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Grace and Corbett Lunsford and a tiny house...
not the Tiny House that they will live in...
oh, just listen to the show

In the "honey house" with Thad Smith

Thad and his team


Mike MacDonald,
putting the book together on the kitchen table







Hilary Mac Austin


WWOOF farm--pasture and farm yard,
Monkton Wyld Court, Dorset, England



Mike and Dr. Barbara Mahler

Information from USGS Presentation


Green on McLean Alpha...




...and a harvest somewhere inbetween

Gene McMullen's 2145.5 pound pumpkin
(Photo courtesy of Illinois Giant Pumkin Growers Association)



Mike with Reverand Linda Wygant and Sarah Batka
next to Grace Seeds Ministry garden at
St. Jane de Chantal in Chicago



Interviewing Rev. Linda Wygant






The wonderful and wonderfully talented
Amy Stewart

Dan Dinelli: a man and his vermicompost


It gets lonely in the test plots.


The worms do all the work and Dan gets all the credit.





(Front row l to r): Carolyn Mugar, Willie Nelson,
John Mellencamp, Dave Matthews, Neil Young

Green Diva Lynn with Whatshisname

Here we are on one of Joel Greeno's tractors



Various groups claim that up to 11 species
of owls...


,,,and historic dry stone walls are at risk if...


...a wind farm is built on Amherst Island


Growing North outside...


...and inside



Media madness at Chicago Botanic Garden.
And that's after Spike DIDN'T bloom!




Dave Marciniak


One of Dave's designs from Revolutionary Gardens



Rick DiMaio says that we had a pretty darned wet spring
in Illinois,and this graphic proves it


Meanwhile, the Vistula River in Poland is at its lowest level since 1789, due to drought conditions





Lena Hatchett

Hoop house and raised beds awaiting fabric cover

Jennifer Bridgmon and Bill Greer

Alexandria Willis and Ciana Talmadge



Mike and Tim Pollak


With Gloria Ciaccio, tracking tweets about Spike


Mike's own, much smaller Amorphophallus.
Yes, size matters.

Spike, pre-bloom.


Rot at the base of Mike's ginkgo tree


Yep, that's one dead Ginkgo biloba.






Kelly Farley, Bryant Williams and friend at
Rebuilding Exchange

Need a door?

Who wouldn't want to spend some time here?

Mike's 2015 Marshall Strawberry crop


Dr. Harry J. Klee



From "Harry's Tasty Tomato Page" on the
University of Florida site
Something tells me that they're having too much fun.


Harry Klee did not grow these. Kathleen and I did.
They include the extremely rare "Penny Tomato," center.




In an earlier step, the composting ordinance
was approved by the City Zoning Committee on June 25.
Mike with Jennifer Walling of the Illinois Environmental Council, Kate Yager from the Mayor's Office, and
Lauralyn Clawson from Growing Power



Food scraps
When they're on your plate, you're fine.
The minute they hit your garbage can, you freak out.




This is what an American Dead Zone looks like.
Don't worry, we're not the only country that creates these




Mike, Jack Pizzo and his granddaughter Charlotte

Brian "Fox" Ellis as John James Audubon




Erlene Howard at the car wash, baby

Erlene and tote-cleaning crew


That yellow, pink and purple stuff is rain...lots of it










Doug Tallamy and Mike


Tallamy signing books at Living Landscape Conference




The accomplished Melinda Myers


Kathleen Thompson tends the well-sheltered
tomatoes and dill


Mike with Bill Shores


Two photos of the Bayless garden



Dusan Koleno (photo from Roosevelt University)





Indigo blue tomatoes (looking very purple)
grown in Mike's garden
from the 2014 Annual Sale
at Kilbourn Park Organic Greenhouse


Peterson Garden Project Plant Sale






Doug Tallamy












Mike and Lisa Albrecht






Mike with Tom Shepherd


Paul Petraitis

Walter Marcisz

Ders Anderson

Carol Niec and Kerrie Rosenthal
of the Seed Keeper Company

The Boots

Nance Klehm

Lincoln's New Salem State Historic Site


Abraham Lincoln lived in similar quarters
in New Salem, Illinois





Kathleen Thompson


Carding Mill and Wool House at
Lincoln's New Salem State Historic Site













Rob Kartholl

Potato tower 1

Potato tower 2




Bee stressors

Dr. May Berenbaum







Jim Slama

Scott Mehaffey and Mike in the rose garden at the
Chicago Flower & Garden Show

Laura, Dan and Mike at the Flower Show

Bren Haas and Mike at #gardenchat in Chicago

Dave Coulter



Humanely raised livestock at Mint Creek Farm
Photo by Kate Gross (



The extremely talented Sunnyside Up at last year's Localicious





Sarah Batka, Jim Slama and Mike at last year's




Paul Fehribach







Dennis Dreher in his natural element



























November 1, 2015

Listen to the entire podcast ON DEMAND

The "Proof is Possible Tour" ain't no ordinary road trip

I suspect that there are very few of us who haven't dreamed of throwing most of what we own into the dumpster (though recycling it would be the more responsible choice) and hitting the road for the adventure of a lifetime. Of course, most of us have been brainwashed to think that a trip like that probably involves a cruise ship or some kind of house swapping deal with a couple Reykjavik.

Then there are people like Grace and Corbett Lunsford. They're not your ordinary adventurers.

I should back up and tell you that I first met Corbett Lunsford about six years ago when he appeared on my show at Progresso Radio. He had just done an "energy audit" (a term that he now distances himself from, and which you will have to listen to my show to find out why) of my home, and we discussed it on the program. His company at the time was called Green Dream Group, and even the word "green" is something about which he now has reservations. Welcome to the changing world of how to market what we call "sustainability"...and, if you ask me, even that word has been overused and diluted.

But I digress.

In the intervening years, Green Dream Group morphed into The Building Performance Workshop, and the emphasis became diagnosing and solving problems. To be sure, that's what Lunsford was already doing, experience taught him that he needed to be in tune with what his clients really wanted...and it wasn't necessarily a more energy-efficient home. Often, they just wanted to know what was wrong and how to fix it.

Corbett's partner in solving home improvement crimes is his wife Grace. Not only has she worked with him in his diagnosis enterprise but, as Grace McPhillips, she has carved out a place in the film world as the creative force behind Sterling Rock Productions. The Chicago-based film company focuses on fiction and non-fiction stories about women, history, and literature, including their award-winning production The Other One,

So it's not surprising that together they created the Home Diagnosis TV Show. You can catch what is essentially the pilot here. To be blunt, Grace and Corbett are trying to make home improvement sexy. And they do it in a unabashedly ambitious way, with which I do not take issue. Which leads us to the point of this story--which happens to be the Proof Is Possible Tour. On it, they will touch on four aspects of their various professional and artistic passions:

#1 Proof is Possible Tour - Building Science, TV Production, and Education
#2 The Forgiveness Tour - Film, Gun Violence Prevention, and Education
#3 Ms. Tiny Detective Webseries - Film and Empowering Female Filmmakers
#4  Mysteriam Concerts - Original Live Music

Oh, and did I mention that they will be constructing what they call "a tiny house" on wheels called the Tiny Lab? And then take it with them all around the country doing workshops and open house tours? And that they'll be filming Home Diagnosis at the same time? And that Corbett and Grace do concerts in the guise of the group Mysteriam? And that they expect to have a baby in, oh, February, who will, predicably, be part of the show?

As you can see from the list and the paragraph above, there's a lot to describe and to absorb, which is why I encourage you to visit the Proof is Possible website. While you're there you can also help their crowd funding effort.. They're trying to prime the pump with about $60,000. In the scheme of things, it doesn't seem like very much, considering the goals they've set for themselves.

They hope to produce 16 episodes of the Home Diagnosis TV Show, each done in a different location. To that end, you can "pitch" your city to Grace and Corbett to put it in their season, with the help of a contribution, of course. The cities on the list so far are San Diego, CA; Atlantic City, NJ; Chicago, IL (of course); and Dallas/Plano, TX.

So how many of you are still ready for that adventure? It was great to sit at Grace and Corbett's kitchen table before they set out on their improbable journey and get at least a sense of what they're trying to accomplish. Will home improvement and "purposeful thinking, art and living" turn out to be sexy after all? Stay tuned.

Westside Bee Boyz: a Chicago success story in the making

I had a booth at the 2015 Good Food Festival, where a lot of people stopped to chat about food, farms, policy, sustainability (there's that word again) and more. One of those folks was Thad Smith, who told me that he was connected with an outfit called Westside Bee Boyz, which had been founded just a few months before to promote urban beekeeping. It sounded interesting and Thad even laid a bottle of their honey on me. I grabbed his business card and promised that I would get back to him for an interview on my show.

Of course, I didn't. Oops.

Fortunately, Thad is a persistent guy. He had taken one of my business cards, too, and, at the end of October, gave me a call. Feeling more than a little embarrassed, I said something along the lines of "What are you doing this Saturday?" and we quickly made arrangements to get together in Lyons, Illinois, just west of Chicago.

That Saturday was Halloween and it was rainy and nasty. Fortunately, he was working in the "honey house"--in this case, the basement of one of his partners in Westside Bee Boyz. And he had four students in tow, who were about to learn how to extract honey from the wax in frames taken from a hive. They were all sixteen year olds, and reacted in various ways to the "ick" factor of dealing with a substance as sticky as honey. Thad was firm but friendly in the way he assigned them the task of getting honey into jars, and they were soon working on their own.

That gave us a chance to talk about Westside Bee Boyz, which consists of John Hansen, Naaman Gambill and Thad. Hansen was Illinois Beekeeper of the Year in 2008 and is past president of the Illinois State Beekeeping Association. Gambill, who was on my show several years ago, is the former head beekeeper at Garfield Park Conservatory. As they state on their website, the three of them have more than 50 years of combined beekeeping experience. Here's how Thad describes the business:

Founded in the fall of 2014, we have grown from managing hives to owning our own apiary in Chicago's southwest suburbs with over 50 hives [currently at 110]. Currently we manage hives across the Chicagoland area from Lincoln Park Zoo to Shedd Aquarium to Chicago's downtown rooftops. We provide consulting services and beekeeping management as well as selling bees, beekeeping equipment, and our own urban raw honey at local farmer's markets. We are currently working on creating a locally crafted beverage that incorporates our honey, so stay tuned!

We pride ourselves in taking the natural approach to beekeeping by avoiding potentially harmful chemicals and man-made medicines. We aim to strengthen local honey bee populations by broadening the genetic diversification through local queen rearing. Someday we wish to start a drone-sharing program across Chicago to promote this goal.

They also have a CSA, they teach beekeeping classes and, as Thad points out to me, they want to give back to the community as well. The four students who are working in the "honey house" on this Saturday are there because of a collaboration with the Heartland Alliance as a way of giving teenagers some skills while teaching them about teamwork and responsibility.

By December 1. the Westside Bee Boyz hope to have the first beekeeping supply store in the Midwest open at 3414 W. Roosevelt Road in Chicago. He wants the store in the North Lawndale community because that's where he's from and that's where he got his start. And, he adds, the people there need jobs. He's eager to hire people from the neighborhood for a number of reasons.

One of them is his own background. A little more than two years ago, Thad was going through a brief period of incarceration and then homelessness because of what he calls "poor decisions." He was given a second chance, got introduced to beekeeping, and the rest is history.

The company is currently in the midst of fundraising campaign through Kiva Zip which is actually a loan that they intend to pay back. You can help this up and coming business by clicking here to log onto their Kiva Zip campaign.

It looks as though Westside Bee Boyz is becoming what can be called a Chicago success story. I'm rooting for them.


October 25, 2015

Listen to the entire podcast ON DEMAND

Mike MacDonald explores the wilds of Chicago...and publishing

Mike MacDonald wants to sell you on an idea--that the natural areas of the Chicago region are second to none.

He means it. He will compare them to great mountains and rivers and glaciers and jungles and wetlands and deserts and any other topography or ecosystem you care to throw at him. And who can blame him? He has spent much of the last twenty-two years imbedded in the prairies, savannas, woodlands and wetlands of the Chicago area, equipped with his camera, his sense of mission and the right protection against the elements.

So when he lays down his challenge, backed by hundred of photos, it's hard to argue against his premise.And why would you?

His proof is layed out in his new book, My Journey into the Wilds of Chicago: A Celebration of Chicagoland's Startling Natural Wonders. With forewards by Bill Kurtis (yes, that Bill Kurtis) and internationally recognized naturalist Stephen Packard (both of whom have been on my show, thank you very much) this ambitious12" X 12" coffee table book, filled with more than 200 photographs and Mike's own prose and poetry. explores the wonder and also the subtlety of much of the 350 square miles of natural areas within an hour's drive of downtown Chicago.

Here are just a couple of the photos, and there are more on the left.

But it isn't enough to know that MacDonald has spent the past four and a half years of writing, editing, and designing this work. He's also self-publishing. And because I'm a guy who has been down that road myself, (and this is where I put in my plug for Attack of the Killer Asparagus and Other Lessons Not Learned in the Garden) I can only look at the scope of what he's trying to accomplish and say, "Whoa, dude."

For one thing, he's got to come up with a boatload of money to pay for the printing, marketing and other aspects of getting a book out to the public. To that end, he has launched a GoFundMe Campaign, where he hopes to raise $72,000. As with most of these efforts, you can contribute a lot or a little, and receive commensurate gifts, including a copy of the book for $69 (with shipping included, an $89 value).

I think I can safely say that his book is a passion and an obsession. And I mean that in a good way, since it is in the service of such a worthy cause--the continued health and well-being of our natual areas. You'll get a sense of that by listening to MacDonald talk about the creating of this work on today's show.

Let me just say that it will make a great holiday gift for a family member, a friend or for yourself. Good luck, Mike MacDonald. You've given yourself quite a task. I hope you pull it off.

Mac Austin and the joy of WWOOFing

I have known Hilary Mac Austin for...let's say a long time. She was one of the co-founders of the late, great Green on McLean, the community garden on my block that helped chase the gangs from my neighborhood and that, in some ways, brought the neighborhood together. That lot, sadly, is now where two new homes are being constructed. But we could never compete with the realtors in the Logan Square section of Chicago. If you want to know what I'm talking about, check out this article, Is the Housing Market in Logan Square Getting Out of Control? You can see what we were up against.

But Mac, as we know her, has a lot more to offer than her work as a community gardener. She and my partner Kathleen Thompson are the driving forces behind OneHistory, which, in their own words,

brings you the diverse people who have created American history. Through images, stories, biographies, essays and editorials, OneHistory is dedicated to presenting an American history that includes all the participants from the myriad cultures that have made America.

But I must return to horticulture/agriculture, because Mac recently introduced me to an organization with which I was unfamiliar. It's called World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, or WWOOF. It started in 1971 in England as "Working Weekends on Organic Farms" but has, since then, greatly expanded it's mission. Here's how they explain it:

WWOOF is an exchange - In return for volunteer help, WWOOF hosts offer food, accommodation and opportunities to learn about organic lifestyles.

WWOOF organisations link people who want to volunteer on organic farms or smallholdings with people who are looking for volunteer help.

The list of countries that have WWOOF groups is long and getting longer. It includes England and the United States, as well as countries in Africa, South America, Asia, the Middle East, Europe and more.

Mac joined WWOOF and has already worked on farms in Illinois, Wisconsin, New York and England. I suspect there will be more in the future.

She's wonderfully smart and insightful and I think you will enjoy our conversation about WWOOF. Perhaps you'll even be inspired to volunteer.


October 18, 2015

Listen to the entire podcast ON DEMAND

Why are Coal-Tar-Sealants still legal?

After reporting on environmental issues for almost two decades, I usually think I have seen it all.

Until I run head-on into yet another way that American consumers are being played for fools. In this case, it's with a product that is called coal-tar--based pavement sealcoat. Here's how the City of Austin, Texas describes it:

Coal tar sealants are surface finishes for parking lots, driveways, and airports used both commercially and by homeowners across the country. They are usually not applied to public streets. They contain varying concentrations of coal tar depending on product and formulation. They are the black, shiny emulsion painted or sprayed on asphalt pavement in an effort to protect and beautify the asphalt. Coal tar pavement sealant is marketed as a way to extend the life of asphalt, while also restoring a rich dark color. It is also marketed as having better resistance to gasoline, motor oil, and kerosene is allegedly more durable and absorbs less water while retaining its color longer.

Sounds pretty good, eh? I mean, who doesn't want to extend the life of their driveway?

And then you find out that on November 17, 2005--a full ten years ago--the City of Austin's Council voted unanimously to ban the sale and use of pavement sealants containing coal-tar. Why? They are obviously paying attention to the Texas Water Science Center of the United States Geological Survey, which has been studying coal-tar-based sealants and has come to conclusions like these:

Coal-tar-based sealcoat products typically are 20 to 35% coal tar or coal-tar pitch—these materials are known human carcinogens that contain high concentrations of PAHs and related chemicals. Coal-tar-based pavement sealcoat typically contains 35,000 to 200,000 mg/kg (parts per million, or ppm) PAHs, about 100 times more PAHs than in used motor oil and about 1,000 times more PAHs than in sealcoat products with an asphalt base.

Coal-tar sealcoat is abraded to a fine dust by car tires and snow plows, requiring reapplication every 2–5 years. The mobile high-PAH dust is blown, washed, or tracked into nearby soil , stormwater ponds, streams, lakes, and house dust . Many of the lighter-weight chemicals in coal-tar sealcoat volatilize (evaporate) into the air, primarily during the 2 weeks following application, but continuing for years after application.

But wait...there's more from the USGS:

Children living adjacent to coal-tar-sealcoated parking lots who ingest low amounts of house dust are estimated to consume about 2.5 times as much carcinogenic PAH from non-dietary ingestion as from their diet. Children with higher daily house dus ingenstion rates (0.101 grams, or slightly more than the weight of a baby aspirin) consume 9.5 times more carcinogenic PAHs through non-dietary ingestion as through diet.

The associated estimate excess lifetime cancer risk for residents living next to coal-tar-sealed pavement is 38 times higher than for unsealed pavement.

And this stuff covers about 110,000 acres of payment in the U.S. Are you paying attention yet?

The reason I ask is that I was completely unaware of this issue (see second sentence in this post) until I was alerted to the issue by Cindy Skrukrud, Clean Water Program Director for the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club. She sent me information that research hydrologist Barbara Mahler, PhD, of the USGS would be in the Chicago area for a couple of days to report on data that her agency had been gathering about this substance.

I was able to catch a presentation she did in suburban Barrington, Illinois, which was sponsored by the Barrington Area Council of Governments (BACOG) and Citizens for Conservation (CFC). You can watch the entire presentation here. She also took her message to Woodstock, Grayslake, Lisle and Wilmette.

To say that I was appalled by what we have allowed to be sold as an "improvement" to our lives would only begin to express the depth of my rage. Especially when Dr. Mahler explained that there is a much safer alternative to coal-tar-based sealants. It is called asphalt-based sealant and, west of the Rockies, it is the sealant of choice. That is not because it has been banned there (though the State of Washington has indeed passed a law prohibiting the use of coal-tar sealants). Rather, as Mahler explains, it is more an accident of history. Since coal-based products were more available in the East and Midwest parts of the U.S., that's where they continue to be used.

But here's the real difference between the products. While the asphalt-based sealcoats release PAHs at the rate of about 50 parts per million (ppm), the numbers for the coal-tar-based products are around 70,000 ppm. No, that's not a misprint.

So, to get back to the question in the healine of this story, why are we still selling these products when they are obviously so harmful? There are several answers. The first is that the coal industry is still potent and there are plenty of apologists (and I've been to those websites (which I'm not about to promote by linking them here) who say that it's the best product out there and that the research is "misleading" and "controversial." Sound familiar? Think climate change.

The next is inertia--we do things the way we have always done them. The third is that, well, most people are clueless about something like coal-tar sealant. As I mentioned above, I was one of those people...though in my defense, I can't imagine ever, ever, ever putting a sealant down on my property.

The bottom line is that I hope you listen to my conversation with Barbara Mahler in the first segment of today's show or at least go to one of the links above. You're going to learn a lot and I guarantee that it will be disturbing.

Green on McLean: Mission Accomplished

This is a kind of final report on a very important chapter in my life--the community garden on my block called Green on McLean.

A group of us in my south Logan Square neighborhood started the garden in 2011, mainly because the vacant double lot on the corner of McLean and St. Louis was an eyesore and haven for gangbangers, who would sell drugs with impunity at that intersection. Of course, they had been doing that for thirty years, according to police in the 14th District, so it wasn't as though those of us who were living there at the time had caused the problem, or stood idly by while it developed.

Nonetheless, we were determined to do something, so we cleaned up the lot, brought in soil and seeds and created Green on McLean. For five seasons, we dug, raked, planted, watered, weeded, mowed and picked up way too much trash. But we also laughed, weeded, picked up way too much trash, harvested beautiful vegetables, had potlucks, played games and met people in our neighborhood who we had never seen before we started the garden.

It was pretty much the textbook example of how a community garden was supposed to work.

But we never owned the land--though we received permission to garden there--and we knew that someday the end would come.

It came this week, as you can see by the photo on the left.

So the core of our group--Libby, Beth, Olga, Ernie, Mac, Jeff, Kathleen and I--gathered for a final salute to our efforts at a local restaurant, where we could have a beer or a margarita, some guacamole and chips and pat ourselves on the back for changing the neighborhood for the better.

I brought my mp3 recorder and made sure that everybody had a chance to say a few words about something that was really very special. I hope you enjoy the conversation.

The return of the Green Divas

Actually, that's kind of misleading because they never went away. It's just that Green Diva Meg and Green Diva Lynn haven't been together on my show for awhile, so I thought it was time.

They are the proprietors of The Green Divas Radio Show and the GDGD (Green Divas Global Digital) Radio Network. As I hope you know, The Mike Nowak Show airs on their network every day at 1:00 p.m. Central Time. But the rest of their 24/7 network features other shows that advocate for treating our planet more gently than most of us do. The best part is that Meg and Lynn are good folks, so it's a pleasure being on their team.

I hope you give GDGD a listen. Just for me, okay? If you're Internet savvy (and even if you're not), don't forget to download the GDGD Radio app.


October 11, 2015

Listen to the entire podcast ON DEMAND

Growing a pumpkin that weighs as much as a your spare time

If you're like me, you have a soft spot for certain geeky things in the world. For some, that means having the latest electronic device, or knowing chapter and verse of every single episode of The Simpsons, or being able to complete the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle.

In my case, I have been following the giant pumpkin competitions in Illinois for years and I've interviewed a number of the intrepid souls who are obsessed with coddling and coaxing these cucurbits into becoming outrageously large specimens. If you're a Facebook fan, you can follow their exploits at Illinois Giant Pumpkin Growers Association. In fact, it was there that I saw this notice a couple of weeks ago:

Congratulations to Gene McMullen from Streator, IL.. He grew the largest pumpkin ever grown in America! This is the biggest pumpkin grown in the world this year so far .. It was weighed in Cedarburg Wisconsin two weeks ago

My reaction was along the lines of hokey mokes, how did I miss this news??! But it was indeed true. I knew then that I was going to have to track down Gene McMullen and talk to him about his record-shattering achievement. His pumpkin weighed in at 2,145.5 pounds, and the previous North American record was 2,058 pounds. This new record is still shy of the world record of 2323.7 lbs, owned by Beni Meier of Switzerland (who, according to the Indiana Pumpkin Growers Association, grew three pumpkins weighing more than 2,000 lbs in 2014 alone!)

I'm happy to say that I was able to contact Gene McMullen, thanks to another giant pumpkin grower, George Janowiak, who has been on my show a number of times and who himself held the Illinois record at one time. Sadly for George, this year turned out to be a complete bust for him, which in the giant pumpkin game is not all that unusual.

In fact, unusually heavy rains in June not only made it harder for McMullen to supply nutrients to his crop, they might also have made it harder to purchase canned pumpkin for the holidays. According to the Chicago Tribune:

Large canned-pumpkin manufacturer Libby says yields could be off by as much as a third this year in Illinois, where about 90 percent of the pumpkins grown in the U.S. come from within a 90-mile radius of Peoria.

Given the difficulties of growing pumpkins this year, Gene McMullen says that "dumb luck" played a part in his success. And you might be wondering why he had the pumpkin weighed at the Cedarburg, Wisconsin event rather than at Bengston's Pumpkin Fest in Illinois. The fact of the matter is that McMullen says he works in a factory and he just couldn't get the time off for the Illinois event.

Wow. It's a big pumpkin victory for the little guy. What a treat (not a trick) to have Gene McMullen on the show today.

INUAg helps Share the Harvest on Chicago's southwest side

I received an email recently from friend of the show Sarah Batka, who also just happens to be the Chicago Master Gardener Coordinator. She wrote,

Last Night, our beloved Master Gardener, Rev. Linda Wygant accepted, on behalf of Grace Seeds Ministry, an International Network for Urban Agriculture [INUAg] award. Linda's and many of yours' MG project, Share the Harvest won 1st place for Food Access category of the Innovators in Urban Agriculture Prize, with a cash award of $1,250. There were over 50 entries from all over the USA, Haiti, Kenya, Egypt, Nepal, India and Bolivia. The award funds will be used to purchase a commercial cooler which will reduce food miles by streamlining Share the Harvest's distribution chain and eliminate food waste; increase its capacity to provide fresh, safe and healthy produce to individuals in Cook County who are most at risk of food insecurity.

It wasn't surprising that Sarah was also the person who nominated Grace Seeds Ministry for the award. I'm always amazed at the hard work put in by Illinois Master Gardeners, and nobody seems to work harder than Sarah Batka. But that's a story for another day.

This story is about heading to St. Jane de Chantal's Parish Hall on South McVicker Avenue in the Garfield Ridge neighborhood on the southwest side of Chicago to meet the Reverend Linda Wygant and participate in the Harvest Thanksgiving Celebration.

At the event and from the INUAg site, I learned that the Share the Harvest program is now ten years old and that

Harvest is a 100% volunteer driven network of food producers and food pantry partners committed to direct, hands-on action to alleviate hunger in Cook County. The network began in 2006 and has grown to 32 food production partners including schools, faith based organizations and secular organizations who produce food for 17 recipient pantries. In 2014, Grace Seeds Ministry growing partners produced and distributed an estimated 4 tons of food for low income Cook County residents.

After interviewing Rev. Wygant and Ms. Batka and having lunch on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, I contacted Marina Post, who is co-manager at Christy Webber Landscapes Farm & Garden in Chicago, but who is also a co-founder and vice-president of INUAg. For those of you who have been listening to my show for awhile, you'll know that Christy Webber has been a great supporter of my program--and I'm a huge fan of her work, too.

Post explains how and why Chicago horticulturists decided to start an international organization "to inspire and foster urban farming through networking, education, and advocacy." This was the first INUAg Innovators in Urban Agriculture Prizes awarded, and they went to groups in places as diverse as Bolivia, Haiti and Kenya, as well as American cities like Portland, Minneapolis, Nashville and, of course, Chicago.

There's too much hunger in the world. So it's good to have groups like Grace Seeds Ministry and INUAg working with other organizations to at least make a dent in the problem. Another group that is working to feed people is the Peterson Garden Project, which is hosting a symposium on Friday, October 16 called Community Gardens Take Action Against Hunger. Occuring on World Food Day, the gathering from 9:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. will address what community gardens can do to address fresh produce access in their neighborhoods, and share best practices and resources among community gardens, food pantries and soup kitchens for donating and distributing food.


September 27, 2015

Listen to the entire podcast ON DEMAND

Girl Waits with Gun: Amy Stewart comes to Chicago with her first novel

I don't personally know a lot of New York Times bestselling authors...which probably says a lot more about me than it does about any writers. That being said, I am proud to say that I consider Amy Stewart to be a friend. If the name sounds familiar (and if you're a fan of outside the box gardening writing, you should), Amy has been on my show several times, mostly when she creates yet another excellent book.

Among her works are Flower Confidential (which is how I was introduced to her), Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln's Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities, Wicked Bugs: The Louse that Conquered Napoleon's Army & Other Diabolical Insects, The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World's Great Drinks and more. Did I mention that her books are not your average hoticultural tomes? By the way, she's also a co-founder of the delightfully opiinionated Garden Rant.

But her latest work isn't much in the vein of her previous efforts. It's a novel called Girl Waits with Gun, and it can be described as a historical novel that has pretty much nothing to do with horticulture or gardening. Fair enough--I don't think that anybody should be pigeonholed. But it seemed as if I needed a specialist to handle the interview.

Which is why I called upon my own resident author and not-so-coincidentally co-conspirator for The Mike Nowak Show, Kathleen Thompson, (you can see more about her work at ) to read the book and to have a conversation with Ms. Stewart. It doesn't hurt that Kathleen is an avid mystery reader. Here's what she had to say about Girl Waits with Gun:

I'm a book person. To me, a good evening generally involves a book. A perfect evening involves a book that engrosses me, makes me laugh from time to time, and gives me access to some aspect of the world I didn't know about before. That's what I got from Amy Stewart's Girl Waits With Gun . Based on a true story, this delightful crime novel builds on a year's worth of research by Stewart into the life of New Jersey deputy sheriff Constance Kopp and her sisters. The three somewhat eccentric women, ranging in age from 16 to 35, are blindsided one day by an automobile, which reduces their wagon to kindling. When Constance tries to get fifty dollars in compensation from the auto's owner, he begins a campaign of harassment that leads inexorably to the courts. On the way, Constance and one of her sisters acquires guns and learn how to use them.

For those of you who read mysteries, I could flash a few names, from Donald Westlake to Rhys Bowen and Lisa Lutz. For those of you who don't, I can just say, "Read this one." The history is fascinating. The characters are charming. And the plot is not only well-crafted, it's real. It really happened.

Kathleen joined me when Amy came to Chicago recently to promote her new book at Anderson's Bookshop in Naperville, Illinois. We had a delightful conversation, if only because I didn't do too much talking. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did from my vantage point on the sidelines and I hope you pick up a copy of Girl Waits with Gun.

Dan Dinelli is helping to create kinder, gentler golf courses

Dan Dinelli is General Superintendent for the golf course at North Shore Country Club in Glenview, Illinois. But having spent some time with him behind the scenes at a course that regularly hosts PGA events like the 2015 Encompass Championship, I think of him as a mad scientist of turf. In a good way, of course.

When I dropped by the facility this week, he was eager to show me his vermicomposting bins and wax poetic on his work with biochar as a method of improving turf health. Unlike the lawn in your backyard, Dan notes, you will find mostly sand beneath the putting greens. If you know anything about how soils work, that allows for great drainage but it's not so good for retaining nutrients. Yet, the turf must remain healthy if a golf course is to be successful.

What's a superintendent to do?

In Dan's case, he enlists the aid of folks like Dr. Cale Bigelow, Professor of Agronomy at Purdue University, and Richard North, CEO of a company called TerraVesco, as well as TerraVesco's chief scientist, Dr. Margaret Lloyd. In addition, he has been working with Steve Peterson, Coordinator of the Illinois Biochar Group at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Peoria, and Steve Vaughn from the Functional Foods Research Unit of the Agricultural Research Service of the USDA.

Together, they apply biochars, biosolids, vermicompost and other media to the soil in which the turf grows, in order to examine the effects of those treatments on

  • Germination and plant establishment
  • Root development and plant nutrition
  • Disease suppression
  • Drought survival
  • Reduced water regimes

If you want to see the kind of stuff that their collaboration produces, check out a presentation called "Creeping bentgrass growth in sand - based root zones amended with biochar from three parent materials." Okay, it's not necessarily everybody's favorite reading but, hey, these people are serious about what they do.

And here's something that the average person will understand. There are about 170 total acres of land on the site. The golf course comprises 150 acres of that, leaving the rest of the land for native and non-native plants that attract pollinators, an organic vegetable garden that provides tomatoes, peppers and other produce for the kitchen, and about forty apple trees with a few pear trees thrown in...none of which are sprayed with pesticides.

As a third generation superintendent, you can sense the pride that Dinelli has for the way this piece of land contributes to the well being of the community. Oh, and did I mention that there are red-tailed hawks and owls that live on the grounds? Dan says that their very presence speaks to the health of the grounds.

Do I think that all golf course superintendents treat their land with as much respect as Dan Dinelli does? No. But from the time more than thirty years ago when his family was the butt of jokes for planting "weeds" (also known as native plants), to now, when it is standard practice, he has looked for ways to make the land an environmental asset, not a liability.

No matter how you slice it (a golf pun), that's a good thing.


September 21, 2015

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30 concerts and counting--Farm Aid comes to Chicago

I'm not going to pretend that I'm an expert on Farm Aid. Pretty much everybody knows that this annual event was started in 1985:

Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp organized the first Farm Aid concert in 1985 to raise awareness about the loss of family farms and to raise funds to keep farm families on the land. Dave Matthews joined the Farm Aid Board of Directors in 2001. Farm Aid has raised $48 million to promote a strong and resilient family farm system of agriculture. Farm Aid is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to keep family farmers on the land.

What else do you need to know?

Well, perhaps that every Farm Aid concert is different, and because this was the 30th incarnation of what has become an iconic American event, I could expect to experience something unique.

I was accompanied by Green Diva Lynn Hasselberger of The Green Divas Radio Show and the Green Divas Global Digital Radio Network ( We were there early in the day as the huge group of media folks gathered in front of the stage at FirstMerit Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island in Chicago. On the stage were several dozen farmers, farm advocates, activists and others. So far, so good.

What I wasn't prepared for--and perhaps I should have been--was when four guys named Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Neil Young and Dave Matthews walked out and sat down in front of the crowd of advocates. If you don't believe me, take a look at the photo on the left. What followed was a conversation about American farm families, moderated by WBEZ Radio's food and agriculture correspondent, Monica Eng, who has appeared on my show before.,

The statements that the "big four" made about the plight of the American farmer--which continues thirty years after the first Farm Aid concert--form the basis of the first segment of today's show. I'm going to make you listen to the show to hear what they had to say. But in addition to the words of those celebrated performers, you'll hear a lot more on this program:

Sometimes folks don't make the cut because I have less than an hour in each show. Which is why I want to give a shout out to Jessica Chipkin from Crate Free Illinois, who told me about their new app called The Illinois Guide to Factory-Free Meat, Eggs and Dairy, developed by the Chicago software development firm, Creatix. You can read more about the app here.

All in all, it was a pretty amazing day--considering that I didn't even get to stay for the main acts. Yeah, that's what happens when your pleasure is actually your work. Oh, well, perhaps I'll catch the performers at Farm Aid 31. Hope springs eternal, for farmers and for radio guys, right?

Anyway, I hope you listen to this show. There's a lot to digest, if you'll excuse my pun about food. But, to be serious, the future of that very food is at stake. When we save our farmers, we save our farms and all that they produce. There isn't much of anything on this planet that is more important.


September 13, 2015

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Wind turbines v. the people of Amherst Island in Ontario

You wouldn't think that the issue of using the wind for clean energy would be controversial. After all, it's been a source of power for millennia. But as it becomes one of the means for weaning societies from fossil fuels, wind energy is being scrutinized in a way that it wasn't when it was merely an archaic footnote in the annuals of energy production.

Among the issues that have been raised by the increased use of wind energy are storage in low wind conditions, siting in sensitive areas and mortality among bird and bat populations. That last concern is the subject of much debate, with the numbers ranging from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of birds and bats per year. However, considering that as many as a billion birds are killed in the U.S. each year due to collisions with high rise buildings and encounters with predators--especially cats (which is another source of great controversy)--the damage done by wind turbines seems to be less impressive. You might remember that I addressed this issue earlier in the year when I interviewed the director of a 2015 documentary called The Messenger.

Nonetheless, the wind energy industry continues to work to lessen the impact of its turbines. And, as siting is one of the key areas of conversation, it's not surprising that I was alerted to the controversy surrounding the planned wind farm on Amherst Island, which is located in the eastern part of Canadian Lake Ontario. In fact, it is a kind of gateway to the Thousand Islands chain in the St. Lawrence Seaway.

That's where an old friend of mine, Mayo Underwood, comes in. Some of you might remember that she was a purveyor of heirloom seeds and started Underwood Gardens, which is now run by a company called Terroir Seeds LLC. A few years ago, she moved to Amerherst Island and recently she has become involved with a group called Protect Amherst Island, which is fighting the construction of a wind farm on the historic island.

Why? According to the group,

The entire Island is a globally recognized Important Bird Area on the Atlantic Migratory Flyway and a wintering hotspot for owls, eagles, and raptors.  Known as the owl capital of North America, Owl Woods attracts birders from all over the world... Thirty-four species including the Blanding's turtle, Eastern Meadowlark, Whip-poor-will and Bobolink on Ontario's list are at risk on the Island.  Blanding's Turtle was instrumental in a decision of the Environmental Review Tribunal to revoke the decision of the Ministry of the Environment on a proposal for wind turbines on Ostrander Point in Prince Edward County.

The island is home to only four hundred residents, who contend that

Living on an Island presents unique challenges. The proposed project will cover virtually the Island and because the Island is small, setbacks are at the minimum distance. There will be no where to go to escape the noise and vibration.   Residents will be prisoners in their own homes because the ferry does not run at night.

The island is considered one of Canada's Top Ten Endangered Places by the Heritage Canada Foundation in June 2013. Furthermore,

Matthew Ring of the Dry Stone Wall Association of Canada believes that Amherst Island has one of the most significant concentrations of historic dry stone walls in Canada and even suggests that Amherst Island be referred to as a “Canadian Dry Stone Historic Site”!

The historic stone walls on Amherst Island are among the most tangible remnants of early Irish-Scottish settlement and development in Canada. 

On August 24, the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change announced that the project had been approved, leading a number of organizations to ask that the decision be overturned. They include Nature Canada, Ontario Nature, the Kingston Field Naturalists and the American Bird Conservancy.

Mayo says that you can keep up with developments on Facebook as well, at Association to Protect Amherst Island. She joins me on the show today with more information.

Speaking of Canada...@GrowingNorth has advice on growing winter veggies

Over the past few years, I have enjoyed welcoming author, garden blogger and radio host Niki Jabbour to my program. In fact, when I was still at Progresso Radio, we did several simulcasts of her program and mine. Part of the reason she caught my attention with her book, The Year Round Vegetable Gardener, is because she's based in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

In case you flunked geography, that's in Canada. And, unless you live in Windsor, Ontario, which is actually south of Detroit, you're probably dealing with pretty cold temperatures when it comes to growing food in winter.

So when I became aware of a gardener who goes by the Twitter handle @GrowingNorth, and who lives on the western shore of Lake Superior in Thunder Bay, Ontario, I once again became intrigued...especially when I went to the Growing North website and saw photos of hoop houses and cold frames covered by snow. "Yup, that's Ontario," I thought.

So I sent a message and I found out that the person behind Growing North is Pam Tallon, who is on a sort of DIY quest to grow as much as she can whenever she can. Works for me. She describes herself as an "urban" grower, which surprised me until I discovered that the City of Thunder Bay has 130,000 people. I never knew.

On her blog/website, she describes her mission:

all-season food production in a northern urban yard, and sharing that information to inspire and encourage great folks like yourself to grow food in this harsh climate.

To that end, she writes about her summer greenhouse, her winter greenhouse, urban gardening and other things that are right up my alley. So I knew I wanted to talk to her. Pam joins me on the program today and I hope that this is the first of many conversations about growing things.

Spike's Excellent Science Experiment: Epilogue

You'll remember (or not) that several weeks ago, I interviewed outdoor floriculturist Tim Pollak from the Chicago Botanic Garden in anticipation of the blooming of their Amorphophallus titanum (or Titan Arum or Corpse Flower), which they had nicknamed Spike. The bloom would produce the stench of rotting flesh, and somehow that--and the fact that Tim had been growing the plant for twelve years--were a real draw.

Only one problem: Spike didn't bloom.

But that didn't stop 75,000 people from coming out to visit, it, in the hope that they would see the plant open up. However, as the staff writes Spike's web page:

On Monday, August 24, the plant reached its full height of 68 inches and we expected to see its spathe open and unleash a terrible stench two to four days later. As any gardener knows, plants do not always behave as we would expect. We patiently waited for Spike to open, but given the number of days that have passed and signs that the spadix is aging, we have determined that the plant does not have the energy to open by itself.

Tim Pollak, outdoor floriculturist; Patrick Herendeen, Ph.D., senior director, Systematics and Evolutionary Biology; and Shannon Still, Ph.D., conservation scientist, removed the spathe, cutting around the base just above where it attaches to the stalk of the plant. 

We will replant the corm to grow more foliage, and in three to five years, it will produce another flower. Spike will live to bloom another day. At this time, the Garden has eight additional titan arum plants that we are watching carefully for bloom.

I'm sure that one of them will come through for CBG. Meanwhile, on the day that CBG finally decided that Spike wasn't going to open up, I headed to the garden to talk to Tim...along with hundreds of other folks, who you can hear in the background.

If you want to see the YouTube video of this interview, here's the link. I call it "Spike's Excellent Science Experiment." You'll see the spathe and the male and female parts of the plant and Tim and all the people. It was still fun, and I'll be standing by, ready for the call when one of Spike's buddies is ready to unleash its aroma. Watch this space.


September 6, 2015

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Roundup v. vinegar: the ultimate test?

If you are a gardener and you've been on the Intertubes anytime in the past couple of years, you've probably seen this home remedy for killing weeds in your yard:

Okay, this is going to seem a little snarky (it is), but this thing has been getting on my nerves for a number of reasons. Why don't I just post my own version of it?

And then, while I was looking up other stuff this week, I happened to stumble across a video by a landscape designer named Dave Marciniak. He works out of Culpeper, Virginia and the name of his business is called Revolutionary Gardens.

Rather than be snarky, like me, he decided to do test to see if the mixture really works. In fact, he tried out six different formulas, including two formulations of Roundup, three mixtures of vinegar and even straight epsom (with an "m") salts. He calls it Roundup vs. Vinegar Weedkiller: The Ultimate Test and if you click on that link, you can watch the YouTube video.

But I'd rather have you listen to this week's show, as Dave and I debate the merits of home garden remedies and bash evil companies like Monsanto (that might be snark or it might be my real feelings. Hmm. You might never know the truth.)

Rick DiMaio, El Nino and European Heat Waves

I miss having meteorologist Rick DiMaio on my show each week, if only because it was like having your own personal weather guy at your beck and call. But I'll take what I can get, and its great to have him on this week's program.

As always, Rick sent me a boatload of information in anticipation of our conversation, including information about a September heat wave that only just subsided. However, it resulted in some remarkable temperatures according to Maximiliano Herrera. Here are the eight nations that set new September all-time heat records on September 1, 2015:

Moldova: Tiraspol, 38.4°C (101.1°F)
Ukraine: Voznesens'k, 38.8°C (101.8°F)
Austria: Pottschach, 36.0°C (96.8°F)
Czech Republic: Javornik, 37.4°C (99.3°F)
Slovakia: Michalovce, 36.4°C (97.5°F)
Poland:  Tarnow, 36.8°C (98.2°F)
Belarus: Zitkovici, 35.6°C (96.1°F)
Lithuania: Druskininkai, 35.1°C (95.2°F)

And if you want to know how bad the drought has been in parts of Europe,

the water level of the Vistula, Poland's largest river, is at its lowest level since measurements began in 1789, due to severe drought conditions. The treasures being excavated were looted by an invading Swedish army in the mid-17th century and got buried in the Vistula when a Swedish barge sank. Jewish tombstones and wreckage from a WWII fighter plane have also been uncovered.

Rick also waxes scientific on the current El Nino and its affect on the current hurricane season, as well as how it will impact weather in North America, including the Midwest.

It's always terrific having Ricky D in the house, because he brings so much fascinating information with him.


August 30, 2015

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Proviso Partners for Health is fighting suburban food insecurity

You might be surprised (and you should probably be shocked) to know that in suburban Cook County, "more than 15 percent of people are uncertain where they will find their next meal." That means that nearly 800,000 people are what is described as "food insecure."

That's from a 2011 article in the Daily Herald, which breaks it down even further:

In Arlington Heights, 11.2 percent of residents do not necessarily know where their next meal will come from. Throughout northwestern Cook County, most communities' food insecurity rates hover in the low double-digits: 11.1 percent in Buffalo Grove, 14.5 in Des Plaines, 12.3 percent in Elk Grove, 12.6 in Hoffman Estates, 12.7 in Mount Prospect, 13.2 in Palatine and 12.3 in Schaumburg, to list a few.

If you want to get even more specific, you can turn to a study done by The Greater Chicago Food Depository and Feeding America, who together mapped this American crisis by municipalities and neighborhoods in Cook County. You can see the data represented as percentages of the population here and as numbers of individuals here.

I discovered this information after I had been invited to participate in an event called "Raise the Hoop Garden Festival" a couple of weeks ago in Maywood, just west of Chicago, in a place called Giving Garden.

That western suburb is part of a cluster of municipalites, including Forest Park, Broadview, Bellwood and Hillside, which all have higher food insecurity rates than most Chicago suburbs. And of that group, Maywood has the highest rate--between 22 and 30%, representing somewhere between five and ten thousand people.

Did you have any idea?

So when I found out that landscape architect Nathan Wright, who I have known for several years, was involved, I decided to pay a visit. It was there that I learned about a group called Proviso Partners for Health, which is a coalition promoting "health equity" within the communities in Proviso, which the township in Cook County where two high schools--Proviso East and Proviso West--are located.

The goal of Proviso Partners is to prevent disease and promote wellness, and one of the ways they are attepting to do that is to get the high school students involved in the Giving Garden, which is located on the grounds of a company called Reuse Depot, which happens to be located across the street from Proviso East.

It's an opportunity for young people to learn how to grow their own food and ornamental plants--but more than that, how to take the first steps towards becoming self-sufficient. At the Giving Garden, you can find raised gardens made of both traditional wooden frames and galvanized steel troughs, hoop houses, a cistern to collect rain water, vegetables, perennials, and a lot of enthusiasm.

I interviewed a number of folks who are making this happen, including Nathan Wright, who is also an adjunct faculty member at nearby Triton College; Lena Hatchett, Director of University and Community Partnerships at Loyola University Medical Center, garden coach Jennifer Bridgmon from Grow You Organic, Triton student Bill Greer, and high school students Alexandria Willis and Ciana Talmadge, who were offering salsa that was made from freshly grown garden vegetables and herbs.

I've learned that there's a profound misunderstanding about access to healthy, fresh, affordable food in the suburbs. That is to say, it's not always available. To a certain extent, it depends on the suburb and where it's located. As Lena Hatchett explains during our interview, people need to learn the lessons of empowerment, entrepreneurship and political savvy, which lead to jobs, which lead to the ability to live healthy lives in a sustainable way.

I'm not going to be able to name all of the groups that are involved in Proviso Partners for Health--there are 28 and counting--but here are a few:

Privso East High School, Triton College
University of lllinois Extension Cook County
Reuse Depot
Quinn Community Center
Mender Foundation
Village of Maywood
State Representative Kathleen Willis
State Representative Emanuel Chris Welch
Proviso Leyden Council for Community Action (PLCCA)
Neighborhood Association of Maywood (NOMCO)
Good Earth Greenhouse, Greenheart Building
Grow You Organic
Twig Landscape Design
OBI Deconstruction
Susanne Fairfax media
District 89 School District of Maywood, Melrose Park and Broadview
Loyola University Health System
Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine
Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing

...and there are more than that. My apologies for anybody I missed. It's a great mission that is already achieving great results.


August 23, 2015

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#LoveStinks: Watching "Spike" bloom at the Chicago Botanic Garden

It isn't every day that a horticultural event manages to grab local--and national--headlines. That more or less the same event is about to happen in back to back weeks in both Denver and then Chicago...well, it's certainly unusual, and it's fun. I mean, how often do you have two plants (yes, I said plants) engaged in a cross-country "love affair" who tweet each other? Um, not every day.

If you live in the Chicago area, you should take advantage of it, as thousands of plant lovers and simply curious folks are already doing. My partner Kathleen Thompson, who is co-pilot on today's show, joined me for that adventure...and another one in our own backyard, as you'll see.

The first adventure is about the blooming of a plant that is technically called Amorphophallus titanum. It is also known as "Titan Arum," "Corpse Flower," "Stinky" and, in the case of the Chicago Botanic Garden, "Spike." There are a couple of things (not even counting its botanical name) that make it unsual. First, it doesn't bloom very often. Spike has been working on it for a dozen years. Second, well, the plant stinks. Literally. From CBG's About Spike the Corpse Flower Amorphophallus titanum:

Like many flowering plants, Spike uses scent to attract pollinators when it's ready to reproduce.

Unlike most flowering plants, Spike has tremendous energy reserves that allow it to blast out its scent in one big, hours-long burst.

And the smell! The Indonesian name for the plant translates as “corpse flower,” an apt summary of the decaying, rancid, rotten stench. However, what smells horrid to humans is a magnet for the carrion beetles and flesh flies that are the titan arum's natural pollinators.

Lest you become repulsed by this description--and, mind you, I've never visited one of these plants in bloom--I would suggest that you've encountered this smell if you've ever pulled up behind a garbage truck in the summer. Yeah, it ain't nice. No, thirty seconds of it won't kill you, even if it might nauseate you a tad.

And it's nature at its most iconic and interesting. Spike, not the garbage truck. Which is why I hope that lots and lots of folks pay a visit to this particular arum.

Outdoor floriculturist Tim Pollak has been nuturing Spike as part of his job and as a passion for a dozen years. Also under his care are eight more Amorphophalluses. (If you're thirteen, you will start giggling. If you're older, you will move forward with me. However, if you're older than thirteen and find yourself gigglling, I understand.)

But seriously, somebody has to take care of those plants, which grow from something that looks like a mutant gladiolus corm. As Pollak explains to me in the interview, like a gladiolus, these plants have dormant and active periods. I just happened to know that beforehand because I've been nuturing my own Amorphophallus (I'll pause while you giggle) for fifteen years.

But really, really seriously, I've found it difficult to find information about how to grow an Amorphophallus (maybe it's the italics that make people giggle) in Chicago in winter. Not a Wikipedia entry to be found. So when I talked to Tim and he explained that even his perfectly watered and fertilized and sheltered-in-a-controlled-temperature arums also went dormant, that gave me a new insight in how to care for my own.

I learned more by going to his blog:

Spike and the rest of the collection have grown through many leaf and dormancy cycles into larger corms (a type of underground tuber or bulb). It would seem that tending the growing corms would be about as complicated as a typical bulb, but a close eye must be kept on how the corms are watered to prevent them from drying out or rotting. As the leaves grow larger each growth period (12 to 18 months), their increasingly larger corms may prevent the soil beneath them from becoming wet. Increasing watering to make sure the soil is kept moist at the bottom of the tuber could cause the corm to rot, as most of its roots develop on the upper surface. The growing medium must be evenly moist at all times, but not wet, and the soil should never dry out completely, especially at the start of leaf development. Using a loose medium and a layer of gravel drainage in the planters ensures that water reaches all parts of the corm without flooding it. Finally, we repot the corms—a lot—to make sure the soil stays evenly moist, and to give them room to grow! 

Oh. Now you tell me.

Regardless, for a gardener, getting that kind of primary source input is invaluable. (By the way, if you're interested in how important primary sources are in our lives, check out Examining the Evidence: Seven Strategies for Teaching with Primary Sources, which is co-authored by my partner and sweetheart Kathleen Thompson. I don't often get a chance to promote her publicly because our professional worlds don't overlap much, except when she designs this whole freaking website and all of my graphics. Other than that...)

But back to our story. Spike's bloom is imminent. Because Spike is not in its natural environment, the natural flow of events is interrupted. The carrion beetles, flesh flies and other insects that would have access to this plant in the equatorial rain forests of Sumatra will not be inside of the greenhouse where Spike is being displayed. Which means that they cannot deliver the pollan from another Amorphophallus. Which means humans will become part of the procreation proceedings. They are at the ready, and once the flower has rudely announced to the world that its time has come, they will paint the open flowers with previously frozen "donar" pollen from another plant, possibly even the arum that just bloomed in Denver (Spike's amour, "Stinky") but more likely pollen from the Huntington Botanic Gardens. I hope it doesn't tickle.

If all goes well, from sixty to eighty fruits will grow, each containing only two seeds. Those will be passed along to more people like Tim Pollak, who will in turn grow their own plants for a decade or more in an attempt to get them to flower. Meanwhile, their native habitat will continue to be squeezed until the arums are either protected or go extinct in the wild. There are currently 4,914 plants classified as vulnerable, compared to 2,815 in 1998. I'm not sure if that's good or bad. And so it goes.

There's a lot more that you can learn about this plant by going to Tim's blog or to the FAQ page on the Chicago Botanic Garden website. Oh, and did I mention that you can also watch all of it streaming live on YouTube?

I interview Tim Pollak about most of this on today's show, but I also get to talk to Chicago Botanic Garden publicity gal Gloria Ciaccio because, hey, a big part of this story is how people in Denver and Chicago are responding to these plants--which is to say that they're showing up in huge numbers and standing in line to see them. Of course, being a PR person, Ciaccio and her friends are having fun with the imaginary relationship between "Stinky" in Denver and "Spike" in Chicago. Hence, #LoveStinks. But I already knew that.

As of Saturday night, August 22, Spike hasn't bloomed. But it will happen at any moment. If you want to be a part of this history, visit Meet Spike online. And then show up. Perhaps the stench will cause you to reflect on how remarkable it is to enounter a living thing that is deliberately creating that smell just to survive on this crazy planet. Heck, it makes me wonder what I'm going to pay the rent here.

The sad tale of a dead ginkgo

This part of the show has been several years in the making, but it's only this spring that it's come to a tragic conclusion. This is the tale of how I killed a plant that is basically supposed to be "idiot proof." After all, Ginkgo biloba has been around for a couple of hundred million years. Surely it can survive me! Or not.

This is a plant that was given to me perhaps a dozen years ago by Rich and Susie Eyre at Rich's Foxwillow Pines in Woodstock, Illinois. At the time, it was perhaps a foot tall, in a small container. I wasn't sure where it should go in my backyard, and I ended up digging it up and replanting at least a couple of times before deciding where its permanent home would be.

Even that was not a good choice. If I had looked up (which I constantly remind people who are planting trees), I would have noticed some power lines where the tree was going to grow. Not very good form for a guy who is supposed to be giving gardening advice, eh?

And then I read Doug Tallamy's book, Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens where he talks about the importance of using plants that provide food and habitat for our native insects and other creatures. In fact, I interviewed him earlier this year and we had a conversation about how my ginkgo was a lovely plant and a hardy, urban tree but didn't do much for our native fauna.

But he didn't suggest I cut it down because, let's not forget, it is still doing what all trees do--help to remove carbon dioxide from our air, provide shade, drop leaves that can be used to create compost, etc. So even though the tree wasn't the perfect plant in the perfect place, I decided that it would probably stay...but nature had other plans.

This year, the gingko leafed out, but they were tiny, not at all normal. As the year progressed, the leaves began to turn dark green, wilt, then turn brown and drop off.

This was a particularly wet spring in the Chicago area. Because I have a small city yard, I try not to waste any space. Which means that there are plenty of plants at the base of the tree...among them, something called Galium ordoratum or Sweet Woodruff. It's a lovely plant that grows well in the shade, has attractive, whorled leaves and produces fragrant flowers in the spring.

Great groundcover, right? Well...yeah...until you note that the description in the link above talks about its ability to form mats. Dense mats. Plant supressing mats. Are you catching my (plant) drift? When I saw the unhappy leaves on my ginkgo tree, I contacted a number of horticultural friends, one of whom had some excellent advice: check the base of the tree. Duh. That's where the action always is.

I had to pull the dense, wet mat of sweet woodruff away from the trunk of the tree to see what was going on. And when I put my hand on the trunk of the tree, I felt the soft crunch of bark giving way. Running my hand around the base of the tree, I realized what I think had happened--the sweet woodruff had created a damp mat around the base of the tree, causing the bark to rot all the way around. Yikes.

At least that's my theory, and until I hear something better, I'm sticking to it. Kathleen joins me for the conversation about our ginkgo because, as you'll discover, she has a little insider knowledge. I hope you enjoy the show.


August 16, 2015

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The Rebuilding Exchange: sustainability and social responsibility

The Rebuilding Exchange is one of those places that has been on my radar for awhile, thanks, in part, to my buddy Ron Cowgill from Mighty House Home Improvement Radio, which you can find at their website or on a number of different platforms, including The Green Divas Global Digital Network (GDGDRadio). It also doesn't hurt that they are practically in my neighborhood in Chicago, at 1740 W. Webster Avenue.

Rebuilding Exchange was launched under the guidance of the Delta Institute, which stills serves as a "strategic partner." "RX" describes itself as

a non-profit social enterprise and our mission is to create a market for reclaimed building materials. We do this by diverting materials from landfills and making them accessible for reuse through our retail warehouse, by promoting sustainable deconstruction practices, by providing education and job training programs, and by creating innovative models for sustainable reuse.

And though they've been around only since 2009, they haven't been slouches--they've diverted 9406.74 tons of building materials from the landfill, and simultaneously created over $2 million worth of quality reuse materials available to the public. And they want the general public to join in realizing their mission by holding contractor forums, educational seminars and speaking events in the region.

They even have their own RX-Made line of products:

RX Made is our line of simple and functional furniture constructed from reclaimed and locally-sourced materials. Drawing inspiration from salvaged materials, the RX Made line is designed in-house as well as through creative collaboration with partners in our Midwest design community. Each unique piece is then handcrafted on-site in our workshop. We strive to create durable, functional objects that are not only built to last, but also showcase the materials used in the construction.

In fact, I walked away from my interview at RX with one of those cool products--a bottle opener, which is going to last a long, long time.

But the interview for my show is what this is all about, so I guess I should get to it. I got a call from Bryant Williams, who I've known from his workk with both the Cook County Department of Environmental Control and the Southeast Environmental Task Force. He asked me to sit down with him and Kelly Farley, who was recently named Executive Director of RX.

In addition to talking about the day to day work of RX, they wanted to let me know about the Madison and Wabash Bash, a free event open to the public on Friday, August 28 from 7-9:30pm at the RX space at 1740 W. Webster. The really, really cool part of this is that

In partnership with Preservation Chicago, Rebuilding Exchange has received materials (including the station's facade) from the Loop's Madison/Wabash CTA station. The green/brown/purple/orange/pink line has served as a transit hub since it first opened in 1896, 119 years ago. The facade will be stored here in waiting until a history museum can exhibit it along with other historically significant items. The rest of the items will be up for sale.

There will be food trucks and beer and methinks a lot of fun. Find more information here. By the way, the event will be all ages, but drinks will only be served to those 21+,so please make sure you have your ID. God, I hope I get carded!

The Marshall Strawberry is alive and well and living in Maine (and other places)

It was a little more than two years ago that I welcomed food artist (yes, such a discipline exists, which you'll find out when you listen to my show) Leah Gauthier to the Progresso Radio studios. She came bearing fruits--something called Marshalll Strawberries, to be precise.

She was growing them at her place in Bloomington, Indiana--where she lived at the time--in her almost one-woman effort to keep the plant from going extinct. But why all the fuss about a strawberry? As Gauthier details on her website and on today's show:

The Marshall strawberry, once deemed by James Beard, the Father of American gastronomy, as the tastiest berry ever, was discovered by Marshall F. Ewell of Marshfield, Massachusetts in 1880, and introduced in 1883. It was then widely grown in Washington, Oregon and California until the 1960s when it was phased out, due to its modest production, delicacy and and therefore incompatibility with modern industrialized agricultural practices. By 2007, the last remaining plants existed as a single clone at the USDA's Germplasm Repository in Corvallis, Oregon.

The Marshall produces juicy delicate berries meant to be enjoyed as soon as they ripen. They don't travel well, so the only way to enjoy them is locally!

Gauthier found out about the plight of the Marshall Strawberry while researching a different food project, but managed to get some runners from the scientists at Corvallis.

And then she almost killed them. Wow. Sounds like she's been trying to follow in my footsteps.

However, she and the plants recovered, and she has been spreading the gospel (and the plants) of the Marshall Strawberry ever since. As I mentioned above, she dropped several plants off for my staff and me a couple of years ago. After the brutal winter of 2013-2014, I wasn't sure mine was going to survive. But it did, only to languish during the summer of 2014.

However, this year the plant bounced back, producing numerous runners, which I am attempting to cultivate into new plants. Oh, I did I mention that the taste of the Marshall is indeed exquisite? I can't wait to have more next year, and to pass along the babies to a few select friends. And I guess that's how one woman can save a plant from extinction.

It's a delight to welcome Leah Gauthier back to the show today. By the way, if you're interested in growing this plant yourself, you can adopt a Marshall Strawberry by going to this page. Be advised that there's a waiting list. And, darn it, there should be!


August 9, 2015

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Dr. Harry Klee and the (nearly) perfect tomato

Today's show starts a couple of weeks back with a contributor to The Mike Nowak Show--Rosemary Dolan Lesh. Back when I was on Progresso Radio, she was a listener who regularly wrote to me, usually with links to cool stories. Of course, I never had time to read all of them, but I did appreciate the fact that she was engaged with the program and was obviously interested in many of the same subjects as I.

When I began doing podcasts, she continued to send me stuff, and I began to feel guilty that I never had enough time to read all of it. However, it seemed as if 99% of it was important, and I was at a loss about how to respond to her efforts to keep me in tune with stories that I might not have time to explore myself. I should explain that one of the reasons she's so good at research is that she's a retired librarian. Aha!

Then I had a brainstorm. Since I wasn't doing live radio, and I didn't have my crew in studio posting great things on Facebook every Sunday morning, why not have Rosemary fill the void? So I added her to my decidedly underpaid (read: not at all) staff and she began posting on The Mike Nowak Show Facebook page. Since she began contributing to that page, the reach of my posts has skyrocketed. I suspect that's because of both the quantity and quality of the posts. It's even motivated me to post more on the show FB page.

And then, a couple of weeks ago, I saw this article that Rosemary had found on

This Is the Perfect Tomato: But supermarkets refuse to sell it.

It was written by a guy named Mark Schatzker, who follows food issues and who is the author of a book called The Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavor.

In the Slate story, he interviewed a researcher named Dr. Harry J. Klee, who is in the Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Florida in Gainesville. In a nutshell, Dr. Klee has been breeding tomatoes for about twenty years in a search for a fruit (yes, they're fruits, so deal with it) that will will have superior taste but will also grow easily, survive shipping and be disease resistent. His research page, in fact, is called Welcome to Harry's Tasty Tomato Page.

Among the information you will find there are tidbits like this:

Producing a better tasting tomato – Producing a modern commercial tomato that can be shipped across the country in the dead of winter but has the taste of a backyard grown heirloom is probably not going to happen. But we do think that as we elucidate the genetics that determines flavor, we can make huge improvements. The challenge is to improve flavor without compromising yield. Growers are businessmen. Until the growers are paid a fair price for great flavor, they must focus on what pays the bills: yield. But there is a market for a great tasting tomato that will perform well with minimal challenge: the home gardener. We've exploited our large scale screening of heirlooms to identify the very best ones and crossed those with modern cultivars. What results is the best of both worlds – varieties with heirloom taste and vastly improved performance.

Then there's this information about flavor:

When we bite into a tomato, what our brains register as a “tomato” is actually a complex interaction between sugars (glucose and fructose), acids (citric, malic and ascorbic) and multiple volatile compounds. While several hundred volatiles have been identified in tomato, only about 15-20 actually impact our perception of the fruit. This is because most of these compounds fall below the odor threshold. This threshold is determined by both the concentration of the substance and our ability to detect it. Thus, a compound that is present in quite high levels that we detect poorly will not register. Conversely, a substance to which we are quite sensitive will be perceived in very low amounts.

Who knew? Uh, well, I guess those scientists did. Silly me.

What I did know was that I needed to talk to him and it took me almost thirty seconds to track down his contact information. Another thing I discovered along the way is that I'm at least several years late to this story. But that's my M.O. so I'm not going to lose any sleep over that one.

Anyway, Dr. Klee--or Harry, as he insisted--is about as entertaining as he is knowledgeable. I'm not going to tell you here what he revealed to me about his quest for the "perfect" tomato--that would defeat the goal of getting you to listen to the podcast!

Which I hope you do. I think this is one of my best shows of the year, thanks to Harry Klee and his obsession

By the way, if you want to get your hands on either the Garden Gem or the Garden Treasure tomato, go to this page and follow the instructions. Basically, if you will donate $10 to support new variety development, they'll send you packets with 20 seeds each. If you grow a few of these, let me know what you think.


August 2, 2015

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Chicago's new composting ordinance: a 19th Century solution for a
21st Century problem

It was a good week for the local environment if you live in the City of Chicago. On Wednesday, July 28, the Chicago City Council passed an ordinance that would basically redefine food scraps--moving them from the category of "toxic waste" into the realm of "beneficial soil amendments." That might seem to be overstating the case, but given how backward Chicago laws have been regarding what should be a no-brainer--namely, that creating compost from the jetsam of our kitchens and the clippings of our yards is a free, simple way of contributing to the health of our soils and, consequently, our planet--I think I can be excused for employing a bit of hyperbole.

Perhaps it's because I was also involved, if only in a minor way, with the crafting of the ordinance and the negotiations with the City of Chicago, that I feel so strongly about this environmental victory. Of course, this is one of the issues with which I have been consumed on my radio shows and podcasts for about eighteen years.

And when I refer about the "21st Century problem," I'm talking about the depletion of our soils due to compaction, synthetic fertilizers, toxic residues like lead, cadmium and arsenic, and more. At least one solution is to return our organic matter back to our soils, instead of depositing it in landfills, where it creates climate changing methane.

So what will the new law accomplish? Here are some of the basics:

  • Community Gardens will be able to accept raw, unprocessed food scraps and eggshells, in addition to landscape waste, from off-site noncommercial entities.  Currently, they can only compost on-site materials. The garden will have to register (for free) yearly with the city.  There are a few specific requirements, including:
    • Storing waste in containers at the end of the day if it is not in the composting system.
    • Record-keeping of the inputs into the compost pile as well as turning and other upkeep.
    • Keeping best practices to minimize odor and pests.
    • Composting operation can be no larger than 10 cubic yards (or 25 cubic yards with permission of Streets and Sanitation).
  • Urban farms will be able to accept raw, unprocessed food scraps and eggshells, in addition to landscape waste, from off-site noncommercial entities.  Currently, they can only compost on-site materials.  The garden will have to register (for free) yearly with the city.  There are a few specific requirements, including:
    • Storing waste in containers at the end of the day if it is not in the composting system.
    • Record-keeping of the inputs into the compost pile as well as turning and other upkeep.
    • Keeping best practices to minimize odor and pests.
    • Composting operation can be no larger than 10 cubic yards (or 25 cubic yards with permission of Streets and Sanitation).

Among the people who helped to put this new law on the books are Jennifer Walling, Executive Director of the Illinois Environmental Council; Billy Burdett, Director at Advocates for Urban Agriculture; Nance Klehm of The Soil Rules; and the person I interview on the show today, Lauralyn Clawson, Youth Education Coordinator at Growing Power's Iron Street Farm in Chicago.

It's good to see Chicago finally get on board with a composting program that is simple and has the potential to do much good.

Meanwhile, the State of Illinois works to reduce nutrients in its waterways

Hokey smokes! Is it possible that in the span of a couple of weeks, both the City of Chicago and the State of Illinois can both make significant environmental strides? The answer is yes. I received this news release the other day:

Sierra Club Welcomes New Strategy
For Addressing Illinois’ Most Widespread Water Quality Problem

The State of Illinois today announced the release of a finalized statewide strategy designed to address Illinois' most widespread water pollution problem - an overload of nitrogen and phosphorus in most of the state's rivers, lakes, and streams. The Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy calls for reductions in phosphorus and nitrogen pollution that impacts Illinois waterways and ultimately the Gulf of Mexico. These nutrients spur algae blooms that deplete oxygen levels, hinder recreation, and threaten public health. Nutrient pollution can also degrade drinking water quality and require cities to install costly treatment equipment.

If you're not sure what they're talking about, remember the algae bloom in Lake Erie last year? The one that threatened the water supply of 400,000 people around Toledo and into the Detroit area? Well, it might be happening again, and it's because of the very problem that Illinois is trying to address.

Not only that, but take a look at the image on the left of this page. Yes, that's the Gulf of Mexico and, yes, that what is called a Dead Zone. We, as a country, have cultivated a spectacular one in the Gulf region. It is huge--one of the largest on the planet--and it covers thousands of square miles in area. It is a place where virtually nothing that requires oxygen can survive...because all of the oxygen has been consumed by algae.

That sort of thing is happening in oceans, seas and lakes (remember Lake Erie?) all over the world, and for basically the same reason--too many nutrients entering the waterways, mainly nitrogena and phosphorus from fertilizer runoff and waste water treatment plants.

Dr. Cindy Skrukrud, Clean Water Advocate for the Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter, returns to the show today to talk about how the State of illinois is working with farmers, local governments, businesses, and boaters to craft the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy, which will attempt to use science-based approaches to clean up these problems.

Two positive environmental news stories in the same week? I think I need to lie down.


July 22, 2015

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How to spend a day in the middle of a prairie

It's going to be difficult not to make thisi post sound like a commercial for The Pizzo Group, but, trust me, it's not. Jack Pizzo is not paying me a dime (though I'm sitting by the phone, in case you want to give me a jingle, J.P.) As I state in the show itself, this particular program was kind of an accident. I'll explain.

I got invited to The Pizzo Group’s 27th Annual Celebration & Summer Solstice Party out in Leland, Illinois, which is a couple of hours west of Chicago. The business is located on an island of restored prairie, which, unsurprisingly in that part of the state, is surrounded by untold acres of corn and soybeans. If you've never been there, it's a revelation to see the abundance of pure life in the middle of what could be described as pure horticultural conformity.

This is a full day of activities, including seminars, a plant sale, a tour of the prairie with "John James Audubon" (more on that in a second, live entertainment and even a pig roast at the end of the day.

Among the speakers were Grace Koehler from Pizzo Native Plant Nursery, Dave Marquardt of Dirt-N-Turf, Bill Carter of Prairie Moon Nursery, Commissioner Debra Shore from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, John McCabe and Chris Anchor from the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, and, of course, Jack Pizzo.

There were some sandwiches for lunch, but the big food event of the day was the annual pig roast with whole hogs, actually, prepared by Bob Whitmer of S&W Farms in Plano, Illinois. And since I got a chance to taste some of the main dish (and even take some for the road), I talked to Whitmer for a few minutes about his craft./

I wasn't sure if I was going to attend, but at the last second I headed out to Leland to have some fun. And I brought along the mp3 recorder...just in case. As you can see by the lineup, I guy like me was probably going to learn something about native plants or the soil or water conservation or wildlife even by accident. So I caught a couple of talks and chatted with Jack Pizzo, Grace Koehler and Debra Shore (Dave Marquardt slipped away before I could chat with him) and Bob Whitmer.

And because I spent my formative years hanging around and running a theatre company, I couldn't resist the lure of storyteller Brian "Fox" Ellis, who was leading folks on short hikes through the prairie as American ornithologist, naturalist, and painter John James Audubon. Brian's company is Fox Tales International and among other historical figures he portrays are Charles Darwin, Gregor Mendel, Walt Whitman, Edgar Allen Poe, and Civil War General Black Jack Logan.

I don't think there are too many radio guys who have interviewed Audubon, especially in the middle of a prairie. Though this is audio and not video, I think you will enjoy the word pictures he paints, and you might even learn a couple of things about the natural world. I did.

That's it. I had a great time and I hope you do, too. Enjoy the show.


June 22, 2015

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Collecting food scraps and workin' at the car wash

It was either two or three years ago that I had an "Aha!" moment regarding food scrap composting. I was attending the GreenTown Highland Park event back in 2012, when someone on the panel introduced the attendees in the room to Erlene Howard and her company, Collective Resource, Inc. In a nutshell (which is compostable), the organization

is a woman-owned food scrap pickup service based in Evanston. We collect all food waste and compostable products from homes, businesses, and institutions and take them to a commercial composting site. The food scraps then become ?a nutrient-rich soil amendment instead of sitting in a landfill. Commercial composting is different from backyard composting, because anything that was once alive (including meat and dairy products) can be composted. In addition to hauling compost, we educate the public about the importance of reducing landfill use.

Actually, it was less of an "Aha!" moment than an "I need to meet this person!" moment. Which I did. Since that time, I have been following the work of Collective Resource. Erlene appeared on my radio program and we continued to bump into each other at one sustainable event or another, including this year's Good Food Festival & Conference. That's where we agreed that we needed to do another interview for my program.

Then, a few weeks later, I received a note from Erlene that CRI was competing for a People & Planet Green Business Award, sponsored by Green America. Then I saw that they were a finalist.

Then I saw that they had WON! Along with two other businesses, CRI received a $5,000 cash prize. Well, now Erlene and I definitely had to get together to chat.

And what better place than the local car wash! Uhhh...if you're confused, you needn't be. Because CRI collects tons of food scraps in plastic totes and buckets, they need to clean those containers. Until now, they have been forced to rent out a space in a local car wash to get that work done. But they

will now be able to invest? in automated container washing which will, not only enable us to increase our service capacity, but also use less water in the process. This will help us continue to grow our customer base, in turn providing even more people the opportunity to reduce their landfill use.

All of that will take a little time, which is why this interview takes place at the car wash. I hope you enjoy it.

Rick "Don't Call It a 'Super' El Nino" DiMaio and the Spring of Rain

If you're concerned about global climate change, this is something that you probably don't want to hear:

Global temperatures January-May 2015 exceeded 2010's as the warmest first five months of any year, according to NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies .

NOAA's National Climatic Data Center noted that the first five months of 2015 nudged ahead of January-May 2010 by 0.09 degrees Celsius.  

Record warm sea-surface temperatures in the northeast and equatorial Pacific Ocean, as well as areas of the western North Atlantic Ocean and Barents Sea north of Scandinavia contributed to the anomalous January-May 2015, according to NOAA.

If you live in the Great Lakes region, you might be wondering what the fuss is all about. However, as NOAA points out,

eastern Canada and parts of the Great Lakes and New England were the only locations much colder than average so far in 2015. Parts of the north Atlantic Ocean, eastern Atlantic Ocean off west Africa, and Southern Ocean off the tip of South America were also somewhat cooler than average in the year's first five months.

That follows on the heels of NOAA's determination

that the rate of global warming during the last 15 years has been as fast as or faster than that seen during the latter half of the 20 th Century. The study refutes the notion that there has been a slowdown or "hiatus" in the rate of global warming in recent years.

Even the Pope has gotten into the act, with his encyclical "Laudato Si." In it, he states, "The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth." Uh, you'll get no argument from me on that.

Seriously, though, there are a lot of anomalous events happening all over the planet, as this map, sent to me by meteorologist Rick DiMaio, shows. In our part of the country, a lot of it has been rain. In California, not so much. Either one can be devasting, as this story on the effects of floods on corn production details.

But that's why I have Rick on the show from time to time, to help put all of this into perspective...even what some people are calling a "super El Nino" in the Pacific Ocean. Just don't use that phrase around Mr. DiMaio, as you'll hear if you listen to our conversation on the podcast. He also takes issue with what Thomas R. Karl, L.H.D., Director of NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information says:

Our new analysis suggests that the apparent hiatus may have been largely the result of limitations in past datasets, and that the rate of warming over the first 15 years of this century has, in fact, been as fast or faster than that seen over the last half of the 20th century.

Wow. Rick DiMaio v. the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration! Get me a box of popcorn!


June 9, 2015

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How sustaining wildlife (especially insects) will sustain ALL life

A few weeks ago, in anticipation of this particular show, I noted that there are a number of books about the modern natural world that can be called "game changers." One of them is Rachel Caron 's Silent Spring , another is Aldo Leopold' s A Sand County Almanac . Some folks might throw in one of Michael Pollan 's brilliant books, and there are many other contributions that could be considered.

Basically, they alter the way you perceive the world around you so profoundly that you can never look at it the same way again. With any luck, they galvanize you into action.

For me, Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens by University of Delaware Professor & Chair of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology Doug Tallamy is one of those books. It certainly caught my attention, not to mention the attention of various native plant and conservation groups around the country.

It also inspired suburban Oak Park resident Pamela Todd and a few of her friends to start the West Cook Wild Ones chapter and set a goal of creating a wildlife corridor between Thatcher Woods Forest Preserve in Maywood/River Forest on the west and Columbus Park in Chicago on the east, a stretch of approximately four miles or so. Though it's a start, it hardly makes up for the development that gobbles up two million acres of U.S. land per year and lays waste to our natural areas. Some people mistakenly imagine that the forty million acres of lawns (and increasing) across this huge nation can serve as places where native fauna can thrive, regardless of the fact that the native flora have been stripped clean and replaced with non-native turfgrass. It truly boggles the mind.

But the problem is not simply that we like lawns at the expense of native plants. It's that we like boxwoods and lilacs and butterfly bushes and...and...and...Bradford pears, all non-native species, too. It's not that I have special disdain for Bradford pears, its just that they're everwhere in my Logan Square neighborhood and serve as a constant reminder of the damage we do in the name of "landscape design."

As Dr. Tallamy explains in a recent article he wrote for the New York Times, called The Chickadee’s Guide to Gardening:

Last summer I did a simple experiment at home to measure just how different the plants we use for landscaping can be in supporting local animals. I compared a young white oak in my yard with one of the Bradford pears in my neighbor’s yard. Both trees are the same size, but Bradford pears are ornamentals from Asia, while white oaks are native to eastern North America. I walked around each tree and counted the caterpillars on their leaves at head height. I found 410 caterpillars on the white oak (comprising 19 different species), and only one caterpillar (an inchworm) on the Bradford pear.

Was this a fluke? Hardly. The next day I repeated my survey on a different white oak and Bradford pear. This time I found 233 caterpillars on the white oak (comprising 15 species) and, again, only one on the Bradford pear.

Why such huge differences? It’s simple: Plants don’t want to be eaten, so they have loaded their tissues with nasty chemicals that would kill most insects if eaten. Insects do eat plants, though, and they achieve this by adapting to the chemical defenses of just one or two plant lineages. So some have evolved to eat oak trees without dying, while others have specialized in native cherries or ashes and so on.

But local insects have only just met Bradford pears, in an evolutionary sense, and have not had the time — millennia — required to adapt to their chemical defenses. And so Bradford pears stand virtually untouched in my neighbor’s yard.

That's a problem. If caterpillars can't eat a plant, they won't reproduce on it. If they don't reproduce, birds and other animals have less to eat. If birds and other animals have less to eat, well, I think you can see where this is going. And yes, like it or not, that scarcity of available food eventually has an impact on Homo sapiens, too. And that's not good.

By the way, I'm not innocent when it comes to the subject of native v. non-native plants. Shortly before I read Dr. Tallamy's book, I planted a Ginkgo biloba tree in my backyard. (In my defense, it was given to me as a gift.) You will often read that they are considered great urban trees. That's mainly because they are tough and they can survive the harsh city conditions. Unfortunately--and Tallamy gently chides me for this in the interview--they tend not to support our local insect populations.

So I was encouraged by the work Pamela Todd and the other concerned citizens west of Chicago and that they reached out to Tallamy to speak at something they called the Living Landscapes Conference at Dominican University in River Forest. As you can see from their write up of the event, some 300 folks showed up to hear Dr. Tallamy speak and to get him to sign copies of his book for them.

Let's face it: Doug Tallamy is a rock star. However, he says that the idea he promulgates is the real rock star. I am happy to defer to his interpretation. Nevertheless, his book have struck a chord--with me and many, many others.

As a result, Dr. Talamy and others are on a mission to create "homegrown national parks" wherever there's an open space--yes, even in suburban backyards. That kind of activity is being measured in projects like the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Yardmap. By the way, Doug's latest book, co-authored with author, photographer and horticulturist Rick Darke, is called The Living Landscape (sound familiar?) and it builds on the work started with Bringing Nature Home as it shows homeowners how they can truly create a healthy ecosystem, no matter the size of their property.

While I suggest you read either of Dr. Tallamy's books, today's show should give you a head start on the urgency of his message. Before the Living Landscapes ConferenceI had the opportunity to interview Tallamy one on one, which I originally thought would be the only audio I would use. For whatever reason, however, I decided to hit "record" just before his presentation, and afterwards I decided that his talk was so good that I would use as much of that as possible, too.

The result is a kind of "mash-up" of audio that features both my interview and his talk and which I think provides a good intruction to how to bring nature home.

But, like I said, get the book. Please. It's important.


June 1, 2015

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Talking tomatoes, straw bale gardening, lawns and more with Melinda Myers

If it's the growing season, it must be time for another chat with Melinda Myers. If anybody ever wonders why I have her on my program, here's why:

Gardening expert, TV/radio host, author & columnist Melinda Myers is the 2013 recipient of the national American Horticultural Society's B.Y. Morrison Communication Award, has over 30 years of horticulture experience and has written over 20 gardening books, including Can't Miss Small Space Gardening , the Midwest Gardener's Handbook , and Jackson and Perkins' Beautiful Roses Made Easy: Midwestern Edition . She hosts the nationally syndicated Melinda's Garden Moment segments which air on over 125 TV and radio stations throughout the U.S. as well as  The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD series . She is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and writes the twice monthly “Gardeners' Questions” newspaper column. Melinda also has a regular column in the nationally distributed Gardening How-To magazine as well as Wisconsin Gardening magazine. She appears regularly as a guest expert on various national and local television and radio shows.

Melinda has a master's degree in horticulture, is a certified arborist, was a horticulture instructor with tenure and is currently on the board of directors for the International Society of Arboriculture.

Besides, we always have a good time talking about gardening stuff.

As you'll hear on the podcast, we were in the middle of a conversation when I decided to push the "record" button; we had already talked for at least a half hour before that. Once I informed her that we were doing it "for real," it didn't really change anything.

Among the things we discussed:

  • Straw bale gardening, which is all the rage. I'm not knocking it, mind you. In fact, last year I interviewed Joel Karsten, who wrote the book Straw Bale Gardens. But there's a time and a place for everything, as Melinda reveals to me.
  • Keeping your tomatoes happy. At this time of the year, it means not getting fooled by Mother Nature when she throws a weekend of 40 degree overnight temperatures at you...which she just did. It also means proper watering and fertilizing.
  • Lawn obsession. If you've ever listened to me before, you know that when people get crazy about their green mowed stuff, that makes me crazy. (Check out this article and accompanying conversation I had with Green Diva Meg on The Green Divas Radio Show).
  • Milorganite Organic Nitrogen Fertilizer. Hey, they're advertisers on my show and they support Melinda, too! Besides, it's a great product, so it's a win-win, as they say.

I guess that's all I have to say. I hope you enjoy the podcast as much as Melinda and I enjoyed putting it together.


May 24, 2015

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Intensive small space gardening for a world class chef

I met Bill Shores in 2009, when we were both invited to speak to the Adams County, Illinois Master Gardeners at their annual Gardener's Palette event at John Wood Community College in Quincy. As I recall, we were just about the only people in the Amtrak car on the way back, so we spent quite a bit of the time swapping gardening stories.

I'm not sure if I had ever heard of Rick Bayless at that time (yes, that Rick Bayless), but I listened intently as Shores described how he had been working for Bayless for several years. The impressive part was that, in a typical Chicago backyard, he was practicing what he calls intensive small scale food production to provide fresh produce for the Bayless restaurants. I promised Bill that I would come and visit the yard soon.

Well, that "soon" turned into six years, but after running into Bill several times during that period, including in March at the Good Food Festival & Conference, I knew that it would finally happen. So on a cloudless May afternoon, I visited Shores in his garden behind the house of Rick and Deann Bayless in the Bucktown neighborhood of Chicago. This isn't the only thing that he's working on, by any stretch of the imagination. Among the accomplishments that you can find on the website of his own business, Shores Garden Consulting, are his work with the Bayless gardens and greenhouses, as well as numerous consulting projects and working production gardens.

As you'll hear in the podcast, the space, nestled up against The 606 (or Bloomingdale Trail, if you haven't caught on to the rebranding effort yet), is actually three city lots, though two thirds of the area is used for either ornamentals or entertainment, including (of course) an outdoor kitchen.

That doesn't leave a lot of space for Shores and his crops, though he makes the best of it, incorporating beds for a wide variety of greens, squash (used primarily for the flowers), herbs, raspberries, grapes, and even exotics like prickly pear cactus (again, used for the blooms). There are also vermicomposting and yard waste composting bins, traditional beds, raised beds, containers, vertical and indoor garden spaces, a semi-enclosed work area that serves a variety of functions and, when I visited, even a small, portable greenhouse.

The greenhouse was home to one of the special, if no-so-secret, ingredients that Rick Bayless uses in his restaurants, especially Topolobampo--a semi-tropical herb called hoja santa (Piper auritum). The name means "sacred leaf" and Shores told me that he grows a lot of it. In 2014, he harvest 70 pounds of leaves, and considering that there are about 70 leaves per pound, that's a a lot of hoja santa.

If you've never grown the plant and would like to see what it looks like, take peak at the short video "Growing Hoja Santa with Bill Shores" that Kathleen Thompson produced after my visit to the garden.

It was a delight to be able to record an interview of my special tour of the Bayless garden and present it on my show. By the way, Bill offers those tours to the general public for a modest fee, and I'd be surprised if you weren't inspired.

And I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Rick and Deann Bayless have a wonderful organization called The Frontera Farmer Foundation, a not-for-profit organization committed to promoting small, sustainable farms serving the Chicago area by providing them with capital development grants. Decades before the word "locavore" entered the food growing lexicon, Bayless was tracking down local, organic produce for his restaurants and helping to lead the movement that has changed the way we eat.

Keep track of your recycling with this app

It's pretty easy to become discouraged about the environmental state of our planet (among a myriad of issues), until you realize that there are young people out there who are just as concerned as you are about the problems that face us all.

Back in February, I interviewed Claire Micklin about an app she created, called My Building Doesn't Recycle! It is a website/app that gives citizens a chance to report high rises that fail to observe what is actually a law in Chicago--that multi-unit buildings must have a recycling plan in place. Unfortunately, the so-called Burke-Hansen ordinance is, in the words of Shakespeare, more honor'd in the breach than the observance.

Because I have been involved with the Chicago Recycling Coalition for about ten years, I was able to offer Claire some assistance as she and her co-techies created their recycling app. I was pleased when she became something of a rock star earlier this year, with articles in the Chicago Tribune, a piece on WBEZ and more. I was even more pleased that the issue of recycling was once again making headlines.

Then, just a few weeks ago, I interviewed another young environmentalist, Ashley Williams, with whom I had worked on the issue of frac sand mining in LaSalle County, Illinois. At the age of 24, she is already being honored for her activism on behalf of the planet. She just graduated from Illinois Valley Community College and is prepared to enter the Institute of Environmental Sustainability at Loyola University in Chicago.

And now I have become introduced to another student who is trying to make a difference. Dusan Koleno just graduated with honors from the Computer Science program at Roosevelt University. But along the way, he decided to take a course in the Sustainability Studies Department called Waste and Consumption. And it inspired him to create his own app, called Recycle Tracker, which can be downloaded for Android phone on Google Play.

I found out about this when my buddy Tom Shepherd forwarded this article to me from Roosevelt University. After downloading the app, I gave Kolen a call and he walked me through it during our interview. Among other things, it helps you figure out how many trees and how many kilowatt hours of energy you save by recycling.

I hope a few of you decide to give it a try. And allow me to give a quick shout out to Mike Bryson, who is a co-founder of the Sustainabilities Department at Roosevelt. Keep cranking out students like Dusan Koleno, Mike, and we'll all be just fine.


May 11, 2015

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A couple of plant sales that you should know about

Let me just say right here and now that I wish I could list every single garden sale and event that occurs in the Chicago area. But I simply don't have the staff or the time to do that. So I do what I can. And just because I didn't get to your particular sale or event this time around doesn't mean that I won't cover next time. So keep writing and keep bugging me!

That being said, there are a couple of events in Chicago this week that are worth your time and money.

What: Annual Plant Sale at the Kilbourn Park Organic Greenhouse.
Where: 3501 N. Kilbourn Ave. Chicago , IL 60641
When: Sat & Sun, May 16 & 17, 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
What to expect: 150 varieties of organically-grown vegetable, herb, and flower seedlings. Customers can expect a wide variety of open-pollinated and heirloom tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. Other highlights include an assortment of herbs, greens and onions. This year will feature many new plants selected for city gardening in small spaces and containers.

Cost: Free Admission, Plant Prices between $2.00 to $5.00 CASH ONLY

To make your shopping experience easy they've put together a comprehensive list of available plants. Don't forget to like Kilbourn Park Organic Greenhouse on Facebook.

Here's event number two:

What: 4th Annual Plant Sale and Bake Sale Fundraiser
Where: Peterson Garden Project Learning Center, 4642 North Francisco Avenue, Chicago, IL 60625
Friday, May 15th, 12pm-4pm; Saturday, May 16th, 10am-4pm; Sunday, May 17th, 10am-4pm
What to expect:
Vegetable and herb seedlings  are locally-grown in certified organic soil and are hand-selected for growing well in Chicago. Heirloom favorites will be available, as well as a few disease- resistant tomato and basil varieties! We'll also be selling our book, Fearless Food Gardening in Chicagoland , seeds from Seed Savers Exchange , worm castings, Purple Cow Activated compost , Cascade Minerals soil booster , Corona tools , Grewbie kits, Neptune's Harvest liquid fertilizer, PGP t-shirts, seed potatoes, Seed Keeper Company 5-  and 10- gallon Burlap Girdles (great for growing potatoes!), and delicious,  locally-baked goods.

Not sure what plants and seeds to buy? Click below for a list of what will be offered, and there will be expert gardeners on hand during the sale to help you choose your new favorites!

BYOB! (Bring Your Own Box) – they ask that you please bring your own bags, boxes or trays for carrying your seedlings home. 

For a list of 2015 seedlings and seeds, click HERE. Cash and credit accepted.

Creating a wildlife corridor, one backyard at a time

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There are a few books about our modern natural world that can be called "game changers." One of them is Rachel Caron's Silent Spring, another is Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac. Some folks might throw in one of Michael Pollan's brilliant books, and there are many other contributions that could be considered.

On a personal level, I would add Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens by University of Delaware professor Doug Tallamy. It certainly caught my attention, not to mention various native plant and conservation groups around the country.

It also inspired suburban Oak Park resident Pamela Todd and a few of her friends to start the West Cook Wild Ones chapter and set a goal of creating a wildlife corridor between Thatcher Woods Forest Preserve in Maywood/River Forest on the west and Columbus Park in Chicago on the east, a stretch of approximately four miles or so. By the way, Pam's adventures with native plants led her to write a young adult book called The Blind Faith Hotel. But that's another subject altogether.

The idea of wildlife corridors is not new. The concept of providing narrow, continuous strips of natural areas to connect wildlife populations separated by human disruption has been around for several decades, in response to the increasing fragmentation of our natural areas. And, according to Dr. Talamy, this activity has led to

unprecedented development that continues to sprawl over 2 million additional acres per year (the size of Yellowstone National Park). The Chesapeake Bay watershed has lost 100 acres of forest each day since 1985. We have connected all of our developments with 4 million miles of roads, the paved surface is nearly five times the size of New Jersey. Somewhere along the way we decided to convert most of our living and working spaces into huge expanses of lawn. So far we have planted over 62,500 sq miles, some 40 million acres, in lawn. Each weekend we mow an area 8 times the size of New Jersey to within 1 inch and then congratulate ourselves on a job well done. And it's not like those little woodlots and “open spaces” we have not paved over or manicured are pristine. Nearly all are second-growth forests that have been thoroughly invaded by alien plants like autumn olive, multiflora rose, Oriental bittersweet, and Japanese honeysuckle.  Over 3400 species of alien plants have invaded 100 million acres of the U.S, and that area is expected to double in the next 5 years. 

It isn't hard to imagine why our native flora and fauna--including insect populations--are in big trouble. Which is why Dr. Talamy and others are on a mission to create "homegrown national parks" wherever there's an open space--yes, even in suburban backyards.

That kind of activity is being measured in projects like the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Yardmap,

a citizen science project designed to cultivate a richer understanding of bird habitat, for both professional scientists and people concerned with their local environments. We collect data by asking individuals across the country to literally draw maps of their backyards, parks, farms, favorite birding locations, schools, and gardens. We connect you with your landscape details and provide tools for you to make better decisions about how to manage landscapes sustainably.

And that's where Pam Todd, Dick Alton, Sally Stovall, Stephanie Walquist and others come in. For their wildlife corridor, they attempting to get pledges from at least two residents on each block to plant natives so that birds and insects can flow between the forest preserve on the west and the city park on the east. So far, they've collected about 100 pledges from inside the corridor and many more outside of those boundaries. You can see their own map here and find information about how to join the effort.

So I headed out to Oak Park to see the efforts for myself and to talk to Todd, Alton and Stoval, which is the core of this week's show. It's also a chance for me to publicize the Living Landscapes Conference that is being presented by the West Cook Wild Ones on May 17 at Dominican University in River Forest. Not surprisingly, Doug Tallamy will be giving the keynote speech. Even more fun, I will be sitting down with him for an interview before that talk on Sunday, and that conversation will be posted in a couple of weeks. Stay tuned.

How to get "Homegrown with Bonnie Plants"

I can't tell you how pleased I am that Bonnie Plants has followed me on my journey to the Intertubes, including the GDGD Radio Network. And it's also a pleasure to welcome Sidney Phelps back to my show. He is a distribution manager at Bonnie Plants Corporate Headquarters in Union Springs, Alabama, and he's smart, savvy and fun to talk to.

I can't imagine what it's like to be in the middle of gearing up for the growing season across the whole United States, but Sidney took some time out to talk to me on the show about some cool stuff happening at Bonnie Plants. First up is “Homegrown with Bonnie Plants”--a new, FREE app for iPhones. Unfortunately, I have an android phone, so I'll have to wait a little while longer. But for you Apple fans,with this FREE app you can

- Take notes and photos in the garden;
- Set reminder notifications for essential tasks like watering and fertilizing;
- Access a Grow Guide for each plant (no WIFI required), with info such as best spacing, light and soil requirements, harvest guidelines, and more;
- Use the Tomato Chooser and Pepper Chooser to find just the right tomatoes and peppers to grow;
- Look up companion planting suggestions;
- See current and predicted weather forecasts for your local area, including temperature and rainfall;
- Create a personalized list of plants growing in your garden;
- Easily track when you plant, water, care for, and harvest your plants;

and more. Sidney also told me about the "tomato chooser" and the "pepper chooser," which are both on the Bonnie Plants site and will guide you through the maze of varieties of both plants.

In general, there's a ton of helpful information on the website, from "Heirloom Vegetable Growingi Tips" to "Growing Watermelons" to great salad recipes to "Keeping Deer Out of the Garden" to growing herbs to "Which Veggies for Which Season?" to growing flowers and a lot more. I highly recommend getting lost in the site for awhile.


May 3, 2015

Bringing clean energy to Illinois

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What would you say if I told you that we could bring 32,000 new jobs to Illinois and, at the same time, save consumers $1.6 billion, and reduce dangerous pollution from coal-fired power plants? You'd probably say, "Hey, you're talking about some kind of clean energy program, aren't you?"

And you would be correct.

I am referring to a bill that is being considered by the Illinois General Assembly, now in its spring session. It is called, rather prosaically, the Illinois Clean Jobs Bill, and it was introduced by Sen. Don Harmon and Rep. Elaine Nekritz and it has been cosponsored by 39 representatives and 19 senators. The official designation for the bill in the Ilinois House and Senate is HB 2607/SB 1485. According to the Illinois Solar Energy Association (ISEA), which, with the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition, is backing this legislation, says that it would

  • Create 32,000  jobs per year once fully implemented. (source:  Illinois Science Technology Institute)
  • Save customers at minimum $1 Billion in net present value through  2030 through energy efficiency alone. That  translates into minimum savings of 7.9 %, or $8 --  $9/month, by  2030 for avg. residential customer in current dollars. (source: Citizens Utility Board)
  • Raise energy efficiency standards to 20% by 2025, building on successful energy efficiency programs that have saved customers more than $1 billion since 2007 and helped create a new industry in Illinois.
  • Fixe the state's flawed RPS, and raise the standard to 35% by 2030, helping IL compete for capital and   investment being captured by surrounding states; commit to priorities like rooftop solar, community solar and solar for low - income communities and for residents who lack roof access.
  • Encourage investments from capital markets. By ramping up renewables, will help IL attract investments   currently being lost to other states; will allow for expansion of energy efficiency industry, and help increase local clean energy supply chain that currently includes 400 Illinois firms.

Of course, nothing is easy, so there are two competing bills, one sponsored by ComEd and the other sponsored by its parent company, Exelon. The Citizens Utility Board is squarely on the side of the Illinois Clean Jobs Bill, saying,

CUB created three cost-benefit models for the Illinois Clean Jobs bill, based on electricity rates, past performance of efficiency programs and prudent assumptions about yearly increases in energy usage, key market costs and inflation. The consumer watchdog's analysis compared those models with a "business as usual" scenario—if efficiency standards stayed at current levels. Estimated customer savings through the legislation ranged from about $1.1 billion to $2.2 billion . The "base case" model, based on mid-range assumptions, projected the following statewide benefits by 2030, if the bill were fully implemented:

  • Total cumulative residential savings: $1.61 billion
  • Average electric-bill reduction: 7.86 percent annually
  • Average residential savings: $98.38 a year

Another supporter of that bill, not surprisinging, is alternative energy expert for The Mike Nowak Show Lisa Albrecht, who hasn't been on the show in way too long. In the interest of full disclosure, she is on the board of the ISEA and is an employee of Solar Service, Inc. Lisa knows her stuff and it's a pleasure to have her back on the program.

Meanwhile, the prospects for both wind and solar energy might have advanced significantly with the introduction of a a line rechargeable lithium-ion battery packs by Tesla Motors. Called the "Powerwall," the batteries are designed for both home and industry, and will theoretically allow smarter energy consumption. It will change the world. Or it won't. However, as writer Jeff MacMahon asks in Forbes, Did Tesla Just Kill Nuclear Power? Part of that, I guess, hinges on just how good Elon Musk's product is.

A bright star in the next generation of environmental leaders

As much as I hate to admit it--for purely snobbish reasons, I imagine--it was on Facebook that I saw a link to this article by Steve Stout in the Times out of Ottawa, Illinois:

'(It's) my life's work': IVCC's Williams honored for environmental activism

I knew immediately that it was about my friend Ashley Williams, a resident of Ottawa, who has been a relentless battler against the encroaching open pit frac sand mines in that part of Illinois. I was introduced to her shortly after I became aware of the effort to prevent a mine from being dug outside of the eastern entrance to Starved Rock State Park.

In 2013, she collected more than 16,000 online signatures protesting that development, which had been approved by the LaSalle County Board, and handed them to Governor Pat Quinn at his office. That, along with attending municipal board meetings and writing letters and organizing mailing lists and speaking out eloquently are several of the ways that she has influenced the environmental convertsation in LaSalle County.

Oh, and did a mention that she's 24 years old and that she attends Illinois Valley Community College? And that I'm almost put to shame by her energy and the idea that somebody that young can stand up to the oil and gas industry via confronting its cousin, the frac sand industry?

Well, thank goodness that there are people paying attention.

Last month, she was named as one of the top 20 community college students in the nation at the Phi Theta Kappa national convention in San Antonio, Texas.

Chosen from more than 1,500 students from approximately 800 community colleges in 48 states, Guam and American Samoa, Williams was selected for the 2015 All-USA Community College Academic Team.

This fall she will be studying at the Institute of Environmental Sustainability at Loyola University Chicago.

On today's show, she talks about her awards and updates the struggle to find respect for the land and the people of LaSalle County.


April 24, 2015

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An Earth Day walk along Lake Calumet

It was a last minute decision that brought me to the shores of Lake Calumet on Chicago's southeast side on the morning of Earth Day 2015. I had seen a post on Facebook by the Southeast Environmental Task Force about a hike to visit the lake, but I didn't make the decision to show up until the night before.

I was partly inspired by an article written in the Chicagoist by friend of the show Josh Mogerman titled, Visit Lake Calumet—Chicago's Nearly Invisible Natural, Industrial Wonderland. In the story, Josh included a litany of fascinating and sometimes chilling facts about what is the largest body of water inside of Chicago's city limits:

  • Despite DNA evidence that Asian carp are swimming through the Chicago Area Waterways on their way to colonizing the Great Lakes, Lake Calumet is the only place where a live fish has been found . (Considering the proximity to Lake Michigan and lack of defenses between the two lakes, this was not really good news back in 2010 ).
  • Lake Calumet was once the center of a large wetland system that covered the area, but it has been so deeply dredged that freighters can chug up the Calumet River and into its waters. While most of the big boats are hauling petcoke these days, some of them still visit LaFarge and St. Mary's Cement on a regular basis on the edge of Lake Calumet. Consider that journey for a second— giant 600-foot long boats going for miles down the Calumet River backwards to reach the lake (the river is too narrow for the freighters to turn around and the boats are not nimble enough to make the journey backwards fully loaded).
  • The area around Lake Calumet was probably the only home of Thismia americana —an interesting flowering plant that used fungi for food rather than the power of the sun. It is assumed to be extinct, since the plant has not been seen since 1916 after the area was flooded with garbage dumps and industrial facilities.
  • Birds have not disappeared from the area— bald eagles have nested nearby. Which is an example of why the area is so fascinating. The same massive industrial footprint (and pollution emanating from it) looms so large it prevents development of the last vestiges of nature in the area—wildlife and wetlands still hang on along Lake Calumet's shores.

That led me to the Wikipedia entry about the lake, which didn't necessarily make the area any more attractive:

Formerly a shallow, postglacial lake draining into Lake Michigan, it has been changed beyond recognition by industrial redevelopment and decay. Parts of the lake have been dredged, and other parts reshaped by landfill.

Perhaps it's the very adversity that has challenged the lake over decades that makes people want to restore even a glimmer of its former luster as a natural area. Just last fall, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and former Governor Pat Quinn held a press conference on the shores of the lake to announce an agreement to purchase 282 acres of land from the Illinois International Port District with the intention of turning it into a recreational area.

That action is part of a much grander plan called the Millennium Reserve, which has a goal of transforming huge swaths of the southeast side of Chicago in order to

  • Honor its cultural and industrial past
  • Restore and enhance the natural ecosystems
  • Support healthy and prosperous communities and residents
  • Stimulate vigorous and sustainable economic growth.

Those goals seemed even more attainable after President Barack Obama earlier this year designated the Pullman Historic District a national monument. Given that Pullman is just across the Bishop Ford Freeway (I-94) from Lake Calumet, the conventional thinking is that a revived natual area around the lake will benefit from the influx of tourists to the new national monument.

Of course, a freeway can sometimes be as big a barrier as the barbed-wire fences that already surround the lake. As you will hear noted in today's show, Chicagoans don't need an excuse not to visit other parts of the City. And another barrier might be the fact that Governor Quinn has been replaced by Republican Governor Bruce Rauner, who is zealously looking for ways to cut the Illinois budget.

Still, that didn't keep the SETF's Tom Shepherd from encouraging people to show up on a cold, blustery spring day at Harborside International Golf Course, which right now is the only place that you can access Lake Calumet without climbing over a fence. From there we were loaded onto buses and driven to an access point on the lake. Remarkably, there might have been eighty or ninety people there that morning, not to mention students from three area schools.

Tom is just one of the people I interviewed as we walked along the shore of this maltreated part of Chicago's history. Speaking of history, I also chatted with Chicago historian Paul Petraitis, as well as birder Walter Marcisz, Ders Anderson, Greenways Director for Openlands, Dr. Dennis Nyburg, professor emeritus from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and ecologist Teri Radke and friend Lois Kimmelman.

Yes, it was cold and windy, even for an April day in Chicago. No, there wasn't much to see in the way of flora or fauna--it was too early in the season for the former and the latter were pretty much hunkered down against the wind and the noise of more than a hundred people tromping through what little "habitat" there is. Yet, I learned that some birds still come to this area as they have for millennia, and it is a good spot for bird watching. We also saw what looked to be coyote feces, evidence that they were around, if not in sight.

Ultimately, I'm glad I was part of the hike, if only to be reminded that nothing changes for the better without people showing up.

I think I'll do it again next year.




April 17, 2015

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Five minutes with the Seed Keeper Company gals

Okay, it's really more like twenty minutes with the Seed Keeper Company gals. Maybe I need a new name for this segment, especially if the conversations keep running four times as long as advertised. I'll work on it.

But back to the Seed Keeper Company and the delightful women who started it. While they seem to be pretty successful already, if they were to create a business called "Rent-An-Aunt" and hire themselves out, I suspect that they would become millionaires overnight. I could be wrong about the dollar figure, but Carol Niec and Kerrie Rosenthal are that nice and that entertaining.

And they wear black boots. Gardening boots. You can see those on the left. But that's another story.

Ahem. Anyway, it's spring, and if you're a gardener, this is the time to be thinking about planting seeds. And if you're like me (not that I would wish that on anybody), the words "seeds" and "organization" rarely find themselves in the same sentence. Which is why Kerrie and Carol started the Seed Keeper Company. Not to help me personally but to help people like me.

Originally, it was simply about better way to store seeds. Together, they developed a seed filing system for seed packets and captured seeds complete with tips and seed planting accessories, including a plastic clip-lock container. Then came items like Seed Peepers and Peeper Keepers and Burlap Girdles (their own design) and programs like the Seed Keeper Project and more.

Did I mention that these gals are funny? You'll discover that when you listen to the podcast, during which we discuss cucamelons, burlap girdles, chickerariums (you'll have to listen to the show segment to know what that's about), and how the Seed Keepers got started. It's a ton o' fun and I hope you click below to check it out.

Nance Klehm knows The Ground Rules

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Nance Klehm likes to describe herself as "a steward of the earth." You might think, "That's nice," until you start exploring the rest of her resume:

Nance was honored as one of Utne Reader's Twelve Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World in 2012 . Her work has been featured in news and media outlets such as the Chicago Tribune , Reuters news service, on the MSN Money website, American Public Media's Weekend America program, BBC Radio Canada , Chicago Public Radio, Le Devoir (Montreal) and La Raza (Chicago).

Nance has lectured at the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, the University of Cincinnati, and the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal. She has taught at the University of California – Los Angeles, Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, and Dartington College in the United Kingdom, as well as for countless community groups worldwide.

Oh, and did you know that she is providing the use of her land in Orangeville, Illinois for Nature's Farm Camp, which I talked about on this program with Tim Magner a couple of months ago? And that, In the fall of 2014, she hosted more than 250 people from around the globe at her place for something called the 3rd Radical Mycology Convergence, which was about teaching skills for working with fungi as personal, societal, and ecological medicine? Of course you didn't!

She likes the idea that a writer recently described her as a "renegade researcher," and since I haven't come up with anything better, I'll go with that. But as you can see, Nance ain't your ordinary horticultural type. Not by a long shot.

Her latest venture (which is a relative term, since she tends to keep all of the plates in the air at the same time) is something called The Ground Rules, which examines the connection between urban dwellers and their soil. Believe it or not, she actually wants people to talk about their soil--one on one, in publications, and even at town hall meetings. The problem is that most people haven't a clue as to what goes on below the soil line. Here's my own hint: "It's the biology, stupid." Not that I'm calling anybody stupid. The point is that you can't fix your soil if you don't know anything about it.. That's where The Ground Rules comes in, and here's partly what it hopes to accomplish:

  • Run a fee-based organic waste collection service for institutions, organizations, restaurants and other food purveyors
  • Create top-notch, quality compost to be shared with our garden partners for their food production and our bioremediation projects
  • Train and educate citizens in:
    • Building compost systems and practices that meet their needs as well as meet City code
    • soil biology, structure, and chemistry
    • compost technologies
    • community bioremediation

The Soil Rules already has community soil center locations in a number of Chicago locations, including Humboldt Park (which includes a demonstration soil remediation site), Logan Square, Back of the Yards, Garfield Park and North Lawndale.

Like most projects, this one take money to get off the ground. That's why Klehm is running an Indiegogo campaign called "Feed Your Soil: The Ground Rules." Among the good that contributing to the project will do is to help the group continue work at its community soil center locations. It will also provide funds for publishing The Ground Rules Manual: Healing our Urban Soils Together, which will teach advanced composting techniques and bioremediation.

I've worked with Nance Klehm on a number of projects and she always leaves me impressed...and a little intimidated. But it's great to talk to her about The Ground Rules on today's show.

Follow up: Factory farm near Lincoln's New Salem State Historic Site?

Last week, I reported on a hog factory farm had been proposed for Menard county, near the historic site of Abraham Lincoln's New Salem home. I interviewed Karen Hudson, an Illinois farmer, co-founder of Illinois Citizens for Clean Air and Water, and Regional Consultant for the Socially Responsible Agricultural Project, who said that the operation would house more than 9,000 animals. Along with local residents, she was worried that it would cause problems such as contaminated wells, polluted rivers and streams, degraded water supplies and the risk of antibiotic resistant pathogens. (You can listen to that interview, which I recorded at the Chicago Flower & Garden Show, here.)

Now the bad news.

I received this message from Priscilla Hall Reynolds with Menard Citizens for Clean Air and Water:

We have received confirmation that IDOA has granted approval of the Grigsby Protein Realty 1 LLC and this is our reaction:

This is yet another illustration of how citizens of Illinois and their elected representatives are being overruled by unelected state agency personnel and bad state law that puts the profit-seeking interests of LLC corporations ahead of their own citizens and communities.

Numerous local organizations, hundreds of residents and the Menard County Board went on record opposing the operations. Dozens of people, including engineers and other experts, reviewed the application, scientific studies and economic impact reports. We raised numerous credible issues with multiple siting criteria.

The department was presented with testimony and multiple documents that should have given it pause to at least require more information of the applicants as well as the use of available technology to avoid some of the inevitable negative environmental impacts.

We are simply stunned that it did not.

We find it unconscionable that at a minimum, the Department did not require the use of bio-filtration for odor and toxic emission control. This simple, low-cost process has been effectively used elsewhere since the late 1990s, and even USDA verified its effectiveness in a 2011 report. For the Department to allow any confined feeding operation to be built with this knowledge is a failure to have operators comply with two of the required siting criteria in the Livestock Management Facilities Act.

Priscilla Reynolds says that's just the beginning:

[T]his is only the half of it--an identical CAFO is proposed four mil es from the Menard site in Cass Co. It's sited less than a mile from Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Fish and Wildlife Area. Hunters from all over the US make it their destination. Millions of taxpayer dollars have been spent to create and maintain these places for people's enjoyment. This just doesn't smell right to me.

She urges citizens to write to their state represenatives to demand a change in the Livestock Management Facilities Act (LMFA).

You can connect with Menard Citizens for Clean Air and Water on their Facebook page here. ICCAW's Facebook page is here. Another organization fighting against factory farm animal mistreatment is Crate Free Illinois, which also has a Facebook page.


April 10, 2015

Listen to this entire podcast ON DEMAND.

Five minutes with Kathleen Thompson

There have been a boatload of people over the years who have contributed to the success of my show, but over the past seven years, none has been as important to me as Kathleen Thompson. It doesn't hurt that she has been my partner in business, art and life for 37 years. While she's basically the person behind the design of this website, she has also contributed in innumerable ways to many aspects of my program.

And since Kathleen has worked very hard on the "new look" of, I thought it only fitting that she should stand up and take a bow. If you haven't looked at the home page lately, it's now geared more toward making it easy for folks to track down my podcasts and the blogs I wirte about them (also known as This Week's Show).

Thanks for all of your hard work, sweetie!

Will a factory farm spoil Lincoln's New Salem State Historic Site?

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I recenntly discovered a Food & Water Watch website with some messy statistics:

  • There is one factory farmed hog for every three people in Illinois.
  • The number of factory farmed hogs in Illinois grew by 22 percent to 3.9 million between 1997 and 2007.
  • The size of average Illinois egg factory farms nearly doubled to nearly 821,000 million hens between 1997 and 2007.
  • In 2009, an Iroquois County hog operation manure spill tainted 19-miles of a local stream, killing fish for several days, including the native northern pike.
  • In 2008, the Illinois EPA investigated an estimated 90,000-gallon manure spill from a 6,000-head Adams County hog facility after construction equipment broke a sewer line.
  • The 3.9 million hogs, nearly 150,000 beef cattle, 12,000 dairy cows, and 4.9 million egg-laying hens produce as much untreated manure as 89 million people — nearly 7 times the Illinois population.

Karen Hudson is an Illinois farmer, co-founder of Illinois Citizens for Clean Air and Water, and Regional Consultant for the Socially Responsible Agricultural Project, and has been on my show before. She contends in a letter to the Peoria Journal Star that her organizations know more about where factory farms are located than the IEPA does:

Where are all the factory farms in Illinois? The Illinois EPA (IEPA) still has no idea. In early February, the Illinois Citizens for Clean Air and Water (ICCAW) and other groups filed comments to the Illinois Pollution Control Board (IPCB) due to IEPA's lack of an accurate inventory of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in Illinois. ICCAW performed vigorous independent research using Illinois Department of Agriculture datasets obtained via the FOIA, Secretary of State Information, and GIS mapping in an attempt to compile a correct accounting of CAFOs in Illinois. Astonishingly, we discovered as many as 560 CAFOs statewide, while the IEPA's inventory only accounts for 254. This is just a snapshot of the deficiencies revealed by ICCAW's independent research. IEPA blames a lack of personnel and resources as their excuse and claims they will complete an accounting only as new complaints filter in about existing facilities and as existing resources allow for inspections. More than three years ago, the IEPA agreed to complete a comprehensive inventory of CAFOs after ICCAW filed a citizen complaint with the U.S. EPA under provisions of the Clean Water Act, which triggered a federal investigation. As a result, the federal EPA awarded a failing grade to the agency due to the lack of regulation of CAFOs. IEPA continues to resist an IPCB reporting rule that will finally lead to an accurate accounting of all CAFOs in Illinois and demonstrates a lack of commitment in regulating these massive operations that pollute land, air and water. (italics mine)

Even worse, Hudson reports that a hog factory farm has been proposed for Menard county, near the historic site of Abraham Lincoln's New Salem home. Hudson says that the operation would house more than 9,000 animals, along with local residents, she worries that it would cause problems such as contaminated wells, polluted rivers and streams, degraded water supplies and the risk of antibiotic resistant pathogens.

There are many articles and documentaries that explain how modern factory farms abuse animals, but one relatively painless way of getting the message is through The Meatrix ®, an award-winning series of short animated movies about problems created by industrial agriculture.

You can connect with ICCAW on their Facebook page here. Another organization fighting against factory farm animal mistreatment is Crate Free Illinois, which also has a Facebook page.

The Illinois Department of Agriculture is scheduled to make a ruling on the Grigsby Family Partnership's hog-containment facility in Menard County by April 17.

Benjamin Vogt and The Ultimate Pollinator & Native Plant Gardening Guide

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Benjamin Vogt is no slouch when it comes to putting his money where his mouth is. From his base of operations in Lincoln, Nebraska, he is a fierce advocate of growing native plants. For instance, he tends an award-winning a two-thousand square foot organic prairie style garden that has been featured online at Garden Design and Fine Gardening, and in print in the Omaha World Herald and Lincoln Journal Star.

He owns a native plant garden coaching and design business, Monarch Gardens , and has presented nationally on sustainable wildlife gardening and the ethics of native plant gardens at nurseries, botanic gardens, conferences, garden clubs, libraries, and outdoor living events.

He is also an author, blogger and lecturer at University of Nebraska-Lincoln...and he's even a poet, for goodness sake.

So I wasn't very surprised when I saw that he had put together a fabulous entry on his blog, The Deep Middle, called The Ultimate Pollinator & Native Plant Gardening Guide. It covers a wide range of information about...well...pollinators and native plants. Here's an example of the links and information he provides:

Milkweed / Monarch Issues

A rundown of all the key topics, with links.

Conservation photographer Joel Sartore takes action and prairies up his Nebraska farm.

How monarchs use milkweed, from toxicity in certain species of milkweed to butterflies self-medicating. 

Can milkweed be bad for monarchs?

The loss of monarchs is a loss of far more

How the farm bill hurts monarchs via High Country News.

There's much, much more, but I want you to go to his site to get that information, so he can be the beneficiary of the Internet hits, not me. It's great having him back on the show.


April 2, 2015

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Five minutes with Rob Kartholl

I'm introducing a new segment to the show this week, called "Five minutes with..." All it means is that I plan to grab a few of my friends in the horticultural and enviornmental world and make them part of the podcast, whether or not they like it. Umm...that didn't come out right. And it might be five minutes or it might be longer, as this segment is. Anyway, this week, I start with an old friend of The Mike Nowak Show, Rob Kartholl, who was the 2014 farm manager for the KAM Isaiah Israel Garden, which grew and distributed more than two tons of organic produce for pantries and hot meal kitchens in the Hyde Park area of Chicago.

This year, the ever-nomadic Kartholl is going back to his family roots to work at Fischer Farm History Museum in Bensenville, Illinois. He wants folks to know that there will be a work day on Saturday, April 11, when repainting the chicken coop and painting the brooding house will be priorities. For more information, click onto the Fischer Farm link above, which takes you to their Facebook page.

"The Messenger" and the disturbing decline of songbirds

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Just last year, I talked on the program to Annette Prince, director of the Chicago Bird Collision Monitors, which is an all-volunteer conservation project dedicated to the protection of migratory birds through rescue, advocacy and outreach. Through programs like LIghts Out Chicago, it is trying to mitigate the deaths of what might be a billion birds per year that fly into buildings.

Unfortunately, human-created buildings and lights are just part of the problem.

For example, since 1967, some bird populations have decreased by as much as 80 percent; many others have lost half of their numbers. As National Geographic writes,

A National Audubon Society report called "Common Birds in Decline," for instance, shows that some widespread species generally thought to be secure have decreased in number as much as 80 percent since 1967, and the 19 others in the report have lost half their populations. The figures reflect an array of threats faced by birds throughout North America...

Migrants return from Central America to find that the brushy field where they nested the previous year is now a strip mall.

Millions of songbirds annually suffer bloody death in the claws of domestic cats. Millions more collide with city skyscrapers or communications towers, or fly into the glass windows of suburban houses.

And climate change could degrade or even eliminate habitats in ways that scientists have only recently begun to study and try to forecast.

Canadian filmmaker Su Rynard took notice of this alarming trend and gathered scientists, ecologists, bird enthusiasts and a remarkable film crew to create Songbird SOS Productions, Inc. and its documentary, The Messenger, which chronicles songbird decline and what can be done to stem the losses.

Rynard and her crew travel to the far corners of the globe to track and report on warblers, buntings, swallows, thrushes and more--seemlingly all of which face insurmountable odds to survive not only their migratory journeys across continents and oceans, but even more dangers close to home. More importantly, they draw the connection to the continued existence of songbirds and our own tenuous place on the planet. The reaction to songbirds to the ecosystems around them might just give us a clue that we ignore the environmental damage we are causing to our world at our own peril.

And yet, the film manages to remain upbeat by revealing of the sheer beauty of their songs, their movements across the sky--which are captured in detailed and unprecedented footage--and the determination of these remarkable creatures to survive. Also inspiring is the determination of scientists, activists and citizen observers to reverse the destructive tide of modern civilization's onslaught against these fragile animals.

The Messenger just received word that it will have it's world premiere at the Hot Docs International Film Festival on April 28, 2015.

Meanwhile, there are still a few days to support their Indiegogo campaign, which runs to April 7. As of this writing, producer Joanne Jackson informs me that they have reached 80% of their goal. It's an inspiring documentary and I urge you to see it and support it if you can.

It's a potato, it's a potato tower!

The 2015 version of the Chicago Flower & Garden Show turned out to be a gold mine...if you were carrying around an mp3 recorder, as I was. This is the final of several interviews that I conducted with folks who I either sought out or who wandered into my line of vision at one time or another.

The latter applies to Breanne Heath, who is proprietor of The Pie Patch Farm, a a pick-your-own farm located in the Back-of-the-Yards neighborhood of Chicago, which specializes in perennial fruits and annual vegetables traditionally used in pies: strawberries, apples, pears, plums, raspberries, rhubarb, sweet squash and pumpkin, sweet potatoes and concord grapes.

But she is also one of the stalwarts at The Peterson Garden Project, and on this particular day at the Flower Show, she had just finished a demonstration about using what she called a "potato box" or "potato tower" to grow...uh... potatoes. I guess I should add that this device is probably most useful if you have limited space, as in a backyard or community garden.

It's a simple contraption, as you can see on the left, and it's just one of many ways to grow potatoes in containers. The advantage of Breanne's method is that she uses bolts and wingnuts to attached the sides of the container (see photo 2), which means that as you build up the sides and the soil, you can still remove a lower plank to harvest "new" potatoes at the bottom. Very cool.

Breanne notes that she uses cedar wood, which doesn't rot as quickly as other kinds. The potato box pictured is around eight years old and still going strong.


March 26, 2015

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A report on bee health from Dr. May Berenbaum

Listen to this podcast segment ON DEMAND.

It's not news that pollinators of all kinds--whether honey bees or native species--have experienced severe population declines in the 21st Century. The condition known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) became well known in 2006, when western honeybee colonies experienced serious losses. Over the poast few years, CCD appears to be subsiding. But the question of why it happened in the first place has yet to be answered satisfactorily.

That doesn't mean that pollinators are out of the woods. They are still dying off in unprecedented numbers, and a number of researchers point to pesticides as a primary culprit, especially a class of chemicals called neonicotinoids, which have become the world's most used pesticides. In the wake of those bee losses, the European Union voted in 2013 to ban the use of three neonicotinoids--clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiametoxam--for two years.

Could that happen in the United States? Just this year, 125 conservation, beekeeping, food safety, religious, ethnic and farming advocacy groups urged President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency to ban the use of what are often called "neonics" in this country. Just about every day, I receive an email from an environmental group asking me to write or call my elected officials to get them to ban neonics.

But are pesticides--specifically neonicotinoids--the smoking gun regarding bee loss?

As far as I can determine, it's not that simple. I have talked to a number of entomologists in the past nine years, and they all pretty much agree that bees face a wide range of threats--parasites, fungal diseases, nutrition issues, habitat loss, fungicides and, yes, the ubiquitous pesticide use. And now, a new USDA study seems to show that neonicotinoids play less of a role in bee loss than has been the accusation against them.

University of Illinois entomologist Dr. May Berenbaum is one of those scientists who are looking at the "all of the above" answer to the question of bee decline.. I ran into her on the last day of the Chicago Flower & Garden Show, and interrupted her day off for a quick interview about the state of the bees in early 2015. For starters, she says that bee populations have increased slightly as we move into the 2015 growing season.

She's dubious about whether a ban on neonicotinoids in this country would do any good, noting that growers would either go back to earlier, more toxic chemicals, or move on to newer pesticides, such as sulfoxaflor, which was recently approved by the EPA. And, unfortunately, there are more in the pipeline. However, that isn't stopping the Candadian province of Ontario from moving forward with a proposal to limit the use of neonicotinoids by 80%.

This controversy is far from resolved. Stay tuned.

Environmental law update from Springfield

Let's face it--the State of Illinois is a financial mess. Faced with a $1.3 billion hole in the current (yes, I said current) budget, the General Assembly and Governor Bruce Rauner came to a bipartisan agreement this week that basically moves funding from a lot of different places in the budget to fill the gap.

However, if you think road repair is important, you won't be thrilled with the $250 million that came out of that fund. And if you're me (not something I would wish on anybody), you're not particularly happy that $98 million was diverted from the Illinois Power Agency Renewable Energy Resources Fund, which is intended to promote clean energy.

Here are some other environmentally related funds that took a hit in this negotiation

$6 million from Natural Areas Acquisition Fund
$6 million from Partners for Conservation
$15 million Park and Conservation Fund
$3 million from Renewable Energy Resources Trust Fund
$6 million from EE trust fund
$15 from Solid Waste Management Fund

And that's before we get to the $6.6 billion gap in the coming year's budget. Strap in, folks, it ain't gonna be pretty.

Meawnhile, people like Jen Walling, executive director of the Illinois Environmental Council, spend a lot of time in Springfield trying to get planet-friendly legislation passed. She recently sent out a laundry list of proposals that she'd like to see get passed. They read something like this list from the IEC newsletter:

  • In House Environment, a proposal to allow temporary and permanent drop offs for composting advanced.   HB437.  In Senate Environment, a proposal to ban sharps from recycling advanced. SB793 .
  • On the House floor, HB1362 to increase compost usage, HB2495 to encourage consistent labeling for recyclable and compostable containers, and HB198 which would ticket non-electric vehicles in EV spots, all moved to the Senate.
  • Monarch License Plate - HB3465 would create a Monarch Butterfly license plate in Illinois to fund efforts to plant more milkweed.  This bill moved out of committee this week.  Read more in the Pantagraph .
  • House Agriculture Committee - HB2487, which would protect seed libraries and HB3240, which would increase fines for building on a waterway without a permit, both advanced out of committee.  We expect HB352, a bill to authorize bobcat hunting to be heard in committee next week.  Look for more info from us next week and take action here .

An issue that has been on my radar is the Illinois Electronic Products Recycling and Reuse Act, which, since January 1, 2012 prohibits landfills from knowingly accepting any CEDs (covered electronic devices) for disposal. This includes televisions, computers, printers, computer monitors (both residential and non-residential) and more.

Unfortunately, the rising cost of recycling and the low annual recycling goals set by state law for electronics manufacturers has caused counties like Will and Lake to scramble to pay for recycling electronics. The problem is that once manufacturers meet certain weight goals, they no longer have to pay recycling contractors to process items. Thus, HB1455 is being championed by counties and municipalities in Illinois and would adjust the goals and penalties of Illinois' electronic recycling law to provide more opportunities for electronic recycling.

Regardless of the diversion of fund to the Renewable Energy Resources Fund in the current budget, a good clean energy bill continues to a major goal of environmental groups in Illinois. The Illinois Clean Jobs Bill - HB2607 and SB1485 - is a step in the right direction. However, Exelon has introduced legislation (HB3293), m, which seems mostly a way to protect its nuclear power plants.

We're just getting to April, so the wheeling and dealing in Springfield has just begun.

Rick DiMaio and our cool, cool spring

I know that many of my listeners miss my weekly chats with meteorologist Rick DiMaio, so I try to bring him onto my podcasts as often as possible. In our conversation this week (recorded as about four inches of March snow was falling in Chicago), we chat about what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is calling the warmest winter on record worldwide. Ladies and gentlemen, that is NOT a contradiction.

As usual, a number of different subjects come up as well. Rick DiMaio fans...enjoy!



March 19, 2015

A week of festivals in Chicago:

The 11th Annual Good Food Festival & Conference...

It's only fitting that my final interview leading up to the Good Food Festival & Conference is with Jim Slama, who is the founder, president and guiding force behind Family Farmed, which has been putting on this event for eleven years. He's not exactly a slouch when it comes to making his presence felt regarding environmental matters. From Family Farmed's website:'s work earned the Yahoo! for Good Green Award. In 1999 Jim was named by Crain's Chicago Business to its “Forty Under Forty” annual list of leading young business and civic leaders. Jim also received the Chicago Tribune Good Eating Award for his contributions to the Chicago food and beverage world. Jim was the founding publisher and editor of Conscious Choice magazine. During his 14 years tenure, Conscious Choice was named nine times by Utne Reader as a member of the Best of the Alternative Press.

Yeah, but what have you done for us lately?

Actually, the answer to that is the Good Food Festival & Conference, which brings together farmers, producers, policy stakeholders, financers, merchants, innovators, chefs, entrepreneurs and, of course, the public--all under one roof, with the common goal of figuring out ways that we can all eat tastier, healthier food.

As i write this, the event has already begun and runs at the UIC Forum, 725 W Roosevelt Road in Chicago, from March 19 through 21.

The Chicago Flower & Garden Show at Navy Pier...

Meanwhile, not that far away, on the lakefront, a show that has been running--some say as far back as 1847!--is the Chicago Flower & Garden Show presented Mariano's. Under the leadership of current president and show director Tony Abruscato, the quality of the event has slowly but surely improved. This year's show, with the theme "Do Green. Do Good." acquits itself rather well.

Among the features are 25 or so feature gardens, a marketplace, seminars and workshops, garden gourmet, kids activity garden, tablescapes, art of floral exhibit and much more.

I'm not offering a comprehensive review of this year's show, mainly because I spent most of my time there in the marketplace booth for Chicagoland Gardening Magazine, selling and signing copies of my book, Attack of the Killer Asparagus (do you have your copy yet? Seriously, what are you waiting for??) Anyway, in putting this week's podcast together, I let myself be moved by the moment...provided I had my recorder with me.

So, when I noticed that an old friend, landscape architect Scott Mehaffey, was involved in the design for a rose garden called A Classic Rose Garden, and he also happened to be standing in it and talking to garden show patrons, well, it was a no brainer to get a quick interview with him.

Then, as I was strolling through the show, I ran into a colleague and friend of The Mike Nowak Show, Dan Kosta from Vern Goers Greenhouse in Hinsdale. Now Dan had nothing to do with the flower show, except that he bought a ticket and showed up with his friend Laura. But we had just been through a couple of days of unusually warm weather, and I knew that Dan would have some good advice about what to do and what not to do in the garden in Chicago right now.

...and the people who tweet about them

What good is having a gardening or food show, if nobody knows about it? And in the 21st Century, that means more than justl the traditional media. It means Facebook and Google+ and Pinterest and Instagram and Tumblr and, of course Twitter.

Enter Bren Haas (@BG_Garden) and her fellow garden writers/bloggers/reporters, who get together every Monday night at 8pm Central Time and participate in something called #gardenchat. If you know nothing about Twitter, the hashtag (#) is a way to identify a word or a phrase that can be used by all tweeters to connect them to an online conversation. Of course, people can tweet anytime using #gardenchat, which they do.

Normally, Bren runs #gardenchat from her home in Ohio, bringing in a "guest" tweeter (I was actually in the guest chair once), but occasionally she hits the road to attend events like the Chicago Flower & Garden Show at Navy Pier. She gathered a bunch of Twitter types together at the Sheraton Chicago, where we had coffee, cheesecake, chocolate cake and, though we were sitting all together at a table, barely looked at each other for an hour as we tweeted our little hearts out.

We live in a strange century.

Anyway, Bren appears on this week's podcast, talking about her own love of growing things and how #gardenchat came together.

Listen to this podcast segment ON DEMAND.

Listen to this entire podcast ON DEMAND.


March 12, 2015

Is there a place for the "post modern" hedgerow in the 21st Century?

In 2014, I welcomed Dave Coulter of Osage, Inc. to the program to talk about his study of hedgerows and how they might find a place in our fields and landscapes in the 21st Century. Dave is a certified arborist and former educator at Triton College, who has had what can only be described as a life-long fascination with hedgerows. In an article for the Solutions Journal called Life in the Margins, he explains how that came about:

One of my favorite memories from my childhood was finding a box turtle living under a line of gnarly Osage orange (Maclura pomifera) trees in my suburban Chicago neighborhood. It was not until many years later that I realized that this row of rough trees, threading through backyards and along roadsides, was a remnant farm boundary--a 19th Century hedgerow that had outgrown its purpose and yet, managed to persist into modern times.

In studying these agricultural artifacts, Coulter became aware that they were havens for numerous species--whether reptiles, mammals, birds, insects or more. Again, he writes,

Who cannot see the myriad possibilities offered by a new generation of hedgerows, linear assemblages of plants designed specifically for biodiversity, or for food, pollinators or endangered species? We are missing opportunities, that are right in front of us, to creat new niches for life. How many suitable spaces--urban and rural--do we pass every day that are otherwise going to waste?

Dude. I'm with you. And so, apparently, is the Midwest-Great Lakes Chapter of the Society for Ecological Restoration. Their 2015 chapter meeting is called Cultivating Ecological Restoration within Human Dominated Landscapes and it will be held at the Chicago Botanic Garden from March 27-29.

One of the symposia on March 27 is a presentation called "Life Along the Edges - A Discussion of the Value of Field Margins, Hegerows and Buffers in the Modern Landscape." Hmm, I wonder what that symposium is going to be about?

It's great to have Dave back on the show this week to talk the presentation on March 27.

Listen to this podcast segment ON DEMAND.

Humane, sustainable meat production is not an oxymoron

In another interview leading up to The Good Food Festival & Conference, I talk to Raya Carr, who is the sales manager for Mint Creek Farm, a family operation in Stelle, Illinois that raises premium, grassfed meats for the Chicago area. And if you think that eating any kind of meat is destroying the planet, this is what Mint Creek Farm says about that:

Who would have guessed that a combination so simple as sheep on grass could help with global warming?  Grasses and legumes naturally process and fix carbon in the soil.  Rotationally grazing perennial pasture is actually one of the best carbon-dioxide-absorbing natural systems there is— even better than planting trees, because the forage plants are kept in their vegetative state by the regular grazing of livestock.  Raising sheep and laying hens was originally part of the Carrs' plan to enliven and enrich the natural prairie ecosystems in their area that have been so depleted by modern mainstream agricultural practices.  They now raise sheep, cows, pigs, goats, and various poultry, as well, with the of goals of bringing back biodiversity and fertility to the land through organic farming methods and making  life-giving, grass-fed meat and eggs available here in a region where it is hard to come by. 

You also need to meet Mint Creek Farm's resident "Farmer Poet," Harry Carr, who just happens to be Raya's dad. I think he's located at the intersection of sustainability and performance art, though I'm not exactly sure. Anyway, Mint Creek is participating in FamilyFarmed's Good Food Business Accelerator and Raya is speaking at the Good Food Festival's Trade Day on Friday, March 20, in a panel called Scaling Up Local Meat.

They're among the local, sustainable and humane meat producing operations that are providing a badly needed alternative to the factory farm operations in our country that are creating misery and sickness in the name of cheap food.

The Good Food Festival & Conference is returning to the UIC Forum in Chicago for three days--March 19, 20 and 21. The three days look something like this:

Thursday: Good Food Financing & Innovation Conference
March 19th 9:00am-6:00pm

The Good Food Financing & Innovation Conference helps address one of the biggest challenges facing the growing Good Food movement: helping food and farm businesses gain access to investment that will help them scale up and meet the demand for local, sustainable food.  More than thirty businesses exhibit at the Financing Fair. Click here for the schedule.

Friday: Trade Day including Trade track, School Food track, Producer track, and Food Policy Conference
March 20th 9:00am-7:00pm

Each focused “track” on this important business-to-business day approaches the growth of Good Food from a unique perspective, and we encourage you to experience them all! Resource, network and buy from more than 100 exhibitors, then enjoy lunch at the Good Food Court.  Click here for the schedule.

Saturday: Good Food Festival
March 21st  10:00am-5:00pm

FamilyFarmed invites you to a day of samples from local food artisans, workshops, chef demos, and fun learning experiences at the Kids' Corner! Meet Good Food resources, shop exhibitors, buy products, and enjoy lunch at the Good Food Court. More than 100 exhibitors! Click here for the schedule.

Oh, and let's not forget

Friday, March 20, 7:00pm - 9:30pm at UIC Forum

You're invited to join award-winning Chicago Chefs as they prepare savory dishes for your tasting pleasure. pairing with local farmers who use sustainable growing methods, these artisans will demonstrate how "farm to table" results in extraordinary creations that will excite the senses and delight the palate. The party is complete with unique beverages created by Chicago-area and regional distilleries and breweries, providing the perfect complement to these amazing meal offerings. And back by popular demand is the band Sunnyside Up, playing terrific bluegrass and swing!

The Mike Nowak Show will be part of the Saturday grand finale, and it is even possible that I will be podcasting live from the event. Stay tuned.

Listen to this podcast segment ON DEMAND.


March 5, 2015

Talking southern cooking, sustainability, the Good Food Festival and more
with Chef Paul Fehribach of Big Jones Restaurant in Chicago

I have to start with The Good Food Festival & Conference, which is returning to the UIC Forum in Chicago for three days--March 19, 20 and 21. In case you've been on the Planet Nadnor for the past eleven years, the GFFC, as it's sometimes affectionately know, is pretty much the premiere foodie event of the year. And if you've been to any part of this remarkable conference, you know why.

The three days look something like this:

Thursday: Good Food Financing & Innovation Conference
March 19th 9:00am-6:00pm

The Good Food Financing & Innovation Conference helps address one of the biggest challenges facing the growing Good Food movement: helping food and farm businesses gain access to investment that will help them scale up and meet the demand for local, sustainable food.  More than thirty businesses exhibit at the Financing Fair. Click here for the schedule.

Friday: Trade Day including Trade track, School Food track, Producer track, and Food Policy Conference
March 20th 9:00am-7:00pm

Each focused “track” on this important business-to-business day approaches the growth of Good Food from a unique perspective, and we encourage you to experience them all! Resource, network and buy from more than 100 exhibitors, then enjoy lunch at the Good Food Court.  Click here for the schedule.

Saturday: Good Food Festival
March 21st  10:00am-5:00pm

FamilyFarmed invites you to a day of samples from local food artisans, workshops, chef demos, and fun learning experiences at the Kids' Corner! Meet Good Food resources, shop exhibitors, buy products, and enjoy lunch at the Good Food Court. More than 100 exhibitors! Click here for the schedule.

Oh, and let's not forget

Friday, March 20 7:00pm – 9:30pm at UIC Forum

You're invited to join award-winning Chicago chefs as they prepare savory dishes for your tasting pleasure. Pairing with local farmers who use sustainable growing methods, these artisans will demonstrate how “farm to table” results in extraordinary creations that will excite the senses and delight the palate.  The party is complete with unique beverages created by Chicago-area and regional distilleries and breweries, providing the perfect complement to these amazing meal offerings. And back by popular demand is the band, Sunnyside Up , playing terrific bluegrass and swing!

The Mike Nowak Show will be part of the Saturday grand finale, and it is even possible that I will be podcasting live from the event. We're working on the technology, folks. I'll get back to you on that.

But I am one of the media sponsors of the event and, as such, I get to talk to some pretty cool people on my podcasts. One of them is Paul Fehribach, who is Executive Chef and co-owner of Big Jones in the Andersonville Neighborhood of Chicago. Not only is he going to be part of Localicious on Friday and be doing cooking demos on Saturday, he is receiving the Good Food Chef of the Year Award fromt the festival for his outstanding commitment to local, sustainable, heirloom sourcing.

So it was a treat to go up to Andersonville to chat with Paul. It's a wide ranging conversation that runs the gamut from his definition of sustainability to who his cooking heroes are to what exactly is "southern" cooking. I hope you get a chance to listen.

MELA 2015 Conference focuses on stormwater management

Also on the show is Dennis Dreher, who works for an outfit called Geosyntech Consultants. He's a guy who knows about things like conservation design, sustainable development, stormwater and floodplain management, stream and wetland protection, water quality planning, watershed management, and biodiversity protection. All of that knowledge comes from his work for organizations like the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission (which was folded into CMAP) and Chicago Wilderness, where he served on the Green Infrastructure Vision Task Force. He has been asked to speak at Pathways: Stepping Stones to Sustainable Landscapes, the 2015 Conference for the Midwest Ecological Landscape Alliance (MELA).

The conference also features Debra Shore, a Commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD), who opens the Conference with a profile of stormwater management in Chicagoland. Among the other speakers will be

  • Christine Nye, Horticulture Manager at The Shedd Aquarium
  • Michael J. Curry, BS, PLA, ASLA, GRP, President/Owner, GreenSite, Inc
  • Nicky Obenauf ecolgist and project manager for Davey Resource Group's Natural Resource Consulting team in Chicago
  • Heidi Natura, ASLA, Registered Landscape Architect, LEED AP BD+C, Founder/Partner, Living Habitats

The event will be held on Thursday, March 12 from 8:00 am to 3 pm at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn and you can register here.

Listen to this entire podcast ON DEMAND!


February 26, 2015

Weather, recycling and the One Earth Film Festival 2015

Tune in to any day this week to hear the latest installment of The Mike Nowak Show. I just added one of those gizmos that allows my smartphone to play through my car radio (it cost me all of about $20, unbelievably), then called up the GDGDRadio app, and there I was, listening to Internet radio in my own vehicle. It's that simple, folks. Of course, you can use other apps as well, like Tunein, Spreaker and more. You can also follow The Green Divas on their Facebook page.

Let's get to what's on this week's show.

  • Any time I get the chance to talk weather and climate change with meteorologist Rick DiMaio, I jump at it. In this conversation, Rick and I chat about the second of back-to-back cold, nasty winters in the eastern part of the U.S. (California is another matter altogether.) At the same time, however, you can take a look at an article like this one in the Washington Post with the headline, Even as the eastern U.S. freezes, there’s less cold air in winter than ever before.


Believe or not, that's true. From the story:

One may wonder how the cold air supply is so compromised after the relentless blasts of frigid air in the eastern U.S. the past two winters.

“You just need to look around and see how big the globe is,” Martin says. “The thing this simple analysis makes clear is that there is such an obvious difference between regional weather and global climate. There’s a better way to measure global change than backyard thermometers.”

Martin points out that while the U.S. has shivered, Alaska and northern Europe, in particular, have been much warmer than normal. And he is convinced the hemispheric warming signal reflects growing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels.

“The only way to have systematically smaller pools of cold air is to have greater retention of infrared energy [from greenhouse gases],” Martin says. “The planet can’t cool the way it used to.”

Rick DiMaio has been talking on my show about the important difference difference between "regional weather and global climate" for almost seven years! Which is just one of the reasons why he's back on the show this week.


Cook County Steps Up to Keep Demolition Debris Out of Landfills

Next up is Bryant Williams, who is Manager of Engineering Services for the Cook County Department of Environmental Control. He's also the current president of the Southeast Environmental Task Force, a wonderful grassroots group on Chicago's southeast side that has fought environmental degradation for 25 years.

Believe it or not, Cook County is becoming a national leader when it comes to environmental efforts, which includes a law that went into effect in 2012 called the Demolition Debris Diversion Ordinance. In an article for Index Publishing Corporation, Deborah C. Stone, Chief Sustainability Officer and Director for the Cook County Department of Environmental Control writes that

The ordinance requires that a minimum of 70% of all demolition debris generated in the demolition, dismantling or renovation of single-family, commercial and industrial structures be diverted from the waste stream.

It further mandates that a minimum 5% of the material in residential structures be reused. Reuse has even more environmental benefits than recycling, as it uses the components in their final manufactured form and avoids the energy use needed to recycle into new components, and wastes less of the materials.

Under the ordinance, contractors are required to submit a demolition debris diversion plan at the beginning of demolition projects that meet the 3D criteria, as a condition of receiving a demolition or renovation permit from Cook County.

That has resulted in a diversion of more than 500,000 tons of material away from landfills! Bryant is on the show today to talk about webinar that the USEPA is co-sponsoring, which will focus on the ordinance, which is sometimes known as "3D."

The webinar happens on Thursday, March 5 from 1:00 to 2:30 p.m. CST and concerned communities and businesses that would like to learn more about 3D can register here.

Listen to this segment ON DEMAND!


The One Earth Film Festival Is Back

The second hour of today's podcast is completely devoted to the Fourth Annual One Earth Film Festival. More than 35 films will be presented at 30 venues throughout the Chicago area over three days--March 6 to 8. You can find the complete schedule of events here. That includes the Green Carpet Gala on Friday, March 6, screenings for kids and families, and the Young Filmmakers Contest.

The One Earth Film Festival is hosted by a group called Green Community Connections, which calls itself a "deep roots" organization. They state that

One Earth Film Festival is the Midwest premier environmental film festival, creating opportunities for understanding climate change, sustainability and the power of human involvement through sustainability-themed films and facilitated discussion.  We engage private, public and non-profit sector community partners in the sponsorship and production of the film festival.  The 2014 festival drew 2500 from throughout the Chicago metropolitan area.

I went out Forest Park to meet with three of the folks from Green Community Connections--Cassandra West, Gina Robbins and David Holmquist--to talk about the films and the criteria for choosing them.


Angel Azul...or Can Art on the Bottom of the Sea Save our Coral Reefs?

I also managed to have a conversation with filmmaker Marcy Cravat, who directed and produced a remarkable documentary called Angel Azul, which I the opportunity to view before we chatted. That film alone is a reason to spend some time at the One Earth Film Festival. Here's how Marcy describes her own film:

Angel Azul explores the artistic journey of Jason deCaires Taylor, an innovative artist who combines creativity with an important environmental solution; the creation of artificial coral reefs from statues he's cast from live models. When algae overtakes the reefs however, experts provide the facts about the perilous situation coral reefs currently face and solutions necessary to save them.

If the rest of the entries are as good as Angel Azul, this is going to be one heck of a film festival. You can follow the action on Facebook here.

Listen to this segment ON DEMAND!


February 16, 2015

This Week's Show is Back!!!

You could call it a vacation or call it a re-examination or call it what you will. After a few weeks of skipping the writing part of my program, I'm back in the saddle and moving forward.

As many of you already know, you can hear my podcasts every day from 1 to 3 pm CST on, which is the home of The Green Divas. On GDGDRadio, I present the full two hour program. However, if you're interested in specific show segments, they are always available On Demand on my own podcast page.

We're very close to revamping the website--including creating a tutorial on how to listen to my shows online--so stay tuned, as they say. Here's what's on This Week's Show:


    C.L. Fornari, who you can find at, is an author, speaker, blogger, radio & TV host and, of course, a gardener. Her latest book is Coffee for Roses: ...and 70 Other Misleading Myths About Backyard Gardening. Don't worry--she doesn't yell at you for having fallen for some old gardening half-truth. Her approach is to gently let you know that sometime "garden advice" has no basis in science...or reality. I truly enjoyed chatting with her about where these myths come from and how they get passed along from one generation of gardeners to the next

By the way, during our conversation, we refer to The Garden Professors: Science-based gardening information. You can also find this group on Facebook. Personally, I find The Garden Professors a bit intimidating; not so much with C.L. Fornari.

Listen to this segment ON DEMAND!


Will GMO Food Labeling Come to Illinois?

Food & Water Watch is working hard to get a law passed that would label Genetically Modified Foods sold in the State of Illinois. Organizer Jessica Fujan says that, unlike efforts in other states that focused on statewide referenda, this one is aimed at the General Assembly--in particular, the Illinois Senate. You can keep up to date with Food & Water Watch Illinois on their Facebook page.

Listen to this segment ON DEMAND!


Why Tim Magner Wants to Create Nature's Farm Camp for Kids

Tim Magner has been on my program several times, first as an author, then as proprietor of something called Truck Farm Chicago. Now, with the help of people like Elena Marre and Nance Klehm, he is working on pulling together Nature's Farm Camp. The idea is that it's a place for kids to have fun while connecting with nature, food, each other and themselves. I can't argue with that. They are also in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign, which you can link to here.

Listen to this segment ON DEMAND!

On the podcast, I talk a little bit about the "Monarch Massacre," as the Washington Post puts it. Well, at this moment, they are resting in Mexico, preparing for their northward journey in March. On a website called Monarch Joint Venture, you can read the story 2015 Population Update and Estimating the Number of Overwintering Monarchs in Mexico. Basically, the overwinter number is slightly better than last year but not enough to make you pop the champagne corks. It's going to take time, folks.

I also mention an interesting article by Chip Taylor, director of Monarch Watch, regarding the “Petition to protect the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus plexippus) under the Endangered Species Act.” While it seems that it might be a good idea, Taylor argues eloquently that there are pitfalls in taking this approach. You can read his full comment in his piece called Monarch Conservation: Our Choices.

  • And here are the three stories I briefly mention during the podcast, in case you want to follow up:

American Dockworkers Are Savaging Your Recycling Bin (Shanghai Scrap, the personal Blog of author Adam Minter, author of Junkyard Planet)

Keep daffodils away from food, supermarkets warned (BBC News)

An Uninvited Guest, Treated Like a Monarch, Makes Itself at Home (The New York Times)

It's good to be back.

Past Show Archives