Herbs, urban gardens and household batteries

January 22, 2012

Countdown to Decision Chicago! The Great Herb Debate

Mark your calendars, sharpen your debating skills and get your seed packets lined up. Sunday, February ,5 is the date of the inaugural Great Herb Debate. The ubiquitous Mr. Brown Thumb and I have concocted this scheme in honor of the One Seed Chicago 2012 competition…and because I want to hear somebody wax poetic about chamomile.

As you might already know, One Seed Chicago–a partnership between NeighborSpace and GreenNet–is an urban greening project. Folks vote for their favorite seed from among three chosen each January 1st. Regardless of which seed you vote for, you receive a packet of the winning seed just for participating in the competition.

This year’s choice is among basil, chamomile and cilantro. Mr. Brown Thumb and I are lining up surrogates who are willing to defend their candidates on my show. I hope to announce those names next week. However, any and everybody is welcome to voice an opinion before and during the debate via email, Twitter and Facebook. Send in those comments now. I’ll post them on the Decision Chicago page (click on the image on the left) as I receive them.

And I’m still waiting to be bribed to throw my support to one of the seeds. Sheesh. What does it take in Chicago (!) to get a decent gift to help throw an election? C’mon, Chicagoans! Our checkered reputation is at stake!

Learning about and growing urban gardens in Chicago

A couple of years ago, I was hoping to set up a community garden in my neighborhood. I can’t remember exactly how it happened, but Openlands Community Outreach Coordinator Julie Samuels, who is a friend and colleague of mine, told me about a half-day seminar that Openlands was sponsoring to help neighborhood groups plan and and build community gardens.

My community garden didn’t happen for another year, but I was able to use many of the lessons I learned at that seminar to help start Green on McLean at the end of my block. Two years after that first class, the HomeGrown Chicago Network has expanded to a four-week course that focuses on

  • Finding and securing land,
  • Establishing a sustainable organizational structure,
  • Designing a garden and growing food organically, and
  • Building garden structures.

I’ll be talking with Julie today about the program, which begins on March 24. It also provides customized workshops for garden groups; offers a program manual; donates lumber, soil, seeds, and other materials; and encourages participants to share advice and seeds at the beginning of each growing season. The cost is $150, which will cover four people from your gardening organization for the four-week course.

But wait, there’s more! That’s not the only gardening program that Openlands sponsors. If you hurry, you can still register for Building Urban Gardens (BUGs), which begins January 28 (next Saturday) at Garfield Park Conservatory. Whether you’re working in a community garden or you just want to grow plants in your own backyard, here’s what you’ll learn in this six-week course, which covers

  • Planning and Designing Your Ecological/Organic Garden
  • The Basis of an Organic Garden: Healthy Soil and Composting
  • Vegetables for Your Beautiful, Edible Garden
  • Perennials and Herbs for Diversity and Flavor!
  • Insects and Weeds: A Place for Everything & Everything in its Place
  • Container and Raised Bed Gardening.

Once you finish the BUGs course, you can join a citywide corps of volunteer gardeners who care for community spaces throughout Chicago. Openlands thanks the Dr. Scholl Foundation for its support of this program.

For more information about the class and to register, please contact Julie Samuels via e-mail or by phone at 312-863-6256.

Coal pollutes Chicago air while batteries go back to the landfills

I received a message this week from my friend Qae-Dah Muhammad, who is with the Ashe Park Advisory Council & Garden Club. She wrote:

Yes it is true. No more recycling your dead batteries. I searched for this information until my eyes watered. Went into the South Shore Library and my tired eyes landed on the flyer sitting on the information rack. The Illinois EPA says that you can throw them in the regular trash.

She included a link that sent me to the City of Chicago website, where this appears:

As of January 1, 2012, Chicago’s Battery Recycling Program has been discontinued, including collections at Chicago Public Libraries. Rechargeable batteries can still be recycled at multiple locations throughout Chicago, such as the Household Chemicals and Computer Recycling Facility . Find additional locations at www.call2recycle.org .

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency recommends disposing of alkaline batteries with regular household trash. Alkaline batteries contain no hazardous waste and little recyclable materials. Previous environmental hazards associated with alkaline batteries were due to their mercury content.  The federal Battery Management Act of 1996 phased-out the use of mercury in alkaline batteries and today few, if any, alkaline batteries contain mercury.

My reaction could be categorized as WTF? I hadn’t heard about this at all and, as many of you know, I’m President of the Chicago Recycling Coalition. Oops. I called Mike Mitchell, Executive Director of the Illinois Recycling Association and he confirmed that the IEPA had made some kind of determination last year.

So I did some searching on both the Illinois Evironmental Protection Agency site and the EPA site. Nothing. Zip. Nada. If they are changing the rules regarding the disposal of household batteries, they are certainly keeping it quiet.

I am determined to find out what’s going on. I hope to contact the IEPA this week to get more information. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, Meteorologist Rick DiMaio wrote today to tell me about this front page story in Sunday’s Chicago Tribune: Coal plants dominate list of Chicago’s biggest polluters. Ya think? Michael Hawthorne writes:

No other polluter comes close to the 4.2 million metric tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide churned into the atmosphere by the two coal plants in 2010, according to a new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency database that for the first time allows people to compare major industrial sources of greenhouse gases

That’s why it is so important for the Chicago City Council to finally pass the Chicago Clean Power Ordinance, reintroduced in late July 2011 by Ald. Joe Moore (49th Ward) and Ald. Danny Solis (25th Ward). Considering that the ordinance has 35 co-sponsors, one wonders why it hasn’t been passed yet. It would require that the Fisk and Crawford coal plants reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 50% and particulate matter by 90%.

Perhaps it’s time for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to step up and protect Chicago citizens from the ravages of these two ancient power plants, which continue to do more harm than good.

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