Sustainability, flooding, “farm to school” and extinct species

April 28, 2013

What the heck does having a “sustainable” garden mean?

Several years ago I saw a landscaper named Tom Lupfer do a talk at a conference sponsored by the Midwest Ecological Landscape Alliance (MELA). It was about how to install a garden in a sustainable way, and while today I can’t tell you exactly what he said, I remember that Tom approached the subject in a very down-to-earth, practical way–so simple, in fact, that even I could understand it.

Tom Lupfer is President of Lupfer Landscaping, a famiily owned and operated, award winning company that is located in Lyons, Illinois and serves suburbs such as Western Springs, Hinsdale, Oak Brook, Riverside, River Forest, Oak Park and more. As they say on their website, they pride ourselves on quality sustainable landscaping.

Why is Tom on the show today? 1) He’s a good guy, which I know because I have interviewed him and because I know that he does a fair amount of pro bono work for worthy causes. 2) His Maintenance Supervisor, Donna White, is a huge fan of the show and you don’t mess with Donna.

So let’s move onto what Tom considers the definition of sustainability. In this case, he uses a quote from Gro Harlem Brundtland, who in 1987 was the Norwegian Prime Minister:

“…design, construction, operations, and maintenance practices that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

That, if you think about it, is precisely the opposite of pretty much everything we do in America today.

As Tom points out, the three components of the environment are soil, vegetation and water. If you look at the Venn Diagram of soil, vegetation and water, you’ll see that sustainabilty is the confluence of all three components. Tom also has goals for each of those components:

• Soil – Restore the soil so that it can support healthy vegetation and filter pollutants.

• Vegetation – Plant site appropriate vegetation that can help regulate ambient temperature, filter water and provide animal habitat.

• Water – Manage on-site water so that it mimics and enhances natural water cycles by: increasing infiltration, reducing run-off, and eliminating most potable water used in the landscape.

The remain question, then, is “how”? That’s why Tom is on the show this morning. I hope we all learn a little bit about sustainability.

The Morton Arboretum: Don’t worry, that’s LAST week’s pic

This past week, I received a message from Todd Jacobson, Head of Horticulture at The Morton Arboretum. The photo below was attached and the message read, ” We were hoping for moisture to help with our drought, but this was a bit over the top!”

But fear not, gentle reader. Friend of The Mike Nowak Show and occasional substitute host Beth Botts, who is now Senior Writer at the arboretum, wrote with a follow up to the scene above:

“[T]he Arboretum is still in business despite the flood. We had serious flooding last Thursday and Friday when the DuPage River rose 10 feet, and one of our buildings was badly swamped and had a lot of damage. But the grounds are fine, everything but a few trails is open, the daffodils and wildflowers are blooming, the plant sale is still on for this weekend. Our permeable paver parking lot was about a foot under water but drained quickly, and the bioswales worked, channeling water to Meadow Lake, our big retention lake. Out in the East Woods the restored wetlands are handling water like nature intended, holding water until it soaks into the groundwater. Lots of ducks, egrets and frogs.”

Whew! You had me worried there. Beth makes a brief appearance on the show today to let us know how quickly the water is draining in Lisle, Illinois.

“Farm to School” wants to make our children healthier

One of the hottest trends in local food is something called “farm to school” programs. The USDA Food and Nutrition Service describes them this way:

Across the country, an increasing number of schools and districts have begun to source more foods locally and to provide complementary educational activities to students that emphasize food, farming, and nutrition. This nationwide movement to enrich children’s bodies and minds while supporting local economies is often referred to as “farm to school.” The term encompasses efforts that bring local or regionally produced foods into school cafeterias; hands-on learning activities such as school gardening, farm visits, and culinary classes; and the integration of food-related education into the regular, standards-based classroom curriculum. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) supports such efforts through its Farm to School Program, which includes research, training, technical assistance, and grants.

Locally, organizations like Seven Generations Ahead have created programs such as their Fresh from the Farm program, which is presenting Educator Training Workshops on May 8, 15, 16, 18 and June 1 in the Chicago area.

Recently, USDA Food & Nutrition Service Administrator Audrey Rowe , who oversees 15 nutrition assistance programs including school meals, visted Evanston schools meet with school nutrition staff, Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl and others. The purpose was to announce a new and unprecedented approach to local food sourcing for Farm to School from a company called FarmLogix. FarmLogix brings farms and commercial end users together–whether they’re restaurants or schools–through online technology.

These efforts are in the wake of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative, which seeks to address child obesity. The Farm to School programs introduce healthier foods to schools by reaching out local farmers, creating economic opportunities for those food producing businesses. This can translate to everything from fresh fruit and vegetables to beans for chili, rice for stir fry and even cheese in quesadillas. Farm to School programs also reduce food travel and related CO2 emissions while they support the development of lifelong habits among children of eating fresh fruits and vegetables.

I am pleased to welcome to the studio some key players in local Farm to School efforts:

Steven Obendorf, Chef at The Latin School of Chicago, Dr. Bill Stone, owner of Brightonwoods Orchard in Burlington, Wisconsin, Linda Mallers, Founder, FarmLogix, a farm to school technology platform, and Alan Shannon, Director of Public Affairs for the Midwest Region of the USDA Food & Nutrition Service.

There are seven regional office of the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, and each has a Farm to School Regional Lead who is available to provide farm to school related support to state agencies and other entities in their region. A list of regions, along with the names and contact information for regional and national USDA Farm to School Program staff, can be found here. To receive information and updates about USDA’s Farm to School Program, please sign up for the Farm to School E-letter.

The cautionary tale of the passenger pigeon

Next year, we obvserve an ignominious anniversary in America…and the world. One hundred years ago, we managed to wipe out a species of bird that only fifty years before had numbered in the billions. And when I say “wipe out,” I mean that on September 1, 1914, Martha, the last living passenger pigeon, died in the Cincinnati Zoo.

Last year, I welcomed Chicago naturalist Joel Greenberg to the show to talk about Project Passenger Pigeon, which will mark this anniversary and promote the conservation of species and habitat, strengthen the relationship between people and nature, and foster the sustainable use of natural resources.

He’s back on the show today, and this time he brings film documentary writer and producer David Mrazek, who is working with him on a film called From Billions to None : The Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction. But this is just one part of what the PPP folks call “an ambitious multi-media project that uses the passenger pigeon story to explore today’s issues of habitat survival and species extinction” with more than 140 North American institutions participating.

The point of all of this is not to wonder why we killed the passenger pigeon, which would be a worthy effort in itself. Rather, it shines a light on human participation in what is sometimes referred to as the Holocene extinction or the Sixth Great Extinction. Whether fish, amphibians or great mammals, species all over the planet are disappearing at an alarming rate. And if you want to know who to blame, look in a mirror.

From Billions to None points out that the passenger pigeon is proof that super abundance is not enough to protect a species from extinction. All species are vulnerable.

Greenberg is a naturalist, writer, environmental consultant and author of A Natural History of the Chicago Region , coauthor of A Birder’s Guide to the Chicago Region , and editor of Of Prairie, Woods, and Water Two Centuries of Chicago Nature Writing . Oh, and he’s the chief cook and bottle washer of The Birdzilla Blog.

Mrazek recently co-produced and co-directed The Principal Story , which aired nationally on the PBS documentary series, P.O.V. Other programs include NEH-funded projects such as Woodrow Wilson , which won the 2002 International Documentary Association Achievement Award for Limited Series, and the Peabody, duPont-Columbia and Emmy-Award winning ten-part series The Great War and the Shaping of the Twentieth Century .

For more information on Project Passenger Pigeon, you can also like them on Facebook.

May is Illinois Invasive Species Awareness Month

A funny thing happened to me in Peru, Illinois yesterday while speaking to the good folks at “A Garden Affair” at St. John’s Lutheran Church. Not only did I run into a llama (see the home page), but I bumped into Cathy McGlynn, Coordinator for the Northeast Illinois Invasive Plant Partnership.

The llama had nothing to say to me. However, Cathy wanted me to remind my listeners and readers that May is Illinois Invasive Species Awareness Month. Educational events, field days, hay-wagon tours, workshops, presentations, volunteer workdays, ‘Garlic Mustard Challenges’, training events, and interpretive hikes are just some of the different types of events that have been held as part of ISAM in the past.

Speaking of the Garlic Mustard Challenge, during May 2011 NIIPP partners participated in and won the United States Forest Service’s Garlic Mustard Challenge with a total of 52,606 lbs of garlic mustard pulled. Lake Forest Open Lands Association was the champion garlic puller.  In 2012, thanks to the abnormally warm weather, garlic mustard started blooming in late March in some areas!

This year, things are relatively normal but garlic mustard is still invasive and relentless. So if you are planning to host work days and garlic pulls please contact Cathy at 847-242-6423 or so that she can post your events on the NIIPP website.