Of funding fights, GMOs and “Beetniks”

May 15, 2011

Update on funding for Illinois Extension

The budget negotiations continue in Springfield and the amount of funding for Illinois Extension is still up in the air, though things look more promising than they did a week ago. Last Sunday, I talked about how Extension lost $7.6 million for Fiscal Year 2011. That meant that the number of units across the state were reduced from 76 to 27, counties were forced to combine operations with neighboring counties, and 120 academic professional positions were cut. Last week, it looked as though Extension might suffer even more cuts for FY2012.

This week, the numbers look better. On May 13, both the House and Senate passed their versions of the Department of Agriculture’s budget. As you can see below, there are some differences. The House version is House Bill 124 (HB124), House Amendment #1 and the Senate version is Senate Bill 2408 (SB2408, Senate Amendment #6. Here are the Extension numbers for those competing versions:

County Board Match:

Governor’s Proposed Level – $10,800,000
House Version – $10,800,000
Senate Version – $10,000,000

Youth Educator:

Governor’s Proposed Level – $1,047,100
House Version – $994,700
Senate Version – $1,047,100

Cook County Initiative:

Governor’s Proposed Level – $2,893,900
House Version – $2,749,200
Senate Version – $0

Now the House and Senate will hammer out the final numbers that will result in a bill being submitted to Governor Pat Quinn. As you can see above, the real hit seems to be in the allocation to Cook County, which the Senate version zeroes out completely. Speaking as a Cook County Master Gardener, I think that would be a shame. As Beth Botts points out in her excellent blog post on the subject, Cook County contains 40 percent of the state population. Because Cook County Extension serves so many people and does so much good work, it’s only fair that more money be alloted here. After all, the Cook County Initiative was at $5 million until last year. There has been plenty of belt-tightening in the unit already, and eliminating the the special monies would certainly gut many local programs.

Pam Weber is a spokesperson for Extension Partners, a group dedicated to furthering the work of Illinois Extension. She stops by the show to bring me–and you–up to speed on what is likely to happen in Springfield in the next couple of weeks. You can view the bills and amendments at the General Assembly website www.ilga.gov. Enter the bill number and then click on “full text” at the top of the page and then the amendment number.

Of course, there’s still time to contact your legislators to make your voice heard. Please do.

GMOs: Time for truth in labeling?

Sometimes it seems as though GMOs are a tidal wave that will eventually wash over and obliterate any vestiges of organic growing in America. In January, the Obama Administration surprised and disappointed many supporters of organic food when USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack okayed the planting of genetically altered alfalfa without restrictions. Little more than a week later, the green light was given to Monsanto’s GE sugar beets. To some people, it signaled the beginning of the end for organics in America.

However, the organic industry continues to fight back. In March, a group of organic farmers and food activists, with the help of the not-for-profit law center The Public Patent Foundation, turned the tables on Monsanto. They sued the agricultural giant, which has a history of taking farmers to court for patent infrigement when Monsanto’s GE seeds drift onto the farmers’ lands. The activists hope that their lawsuit will put an end to Monsanto’s “patent infringement” cases.

Another area where consumers are starting to make themselves heard is in the area of labeling food products that contain GMOs.If you believe several polls that have been taken on this issue, somewhere around 90% of Americans want labels on GMO food. The Non-GMO Project is North America’s only third party verification and labeling for non-GMO food and products.(The European Union already requires labels on GE foods.) And now the Organic Consumers Association, is calling attention to the fact that “the overwhelming majority of non-organic processed foods currently sold in the U.S. contain unlabeled Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) derived from GE soybeans, corn, canola, sugar beets, cottonseed oil, or growth hormones.”

Alexis Baden-Mayer, Political Director of the OCA, just made a shopping trip to the Whole Foods Market at 1550 N. Kingsbury Street in Chicago. On Tuesday, she will dumpher purchases in front of that store in an effort to get the nation’s grocers to voluntarily adopt Truth-in-Labeling practices for non-organic foods sold in their stores.

She is also appearing at 5th annual Chicago Green Festival, which is in its second and final day at McCormick Place.Some highlights include:

• Twelve thematic Pavilion/Stages areas including the Main Stage, Mother Earth News Pavilion, Green Business Pavilion, Green Building & Renewable Energy Pavilion, Fair Trade Pavilion, Green Living Stage, Sustainable Home & Organic Gardening Pavilion, Green Kids Zone, Community Action Pavilion, Yoga & Movement, Music Stage and Green Cinema.
• Organic Food Court with Local Restaurants and the Organic Beer & Wine Garden
• Green Festival’s Café and Store

Note: for the past two days, I have been unable to log onto the Green Festival Chicago site. Perhaps they’re having issues. Just an FYI.

Sustainable Food Fundamentals: Are you a “Beetnik”?

The 2011 Farmers Markets season just kicked into high gear this week with the start of the 32nd Chicago Farmers Market season. So this is the perfect time for Rob Gardner to stop into the beautiful showcase studio on South Pulaski Road to talk about what’s new at his blogsite, The Local Beet.

Rob says that there are a bunch of new “Beetniks” on board–new market correspondents, CSA subscribers and more. But he’s really proud of the site’s New Local Beet Farmer’s Market Locator, which includes over 110 markets. It focuses on Chicago markets, as well as places like Evanston and Oak Park. It also currently include some markets from Wisconsin, they expect to add more markets from downstate Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan.

Sustainable Food Fundamentals is sponsored 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.

Garden Writers Association launches GRO 1000

Because I have been known to do some garden writing from time to time (sometimes even on this very page!), I am a proud member of the Garden Writers Association. One of the best things about GWA is their Plant A Row for the Hungry program, which is all about getting folks to donate surplus garden produce to local food banks, soup kitchens, and service organizations to help feed America’s hungry.

Now GWA and Plant a Row have teamed with ScottsMiracle-Gro, Keep America Beautiful, National Gardening Association and Franklin Park Conservatory (Columbus, Ohio) to develop and install 1,000 community gardens and green spaces in the U.S., Canada and Europe by 2018.

This Thursday, May 19, work will begin on one of those gardens, as land is reclaimed from two unused tennis courts in Chicago’s Gage Park on the southwest side. In their place will be a series of edible gardens, a sensory garden and a bird habitat. The new gardens will be integrated into the Chicago Park District’s Harvest Garden Program, which focuses on in-depth edible gardening education for children. And in the spirit of Plant A Row for the Hungry, a portion of the Gage Park garden harvests will be donated to a local food pantry.

But wait! There’s more! ScottsMiracle-Gro is also supporting two Chicago-area gardens through its GRO 1000 Grassroots Grants program, including the Iron Street Urban Farm Project, which will transform an abandoned seven-acre industrial warehouse to a sustainable garden, and an Inspiration Kitchen project, which will create a 2,000 sq.ft. edible garden in Garfield Park.

Congratulations to all involved!