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August 31, 2014

Carol Brewer visits the Global Garden Refugee Training Farm

While I love visiting the great gardens in and around Chicago, I don't mind taking a breather from time to time to let my staff pick up the slack. Carol Brewer has been hanging around the radio studio for a year or so now, answering phones and helping out on Facebook and Twitter, and she decided to go out into the real world to visit a great program on Chicago's near northwest side. Here is her report:

Linda Seyler is director and farm manager of Global Garden Refugee Training Farm , located at Sacramento and Lawrence Aves in Chicago's Albany Park neighborhood. The farm, which once was a vacant lot, allows 100 families from Bhutan and Burma to grow organic vegetables for themselves and to sell to their neighbors at both the farm market days and at Horner Park Farmers Market.

Started in 2012, the mission of  Global Garden Refugee Training Farm is

  • To improve access to fresh vegetables for newly arrived refugee families and their urban neighbors; 
  • Feed the souls of displaced farmers through reconnection with the soil and food production;
  • Provide supplemental income for participating refugee farmers; and
  • Foster new, refugee-operated farms.

Besides maintaining the market days and the Farmers Market, a few of the other many accomplishments since opening have been that the farmers have built a 20' x 80' hoop green house to keep production going year round; two beehives were purchased and farmers received basic training in standard bee keeping; a new tool shed for supplies was built; community volunteers have been recruited and trained to assist with organizing and leading work on the farm; Tre Kronor, a local Swedish restaurant, secures a bulk order of the farm's produce; and CSA customers have topped off at 11 this summer.

The farm has become so popular within the refugee community that there are now more applicants than farm spots. Securing a second farm site is high on the agenda. For more information about volunteer opportunities and how you can become involved, email

Yvette Kyaw joins Linda in studio this morning.  She is the Burmese Health Promoter with Heartland Alliance Refugee Health Programs, serves on the farm's Advisory Board, and volunteers many hours to the farm as an interpreter and liaison with the Burmese farmers. Also stopping by are Uma Devi Mishra, who is Health Promoter with Heartland Alliance's Refugee Health Programs and volunteers as an interpreter and liaison with the Bhutanese farmers, and  
Hasta Bhattarai, Director of the Bhutanese Community Asociation of Illinois, who serves on the Farm's Advisory Board and volunteers many hours of interpretation and case management.

Carol didn't stop with just lining up guests. She went out to the Global Garden Refugee Training Farm and did an on-site recording. Very "NPR," you know. We will air that this morning, too.

Dennis Anderson, candidate for the Illinois 14th Congressional District

I tend to shy away from overtly political show segments. However, it was Thomas Paine who said that "These are times that try men's souls." I couldn't agree more--even 238 years later. Which is why I'm pleased to have Dennis Anderson on my program this morning. He is the Democratic candidate for the 14th Congressional District of Illinois, currently represented by Republican Randy Hultgren, and, let's be honest--this fight is an uphill battle for him.

If you look at a map of the district, which includes parts of DeKalb, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry and Will counties, it seems to be drawn specifically to cater to the conservative suburban vote. And if the 14th District seems familiar, it might be because it was represented by Dennis Hastert, who not only served the district for 20 years, but who was the longest serving Republican Speaker of the House in U.S. History.

As you know, I'm a guy who believes in protecting our environment. We have only one planet and, frankly, we've treated it pretty shabbily for a long time. So if you look at the League of Conservation Voters National Environmental Scorecard for Randy Hultgren, you're not going to be impressed. His lifetime score is 9%, and his 2013 score was 4%(!). You have to work pretty hard to be that indifferent and/or hostile to the natural world

I'm not generally a one-issue guy, but that's not the kind of record that is going to get my vote. And it doesn't help that Hultgren has been dodging his own constituents, refusing to hold public town hall meetings in his district during the August congressional recess. That led Dennis Anderson to hold more than a dozen of his own town hall meetings, though he is not (yet) a U.S. Representative.

In responding to a Sierra Club questionnaire, he says he supports

  • the cessation of subsidies of the massively-profitable fossil fuels industry
  • the creation of new research and development subsidies for alternative and green energy
  • the development of a long-overdue comprehensive national energy policy that reflects an understanding of the need - for economic, national security and environmental reasons - for a move away from fossil fuels and toward renewable and environmentally friendly energy sources
  • revision of tax policies to provide to individuals, communities, businesses and industries incentives for switching to renewable energy sources
  • energy policies that reflect an understanding of the need to protect our natural resources, including land, water and wilderness areas; and that requires utilities to move to renewable sources of power

When it comes to dirty energy like tar sands extraction, he states,

Not only are tar sands in and of themselves a particularly nasty energy source, but the transport of this product through environmentally sensitive areas represents a disaster waiting to happen. We know that pipelines leak. We know that tar sands represent a particularly difficult clean-up challenge when spilled, and we know that these pipelines do not offer great economic, employment or energy cost benefits. The downside risks greatly outweigh potential benefits.

Anderson says unequivocally that he would support federal Wilderness designation for Ripple Hollow, Burke Branch, and Camp Hutchins areas in the Shawnee National Forest and would support banning oil and gas exploration on all of the Shawnee National Forest. That area is also under threat from coal interests, specifically Peabody Energy, which is apparently moving mining equipment into position at Rocky Branch in defiance of a still-pending strip mine permit, according to this story by Jeff Biggers.

But something that has completely surprised me is his position on animal rights and the fact that he is actually campaigning on it. You might have heard Anderson on one of his several recent appearances on The Norman Goldman Show on Chicago's Progressive Talk. Here's how Anderson talks about animal welfare issues:

We must expand the reach of the Animal Welfare Act to end puppy mills. Americans must be made to understand that they contribute to the misery and mistreatment suffered by puppy mill dogs, as well as the overpopulation and eventual euthanasia of millions of dogs, every time they purchase a puppy from irresponsible breeders or from a pet store that obtains their dogs from puppy mills...

The First Amendment of the US Constitution protects the freedom of speech, yet several states have tried to pass legislation that would prevent organizations such as the Humane Society or individual citizens from documenting acts of animal cruelty.  These measures are collectively called “AgGags” (see for more information).  I will fight any attempt to federalize such a law.

I support passage of the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act which has been cosponsored by 304 House members including the entire Illinois Congressional delegation except for Representatives Randy Hultgren and John Shimkus.  Similar legislation and support can be found in the Senate where the legislation is being blocked by a GOP filibuster. Soring is an incredibly barbaric process of deliberately inflicting pain in the legs and feet of horses in order to create the exaggerated high-stepping gait of a horse to gain an unfair competitive advantage at horse shows.  

There is also a need for congressional action to pass a permanent ban on domestic horse slaughter and the export of horses for slaughter, and I would cosponsor the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act.

He notes that his opponent, Randy Hultgren, has

Here's a story that explains the PAST Act, mentioned above, in more detail.

I could write more, but I'm not Mr. Anderson's press guy. I do welcome him on the show this morning to talk about his 2014 Congressional Campaign.

September 1: the centenary of a not-so-wonderful event

I did a quick search for September 1 on the Interwebs and found an entry on Wikipedia that listed some of the important events on that date. Among them:

And, of course,

The 100th anniversary of that last event happens tomorrow, and it's a cautionary tale for the 21st Century. Many people (and I'm one of them) believe we have already entered the Sixth Great Extinction--and if even Time Magazine is saying it's true, you know we're screwed. And if you don't believe Time, take a look at this list of species that were officially declared extinct in 2013.

Personally, I observe the start of the Sixth Great Extinction with the death of Martha, which is chronicled in the book, ok, A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon's Flight to Extinction, written by Chicago-based naturalist Joel Greenberg.

He's back on the show this morning, briefly, because I couldn't imagine observing this anniversary without him. Or, for that matter, without David Mrazek, who directed the documentary, From Billions to None: The Passenger Pigeon's Flight to Extinction. And it's not just because David and Joel asked me to narrate the film, which I was honored to do.

It's because we're truly on the precipice as a species, and not enough people are aware of it yet. One way to get the word out is to have people see this important film. It is airing tonight in the Chicago area on WYCC, Channel 20, at 7:30 p.m. It will be seen again on Thursday, September 11 on WTTW11, Chicago at 10:00 p.m. You can watch the trailer here.

The film recently received a 2014 Broadcast Award at the American Conservation Film Festival, and it's certainly worth an hour of your time to learn something about human nature and how it does or doesn't change. If you don't live in Chicago, here's a full list of airings on public television for the next month or so.






Linda Seyler of Global Garden Refugee Training Farm
Photo by Anthony Raap/MEDILL

Farmer at Global Garden
Photo by Sarah Tilotta

Yvette Kyaw, Burmese Health Promoter with
Heartland Alliance Refugee Health Programs


Dennis Anderson, candidate for Illinois 14th
Congressional District




Joel Greenberg

David Mrazek