg. Here's what they say they want to accomplish: is an up-to-date, organized and searchable resource for individuals, communities and organizations interested in urban agriculture.  We are striving to be comprehensive in geography, sector, topic, growing methods, business models, policy and other topics as urban agriculture grows.

INUAg is based in Chicago serving a global membership. has forums for members to exchange ideas, best practices and resources.  INUAg is looking to develop partnerships with existing urban agriculture organizations and coalitions to help expand the viability and success of urban agriculture.

I suggest you peruse the INUAg website to see more of how the group hopes to connect urban agriculture all over the planet. Pretty ambitious.

Meanwhile, I welcome Christy Webber to our bright and shiny studios, where I'm sure we'll have a great time.

Bioneers Chicago: today is the final day

Yep, today is the final day of the Great Lakes Bioneers Chicago event, Celebrating Community Resilience! at Roosevelt University, 430 S. Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60605. I spent an entire day there on Friday, working pretty hard, frankly, but learning a lot and meeting a ton of people who want our future to be better than our present.

It continues to run through 5:15 p.m. today and while you can no longer register online, you can show up and pay at the door. Here's the schedule for today.

Our own Lisa Albrecht is involved in her second workshop of the event, Renewable Energy for Resilient Communities. If that particular subject doesn't move you, perhaps this one will: How to Design a Food Forest. Unfortunately, they're at the same time, but that's how conferences sometimes go.

Lisa and I are proud to have been part of this huge event, and we'll be chatting about it on the show today.