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Mike signing Attack of the Killer Asparagus at the
American Community Gardening Association soiree
Friday evening at Garfield Park Conservatory.

Cyanobacteria (blue-green algae)
Photo courtesy of Jeff Reutter

Toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie in 2011.
Photo courtesy of NASA

Algae bloom in Lake Ontario in 2013.
Photo courtesy of NASA.

Ducks in cyanobacteria. Looks like an oil spill, doesn't it?
Photo by Lamiot

The location of the Toledo Municipal Water Intake in Lake Erie; right in the middle of the algal bloom. NOAA + Google Maps Overlay

Mike with Christy Webber, Annamaria Leon, and Jessica the intern at Millennium Park

Annamaria Leon and kale.





Mike reading from his book at Uncommon Ground. That one about birds scares even Mike.


Niki Jabbour






Mosquito Dunk












Mike at The Sugar Beet Co-op

Farmer Jen in the rooftop garden at Uncommon Ground

Dan Kosta


The Transit Future map that shows how Chicago
could have an effective transit system

Derek Eder of DataMade









Cheryl Munoz


Gregory Berlowitz

Ina Pinkney


Rick Moskovitz

Stihl Tour des Trees

Mary DiCarlo







Attack of the Killer Asparagus book launch
The audience attacks at the Attack of the Killer
book launch at Women and Children
First bookstore last Thursday.

Uncommon Ground
Next up, the back room at Uncommon Ground

Garden at 2013 Sheffield Garden Walk
Garden at 2013 Sheffield Garden Walk

Band at the 2013 Sheffield Garden Walk

Laury Lewis

Garden at an earlier Dearborn Garden Walk



Cloud of black dust in Southeast Chicago
from petcoke piles

Petcoke mounds across the river from Chicago




Debra Shore


Simultaneous triple lightning strike during the
storm on June 30, 2014. Photo courtesty of




David J. Zaber


Roundup TM weed Killer


Moleculary structure of 2, 4-D


Aerial application of herbicide


Superweeds are weeds that have developed
a resistance to herbicides such a glyphosate









Mike Stephen, of Outside the Loop radio

Straw bale gardening

Fischer Woods, the forest preserve that abuts
Dan Obermaier's garden

Native plot next to the woods in Dan's native

Snake in Dan's grass

Solomon's seal in Dan's garden.








Lamanda Joy of the Peterson Garden Project


Marianne Krasny, director of the civic ecology lab
in the Department of Natural Resources at
Cornell University


Sally Brown of the University of Washington


Urban soils suffer more from neglect than contamination. Photo by Kate Kurtz.

Rufus Chaney of the United States Department
of Agriculture

Carrits need to be grown in raised beds if there is
soil contamination.


Leafy crops can also be a problem in contaminationed soils.

Ganga Hettiarachchi, Associate Professor of Soil and Environmental Chemistry at Kansas State University.








Eden Novak DeGenova

Sharon Bladholm with some of her sculptures
at the Garfield Park Conservatory

Sharon Bladholm pitcher plants

Aspiration, Respiration, Transpiration and Transmutation




This "simple" home garden remedy might not
be as effective or "safe" as you think



Chicago's Waste
and Recycling Tour
See How & Where Chicago’s Waste Gets Recycled!

Visit yard and food compost operations, former landfills, recycling centers, scrap metal piles, and observe the huge Petcoke mountains that have been in the news recently!

Tom Shepher of the Southeast Environmental Task Force

Night Sky in Vermont

Chicago at night


Rural Utica residents (from left) Dale Schreck, Kate Schwarz, Jim Lorimer, Joy Konczak, Steve Harmon and Diane Gassman stand Tuesday near a berm built by
Illinois Sand Co. for a controversial frac sand quarry.

One of the berms being erected by Illinois Sand Co. to protect rural Utica homes from the effects of blasting. Rural Utica residents who opposed the quarry during annexat








Susan V. Fox judging fragrance at the Biltmore Rose Trials in Asheville, North Carolina.

Susan Fox with P. Allen Smith and a chicken named Edwin. Don't we all wish we had a chicken named Edwin?


A monarch on the sumac in Mike's front yard in 2013.
Will any show up in 2014?


Bee on a coneflower in Mike's back yard


Scott Hoffman Black


Chip Taylor

Kayri Havens


A healthy boxwood in Mike's backyard

A very sad, not to say dead, boxwood in Hyde Park

Downy Mildew (Kelly Ivors/University of Wisconsin Exchange)

Dan Kosta and Mike in Dan's backyard


Marcy DeMauro, of the Forest Preserve District
of WIll County

Kelsay Shaw, of Possibility Place Nursery


Jen Walling in the studio with Mike


Josh Mogerman











Biltmore Tomato

Loran Strawberry

Black Diamond Watermelon


The Plant Chicago


Blake Davis


Aquaponics at The Plant


Courtesy of









Woodmint from Possibility Place Nursery

Kilbourn Park plant sale

Dave Coulter of Osage, Inc.

Hedgerow with bluebells





Carla Wittstock, founder of the Aquascape Foundation,
at work in Uganda

Tom Lupfer working in Ghana

Our favorite picture of Sandra Henry,
the ComEd Energy Doctor






Amber Gribben

Jennifer Davit





Mary Beth Rebedeau


Tom Shepher of the Southeast Environmental Task Force


Countries of the Trans-Pacific Partnership

Illinois Fair Trade Coalition










Christy Webber




Sarah Surroz, conservation and outreach manager for Conserve Lake County

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

Mary Beth Rebedeau of Green Parents Network







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



Vicki Nowicki, founder of Liberty Gardens


Robert Colangelo of Green Sense Farms

Kate Sackman, of EcoMyths Alliance












Lamanda Joy of the Peterson Garden Project

Guy McPherson, author of Going Dark



Kari Lydersen, author of Mayor 1%









Doug Taron, of the Peggy Notebaert Museum


A monarch on the sumac in Mike's backyard



The swamp metalmark









Audrey Fischer


Mark Hammergren


David Blask













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




Miriam Goldbers, author of Taming Wildflowers








Cathy McGlynn, of the NIIPP





Jim Slama of

Paul Saginaw of Zingerman's Delicatessen







Paczkis at Kolatek's

Caramel bacon paczkis . . . OMG










Jeanne Nolan, The Organic Gardener, and her girls

Jill Niewoehner of MamaGrows





August 10, 2014

The Attack of the Killer Asparagus Summer 2014 Tour Continues

Join us at Rich's Foxwillow Pines on August 23

If you think that I'm going to stop promoting Attack of the Killer Asparagus and other lessons not learned in the garden anytime soon, dream on. However, this post is brief, if only because the next book event is one that I've already written about-- the Hosta Sale and Bolivian Arts & Crafts Fundraiser at Rich's Foxwillow Pines in Woodstock, Illinois on Saturday, August 23. While the event goes from 9am to 4pm, I'll be there signing book from 9 to noon at 11618 McConnell Road in Woodstock. Call 815-338-7442 for more information.

All proceeds benefit  Heifer International, while the sale of beautiful Bolivian handicrafts benefits Mano a Mano International Partners.  Cash or check only. This year Heifer International marks its 70th year and Mano a Mano International Partners its 20th year. In conjunction with the garden event, the nursery will host speakers who will talk about their respective organizations.

Meanwhile, if you want to order a book for yourself, log on to Around the Block Press. The book is available via all of the usual online suspects, or you can special order it at your favorite bookstore. And I wouldn't mind a bit if you gave Attack of the Killer Asparagus a Like on Facebook...or even a good review at I ain't that proud, folks.

Have we come full circle? The Great Lakes are in trouble again

It was a series of algal blooms in Lake Erie in the 1960s that, in part, led to the creation of the EPA, the Clean Water Act and the 1972 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, which was signed by Canada and the United States. It commits the two countries to cooperate and coordinate efforts on issues such as

  • Preventing environmental threats before they turn into actual problems
  • Updating phosphorus targets for open waters and nearshore areas of each lake and taking actions to reduce phosphorus levels that contribute to harmful algae
  • Preventing the introduction and spread of invasive species
  • Developing plans to protect and restore nearshore areas, the primary source of drinking water for Great Lakes communities and where most commerce and recreation occurs

and much more. That agreement had an immediate and profound effect, reducing the amount of phosphorus in Lake Erie by about 60%. But when it comes to water quality, vigilance is a necessity. In 2011, severe algae blooms once again returned to the Great Lake.

And, unless you just spent the past couple of weeks on vacation on Jupiter, you know that 2014 has been another bad year for Lake Erie. So bad, in fact, that some 500,000 people in the Toledo area were without safe drinking water for a couple of days, turning that area, in essence into a third world country.

The culprit is a blue-green algae, cyanobacteria, which can produce a toxin called Microcystis. According to Health Canada,

Cyanobacteria is the scientific name for blue-green algae, or "pond scum." The first recognized species were blue-green in colour, which is how the algae got their name. Species identified since range in colour from olive-green to red.

Cyanobacteria form in shallow, warm, slow-moving or still water. They are made up of cells , which can house poisons called cyanobacterial toxins . A mass of cyanobacteria in a body of water is called a bloom. When this mass rises to the surface of the water, it is known as surface scum or a surface water bloom .

So, basically, a lot of toxic pond scum formed in Lake Erie. But it's not as if we didn't see it coming. For one thing, it seems to fit perfectly with climate change projections. Scientific American says that

Nutrients in agricultural runoff is the biggest contributor to algae blooms in Lake Erie. What brings that runoff from farm fields to the lake is rain, and lots of it.

“It's a combo of more rainfall; that climate change is predicted to cause more severe rain events. And more rainfall means more nutrients and higher nutrients mean more toxicity,” Timothy Davis, an ecologist at the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory , said.

An increase in heavy rainfall is already being seen throughout the U.S. The Midwest has seen a 37 percent increase in the amount of rain falling in heavy precipitation events since the late 1950s, the second-highest increase in the U.S. over that period.

In addition, The Blade reports that the Ohio EPA warned Toledo's Mayor, D. Michael Collins, that

the city's Collins Park Water Treatment Plant was “vulnerable to potential failures that could severely impact the city's ability to provide adequate quantities of safe water to its citizens.”

“I cannot underscore boldly enough the precarious condition of Toledo's drinking water system and the imminent vulnerability to failure,” Ohio Environmental Protection Agency Director Craig W. Butler wrote in a June 9 letter to Mr. Collins, a copy of which was obtained by The Blade on Thursday through a public records request along with a stack of other documents and copies of emails that show the agency had severe reservations about the plant for months leading up to the crisis.

Regardless of who knew what, I think this can be considered Mother Nature's shot across the bow of whatever boat you happen to have floating in any of the Great Lakes. And while it's true that Lake Michigan is not under the same pressures as Lake Erie, and one need only look at the algae problems near Door County in Wisconsin to know that we are playing with fire.

Meanwhile, some of you might want to know what the difference is between harmful algal blooms and common "muck" in our water. Believe it or not, that 's a good question. Here's the answer.

A lot of the increased phosphorus has been blamed on farming activity, but farmers are unhappy with being painted as villains in this story.

"We put the minimum on that we can put on because the crop can only absorb so much, and you're wasting your money completely," he says. "If you put an extra 2 pounds on you've wasted your money because it just does not use it."

Forty miles south of Schimming's land, another farmer, Paul Herringshaw, oversees his soybean fields. Farmers like him have been working for decades to reduce fertilizer runoff into the lake, he says. Many farmers have cut back or stopped tilling the soil.

"We implemented such things such as minimum till, no till, conservation tillage as an idea to keep the soil in its place with the hope of preventing the runoff of nutrients," he says.

So what's causing the problem and how do we stop it?

A coalition of groups that include the Alliance for the Great Lakes, American Rivers, Environment Ohio, Freshwater Future, Lake Erie Charter Boat Association, Lake Erie Waterkeeper Inc., Ohio Environmental Council, National Wildlife Federation and the Sierra Club have issued an Action Agenda for Reducing Nutrient Pollution and Securing Safe Drinking Water for Lake Erie Communities.

Citing the progress made with the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the latest Farm Bill, they have a number of recommendations:


  • Currently,  no  limits  exist  on  the  amount  of  phosphorus that can be in our rivers  and   streams that flow into Western Lake  Erie. The  Great  Lakes  Water Quality  Agreement of 2012 established  an  interim phosphorus target for all of Lake Erie, and soon a task team under the agreement  will release updated numbers. However, the Agreement does not require the U.S. or Canada to enact regulations or pass laws to meet these targets.
  • Recommendation: The U.S. and Canada should establish requirements that will ensure each country meets the nutrient targets developed under the Agreement.


  • Even  though  microcystin  has  been  around  for  decades, the federal government never   established a specific safe drinking water standard for this toxin. The result is that we do not have established protocols for testing, monitoring or prevention.
  • Recommendation: The  US  Environmental  Protection Agency (EPA) should establish a specific   microcystin standard under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
  • Healthy wetlands and streams improve water quality by filtering polluted runoff from farm fields and city streets that would otherwise enter rivers and streams that flow into the Great Lakes. Right now more than 1,500 square miles in Ohio and numerous wetlands in Ohio are unprotected.
  • Recommendation: Congress must not block Americans from commenting on the propos
    ed Clean Water Protection Rule or the EPA or Corps from incorporating these comments and finalizing the rule this fall. .

State of Ohio

  • No federal or state law controls phosphorus application, which has now become the largest
    source of pollution to the Maumee River (which feeds Lake Erie). Fall application of fertilizer frequently leads to spring run off.
  • Recommendation: The Maumee River watershed should be declared in distress and vigorous actions taken by farmers to implement a variety of Best Management Practices.

You can read the rest of the recommendations at Action Agenda for Reducing Nutrient Pollution and Securing Safe Drinking Water for Lake Erie Communities.

Lyman Welch, director of the Alliance for the Great Lakes Water Quality program, joins me this morning to talk about why we need to save the Great Lakes all over again.

Bringing permaculture to Millennium Park

Earlier this year, I got wind of a project that Christy Webber was putting together in Millennium Park. In the interest of full disclosure, Christy Webber Landscapes and Christy Webber Farm & Garden are advertisers on The Mike Nowak Show.

But the project seemed pretty remarkable for a landscaper who has spent no small part of her career slamming petunias and impatiens and annual salvias into the ground in places like O'Hare International Airport. Here's how she described it:

In February of 2014, while Chicago was experiencing one of the harshest winters on record, Christy Webber, President of Christy Webber Landscapes, gathered her staff of landscape designers, horticulturists and local gardeners on the city’s West Side to design the “annual display” beds for Millennium Park. In a brave and bold move; a team that consisted of a local landscape contractor, a West Side permaculture expert and an activist for urban farming, collaborated to create Millennium Park’s first ever public permaculture display.

Permaculture? You mean the "branch of ecological design, ecological engineering, environmental design, construction and Integrated Water Resources Management that develops sustainable architecture, regenerative and self-maintained habitat and agricultural systems modeled from natural ecosystems"? That permaculture?

Yup, that permaculture. In Millennium Park, no less. You know, next to The Bean and the Great Lawn and all of those stodgy yews and boxwoods and concrete and steel.

Christy reached out to permaculture expert Annamaria Leon, permaculture expert, who worked to combine edible plants with the yew hedge as a back drop. Angela Taylor and her husband Sam brought their growing expertise, combined with the student work force from West Town Academy, to grow the plants. Angela notes that the students were aware that they were making history by growing food for one of the great parks in America.

I'm pleased to have in studio Christy Webber, Annamaria Leon, Angela Taylor among others from the team that is changing the way we look at public gardens.


August 3, 2014

The Attack of the Killer Asparagus Summer 2014 Tour Continues!

Thanks to Uncommon Ground; Looking forward to Foxwillow Pines

The juggernaut that is Attack of the Killer Asparagus and other lessons not learned in the garden continues to roll on, crushing anything and anybody in its path.

Okay, you just got the Cliff's Notes version of a dream I had last night, in which I was exposed to a burst of gamma radiation.

Regardless, I need to thank the good folks at Uncommon Ground Restaurant at 1401 W. Devon Avenue in Chicago for the hospitality they showed to the wonderful group of people who showed up on Thursday evening for the latest book release party. We ate, we drank, we told dumb jokes, we failed to recognize each other, and we went upstairs to take a look at the world famous organic rooftop farm with Uncommon Ground co-owner Helen Cameron.

Like I said, however, this book tour is a juggernaut, which means we must bid farewell to the folks at Uncommon Ground and look forward to the next presentation.

This one will be part of the Hosta Sale and Bolivian Arts & Crafts Fundraiser at Rich's Foxwillow Pines in Woodstock, Illinois on Saturday, August 23. While the event goes from 9am to 4pm, I'll be there signing book from 9 to noon at 11618 McConnell Road in Woodstock. Call 815-338-7442 for more information.

All proceeds benefit  Heifer International, while the sale of beautiful Bolivian handicrafts benefits Mano a Mano International Partners.  Cash or check only. This year Heifer International marks its 70th year and Mano a Mano International Partners its 20th year. In conjunction with the garden event, the nursery will host speakers who will talk about their respective organizations.

Meanwhile, if you want to order a book for yourself, log on to Around the Block Press. The book is available via all of the usual online suspects, or you can special order it at your favorite bookstore. And I wouldn't mind a bit if you gave Attack of the Killer Asparagus a Like on Facebook...or even a good review at I ain't that proud, folks.

The Weekend Gardener with Niki Jabbour returns for a simulcast

It's that time of year again, when I hook up with gardener, author and radio host Niki Jabbour, who hosts a program called The Weekend Gardener with Niki Jabbour on in Halifax, Nova Scotia. It used to run exactly at the same time as mine--11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Atlantic Time, which is 9:00 to 11:00 a.m. CDT--but this year her show starts an hour earlier than mine, so our programs overlap for only an hour.

Some of you might say, "So what?" Believe it or not, however, in this day of live streaming on the Interwebs, there are people out there who like to listen to both shows. Hey, I'll take whatever listeners I can get!

Niki is author of The Year Round Vegetable Gardener, which won the 2012 American Horticultural Society Book Award . Niki also contributes regularly to magazines like Garden Making, Canadian Gardening, Gardens East and Fine Gardening.

And now she has a new book, Groundbreaking Food Gardens: 73 Plans That Will Change the Way You Grow Your Garden. In her introduction, she writes,

Because edible gardening is such a large part of my life, I am always looking for new techniques, designs, and ideas to grow more food. With this in mind, I dedicated 18 months of my life to tracking (stalking?) avid gardeners, garden writers, professional horticulturists, television and radio hosts, garden bloggers, managers of botanical gardens, university staff, and community gardeners across North America and the United Kingdom to find out how and why they grow their own food. The result of that research is this book, which spotlights the rapidly growing trend of food gardening, offering 73 plans for edibles that I hope will inspire you to think differently about where and how you can grow food.

Indeed, if you can't figure out a place to grow food after looking at this book, you're not even trying. Produced by Storey Publishing, the book is filled with great full-color illustrations and garden designs (not a single photograph!) in easy to digest chapters. Among the ones that caught my eye--with their contributors--are

Urban Farmscape - Patti Marie Travioli
Pollinator-Friendly Raised Bed - Paul Zammit
Eggs & Everything - Jessi Bloom
Partially Shaded Vegetables - Marjorie Harris
Small Space Beds - Chicago Botanic Garden
Front-Yard Foraging - Sarah Elton
Hanging Gutters - Jayme Jenkins
Vintage Victory Garden - LaManda Joy
Teaming with Microbes - Jeff Lowenfels
Urban Shade Garden - Kathy Martin
Vertical Vegetables - Rhonda Massingham Hart
Edible Hedge - Charlie Nardozzi
Edible Cutting Garden - Debra Prinzing
Cocktail Garden - Amy Stewart and Susan Morrison
"Good Bug" Garden - Jessica Walliser
Forager's Garden - Ellen Zachos
52 Weeks of Salad - Michelle Chapman
Backyard Beekeeper's Garden - Kenny Points

A number of the contributors have been on my show, including LaManda Joy, Jeff Lowenfels, Shawna Coronado, Debra Prinzing, Joe Lamp'l, Amanda Thomsen and Jean Ann Van Krevelen.

Like I said, there's something for everyone in this useful book. And speaking of useful, I think I've stumbled upon the secret of writing my next book--get in touch with about 70 good gardeners, interview them and let them do the heavy lifting. Actually, my own publisher, Kathleen Thompson, has been trying to get me to do that for years!

Speaking of my publisher, Niki Jabbour says that she will do a review of my new book as I am doing the same for hers. I suppose we can't talk at the same time, so we'll take turns heaping praise on the other. Well, I'll be heaping praise on her--I can only hope it will be returned.

Stopping mosquitoes before they become mosquitoes

If I asked you which animal on this planet is responsible for the most human deaths each year, you might guess human beings...and you'd be close. We come in second, at about 750,000. We are indeed a dangerous species.

The honor--or blame, in this case--goes to mosquitoes, which account for about a million deaths world wide. Mosquito-borne malaria is the chief culprit, causing about 600,000 deaths. However, there are other diseases, such as dengue fever, West Nile virus, yellow fever and more.

To put things in perspective, wolves and sharks, two of the most feared animals on land and in the sea, are each each responsible for about 10 deaths. And yet, we are hunting them to the brink of extinction. One needs only to look at the passenger pigeon to know how we can reduce a population in the billions to nothing in only a few decades. We are not trying to exterminate dogs, and yet, through rabies, they kill 25,000 people every year.

Getting back to mosquitoes, just two weeks ago, Florida health officials and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced the nation's first locally acquired chikungunya cases. What's chikungunya? According to the CDC,

Chikungunya...virus is transmitted to people by mosquitoes. The most common symptoms of chikungunya virus infection are fever and joint pain. Other symptoms may include headache, muscle pain, joint swelling, or rash. Outbreaks have occurred in countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Indian and Pacific Oceans. In late 2013, chikungunya virus was found for the first time in the Americas on islands in the Caribbean. There is a risk that the virus will be imported to new areas by infected travelers. There is no vaccine to prevent or medicine to treat chikungunya virus infection.

The good news is that the disease is rarely fatal. The bad news is that the "outbreak in the Caribbean region has sickened more than 355,000 people, with the number of new infections continuing to grow by roughly 40,000 cases each week." The mosquito species that spread the virus are found in the southeast and southwest, though may be found in the Middle Atlantic states and the lower Midwest.

Meanwhile, West Nile Virus continues to be a concern in many parts of the country. But to put it in perspective (think about dogs killing 25,000 people each year world wide), there were 2,469 cases of West Nile Virus in the United States in 2013, resulting in 119 deaths.

Nevertheless, mosquitoes are among the most reviled of insects, and controlling them as adults results in spraying chemicals like malathion and naled and the synthetic pyrethroid insecticides prallethrin, etofenprox, pyrethrins, permethrin, resmethrin and sumithrin for adult mosquito control. The EPA notes that synthetic chemicals can cause collatoral damage to pollinators and even humans if they are not applied properly. Not only that, but some of those products are becoming less effective as mosquitoes have developed resistance to them.

Which brings us to a product called Mosquito Dunks by a company called Summit Chemical Company, which, in the interest of full disclosure, is a sponsor of The Mike Nowak Show. Here's how they work:

A Mosquito Dunk® looks like a small, beige donut which floats on standing water. As the Dunk® slowly dissolves, it releases a bacterium which is toxic to all species of mosquito larvae. Mosquito Bits® are a granule that contains the same active ingredient found in the Dunks®, but unlike the Dunks® the Bits release the larvicide immediately.

The active ingredient is Bacillus thuringiensis subspecies israelensis (B.t.i.). , which affects the larvae of mosquitoes, fungus gnats, and blackflies, while leaving other organisms unharmed. Many folks don't like the idea of having their muncipalities sprayed with synthetic chemicals, which is why the idea of dunks might be the best way to control mosquitoes before they become adults.

Zach Cohen from Summit stops by the program this morning to talk about safe mosquito control with Mosquito Dunks® and Mosquito Bits®. Please call in with your questions to 773/763-9278.


July 27, 2014

The Attack of the Killer Asparagus Summer 2014 Tour Continues!

Join Mike at Uncommon Ground on Devon this Thursday

My thanks to the great folks at the Sugar Beet Co-op in Oak Park, who hosted their 3rd annual Sugar Beet Edible Garden Tour yesterday. I stopped by the headquarters for the event at 812 W. Madison and signed copies of Attack of the Killer Asparagus and other lessons not learned in the garden for the folks, many of whom were getting on their bicycles to head out to see the gardens on the tour.

Unfortunately, that was not in the cards for me, as I had a date with a couple of special people who helped fund my Kickstarter campaign--Lou Ann and Larry Grabowski. We had lunch at the fabulous Uncommon Ground Restaurant at 1401 W. Devon Avenue in Chicago, then went upstairs to take a look at the world famous organic rooftop farm with Farmer Jen from Uncommon Ground.

Well, I'll be back again thisThursday, July 31, thanks to the generosity of owners Helen and Michael Cameron. It's another book signing, complete with snacks (and a cash bar, for those of you who can't face my writing without some alcoholic backup), a tour of the rooftop farm, and even a 10% discount for folks who want to stick around for dinner (I'll be one of them). Of course, I will be reading a couple of select excerpts from the book, which might have you reaching for a second drink.

To RSVP for the event, call Uncommon Ground at 773.465.9801,

Meanwhile, if you want to order a book for yourself, log on to Around the Block Press. The book is available via all of the usual online suspects, or you can special order it at your favorite bookstore. And I wouldn't mind a bit if you gave Attack of the Killer Asparagus a Like on Facebook.

It's a bonsai bonanzai!

My buddy Dan Kosta at Vern Goers Greenhouse in Hinsdale sent me a message awhile ago, asking if I could plug the Annual Bonsai Show for the Prairie State Bonsai Society. What am I going to tell him--find your own bonsai radio show, dude?

The Praire State bonsai show is next week, August 2 and 3, and is being held at the Morton Arboretum as part of their Destination Asia Summer Festival. The show is FREE with Arboretum Admission, though if you want to attend one of the many workshops, you'll have to pay a fee and register in advance.

As my own fee for having on the show, I made Dan come up with his top ten tips for taking care of bonsai (pronounced BONE-sigh, in case there's a pop quiz at the end of the show). Here's what he came up with:

1. Provide proper light. Keep the tree in a bright, sunny location. Outdoors in sun or indoors close to a sunny South or West window.
2. Pay attention to watering. Check soil daily, especially in summer, and water thoroughly when soil is somewhat dry. Saturate the soil at each watering. If using overhead watering apply water 3 times at 5 minute intervals to fully soak the soil or place in a dish of water for up to 30 minutes. Do not allow the tree to stand in water continuously. Always use lukewarm water.
3. Fertilize regularly during the growing season, generally March to mid-September.
4. Provide an appropriate environment for the tree. Hardy outdoor trees such as juniper, pine, or maple need to be kept outdoors year-round. they are not houseplants. Tropical trees such as Ficus or Schefflera may spend the summer outdoors in a sunny location and be brought indoors in fall and winter, or be kept indoors all year.
5. Winter protect all outdoor trees. Sink pots in soil or mulch in late fall, with foliage exposed, or bring into a cold indoor location such as a shed or garage. Temperatures in such locations should be between 30 and 40 degrees. Do not bring into a warm indoor environment.
6. Trim new growth as needed to maintain the size and shape of the tree as well as to increase the density of the foliage on the tree.
7. Use wire as a temporary training device. Use wire to shape the branches and remove the wire before it becomes tight and scars the branch.
8. Repot at appropriate intervals. Do not allow a tree to remain rootbound in the pot nor repot too frequently.
9. Do not trim roots except at repotting times. Do not remove more than one third of the roots at any time.
10. Watch for insects or disease problems and use an appropriate treatment to resolve the problem.

The bonsai show put on by Dan's group isn't the only one happening in the area. I received word from Larry Strephan, that the 37th Annual Mid-America Bonsai Exhibit will be held across town at the Chicago Botanic Garden from August 15-17. Centered on the Chicago Botanic Garden's Permanent Collection, featuring almost 50 world-class trees, it's a showplace of specimens from across the midwest. Enthusiasts from five states bring their trees to be judged in the main hall at the Garden's Regenstein Center - with this year's Guest Master Rodney Clemons.

So there's a reason for folks to stop harrassing me with about how I never cover the bonsai circuit. Not that anybody ever does, but it pays to be ahead of the game.

Solving the world's problems, one app at a time

Here's a scary thought. Imagine a bunch of technology and social justic geeks gathering together once a week to by-pass the normal channels (i.e., politics) about how things get done, and create their own paradigm that relies on the accumulation of data and the dissemination of that information through various applications on your computers and your phones.

Crazy, huh?

Guess what? It's been going on in Chicago for more than two years. I'm not sure exactly how, but I stumbled onto something called Open Gov Hack Night, and I actually attended a session to see what it was all about. On their own website, they describe it as "Chicago's weekly event to build, share, and learn about civic tech."

On the evening I attended, there were probably 60 to 80 people who filled one small room and spilled out into the hall at a place called 1871 (which has a website so slick it makes your teeth ache) in the Merchandise Mart.

But Open Gov Hack Night is just one of several projects launched by a group called Open City. As they say on their website (not quite as slick...whew!), " We are a group that create apps with open data to improve transparency and understanding of our government."

Hmm. Now you're starting to intrigue me. Here's are some of the apps they've created:

  • Transit Future - An interactive map that explains the Transit Future, a campaign to get Cook County to build a dozen new rail lines by creating a dedicated local revenue stream.
  • Is there sewage in the Chicago River? - Every so often when Chicago gets a lot of rain or there's a significant snowmelt, the Chicagoland water management agencies pump excess wastewater into the lake and river in order to prevent flooding. This site notifies Chicagoans when this happens. (You might have heard me mention this app on my show a few weeks ago.)
  • Chicago Councilmatic - Are you curious about what legislation the Chicago City Council has been passing? Search, browse, subscribe and comment on everything the City Council has done since Jan 1st 2010.
  • 2nd City Zoning - 2nd City Zoning is an interactive map that lets you find out how your building is zoned, learn where to locate your business and explore zoning patterns throughout the city.
  • Crime in Chicago - Crime in Chicago is a data visualization that lets you explore crime trends in Chicago's 50 wards. It was built using open data about Chicago crimes released by the Chicago Police Department.

And there are more. One thing that many of these apps have in common is a guy named Derek Eder, meaning that he has been involved in the creation of more than a dozen open source civic apps. He is the owner of DataMade , an open government and open data web consulting company, a co-founder of Open City, and an organizer for Open Gov Hack Nights. Meaning that he's either somebody you immediately want on your team, or you might want to look over your shoulder to see if he's sneaking up behind you...or both.

Derek is on my show this morning to talk about all of the above.

By the way, when I showed up at Open Gov Hack Night in June, they were in the middle of the Center for Neighborhood Technology Urban Sustainability Apps competition. The winner turned out to be something called Chicago Green Score, which ranks city neighborhoods according to whether they have abundant green roofs, community gardens, farmers markets, parks and public transit and bike facilities, while lowering scores for environmental complaints.

Well, I decided to give it a try for my south Logan Square neighborhood. One of the things it tells you is whether there is a community garden in the vicinity, which adds green points to your neighborhood. However, when I checked the app, my own community garden, Green on McLean, was not listed. Hmm.

So I wrote to the folks at Chicago Green Score to tell them of this problem. I heard back from one of the developers, Tom Greenhaw, who apologized for the omission. He said that an app can only be as good as the data base from which is working, which makes perfect sense.

I invited him to be on the show this morning with Derek but he was unavailable. I suspect that he and I will be chatting on the air in the future.


July 20, 2014

The Attack of the Killer Asparagus Summer 2014 Tour Continues!

Join Mike at the Sugar Beet Co-op Edible Garden Tour next week

Now that my first book, Attack of the Killer Asparagus and other lessons not learned in the garden has been launched, you're going to have the opportunity to see a little more of me out and about the Chicago area. Hey, these things don't sell themselves, ya know!.

First, another reminder that a very special book launch party (we can keep these things going for months, the way I see it) is planned for Thursday, July 31 at Uncommon Ground Restaurant on Devon Avenue in Chicago. Thanks to owners Helen and Michael Cameron, there will be a book signing complete with snacks (and a cash bar, for those of you who can't face my writing without some alcoholic backup), a tour of the world famous organic rooftop farm, and even a 10% discount for folks who want to stick around for dinner (I'll be on of them).

You will need to RSVP for the event, and until it is listed on the Uncommong Ground site, you can write to me at and I'll make sure you get a seat.

Meanwhile, if you want to order a book for yourself, log on to Around the Block Press. The book is available via all of the usual online suspects, or you can special order it at your favorite bookstore. And would it kill you to give Attack of the Killer Asparagus a Like on Facebook?

But before that I'm taking a big box o' books to Oak Park next Saturday, July 26 from 9:30 a.m. to noon to be part of the 3rd annual Sugar Beet Edible Garden Tour. I'll be hanging out in the mother ship, the Sugar Beet Co-op, at 812 W. Madison in Oak Park.

The tour actually happens between 10 am and 3 pm, and the starting location is The Sugar Beet Co-op. The walk features edible gardens in Oak Park, Forest Park, River Forest and Austin. These private gardens are all about growing food and you might even pick up a few tips about how it's done in urban and near-urban yards, including the Forest Park Community garden, started by Jessica Rinks (a/k/a @SnappyJDog on Twitter), my buddy from Purple Leaf Farms, a wonderful advertiser on The Mike Nowak Show.

Other highlights include:

● Back by popular demand: The Ioder Goat Farm housed in a backyard garage in the Austin neighborhood, Chicago
● Examples of successful community gardens including Wonderworks Childrens Museum, The Longfellow Family Garden Club Garden, the Forest Park Community Garden and the Dominican Priory Garden
● A private home in North Oak Park that completely converted their front and back yard into an orchard and vegetable garden
● A private home in South Oak Park with a children's garden including a cucumber teepee

Cycling from garden to garden is encouraged. Kids are FREE, but please register them so we can get a headcount. And leave the dogs at home, please. Come by on the day of the event and sign up for a family lifetime membership to the Sugar Beet Co-op and your tickets to the tour are free! Otherwise, general admission is $12 and Co-op members get in for $10. They're warning folks that tickets are limited, so you might want to get yours in advance by going to Brown Paper Tickets.

While I'm on the subject, a few words about the Sugar Beet Co-op. They are self-described as A Community Owned Grocery Store, and right now they're raising the captial to launch as a member-owned, full-service business in early 2015. What does that mean? It means that The Co-op will carry locally and sustainably grown organic foods, when possible, and be a “one stop shop” for high quality foods all year round. By the way, membership is open to everyone and you can find out more about it here.

According to the group, "all of the profit will go back into The Co-op and, when possible, to its members. That means our grocery dollars stay in our communities to help support local businesses and farmers." In addition, Sugar Beet is working to make the building LEED certified, employing geothermal heating, and working with its vendors to reduce packaging as much as possible.

Cheryl Muñoz, Founder & Project Lead for The Sugar Beet Co-op, joins me In the Greenroom this morning to talk about a bright future for this venture.

Chicago Market wants 1000 owners in 100 days

While Sugar Beet Co-op is happening on the west side, a similar project is unfolding on Chicago's north side. It's called Chicago Market, and it sounds remarkably similar to what's happening in Oak Park:

Chicago Market will be a big, bright, beautiful community-owned grocery store featuring local, sustainably farmed, organic produce, meat and dairy products, as well as all of the other staples you'd expect from your market -- dry goods, bulk foods, frozen foods, wine, beer and liquor. We'll have a butcher shop, delicious prepared foods and fresh-baked goods. Chicago Market will be a community hub where shoppers can enjoy the juice and coffee bar while attending workshops, classes, meetings and performances.

Chicago Market will provide farm-to-table transparency about food, its origins and its processes. It will educate its community about nutrition, ingredient sourcing and methods of food production. The Market will support sustainability and integrity in all areas, including environmental stewardship, fair labor practices and cooperative principles.

In this case, however, Chicago Market is looking for what they call "owners," which might just be another word for "members." They are hoping to entice 1,000 people to become owners in the 100-day period that started on June 15 of this year, something they're calling their #1000in100 campaign.

Chicago Market will be open to everyone, though owners will have some perks. Again, like at Sugar Beet Co-op, members will have a say in how the business is run. They will also receive some direct benefits--

An annual patronage refund of co-op profits based on each owner's spending.
Owner-only sales & specials.
Owner discounts on classes, workshops & special events.
An opportunity to serve on the Board of Directors, which will be responsible for hiring the general manager and steering the strategic direction of the co-op.
A vote in choosing the Board of Directors.

--as well as Indirect benefits:

Giving great-paying jobs with benefits.
Giving support to our local farmers.
Giving the Earth a break through sustainable growing.
Giving your community a wonderful place to shop, an eclectic meeting spot, and an educational hub to learn about local, sustainable food.

Gregory Berlowitz is a founder and is also on the steering committee for Chicago Market. He was formerly an environmental attorney for two Chicago law firms, and a waiter at Chicago restaurants such as Harvest on Huron, Everest, and Blackbird. Currently, he is the vice-chair for the Food Law Committee of the Chicago Bar Association, sits on the Procurement Committee for the CPS School Parent Food Advisory Committee, and is part of the advisory council and leadership group for Ruby Garden in Schreiber Park. Since he moved to Chicago almost two decades ago, he says he has seen the need for a different kind of food business:

I am an Owner of Chicago Market because I believe in the power of democratic organizations to solve community problems such as access, quality and transparency. I believe that we need more information, not less. Chicago Market will help us connect with the sources of our food, with the people who grow our food, and with the huge community of people around us: people who care about health and nutrition, who support local farmers through markets and CSAs, and who buy organic dairy, meat, fruits and vegetables for their families and children.

I believe cooperative development is the right path to local food success because it is dedicated to the Triple Bottom Line: people, planet, and profit. This means that Chicago Market will place premiums equally on Owner satisfaction, farmer support, and employee fairness, environmental stewardship, and quality and professionalism.

One of the people he has convinced is Ina Pinkney. You might recognize the name if you ever had a meal at the iconic Ina's on Randolph in the Market District, where she was chef/owner. In fact, her website is and, having had several breakfasts at Ina's, I agree with that choice. However, note that I said "had" a meal at Ina's. Unfortunately for all of us, that restaurant closed at the end of 2013, mainly because Ina has had some chronic health problems.

But Ina leaves behind an enviable career, including her special order bakery called The Dessert Kitchen, which she opened in 1980, before starting Ina's in 1991. She is a sought after judge at cooking competitions such as the National Beef Cook-Off, filmed for the Food Network. In 2014, Ina was awarded the Golden Whisk Award from the Women Chefs and Restaurateurs Organization for excellence in
the kitchen, and was honored by the Women’s Foodservice Forum as
a ‘Woman Making Her Mark’.

If that isn't enough, she is also the author of Taste Memories and was a founding member of the Green Chicago Restaurant Coalition.

So why did she decide to become an owner of Chicago Market? Well, that's why she is on the show this morning with Gregory Berlowitz. I'm looking forward to the conversation.

Rick Moskovitz battles mosquitoes at the Stihl Tour des Trees

It's been a pretty rainy 2014 (so far), which means that everybody's favorite spoiler of all outdoor activities--mosquitoes--are a big part of this summer's conversations. Which means that it's time to bring back the, uh, unconventional Rick Moskovitz, proprietor of A Plus Pest Control, Inc., and its sister operation, Plus Natural Enzymes.

It just so happens that Rick showed up at the book launch party for Attack of the Killer Asparagus (did I tell you that I've written a book?) at Women & Children First Bookstore the other week. Another friend of the show was there--Mary DiCarlo, Fund Development Specialist for the Tree Fund, which raises a lot of its money throught the annual Stihl Tour des Trees. You might recall that in 2010, the launch of the Tour des Trees rally happened with a special broadcast of The Mike Nowak Show from Millennium Park, where tree farmer and keyboardist Chuck Leavell from some band called The Rolling Stones entertained the crowd.

This year, the Stihl Tour des Trees is more or less back in the area, starting its 583-mile ride in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, heading west to Madison, up to Stevens Point, east to Green Bay, jogging up to Sturgeon Bay and back down Lake Michigan to Brew City.

And one of the things the bicycle riders are going to encounter guessed it--mosquitoes!

Which is why I turned to Rick Moskovitz, who, with his wife Marsha, has been practicing environmentally safe pest control practices since 1979. As he explained in an article in Illinois Homes:

In the field, my technicians have developed our IPM (Integrated Pest Management) philosophy. This simply means, inspect first, formulate a plan of action and then treat. We might tell a customer to seal a hole or fix a screen on a window. When pesticides are necessary, where we can, we use natural products, including our own Plus Natural Enzymes line. When we need to use regular pesticides, we use the safest and most effective products. We use natural products where we can in all of our service, ants, cockroaches, fleas, flies, bees & wasps, etc. and even bedbugs.

One of the natural products he introduced me to is Cedar Choice Mosquito Repellent, which can be used for both people and pets. Interestingly, it is derived from the oil of Juniperus virginiana, commonly known as Eastern Red-cedar or sometimes just Red Cedar, which is the common juniper that you find along roadways and in fields all over the Midwest. Just think of birds eating juniper berries and then pooping them at will and you'll get an idea of how ubiquitous this plant is. In fact, one of those plants landed in my back yard. Hmm, I wonder if I can create my own cedar mosquito repellent?

The important point is that is doesn't contain DEET, a chemical that was developed by the Army in 1946 and approved for the general public in 1957. While the US EPA is finalizing its 2014 Review and has deemed it safe:

EPA continues to believe that the normal use of DEET does not present a health concern to the general population, including children. As always, consumers are advised to read and follow label directions in using any pesticide product, including insect repellents. Currently registered uses of DEET are also not expected to result in adverse effects for listed and non-listed endangered species, or critical habitat. As such, EPA concludes “no effect” for listed species and no adverse modification of designated critical habitat for all currently registered uses of DEET.

However, DEET can result in adverse effects, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Rick also deals with ants and bedbugs, and will be giving a talk called Safe Prevention and Eradication of Persistent Pests on Saturday, August 9 at the Chicago Center for Green Technology (CCGT).

Rick and Mary are both on the show this morning. Rick has threated to bring his ukulele, so I'm not sure exactly what to expect. I guess you'll have to tune in to find out what happens.

July 13, 2014

Attack of the Killer Asparagus is now on sale!

As you can see from the photo on the left, the launch of my first book, Attack of the Killer Asparagus and other lessons not learned in the garden at Women & Children First Bookstore in Andersonville was what I would modestly call a rousing success.

My thanks to the great staff at Women & Children First, my illustrator Allyson Hunter, my publisher (and partner) Kathleen Thompson, and all the great folks who stopped by to celebrate the occasion. As I mentioned last week, the book has taken me only eleven years to complete. Of course, that's because it's a compliation of columns that I have been writing for Chicagoland Gardening Magazine for more than eleven years. Actually, this volume represents roughly the first six years.

And if you missed this event, fear not. We have an even bigger soiree planned for Thursday, July 31 at Uncommon Ground Restaurant on Devon Avenue in Chicago. Thanks to owners Helen and Michael Cameron, there will be a book signing complete with snacks (and a cash bar, for those of you who can't face my writing without some alcoholic backup), a tour of the world famous organic rooftop farm, and even a 10% discount for folks who want to stick around for dinner (I'll be on of them).

You will need to RSVP for the event, and until it is listed on the Uncommong Ground site, you can write to me at and I'll make sure you get a seat.

Meanwhile, if you want to order a book for yourself, log on to Around the Block Press. The book is available via all of the usual online suspects, or you can special order it at your favorite bookstore. And, if you have a couple of spare seconds, why don't you give Attack of the Killer Asparagus a Like on Facebook?

Time for the Sheffield Garden Walk and Music Festival...

Where did the spring go? Oh, wait, I know--it was never here. Silly me. Nevertheless, summer is here, and with it, garden walks, including two iconic events in Chicago.

We'll start with the 46th Annual Sheffield Garden Walk & Music Festival on July 19 & 20. The action takes place at Sheffield and Webster, though, new for 2014, there's a music stage at Fullerton.

The event is sponsored by the Sheffield Neighborhood Association (SNA), a non-for-profit community organization and is often called the "Summer's Best Festival." That might be because it features self-guided tours of more than 100 Gardens, guided Architectural Tours, live entertainment by some of Chicago's and North America's finest bands, food and drink, and activities for children at the Kids' Corner.

Of course, many people show up for the music, so here's the list of acts:

Main Stage

6:00 p.m. - Workout Music
7:20 p.m. - Meiko
8:45 p.m. - ZZ Ward

6:30 p.m. - The Samples
8:30 p.m. - Freddy Jones Band

Fullerton Stage (New Stage in 2014)

12:15 p.m. - Hello Weekend
2:15 p.m. - The Personnel (2 sets)
6:10 p.m. - Afro Zep
8:00 p.m. - Trippin Billies

12:15 p.m. - Crush on Radio
2:15 p.m. - Your Villain, My Hero (2 sets)
6:10 p.m. - Catfight
8:00 p.m. - Wedding Banned

Proceeds from this volunteer-managed festival provide continued support for neighborhood schools, local institutions, and community projects. In addition, proceeds are allocated to SNA's Award-Winning Beautification Program, a plan to maintain Sheffield as the Garden District of Chicago.

As usual, it's one of the cheapest dates in town. The donation is $7, which bumps up to $10 after 3pm. This just might be the best bargain in America.

And also, as usual, former Chicago Gardener of the Year (back in the Stone Age, aka the Daley Administration, when the City of Chicago actually cared about gardeners) Laury Lewis joins me in studio to preview the fun and music of the festival and to actually answer some gardening questions. You can also find the Sheffield Garden Walk and Music Festival on Facebook.

...and the 56th Dearborn Garden Walk

As you can see above, the Sheffield Garden Walk, etc. is celebrating its 46th anniversary. But there's another garden walk that is ten years old than that, and it is the Dearborn Garden Walk, presented by the North Dearborn Association. In fact, this event, which consists of a self-guided walking tour of many hidden gardens throughout Chicago's Near North and Gold Coast neighborhoods, is considered to be one of the country's oldest garden walks.

The 56th version of this historic (am I allowed to use that word?) event is called Bein' Green, and I, for one, am all in favor of bein' green. Just sayin'.

The garden walk goes from 12pm to 5pm on Sunday, July 20. For a $30 ticket ($35 if you pay at the gate) you get a Dearborn Garden Walk program with a map for a self-guided tour of the gardens, live jazz and classical music in select gardens, and guided architectural walking tours of historic Dearborn Parkway.

On this tour, you'll experience a variety of private rear gardens ranging from minimalist to classic small gardens and patio/terrace designs; each showcasing the most creative use of outdoor space in an urban setting. Each year, some of Chicago's most talented designers transform a handful of backyard spaces into amazing outdoor entertainment and living areas utilizing a variety of outdoor tables, chairs, colorful cushions, linens, floral decorations, and other accessories including fine china, crystal, and flatware.

In addition to the self-guided walking tour and garden vignettes, visitors can participate in an hour-long, educational sidewalk guided tour of historic Dearborn Parkway that highlights the outstanding architectural facades in the neighborhood.

I'm pleased to have Greg Hodapp and Woody Olsen, who are the garden walk chairs, back on the show this morning to talk about this great Chicago event.


July 6, 2014

Mike launches Attack of the Killer Asparagus with a book party!

There's something pretty satisfying about pulling up to the printer and loading up the vehicle with several boxes full of your first book. I highly recommend it--the experience, I mean. That's what I did on Thursday of this past week with my honey (and publisher) Kathleen Thompson.

As I've been telling folks, my book, Attack of the Killer Asparagus and other lessons not learned in the garden, has been only eleven years in the making. While that's technically true, the reason is that the book is a compliation of columns that I have been writing for Chicagoland Gardening Magazine for that time. In this book, we took the best of the first six years or so...which means, I guess, that there will be a Volume II in my future. I suppose it depends on how well Volume I does. One thing at a time.

I am honored to say that my first launch event is being held at one of the great Chicago independent book stores--Women & Children First at 5233 N. Clark St in Andersonville. You can sign up at the Attack of the Killer Asparagus Book Launch on Facebook to be part of the fun. My fabulous illustrator, Allyson Hunter, will be there, too, and as the event page states, "Wine, food, and Mike reading from his new book. What more could you want? How about Mike and Allyson Hunter signing books?"

Kathleen joins me on the program this morning to talk more about the book. By the way, though I would prefer that you support Around the Block Press, the book is available via all of the usual online suspects, or you can special order it at your favorite bookstore..

Talking petcoke and summer climate hazards with Josh Mogerman

A not-so-funny thing happened recently on the way to getting rid of the petcoke piles on the southeast side of Chicago--it didn't happen. Sorry, that's not a very funny punch line. It just happens to be true. Mayor Rahm Emanuel City Council have talked tough, only to ultimately back down. Despite the efforts of groups like the Southeast Environmental Task Force (SETF) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), this by-product of the tar-sands oil refining process continues to be a hazard for the homes, schools, businesses and, of course, people in its wind-blown path.

With that in mind, here's a holiday greeting from the SETF:

“While Chicagoans prepare to grill for the 4th of July, they should remember folks on the Southeast Side who don't feel safe having backyard barbecues in the shadow of massive mounds of petcoke in their neighborhoods. Air quality data and a Notice of Violation from the EPA against the biggest petcoke pilers underscore that there is cause for concern.”

Perhaps because the folks in that part of Chicago have had to deal with environmental insults for so long, they just don't give up. Josh Mogerman from NRDC reported just the other week that newly installed air pollution monitors at the Koch Industries' KCBX facility has already led to the Environmental Protection Agency to accuse KCBX of violating the federal Clean Air Act.

Mogerman writes that the EPA's move is just a first step:

The piles should be gone… But until they are moved, there are some additional commonsense tools that need to be put in place quickly, including:

  • Public access to real time data from the air monitors and weather stations properly installed at and around the KCBX sites (so the community has more current information on conditions that affect them).
  • More air monitors (right now they are positioned at the corners of the KCBX properties, which are huge, so additional monitoring should be required).
  • Monitoring and reporting of the concentrations of smaller dust particles (PM 2.5 and smaller), which are more easily carried by wind and air currents, and even more damaging to public health because they lodge deep in the lungs.

Will that happen? It's hard to say. But it's discouraging to hear from Josh that

NRDC and the Southeast Environmental Task Force staffers will be spending part of the holiday sorting through a raft of variance requests that have come in from companies in the area seeking exceptions to the City of Chicago's regulations on handling and storage of petcoke and coal.

Hubboy. Josh Mogerman joins me on the show this morning to talk about this issue. And while he's here, he'll also chat about something the the NRDC sent out earlier in the week, titled, 8 Things We Hate About Summer are Getting Worse with Climate Change...And What We Can Do About Them. Among the ways that summers are getting more difficult to deal with:

1. Heat waves
2. Bad air alert days
3. Tick and mosquitoes
4. Poison Ivy
5. Sneezing and wheezing
6. Food-borne illness
7. Dangerous swimming conditions
8. Ruined visits to national landmarks and parks

Fun! As if dealing with neighborhood fireworks wasn't bad enough. I can hardly wait!

And speaking of climate change, remember those storms that rolled through here last week and flooded a bunch of our basements? The NRDC's Henry Henderson writes that all of that water highlights the need for an updated strategy for dealing with our changing weather.

I also received a newsletter from Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) Commissioner (and friend of the show) Debra Shore, with the headline, Everything is to Blame. The piece attempted to explain why things were so bad on Monday evening. However, a couple of days later, she followed up with a newsletter called It Was Worse Than I Thought. Unfortunately, I don't a have a link to that, but here's partly what she wrote:

The newsletter I sent on Tuesday explaining what happened during the major storm of June 30-July 1 didn't tell the whole story. It was worse than I thought. Thanks to some of the responses I received, I realized that I had failed to account for the intensity of the storm. I had been provided with information about the duration of the rainstorm, but not about its intensity and there were several additional factors that added to the drama and damage this storm caused.

Permit me, then, to add to the account.

First, it's important to note that the ground was already saturated because there were really three storm events in one day- two rainstorms of lesser intensity and then a big unleashing just before 10 p.m. Moreover, evaporation was occurring at about half its normal rate, meaning the ground was staying saturated longer. When the ground is saturated with water and can't absorb any more, this adds to runoff and loads more water into the sewers through leaking pipes and illegal connections (see "infiltration and inflow").

Second, I had been thinking that some places, such as Wilmette, received more than three inches of rain over the six hour duration of the storm. But the reality was different. I called my friend and meterologist Rick DiMaio who was able to provide me with more specific rain data.

Around 10 p.m., rain fell on O'Hare Airport at a rate of nearly two inches per hour. Around 10:30 p.m., Midway Airport was hit with a rainfall rate of 2.5 inches per hour. In less than two hours some areas received up to four inches of rain. No wonder the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) considered Cook County to be at "moderate" risk of severe weather-an understatement, to say the least.

When you consider intensity, this storm became the equivalent of a fifty-year storm in some places. Think of it this way: If you have a bucket full of water and you attempt to empty it into a gallon milk jug, you can pour it slowly and gradually fill the jug. But if you dump most of the bucket at once, it will completely overwhelm the milk jug and spill all over the place. Anyone watching that storm Monday night saw the skies dumping buckets and buckets of water on us. It was incredible -- and alarming.

Here's another fascinating fact: The percent of normal rainfall in some parts of northern Cook County between June 25 and July 2 was between 500 and 600 percent above normal.

So the two factors I neglected to include in my first report that made this storm worse than I had originally thought were the saturated ground and the intensity of the rainfall.

It's a good thing she contacted meteorologist for the show Rick DiMaio. I told you he was the best in the city!

Making the highly toxic glyphosate (Roundup) even worse

Last week, I got involved in brief conversation with a listener about whether it was safe to plant vegetables in his yard several years after chemicals had been used nearby. Unfortunately, the caller didn't know exactly which chemical(s) might have been used. But we both suspected that it might be glyphosate, the active ingredient in the weed-killer Roundup.

We all know Roundup. We see ads for it on TV all of the time--especially in the commercials with guys (it's always guys) packing it like firearms and always shooting from the hip. (Don't get me started.) The product was introduced in the 1970s and as of 2013, it was the world's largest selling herbicide, with about 100 million pounds being applied to U.S. farms and lawns alone each year, according to the EPA. Why? According to this Wikipedia article, "Glyphosate has been called by experts in herbicides 'virtually ideal' due to its broad spectrum and low toxicity compared with other herbicides."

Beyond Pesticides says that glyphosate is "moderately persistent" in soils, with an average half life of 47 days. However, it has been detected at 174 days. That's why I told the listener that I thought it would be safe to plant. I still think that, though I decided to do a little more research on glyphosate.

Here's how a Beyond Pesticides article about glyphosate describes the chemical.

Despite widespread use of the weed killer glyphosate, and the prevalent myth that it is harmless, this pesticide is tied to acute human health effects and linked to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. It is found in two Monsanto products, available over the counter, Roundup TM and Rodeo TM , making glyphosate one of the most widely used and well-known herbicides on the market. If there is one pesticide that represents the “fast-food,” quick-fix generation, glyphosate would likely be it – the McPesticide of toxic chemicals.

It continues:

Some of the most widespread uses of glyphosate that have been attracting public attention include use in invasive weed management and home gardening. The increase of glyphosate use in these areas is directly tied to the larger problem of poor land management, including over grazing, over development, soil compaction and other stressors. Glyphosate has replaced ecologically sound and sustainable cultural practices such as green-mulching, and preventive maintenance such as aeration and dethatching.

But they're just getting started, especially when they get to the subject of so-called "inert" ingredients.

A letter published in the Feburary 6, 1988 Lancet (page 299) cited a Japanese report of 56 cases of toxic exposure to Roundup TM between June, 1984 and March, 1986. The individuals had ingested the pesticide, and experienced a range of adverse effects to their respiratory, cardovascular, and central nervous systems; nine patients died. An analysis of the findings identified one of the so-called “inert ingredients” (inerts) in the formulation, polyoxyethyleneamine (POEA), as the cause of harm. POEA is a surfactant, a chemical added to help glyphosate work its way into the plant tissue. Roundup TM contains 15% POEA.

All pesticide formulations are actually toxic soups, a mixture of the active ingredient (the registered pesticide) with a variety of other chemicals such as solvents, surfactants (like POEA), and emulsifiers – the inerts. Federal law classifies inerts as trade secrets and pesticide manufactures are not required to list inert ingredients on the pesticide label. Inerts, which can make up to as much as 99% of a pesticide formulation, are often highly toxic chemicals that can be more hazardous then the active ingredient.

Inerts known to be included in glyphosate products include ammonium sulfate, benziothiazolone, 3-iodo-2-propynl butylcarbamate (IPBC), isobutane, methyl pyrrolidinone, pelargonic acid, sodium sulfite, sorbic acid, and isopropylamine. All of these chemicals are associated with skin irritation, gastric and respiratory problems.

Are ya with me so far? Okay, just one more paragraph from that entry, which I suggest you read for yourself in full.

Glyphosate use directly impacts a variety of nontarget animals including insects, earthworms, and fish, and indirectly impacts birds and small mammals. A study conducted by the International Organization for Biological Control found that exposure to Roundup TM killed over 50 percent of three species of beneficial insects – a parasitoid wasp, a lacewing and a ladybug. Repeated applications of glyphosate significantly affected the growth and survival of earthworms. Studies have also shown that glyphosate, and in particular the inert ingredients in the formulation of Roundup TM are acutely toxic to fish.

Going back to the paragraphs above about "inert" chemicals added to pesticides, you should be aware that the crazy, left-wing Scientific American has written about their concerns with Roundup. In an article titled Weed-Whacking Herbicide Proves Deadly to Human Cells, they also raise disturbing questions about POEA:

Used in yards, farms and parks throughout the world, Roundup has long been a top-selling weed killer. But now researchers have found that one of Roundup's inert ingredients can kill human cells, particularly embryonic, placental and umbilical cord cells.

The new findings intensify a debate about so-called “inerts” — the solvents, preservatives, surfactants and other substances that manufacturers add to pesticides. Nearly 4,000 inert ingredients are approved for use by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Remember, "inert" ingredients are the ones that aren't "active." They're supposed to be the background to the chemicals that are doing the heavy lifting. However, some inert ingredients were formerly classified as active ingredients. How did they get demoted? Are they sulking? Don't forget that federal says that you don't even have the right to know what these chemicals are!

But wait. It gets worse.

A new study from the U.S. Geological Survey, accepted for publication online ahead of print in the journal Enviromental Toxicology and Chemistry , titled, "Pesticides in Mississippi air and rain: A comparison between 1995 and 2007," reveals that Roundup herbicide (aka glyphosate) and its still-toxic degradation byproduct AMPA were found in over 75% of the air and rain samples tested from Mississippi in 2007.  

I decided that I needed a little help with this subject. So I called upon resource ecologist, environmental toxicologist and science educator at Northern Illinois University and the University of Wisconsin, David J. Zaber, to help out. The problem is, he pointed out something that made me cringe even more, namely, this story from the Huffington Post:

As a federal decision looms over whether to approve Dow AgroSciences' proposed Enlist Duo herbicide -- a mix of 2,4-D and glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup weedkiller -- challenges from critics across the country have poured in. And children's health advocates are among the most vocal.

More than half a million people shared their thoughts before the EPA closed its public comment period on Monday. Among the submissions was a letter signed by 35 doctors, scientists and researchers, which highlighted human health risks they suggested had been overlooked by the agency -- especially for "young children in residential communities, schools, and daycare centers near the 2,4-D-sprayed fields."

On Wednesday, an environmental nonprofit released a report , including an interactive map , that warns the new weed-killing recipe may soon be sprayed on corn and soy fields within a thousand feet of more than 18,000 U.S. schools. Around 5,600 schools are within 200 feet of fields that could potentially be sprayed, according to the Environmental Working Group's new analysis. The EPA's proposed approval of the double herbicide calls for a 200-foot buffer zone around locations where it is sprayed.

In the words of John Boehner, are you kiddin' me?!

In case you don't know what 2,4-D is, that's the stuff that is often put into products called "weed n' feed" (cute, huh?), which many of you use on your lawns. Here's what the National Pesticide Information Center has to say about the toxicity of 2,4-D:

  • Dogs fed 2,4-D exhibited myotonia, vomiting, and weakness; dogs are more sensitive to chlorophenoxy acid herbicides • than other animals. In addition, dogs and cats have displayed inappetance, anorexia, ataxia, salivation, diarrhea, lethargy, and convulsions following exposure to 2,4-D, which may include eating treated grass although the potential for this is unclear. Rats demonstrated incoordination, central nervous system depression and muscular weakness following acute oral dosing. Biochemical analysis of rat tissues suggested hepatic and muscle damage following acute, subchronic, and chronic oral exposures.

If you're a human--and many of you are--here are the symptoms you can expect:

Symptoms of acute oral exposure to 2,4-D include vomiting, diarrhea, headache, confusion, aggressive or bizarre behavior. A peculiar odor is sometimes noted on the breath. Skeletal muscle injury and renal failure may also occur. Systemic toxicity is mainly associated with suicide attempts.

And this is the stuff that they want to combine with glyphosate. No wonder half a million people want this science experiment on us and our food to stop. And I haven't even gotten into how glyphosate is creating "superweeds" in our farm fields. Here's how Food & Water Watch describe these beasts:

Prior to the use of glyphosate-tolerant crops (commonly known as Monsanto's Roundup Ready brand), glyphosate-resistant superweeds didn't exist. Although there was a short-lived decrease in the use of herbicides when GE crops were first introduced, the last ten years have seen a major spike in use. The problem is, as more glyphosate is used, the faster weeds develop a resistance and then more and more glyphosate is needed to kill off persistent weeds. This cycle continues every growing season leaving farmers reporting weeds that tower over them and reach heights upwards of eight feet .

Okay, enough! I'm not going to be able to sleep tonight as it is. I welcome David J. Zaber to the show this morning to help shed more light on this question.


June 29, 2014

Mike Stephen is doing radio from "Outside the Loop"

Long, long ago in a distant galaxy, I worked at a place called Gargantua Radio. That's not its real name, but if I told you that, until next season they were associated with a certain north side semi-professional baseball team in Chicago, I think you would know what I was talking about.

One of the people I worked with there was a guy named Mike Stephen. I can't remember exactly what he did there, but I think he was a show producer. He was very smart and very nice and it didn't suprise me a bit when he started his own radio show at Loyola University's WLUW called Outside the Loop RADIO, "Chicago's Almost Above-Ground Audio Magazine," as it is described on their site. He partner was another buddy of mine, Andy Herrmann, who was, for awhile, the producer of my show at Gargantua.

He did that in 2006, a full two years before I wandered over to Chicago's Progressive Talk. Since then, Andy has moved on to other dreams, and Mike has produced more than 400 shows, won a Newcity Award for Best Local Podcast, reported on activism, books, the arts, education, movies, money and much more, including environmental issues like sustainability and urban gardening. In fact, I've been on the show at least a couple of times, usually talking about recycling or gardening.

Turnabout is fair play, so I thought it was time to have him on my program, so we could do the "Mike and Mike in the Morning" thing. He's serving as kind of a co-host today, so make him feel welcome. He's earned it.

In the Green Room with a couple of friends of the show

I love talking gardening and environmental matters with people, whether they listen to the show on the radio or link to the podcast or read these posts on my website or follow me on Facebook or Twitter.

This week I received a couple emails that I want to share with you here and on the radio. The first is from Arleen Gould, who I think caught my show segment last year with Joel Karsten, who wrote a book called Straw Bale Gardens: The Breakthrough Method for Growing Vegetables Anywhere, Earlier and with No Weeding. This is what she wrote:

Last year I told you I purchased 8 bales for planting this spring. I left them in the area I was going to use them, my original garden area. I seasoned them with some very cheap fertilizer for 2 weeks and then I put in 12 tomatoes, 3 groupings of cukes, one eggplant for the fun of it, and celery, never had any luck growing celery before but this seems to be working and 3 red pepper plants.

Well the tomatoes are going balls of fire. I realize tomatoes are prolific growers but never have I seen anything like this before. Some of those 4 inch plants are now almost 24” high and have either flowers or fruit growing already. Peppers have flowers and fruit also. The cukes are throwing off the tentacles (what are they really called I have no idea) and I need to get the trellis set for them. And best of all NO Weeds! Well maybe just a few but they were easy to get rid of.

I will send more pics as the season goes on, but I really do like this.

If you look at the column on the left, you can see the photos she sent. And I thought, if somebody is going to listen to the show and actually do something that was suggested here, why not talk to them? Thus, Arleen joins me on the program this morning.

The other email I received is pretty remarkable, as you will see. It is from a guy named Dan Obermaier, and I'll just let him speak for himself:

Hi Mike,

Yours is one of my four can't-miss shows: Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, Mighty House & The Mike Nowak Show. You're the best, and thank you for it.

I listen to your podcast because Sundays are for gardening. So I'm a couple weeks behind. But you recently mentioned perhaps starting a segment on listeners' gardens. I propose the name "Gardens You Should Know" and would like to tell you about mine.

It's in unincorporated Addison Township just across the Cook County line in DuPage. It's the area they call "Elmhurst-Bensenville" in car dealer commercials because it's between both but in neither. My yard backs up to a high-quality 115-acre wet Oak-Hickory woodland forest preserve. It's one of the few slivers left of a vast forest which once covered much of Bensenville, Wood Dale & Itasca prior to settlement. The natives called it The Tioga & early settlers called it Dunklee's Grove.

I didn't know much about gardening when we bought here 15 years ago. But as I learned about the quality of these woods, their history and the efforts of volunteer restorationists, it was an easy decision to go native. I didn't want anything from our yard mucking up all the effort that has gone into the forest preserve. So from the beginning, I've planted only native trees, shrubs, wildflowers and grasses suited for a lowland savanna.

When we moved in our half-acre yard was pretty much a field except for a few beautiful mature native trees, a couple near-death apple trees, a line of old yews and randomly placed scraggly bulb flowers. I've been slowly deleting the non-natives and have planted two long hedgerows -- one red cedar and the other a mix of smooth sumac, indigo bush, highbush cranberry, nannyberry and chokecherry, with some wild senna sprinkled in. There are four native wildflower & grass plots. The largest is a 1500 sq. ft. strip between my lawn and the forest that had been solid buckthorn, poison ivy & garlic mustard. Now it's goldenrods, golden alexander, blue flag iris, assorted sedges, red-osier dogwood, mountain mint, queen of the prairie, foxglove, beardtongue, rosin weed, New England aster, hairy buttercup and the like. Under the largest oak -- a red oak -- is a patch of savanna plants including rye, woodland sunflower, trout lilly, great purple hyssop etc. Around the mailbox post are wild geranium, prairie dropseed and nodding onion. The newest plot wraps around our new patio and fountain (built using mostly recycled pavers). It's about 600 sq. ft. Including swamp milkweed, sweet black-eyed susan, side-oats gamma, wake robin, Ohio spiderwort, sensitive fern, dolls-eyes, bottlebrush grass, solomon's seal, blue-eyed grass and many more.

In this newest plot I've built a drip irrigation system fed by a huge underground cistern that captures most of the rainwater from the roof. Believe it or not, the roof collection system dates back to 1952, when our house was built. The original owner/builder wanted rainwater for bathing and laundry since the well water here is hard and rusty. At some point the rainwater plumbing was disconnected because -- as I learned from one of your guests a few years back -- such setups are against code. But the cistern was still there and now is back in use, watering native plants.

(A little bit more about the house. It's passive solar. Starting in the '30s but catching on more in the '40s and early '50s, solar was championed by several progressive Midwestern architects including Frank Lloyd Wright, (Madison) Fred Keck (Chicago) and Harris Armstrong (St. Louis). There even was a small experimental subdivision in Glenview built just before the war called "Sloan's Solar Park," featuring a house by Keck. My house was built as a DIY project but clearly is based on the work of Wright and Keck. I have a few period books about this subject, if you're interested in our region's role in the history of solar architecture. Of course, Mediterranean cultures have used passive solar for thousands of years, but that's yet another story.)

Back to the yard -- joining the mature native trees I've planted a number of trees including a burr oak that's shooting up like crazy, a red oak, several river birches and shagbark hickories, a linden, a green ash (before the Asian ash borer arrived), a redbud and a pagoda dogwood. All are thriving because they are where they want to be. Of course, I've had plenty of failures too including Witch Hazel, Hazelnut & many, many forbs & grasses.

At best, my yard looks like a rustic cottage garden, but to some it probably looks like a mess (as one neighbor has told me). I'm still a novice learning more every season. But the transformation has been pretty dramatic. My yard now is jumping, buzzing and swarming with pollinators, dragonflies, frogs, snakes, bats, hummingbirds, goldfinches, cardinals, woodpeckers and the usual pests -- deer, chipmunks, moles, raccoons and rabbits. They seem to appreciate that there aren't any pesticides or chemical fertilizers on or in the plants and soil. While mowing last Sunday I had to stop seven times to capture & relocate Western chorus frogs hopping in my path. Over time I hope to dig a retention/wildlife pond and replace most of the lawn with more native beds. I've begun experimenting with native perennial vegetables including ramps (wild leeks) and Jerusalem Artichoke.

I spent months reading the entire USDA plant index web site to determine what plants are native to DuPage County. That was back before you could filter the web site by location, with just a click. But my biggest frustration is that it's harder now than it was years ago to buy uncommon native plants from a retailer. All the local growers now are wholesale only, and the forest preserve sales always conflict with family and school events (for parents, May is the busiest month of the year). So most of my plant purchases now are on the web.

I'm not an expert, I'm not wealthy and I have been/am doing the work myself. I'm just some guy. It's been a long steep learning curve for me. But you should know that people are paying attention, and that we can do this. Native gardening is no harder than any other gardening -- you have to keep at it and learn as you go.

Sorry to bend your ear for so long. Thanks for reading. Your voice is key in the struggle against stupidity, inertia and greed. You are needed and appreciated.

Yoikes. I hardly know what to say...except that I'm going to send Dan some kind of prize just for doing what he has done.

If ever an email message has made me humble, that's the one.

Growing Cities is a cause and an award-winning film

I couple of years ago, two guys (and a few friends and colleagues) from Omaha decided to go on a field trip across the United States. Dan Susman and Andrew Monbouquette were in search of food and its production--specifically, the folks in this country who have created a new paradigm of what it means to grow food in the 21st Century. In their own words, they were looking for "men and women who are challenging the way this country grows and distributes its food, one vacant city lot, rooftop garden, and backyard chicken coop at a time."

Their jouney took them to San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Detroit, Boston, New York, Atlanta and other cities, where they discovered that, given a few basic conditions are met, food can be grown just about anywhere--from chemically compromised brownfields to rooftops to the ruins of urban glory to plains of concrete. Wherever there's a will, there's a way.

Oh, did I mention that they brought along film equipment and a crew and were out to create a documentary called Growing Cities? And that, when they were finished and started showing the film, they started winning all kinds of awards? And that now they have a chance to get it shown on PBS if they can raise thirty thousand dollars in their Kickstarter campaign?

I guess I just did.

Just so you know, I've seen the film and it's pretty slick. I mean that in a good way, as in "very professional." It also features interviews with a number of people who have been on my own show, including Harry Rhodes from Growing Home and Ken Dunn from City Farm and the Resource Center.

It's also part of an expanding canon of documentaries about food issues in this country. You can find whole lists of films about the various issues surrounding food, its growth and its production. Here are just a few, though this list is by no means comprehenive. Some have been around for almost a decade, some have been released in the past couple of years.

Director/Producer Dan Susman of Growing Cities joins me on the phone this morning to talk about moving his documentary to the next level.


June 22, 2014

The ACGA returns to its Chicago roots for its 35th Anniversary

In 1979, a group of gardeners, looking to promote commmunity gardening and greening across the United States and Canada, decided to pool their resources and create the American Community Gardening Association (ACGA) ...and it happened right here in Chicago.

Beginning on Thursday, August 7, the ACGA returns to the Windy City for its 35th Anniversary Conference. Among the highlights of this "community fest":

  • Lost and Found :  Rescuing Land and Food For Communities In Need
    Thursday, August 7. A visit to one of my favorite community gardens in Chicago--KAM Isaiah Israel in the Hyde Park Neighborhood, which has grown thousands of pounds of produce to donate to nearby churches and food pantries. There will be a walk through the gardens, along with a panel discussion on food donation featuring a grower, a community health specialist, a recipient and a leader in the faith-based community.
  • Welcome Dinner
    Thursday, August 7. Stick around at KAMII, where conference attendees will meet to network and enjoy a great locally sourced vegetarian meal provided by Irv & Shelly's Fresh Picks . Meet the ACGA board, host committee, keynote speakers and other presenters at this mixer.
  • Keynote Presentations and Workshops
    Friday, August 8 & Saturday, August 9. Keynote addresses by Roger Hart, Professor of the Ph.D. Psychology and Earth and Environmental Sciences Programs of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, and by Marianne E. Krasny, Professor and Director of the Civic Ecology Lab in the Department of Natural Resources at Cornell University.

    Workshops include 40 presentations and roundtables, including:

Advocacy and Social Justice
Community Garden Management
Conservation & Green Infrastructure
Food Gardens & Urban Farms
Gardens & Culture
Youth & School Programs
Urban Animals & Others

And, of course, there's plenty of schmoozing and dishing, as there is at any conference. In the studio this morning, I'm please to have ACGA board member LaManda Joy, who is the driving force behind the Peterson Garden Project and considered the Best Urban Farmer in Chicago. She just finished writing Fearless Food Gardening in Chicago for the PGP, and is already working on her next book, Start a Community Food Garden: The Essential Handbook, which will be published by Timber Press in December of this year. If I didn't love her so much, I would hate her for her success.

Joining us on the phone is ACGA keynote speaker Marianne E. Krasny, who is Director of the Civic Ecology Lab at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. With colleague Keith Tidball, she is co-author of Greening in the Red Zone, which she says was inspired in part by Kenny Helphand's book Defiant Gardens" Making Gardens in Wartime. A couple of ways of looking at community gardens, she says, is as resilience/response to disaster and disinvestment, and as one of multiple civic ecology practices.

It's a Sunday morning SOIL GEEK OUT!!

Don't look now, but the City of Chicago is about to overrun by soil scientists. From June 29 to July 2, the Warwick Allerton Hotel at 701 North Michigan in Chicago will be host to an event called the Soil in the City Conference: Enhancing Urban Soils for Living Landscapes and Healthy Communities. According to the official Soil In The City website, the event is a national conference organized by the USDA Research Committee W-2170 on Soil-Based Use of Residuals, Waste-water and Reclaimed Water. The conference theme is “restoring our available urban land and optimizing local resources, while protecting environmental and human health and enhancing socio-cultural dialogue.”

Uh...that's what you get when you get too many soil scientists in a room at the same time. Sometimes mulch gets referred to as "surface covers." Yikes.

And while I'm still trying to find out what a "USDA Research Committee W-2170" is and how to enhance "socio-cultural dialogue,", there's no doubt that the study of urban soils has become more important as more people grow their food in large metropolitan areas. In fact, the conference (full agenda here) is focusing on three things:

  • Urban Gardening
    Presentations will focus on characteristics of urban soils; improving quality/productivity of urban soils; pollutants (organic/inorganic) in residuals-amended urban soils; uptake of pollutants by food crops; food quality in urban environment; regulatory concerns and challenges facing urban farming; and environmental/economic/social benefits of incorporating residuals in urban farming.
  • Green Infrastructures
    Presentations will focus on integrating residuals into growth medium to improve long-term sustainability and performance of green infrastructures; cost/benefit analysis of common green infrastructures and environmental/societal benefits.
  • Greening Brownfields
    Presentations will focus on innovative approaches to manage pollutant bioavailability; use of residuals to mitigate contamination and enhance soil productivity; beneficial uses of stormwater and improvement of ecosystem services in residuals-amended urban soils.

But don't let phrases like "incorporating residuals" get in the way of getting down and dirty with soils. Sally Brown from the University of Washington, who is on the show this morning, is somebody who can speak English when it comes to what's under our feet (and tomatoes).

She introduced me to a website called Soils in the City, coincidentally ennough, which is part of a larger website, Discover Soils, which is put together by the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA), which also has a blog called Soils Matter. If you have any interest at all in exploring soil-related issues, you could spend a few days exploring any of those sites. For instance, Soils in the City addresses questions like

How do I cultivate a community Garden?
What is a green roof?
How can green infratructure help my community?

and one that she penned herself, and which we would all love to know the answer to,

Is it safe to grow food in my yard?

In that article, Brown writes that urban soils "suffer more from neglect than from contamination. You can find contaminated soils in urban areas, but they are generally the exception rather than the rule." She obviously hasn't seen the soil test results from my yard, which showed that lead levels are rather high. Brown does say that if your soil is contaminated, lead is likely to be the culprit. Here's why:

Your soil is most likely to be contaminated with lead if you live next to a very busy, high traffic road that has existed for more than 40 years. Lead in exhaust from cars when leaded gasoline was still in use will have contaminated the soil.

Your soil is also more likely to be contaminated if you live in an older home (50+ years) that is painted. Lead paint may have chipped off your home and landed in the soil directly next to the house.

In other words, if you live in a brick house or in a newer house on a quiet street it’s highly unlikely that you have elevated lead in your soil. But if you live in an older home or near a busy street, your soil may have high lead.

By the way, Time Magazine identified leaded gasoline as one of the 50 Worst Inventions ever. And my house is a wood-frame structure that is around 125 years old and has been painted many, many times. Mystery solved, eh? But for those of us growing food, we want to know if that lead is going to end up on our plates, too. Brown writes:

It's hard to be exposed to lead by eating vegetables or fruits. Plants do not take up lead on purpose, because lead is not a plant nutrient. Plants may contain measurable amounts of lead, but this isn't because plants are actively taking up lead from soil, but because we're able to measure very low concentrations of lead in environmental samples.

Plant concentrations of lead are generally very low—in the range of parts per billion.

  • 1 part per million is the same as one penny in $10,000
  • 1 part per billion is the same as one penny in $10,000,000

Not only do plants take up minimal amounts of lead, but it's much harder for the body to absorb lead—even from food that contains it—on a full stomach in comparison to an empty stomach.

This is because an empty stomach is very acidic, which makes the lead in soil or food more soluble and more easily absorbed. A full stomach, in contrast, is not acidic and so the lead will be much less soluble. In addition, there are many other elements that the body needs, including iron, zinc, and calcium, that will be absorbed instead of the lead.

My advice? "Stay full, my friends." By the way, for more information on lead, you can go to

Another guest this morning is Rufus Chaney from the USDA. He writes,

Most garden crops do not accumulate enough metals to require any attention even in contaminated gardens. Protecting young children from Pb [lead] contaminated soil brought back into the house to become housedust is the critical need when soils are contaminated. If contaminated, the few crops (leafy vegetables, carrot type crops with expanded hypocotyles) and herbs can be grown in clean soil raised beds and all else grown in the garden. For those few gardens with massive Pb or other contamination from paint or industrial sources, one may need to remove the soil and replace it, but that is the unusual case.

For organic compounds such as PCBs, the only crops with appreciable contamination from soil PCBs is carrot skins. Peel carrots and you remove the PCBs. Other organics are also only taken up to appreciable extent by the surface of root crops. Hence, if soils are contaminated, carrots need to be grown in the clean soil raised bed.

Urban metals are very different today than they were in 1980 because of the removal of Pb from gasoline. But paint Pb residues are still falling onto soils, and paint and other residues metal residues from the last 100 years are still there in the soil. Thus the need for analysis of garden soils if you want to be sure about protecting your family.

He also sent me a PowerPoint presenationn called Lead and Other Contaminants in Baltimore Urban Garden Soils: What You Can Do to Protect Your Family.

I could go on for awhile--I haven't even touched on the very controversial subject of biosolids, which I will bring up on Sunday--but I'll just tell you that you should catch the show this morning, or at least listen to the podcast of our conversation when it gets posted in the next couple of days.

My guests this morning are

  • Sally Brown, Research Associate Professor in the School of Forest Resources at the University of Washington
  • Rufus Chaney, Research Agronomist in the Environmental Management and Byproduct Utilization Laboratory at the USDA
  • Ganga Hettiarachchi, Associate Professor of Soil and Environmental Chemistry at Kansas State University

And I would be remiss if I didn't thank Dr. Lakhwinder S. Hundal, Supervising Environmental Soil Scientist for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) , who just happens to be Chair for the Soil in the City Conference. He's the guy who helped me corral the above scientists.

In fact, he wrote to me that "This could be the first show to have three world renowned experts to talk about urban soils and contaminants." Indeed. Another first for The Mike Nowak Show.


June 15, 2014

Tower Gardens®--one possible future of veggie growing

If you've traveled between Terminal 2 and Terminal 3 at O'Hare International Airport in the past couple of years, you're likely to have seen what is one possible future of the way plants--including vegetables--are grown. According to Mother Nature Network, it's world's first vertical aeroponic garden inside an airport terminal:

With more than 1,000 plants tucked in pockets on the 26 towers, the crops include Swiss chard, arugula, basil, chives, cilantro, dill, sage, thyme, oregano, edible flowers, mixed lettuces, an assortment of hot peppers and a variety of lettuces. Fueling this future smorgasbord is a nutrition-rich solution that mists the roots from within the columns. No soil required.

The sky-high farm, a collaboration between Chicago Department of Aviation and HMS Host Corporation, has a reduced its spatial footprint and uses a mere 5 percent of the water normally required for farming.

But it's not just for show. The "farm" provides produce for at least four of the HMS restaurants in the airport complex.

The towers themselves--known as Tower Garden®--are the brainchild of a company called Juice Plus+®, which describes itself as "whole food based nutrition, including juice powder concentrates from 25 different fruits, vegetables and grains."

A man named Tim Blank was Greenhouse Manager at Epcot's until he left to start a company called Future Growing. It was there that he developed the vertical garden system that would be known as Tower Garden. Juice Plus+ saw that this system fit perfectly with their own goals of promoting healthy nutrition, so they acquired the rights to produce and distribute Tower Gardens for home use.

Tower Gardens are starting to appear all around the country, including Bell, Book and Candle Restaurant in Manhattan and Chapala Gardens in California.

Some folks might consider the Tower Garden a little pricey at $525, plus shipping, handling and sales tax. However, considering that the soil doesn't need replenishing, and it can fit in a 2.5 x 2.5 foot space, there are plenty of people who will consider it cost effective. The basic unit is 5 feet tall and can handle 20 plants. However, an extension kit can increase the height to 6 feet and 28 plants.

To find out more specifics, go to the Tower Garden FAQ page.

The person who introduced me to this system is Eden Novak DeGenova, who I have known pretty much since I got interested in horticulture. Until recently, she was working on a social research project in Berwyn, Cicero, Stickney and Garfield Ridge to determine the health of the communities. Her focus was on whether areas with fewer less trees and less vegetation had higher incidences of illness. Lately, however, she was been installing landscapes, including tower gardens where there is no gardening space, provided there is enough light. Her goal is to create a tower garden farm and hire people with disabilities to work it.

I welcome Eden to the show this morning, along with Karen Quirk from Juiice Plus+.

Sharon Bladholm brings art and nature together with finesse

The first time I ever heard of Sharon Bladholm was when I visited the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve in Highland Park, Illinois shortly before it officially opened in 2011. On the walk down the trail to Lake Michigan, you round a bend and suddenly come across a series of ten bas-relief sculptures on round "medallions" that have been inserted into a low retaining wall.

The sculptures in this permanent public art installation are of animals, but not what you might expect. Bladholm describes the creatures as

soil microorganisms essential to the life-giving properties of the soil with their complex diversity in the role of breaking down organic matter...

The 10 sculptures depict, algae, bacteria, protozoa, actinomycetes, tardigrades, mites, bdelloid rotifers and spring tails in all their complex details revealing a more often unseen and world . Extensive research consulting scientists ensured that the microorganisms shown were likely to be found in the forested soil of the preserve. Between the site visits, proposal, research, drawings, sculpting, molds, casting and final installation 3years transpired. They are a permanent legacy at the beautiful 74 acre site that is becoming a must see destination for the interface of art, science and the natural environment.

That seems to represent Bladholm's work in microcosm, if I might make a kind of pun. In the course of her career, Bladholm has worked in many media-- including cast glass, bronze, and ceramic in the sculptural realm, as well as stained glass, printmaking and works on paper. She describes her work as "the interface of people with the natural world, integrating the sciences of anthropology with biology and botany from the plant world."

Her base of operations is Opal Glass Studio, which she has run since 1983. In addition to the Lakeshore Preserve, she has created public art for places like the Garfield Park Conservatory and Museum of Contemporary Art in Bordeaux, France, Suite Home Chicago, Shedd Aquarium, the Chicago Botanic Garden and the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.

She says that several of her pieces, including the Orchid Organ Tree and the pitcher plant inspired Carnivoras just got in a show at Nicholas Conservatory in Rockford. It's called R4: recycled/reclaimed/reused/recrafted Sculpture Show.

Speaking of pitcher plants (Carnivora sarracenia), she calls them one of the " exuberant forms of botanical anatomy." She did an "carnivora series" at the Lincoln Park Conservancy in 2012 that was based on actual carnivorous plants, with emphasis on the North American species. Unfortunately, she notes, “sarracenia”, is threatened by urban development, drainage of wetlands, plus illegal and unsustainable harvesting.

Bladholm writes that "One whiff of their sweet scent brings forgetfulness of sorrows, at least to the insects who slip into the deadly chamber and are digested by a plant that evolved this survival technique to compensate for the nutrient poor acidic bog environment pitcher plants dwell in. ."

But if you're talking about "exhuberant" art--and by that I mean positively exotic--look no further than her contributions to a show called "Invoking the Absence," at Chicago Sculpture International (CSI). The show opened on May 17 of this year and runs through October 26 at what she calls "that amazing Elks Memorial" in Lincoln Park. Her piece "Aspiration, Respiration, Transpiration and Transmutation"--a piece with the trachea sprouting leaves--is one of the featured works. It is positively other-worldly.

And this doesn't even begin to address the glass art she has executed, nor her various expeditions with the Field Museum, Conservation International and Andes to Amazon Biodiversity Program to the Brazilian, Venezuelan and Peruvian Amazon, documenting the life ways of the Yanomami people through her art, and exploring conservation of endangered plant and animal species in isolated communities.

I guess that's why Sharon Bladholm will be with me in studio this morning, to discuss her art and its relationship to nature in many forms.

LaSalle County Frac sand mining meeting reminders

Just a reminder that activist and friend of the show (and the environment) Ashley Williams sent me information about something we discussed on the show last week, namely the continuing assault on LaSalle County by the frac sand mining interests. There are two publish hearings coming up about which I wanted to publish a reminder:

  • June 17th at 6 pm at LaSalle-Peru Township High School, the IEPA will deliberate over Quality Sand Products' application for a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit, commonly referred to as an NPDES permit. The mining discharge will flow into Pecumsaugan Creek at an average of 1.25 million gallons a day; as a result, bike and walking paths along the Illinois and Michigan Canal and wildlife, including the federally protected Indiana Bat that makes its habitat in the Blackball Caves beside the canal, face further endangerment.
  • June 19th at 5 pm at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Ottawa, the County Zoning Board of Appeals will continue to deliberate over Northern White Sand's application for two special use requests for a trans-loading facility with a 3-part pipeline and a processing facility. This Subject Site, once a coal strip mine, poses a myriad of concerns due to the 8 landfills located on and around the site. The processing plant will be situated upon the uncapped Brockman II Landfill and adjacent to the Brockman I Superfund Landfill. These landfills are of grave concern to us residents due to their volatility ...we citizens are concerned that the sand mining boom in LaSalle County will cause the following: loss of biodiversity and habitat degradation, in particular wetlands; waterborne pollutants and depleted aquifers; surface and groundwater contamination; decline in property values and tourism; increase in noise, air, light, and traffic pollution; and health complications from respirable quartz such as asthma, lung cancer, silicosis, cardiovascular disease, and immune system interference.


June 8, 2014

When good home garden remedies go bad

A friend posted this on my Facebook page a couple of weeks ago that has been making the rounds on the Interwebs and asked me if it seemed like something that she might use in her garden:

Seems harmless enough, right? I mean, aside from the fact that Epson sells printers and ink cartridges and Epsom salts are what you soak in when you pull a muscle. Hey, I'm not the greatest speller in the world, either. But I've been doing this gardening thing for awhile now, and I know that nothing is as simple--or safe--as it seems. So I put out a call on FB to some of my horticultural friends, and you might be surprised what came up.

First, I should note that the name Epsom salts is a misnomer--it isn't technically a salt, rather, it's a naturally occurring mineral compound of magnesium and sulfate, named for a bitter saline spring at Epsom in Surrey, England. Second, this particular recipe calls for two cups of Epsom salts. When I looked up the concoction on other sites, the amount was two tablespoons. Hmm. That's a huge difference. Which is correct? I don't really know.

Then I started getting comments from friends. The first came from Dan Kosta and Vern Goers Greenhouse in Hinsdale, who has been working with pesticides for longer than most of you have owned computers. He wrote,

Here is a break-down on this weed killer. Vinegar strips the protective cuticle from the leaf, allowing dessication from the air, and killing exposed tissue. Epsom (or any other) salts pulls water from the plant roots (by osmosis), further drying the plant. Soap is a surfactant to make it spread over the foliage better. Dawn is considered more environmetally friendly but in this case that would not matter. Spraying in the morning would expose the treated plants to the sun's rays and daytime heat, accelerating the drying. Dew would dilute the solution and weaken its activity. This could in no way be considered organic since the salts are synthetic.

This would be effective but best used in small areas. I would think between patio stones or paving bricks, or maybe over some decorative gravel. Be cautious about replanting there until the area is drenched with lots of water. The lesser amount of salt would be better environmentally but the higher amount may work faster, and leave more residual in the soil. It is really just like applying an overdose of synthetic fertilizer, which also contains chemical salt. One fall I killed a 2 inch diameter buckthorn stump by dumping a couple pounds of lawn fertilizer and some ice melter salt over it. Dead as a door nail by spring Same idea.

Personally I would just spray the vinegar on the weeds. It will act as a burn-down and much less residual in the soil. The stuff will just evaporate. And I always tell people to get the cheapest white vinegar in the store. No use wasting good stuff on weeds. No balsamic needed here.

End of story, right? Not so fast. Another occasional visitor to the show is Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott, who is an associate professor and extension horticulturist at Washington State University. She has devoted her career to busting horticultural myths and is part of a group called The Garden Professors, which also debunks bad gardening science. I asked her to comment and she said,

Oh, I have numerous times since last weekend on both The Garden Professors page and The Garden Professors blog group on Facebook. What I said was this:

"First, it's a home remedy, so MGs can't recommend it (it's not science based). Especially for pesticidal use.
"Second, dish soap kills everything – good and bad. Only special horticultural and pesticidal soaps should be used in the garden and landscape.
"Third, household vinegar is useless as a weed killer. Only 20% acetic acid has any effect, and again it will kill everything it touches.
"Fourth, Epsom salts are completely useless for anything except addressing magnesium deficiencies. They certainly don't have any effect on weeds."

The whole "natural and organic are safe" mindset is dangerous. Nature is not a friendly force. Some of the deadliest chemicals known are made by plants - because they can't run away from their predators.

Amen, sister, to that last paragraph. In fact, in that very post, I said that

many things can be "natural" and "toxic" at the same time. Calling some thing "safe" just because you can mix it yourself just isn't true. It will kill plants, after all, and can cause damage to your soil. And when you brew your own concoctions at home, there's no guarantee that they will turn out to be exactly what you had in mind.

I guess the moral of the story is the adage that journalists often use, "If your mother says she loves you, check it out." Same applies to all of those "perfectly safe" and "natural" remedies.

Join Chicago's Waste, Recycling & Petcoke Tour!

Ever wondered where and how things get recycled in Chicago? (So do I!) Well, the Chicago Recycling Coalition (CRC) (full disclosure: I am the unpaid president of CRC) and the Southeast Environmental Task Force (SETF) are teaming to present Chicago's Waste & Recycling Tour.

It happens this Wednesday, June 11 from about 10:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. All you have to do is get to 1601 N. Clark (near the Chicago History Museum), where a bus will pick you up and take you on your way. We will visit yard and food compost operations, former landfills, recycling centers, scrap metal piles, and observe the huge petcoke mountains that have been causing misery for people on the southeast side of Chicago.

Tom Shepherd of SETF drops by this morning to talk about the tour and, of course, the notorious petcoke piles that have had the EPA investigating KCBX Terminals Co. on the Calumet River. According to this story in the Chicago Tribune just a few days ago,

EPA accused KCBX of violating the federal Clean Air Act after pollution monitors posted around the two storage terminals recorded high levels of lung-damaging particulate matter on April 12 and May 8.

EPA investigators also used dust wipes to sample the black film coating about a dozen locations in the East Side neighborhood. In a letter to KCBX, the EPA said it found the chemical fingerprints of petroleum coke in five of the samples, with the highest levels found on the exteriors of homes closest to uncovered piles of the refinery byproduct.

This follows the refusal of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and City Council to ban petcoke outright, leaving southeast side residents to deal with the piles that are still part of everyday life.

I'm sure Tom will have a couple of words about that this morning.

Taking an environmental step backwards in Chicago?

Back in March, I invited scientists and activists to my program to discuss the problems and even dangers associated with light pollution in Chicago.

So I was a bit taken aback when I saw this headline this week in the Sun-Times: Emanuel launches design contest to make Chicago 'city of lights'.


It turns out that this actually happened several months ago, in January. According to the Sun-Times,

The so-called “request for concept design proposals” for a “citywide lighting framework plan” comes four months after Emanuel shined the light on his controversial plan to turn Chicago into a Midwest version of Paris: “La Ville Lumiere, the City of Light.”

By July 7, teams of artists, building and landscape architects, engineers, urban and graphic designers must envision ways to spotlight five Chicago signatures: the Chicago River, iconic buildings, 180 bridges, a CTA L system that's one of the most “physically striking” in the world and Lower Wacker Drive.

Which is interesting because, according to Drew Carhart of Illinois Coalition for Responsible Outdoor Lighting, Paris has actually initiated a campaign to reduce the amount of light it emits. Huffington Post reported on this, saying that

France enacted one of the world's most comprehensive light ordinances last year; visitors to Paris (and the city's residents) now encounter darkness from 1 a.m. to 7 a.m., an effort that has slashed the country's energy bills by $266 million and her carbon dioxide emissions by 250,000 tons per year.

Not only that, but In spring 2004, Chicago became the first U.S. city to have its skyline go dark for bird migration, thanks to a program called Lights Out! Chicago,

Buildings over 60 stories turn off decorative, display, top lighting including logos, clock faces, and signs after 11:00 p.m. All buildings, of any height (particularly those directly on the lakefront) are encouraged to turn off every kind of non-essential lighting possible to create the darkest possible night skyline and lobby lighting.

That information is taken from a group called Chicago Bird Collision Monitors (CBCM), which not only advocates for "bird-safer" buildings, but even cleans up dead and injured birds. CBCM monitoring teams operate every morning in downtown Chicago seven days a week during migration periods — from mid-March to early June and late August to mid-November — checking for injured or dead birds among the tall buildings. They also respond to hotline calls throughout the year to rescue injured birds in Chicago and surrounding suburbs.

But back to the contest (and you can read the RFP here), it seems like a giant step backwards. Drew Carhart immediately responded to this environmentally tone-deaf plan in another Sun-Times story.

He joins me this morning, along with Annette Prince, Director of Chicago Bird Collision Monitors, to ask: Why Chicago? and Why Now?

LaSalle County: Ground Zero for the "frac sand rush"

I received an email from Utica Township residents Diane and Phil Gassman just yesterday. It called my attention to an article in today's (June 8) Chicago Tribune called Mining for fracking sand drives some Illinois farmers from land. Well, that's not too particularly surprising, considering the assault on farm land, communities and common sense that is going on in LaSalle County.

Diane and Phil have been on my show twice in the past year and a half to talk about this discouraging issue. This time, they write,

Since we talked last, Utica has annexed in yet another sand mine and approved a special use permit. We are currently involved in public hearings with the La Salle county Board regarding the expansion of a current sand mine. Northern White Sand is currently seeking a special use permit from the LaSalle county board to run a pipeline from their mining operation to a processing plant-which they plan to build on top of a former super fund site. This pipeline would cross the I and M canal and eventually end adjacent to Buffalo Rock State park at a barge loading facility.

Sure enough, that newest affront to the lifestyle of that county was the subject of this story in the News Tribune of the Illinois Valley. With the headline Environmental disaster waiting to happen? they report

[Northern White Sand LLC] intends to construct a 25-acre sand drying and processing plant south of North 2803rd Road and North of CSX Railroad west of Ottawa. NWS is a subsidiary of Illinois Cement Company in La Salle.

NWS also intends to build a transload facility on 15 acres adjacent to the site that would allow for loading trains and semi-trucks with finished silica sand.

All 40 acres of proposed property is surrounded by three landfills and is known as the Brockman Superfund site. Specifically, the property to be built on is an abandoned coal strip mining site. The site has long been known to hold no productive use.

The story goes on to report that

In order to move mined sand from its quarry near the Osage curves NWS proposes to build an above ground slurry line to the processing facility. An underground slurry line would further transport wet sand from the processing facility underneath I&M Canal to the Cargill Site for barge shipping

Slurry pipes under the I&M Canal, a processing plant on top of a superfund site--what could possibly go wrong?

Meanwhile, activist and friend of the show (and the environment) Ashley Williams notes that there will be a public hearing about these proposed plans:

June 19th at 5 pm at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Ottawa, the County Zoning Board of Appeals will continue to deliberate over Northern White Sand's application for two special use requests for a trans-loading facility with a 3-part pipeline and a processing facility. This Subject Site, once a coal strip mine, poses a myriad of concerns due to the 8 landfills located on and around the site. The processing plant will be situated upon the uncapped Brockman II Landfill and adjacent to the Brockman I Superfund Landfill. These landfills are of grave concern to us residents due to their volatility...we citizens are concerned that the sand mining boom in LaSalle County will cause the following: loss of biodiversity and habitat degradation, in particular wetlands; waterborne pollutants and depleted aquifers; surface and groundwater contamination; decline in property values and tourism; increase in noise, air, light, and traffic pollution; and health complications from respirable quartz such as asthma, lung cancer, silicosis, cardiovascular disease, and immune system interference.

There is one other hearing that Williams writes about:

on June 17th at 6 pm at LaSalle-Peru Township High School, the IEPA will deliberate over Quality Sand Products' application for a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit, commonly referred to as an NPDES permit. The mining discharge will flow into Pecumsaugan Creek at an average of 1.25 million gallons a day; as a result, bike and walking paths along the Illinois and Michigan Canal and wildlife, including the federally protected Indiana Bat that makes its habitat in the Blackball Caves beside the canal, face further endangerment.

Diane and Phil Gassman join me this morning to continue fighting the battle that has been raging in LaSalle County for more than two years.


June 1, 2014

How did your roses do this winter? Susan Fox talks survival

It was January 19th of this year when I first talked to Susan V. Fox (@GagasGarden on Twitter) for a about rose care. Now that might seem to be an odd time to discuss roses, but it was a chance for her to explain her recent move to central Illinois and how she was attempting to overwinter her roses in one of the coldest years on record. And it gave us both a chance to plug her book, Four Seasons of Roses: 2014 Monthly Guide to Rose Care. Hey, I have a book coming out in a couple of weeks and I know the pain of marketing.

Fast forward to June 1, which is the start of national rose month, and it's a lot easier to talk about them while they're in bloom than when they're hunkered down under a foot of snow. Susan has a few "fun facts" about roses on her blog:

  • The White House is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Rose Garden this year. In 1913, Ellen Wilson, wife of President Woodrow Wilson, replaced a colonial garden established by First Lady Edith Roosevelt in 1902.
  • In 1986, President Ronald Reagan signed Proclamation 5574, which made the rose the National Floral Emblem.
  • Roses are the official flower of the District of Columbia, as well as the states of Iowa, Georgia, New York and North Dakota.
  • The rose is the favorite flower of 85% of Americans.
  • William Shakespeare referred to roses more than 50 times, including "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

Susan has just returned from Asheville, North Carolina, where she was a judge in the Biltmore Rose Trials. Susan features photos of the overall winner, a shrub rose called "Miracle on the Hudson," as well other winners, in this post. Susan claims that the Asheville winter was almost as cold as ours and the roses that survived are very hardy. All I can say is "I'll be the judge of that."

She also just spent some time with the ubiquitous P. Allen Smith at his palatial...uh...palace--the Garden Home at Moss Mountain Farm, which sits on top of a ridge overlooking the Arkansas River Valley. From his website: "Located just 30 minutes outside of Little Rock, Arkansas this idyllic setting blurs the lines between garden and home, heritage and modern." Hmm. I'm sure my invitation got lost in the mail.

But, in addition to kicking off National Rose Month, Susan Fox is here today to talk about that ridiculous winter and spring we just suffered through. Which roses survived? Which bit the dust? What would she do differently next year?

In a post she did at the beginning of May called The Coolest Winter Roses, Susan explained how (and why) for the first time, she planted roses last fall instead of in the spring. And then, of course, we had that winter. I guess we'll find out what survived and what didn't when I talk to her in the show this morning.

Protecting our pollinators: we must do better

Sometimes I'm absolutely amazed by the things I don't know. In researching a conversation I'm having on my show this Sunday morning, I discovered that the monarch butterfly is the state insect of Illinois and has been since 1975. On the Illinois State Symbols page of the Illinois State Museum website, there is a lovely story about how it happened:

In 1974, a Dennis School third-grade class in Decatur proposed the orange and black Monarch Butterfly as the State's Official Insect. Representative Webber Borchers of Decatur introduced a bill in the General Assembly, and the schoolchildren lobbied for its passage. In 1975, the bill passed, and the Dennis School class watched Governor Daniel Walker sign it into law.

Governor Walker ended up being sentenced to four years imprisonment for bank fraud, three years for perjury, and probation for false financial statements. Of course, that was after he made the monarch butterfly the state insect. Whew!

Those were the days when bank fraud was serious and monarch butterflies were cute. Nowadays, bank fraud is still serious but you might argue that it is not as serious as the idea of the state insect of Illinois going extinct. Which could happen in a few years. This article from the Washington Post quotes Lincoln Brower, a professor of biology at Sweet Briar College who has studied the monarch migrations for decades:

How many natural phenomena are we going to kill off? I think the monarch is the canary in the coal mine telling us that things are beginning to go really wrong, when you can take a widespread migration of this sort and completely dismantle it as a result of human activity.

He credits severe weather (including drought in Texas and other states), illegal forestation in Mexico, and the destruction of habitat in as a result of industrialized agriculture in the Midwest. Looks like humanity gets the hat trick for that one, as our sticky little fingerprints are found all over all three of those smoking guns.

Enter the Chicago Botanic Garden, which is putting together a day devoted to the monarch, which they call Make Way for Monarchs. They note a few facts:

  • A recent U.S. Geological Survey study finds that 70 percent of Americans say conserving monarchs is “important” or “very important.” Respondents also indicated they would be willing to support monarch conservation by growing monarch-friendly plants or donating to monarch conservation groups. Study authors estimate the support would add up to a one-time payment of $4.78 to $6.64 billion. Click here to learn more about the USGS study
  • When scientists first started monitoring monarchs in the early 1990s, roughly half a billion of the butterflies migrated north each year. Populations have fallen by roughly 90 percent since then, according to Scott Hoffman Black, executive director of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. He says, “These are animals that were found everywhere, but the population is in really rapid decline. The monarch may well become a rare visitor to the Upper Midwest.”
  • The M4M “Moving for Monarchs” initiative is organizing a march on Washington, D.C., during National Pollinator Week, June 16 to 23, 2014, to voice the need to protect monarchs and milkweeds.

Make Way for Monarchs is the Garden's 2014 Janet Meakin Poor Symposium, named for a Chicago-area conservationist and landscape designer dedicated to preserving natural habitats. It happens on Friday, June 6, from 9am to 4pm. Speakers include:

  • Scott Hoffman Black, executive director of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, will describe his collaboration with farmers and other land managers to create and protect monarch habitat.
  • Chip Taylor, founder and director of Monarch Watch and University of Kansas professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, will define the challenges and opportunities for monarch conservation.
  • Gary Paul Nabhan, internationally known nature writer, food and farming activist and proponent of conserving the links between biodiversity and cultural diversity. Nabhan, co-author of Forgotten Pollinators, will discuss landscapes that support both the monarch and human food security.

By the way, the next day, Saturday, June 7, is World Environment Day, and the CGB is holding activities for all ages throughout the Garden, from a keynote presentation to ongoing demonstrations and displays--even meteorologist Tom Skilling.

One thing I will ask Scott Black about is the massive bumblebee kill in Oregon last summer. Some 50,000 bumblebees were poisoned next to a Target store parking lot after applicators applied the pesticide dinotefuran--a neonicotinoid sold under the trade name ‘Safari'--to blooming Linden trees in the parking lot.

What's remarkable is that that kill off, which was in the town of Wilsonville, Oregon, was just one of four incidents that occurred in just that state last year. The Oregon Department of Agriculture investigated the Wilsonville accident, as well as incidents in Hillsboro, West Linn and downtown Portland.

Ultimately the ODA issued six civil penalties associated with those abuses of dinotefuran and imidicloprid, another neonicotinoid. The Portland Tribune reports that there were fines levied, but I hope you're sitting down, because here is the breakdown:

For its role in the Wilsonville incident, Collier Arbor Care of Clackamas, a licensed commercial pesticide operator, has been issued a civil penalty in the amount of $555 for performing a pesticide application in a faulty, careless or negligent manner. The pesticide applicators in the incident, Mark McMullen of Beaverton and Sean Rinault of Woodburn, were each issued civil penalties also in the amount of $555. ODA's investigation determined that the linden trees were clearly in bloom at the time of the pesticide applications.

The product label states that the pesticide is known to be hazardous to bees when applied onto flowering trees in bloom and should not be used under those conditions.

Collier Arbor Care has also been issued a civil penalty in the amount of $407 for applying a pesticide product inconsistent with its labeling in connection to the downtown Portland incident. ODA's investigation determined that the application rate of the pesticide product was in violation of the label instructions. The pesticide applicators in the incident, Rinault and Ray Duval of Estacada, were each issued civil penalties also in the amount of $407. (Italics mine)

In fact, the total amount in penalties was $2,886. For the death of more than 50,000 bumblebees! All I can say is if there are no real consequences to destroying our environment, irresponsible companies will continue to do just that. I am outraged at the mere slap on the wrist, and others should be, too.

I'm happy to welcome Scott Hoffman Black, Chip Taylor and Kayri Havens, Ph.D., director of Plant Science and Conservation at the Chicago Botanic Garden, to the show this morning to talk about the plight of our pollinators and how we can all do much, much better in helping them survive.

A couple of environmental victories in Springfield

Last week I talked to Jen Walling at the Illinois Environmental Council (IEC) and Josh Mogerman from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) about a last minute maneuver to bypass the fracking legislation that was passed last year by the Illinois General Assembly. However, that bit of political shenanigans was defeated this week, as reported by the Chicago Tribune:

The legislation proposed to skip a rulemaking process currently underway that seeks to codify the rules around fracking based on a regulatory law that was passed last year. It has been about a year since the law passed and until the rulemaking process is done, high volume oil and gas drilling cannot begin in the state. The legislation would have also imposed a moratorium on fracking in Northern Illinois.

Legislators said the bill doesn't have enough votes to pass. Industry didn't support the bill, concerned that any kind of moratorium would set a bad precedent, even in an area that wasn't likely to see fracking.

I also talked to Stacy Meyers, Policy Coordinator for Openlands , about how the General Assembly was trying to sneak money for the Illiana "Road to Nowhere" into the Illinois state budget before the May 31st legislative deadline. Well, that didn't happen, either.

I received an newsletter from Openlands President and CEO Jerry Adelmann today in which he wrote,

Openlands, along with Illinois Environmental Council, Environmental Law and Policy Center, Sierra Club, and others in the conservation community won a big victory Friday night when the Illinois legislature decided not to pass a law that would have queued up and prioritized funding for the proposed Illiana tollroad.

The 47-mile road to nowhere, 10 miles south of Joliet, would damage Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, pollute the Kankakee River, likely harm threatened and endangered species, and ruin thousands of acres of rich farmland. At best, the Illinois Department of Transportation estimates the toll road would carry 20,000 cars and trucks per day - less than two-thirds of the traffic on Irving Park Road in Chicago. It will likely cost taxpayers more than a billion dollars, diverting funding from other critical projects across the State for decades.

Blocking the legislation will have immediate and dire effects on the proposed Illiana road project. It sends a clear message to the private bidders that the legislature - who they need to annually appropriate tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to fund the road - does not stand behind the project. Failing to pass the legislation also jeopardizes federal approval of a $500-million loan or may require a 20% increase in project costs.

As he notes, the battle is not over. Illinois Governor Pat Quinn is still misguidedly promoting that boondoggle, though the numbers don't add up, according to Crain's Chicago Business.

Which means that we should thank the environmental groups that are holding this project and fracking at bay--for the moment--and never rest. As I said in a Facebook post the other day, "The only people who can protect us from our legislators is us." Sad but true.


May 25, 2014

"Houston, we have a problem...with our evergreens."

Let's get one thing straight: when it comes to gardening and gardening seasons, there's no such thing as "normal." Every year is different. Every month is different from the same month a year ago. While there are trends over time, such as more drought, more rain, or warmer temperatures, there's no way to predict exactly what Mother Nature will throw at us.

That being said, it was a brutal winter and it's been a long spring.

My buddy Dan Kosta at Vern Goers Greenhouse brought that home when he wrote this to me last week:

I am getting a lot of customers bringing in boxwood, holly, spruce, and yew branches with winter damage.  Most don't like it when I say that if the damage involves more than 50% they should just replace the plants.  Some "landscapers" are going around applying fertilizer to the dead and dying and saying it will make them green and charging nice prices.  I guess they believe in resurrection.  Also lots of complaints about dead or heavily damaged roses.  Most of my own roses took quite a hit too but it was just a hard winter. Nothing I can do about it.  Funny thing is that the antique roses came through almost unscathed where the more modern ones are dead or badly damaged.

Many plants are a week or two behind usual.  Die back and damage on many broad leaved evergreens.  Some plants are producing smaller leaves or plants are generally smaller.  Some leafing out okay then faltering.  

Wise words from a smart plant guy.

I sent out one of my newsletters just the other day and I included Dan's words, plus a couple of articles that might be useful to folks whose evergreens took a hit over the winter. The first is from Deborah Silver, who runs a couple of companies in my home state of Michigan. The first to be established was Deborah Silver & Co., a landscape and design firm, which was established in 1986.

Then, in 1996, she opened Detroit Garden Works, which is actually located in Sylvan Lake, Michigan, and is a retail store devoted to fine and unusual garden ornament and specialty plants. It was named by Garden Design Magazine in 2004 as one of the top 25 garden shops in the U.S., and it now has an enthusiastic local and national clientele.

In 2004, she completed the triumvirate with the opening of The Branch Studio, which fabricates garden ornament, fountains, containers, structures and sculpture of her own design in a variety of media. The three companies together are able to provide an extensive range of products and services to its clients.

All of this merely leads to a post she made recently on her blog Dirt Simple: The observations of a landscape designer. The post was titled The Bad News, and it echoes Dan Kosta's statement--it was not a good winter for evergreens, especially boxwoods. Silver writes,

Many landscapes show damage which is hard to understand.  Some plants are untouched.  Others are burned all over.  Others are burned in specific spots.  Some have been killed outright.  Do I have a simple and swift explanation-not really.  Some species of plants that are marginally hardy in our area-many of these are in the killed outright list. Do I have zone 5 and 6 plants in my landscape-yes.  A once in 130 year winter cycle would not prevent any gardener from testing the limits.  The fact is, my 20 year old  garden is but a short intermission in the bigger scheme of things.  This spring is making me realize that nature bats both first and last.  There is no negotiating once a winter tests the limits of cold hardiness..  Too cold is simply too cold.  No zone 6 specialty conifer could have fared well this past winter.  I have no easy and simple answers.

And she's not the only person commenting on the harsh winter. Jeff Iles with the Department of Horticulture at Iowa State University asks the question, Why Was Winter 2013-14 So Hard On Our Landscape Plants? He comes to these conclusions:

  • As we entered late fall and early winter, soil conditions were very dry.
  • As a result, many landscape plants entered winter under stress or in a weakened condition.
  • Severe low temperatures (before measureable snowfall) caused the soil to freeze to impressive depths. This could have resulted in root death to sensitive or stressed plants.
  • When snowfall eventually arrived, it blanketed the ground without interruption, persisting until early spring in some locations and ensuring frozen soil until late March/early April.
  • Strong winds seemed to be an everyday occurrence. When coupled with high light intensity and frozen soil conditions, the damage to evergreens became a foregone conclusion.
  • Finally, low temperatures, the likes we haven't seen for many years, helped create the perfect storm.

Iles also addresses the fertilizer issue:

Finally, it is important to remember that fertilizer is not a cure-all for winter-injured plants. If a soil test determines that mineral elements are deficient, then applying an appropriate fertilizer makes perfect sense. But high rates of fertilizer will not miraculously close sunscald wounds, restore life to killed roots or buds, or reverse any of the other negative effects resulting from the memorable winter of 2013-14.

And as if the winter damage wasn't enough, be advised that downy mildew continues to be the scourge of impatiens plants (Impatiens  walleriana). Jennifer Brennan at Chalet Nursery wrote to me just yesterday that the disease started three years ago in 2 states. It is now in 37 states. She says that it will be in the soil for 7 to 10 years and, if that isn't bad enough, will continue to spread via the wind.

A lot of folks over the years have depended on impatiens for color in their shade gardens. Unfortunately, it's time to use a different palette. To that end, Chalet has come up with a list of Impatiens Alternatives.

Last but not least, Dan Kosta, who is on the show this morning to talk about some of these issues, wrote this:

Had a guy in on Sunday looking for a spray to kill the bees on some tree to prevent fruit production.  Sure we sell Sevin but I wasn't about to tell him how to kill bees.  I really hate it when people come in with things like that.  Just cut down the tree and replace it with something that doesn't fruit or better yet get a working brain.

Amen, brother.

Bringing Nature Home to Will County

You've heard me waxing poetic for the past few weeks about opporunities to get your hands on native Midwest plants for your yard or garden or estate or whatever you cultivate. The Lake County Forest Preserves put on a native plant sale a couple of weeks ago.

Next week, the scene shifts to the Forest Preserve District of Will County and their second Bringing Nature Home Native Plant Sale on Saturday, May 31 from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at Sugar Creek Administration Center in Joliet.

But what brings both of these events together is their connection with Possibility Place Nursery in Monee, which grows many of the the natives that are being offered in both events. In fact, that number goes beyond 100 species of native perennials, shrubs, and trees. You can find the full list of plants and pricing here. To make things even easier, experts will be on hand throughout the day to help you with your plant selections and answer any questions. Cash, checks, and credit cards will be accepted. No refunds will be given.

And, of course, I will be there from 10:00 a.m. to noon to offer you the chance to stump me on an endless number of gardening and environmental questions. But I'm not the only person who will be there. Here's the schedule of presenations that are part of the package:

9:30 a.m. - The Benefits of Bats in Your Backyard!
Juanita Armstrong-Ullberg, Forest Preserve District of Will County Natural Resources Land Manager and Bat Expert

10:30 a.m. - I'm Not Really a Garden Expert, I Just Play One on the Radio
Mike Nowak, Host of "The Mike Nowak Show" ...whatever that is

12:00 p.m. - Gardening for Pollinators
Presented by Nancy Kuhajda, University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Program Coordinator Master Gardeners

1:00 p.m. - From the Ground Up!
Presented by Connor B. Shaw, Possibility Place Nursery Proprietor

In addition, there are a bunch o' exhibitors and vendors, such as

Be assured that he native plant sale will be held rain or shine. For driving directions, visit their Google Map .

I'm very pleased to have Marcy DeMauro, Executive Director of the Forest Preserve District of Will County, and Kelsay Shaw from Possibility Place Nursery on the program this morning to talk about the value of natives and why you should find some room in your yard for a few.

A May "fracking surprise" from the Illinois General Assembly?

Here's another email I received this week, this time from Jen Walling at the Illinois Environmental Council (IEC):

Just moments ago, Rep. John Bradley filed amendments to SB649 to gut the Hydraulic Fracturing Regulatory Act and to halt the state's rulemaking process.

Analysis of this bill still needs to be completed, but from a brief review, we are certain that this bill is an attempt to cut the public completely out of Illinois' established rulemaking process on fracking.  This attempt will silence the voices of more than 30,000 Illinoisans who have participated in the public comment process.  

This bid to negate the Hydraulic Fracturing Regulatory Act comes a year after the new fracking legislation was passed in Illinois and signed by Governor Pat Quinn and five months after a series of hearings held by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), which resulted in 35,000 public comments that are still being examined.

According to the Chicago Tribune,

The legislation proposes to skip a rulemaking process that has taken nearly a year and has slowed the development of oil and gas drilling in the state. The legislation would also impose a moratorium on fracking in Northern Illinois.

What could possibly go wrong?

I hope we never find out. The IDNR is already taking a lot of heat for drawing up proposed regulations that were perceived as unconscionably weak, in light of stricter rules drawn up by legislators, industry and environmental groups during the negotiations on the law last year. Then, just a couple of weeks ago, the Frack Free Illinois Coalition blasted IDNR for allegedly paying more than $35,000 to oil and gas "industry front groups" to review draft rules for the new law.

All in all, it has been a shaky start to what was supposed to be the "toughest fracking law in the nation." And now, IEC says that the bill "could be forced through on Monday  with no consideration of the significant environmental and public health concerns caused by fracking." They are urging you to contact your legislator to let him or her know that you oppose SB649.

Jen Walling from the IEC and Josh Mogerman from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) join me this morning to discuss this turn of events...and perhaps other evironmental surprises that might come out of Springfield this week.

One of those could be a fast track for a bad idea--the Illiana Tollway (to nowhere). You might remember that the board of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) last year voted against approving the road from I-65 in Indiana to more-or-less I-55 in Illinois, which could cost in the vicinity of $1.2 billion, again, more-or-less, and probably more, as these things often happen.

Then, a weird thing happened. Because of political pressure or because Mercury was in retrograde (I'll get back to you on which was actually occurring), the MPO Policy Committee of CMAP decided that it was really in the best interests of the citizens of both states to ignore the recommendation of the CMAP board and approve the Illiana Tollway.

Even CMAP seemed stunned by that decision, saying, on their Streetsblog Chicago site,

This vote, like the Circle Interchance decision before it, threatened the integrity of regional planning in Chicagoland. The painstaking GO TO 2040 planning process involved countless partners who had agreed that other projects should get priority over these two highway expansions.

Can you say "family feud?"

And when even the Chicago Tribune says that a big time project like Illiana is a bad idea, you might want to wonder who stand to benefit from it.

Anyway, at the last second (SURPRISE!!), the General Assembly is going to try to get the money (YOUR MONEY, by the way) into this project. The Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC) wants you to SAY NO TO ILLIANA. Click on that link to see how you can help knock some sense into Governor Pat Quinn and the legislators who are stuck in the 1950s.

Stacy Meyers, who is the Policy Coordinator for Openlands, joins us this morning to talk about that issue and why it is so bad for Illinois citizens in general and the Midewin Tallgrass Prairie in particular.


May 18, 2014

Bonnie Plants: a family business that continues to thrive

Few things make me happier than when one of my show sponsors steps up and does good things for the community, whether that community is here in the Chicago area or somewhere else.

Which is why it's a pleasure to have Bonnie Plants as a valued sponsor of my program. For the past two years, they have donated plants to the exhibits that the Peterson Garden Project have created for the Chicago Flower & Garden Show.

Bonnie Plants is based in Union Springs, Alabama, and grows quality vegetable and herb plants for gardeners across the country. And when I say "across the country," I'm talking about 65 growing facilities that serve 48 states. The company was established in 1918 by Bonnie and Livingston Paulk and it's still family-run by the grandson of its founders, Stan Cope. 

Bonnie also grows its plants in biodegradable, plantable pots that they say save more than a hundred million plastic pots from landfills each year. And speaking of their plants, here are their new varieties for 2014:

Japanese Giant Red Mustard
Red Romaine Leaf Lettuce
Biltmore Tomato
Container's Choice Tomato
Indigo Rose Tomato
San Marzano Tomato
Tumbling Tom Red Tomato
Tumbling Tom Yellow Tomato
Dragon Cayenne Pepper
Loran Strawberries
Tristan Strawberries
Beltran Strawberries
Tarpan Strawberries
Easy Pick Gold Zucchini
Black Diamond Watermelon
Italian Oregano
Asparagus Fern
Ring of Fire Sunflower

And if you're looking for a way to keep those varieties healthy, you can try Bonnie Herb, Vegetable & Flower Plant Food. New for 2014, Bonnie has a convenient hose-end sprayer bottle to deliver its unique formula containing oilseed extract.

There's a lot more at Bonnie Plants, including how-to information, recipes, and projects through its website, mobile site, QR codes on tags, and even an Ask an Expert service to answer unique gardening questions. Bonnie's website includes more detailed descriptions of each product, how-to-grow information for each vegetable and herb, garden plans for raised beds, recipes, DIY projects, videos and more.

Oh, and if that isn't enough, sign up for their e-newsletter, which goes out every 2 weeks during the growing season and includes helpful tips, projects, recipes, and Facebook shares. Speaking of Facebook, you can find Bonnie there, too, as well as on YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and Google Plus.

I'm pleased to have Sidney Phelps, Distribution Manager at Bonnie Plants Corporate Headquarters in Union Springs, Alabama, on the show with me today. He seems to be the quintessential American success story--beginning in 2000 by potting plants, watering, and doing general greenhouse labor, then moving on to sales and ultimately to distribution manager. I'm sure he has a lot to say about this great company.

Blake Davis returns with his own version of the end of the world

Remember my conversation on the show earlier this year with Guy McPherson, professor emeritus from the University of Arizona? Of course you do! He's the guy with the blog site called Nature Bats Last, and he's been on my show and on Thom Hartmann several times and just about everywhere else.

His assessment of the effects of climate change is grim. In his Climate-Change Summary and Update (which he is constantly updating) he states, for example,

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

I'm not sure what it means to plan for 4 C (aka extinction). I'm not impressed that civilized scientists claim to be planning for it, either. But I know we're human animals, and I know animals require habitat to survive. When there is no ability to grow food or secure water, humans will exit the planetary stage.

There are people who disagree with him, notably Scott K. Johnson , a geoscience educator, hydrogeologist, and freelance science writer contributing at Ars Technica. He rebuts McPherson's claims in a piece called How Guy McPherson gets it wrong. Writes Johnson:

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

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

But while McPherson might believe that humanity is headed for extinction in the next couple of decades, that's not the first time that I have discussed this issue on my show.

In January of 2013, Blake Davis, Adjunct Professor of Sustainability and Urban Agriculture at the Illinois Institute of Technology was on my program to talk about his lecture, "A 50-year Survival Plan for Climate Change." Well, nice to know that he's giving us at least another 30 years more than Guy McPherson.

Well, he's back on the show today, to discuss the niceties of having a few thousand years of human history go down the drain in a few decades. In fact, he says he heard my conversation with Guy McPherson and he has some comments about that show segment. This comes about a week after two scientific papers released by the journals Science and Geophysical Research Letters came to similar conclusions, namely that the West Antarctica ice sheet is collapsing and nothing can reverse that action.

But human beings have a way of putting one foot in front of another, even when they see the world around them begin to crumble. Which is why he is working with the Bronzeville Urban Development (B.U.D.) on developing the embankments that make up the old Stockyards Railroad Line, which runs from State Street to the Lake along 40th Street.  Most of the bridges have been removed, so it cannot be used for a bike trail.  Their goal is to create an agriculture and energy corridor along the tops of these embankments.  It also includes historical RR stations that have been bricked up since the late 50's. 

He has also been working with Chicago Biofuels on ways of utilizing contaminated sites in and around the city to grow oil crops.  This oil can be used to produce domestic biodiesel.  The process of producing the oil also bioremediates the sites so that they can eventually be used to grow food.  Several different crops produce over 100 gals. per acre of biodiesel.  (1 acre = approximately 14 city lots)

If we're lucky, we'll talk about other interesting stuff that this very interesting man is involved in. If not, well, I'll just bring him back on the show. Unless the world ends. Or my show gets canceled. Which is pretty much the same thing in my book.

How will McDonald's (yes, that McDonald's) respond to "Spudgate"?

Just when you think that you've heard of every violation of clean air, water and soil that could possibly be occurring on this planet, a new one rises to smack you in the face, as if to say to you, "Silly boy, you're sooo naive."

In this case, the mega-juggernaut McDonald's (they of the hamburger business, in case you were confused) buys more than 3.4 billion pounds of U.S. potatoes every year. As the largest potato purchaser in the world, (35,000 local restaurants serving nearly 70 million people in more than 100 countries each day) it's not surprising that McDonald's decisions drive the potato market.

They contract with Ron D. Offutt, or RDO, the largest potato producer in the United States, which is also a major supplier of potatoes for McDonald 's french fries. RDO owns many of the 50,000 acres of potato fields in Minnesota, especially in the central and northwest parts of the state.

The problem, if you've read what author Michael Pollan has to say about potatoes, is that they are a chemical intensive crop...if grown "conventionally." Which is why I buy only organically grown potatoes. But I digress.

According to the website,

Fungicides are applied to 98% of Minnesota's potato acres. At the height of the growing season, potato fields are sprayed with pesticides as often as every five days. These chemicals don't stay put — instead, they drift from potato fields onto neighboring farms, and into homes and schools.

After experiencing the harmful effects of potato production for years, community members in several Minnesota counties (Todd, Becker, Otter Tail, Wadena, and Mahnomen) began testing their air for pesticide drift. The science confirmed what these communities already knew: potato pesticides drift far and wide.

One or more pesticides were found in 66% of air samples tested (of 340 air samples taken between 2006–2009). Air monitors detected many pesticides, including chlorothalonil, chlorpyrifos, pendimethalin, PCNB, and 2,4-­D.

The most frequently-­detected chemical was a fungicide called chlorothalonil. EPA classifies this chemical as “highly toxic” when inhaled and a “probable” carcinogen. This chemical is applied to 83% of potato acres in Minnesota, with an average of 9.9 applications per year in each field.

No matter how you slice your potatoes, this is bad juju. Furthermore, In 2009, McDonald's pledged to reduce the use of pesticides on its potatoes. But there has been little action on the giant food retailer's part since their declaration.

So, the McDonald's shareholders meeting is next Thursday (May 22) in Oakbrook. At that time,  Food & Water Watch is planning to deliver a petition on behalf of the people in central and northern Minnesota who live near some of those large potato farms and who end up being punished by the chemical drift.

I don't have a lot of time to discuss this issue today, so I encourage you to check out the links above and do some of that yourself. But Lex Horan of Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) joins me on the show this morning for a brief explanation of the issue. Believe me, I will revisit this in the future.


May 11, 2014

It's still spring and great plant sales are still happening

Because this is the time of year that garden clubs, environmental groups and even governmental entities entice you with their plant sales. What's good to see is that so many organizations are choosing to offer native plants.

Last week, Sarah Batka and I quickly went through a list of great plant sales in the Chicago area. That list is still on my home page at this link.

If you're looking for natives, a couple of the places you might go are the Lake County Forest Preserve Native Plant Sale, which started yesterday and finishes today (May 11) from 10am to 3pm. That one is located at the Indepence Grove Forest Preserve in Libertyville.

Another one great sale happens on Saturday May 31 at the Bringing Nature Home Native Plant Sale, presented by the Forest Preserve District of Will County, at the Sugar Creek Administration Center, 17540 W. Laraway Road in Joliet, (815) 727-8700.

What makes both of those sales so great is that they are featuring plants provided by Possibility Place Nursery in Monee. I'm proud to have them as a sponsor in the effort to get the word out about the events in Lake and Will County. In a couple of weeks, I look forward to having Kelsay Shaw on the show to talk about how he and his family are spreading the gospel of natives to Chicagoland.

Meanwhile, another sale that you might be interested in, especially if you're on the north side of Chicago, is the annual Kilbourn Park Organic Garden Plant Sale, which happens next Saturday, May 17th and Sunday, May 18th from 10:00am to 2:00pm each day at the Kilbourn Park Organic Greenhouse, 3501 N Kilbourn Ave, Chicago.

Donald Choy, who friends of my show might know as "Captain Coleus" from his days at the Lincoln Park Conservatory, is now the go-to guy at Kilbourn Park and he drops by this morning to talk about next week's sale. Word is that he might even bring a couple of plants with him. Word is that I might make him donate a couple of plants to my community garden. Just sayin'.

Creating biodiversity, one hedgerow at a time?

One of the reasons I like to attend terrific events like the Good Food Festival, which is presented each year by, is that I run into people like Dave Coulter. Dave is a certified arborist and former educator at Triton College. He has thirty years of experience working in landscape and urban forestry realms.

Seventeen years ago, he started a company called Osage Inc., which describes itself this way:

The inspiration for the name of Osage, Inc. comes from the Osage orange tree (Maclura pomifera). Because of a remnant hedgerow that was nearby it was one of the first trees I learned about when I was a boy. I have fond memories of those rough old trees. It's a very durable plant that served a variety of purposes for settlers and farmers as the Midwest was being populated.

Then, as he recently wrote in a paper that he hopes will get him his Masters degree, in the year 2000

at a conference in Liverpool was when I had my first real exposure to the ecology of hedgerows. There were environmental groups that were working to preserve English hedges, and the animals that called them home. In 2005 during a tree survey in the suburbs of Chicago I found myself assessing dozens of old Osage-orange (Maclura pomifera) trees growing in two long rows. These overgrown trees were old farm field boundaries likely planted in the 19th century. It was at that time I saw how these old hedges growing in the greatly altered Illinois landscape were analogous to the hedgerows that I had seen growing in the greatly altered landscapes of England. It wasn’t long after that when my thoughts turned to American hedgerows and their potential for improving natural biodiversity in our own landscapes.

It was precisely that topic that Dave suggested we should talk about on my show, which is why he is in studio this morning. While hedgerows might be important historically, they might be even more important as a way of preserving biodiversity on our planet. That we're rapidly losing pollinators, native and cultivated, should be alarming and cause us to reconsider our food growing strategies.

But we appear to be heading in the wrong direction. As this article by the Environmental Working Group reports,

EWG's widely cited Plowed Under report, released in February 2012, which found that over the four years from 2008 to 2011, a massive total of 23.6 million acres of grassland, wetland and shrubland – an area larger than Indiana – had been converted to row crops.

But it gets worse.

Loss of wetlands has been particularly dramatic in just three states – South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota – which together account for 39 percent (731,000 acres) of all wetland and nearby habitat acres converted to row crops from 2008 to 2012. Exploitation of highly erodible land is more widespread, with 10 states – Texas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Montana, North Dakota, Iowa, Missouri, South Dakota, Kansas and Nebraska – accounting for 57 percent (3.0 million acres) of the acreage converted to row crops during that period.

Dave Coulter is a person who thinks that we can mitigate some of this damage by preserving our historical hedgerows...and perhaps creating new ones near urban centers. How would this work? As he writes in his thesis paper,

Species loss and declining biodiversity are vexing problems everywhere. In this report we have seen examples of newly restored hedgerows... that fostered life in farm fields. Why couldn't the same elements be incorporated into urbanized areas? Such linear plantings would not only provide the inherent natural benefits that trees and shrubs provide anyway –but could also be designed specifically to benefit biodiversity in whatever local context is desired. Our cities and our villages are already vast networks of roads and highways, rivers and creeks, railroads and utility easements. With some creativity society could find room for life in such margins. The linear form of the post-modern hedgerow awaits adaptation to improve the tattered mosaic of urban nature and biodiversity. Since the earliest days of agriculture hedgerows were utilized to serve the various needs of man. I would argue that we need them as much as ever to serve the needs of man and nature.

I hope that there are some growers out there who are willing to listen to this man. We'll see.

May is Illinois Invasive Species Awareness Month

Already? How did it get back here so quickly?

Regardless, this marks the fifth anniversary for ISAM.  Even Governor Quinn has issued the official proclamation. Educational events, field days, hay-wagon tours, workshops, presentations, volunteer workdays, 'Garlic Mustard Challenges', training events, and interpretive hikes are just some of the different types of events that you are likely to see this month.

You can get in on the action by having your own event. And in case you do, please let the folks at ISAM know by contacting them here. And be aware that the Northeast Illinois Invasive Plant Partnership (NIIPP) is planning a day long conference soon.

In honor of the month, I'm pleased to have Cathy McGlynn, Coordinator of NIIPP back on the program this morning to let us know how you can get involved.


May 4, 2014

Tom Lupfer, Aquascape and badly needed clean water

It's hard to imagine more disheartening news about about our world than this:

Worldwide, one child dies every fifteen seconds from illnesses associated with a lack of clean drinking water, as well as improper hygiene and basic sanitation.  Four children die each minute.  5,760 children die a day.  More than 2.1 million children die every year due to water related diseases. 

One company that decided to do something about those dire statistics is the St. Charles, Illinois-based Aquascape, Inc. You might remember that founder Greg Wittstock, a/k/a "The Pond Guy," was on my show last summer to talk about his tremendously successful business.

This time, however, it is not The Pond Guy who makes an appearance on my program, but The Pond Guy's wife, Carla Wittstock, who also happens to be the president of the Aquascape Foundation. From the foundation's web page on the Aquascape site:

The mission of The Foundation is to create sustainable solutions for the world-wide water crisis.  The purpose of The Foundation is to promote awareness of water as our most precious resource through environmental, educational and philanthropic efforts.  One of the ways that we will accomplish this mission is by utilizing Aquascape's RainXchange® Rainwater Harvest System as a solution to bringing clean drinking water to places where people currently have no access.

Since 2009, the foundation has sponsored trips to the countries of Ghana, Columbia, Uganda, the Dominican Republic and, this year, back to Ghana. Click on the names of the countries above to see videos of each of those projects. Unfortunately, in a place like Ghana, access to clean water is not the only hardship that its people suffer.

One of the people accompanying the Aquascape team to Ghana in January was Tom Lupfer of Lupfer Landscaping. He documented that trip with videos on his own website, and this morning, he joins Carla on the show. Tom has long been been student of sustainable landscaping, which makes him a good choice to be part of this team. As for Carla, here's how she describes her participation in her own foundation:

I have absolutely no backround in not for profit or water. Hilarious, but true. I am a stay at home Mom. I saw a need and a way for our company to fill it and I ran with it. Plain and simple. I formed our not for profit in May of 2008 and in January of 2009 I found myself in a remote village in the African bush installing a water project. It was by Gods grace that we were able to get a location and a partner, raise the funds, assemble a team and pull off a huge construction project in the middle of Africa. Since 2009 we have done 5 projects, two in Ghana, one in Uganda, one in the Dominican Republic and one in Colombia South America. We utilize our knowledge, our products and our connections to get projects done. We have brought clean water to over 10,000 people, we actively educate the children on clean water and sanitation, hopefully changing the mindset of the next generation. It's been amazing! I am looking forward to discussing it on your show. I hope we can inspire people to get involved and bring awareness water issues!

Me, too. Let's get it done.

Sandra Henry, the ComEd "Energy Doctor," makes another house call

It's great to have Sandra Henry back on the program this morning to talk about ComEd's Smart Ideas campaign for Spring 2014. Of course, ComEd is a valued sponsor of The Mike Nowak Show.

Sandra is known as the ComEd "Energy Doctor" and has had 20 years of experience in helping people make their homes and lives more energy efficient. Sandra is the program manager of ComEd's Energy Efficiency Portfolio . She is an elected regional director of the Illinois Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) . She is also a LEED Accredited Professional.

As we await warmer weather--which might or might not ever arrive in Chicago--ComEd has suggestions for how you can save energy...and money:

Lighting discounts - ComEd's Smart Ideas for Your Home ® is providing instant in-store discounts on select ENERGY STAR® qualified CFLs.  Customers can look for the ComEd "Lower Price" sticker to save on a variety of energy-efficient lighting products at participating retail stores . No coupon is required - prices shown reflect the instant discount.

ComEd's Smart Ideas® Fridge & Freezer Recycling   program helps ComEd customers  save green and earn green in a big way. Through this program, ComEd will pick up a customer's old, working refrigerator or freezer for FREE, recycle it in an environmentally responsible way and send customers $35 for participating.  Additionally, ComEd announces it recently achieved a milestone of recycling its 200,000th unit through the program.

Central AC Cycling - ComEd customers can reduce electricity demand on the hottest days of the summer by joining ComEd's Smart Ideas ® Central Air Conditioning Cycling. By enrolling, you can help us better manage our energy resources, help the environment, and earn credits on your summer electric bill. In addition, ComEd recently announced it is partnering with Nest® Labs , Inc. to offer up to $140 in rebates for customers who purchase a Nest Learning Thermostat™ and participate in its demand response program. Now through May 31, ComEd customers will receive a $100 rebate from ComEd for signing up to participate in ComEd's Smart Ideas® AC Cycling Pilot that features Nest's Rush Hour Rewards™, and an additional $40 rebate for participating in the pilot all summer.

Sandra Henry also tells me that earlier this year, Illinois was recognized as the state with the most LEED-certified (Leadership in Environmental Design) square footage per capita. The distinction places Illinois at the forefront in the movement for sustainable building design, construction and operation.

Meanwhile, The U.S. Green Building Council – Illinois (USGBC-Illinois) is about to present its ninth annual Emerald Award winners. These are outstanding leaders and stand-out buildings that have helped to position Illinois as a national leader in sustainability. The annual Emerald Awards ceremony will be held May 15 th at the Museum of Broadcast Communications at USGBC-Illinois' annual event, Limelight.

This year's winners include:  

  • Sachin Anand, Principal at the Chicago-based firm dbHMS, will be honored with the Intent to Matter: Individual Leadership award for his distinguished career and community service that exemplifies leadership in transforming our built environment.
  • The Village of Hoffman Estates will be recognized with the Intent to Matter: Outstanding Small Organization award for their significant strides in promoting green building development and cutting edge energy code programs that will save tax dollars and lead to a reduction in carbon emissions.
  • McCaffery Interests, Inc. will receive the Intent to Matter: Outstanding Large Organization award for their achievements in promoting sustainable community design. In particular, the bold vision for the 600-acre Chicago Lakeside development is a transformative model for urban planning made possible by creating unique partnerships with SOM, U.S. Steel and the City of Chicago.
  • Walgreen's new retail store in Evanston – the first Net-Zero energy retail pharmacy in the world – will be recognized with the Green Innovation award. The store will generate more energy than it consumes and is already encouraging other retailers to rethink what it means to go green.
  • W.W. Grainger Inc., headquartered in Lake Forest, will be acknowledged with a Green Innovation award for their new 27,000 square foot enterprise data center. It is expected to be certified as the first data center in the world certified Gold under the USGBC's LEED v4 for Data Centers.
  • Farr Associates will receive the Chapter Mission award, which recognize s an organization or individual that best advances the mission of USGBC–Illinois. Located in Chicago, the firm is widely regarded as one of the most sustainable planning and architecture firms in the country.

Congratulations to all of the winners.


April 27, 2014

LIVE...from the Green Metropolis Festival!

Cockroach races!

Okay, I admit that it's a shameless plug for what will actually be a very small part of what my show is about this Sunday...but...let me say it again:

Cockroach races!

Oops. Who increased the font size for that? Uh...I guess I did. What better way to end Earth Week 2014 than to be on the road at the Green Metropolis Fair at the Irish American Heritage Center, 4626 N. Knox Avenue in Chicago for a live broadcast of The Mike Nowak Show.

Coackroach races!!

Hey, stop that! (Unless it gets me more listeners and/or brings more people to the fair.)

This is an all day event that celebrates Chicago's sustainable living and wellness communities, and, best of all, it's FREE! So, if you're reading this before Sunday, I encourage you to show up at least sometime during the day. With the forecast calling for unseasonably cool temperatures, this might be the best way to spend a late April Sunday for you and your family.

So let's get right to who will be on the show. We start with Amber Gribben, who is a part of Urban Worm Girl. They've been doing their worm thing since 2008, the same year that I started broadcasting on Chicago's Progressive Talk. Here's more from their website:

We have been introducing this innovative sustainability practice to the Chicago area through educational programming, as well as residential and commercial worm compost bin installations. Through our efforts, and the efforts of our clients, hundreds of tons of waste have been diverted from the commercial waste stream and converted into nutrient-rich soil with the help from a few hungry worms.

Next up is an interview with Mikey the puppet, who goes on a food shopping adventure later in the day, meeting up with "all kinds of crazy characters" in what is described as a fun, interactive puppet show produced by Jeannie McQueenie.

As we head into the second hour, I welcome Jennifer Davit back to the show. Jennifer is the Lurie Garden Director, who is doing a presentation at 11:00 a.m. called Five beautiful Acres – and No Chemicals! Secrets from Chicago's Lurie Garden.

The five-acre Lurie Garden in Chicago's Millennium Park was designed by world-renowned planting designer Piet Oudolf. The Lurie Garden's 240 varieties of perennials provide 4-season interest and are managed without the use of any chemicals. Their sustainable gardening practices make it the ideal respite for countless birds and beneficial insects, and a wonderful destination for Chicagoans and visitors alike. In this presentation, Jennifer provides an overview of the garden's history and shares detailed information on the garden's yearly maintenance.

The idea is to teach average gardeners how to incorporate sustainability--like using less fertilizer and water and providing wildlife habitat--into their gardens.

Then I welcome Thea Wilson of doTerra Essential Oils, who will be presenting Essential Oils 101: Lemon, Lavender, and Peppermint later in the day. We will explore how to use essential oils to support a healthy body, eliminate toxins from our home, and repel mosquitoes, safely and naturally. In particular, this presentation will focus on three of the most commonly used essential oils: lemon, lavender, and peppermint.

Then, what everybody is waiting for...

Coackroach races! Whoo-hoo!!!

You should know that I'm not an amateur when it comes to exotic insects. After all, I am aCook County Master Gardener, so I've been trained to handle these bad boys...and, uh, girls.

Later in the day, you can meet interesting insects and learn about their lifecycles (and maybe even hold one!) at the University of Illinois Extension Service Master Gardeners and Composters table! But at about 10:45 a.m. during my show, you'll have the opportunity to cheer on your favorite Madagascar Hissing Cockroach, as we pit them against each other on my show, with the prize being bareroot Flower Carpet Pink Splash roses from Anthony Tesselaar Plants.

And there's a lot more going on during the fair, which goes from 10am to 5pm.

By the way, there's ample free parking, and the center is conveniently located off I-90/94. But you can also take the CTA Blue Line and get off at the Montrose stop, or try one of multiple bus routes. Better yet, be really green and ride your bike. Bike parking is available.


April 20, 2014

It's Earth Week...and there's a lot going on
...including my live broadcast from the Green Metropolis Festival!

Earth Day 2014 will be officially celebrated this Tuesday, April 22. But, in the 21st Century, we no longer have the luxury of paying attention to our planet for one single day. That's why I'm going to list a few things here and you can choose an event or a project that fits your style.

Let's start with something that happens next Sunday.

One week from today The Mike Nowak Show hits the road again, as we broadcast live from the Green Metropolis Fair at the Irish American Heritage Center, 4626 N. Knox Avenue in Chicago. This is an all day event that celebrates Chicago's sustainable living and wellness communities, and, best of all, it's FREE!

Of course, we hope you'll stop by for my radio show. But there are a lot of other things going on at the fair, including

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

Check out the Fair on Facebook. Among the various presentations, these two might catch your interest:

11:00am - Five beautiful Acres – and No Chemicals! Secrets from Chicago's Lurie Garden
The five-acre Lurie Garden in Chicago's Millennium Park was designed by world-renowned planting designer Piet Oudolf. The Lurie Garden's 240 varieties of perennials provide 4-season interest and are managed without the use of any chemicals. Their sustainable gardening practices make it the ideal respite for countless birds and beneficial insects, and a wonderful destination for Chicagoans and visitors alike. In this presentation, Jennifer Davit, the Lurie Garden Director, will provide an overview of the garden's history and share detailed information on the garden's yearly maintenance. Learn more about how you can incorporate sustainability measures - like using less fertilizer and water - and providing wildlife habitat- into your garden.

1:00PM – Urban Composting
Whether it's a worm bin in your kitchen, or a big compost pile in your backyard, turning your garbage into rich, black compost is easier (and less smelly!) than you think! Join the Urban Worm Girl Amber Gribben to find out why red wigglers rule!!

By the way, there's ample free parking, and the center is conveniently located off I-90/94. But you can also take the CTA Blue Line and get off at the Montrose stop, or try one of multiple bus routes. Better yet, be really green and ride your bike. Bike parking is available.

Last week, we tried to talk to event organizer Mary Beth Rebedeau of Green Parents Network (GPN) from Argentina. Well, that didn't exactly go as planned. So we will try again today, now that she's back in Chicago. By the way, if you're interested in the Fair, you can contact her via email (above) or at 708.361.6000 or 708.641.2752 (cell).

More ways to mark Earth Day 2014:

The Global Climate Convergence
With the slogan, "People, Planet & Peace Over Profit," The Global Climate Convergence is an education and direct action campaign that begins this spring, with “10 days to change course,” running from Earth Day to May Day.It seeks to unite the many separate movements springing up across the planet. Earth Day-to-May Day 2014 (April 22 - May 1) will be the first in a series of expanding annual actions. Global Climate Convergence Chicago has its own series of actions, including

Chicago: Earth Day March - April 22 - It starts at the Thompson Center (State of Illinois Building, 100 W. Randolph Street), gathering at 4:30pm, with the march stepping off at 5:15pm. Protests will be directed at businesses like Boeing, BP, and Chase HQ.

Setting the World on Fire, The lawsuit against Koch Industries & BP, the environment, and money in politics - April 23 at Chicago Temple, 77 W. Washington Street, Chicago - As petroleum coke--otherwise known as petcoke--continues to pile up on Chicago's southeast side, the Honorable Ian Levin (ret.) and Bob Pavich comment on the erosion of our democracy by monied interests. This talk is sponsored by a number of organizations, including Frack Free Illinois, Southeast Environmental Task Force and Tar Sands Free Midwest.

City Council Zoning Committee Hearing regarding petcoke - Stand with the Southeast Environmental Task Force against petcoke at the City Council Zoning Committee hearing. City Hall, 121 N LaSalle Street in Chicago, 2nd floor, 10:00 a.m. Tom Shepherd from the SETF joins me on the show this morning to talk abou this issue.

People, Planet, and Peace Over Profit: Fighting for a Future Without Climate Change - April 24 at UIC Student Center East, 750 South Halsted Street in Chicago - An educational forum sponsored by System Change Not Climate Change, this event features discussions about climate change and the fight to stop this disaster to our planet from happening.

And you can find even more activities on the Global Climate Convergence Calendar.

Another way to honor the planet: investigate the TPP

If you don't know what the TPP or Trans-Pacific Partnership is, you're not exactly alone. While those of you who listen to Chicago's Progressive Talk are probably aware of how this deal could change the way that we do business in the world (and not necessarily for the good), far too many folks have not even heard of it.

Here, in a nutshell is how Salon describes the TPP:

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is the first international commercial agreement pursued by this administration to date from scratch. And, it would be the largest one since the 1995 World Trade Organization. It would link Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, Mexico and Canada into a “free trade” zone similar to that of NAFTA.  The subject matter being negotiated extends far beyond traditional trade matters. TPP's 29 chapters would set binding rules on everything from service-sector regulation, investment, patents and copyrights, government procurement, financial regulation, and labor and environmental standards, as well as trade in industrial goods and agriculture.

And therin lies the problem. Many, many organizations think that this would basically spell the end of democracy in the U.S., allowing corporate rules to override legislation.Thought that might be overstating the case, the secrecy of the negotiations give one pause.

The TPP has been on my radar screen for awhile, but because I have only two hours each week to talk about issues (less than that, actually), I haven't gotten around to putting this front and center. That changes this week, thanks to Barbara Murphy from Park Forest. She wrote:

I think you have some interest in the " TPP " (Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement) that the government is pushing for a "fast track" to pass this nefarious so-called trade agreement involving 12 countries (some already joined, some in negotiations, involving countries along the Pacific Rim).  Many of us, who have any awareness whatsoever, are deeply concerned about the passage of the TPP and a sister-like version, the TTIP .  Unfortunately, most people have never ever heard of it at all, because of its secrecy.  Fortunately, there've been leaks.  For that reason, some of us have joined together with the Illinois Fair Trade Coalition to create educational forums.  Take note that some of these events have been posted on the Expose the TPP as well.  A brief breakdown of these forums is as follows:

April 27th, Joliet Public Library, 150 North Ottawa Street, 2-4pm (Hosted by South Suburban Council for

May 1st, Chicago Civic Lab, 114 North Aberdeen, 6:30-8pm.

May 4 th , Flossmoor Public Library, 1000 Sterling Avenue, 2-4:30pm (Hosted by South Suburban Council for

June 13th, Chicago Uri- Eichen Gallery, 2101 South Halsted , gallery opens at 6pm, panel discussion on trade/economic policy, NAFTA, and the TPP from 7:30pm-9pm.

and more are in the works, in Naperville , Aurora, and other Chicagoland areas.

I welcome Carson Starkey, Field Director of the Illinois Fair Trade Coalition to the program this morning to talk more about the issue, and to highlight the forums in Illinois in the next couple of months.

Yet another way to honor the earth: dispose of your chemicals properly

I was pleased to see an email from the Midwest Pesticide Action Center (MPAC - formerly the Safer Pest Control Project) about how to dispose of unwanted or expired pesticides. They note that there are Household Hazardous Waste Collections in many municipalities in May and June, as well as facilities that allow for regular pickups in Chicago, Rockford, Naperville, and Lake County. Visit the Illinois  Environmental Protection Agency's  website for locations.

As MPAC notes,

Participating in these events not only prevent chemicals from polluting local waterways and ground water supplies, they also allow families to safely remove toxic chemicals from the reach and exposure of children and pets. Keeping pesticides out of our waterways is important as they threaten wildlife, such as birds, fish, bees, and other aquatic organisms, and human health.


My favorite plant health care sites are back

As I try to note as often as possible (but probably not enough), if you're a serious gardener, you should try to keep on top of pests and diseases with regular reports that come from both The Morton Arboretum and Illinois Extension.

The one from the Morton Arboretum is called the Plant Health Care Report and two issues have been released this year:

One of the coolest things in the most recent report is a link to a story called Using Growing Degree-Days for Insect Pest Management. The point is that you can't use the current date to determine if insects will be a problem. You need to know the Growing Degree - Days (GDD), which takes into account the average daily temperature by calculating the number of "heat units" received. This system can be more accurate than the calendar method for estimating insect development and timing management strategies

The report from Illinois Extension is called the Home, Yard & Garden Pest Newsletter. The first issue of this publication hasn't been released yet, but you should click onto the link above to sign up and receive regular free reports.

A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing but, if you ask me, some knowledge is better than no knowledge.


April 13, 2014

Batten down the hatches--Christy Webber is back!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preserving oaks and more with Preserve Lake County

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The full program is HERE.

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

Of course, check them out on Facebook.

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


April 6 , 2014

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

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

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

Keeping your lawn eco-friendly with Melinda Myers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A seed-lending library takes root in Downers Grove

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

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

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

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

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

Why is she doing it? She writes:

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

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

Robert Colangelo and the challenge on the new urban farm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Debunking bad science one Eco-myth at a time

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

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

Among the myths they have tackled lately:

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

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

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

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


March 30, 2014

Just hours left to support Attack of the Killer Asparagus!

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

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

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

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

Fearless Food Gardening in Chicagoland with LaManda Joy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And from The Associated Press:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


March 23, 2014

Support Attack of the Killer Asparagus!

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

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

Doug Taron delivers his "State of the Butterflies" report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What has happened to the stars?

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can see the stars.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again, from Audrey Fischer:

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

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

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

March 16, 2014

Kudos to the Team for last week's show!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking of wildflowers, Cathy McGlynn has some advice

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

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

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

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

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

March 9, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Good Food Festival, Part Trois

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Going Green Matters in Wilmette

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

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

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

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

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

March 2, 2014

Welcome to Kolatek's Bakery & Deli!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

C'mon, how cool is that?

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

The Good Food Festival, part deux

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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