New studios, social justice and Starved Rock

January 8, 2012

New studios! And a new call-in number: 773-763-9278

I need a new introduction to my radio show. The one that talks about being midway between Zacatacos and Paco’s Tacos is now obsolete. As of January 7, Chicago’s Progressive Talk is now on the north side of town…which means that I will get a lot of grief from my south side friends. By the way, we have a whole slew of new phone numbers, so if you’re a regular listener, you might want to keep this link handy.

And while we’re not exactly in a glass bubble on Michigan Avenue, we are now housed in pretty-much state of the art digs at our new location on Milwaukee Avenue, midway between Lido Banquets and Andy’s Deli & Mikolajczyk Sausage Shop, which is a lot harder to pronounce, especially if your Polish is as bad as mine.

And on this first day in the new studio, I have the honor of not only doing my own show, but filling in for Mike Sanders, host of Our Town. It’s a little complicated, but in a nutshell, Mike also serves as engineer on Sunday mornings. And since we’re in a new studio with new equipment, we thought it would be a good idea to keep Mike as undistracted as possible by things like, oh, a show and guests and phone calls and that sort of thing. So Mike will be playing technical geek while I’m on the air. Works for me.

I’ll be joined by Mike’s co-host, Julia Shu, who has promised to read one of her famous lists of the interesting, the odd and the ridiculous. And, in a kind of Self-Help Sunday reunion, Ron Cowgill of Mighty House has promised to stop by and chat about green home improvements. And even though we have barely experienced winter in Chicago, I want to talk to him about keeping your walks and driveways free of ice and snow. Our very own Beth Botts wrote about this in Chicagoland Gardening Magazine. And recently, I saw another article by the Chicago Botanic Garden‘s Tim Johnson in the Chicago Tribune.

But what really intrigued me was a product that Ron mentioned on his Saturday show called Propellant 49. The website looks like it was put together by a high school graphics student on a five minute deadline. Sorry, but look at it yourself. And it doesn’t help that NOWHERE on the site can I find the active–or even ANY–listed ingredient. Hmm. We’ll chat about that, too. I hope you tune in.

KAM Isaiah Israel puts food–and social justice–on the table

It was two years ago that I first met Robert Nevel, architect and chair of KAM Isaiah Israel‘s Social Justice Committee. I’m not exactly sure how he discovered my show, but he was eager to tell me about the Hyde Park congregation’s food justice and sustainability program, including their gardens, education advocacy programs, interfaith outreach, and young leadership summer program. Mostly, he wanted to promote their first Martin Luther King, Jr. Social Justice Weekend, featuring respected speakers and seminars on food justice, urban farming and the environment.

Fast forward to 2012 and the third annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Social Justice Weekend.Nevel and his colleagues have long since earned my utmost respect. I’ve watched the garden at their congregation expand and mature, and I’ve seen them spread the gospel, so to speak, of growing your own. They have, with their harvests and their White Rock Gleaning program, delivered thousands of pounds of fresh produce to local soup kitchens and shelters, even dragging me along to help.

So it’s a pleasure to have Robert Nevel back on the show today, along with Doriane C. Miller, M.D., Director of the Center for Community Health and Vitality at the University of Chicago Medical Center. Dr. Miller is presenting the keynote address on Friday evening, January 13, “Health and Food Justice: Observations from the South Side.” Here’s what the entire weekend looks like:

Friday, January 13: 

8:00 PM:  Shabbat Service
9:00 PM:  Lecture: “Health and Food Justice:  Observations from the South Side”

Saturday, January 14: 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.

Panel Discussion: “From Plant to Plate – Distribution of Locally Grown Food”

Sunday, January 15: 11:00 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.

Workshops:  “From Plant to Plate – Practical Learning” – 18 Workshops and Presentations with Lunch and Cooking Demonstrations at Noon

All events are free and open to the public  Pre-Registration is strongly recommended for the Sunday workshops, as class space is limited.  You can RSVP for workshops here.

Still working to save Starved Rock State Park

When I first reported on this story on December 18, the LaSalle County zoning board of appeals had just approved a sand-mining operation on a 350 acre parcel of what is now farm land just south of the town of Ottawa. The problem is that the land is adjacent to one of the most visited natural areas in Illinois, Starved Rock State Park.

The vote was unanimous, despite the fact that so many people turned out to the meeting that it had to be moved to a larger location and then held over two days. In the wake of that meeting, I interviewed Jack Darin, director of the Illinois Sierra Club, which urged people to write to the LaSalle County Board and tell them to reject the zoning board’s decision. A couple of local residents, geologist Mike Phillips and city planner Debbie Burns, echoed that sentiment, citing damage that an open pit sand mine could do to wetlands and to the quality of the experience for visitors to Starved Rock. The good news: Jack Darin tells me that 6,000 people have taken action this week at this site.

One would hope that the average county board member, after receiving 6,000 requests, might get the idea that people feel passionately about an issue. Still, the prognosis might not be that good for a happy environmental ending. My sources have told me that they expect the full board to rubber stamp the zoning board’s vote, regardless of the growing controvery surrounding this decision. Even though this part of Illinois, and north into Wisconsin, are prime areas to mine silica that is used in fracking, more and more citizens and environmental groups are challenging the industry’s argument that the mining work has minimal impact on surrounding lands.

With the full board’s vote scheduled for Thursday, January 12, LaSalle county residents have started to organize opposition to the proposed Mississippi Sand LLC operation. A number of those people are joining me on the show today: John McKee, President of the the Starved Rock Audubon Society; Daphne Mitchell of the Illinois River Coordinating Council; Joseph Standing Bear from Midwest Soarring Foundation; Merlin Calhoun, whose LaSalle county property is in the firing line of the proposed sand mine; Tracy Fox, activist and technical writer, who reportedly spoke eloquently but futilely at the zoning board meeting; Katie Dumke Troccoli, who is helping to organize a rally against the decision tomorrow in Ottawa; and perhaps more.

As I dig deeper and deeper into this issue, I have a number of questions, some of which I hope can be answered on this morning’s program:

  • I have been told that, in Illinois, once the zoning board votes, it is a done deal. Really? Then why bother with a vote of the full board?
  • I have also been told that the County Board fears being sued by Mississippi Sand, should it rule against the company. Again, I ask: Really? On what grounds? Exercising its municipal rights and duties?
  • There is a deal currently being considered for a sand mine in Utica, too. That operation would be north of the Illinois River, whereas Starved Rock is south of the river. How many other operations are being considered and how many ecologically sensitive areas would they affect?
  • How will archeologically important and sacred indigenous areas be affected? Perhaps Joseph Standing Bear will have some answers.
  • Apparently, there have been no permits yet requested for the operation, perhaps because it hasn’t been officially approved. Is this significant?
  • Lt. Governor Sheila Simon’s chief of staff Deirdre “DK” Hirner will reportedly be at Thursday’s board meeting. Does this mean that the Governor’s office plans to get involved in this controvesy?
  • How many jobs will be created by this operation? The numbers I keep hearing are 38 or 39. Is that right? Ransoming the future of the “jewel” of the Illinois State Park system for 39 jobs? What about the jobs in the park that will be lost if key parts of that land are degraded and people start staying away?
  • Finally, where is the money trail? My sources tell me that the county stands to make very little money on this deal. I’m told that the taxes raised on this parcel will be insignificant. So how is the county benefitting? Who’s making the money?

As I mentioned earlier, there is a rally Sunday at 2:00 p.m. at Jordan Block (Main and LaSalle St) in downtown Ottawa. Concerned citizens are being asked to ring signs, candles, and solidarity to the event. More information, including a map, is available on the event Facebook page.

One Seed Chicago update: Mike is still deciding

For those of you who are wondering which seed I have decided to favor in the One Seed Chicago 2012 competition, I’m still deciding. The choice is among basil, chamomile and cilantro, and I’m still waiting to be bribed to throw my support to one of them. In the event that nobody wants to bribe me, I will make a sudden, petulant decision, then throw my entire media empire behind one of the seeds.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

And don’t forget to recycle your holiday trees and lights

I have no idea what Chi-Town Cheapskate is, but I give them kudos for putting together a one-stop shopping guide to recycling not just Christmas trees, but the lights, too. So in the interest of giving credit where credit is due, I’m posting the link to their recycling article, mainly because, unlike most of the stories I’ve seen, they also include suburban locations. Good on you, Chi-Town Cheapskate, whatever you are.