Organic gardens and toxic chemicals

July 21, 2013

From the Ground Up: not your average foodie book

If you’ve ever visited The Edible Gardens at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo, or been to the country’s first organic rooftop farm on top of Uncommon Ground Restaurant on Devon Avenue, you’ve seen the handiwork of Jeanne Nolan.

She is also the the founder of The Organic Gardener Ltd., which has designed and installed vegetable gardens on rooftops, in schoolyards, and in suburban backyards all around Chicago. So you might think that she’s just another foodie…and you would be wrong.

She and I appeared together on a panel a couple of years ago for the Good Food Festival in Chicago. I only wish I had known then what I know now about her background, which is revealed in her new (and first) book, FROM THE GROUND UP: A Food Grower’s Education in Life, Love and the Movement That’s Changing the Nation (Spiegel & Grau Hardcover).

If you pick up this book (and I suggest you do), don’t assume that you’re opening just another “how to” publication about growing food, though Jeanne has plenty of gardening wisdom to share. For instance:

[G]rowing plants need a minimum of six hours of sun a day, eight or more if possible. When growing in the lower range of sun exposure, it’s safe to plant beans, peas, herbs, all of the leafy grens, and some small fruiting plants such as cherry tomatoes and cucumbers. In these limited-sun gardens, seedlings and big seeds (for peas and beans) do best; tiny seeds often don’t come up. I’ve found that carrots, potatoes, and other root vegetables need at least eight hours of sunshine, and plants such as tomatoes, peppers, melons and squash will not produce large fruits that ripen to color without full sun. Plants draw energy from sunlight, and producing a large, colorful fruit requires much more energy than producing a small fruit or leafy vegetable.

She also weighs in on environmental issues, which, as I often say, cannot be disconnected from the food we eat:

It’s a stunning fact that roughly forty known carcinogens are currently used a ingredients in EPA-approved pesticides. Moreover, on average,, eighteen new pesticides are submitted to the EPA for approval each year. The approval process hinges on a disturbing cost-benefit analysis: The agency green-lights new chemicals if it decides that the “benefits” of their crop and economic yield outweigh the potential “costs” to health and the environment. What’s worse, chemical manufacturers often claim that they can’t publicly reveal the ingrediients in their products because it’s proprietary inormaiton, which makes it “almost impossible,” according to the Department of Health and Human Services report, “for scientists and environmentalists to challenge the release of new chemicals.”

You wouldn’t guess from the above passages that the story itself is a kind of “tell all,” but it is Jeanne herself who is revealed, as she struggles to find her place in a world she had once utterly rejected and suddenly finds herself on the crest of the local food wave.

I can appreciate the circuitous route that her life has taken–if only because I feel as though I have been a traveler on a similar path. Of course, I didn’t end up on a commune for 17 years, as she did with Zendik Farm, and was faced with reinventing a life that she felt had come to a dead end. On the other hand, that was where she learned and refined her organic gardening skills, which would prove so valuable when she returned to what the commune called the “death culture” of modern society.

Basically, it’s a great story and you will find it hard to put down.

If you pick up the book only for the Appendix with “Ten Lists of Ten Essentials for Every Aspiring Gardener,” you will have made a wise choice. I’m very pleased to have Jeanne Nolan on the show today to talk about FROM THE GROUND UP: A Food Grower’s Education in Life, Love and the Movement That’s Changing the Nation.

Unacceptable Levels…why do we put up with them?

Jeanne Nolan is just one of thousands of people who rail against the use of toxic and unnecessary chemicals in our air, water and food every day. And yet, it often seems as if too few peoplel are paying attention–and those people are not the ones making our laws.

Another one of those people is filmmaker Ed Brown, who has created Unacceptable Levels, documentary that attemps to examine why we allow some 80,000 different chemicals to be unleashed in our environment, often without regulation or real understanding of how they affect us–singularly and in combination with each other.

Ed was moved to make this film basically because of two things: he started a family and he started asking questions. Along the way, he talks to people like

  • Ralph Nader
  • Dr. Devra Lee Davis, Founder and President, The Environmental Health Trust
  • Stacy Malkan, Co-Founder of The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics
  • Ken Cook, President and Co-Founder, The Environmental Working Group
  • Christopher Gavigan, Former CEO of Healthy Child Healthy World and CPO of The Honest Company
  • Dr. William Hirzy, Chemist in Residence, American University
  • Dr. Richard Clapp, Professor of Environmental Health, Boston University
  • Dr. Tyrone Hayes, Biologist, The University of California Berkeley
  • Jeffrey Hollender, Former CEO, Seventh Generation
  • Randy Hayes, Founder, Rainforest Action Network

and more.

The film is having its Chicago premiere this Wednesday, July 24, at 7:30 p.m. at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), 220 E. Chicago Avenue. Tickets are $12. Ed Brown will be there after the film to answer questions. If you want to spend some extra cash and be part of a 6:30 p.m. pre-event cocktail reception featuring Ed Brown and actress eco/activist Mariel Hemingway, that will cost you $75.

You can also follow the film on Facebook. Ed Brown joins us on the show today.

Tree Talk w/ The Care of Trees: Time for dormant pruning already?

Well, no, it’s not. It’s just time to start thinking about dormant pruning.

That’s why certified arborist David Horvath, who is with my sponsor, The Care of TreesA Davey Company, is on the show today to urge you to think ahead to the winter, when it’s easier to prune trees, for a number of reasons. Here are three:

  • Visible Branching Patterns
    The absence of leaves allows the branching patterns of trees to be easily seen. One of the major benefits of pruning is improved tree structure. Crossing branches and weak
    crotches are more visible during the winter months. This enables the arborist to correct faults and help the tree to grow into a safer tree with a better form.
  • Increased Growth Response
    When a portion of a tree’s canopy is removed during the dormant season, we often notice an increase in new growth from the remaining branches. This occurs because the energy stored in the roots and branches is channeled to fewer growth points. Because the same amount of energy is spread among fewer growth points, each new shoot grows a little more than it would have if the tree had not been pruned.
  • Improved Equipment Access
    The cost of dragging brush or cutting up and carrying large logs out of a yard can often amount to a substantial percentage of the total job cost. During the winter months, equipment can often be moved closer to the trees being pruned. This is possible because the frozen ground is not as vulnerable to injury caused by heavy equipment. Frozen ground can mean the difference in allowing a chipper or log loader immediate access to debris, thereby
    reducing costs.

We’ll cover more when David Horvath stops by today to explain why now is a good time to put dormant pruning on your schedule.

Sheffield and Dearborn Garden Walks are today

Just a reminder that today is the second and final day of the 45th Annual Sheffield Garden Walk and Music Festival.

A $7 suggested donation gets you in–$10 after 3pm. As I mentioned last week in my talk with co-Chair Laury Lewis, this event features more than 90 gardens to view, but it many people think about the music. Here’s today’s lineup:

July 21
6:00 pm – Big Sam’s Funky Nation
3:45 pm – Flow Tribe
2:00 pm – Funkadesi
12:30 pm – School of Rock

It’s all organized by the Sheffield Neighborhood Association and its more than 450 volunteers. The not-for-profit association provides support for neighborhood schools, local institutions and community projects. In addition, proceeds are allocated to the association’s Beautification Program, a 7 – 10 year plan to maintain Sheffield as the Garden District of Chicago.

The Dearborn Garden Walk is the grandaddy of Chicago garden walks, celebrating its 55th year in 2013. There’s always a theme associated with this event, and this year it is the life and works of Nobel Prize winning author Ernest Hemingway. Today’s walk is from 12pm-5pm. Tickets are $35 at the gate.

So what exactly does it mean to have a Hemingway-themed garden walk? The North Dearborn Association describes it this way:

During the walk, guests will have the opportunity to follow the adventurous and well-documented life and times of Ernest Hemingway as they tour garden vignettes inspired by his life and works. Chicago designers are set to create dramatic outdoor spaces utilizing a variety of outdoor tables, chairs, colorful cushions, linens, floral decorations, and other accessories including fine china, crystal, and flatware. From Cuba, Paris, and Spain with a nod to Oak Park, Illinois, this will certainly be a most spectacular interpretation of all things Hemingway.

I hope you have the opportunity to attend at least one of these great Chicago traditions.