Slogging away in Springfield, talking to Dr. Earth, and going retro

May 22, 2011

Illinois Extension funding: going down to the wire

Last week, Extension Partners spokesperson Pam Weber brought us up to date on the continuing budget negotiations in Springfield. As we near the end of the session, Pam says that “it has been a wild week in Springfield.” Of course, there’s much more going on than just the vote on the Agriculture budget. But the battle over funding for Illinois Extension is the one I’ve focused on, because I know first-hand what good work is being done in the Master Gardener, 4-H and other programs sponsored by the University of Illinois.

As I mentioned last week, it looks as though the most drastic cuts might be avoided–with the possible exception of the money that has been allocated to Cook County in recent years. There’s still time to contact your legislators to make your voice heard. To preserve funding for Extension, contact you your legislators and ask them to support the House’s version of the Department of Agriculture’s budget, House Bill 124 House Amendment #1.

Says Pam Weber, ” Let them know there are cuts, but they are cuts we can live with!” You can view the bills and amendments at the General Assembly website Enter the bill number and then click on “full text” at the top of the page and then the amendment number.

Speaking of legislative action…

Jennifer Walling is hard at work protecting Illinois air, water and land…and she’s just five months into the mission. In January of this year she became the executive director of the Illinois Environmental Council, after working as chief of staff to State Senator Heather Steans. She and Senator Steans won the Outstanding Government Leadership Award from the Illinois Recycling Association in 2010 for their work on the passage of Illinois’ first commercial food scrap composting legislation.

As this spring’s legislative session wraps up, IEC is keeping an eye on a number of environmental bills. The easiest way to keep tabs on them is to follow the IEC’s Action Alert List. Here’s a partial list of the issues that are front and center:

  • Electronics Recycling – On Friday, SB2106, a bill that will strengthen the 2008 electronic recycling law, passed the Illinois House. It had already passed the Senate. IEC believes this bill will spur economic development creating jobs and revenue. The DCEO funded 2010 Recycling Study estimated that the electronic recycling industry and the appliance recycling industry created nearly 8,000 jobs in Illinois and $622 million in revenue.
  • CAFOs – An bill that addresses water pollution from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) passed through a critical committee this week. This bill has a new number – SB1682 Amendment 1 – and is carried by Representative Mike Tryon.  CAFOs are the only industrial water polluters in Illinois that do not pay a pollution (NPDES) permit fee.  This bill would require a fee for some CAFOs and fund the IEPA program to regulate CAFOs.
  • Exec committee – Several priority bills for the environmental community were being held in the House Executive committee, but have been posted for hearing on Wednesday, May 25 at 9AM.  These include SB664 (hydraulic fracturing chemical disclosure), SB2010 (agriculture pollution prevention), and SB38 (rainwater harvesting).  These bills are agreed to and are expected to move through committee.
  • Lake Michigan Disposal Facility – A bill is moving forward that would allow PCB laden sediment to be stored in a disposal facility in Lake Michigan, just outside of Waukegan. The result would be a 14 acre peninsula filled with contaminated sediment on public lakebottom outside of Waukegan. A similar facility in Indiana has been strongly opposed by local community members. IEC opposes this bill, as does Sierra Club – Illinois Chapter, Alliance for the Great Lakes, Environmental Law and Policy Center, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Natural Resources Defense Council, Bird Conservation Network, Environment Illinois, and others.

Milo Shammas’s “Healthy Garden, Healthy You”

Regular listeners to the show know that Dr. Earth is a great sponsor of The Mike Nowak Show. In fact, last year, we did a broadcast at Pesche’s Garden Center in Des Plaines during “Dr. Earth Days.” At that time, Dr. Earth himself, Milo Shammas, sat in and answered questions.

This year, he’s back, and he has a new book, Healthy Garden, Healthy You, which is chock full of information about how to grow nutritious food. As a matter of fact, the book lists 100 easy to grow plants, including overall benefits, growing tips, vitamins and mineral content, insect control and more. From alfalfa sprouts to blueberries to peppers to Swiss Chard (Go Team Chard!) to wheatgrass, there’s information about most plants you might want to grow.

But that’s not all. Milo walks you through the basics of what you need to know about plants, starting with your soil (microbes and probiotics, mycorrhizae, structure, humus), moving on to plants (macro and micronutrients, pests and disease issues). Finally, he explains how the health of your plants can be transferred to you and even your pets. He lays out some of the basics of home gardening–sun and shade, raised beds, staking and trellising, watering and drainage–just in case you’re new to the game.

I’m pleased to have Milo stop by (on the phone) and chat about his life and his passion.

Sustainable Food Fundamentals: Go RETRO this Thursday

I have to hand it to LaManda Joy and the folks at The Peterson Garden Project: they don’t tend to do things in a small way. Last year, all they managed to do is create the city’s largest community–and an award-winning–garden devoted to growing edibles. I’m talking about 157 raised-bed gardens that appeared over the course of just a few months, at the corner of Peterson and Campbell in Chicago’s 40th Ward.

What’s cool about this garden is that it’s on the site of a World War II Victory Garden, which has led The Peterson Garden Project’s members to recruit, educate and inspire a new generation of gardeners who want to follow in the footsteps of their grand and great-grandparents.

And they’ve managed to drag me into all of this–not exactly kicking and screaming, of course. This Thursday, May 26, I’ll be hosting Swing Into Spring 2011 – A Fundraiser for The Peterson Garden Project. The theme is Retro…and I’m not talking 1980s, kids. The event is at Architectural Artifacts in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood at 4325 North Ravenswood, amidst a warehouse of historic architectural treasures. Diane Ott Wheatley, founder of Seed Savers Exchange, is Guest of Honor. Live music will be provided by Joel Patterson & the Modern Sounds, swing dance performances by Cartier Collective, and swing dance lessons from JiveRoc. (I’m getting in line for that.) Tickets range from $35 to $75 and can be purchased here .

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.

GMO protest lands my guest in the slammer

Last Sunday, Alexis Baden-Mayer, Political Director of the Organic Consumers Association, stopped by the WCPT studios to tell me about an action in which she was going to be involved on the following Tuesday. The idea was to go shopping at the Whole Foods Market at 1550 N. Kingsbury Street in Chicago and purchase items that contain GMO ingredients, then dump them into hazardous waste containers, while wearing hazmat suits. As I said on the show, “very agit-prop.”

On Thursday, I received a Facebook message from Julia Moran Martz, a.k.a. @SnarkyVegan on Twittter: “Your guest from Sunday was arrested for protesting outside Whole Foods.”

Whoa. Looks like “agit-prop” sometimes has consequences.

Julie attached the link from the OCA website about the arrest. A follow up post on the Eat Drink Better blogsite raises some interesting questions about the action. Basically, the debate boils down to whether it makes sense to protest at markets that, to some extent, are aware of the issue and willing to move towards stocking fewer GMO products. Wouldn’t it be better to go after the Wal-Marts and Safeways of the world, who seem to have turned a blind eye to the question? The back and forth of this issue continues in the the comments that follow Becky Striepe‘s (Eat Drink Better) post.

In case you’re wondering if Whole Foods Market had the protester arrested, Chicagoist did some checking and reports that they deny it.

Which leads me to wonder: Who DID call the cops?

Meanwhile, if you’re concerned about buying foods that haven’t been genetically engineered, The Non-GMO Project is a site you should visit. It’s North America’s only organization that has third party verification and labeling for non-GMO food and products.(The European Union already requires labels on GE foods.) I’ll keep an eye on this story.