The state of Cook County Forest Preserves, recycled granite, heirloom bulbs and giant pumpkins

October 24, 2010

Changing of the guard in Cook County government: What does that mean for the forest preserves?

Long before we know who the next Mayor of Chicago will be, the political landscape of Chicago will already have changed. The November 2 elections will bring a new president to the Cook County Board, following current President Todd Stroger‘s unceremonious booting by voters in the February primary.

Regardless of whether Democratic candidate Toni Prekwinkle, Green Party candidate Tom Tresser or Republican party candidate Roger A. Keats steps into the seat, they will be dealing not only with a severe county budget deficit, but with a Forest Preserve District that has suffered from near-epic neglect and mismanagement by its own county board for decades.

Consider this statement:

Over the last decade, the other five counties in the Chicago region have ollectively raised more than $1.1 billion to acquire land for their forest preserves (and one conservation district) – largely through successfully passing 16 of 16 bond referenda. Cook County has never pursued a land acquisition referendum.
Nor has it aggressively sought funding from other sources for acquisition, or land donations. It has largely been absent from efforts to raise new state funds that could be a source of funding for the FPD.

That it taken from a report called Forest Preserve District of Cook County Green Paper on Key Policy Issues, which was released in June of this year. The green paper was presented by Audubon-Chicago Region, Friends of the Forest Preserves, Friends of the Parks, Friends of the Chicago River, Openlands and Sierra Club – Illinois Chapter. It’s not a terribly long document (which means you should take the time to read it), and in simple language it outlines six key areas that need to be addressed:


Benjamin Cox is Executive Director of Friends of the Forest Preserves. He is also a Friend of the Mike Nowak Show, though there is no official not-for-profit organization dedicated to that (anybody want to start one?) Anyway, it’s a pleasure to have him back on the show to talk about keeping this precious natural Chicago-area legacy healthy and sustainable.

Paving smart with recycled granite

Julie Rizzo doesn’t strike me as your average construction worker. Ah, but that’s why there are sayings that advise you not to judge a book by its cover. She may be petite, but if you look at the video on my home page, you’ll see that she knows her way around a granite smashing machine. Actually, granite stamping is probably more accurate, but what do I know?

Julie’s company, Recycled Granite, takes left-over countertop material from stone fabricators in the Chicago area and turns that scrap into pavers that are three times stronger than concrete. Not only that, but 100% of the granite is recycled, which keeps the waste from being dumped into landfills.

This is certainly the kind of thing you can expect to see at Greenbuild 2010, which returns to Chicago November 17-19 at Chicago’s McCormick Place West. There are a whole slew of events, including tours. It’s nice to see that it’s not just architecture and green building materials. On Saturday, November 20, there will be a half day tour called Growing Green Jobs in Urban Farming, which will take people to various urban agriculture sites in Chicago. These include The Chicago Sustainable Manufacturing Center, a green business incubator that houses 14 green companies, including The Plant Chicago, which grows food using aquaponics, providing locally-raised tilapia to restaurants in the area, and the Growing Home Urban Farm and Job Training Center, which is the first certified organic farm in Chicago.

Saving heirloom varieties one bulb at a time

It’s been awhile since I’ve had Scott Kunst from Old House Gardens on the show, and this is the perfect time, while the ground is perfect for getting spring-blooming bulbs planted. Some people might think that I invite him to chat simply because his business is in Ann Arbor, where I went to college, but that’s only part of the reason.

What makes Old House Gardens unique among companies that sell bulbs is that they’re America’s only mail-order source devoted entirely to heirloom bulbs–many available nowhere else–and an international leader in the preservation of these plants.

One of the things that caught my eye on their website is their move towards urban farming. Basically, Scott had been looking for a cheap farm in the area on which to grow heirloom bulbs. But he was inspired by his friends at the Detroit-based Urban Farming to look no farther than some of the empty lots in Ann Arbor, where he is creating micro-farms that accomplish the same thing, though not all in one place. It’s truly a sign that our urban land haven’t even come close to realizing their full potential.

Last but not least…the world’s largest pumpkin!

I have covered pumpkin growing contests in Illinois in the past, but my friend Ann Molloy from Neptune’s Harvest Organic Fertilizer (a proud sponsor of The Mike Nowak Show) sent me a link to the world record largest pumpkin, grown this year by Chris Stevens of New Richmond, Wisconsin. And why did Ann send me that information? Because, apparently, Chris’s fertilizer of choice is Neptune’s Harvest and he’s even wearing his Neptune’s Harvest shirt in the photo taken with his prize pumpkin.

Geez. you can’t buy that kind of publicity!