September 26, 2010

Tapping into our greatest energy source

And, no, I’m not talking about producer Heather Frey, although she runs a close second.

It’s a testament to our nation’s greed and myopia and to the obscene influence of the oil and coal lobbies in America that we haven’t figured out how to take advantage of solar energy, while companies like Solar Service, Inc. have been figuring out how to use the sun’s energy for businesses and homes alike for more than thirty years. Solar Service bills itself as the Midwest’s leading supplier of affordable and reliable solar energy systems, having designed and installed over 1,000 solar systems in over 150 communities.

Lisa Albrecht, Renewable Energy Specialist from Solar Service, is here to promote next week’s Illinois Solar Energy Tour, which is part of a national tour hosted by the American Solar Energy Association and the Illinois Solar Energy Association (ISEA). It’s the largest grass roots solar energy event in the world. The tour is largely self-guided features and features 190 green homes and buildings in Illinois alone. You can pick up a printed Tour Guidebook at Chicagoland Whole Foods locations or download the pdf here. Interactive maps of tour sites, including bike maps, can be customized and printed by clicking Directory of Buildings and choosing your location.

Albrecht, who is an ISEA board member, has been working on the tour since 2007, when there were 70 homes on the tour, and has watched it expand to almost three times that number. I’m most interested in her comment that ” we cannot let the market dictate growth, it will take too long. The industry needs the assurance that this will be a viable market in 20 years and from there we’ll see growth that encourages innovation and brings down pricing. I’m no expert by any means but just passionate that change is needed.”

Green roofs, compost tea, Agent Orange and Mars rocks

I met biologist Mike Repkin a few months ago when Chicago’s Progressive Talk was exploring the idea of helping a couple of businesses install rooftop gardens. One of our conversations covered subjects like whether compost tea is all it’s cracked up to be, how to make Agent Orange in your garage (hint: you don’t want to) and why it would be so very stupid to bring rocks from Mars back to Earth…thought that’s probably exactly what will happen within a few years. What I didn’t realize at the time was that Repkin was part of an organization that is in the process of re-defining exactly what a rooftop garden is capable of bringing to an urban area. It’s not surprising that the group is called Urban Habitat Chicago.

However, they’re not limited to rooftops. Among the projects they have contributed to:

You’ll find even more UHC initiatives here. However, I said that this was about the future of rooftop gardens, and that’s something that Repkin is doing with architect Dave Hampton and contractor Molly Meyer. Their outfit, Meyer Repkin Hampton (MRH) is interested in moving beyond the typical sedum and other shallow-rooted ornamental plants on top of buildings. They want to create full-flown UrbanRoofFarmsTM in Chicago.

Here’s how they describe “URF”s:

… an ultra-lightweight constructed rooftop ecosystem that produces food, fuel and fiber for hyper-local consumption. URF is different from green roofs because it weighs only 12.5 pounds per square foot and is a farm-able environment…. URFs provide the opportunity to initiate sustainable agriculture in a highly urban setting. URFs also create green collar jobs, introduce local sustainability, increase community cohesion, decrease consumption of energy and resources, decrease stormwater runoff, and encourage an ecologically-responsible lifestyle in the City of Chicago.

Experience the Hen-apalooza extravaganza!

Okay, maybe I’m a little over the top about this. But it does sound like fun. I’ve talked about raising chickens in Chicago in the past and, apparently, it’s an activity whose time has arrived. So if you’ve ever thought about raising chickens but had questions about it, you might be a candidate for this inaugural tour.

On Sunday October 3rd—rain or shine, so they tell me —the first annual Hen-apalooza Chicagoland Chicken Coop Tour will take place at 15 locations throughout the Chicago area. It’s self-guided tour, so stay as long as you’re happy. However, if you have children in tow (and have you EVER met a child that wasn’t fascinated by a CHICKEN?!) you might want to have your Hen-apalooza Passport stamped at each location. No, I’m not making this up.

In fact, there’s more to this story. Michelle Thoma, who is on the show to talk about the event, says that she recently rescued a bantam hen, who she named “Tammy.” Frankly, I had never heard of the Chicken Relocation Program (actually, I just made that up). She (um, Michelle, not Tammy) even has a blog about raising chickens, called Metropullus: Chicken Little in a Big City.

Click here for information and a Hen-apalooza Passport to track your tour progress, or check out the Chicago Chicken Enthusiasts Google Group. A map of tour locations is available here. Children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult. No dogs or other pets please. Street parking available at each location. Please consider biking or using public transportation.

I should mention that Hen-apalooza is supported by Angelic Organics Learning Center (a friend of my show), Backyard Chicken Run, and Double Take Design. And if want to raise your own chickens, register for the Angelic Organics Learning Center Backyard Chicken Care Workshop on November 6, from 10AM to 1PM at 6400 S Kimbark Avenue, Chicago (Woodlawn neighborhood @ 1st Presbyterian Church).

Mike speaks out about recycling in Chicago

In case you thought you saw my name in print in the past couple of weeks–especially if the words “Chicago recycling” were part of the story–yeah, that was me. I say it often enough on the radio show, but in case it somehow hasn’t registered with you, I’m President of the Chicago Recycling Coalition. We are an all-volunteer, not-for-profit organization that basically monitors the recycling efforts in the City of Chicago.

As you can imagine, it’s been a roller-coaster ride for the past two decades. And now that Mayor Richard M. Daley has decided not to run for re-election, well, a lot of things are up for grabs–including whether Chicago will finally get a full-scale, functional recycling system in place. Here are a few of the links to stories that have quoted Mike in the past two weeks. Expect more in the future.

By the way, a big THANKS to Fran Spielman at the Chicago Sun-Times, who called to interviewed me while I was driving in Chicago. Being the responsible citizen, I pulled off Elston Avenue to talk to her abour recycling. Note, however, her–oh, I don’t know–literal use of the word “gonna,” as she quotes me in an interview that is being done on a cell phone. Hey, Fran, cut me some slack!How many people do you know who actually say the word “going” complete with a hard “g” at the end? And then to see the phrase “It’s gonna be a very difficult thing to pass” quoted by three or four other media outlets is, at best, odd. At worst, since most of the bloggers didn’t actually talk to me, it’s disturbing.

Safer Pest Control Project’s Lady Bug Bash is October 8

If you’ve listened to my show at all, you know that I’m a fan of Safer Pest Control Project. Over the years, they’ve appeared on my show to discuss things like organic lawn care. Lately, they’ve been in the news as bedbugs have made an unfortunate resurgence in America.

The important thing about SPCP is that their whole goal is reducing the health risks and environmental impacts of pesticides by promoting safer alternatives in Illinois. I could go on and on about how dangerous pesiticides in our lawns and gardens are, but they do it even better. Anyway, if you’re interested in music, auction items and great food, all in the cause of making our environment a little healthier, head out to the annual Lady Bug Bash at Space, 1245 Chicago Avenue in Evanston from 7:00 to 10:00 p.m. on Friday, October 8. You can get your tickets here.