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July 22, 2015

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How to spend a day in the middle of a prairie

It's going to be difficult not to make thisi post sound like a commercial for The Pizzo Group, but, trust me, it's not. Jack Pizzo is not paying me a dime (though I'm sitting by the phone, in case you want to give me a jingle, J.P.) As I state in the show itself, this particular program was kind of an accident. I'll explain.

I got invited to The Pizzo Group’s 27th Annual Celebration & Summer Solstice Party out in Leland, Illinois, which is a couple of hours west of Chicago. The business is located on an island of restored prairie, which, unsurprisingly in that part of the state, is surrounded by untold acres of corn and soybeans. If you've never been there, it's a revelation to see the abundance of pure life in the middle of what could be described as pure horticultural conformity.

This is a full day of activities, including seminars, a plant sale, a tour of the prairie with "John James Audubon" (more on that in a second, live entertainment and even a pig roast at the end of the day.

Among the speakers were Grace Koehler from Pizzo Native Plant Nursery, Dave Marquardt of Dirt-N-Turf, Bill Carter of Prairie Moon Nursery, Commissioner Debra Shore from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, John McCabe and Chris Anchor from the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, and, of course, Jack Pizzo.

There were some sandwiches for lunch, but the big food event of the day was the annual pig roast with whole hogs, actually, prepared by Bob Whitmer of S&W Farms in Plano, Illinois. And since I got a chance to taste some of the main dish (and even take some for the road), I talked to Whitmer for a few minutes about his craft./

I wasn't sure if I was going to attend, but at the last second I headed out to Leland to have some fun. And I brought along the mp3 recorder...just in case. As you can see by the lineup, I guy like me was probably going to learn something about native plants or the soil or water conservation or wildlife even by accident. So I caught a couple of talks and chatted with Jack Pizzo, Grace Koehler and Debra Shore (Dave Marquardt slipped away before I could chat with him) and Bob Whitmer.

And because I spent my formative years hanging around and running a theatre company, I couldn't resist the lure of storyteller Brian "Fox" Ellis, who was leading folks on short hikes through the prairie as American ornithologist, naturalist, and painter John James Audubon. Brian's company is Fox Tales International and among other historical figures he portrays are Charles Darwin, Gregor Mendel, Walt Whitman, Edgar Allen Poe, and Civil War General Black Jack Logan.

I don't think there are too many radio guys who have interviewed Audubon, especially in the middle of a prairie. Though this is audio and not video, I think you will enjoy the word pictures he paints, and you might even learn a couple of things about the natural world. I did.

That's it. I had a great time and I hope you do, too. Enjoy the show.

 Past Shows


Mike, Jack Pizzo and his granddaughter Charlotte

Brian "Fox" Ellis as John James Audubon