The environment, elections, shared kitchens and seeds

January 9, 2011

Environmental groups unveil the Green Growth Platform:
20 Questions for the Chicago Mayoral Candidates

Seventeen leading Chicago environmental and conservation groups held a news conference last Thursday to present what they call 20 Key Questions on Improving Our City’s Environment,
Creating Jobs and Growing Our Green Economy.
The groups had met over the past two months to frame these questions, which they call The Green Growth Platform for Chicago’s Next Mayor. You can see all of the questions by clicking on the above link.

In the interest of full disclosure, I was at the table during the meetings at which those questions were crafted, in my position as president of the Chicago Recycling Coalition. I will also disclose that I don’t make a dime in that position (not that I wouldn’t like that to change…but that’s a story for another day). The remaining candidates have been sent the questions and have been asked to respond by January 12. After that, their answers will be posted online, on my website and elsewhere.

The coalition of environmental groups was organized by the Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC), and Executive Director Howard Learner is here to talk about what the coaltion hopes to accomplish to asking these questions. He is joined by President and CEO Gerald Adelmann of Openlands. Among the things we will discuss: will the environmental agenda play a real role in this election, and what are the consequences if the new mayor relegates green issues to the back burner?

Speaking of the candidates, they will have a chance to answer some of these questions in public on Wednesday, January 19. The Chicago Mayoral Forum on Community and Environmental Issues has been organized by Friends of the Parks (FOTP) and the Streeterville Organization of Active Residents (SOAR) in partnership with a number of community and environmental organizations (including the Chicago Recycling Coalition). Here’s the info:

Date: Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Time: 7- 9 pm registration opens at 6 pm
Location: Chicago Marriott Downtown
540 N. Michigan Avenue, 7th Floor
Moderator: Andy Shaw, Executive Director, Better Government Association

FYI, I will be giving away some tickets to this event on my show. Keep listening.

You think your life is hard? Try running a shared kitchen

Before you read any further, I want you to know that Zina Murray‘s Logan Square Kitchen is up and running and healthy and in possession of all of its licenses. And, thanks to the sensitivity of planning and design, it’s absolutely gorgeous. That’s important to keep in mind when you read about the endless hoops of bureaucratic fire through which she has had to jump in the past couple of years.

So where was I? Oh, yes…speaking of Chicago mayoral candidates. I stopped into a meeting in my neighborhood last Wednesday to hear Miguel Del Valle speak to a room full of folks who are concerned about food policies in the coming new administration. Actually, to his credit, Del Valle mostly listened to the group, which consisted of small farmers, business people and activists in the rapidly growing local food movement.

The site was the aforementioned Logan Square Kitchen, a LEED Gold-certified shared-use kitchen that has experienced more than its fair share of problems in dealing with the City of Chicago bureaucracy in the past couple of years. You might remember that I devoted several show segments to the controversy that arose when nearly $10,000 worth of food was destroyed by city health officials at Kitchen Chicago in West Town in February of last year.

If you thought that the issues surround the use of shared-use kitchens had been resolved in the interim, you only need look at this story about Logan Square Kitchen owner Zina Murray in the October 2010 Chicago Reader. While the city hasn’t made headlines lately by trashing perfectly good food, Zina can–and will on today’s show–tell you war stories about dealing with city departments that make Jekyll and Hyde look like a model of sanity.

In a nutshell, shared-use kitchens and urban farms and aquaponics facilities are all part of a food world that is changing much faster than large municipalities can possibily cope with. That’s why it was encouraging to see candidate Del Valle listening with such interest. But how much do the other candidates know about these issues? And how effective will the new mayor be in working with entrenched bureacracies and archaic laws? Stay tuned.

Good Growing: One Seed Chicago says vote early…if not often

After a holiday hiatus, Good Growing returns with the irrepressible Mr. Brown Thumb. Not only is MBT back, so is One Seed Chicago, the annual vote to determine the most popular seed in town. Each year (this is the fourth), GreenNet-Chicago works with One Seed Chicago and selects three candidate plants, alternating each year between ornamentals and vegetables. MBT says that the candidates this year are all vegetables, in an effort to create a dialogue about growing healthy food, childhood nutrition and Chicago’s food deserts.

This year’s candidates are (in alphabetical order): eggplant, radish and Swiss chard. Here’s the way the competition works: Chicago area residents vote for their favorite between 1/01/11 and 4/01/11 and are rewarded with a packet of winning seeds. By the way, teachers can request a classroom size packet along with an educator guide.In addition, this year One Seed Chicago is teaming up with Chicago chefs who will provide recipes for each of the three vegetables.

One Seed Chicago is a not-for-profit project of NeighborSpace, Chicago’s land trust for community gardens. The goal of One Seed Chicago is to engage current gardeners, nurture new gardeners to green Chicago by growing gardens across the City. You can log onto the One Seed Chicago Facebook page here.

Mr. Brown Thumb asked me not to reveal my own preference until show time. However, I should warn him that several years ago, I managed to steal the vote in a contest run by the Chicago Tribune to determine the city’s favorite wildflower. In the best corrupt Chicago tradition, I had my listeners stuff the ballot box for Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum), and the rest was history. (By the way, if anybody asks, I didn’t do nuthin’.)

One other thing that Mr. Brown Thumb has written about lately is the MLK Food Justice Weekend from January 14-16th at KAM Isaiah Israel Congregation in Hyde Park. This is a weekend-long education and advocacy program focused on food justice and sustainability. A symposium will be held on Saturday, and Sunday features a slate of classes on local food production and urban ecology. All events are held at KAMII, 1100 East Hyde Park Boulevard (across the street from President Barack Obama’s house, in case you’re interested) and are free and open to the public.

I was privileged to get a tour of the KAMII gardens last summer, thanks to congregation member Robert Nevel, who is an architect and chair of the Social Justice Committee. He even enlisted me to help deliver produce picked fresh from the garden to a local church, where it would be used to feed people who probably see far too little healthy food. I know it’s a cliche, but at KAMII they’re truly walking the walk.