Flower and food festivals come to Chicago

March 11, 2012

“Hort Couture” sashays into the Chicago Flower & Garden Show

Hokey smoke, Bullwinkle, it must be spring!

How do I know? It’s not just the crocuses popping up in my yard, about three weeks early. It’s also the annual arrival of the Chicago Flower & Garden Show at Navy Pier. This event, now through Sunday, March 18, shows off some of the best and brightest in Chicago’s horticultural world–and beyond. More than 32 exhibits highlight not only plants, ornamental and edible, but hardscapes (you know, the bricks and pavers and trellises and containers that contribute to a landscape), water features, lights, and a few things you just don’t see in a garden every day.

The theme is “Hort Couture,” which is probably fitting, because I’ve always described garden shows as about 80% show biz and 20% horticulture, give or take a few percentage points in either direction.

You can get at least a little flavor for this year’s edition by checking out some of the photos I took at the opening night gala preview benefit “Evening in Bloom” (hey, there have to be SOME perks in this profession.) Of course, there’s much, much to the show than just the garden. Here are some of the other features that are part of the nine-day extravaganza:

  • Seminars and Workshops – This is where the real horticultural learnin’ takes place. Experts and professionals from academia, business and garden centers cover just about every gardening topic that you can imagine.
  • Garden Gourmet – 36 top Chicago chefs show you how it’s done in the kitchen. There are at least three daily demonstrations–and you might just get a chance to sample some of that culinary goodness.
  • Potting Parties – They’re back by popular demand. Four times each day–11:00a, 1:00p, 3:00p, 5:30p—you can be part of a hands-on workshop where industry professionals teach you techniques and insight on creating your own containers.  Yes, there is a $20 fee, but you get to take your creation home with you.
  • The Marketplace – C’mon, you know you can’t resist the bulbs and the containers and the seeds and the colorful chotchkies.

And, new to the Flower & Garden Show this year, is the “Great Chicago Seed Swap.” It happens today, March 11, from 3PM until…”they kick us out,” it says on the Garden Show website. Mr. Brown Thumb will be there and he’s on my show this morning to talk about how it will all come together. There will be a table for annual seeds, perennial seeds and edibles. Backyard gardeners, community gardeners, school gardeners are all welcomed.

Here are some tips to help you participate:

Package your home saved seeds in paper coin envelopes or plastic baggies. Print (as clearly as possible) the name of the plant and any other information you think a gardener would need to grow it successfully. Part of the appeal for me of swapping seeds is passing on their history and my experience with them.

By the way, the Chicago Flower & Garden Show is still a great bargain–and even better if you purchase your tickets online. Here are the prices:

$15 Weekday tickets purchased online
$17 Weekday tickets purchased at the Navy Pier Box Office
$17 Weekend tickets purchased online
$19 Weekend tickets purchased at the Navy Pier Box Office
$  5 Children 4-12 years old

Hours are Monday – Saturday  10:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m., and Sundays  10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.

FamilyFarmed Expo is now the Good Food Festival

Speaking of great events, the FamilyFarmed Expo is back with a name change, but it’s still working to change the way we think about food. Now called the Good Food Festival and Conference, the three day event is about growing, cooking, selling, and celebrating healthy, nutritious food. It takes place at the UIC Forum, 725 West Roosevelt Road, Chicago, IL

Over three days, farmers, educators, business people, cooks, policy wonks and others gather together in a sort of “state of the local food movement” celebration. The three days are organized this way:

  • Financing Conference, Thursday, March 15
    This is for food producers and farmers looking to expand their businesses and make them more profitable. They can learn about about funding opportunities and connect with banks and investors interested in financing growth. Seminars feature success stories, alternative funding, finding solutions to urban food deserts and more.
  • Tradeshow Conference & Policy Summit, Friday, March 16
    Some of the most difficult questions regarding food policy and its consequences will be discussed on this day. Obviously, policy makers will be there, along with food advocates representing varied programs and organizations. Seminars will look at how to affect the laws that affect local food, scaling up urban agriculture, food hubs and local procurement, and much more.
  • Good Food Festival, Saturday, March 17
    This is the grand finale of the three days, when the doors are opened wide to anybody who loves good, sustainable food. There are educational seminars and workshops all day along about growing and making food, along with chef demos, family-friendly activities, and plenty of vendors to keep you engaged. It’s usually noisy, busy, fun and charged with great energy.

As a matter of fact, I will be moderating one of the seminars on Saturday. Seneca Kern from WeFarm America, Jeanne Pinsof Nolan of The Organic Gardener and I will do a talk called “Small Space Gardening” from 3:30 to 4:45 in Room F. For a full schedule of seminars, click here.

The man behind the plan is Jim Slama, founder and president of FamilyFarmed.org, which encourages the production, marketing and distribution of locally grown and responsibly produced food. Earlier this year, FamilyFarmed.org has partnered with DCEO, Illinois Department of Agriculture, and the University of Illinois’ Business Innovation Services to create the guidebook, Building Successful Food Hubs: A Business Planning Guide for Aggregating and Processing Local Food in Illinois.

The guide serves as a resource for communities, businesses, not-for-profits and others interested in establishing food hubs. The guide includes descriptions of key functions, best practices, and “how-to” strategies for establishing and operating food hubs that are based on successful food hubs operating in other regions, specifically adapted for application in Illinois’ food system.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one more part of the Good Food Festival and Conference– Localicious on March 16th from 7:00pm to 9:30pm at UIC Forum. It’s a celebration of the farmers and chefs and it features fabulous food and drinks, live music, and an opportunity to connect with other good food enthusiasts.

Ag-Gag laws and the threat to free speech

I don’t even remember how I stumbled upon the article in the Chicago Tribune last week titled CAFO protection law passes in Iowa, Illinois hearings held Wednesday. Written by the excellent reporter Monica Eng, it detailed how Iowa Governor Terry Brandstad had just signed a bill that would outlaw undercover investigations at concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in that state. The Des Moines Register says that the bill could stifle free speech. However, those in favor of the legislation say it prevents photos and videos of CAFOs from being release “out of context.”

What alarmed me as much as this dangerous law was that I hadn’t heard about this effort to stifle documentation of illegal actions at factory farms, even though an earlier version had been introduced in Illinois in 2002. Fortunately, the word got out about how bad this legislation is and the Illinois version never made it out of committee.

Predictably, aligned on the side of transparency are groups like Illinois Citizens for Clean Air and Water, Mercy for Animals, the Humane Society of the U.S and Food & Water Watch. On the other side of the fence Illinois Farm Bureau, Monsanto and other agri-business interests.

The agri-business types like to point at people like me as examples of whistleblowers who don’t know anything about farming. Actually, I don’t know much about farming. But I do recognize the argument that “by exposing health and pollution problems, reporters are putting responsible farmers out of business” for what it is–old, tired and untrue.

That’s why I pleased to have Karen Hudson on the show today. Not only is she an Illinois farmer, but she is with Illinois Citizens for Clean Air and Water and Socially Responsible Agricultural Project and has been fighting factory farms since 1996, as you can see in this video of a presentation she did at TEDxManhattan last year. Karen knows, as do I, that the businesses interested in covering up abuses on factory farms will continue their efforts to pass laws all over the country. And, yes, they will be back in Illinois, too. A reason to be ever vigilant.

Starved Rock Update: Will there be IDNR public hearings?

It’s been awhile since I talked about the dire situation at Starved Rock State Park. And, to be clear, it IS dire. There’s a pretty darned good chance that an open pit sand mine will be dug just outside of the east entrance to the jewel of the Illinois State Park system. It will cause untold environmental damage near–and even in–the park.

Why? Because the LaSalle County Board, in its infinite wisdom, caved to short term interests in allowing Mississippi Sand LLC to transform farm land into mining land where it can do tremendous harm.

Since that unfortunate vote, local residents, aided by groups like Illinois Sierra Club and Openlands have been clinging to a public dissent strategy to slow down the mining juggernaut that is about to descend upon LaSalle County. On Monday March 12, the county board will decide whether or not to request that the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) hold a public hearing on Mississippi Sand’s proposed sand mine next to Starved Rock State Park.

There’s a question about whether the board will be voting only on whether the conservation and reclamation plan for the site should be the subject of a public hearing. From information I’ve received, the “Surface-Mined Land Conservation and Reclamation Act requires the IDNR determine the adequacy of the conservation and reclamation plan based on a number of criteria. Specifically the Act states: The Department shall consider the short and long term impact of the proposed mining on vegetation, wildlife, fish, land use, land values, local tax base, the economy of the region and the State, employment opportunities, air pollution, water pollution, soil contamination, noise pollution and drainage.”

The way I look at it, the LaSalle County Board is meeting on Monday to decide whether they’re interested in democracy.

If you love Starved Rock State Park, it would be a good idea for you to contact members of the LaSalle County board and tell them they should vote YES to ask IDNR to hold a public hearing.
If you can show up at the meeting, even better. It will be held at Festivities Unlimited, 1504 Poplar at Route 6 & Poplar in Ottawa, Illinois.

John McKee, President of the Starved Rock Audubon Society, joins me again to talk about this latest effort to save this important Illinois natural resource.

I hope that Governor Quinn is listening.