June 12, 2016 – Victory Farming in Naperville; De-Lighting the Night in Chicago

The Heroes of Veterans Victory Farms in Naperville

Veronica Porter grew up in Naperville when it was still considered a small farm town.  She caught the end of an era when you grew, gathered and prepared your own food.  It was a time that you learned from your elders, explored with your friends and followed in the footsteps of time worn traditions.

The words above are Veronica Porter‘s own. The values that she learned growing up west of Chicago stuck with her and made her want to share her knowledge about organic gardening, cooking, and food preservation.

In fact, that’s how I first met her. Veronica and I were both on the docket at Good Greens, a group that is run through the Midwest Regional Office of the USDA Food and Nutrition Service.  At that meeting in downtown Chicago, she introduced me to Ask Aunt V, which at the time was a restaurant and has now morphed into a cooking school.

She also told me about another project she was working on that intrigued me–the idea of creating Veterans Victory Farm:

The Mission of Veterans Victory Farms is to provide local, organic, Veterans Victory Farm 2heirloom variety produce, fresh picked daily, using regenerative, permaculture growing methods. The purpose of the farms is to provide training and employment for recently discharged Veterans, including Veterans suffering from Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and young men and women who are highly capable with special needs or hidden disabilities.

In addition, Veterans Victory Farm is a member of Illinois Homegrown By Heroes and the Farmers Veteran Coalition.

Meanwhile, in the far away land known as Chicago, people continue to grow food as well, but sometimes it requires more than just putting a seed in the ground and watering. Sometimes it requires a million dollars or more to dig out the existing soil, which is often Englewood farms 1contaminated, truck in a few tons crushed stone, then cover with another few tons of compost.

That’s what our own Patrick Barry reports on the Chicago Farm Report in a story called How Chicago preps vacant land for farms. If you’ve ever gardened in your own backyard, I think you’ll find it fascinating that larger institutions often need to jump through hoops of flaming manure just to get the land prepared properly.

Along that line, he also writes about the changing landscape of Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood.  He writes:

A business plan created by Englewood stakeholders and farm-support organizations envisions a collection of job-producing farms along the future Englewood Line Nature Trail, between 58th and 59th Streets in Chicago.

The Englewood Community Farms Prospectus and Business Plan, published by NeighborSpace and Grow Greater Englewood, calls for the cleanup and reuse of vacant properties on either side of a 1.7-mile elevated rail viaduct between Wallace Avenue on the east and Hoyne on the west.

Finally, Patrick takes us out to DeKalb, Illinois, where Patty Ruback has discovered that living in a town surrounded by farms–even if it’s a college town–isn’t necessarily the best place to easily purchase local food. The story is called Eat Local DeKalb, and he reports on that on today’s show, too.

Our last best chance to see stars in the Chicago night sky

It’s been a couple of years since Audrey Fischer was on The Mike Nowak Show. Audrey is a huge fan of our planet’s environment–but mostly because she wants it to be a little darker. And I completely agree! When I see photos of our planet at night, it makes me cringe. A lot of folks see a “jewel bedecked ornament in the vastness of space.” Okay, I just made up that quote.

But the problem is not looking at the earth from space. The problem is looking at space from earth. Meaning that you can’t see it. You can’t see stars. You can’t see planets. You can’t see comets. You might be able to see the asteroid that kills us all, but your post will never make it to Instagram because you’ll be dead.

But back to why we can’t see the Milky Way in our night skies, especially in big cities.  It’s because we don’t know how to–or we’re not interested in–controlling the direction in which we spread the light that illuminates our streets and homes. Which results in “light pollution.” Which results in kids who have no idea what a constellation is.

Which is why, when the City of Chicago announced that it was launching something called the Chicago Smart Lighting Project, which will “upgrade” more than 270,000 of the city’s street, alley and park lights to more reliable and higher-quality LED lighting, Audrey and her colleagues realized that this might be the last chance for generations to get it right. That is to say, to direct the lighting so that it didn’t cause unneeded sky glow, and would allow Chicago citizens to once again see the stars the way their parents and grandparents did.

So Audrey launched a Change.org petition called Bring Back Chicago’s Starry Night With Responsible City Lighting, which you can still sign, and I hope you do! It asks the City to

  • do away with the mandate of Chicago lights to shine from  the streetlights to the “keyhole of the front door” of the typical Chicago home.
  • avoid the bright white blue-rich color spectrum of LED lights
  • shield street lamps so light shines only downward
  • use timers, dimming and “smart grid” technologyStarry Night.

And they might be getting help  from a  group of students at Amundsen High School in Chicago. Their Starry Chicago project qualified them to compete nationally at the Aspen Ideas Festival. In a competition that featured 20 Chicago Public School high schools, Amundsen created a program that they hope “educates the community about the importance of preserving the night sky and that advocates for dark-sky friendly policies.”

They are accompanied by Colleen Murray, their teacher and coach on the Starry Chicago project.

Also joining us is Diane Turnshek, a faculty member in the Physics Department of Carnegie Mellon University, where she teaches astronomy. Carnegie Mellon’s Remaking Cities Institute (RCI) recently worked with the City of Pittsburgh on a study called the LED Street Light Research Project when the city announced that it intended to replace its entire inventory of40,000 street lights with light-emitting diode (LED) fixtures over a five to ten year period.

About a year ago, she did a TEDxPittsburgh talk called “De-Light the Night (Light Pollution Solutions), which you can watch here.

She is a member of the International Astronomical UnionCommission but she says her real passion is writing science fiction fantasy and horror stories. She runs Alpha, a workshop for teens who like to write genre fiction.

I am very excited about having these smart, concerned people on my show this Sunday. Please tune in!