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May 24, 2015

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Intensive small space gardening for a world class chef

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I met Bill Shores in 2009, when when we were both invited to speak to the Adams County, Illinois Master Gardeners at their annual Gardener's Palette event at John Wood Community College in Quincy. As I recall, we were just about the only people in the Amtrak car on the way back, so we spent quite a bit of the time swapping gardening stories.

I'm not sure if I had ever heard of Rick Bayless at that time (yes, that Rick Bayless), but I listened intently as Shores described how he had been working for Bayless for several years. The impressive part was that, in a typical Chicago backyard, he was practicing what he calls intensive small scale food production to provide fresh produce for the Bayless restaurants. I promised Bill that I would come and visit the yard soon.

Well, that "soon" turned into six years, but after running into Bill several times during that period, including in March at the Good Food Festival & Conference, I knew that it would finally happen. So on a cloudless May afternoon, I visited Shores in his garden behind the house of Rick and Deann Bayless in the Bucktown neighborhood of Chicago. This isn't the only thing that he's working on, by any stretch of the imagination. Among the accomplishments that you can find on the website of his own business, Shores Garden Consulting, are his work with the Bayless gardens and greenhouses, as well as numerous consulting projects and working production gardens.

As you'll hear in the podcast, the space, nestled up against The 606 (or Bloomingdale Trail, if you haven't caught on to the rebranding effort yet), is actually three city lots, though two thirds of the area is used for either ornamentals or entertainment, including (of course) an outdoor kitchen.

That doesn't leave a lot of space for Shores and his crops, though he makes the best of it, incorporating beds for a wide variety of greens, squash (used primarily for the flowers), herbs, raspberries, grapes, and even exotics like prickly pear cactus (again, used for the blooms). There are also vermicomposting and yard waste composting bins, traditional beds, raised beds, containers, vertical and indoor garden spaces, a semi-enclosed work area that serves a variety of functions and, when I visited, even a small, portable greenhouse.

The greenhouse was home to one of the special, if no-so-secret, ingredients that Rick Bayless uses in his restaurants, especially Topolobampo--a semi-tropical herb called hoja santa (Piper auritum). The name means "sacred leaf" and Shores told me that he grows a lot of it. In 2014, he harvest 70 pounds of leaves, and considering that there are about 70 leaves per pound, that's a a lot of hoja santa.

If you've never grown the plant and would like to see what it looks like, take peak at the short video "Growing Hoja Santa with Bill Shores" that Kathleen Thompson produced after my visit to the garden.

It was a delight to be able to record an interview of my special tour of the Bayless garden and present it on my show. By the way, Bill offers those tours to the general public for a modest fee, and I'd be surprised if you weren't inspired.

And I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Rick and Deann Bayless have a wonderful organization called The Frontera Farmer Foundation, a not-for-profit organization committed to promoting small, sustainable farms serving the Chicago area by providing them with capital development grants. Decades before the word "locavore" entered the food growing lexicon, Bayless was tracking down local, organic produce for his restaurants and helping to lead the movement that has changed the way we eat.

Keep track of your recycling with this app

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It's pretty easy to become discouraged about the environmental state of our planet (among a myriad of issues), until you realize that there are young people out there who are just as concerned as you are about the problems that face us all.

Back in February, I interviewed Claire Micklin about an app she created, called My Building Doesn't Recycle! It is a website/app that gives citizens a chance to report high rises that fail to observe what is actually a law in Chicago--that multi-unit buildings must have a recycling plan in place. Unfortunately, the so-called Burke-Hansen ordinance is, in the words of Shakespeare, more honor'd in the breach than the observance.

Because I have been involved with the Chicago Recycling Coalition for about ten years, I was able to offer Claire some assistance as she and her co-techies created their recycling app. I was pleased when she became something of a rock star earlier this year, with articles in the Chicago Tribune, a piece on WBEZ and more. I was even more pleased that the issue of recycling was once again making headlines.

Then, just a few weeks ago, I interviewed another young environmentalist, Ashley Williams, with whom I had worked on the issue of frac sand mining in LaSalle County, Illinois. At the age of 24, she is already being honored for her activism on behalf of the planet. She just graduated from Illinois Valley Community College and is prepared to enter the Institute of Environmental Sustainability at Loyola University in Chicago.

And now I have become introduced to another student who is trying to make a difference. Dusan Koleno just graduated with honors from the Computer Science program at Roosevelt University. But along the way, he decided to take a course in the Sustainability Studies Department called Waste and Consumption. And it inspired him to create his own app, called Recycle Tracker, which can be downloaded for Android phone on Google Play.

I found out about this when my buddy Tom Shepherd forwarded this article to me from Roosevelt University. After downloading the app, I gave Kolen a call and he walked me through it during our interview. Among other things, it helps you figure out how many trees and how many kilowatt hours of energy you save by recycling.

I hope a few of you decide to give it a try. And allow me to give a quick shout out to Mike Bryson, who is a co-founder of the Sustainabilities Department at Roosevelt. Keep cranking out students like Dusan Koleno, Mike, and we'll all be just fine.



 Past Shows



Mike with Bill Shores

Two photos of the Bayless garden


Dusan Koleno (photo from Roosevelt University)