Changing a neighborhood, cleaning a river and fixing zoning laws

May 29, 2011

“Green on McLean” happens on Memorial Day

Anybody who listens to my show on a regular or even semi-regular basis knows that I don’t live in the best (read: safest) neighborhood in Chicago. For ten years, Kathleen and I have owned a home in our south Logan Square neighborhood (and don’t even mention the boulevards–we’re nowhere near the boulevards, literally or figuratively), and it’s been…well, it’s been a bumpy ride. Gangs, vacant properties, fear, litter, lack of communication and lack of pride in the neighborhood all came together to create a sad little corner of the world.

A few short years ago, we began to fight back: picking up littler, confronting the gangs, attending CAPS meetings, talking to neighbors, and contacting our local and state representatives. Thanks to the Chicago Police 14th District, State Representative Luis Arroyo, Alderman Roberto Maldenado and everybody who put 911 on their speed dial, we believe that our block has turned a corner.

One other thing happened. Remember that I’m the guy who has been talking about community gardening ever since I came to Chicago’s Progressive Talk three years ago. Starting Monday, I will be walking the walk, too. That’s planting day at our nascent “Green on McLean” community garden. As you can see, we even have a blogsite where we can disseminate information to the garden members, thanks to webmaster extraordinaire Kathleen Thompson.

At this point, it’s very “guerrilla gardening.” We have no official membership, no fees, no dues, no by-laws, no fences, and people are expected to bring their own well-marked tools. But we have great soil (thanks to Mark Moxley at Lake Street Landscape Supply), our first pile of mulch (The Care of Trees came through with that, of course), plants sold to us at bargain basement rates by Linda Kruhmin at The Talking Farm, and even a few ornamentals, courtesy of Ball FloraPlant. it’s a start, and our goal is nothing less than changing our neighborhood for the good. Volunteers are welcome anytime. Stop in to the Green on McLean blogsite to keep track of developments.

NRDC’s Josh Mogerman reports on Chicago’s “endangered” river

This paragraph in the New York Times from May 19 says it all:

On Tuesday, the conservation group American Rivers named the Chicago River one of the “most endangered rivers” in the country , along with rivers at risk from the extraction of coal, natural gas and uranium. On May 11, the federal Environmental Protection Agency ordered state regulators to impose stricter water quality standards on the river or else the agency would step in and do it. And on May 3, environmental groups filed a lawsuit charging that the wastewater agency regularly violates the federal Clean Water Act.

Is it possible that the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District gets it NOW? Just about every federal, state and local agency, not to mention environmental organization, favors disinfection of the Chicago River to remove harmful bacteria. The MWRD, on the other hand, which is responsible for handling much of the sewage that enters the river, has dug in its heels, refusing to disinfect the effluent, even after years of hearings that have put them on the opposite side of…well, everybody. In fact, it’s worse than that. Longtime board president Terrence O’Brien even went so far as to say that disinfecting the river would cause more people to drown. You can’t make this stuff up, folks.

Fortunately, there are commissioners like Michael Alvarez and Debra Shore, who have stepped forward to support disinfection. Shore even penned this piece for Huffington Post.

The Natural Resources Defense Council has been one of the chief supporters of disinfection, going so far as to join in a lawsuit to stop the MWRD from dumping raw sewage mixed with stormwater, as well as algae-fueling pollution, into the Chicago River system. That’s why I’m pleased to have the NRDC’s Josh Mogerman back on the show this morning. Among the other issues we will try to get to in a limited time:

Root Riot, Year Two: Goats, chickens, vegetables and more

On the Sunday that I announce the formation of the Green on McLean community garden in my own neighborhood, it’s only fitting that I talk to folks who are already up and running. Seamus Ford and Amy Beltemacchi are just two of the people behind Root Riot Urban Garden Network. They’ve created Harambee Gardens on Chicago’s west side and Madison Street on Oak Park’s east side.

Root Riot describes itself as “an open organization dedicated to creating opportunities for people to learn and discover the joys of growing their own food.” But they go beyond just “growing food,” which is pretty awesome in itself. Here’s what they do:

  • Provide people a place to grow their own food.
  • Create a welcoming spaces for people to learn
  • Mentor gardeners (young and old alike)
  • Empower people to create green economic opportunities for themselves.
  • Inspire innovating entrepreneurial thinking in the face of today challenges.

Their Principles

  • Local food is a local priority everywhere
  • The cultivation of healthy food is accessible to anyone.
  • Life is local, always has been
  • Draw diverse groups of people together for a common purpose
  • Raise food consciousness
  • Encourage community self-reliance
  • Cause people to think in new ways

And, if you check out the video on my home page, you’ll see that they’re adding goats, in addition to the chickens, that are nearby–if not exactly on site.

Sustainable Food Fundamentals:
Continuing the quest for a workable zoning ordinance

Martha Boyd from Angelic Organics Learning Center stops by today to bring us up to speed with what’s been going on in Chicago City Council regarding urban farming.

The Chicago Zoning Committee met on Thursday, May 26. According to Harry Rhodes, Executive Director of Growing Home,

The comprehensive zoning ordinance that had been proposed has been tabled, and the zoning department is working on a new ordinance that they can propose to Mayor Emmanuel in the next few weeks. Ald. [Brendan] Reilly, [42nd Ward] proposed a shorter ordinance that just deals with rooftop farms. There were concerns about parking demands, but they were worked out before the meeting. Kevin Pierce and I testified. We both called for a clearer, more transparent policy that will be a coordinated effort of city departments, AUA, and all others working to promote urban ag. Patti Scudiero from the Zoning Department talked about the new process, and listened to our pleas. In the end the ordinance, which just deals with rooftop farms, passed the committee.

Martha reports that Advocates for Urban Agriculture will be discussing how to work for a new, comprehensive ordinance, as well as policies promoting urban agriculture. Since AUA is interested in hearing the views of all groups who are interested in growing in the city, they are inviting anybody who is interested to come to the AUA steering committee meeting next Tuesday, May 31st at 4 pm at
Delta Institute, 53 W. Jackson, Suite 230.

Last but not least, Martha says she wants to talk about soil testing issues. I did a couple of soil tests in my yard a few weeks ago and, boy, I have a few things to discuss with her.

Sustainable Food Fundamentals is sponsored by Pearl Valley Organix. They produce HEALTHY GRO™ products for your lawn and garden, as well as Pearl Valley Eggs. And they do it in a way that is sustainable, turning their chicken manure into several OMRI listed fertilizers, and even recycling their waste water on site at the Pearl Valley Farm. I’m proud to have them as a sponsor on The Mike Nowak Show.

Illinois Extension hitches its wagon to the gaming star in Illinois

It looks at though the future of Illinois Extension is beginning to be linked to the expansion of casinos in Illinois. If you’re like me and you think that gambling in America is a blight (sorry, but I do), it seems like a Faustian bargain. However, there are a lot of people who don’t agree with me, and even I am willing to put up with a lot to continue the great work of Extension.

Here’s the latest from Extension Partners spokesperson Pam Weber

[Friday] afternoon the House Executive Committee passed Senate Bill 744 (SB744) with additional amendments #2, 3, 4, & 5 out of Committee.  The amount designated for the Agriculture portion has been reduced to $25 million, but the Extension portion remains at $4 million.

Again it is crucial, if your beliefs will allow,  that calls be made to your legislators asking them to support the expansion of gambling.  Remind your legislators that the Agriculture dollars in this legislation will go to the counties supporting local services and programs.

Again, you can find the necessary information about your legislator on the General Assembly website –

The budget reconciliation between the House and Senate is ongoing, and we do not have any idea when the negotiated  budget will surface.

I visit Spring Bluff Nursery in Sugar Grove on June 4

For those of you out Sugar Grove way, I hope you stop by to say hi when I speak at Spring Bluff Nursery next Saturday, June 4 at 11:00 a.m. The nursery is an 1800s Kane County historical farm in a beautiful country location with rolling fields all around the farm and there are beautiful display gardens as well as testing gardens for the vegetables they offer.

What’s even more fun is that there is no charge for my talk but Spring Bluff is collecting canned goods to donate to the local food pantry. I’m going to bring a few myself.

A couple of other events at Spring Bluff that might interest you are Photographing Your Garden, led by Donnell Collins, photojournalist & Waubonsee Community College instructor. It’s a seminar on how to get the most from your digital camera…in your garden,, of course. Saturday, June 25, 11am-1pm – Cost $35. Register and pay in advance.

The other one is Girls’ Night Out! on July 21.It’san evening of great plant sales (beginning at 3:00 pm) and a fun night for the ladies! Gourmet tastings and a free perennial with registration begin at 6:00. No charge, but as for my talk, bring canned food item donations.