Seeking food and recycling justice

April 3 , 2011

Sowing the seeds of social justice on Chicago’s south side

For a little more than a year, I’ve been following the progress of KAM Isaiah Israel and its Food Justice and Sustainability Program. I talked to KAM member Robert Nevel a couple of times last year –first about the congregation’s Martin Luther King, Jr.Social Justice Weekend program in January, and then after I visited their food producing garden late in the summer to witness their efforts first hand.

As we head into the 2011 growing season, KAMII continues to expand its operations in their Hyde Park Neighborhood. Nevel tells me that 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.

The ongoing program goal at KAMII is to significantly increase the amount of fresh, healthy food available to those in need in the local community by growing and donating organic food and by teaching others, in a sustainable way, to do the same. There are four components:

1. Three food-producing organic gardens, covering over 1,400 square feet, on the KAMII urban site, which are used to grow food to donate to two soup kitchens and a shelter for women and children. In 2010 they delivered (by growing and gleaning) over 1,200 pounds of organic food.
2. The White Rock Gleaning Program which was created to collect and deliver to soup kitchens and shelters the unharvested food left weekly at the large community gardens in our area.
3. Crop Mob Construction, which uses local volunteers to transform urban, congregational lawns into food producing gardens.
4. The annual Martin Luther King weekend long program on food justice and sustainability.

This year, KAMII is being helped by grant money from the One Nation Chicago Fund at Chicago Community Trust and a donation of seed and seed-starting items from Johnny’s Select Seeds.

It’s that kind of dedication to social justice that has earned KAM Isaiah Israel Congregation the Commission on Social Action of Reform Irving J. Fain Award for Outstanding Synagogue Social Action Programming. It’s one of the highest honors that a congregation in the Reform Jewish Movement can receive, and winners have been chosen from a pool of more than 900 synagogues.

“Deja Blue All Over Again”:
Nowak and Waguespack on Recycling, Part Deux

If you’re a fan of recycling, of transparency and especially of good government, you’re not going to be very happy about the Daley Administration’s last-minute maneuvering to revive the stalled Blue Cart Recycling Program in Chicago. In fact, if you’re like me, you might be wondering if we are about to witness a breathtaking disply of hubris from the man who is about to ride into the sunset.

Some of you might have caught Thursday’s broadcast of Chicago Tonight on WTTW Channel 11, where 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack and I talked about recycling in Chicago. Let me give you a little bit of background as to how that came about.

I awoke Thursday morning to discover that a bomb had been dropped on Chicago in the form of a story by Fran Spielman in the Chicago Sun-Times. In it, she revealed that the Daley Administration has decided to privatize the Blue Cart recycling system, now handled by the Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation. According to the article, the city will be divided into six zones, with four of them awarded to waste-hauling giant Waste Management. Hubboy. At that point, anything I had planned for Thursday pretty much flew out the window.

First, ABC 7 Chicago came a-callin’, to get my view on the story. Then I was asked to be part of a panel on Chicago Tonight. In between–because I am president of the Chicago Recycling Coalition (for which I receive no pay, in the interest of full disclosure)–I spent a lot of time on the phone discussing the issue with various colleagues. I was told that I would be part of a panel on WTTW, but the panel turned out to be just Ald. Waguespack and me. You can watch the tape, but he made it pretty clear that he’s scratching his head over this move.

At the CRC, we’re more than a little curious about the timing of this action–regardless of this from the Spielman story: “Streets and Sanitation spokesman Matt Smith said Wednesday he had ‘no information’ on the recycling contracts.” Yup. And I’m the King of Logan Square. In the meantime, at least one other alderman is raising the alarm. 5th Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston, in a statement released on Friday, described this deal as “the parking meter fiasco on wheels” and warns of the same lack of transparency or terms favorable to the city.

CRC has more than a few questions to ask the Mayor Daley–and mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel. If you think that the incoming mayor doesn’t know about his predecessor’s plans, you haven’t been paying attention to Chicago politics for about a hundred years. We know that the incoming mayor has already appointed a task force to look at environmental issues. Among the questions that the CRC wants answered are

  • Why now? Why does this have to be done in the final month before we have a new mayor? Why not wait until the new administration is in place and do it right?
  • Is the environmental task force aware of this development? What is its recommendation?
  • What are the real cost savings?
  • What happens to the materials collected?
  • What are the performance requirements?
  • Who decides which firms get the contracts? When? How?
  • How will the City hold these private firms accountable to residents?
  • Why hasn’t there been public participation?

All of these questions–and more–are addressed at the Chicago Recycling Coalition website.

Meanwhile, there’s another recycling model besides the municipal one, and it involves businesses that handle our recyclables and sell for profit. 2020 Recycling is a new firm with a simple plan: get back to basics by using waste office materials to save money, the environment, and help the community. They’re ready to partner with any business that wants to get a handle on its paper use…and misuse.

Founder Patrick Cushing says that among the services they provide are paper recycling, paper reuse, document scanning and document destruction. They even have a paper calculator on site to help you determine how you can be more efficient and help the environment.

Good Growing: Sweet Home Organics leaps into spring

It’s time for another visit with “commuting farmer” Kim Marsin of Sweet Home Organics. You might remember that she and partner Rachel Reklau are part of a new breed of farmers who don’t own the land on which they grow crops.

This week they went to their first auction looking for a tractor They say it was intense, and judging by the number of farm implements that are available, I’m not surprised. As Kim writes,

“Rows and rows of farm machines and tools. Seriously like 12-15 acres, if not more. It was rather intimidating, exciting and fascinating to see all the different machines/tools and people. Then to find a machine that was well cared for and in such good shape. THEN to try my hand at bidding when you otherwise can’t make sense out of what the auctioneer is saying. Did I mention that there was a lot of interest in our tractor? And then we won the bid!  A friend, John Breslin of Breslin farms (they raise heirloom beans in Ottawa, IL), showed us around, gave us input on what things were worth, how to bid/when to bid, etc. It was kind of crazy and awesome!”

As I’ve written before, Primrose Farm, where they lease land, is owned by the St. Charles Park District. The farm itself is the last of a line of what used to be 3-5 working dairy farms. The former neighboring farms have since been torn down or turned into homes. The park district runs the farm as a living history farm open for the public for tours (on Wed and Saturdays).

Kim reports that Sweet Home Organics will be involved in a number of upcoming fairs:on April 17th at the DuPage Forest Preserve Go Green fair,on April 30th at the St. Charles Nature Center Grand Opening, and on May 14th at Geneva’s Gardenology.