January 14, 2018 – The Threat to Organics

Keepin’ it fresh this winter

We’ve said it before but it bears repeating. Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean that you have to give up on fresh vegetables. And, no, we’re not talking about the stuff that gets shipped in to the mega-stores from California and Florida.

Just the other day, we received a message from Janie Maxwell, executive director of the Illinois Farmers Market Association (ILFMA), who was on The Mike Nowak Show last June. Now, however, she is promoting winter farmers markets in Chicago.

You don’t have to wait for spring for fresh farm products, including produce! I don’t think most people are aware there are winter markets and that many of our northern Illinois growers use season extension to extend the growing season.  And, winter markets continue to connect customers to meat, chicken, eggs and other vendors that have product available.  Winter markets are growing in the area. 

That’s one way of putting it. According to ILFMA, lllinois ranks 3rd in the nation for total number of farmers markets, with more than 500 unique markets across the state. And many of those markets are now open through the winter, too, though often with scaled back schedules.

ILFMA has created a program which they describe as an “innovative state-wide resource that connects farmers markets, market producers and market patrons in one information-packed location.” It’s called ConnectFresh Illinois and its benefits include a searchable map, info on what’s in season, profiles of farmers markets along with data…and it’s FREE.

Speaking of What’s in Season, that’s the name of the handy app that ILFMA is promoting, which allows your device location or Zip code to find produce that’s in season.

Janie Maxwell is back on the show today, fresh off of her appearance at the Illinois Specialty Growers Conference in Springfield, Illinois. This time via Skype, she talks to Mike and Peggy about winter farmers markets in Illinois. Meanwhile, Peggy put together a quick list of markets in the Chicago area that you might find helpful.

  • 2017 Farmers Market at North Shore Congregation Israel in Glencoe

    Faith in Place – Each winter, from November through March, Faith in Place partners with faith communities to host a series of indoor farmers markets on Saturdays and Sundays.

  • 61st St Farmer’s Market – 2018: January 13, February 10, March 10, April 14 at the Experimental Station: 61st Street between Dorchester and Blackstone avenues, Entry is on Blackstone Avenue.
  • Logan Square – 2755 N. Milwaukee Ave. (the old Pierre’s Bakery building). 10AM-3PM. Sundays November 5 through March 25, 2018. (excluding November 26th, December 24th and December 31st). Logan Square Indoor Farmers Market offers produce grown through sustainable or organic methods, plus cheeses and baked goods. Area chefs offer prepared food to eat on the spot. This market also offers live entertainment. LINK Accepted & Double Value Program through March 2018.
  • Green City Market – Peggy Notebaert Museum, 2430 N. Cannon Drive, Chicago; 8AM-1PM. Saturdays; November 4 through April 28, 2018. Green City Market has been bringing locally and sustainably produced vegetables, fruits, meats, and artisan foods to Chicago since 1998. Growers are required to be 3rd party certified for sustainable practices.
  • Plant Chicago – First Saturday of the Month October 2017 –May 2018 11am-3pm
  • City of Evanston Indoor Farmer’s Market -8 a.m. to noon on Saturdays from December 2 through April 28. Evanston Ecology Center
  • Palatine Indoor Market – 1st and 3rd Saturdays at the Palatine Train Station, November through April, 8 a.m. to Noon
  • Village of Homewood Indoor Farmers Market – Jan. 27, Feb. 24 | Mar. 31 | April 28 in 2018, 8 AM – Noon, Marie Irwin Center.
  • Palos Heights -FALL/WINTER MARKET at the Palos Heights Recreation Center, 6601 W. 127th Street, 8 a.m. to 12:00 Noon on select Saturdays. Free parking available. The dates are: November 18, December 16, January 20, February 17, March 10, and April 21.

The world of Charlie Nardozzi

As you will hear, starting on today’s show, the Chicago Flower & Garden Show isn’t that far off. Once again, The Mike Nowak Show will be broadcasting live from the event, on Sunday, March 18. We’ll also be doing some Facebook live videos during the Flower Show, most likely from the Evening in Bloom gala on Tuesday, March 13.

Probably the most significant change from past shows is that the event has been condensed from 9 days to 5–March 14 through March 18. This is in keeping with how most of the garden shows in the country operate, and will undoubtedly be a welcome change to many vendors, who have found the 9-day event to be grueling. But it does mean that you’ll need to take that into consideration when making your plans to visit the show.

Peggy and Mike will be doing a joint presentation on Friday, March 16 called What’s Important and How To Find It, during which we’ll show you how to track down accurate and helpful gardening information. On the same day, a guy named Charlie Nardozzi will be doing a presentation called The Container Revolution about innovative containers for balconies, patios, decks and indoors with a focus on the attractiveness and productivity.

Somewhat coincidentally, Charlie is on today’s show to talk about that appearance at the Chicago Flower & Garden Show, but also to let us know about an upcoming webinar that he will be presenting. More on that in a moment. But we need to take a minute to check out Charlie’s credentials. If you look at his website, you will see that not only is a writer, speaker, TV personality, garden coach and consultant, but he hosts THREE radio shows in New England. Okay, now you’re just showing off, pal.

But because I’m not the kind of guy who says “my radio show is bigger than your radio show,” I’ll just move on to the Foodscape Gardening Webinar that Charlie is presenting on February 1 from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. EST. Charlies says that foodscaping is just another way of saying “edible landscaping,” and if you join him on webinar, you’ll learn

  • Where to grow foodscape plants in your yard
  • How to substitute ornamental plants with foodscape plants and not sacrifice beauty
  • Some design techniques to make your foodscape more beautiful
  • Examples of some foodscape yards
  • Charlie’s favorite veggies, flowers, herbs, berries and fruits for your yard

He joins us on today’s show to preview that webinar but also to talk about what you should be doing to plan your spring garden now. And if you are interested in growing exotic plants, how about citrus? If we have time, we’ll chat with Charlie about How to Grow: Citrus…even in the Midwest.

The organics label under fire

Until very recently, I had never heard of Francis Thicke, PhD. That’s my fault, not his.

A cursory examination shows that he has extensive knowledge and experience in the area of organics. His bio on the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service site notes that he has Ph.D. in Agronomy/Soil Fertility from the University of Illinois and a Master’s degree in Soil Science from the University of Minnesota.

He has also been an organic farmer for over 30 years, and he “has been active in many organic and environmental organizations including the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission, the Leopold Group Sierra Club in Southeast Iowa, Food Democracy Now, the Organic Farming Research Foundation and the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service.”

And, with that, the USDA is just getting started.

They list his position as National Program Leader for Soil Science at the USDA Extension Service and reveal that he was named the 2012 Farmer of the Year by the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service, and is a current member of the Cornucopia Institute’s Policy Advisory Panel.

So when a man like this says that the “organic label is at risk,” one would be wise to pay attention. Thicke recently stepped down from the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) following a five-year term. And he’s not going quietly.

He made this statement upon leaving the NOSB and followed it up with an op-ed piece in The Hill. Here are a few snippets from the latter article.

The interests of big business and industrialized agriculture are having an outsized and growing influence on the organic standards, compared to the waning influence of organic farmers, who started the organic farming movement. Perhaps that is not surprising.

As organic food is becoming a $50 billion business, big business not only wants a bigger piece of the pie, they seem to want the whole pie.

He lists several ways that he thinks the integrity of the organic label is being compromised:

We now have “organic” Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) for chickens, with as many as 200,000 chickens crammed into a building with no real access to the outdoors…

We have “organic” dairy CAFOs with 15,000 cows in a desert feedlot…

A rapidly growing percentage of the fruits and vegetables labeled “organic” on grocery store shelves are being produced hydroponically, without soil, and mostly in huge industrial-scale facilities, according to the USDA hydroponic task force. And the hydroponics industry has deceptively renamed “hydroponic” production — with 100 percent liquid feeding — as “container” production.

Indeed, on November 1, 2017, the NOSB decreed that hydroponic and container gardens could be certified as organic. And it’s a decision that could split the organics industry in two:

At its core, say those activists, organic food is about an entire ecosystem: taking care of the soil, recharging nutrients with crop rotation, providing for natural pollinators and pest control. It is a way for farming, which can often be ecologically destructive, to work with the planet. And massive hydroponic and container operations like Driscoll’s do not do that: they are willfully separate from the environment. They do not contribute to soil health (partly because they don’t use soil) nor to the overall health of the natural world. For their part, those companies say that they following the rules in terms of pesticide use and therefore should be allowed to use the label. Organic activists say this is a loophole—a way to get the big bucks an organic label can secure by follow the letter, rather than the spirit, of the law.

Thicke makes it clear which side he is on:

With that clever trick they have been able to, based on my experience on the NOSB, bamboozle even the majority of NOSB members into complicity with their goal of taking over the organic fruit and vegetable market with their hydroponic products.

And his statements don’t necessarily take into account fraudulent activity such as the shipment in 2016 of 36 million pounds of conventionally grown soybeans that originated in Ukraine, made its way through Turkey and ended up in California with an “organic” label slapped on it. According to the Washington Post,

“The U.S. market is the easiest for potentially fraudulent organic products to penetrate because the chances of getting caught here are not very high,” said John Bobbe, executive director of the Organic Farmers’ Agency for Relationship Marketing, or OFARM, a farmer cooperative. In Europe and Canada, he said, import rules for organics are much stricter.

Moreover, even when the USDA has responded to complaints of questionable imports, action has come too late to prevent the products from reaching consumers.

But that may be another issue altogether, as far as I know. Regardless, Thicke has a warning for consumers:

There is a growing pressure from big business to weaken the organic standards in order to increase their profits. It is incumbent on organic farmers and organic consumers to work together to maintain the integrity of organic food and to be vigilant and active against the efforts of big business to put profits over organic integrity.

It is our pleasure to have Francis Thicke, PhD on The Mike Nowak Show this morning.