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Chicago Botanic Garden puts local focus on World Environment Day

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Evolving stories About Growing Food in a Big City

Chicago Botanic Garden puts local focus on World Environment Day

Cassandra West

Danielle Nierenberg, president and co-founder of Food Tank, delivered the keynote at the Chicago Botanic Garden’s World Environment Day celebration.

Danielle Nierenberg, president and co-founder of Food Tank, delivered the keynote at the Chicago Botanic Garden’s World Environment Day celebration.

For a global event that’s been around since 1972, World Environment Day (WED) doesn’t get much attention in these parts. This year’s version came and went without the kind of local fanfare that usually surrounds events like Earth Day. The Chicago Botanic Garden was the exception, though — thankfully. It put on a #WED2015 extravaganza on June 6, filling its manicured grounds with horticulture and cooking demonstrations, recycling events, community displays, and family entertainment.

The United Nations General Assembly established WED to raise awareness around pressing environmental issues and designated June 5 as the official day every year. This year’s theme, “Seven Billion Dreams. One Planet. Consume with Care,” encouraged people around the globe to share their dream and make a pledge in support of the environmental Sustainable Development Goals.

WED activities took place in cities around the world, including in Milan, where global leaders discussed the links between water and sustainable development.

The Botanic Garden brought in Danielle Nierenberg, president and co-founder of Food Tank, to give the keynote presentation for its eighth annual WED. Nierenberg, who used to live in Chicago, where Food Tank started, talked about the imperatives of moving to a more sustainable food system. Her beliefs are informed by looking at agroecological practices around the globe that enable small farms to do less harm to the environment while producing high-yield crops.

She also weighed in on one of today’s hottest topics: food waste. Food Tank is a leading proponent of food waste reduction. “Trust your senses, not expiration dates, to tell you whether food is safe to eat,” she said. Nierenberg pointed to organizations like the Food Recovery Network, for instance, which mobilizes colleges and universities to fight food waste and hunger by recovering perishable food and donating to communities in need.

A panel discussion titled, “The Food Scorecard: Local and Global,” followed Nierenberg’s talk. Panelist and Family Farmed founder Jim Slama said consumer demand and transparency will be the biggest drivers in making local and sustainable food production more competitive.

In keeping with its own WED theme, “A day for awareness and action,” the Garden made itself an environmentalist’s wonderland, packing the day with a rich variety of activities and learning opportunities. At the Plant Science Center, Tom Skilling lectured on climate and weather, drawing a huge crowd. At the Regenstein Fruit and Vegetable Garden, Oak Parker Jennifer Murtoff of Home to Roost talked about keeping backyard chickens and Garden horticulturist Lisa Hilenberg answered questions on organic vegetable gardening.

Offered, too, were eco-friendly demonstrations on lawn care, rose care and pest management, as well as advice on raised bed gardening, beneficial insects and vermicomposting. And, there were plenty of free giveaways to anyone who wanted to take home a tomato or milkweed plant.

In all, it was a good day to stop and pay close attention to the environment and all it offers us. Which is everything.