Saving the Garfield Park Conservatory, cruising on the Chicago River, and documenting food issues

July 3, 2011

Five minutes of hail = five million dollars of damage

I heard a noise on Thursday evening. It was coming from the back of the house. “Now what?” I thought. Remember, mine is a neighborhood where gang bangers shoot craps on the sidewalk in front of my 89-year-old neighbor’s house (I watched this happen on Thursday). Where the fire hydrant at the end of block, which was going to be the source of water for our community garden, has now become a gang-themed water park for this block and many others in the area. Where my most loathed holiday of the year is the Fourth of July because I know that most of the fireworks that are sold in Indiana will end up on my block.

With all of that in mind, I made a move toward the back door. Then I heard a noise in the front. Then on the skylight. Then on the roof. Then…everywhere. It wasn’t squirrels, it wasn’t gang bangers (who often behave like squirrels), it was…hail. Not just any hail. This was the hail that you see in news stories that you’ve never experienced. Golf-ball-sized hail. I always thought that was an exaggeration. A myth.

Now I was watching it cover the sidewalk and street and litter both with leaves and branches. It was scary. In my neighborhood, it lasted no more than five or seven minutes. That was all it took to wreak havoc on my personal garden (the hostas are toast) and on our community garden, Green on McLean. The full effects of the storm are documented in a video that webmaster Kathleen put together for the blogsite.

But that damage pales in comparison to what happened to the Garfield Park Conservatory. In a few short minutes, somewhere around half of the glass panels of the conservatory were smashed, resulting in millions of dollars’ worth of damage. That has left GPC to send out a plea for help, as priceless plants are at the mercy of Mother Nature. While it might seem odd that tropical plants should need protecting in the middle of a Chicago summer, you should know that different rooms in the conservatory have different needs.

For instance, the historic Fern Room requires high humidity to support its collection of rain forest plants, while the Desert House requires arid conditions. With the rooms now open to the skies, those conditions are not sustainable. Yesterday I tracked down Miguel del Valle (no, not the former city clerk and mayoral candidate, but his son), who is General Foreman for the Garfield Park Conservatory.

He and his team were busy picking glass out of the Fern Room displays, while contractors were already on site, beginning repairs on the glass panels overhead. Del Valle says that his crew was also working feverishly to keep the rain forest plants under canopies, because exposure to the mid-June Chicago sun would fry many of them. However, the canopies need to be portable, so workers can easily move from place to place.

Del Valle joins me on the program this morning to talk about the repair work being done, how Chicagoans can help, and where the conservatory goes from here. Fortunately, even though it is only a few miles away, the Lincoln Park Conservatory suffered no damage except for erosion of the whitewash on some glass roof panes. There was also no damage at the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool except for a few fallen tree limbs.

“Like” Leinenkugel and help the Friends of the Chicago River

If you thought that letting Heather and me loose on the Pride Parade was bad enough, just imagine what could happen if they put us together in a canoe on the Chicago River.

Stand back. It’s going to happen. Next Saturday morning, July 9, Heather and I will participate in the Canoes for a Cause “Friendly Float” canoeing event on the Chicago River. They’re calling it a “leisurely canoe float”, meaning that it’s not a race, which is a good thing for Heather and me. The point is to show that the Chicago River is a valuable recreational resource, which in turn helps demonstrate appreciation for the River and its potential.

Canoes for a Cause is the brainchild of Jake and John Leinenkugel, whose company, the Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company, is proud of its history of improving water resources in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and now Illinois. Among their accomplishments is the installation of a new pasteurizer at their plant in Chippewa Falls, which reduces water consumption by 20 million gallons each year.

Now they’ve teamed with Friends of the Chicago River to create Canoes for a Cause, an online resource that encourages Chicagoans to join Leinenkugel’s in improving the Chicago River. According to “Friends” Executive Director Margaret Frisbie, for every new “like” on the Leinenkugel’s Facebook page, Leinenkugel’s and its partners will make a monetary donation to Friends of the Chicago River up to $15,000. But you can also donate to the cause individually via a Friends of the Chicago River donation link.

You have officially until July 9 to “like” Lenenkugel on their Facebook page and insure that money goes to the Friends of the Chicago River. However, I will be talking to Jake Leinenkugel on next week’s show, and a little birdie told me that the deadline might just be extended to the end of the month…or at least the end of the day on July 10, to allow folks listening to my program to participate. Now THAT’S Chicago–and Wisconsin–clout!

Sustainable Food Fundamentals: Food Deserts in a Land of Plenty

In May of 2009, I did a special program from the Third Unitarian Church of Chicago in the Austin community on the west side. It was called Rooted in Austin and, in a significant way, it was my introduction to the myriad of complex issues surrounding urban agriculture and food justice in America. I invited a panel of experts, all of whom were in the front lines fighting the battle for health and food security for people in all walks of life.

In the front row of the audience was a woman with a video camera, who had asked if she could shoot some footage of the event. Her name was Sarah Carlson and the comments from my experts were to be a tiny part of a documentary she was putting together called GROW. At the time, I think I asked her some questions about how she was funding the piece and how long it would take to edit.

Fast foward two years to next Thursday, July 7 at Jane Addams Hull-House Museum at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where a preview of Food Deserts in a Land of Plenty will be shown in a private screening. Sarah says that Food Deserts in a Land of Plenty is actually a shorter version of GROW, which she is still editing.

In case you don’t know, it’s not easy being an independent film producer, and this very important fill could use some (financial) help. In fact, you can see the trailer of GROW and contribute to the documentary right here.

Here’s how Sarah describes her documentary:

The contrasting and converging landscapes of rural and urban Illinois provide the setting for a new movement of people reconnecting to their food. No longer able to rely on the presence of national grocery chains and distributors to bring fresh, healthy items into their “food desert” communities, residents of Grand Crossing on Chicago’s South Side and down state’s Bureau Valley begin collectively solving the problem through a new agrarianism. GROW turns a lens to activists, Chicago Public School students, single mothers, farmers and legislators helping to shape the developing regional food system by becoming urban rooftop growers, first generation farmers and public policy champions.

KAM Isaiah Israel receives 2011 Gourd Award (it rhymes!)

it makes sense to have Robert Nevel of KAM Isaiah Israel stop into the studio while Sarah Carlson is here. Both of them are working towards similar goals–though in different ways. With its Food Justice and Sustainability Program, KAM continues to expand its operations in their Hyde Park Neighborhood. Last fall, volunteers took up about 1,000 square feet of sod at the Kenwood United Church of Christ at 46th and South Greenwood. It’s part of KAMII’s effort to transform congregational lawns into food producing gardens.

KAM also continues to win awards. This time, The Urban Health Initiative of the University of Chicago Medical Center, SSHVS, presented them with the 2011 Gourd Award, which is given to groups helping to improve health on the South Side of Chicago. The GOURD Award Review Committee was impressed with how KAM Isaiah Israel Congregation is utilizing urban agriculture to creatively address food injustice through community education, engagement, and advocacy.

Not only that, KAM is launching the Food Justice and Sustainability Young Leadership Summer Program. The free program is four Sundays long and open to high school students entering grades 9 – 12. There are two sessions, one in July and one in August. Students who complete the Program may be eligible for community service credit.

According to KAM:

Each Sunday will start with two 45 minute workshops. The first workshop will be
taught by leaders of the faith community and will be centered on what different
faiths teach about sustainability and food justice. The second will be led by
experienced practitioners and will focus on land use, sustainability, urban farming
and local food production. The workshops will be followed, in the afternoon, by 2.5
hours of hands on work in the KAMII food producing gardens. The emphasis will
be on learning methods of urban food production and sustainability.

Celebrate food independence with The Peterson Garden Project

Anybody who knows me also knows that the 4th of July is not my favorite holiday. In fact, I would say that it’s my least favorite, mainly because I don’t think that two Americans in a hundred actually think about why they have the right to blow off a couple of fingers at midnight just outside my bedroom window.

But I digress. Or I’m right on target.

Here’s a much better way to celebrate. Stop by The Peterson Garden Project at Peterson and Campbell on Chicago’s northwest side, bring a potluck dish, dress your kids or pets as vegetables for the annual Veggie Parade, and chat with folks who like to garden. There’s also face painting, a lemonade stand and decorations by the awesome event team! Ahhh, that’s living.

Of course, I’m going to be there as the erstwhile MC (don’t know exactly what I’m supposed to do but I’ll do it), and it’s a great cause. LaManda Joy is on the program this morning to tell you all about it.

Festivities start this afternoon, Sunday, July 3 at 4:00 and go until 8:00 p.m…just in time to go home and listen to fireworks outside your bedroom window.