Illinois Extension under the knife, EAB treatments under examination, Truck Farm in the parking lot, and more

May 8, 2011

Here we go again–General Assembly threatens to obliterate Illinois Extension

Just a couple of weeks ago I celebrated my third anniversary on Chicago’s Progressive Talk. The very first segment on my very first show three years ago was about threatened financial cutbacks to Illinois Extension. At that time, supporters of Extension programs were successful in preserving the funding levels for the coming year.

It has gotten ugly in the last two years, however, due mainly to the ugly debt that the State of Illinois has managed to amass. Last year, the General Assembly took out the long knives and cut $7.6 million for Fiscal Year 2011 from all public sources of funding for Extention. What did that mean? For one, it meant that the number of units across the state were reduced from 76 to 27. Many counties were forced to combine operations with neighboring counties. In addition, 120 academic professional positions were cut. Long-time educators and administrators found themselves in competition with each other for the remaining jobs.

And now, according to Robert Hoeft, Interim Associate Dean for Extension and Outreach, the General Assembly is proposing even more drastic cuts–perhaps removing another $13.7 million, including almost $3 from Cook County alone. Beth Botts writes eloquently about this action on her Growing in Chicago blogsite.

It’s hard to escape the conclusion that these cuts would basically eviscerate Illinois Extension. What would that mean to the people of Illinois?

  • Extension provides research-based educational programs in the areas of Healthy Society, Food Security and Safety, Environmental Stewardship, Sustainable and Profitable Food Production and Marketing Systems, Enhancing Youth, Family and Community Well-being. The most familiar programs are 4-H and Master Gardeners.
  • 4-H Youth Development positively impacts nearly 300,000 youth throughout Illinois.
  • Master Gardeners receive 11 weeks of training and then provide 60 hours or more of community service every year, in order to maintain their standing as MGs.
  • Statewide, more than 2.5 million Illinois residents take part in Extension programs each year.
  • Extension web pages draw more than 10 million views per month and people in over 200 countries access Extension’s web-based information.

The State Senate version of the bill has the most draconian cuts. Right now, focus seems to be on Senator Heather A. Steans (Democrat of Chicago – 773/769-1717) Senator Dan Kotowski (Democrat of Park Ridge – 847/656-5414), and Sen. John M. Sullivan, (Democrat of Quincy, 217/222-2295) who sponsored Senate Bill 2408. They are defintely three legislators who should be contacted. But it’s important to call or write to your own state respresentatives and, especially, senators to express your concern about the damage that this bill can do. Contact information can be found here.

The time is NOW. According to a lobbyist for Extension (yes, even Extension has lobbyists) most of the negotiations for the final budget will occur during the last two weeks in May, and that state legislators should be in their offices on Monday, May 9 and Saturday, May 14. But CALL ANY TIME. Illinois Extension is important and valuable, especially in a time of economic uncertainty. It should not be a victim of a rush to prove who can cut the most out of the state budget.

Hope for Emerald Ash Borer treatment

In the aftermath of the devastation of American Elm by Dutch elm disease, people often turned to ash trees to repopulate their backyards and parkways. It might seem ironic that those very trees are now being attacked by yet another pest–Emerald Ash Borer–but it’s really not irony. It’s truly our inability to learn that planting monocultures is bad horticulture and bad policy.

That being said, EAB is here and we’re now trying to adapt. With 10 to 40% of our urban forests now at risk, scientists and arborists, like those at The Care of Trees and the The Davey Tree Expert Company, are beginning to develop strategies to combat that destructive pest. Just this year, a group of university scientists and industry professionals called the Coalition for Urban Ash Tree Conservation created and endorsed a consensus document that states:

“…despite availability of cost-effective treatments, many municipalities, property managers, and homeowners continue to rationalize tree removal as the only viable management strategy for EAB. This is based on erroneous beliefs that tree removal slows the spread of EAB , or that treatment is not effective, economical, or environmentally sound. Current science supports conservation via treatment as a sensible and effective tool for managing healthy ash trees in urban settings. In many cases, tree conservation is economically and environmentally superior to tree removal .”

I’m pleased to have Shawn Kingzette and Jim Zwack from The Care of Trees on the show today to talk about EAB and how you might be able to preserve your ash trees. Of course, The Care of Trees is a sponsor of The Mike Nowak Show and is owned by The Davey Tree Expert Company.

Truck Farm Chicago rolls into the WCPT parking lot

If you want to know how easy it is to grow vegetables almost anywhere, all you have to do is go back to my home page to see pictures from what I call the WCPT Parking Lot Farm. It’s not really a farm, of course. It’s just a few Earth Boxes planted with vegetables. The point, though, is that we’re growing stuff on asphalt and concrete, next to brick walls. Not particularly hospitable to plants, but we make it work.

Enter Tim Magner of Green Sugar Press and Shari Brown from Seven Generations Ahead, who are doing something even crazier…or perhaps smarter. It’s hard to tell, really. They’ve planted vegetables in the back of a pickup truck and they’re rolling it across Chicago to show kids just how things grow. They call it Truck Farm Chicago and they must be onto something, because they’ve already been on local television, on Channel 5 and Channel 7. Hey, when is a TV station coming out to tape a segment about MY farm? But I digress.

Tim and Truck Farm Chicago are rolling into the WCPT parking lot this morning (I’ll be sure to direct him around the parking lot farm.) Depending on the weather, I’ll be outside of the beautiful showcase studio to investigate this latest gardening phenomenon. By the way, the truck runs on biodiesel and the goal is to visit more than 100 schools and farmers markets before the end of the growing season.

The Second City takes on the real Second City

I never thought it would come to this. But next Saturday, May 14, Friends of the Chicago River is engaged in a battle to the death with Friends of the LA River to win the Urban River Challenge. Okay, maybe not a “battle to the death.” More likely a friendly way to get people in both cities to participate in restoration and clean up activities and become Facebook “friends.” Gosh, I’m glad they used quotes. Otherwise, I would have been terribly confused.

To help Chicago win, volunteers should go to and sign up for Chicago River Day at a river-edge site or for home-based river-friendly activities AND become a friend at

Friends of the Chicago River Executive Director Margaret Frisbie drops by today to tell us that there’s a lot more going on in the month of May when it comes to the Chicago River:

  • May 13 – 7th Annual Chicago River Summit: Systemic Solutions to Climate Change Impacts – Merchandise Mart Conference Center – $20 admission – guests can register at
  • May 14 – Chicago River Day and the Urban River Challenge: Join Friends and over 4, 000
    volunteers at 60 sites along the river to clear garbage, restore trails, remove non-native plants.Get involved at
  • May 14 – FREE Day at the McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum: a
    one-of-a-kind opportunity to explore a historic landmark bridgehouse. Plan a visit at
  • By May 18 Fish Hotel returns to the Chicago Riverwalk: This award-winning floating aquatic
    habitat at Dearborn St. on the south bank of the Main Stem demonstrates how habitat can be
    created in urban areas and engages the public in Chicago River issues. For more information go to

Sustainable Food Fundamentals:
The Annual Kilbourn Park Organic Greenhouse plant sale

I’m constantly amazed at how different parts of the city support so many wonderful institutions and events. The Kilbourn Park Organic Greenhouse is one of those places. Next Saturday and Sunday, May 14 and 15, they are holding their annual organic plant sale, where you can pick up more than 150 varieties of vegetable, herb and flower seedlings and more for a song! Actually, they will ask you to pay for the plants (cash only) but if you sing something about gardening, I’m sure they will be very grateful.

Kirsten Akre is Floraculturist for Kilbourn Park and she notes that there are two websites for the event, one for Saturday and one for Sunday. Don’t ask me–or her–why. We don’t have an answer. They also have a Facebook page, and there’s even a Facebook page for the event. This event focuses on open-pollinated tomatoes suitable for Chicago , in addition to seasonal organic vegetables, herbs and flowers.

The plant sale is from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. on both days at 3501 N. Kilbourn Ave., just west of Milwaukee Ave. and Addison St. This year they are asking our patrons to help them and the environment by bringing their own tray or box for carrying plants. It’s a pretty darned reasonable request.

Sustainable Food Fundamentals is sponsored this week 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.