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October 26, 2014

I can tell you where to get Locally Laid

Yeah, I know that there are some people who won't appreciate that humor, but my advice to them is, "Lighten up, dudes and dudettes."

As you might have noticed, I have a brand new sponsor on The Mike Nowak Show. It is the Locally Laid Egg Company. They started as a small business located just down the road from the western edge of Lake Superior in a place called Wrenshall, Minnesota. Lately, however, they've expanded, connecting with farms Henriette, Minnesota, Kalona, Iowa and Middlebury, Indiana. Which is why they're now appearing on my program.

Starting from Jason Amundsen's backyard flock–also known as gateway livestock--their company was named runner up out of 15,000 small businesses in the Small Business Big Game contest sponsored by Intuit, makers of Quickbooks and second-place in their division of the Minnesota Cup. Their comment? "We apparently enjoy being the Underchicken." I like their style.

They noticed in their own community that stores did not sell locally produced eggs. It was a gap that they hoped to fill. But they wanted to do it in a sustainable way. Did you know that in the U.S., 91% of all birds are caged and housed in warehouses of 300,000 chickens or more? Locally Laid eggs are micro-brood, with flocks of approximately 3,000 birds, foraging & exercising on pasture. chickens to go outside every day (weather permitting), where they get to run, feel the wind in their wings and forage for grasses, clover and tasty bugs.

In addition, the Locally Laid folks

  • Use solar-powered electric fencing,
  • Installed solar-electric panels on the barn at their partner farm in Indiana,
  • Created a carton return program with grocery stores benefiting trees,
  • Plant a tree for every delivery,
  • Buy local, non-GMO corn in their feed,
  • Sell their eggs locally,
  • Print their sassy tees on American-made shirts.
  • They've also won an environmental Labo award – short for a Joel Labovitz Entrepreneurial Success award presented via the UMD Center for Economic Development.

There's a lot to like here. Which is why I'm happy to have Lucie Amundsen, described by the company as the farm's "Marketing Chick," on the show this morning. She's also a writer,speaker (and reluctant farmer) who is frantically finishing a narrative nonfiction about Locally Laid. It will be published by Hudson Street Press, an imprint of Penguin in spring 2016.

Benjamin Vogt, the monarch butterfly and the tip of the species loss iceberg

You might recall that last week I talked to Guy Sternberg of Starhill Forest Arboretum in Menard County, Illinois about the relentless attack of Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) on North American ash trees. EAB, to make a horrific story short, is an Asian insect (Agrilus planipennis) that showed up around 2002 near Detroit and since that time has been responsible for the death of tens of millions of trees of the genus Fraxinus. We also touched on the news that EAB might have spread to Chionanthus virginicus, also known as fringetree.

You can pretty much blame the loss of those trees, as well as 4 billion American chestnut trees at the beginning of the 20th Century, and the devastation of American elms by Dutch elm disease, on Homo sapiens. We have a nasty habit of dragging species from all over the planet to areas where they can take hold and out compete native species from regions.

It seems to stem, frankly, from a lack of respect for any species but our own. I recently became aware of a guy named Benjamin Vogt. It just so happens that he's a respected and award-winning poet; a blogger at his own site, The Deep Middle; a contributor to publications like Garden Rant and Timber Press; the owner of a two-thousand square foot organic prairie garden, which was named a 2012 best outdoor space by Apartment Therapy; and praire garden consulting and design outfit called Monarch Gardens.

Oh, did I mention that he also has a Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, an M.F.A. from The Ohio State University, and a B.F.A. from the University of Evansville? I think he's just trying to make me look bad. Anyway, he displays his passion for environmental issues in a piece about the monarch butterfly and what it means vis a vis the larger picture of species decline:

Globally, grasslands are the least protected and most endangered ecosystem. By 2100 the American Great Plains may lose 77 percent of its once formidable expanse, a region whose rates of loss equal deforestation of rainforests in Brazil, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Within the Plains environment are countless species of insect, amphibian, mammal, and plant that are severely threatened, from lesser prairie chickens to Salt Creek tiger beetles to Texas horned lizards to black-footed ferrets. The loss of biodiversity is stunning, and as folks like E. O. Wilson and Elizabeth Kolbert state, we may be losing thousands of species each year across the planet—some studies suggest dozens every hour. Kids today will see 35 percent fewer moths and butterflies—and 28 percent fewer birds, mammals, fish, and frogs—than their parents saw forty years ago. Timothy Walker in his book Plant Conservation: Why It Matters and How it Works suggests that we may lose nearly 30 percent of our plant species alone by 2060.

And he's just getting warmed up. Check out this except from his post on the blog Garden Rant:

Your house is your home. You can, of course, do whatever you
want to the inside or outside. Unfortunately, in regards to the outside, the
rest of us have to look at it and wonder what you were thinking.

A home is not a school, neither is it a post office,
industrial park, nor the White House. Therefore—and this is just a
suggestion—one should not have a flagpole in front of it...

Oh, look, mums! Orange ones! Daylilies! Orange ones! You
know what would look good around that 20 foot pole? Rocks. Antlers on rocks.
Maybe a bald eagle statue. Oh, and spotlights...

If you have flagpoles in your neighborhood, I hope you will
recite the pledge below as you drive by them, gritting your teeth and
“accepting” freedom of expression, bearing the cross that all of us with taste
must endure.

I pledge allegiance to the crap you put in your lawn, one
neighborhood, under siege, in design chaos, with no sane covenants at all.

Yikes. Like I said, he's just getting started. Here's a bit from a piece he wrote called The Case for Losing the Traditional Lawn:

Lawns are ecological dead zones, meaning the wildlife they support is infinitesimal to what a forest, prairie, marsh or even desert can support. The more lawn you take out and replace — even with clover or other blooming ground covers — the better the environment will be. Cities in California and other nearby states are paying residents up to $2 per square foot to remove lawn and replace it with drought-tolerant native landscapes or permeable hardscapes .

The EPA says lawn equipment emits 11 times the pollution as cars. If we can shrink lawns or use electric mowers and organic lawn care, then we will have not only beautiful landscapes, but healthy ones, too.

Obviously, as you remove lawn in your front yard, you might raise some neighborhood eyebrows — but have faith in your maverick tendencies. You can start small, which will help you and your neighbors adjust; slowly extend or deepen your planting beds and borders, maybe put an island out in a corner toward the street, even tear up and reseed the hell strip with native grasses and wildflowers as a sort of test area. The key is to always show that there is intent and design, and not just a "weedy" patch you "let go."

Okay. Just one more, which gets to the heart of what I preach on my radio show every week. In a piece on his blog called The Morality of Extinction in Our Gardens, Benjamin writes,

It is not a stretch at all to call our gardens a place to exercise and discover our moral and ethical imperatives. If you slather your landscape in pesticides, maintain a huge amount of irrigated lawn with multiple applications of commercial fertilizer, run that mower and spew that exhaust, then this all says something about what you think about the world and those who share it with you (human and non human).

For those who say our gardens should not be burdened with such "heavy" thinking -- to be a place of ideology and belief -- I say gardens have always been a place of heavy ideology. A quick survey of examples from Victorian, Japanese, Persian, and European formal gardens will scream ideology -- as do naturalistic gardens today. If this kind of thinking doesn't belong in our gardens, where does it? How can we hope to learn or effect change if it doesn't start at home? The imperative is to think about how gardens are connected to larger ecosystems, how we are all interconnected, and this calls for a selfless attitude -- which is the antithesis of western culture, and certainly the American ideaology of "don't tread on me, I'm free to do what I want." We also have the happiness myth that expounds the pressure to always appear to be happy and content, and to do (buy) anything to make us happy. But looking at our negative and positive rolls in the environment can make us happy -- knowledge empowers and creates action; whereas denial keeps us trapped in a cycle of stagnation, something corporate spin doctors and government lobbyists love.

Go plant a milkweed and get liberated. Trade in the gas mower for a reel mower, or the lawn for a prairie garden. Live connected and fuller and richer. Let your landscape be an ideology that screams freedom for all species today and tomorrow, including this dude below.

Amen, brother. I cannot wait to speak to Benjamin Vogt this morning.

Hang onto those pumpkins long enough to recycle them

A few weeks ago, I talked about growing giant pumpkins with George Janowiak from the Illinois Giant Pumpkin Growers Association. If you're wondering about the results of the annual Illinois weigh-off, here they are the top ten:

1 1,692.50 Genweiler, Jackson
2 1,641.50 Clementz, Mark
3 1,626.50 Hall, Brexton
4 1,416.50 Platte, Joe
5 1,385.50 Howell/Jolivette,
6 1,321.50 Barenie, John
7 1,300.00 Janowiak, George
8 1,241.50 McIlvaine, Tom
9 1,154.00 Carlson-Peterson, Team C/ P
10 1,115.00 Shenoha, Jeff

One of the amazing things about this list is that there is no pumpkin under 1,000 pounds. George came in seventh, but he set a personal best, and he was pretty happy about it.

But none of those pumpkins came close to Napa, California farmer John Hawkley , whose bad boy weighed in at 2,058 pounds. And he didn't measure up to the world record, which was set this year by Swiss grower Beni Meier of Ludwigsburg, Germany, who set a world record at 2,323 pounds.

What the heck is going on? As the New York Times reports, it's all about the genetics:

Beni Meier's record-smashing pumpkin was bred from a Wallace 2009 seed taken from Ron Wallace's 2012 pumpkin Freak II, which was the first to  weigh more than a ton . The seeds from Meier's pumpkin will likely sell at auction for  more than a thousand dollars each.

While growing pumpkins is one thing, disposing of them is quite another. According to Kay McKeen of SCARCE,

  • Illinois is the number one producer of pumpkins in the U.S.
  • The state accounts for about 500,000,000 pounds of pumpkin
  • 85% of pumpkins from all over the world are processed in Morton, IL
  • Pumpkins are comprised of from 80 to 90% water

But in terms of composting, they are considered "green," or nitrogen rich material. You can compost them in your own yard and make your soil that much fertile.

Or, if you don't have the room and you don't want your pumpkin to end up in a landfill, you can try Plan B, which is to hang on to the reminants of your jack-o'-lanterns for about a week and participate in SCARCE's FIRST EVER PUMPKIN PITCH on November 8 from 9am-noon. So far, Kay says that these sites are available:

Wheaton Pumpkin Collection:  Drop off pumpkins at the Commuter Parking Lot on the corner of Carlton & Liberty Streets in Wheaton.  
Elmhurst Pumpkin Collection:  Drop off pumpkins at the Public Works Garage. 2985 S. Riverside Dr.
Will County Collection: County Building parking lot ( 302 N Chicago Street  Joliet, IL 60432 ) on Friday, Nov. 7 (a week after Halloween) from 6am to Noon.

Meanwhile, there's still time to support the great work of SCARCE. Their third annual Green Tie Gala is tonight, Sunday, October 26 from 4:00 to 9:00 p.m. at The Westin Hotel, 70 Yorktown Shopping Center
Lombard, IL 60147. Purchase tickets or make a monetary donation HERE. Approximately $50 of the ticket price is tax deductible -the exact amount will be itemized on your final receipt.

The irrepressible Kay McKeen joins me this morning to talk about recycling pumpkins and supporting her wonderful organization.

The City of Chicago picks up your yard waste...finally...kind of...(take deux)

I'm reposting this piece from last week, mainly because I didn't get around to talking about it on the program. Well, this week, it WILL happen. Meanwhile...

Let me start by pointing out what I think of as the obvious: when it comes to leaves and plant material and other "yard waste," the best thing you can do with it is to compost it yourself in your own yard. If you have any questions, check with Illinois Extension.

That said, if you live in the City of Chicago and you wonder what happens when a sanitation crew picks up your yard waste... you're not the only one. In fact, if you pay attention to things like this, you might have noticed that the City rarely says anything at all about yard waste. That's because it hasn't been on their radar for, oh, forever.

Allow me to explain. In the late 1980s,, the Illinois General Assembly passed several laws to deal with solid waste disposal in the state. This Summary of Illinois' Solid Waste Legislation explains that

Illinois does not have an omnibus law that deals wi th solid waste management issues; many separate pieces of legislation focus on waste reduction and recycling. The three major laws that impact and guide the pr ograms and functions of the Division of Recycling and Wast e Reduction, Illinois Energy Office, Illinois Depar tment of Commerce and Economic Opportunity's (DCEO) are the Illinois Solid Waste Management Act, the Illinois S olid Waste Planning and Recycling Act, and the Illinois Environmental Protection Act.

With regard to yard waste, you need to look at the Environmental Protection Act, which, among other things, banned landscape waste (grass, leaves and brush) from being landfilled effective July 1, 1990.

However, if you have a moment, take a look at the City of Chicago's own records from its recycling program for the last few years:


I call your attention in those charts to the second column on the right, the one called "Yard Waste%." Spoiler alert: you're going to see a string of zeroes under that column, going all the way back to 2010.

What does that mean? It means, basically, that the City of Chicago has not been picking up yard waste separate from other recyclables and waste. Which means that if it gets picked up at all, it must be ending up in landfills which seems to be in violation of state law.

I'll pause to let that sink in.

The good news is that the City, perhaps in part at the urging of the Chicago Recycling Coalition (full disclosure: I am currently its non-paid president), has just announced what it calls Chicago's Citywide Clean and Green Volunteer Program. From their website:

On Saturday, November 8, 2014, Chicagoans can join a two decade long tradition of teaming up with community groups and the City of Chicago to help beautify your communities by cleaning up and recycling fall leaves and other yard debris. All you have to do is team up and sign up to clean a neighborhood location near you. By cleaning up leaves and other debris, you can help keep storm drains and curb lanes clear before snowfall this winter benefiting your whole community.

Farther down the page, Streets and San says that

Through the Clean and Green effort to clean up leaves and other debris before winter, the Department of Streets and Sanitation (DSS) is coordinating dedicated bagged leaf collection for residents for three weeks this November.

  • From November 3, through November 21, 2014, residents can call 311 to request bagged leaf and yard waste collection.
  • A Department of Streets and Sanitation (DSS) truck will collect leaves and other yard waste separately based on the 311 calls and take the yard waste to be composted.
  • Collection will occur during the week it is called into 311.
  • Residents should bag the yard waste separately from garbage in the black carts and recycling in the Blue Carts.
  • Residents should leave the bagged yard waste in the alley or on the curb for collection.

As a reminder, yard waste should not be thrown in the Blue Cart as it contaminates the recycling stream.

My friend Betsy Vandercook, who is chief of staff for Alderman Joe Moore in the 49th Ward, notes that "clean-up" day has nothing to do with the 311 yard-waste-pickups... For the clean-up day,  volunteers are given heavy-duty plastic bags, gloves, shovels, etc, usually in the ward office, and go out to pick up mostly litter, from empty whiskey bottles to used diapers (hey, it's a city). There is some clearing leaves from sewer openings, but even those bags will contain sludge and trash. So there will be no effort (nor should there be) to compost them.  When filled, the bags are cinched and left out on corners; later a DSS garbage truck comes by and picks them up. After a few hours of work, the volunteers are then usually treated to a lunch at the ward office.

Which means that most of the stuff picked up on the work day, whether it is November 8 (or October 25, as it is in my 26th Ward), will not be composted. Furthermore, if you want to have your leaves and yard waste composted, you must calll 311 between November 3 and November 21. Which means you must "opt in" to the program, or your stuff won't be collected.

I have several issues with the way the City is handling this.

  • "Opt in" programs are historically not as successful as city-wide efforts. How many people do you think are going to call 311 to have their yard waste picked up?
  • The time frame--November 3 to 21--is a little late in the game to be picking up fall yard waste. A lot of work will be finished by then. Heck, I'm pretty sure our first snow storm happened before November 21 in 2013.
  • This seems like a half-hearted attempt to follow the letter of the law. Will we have more yard waste pickup in the spring and throughout the growing season, starting in April of 2015?

That said, I hope that my fellow citizens of Chicago will get involved in the Clean and Green effort in the next few weeks. I also hope that the City of Chicago starts to take seriously their responsibility to compost our yard waste, rather than dumping it into landfills. "Greenest city in the world" indeed.




The Amundsen Family



Benjamin Vogt. Mike seriously wanted this to be the
only picture we posted of Mr. Vogt. Kathleen the
webmaster prevailed because she's the one who
posts the graphics. So, below is a more conventional
view of Benjamin Vogt, PhD.



"I pledge allegiance to the crap you put in your lawn . . ."
Is this what you had in mind, Mr. Vogt?


Mike's front lawn


Giant Pumpking winner 2013

George Janowiak's 2014 pumpkin next to a beer keg,
to show size.

More conventionally sized pumpkins

Kay McKeen of SCARCE