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Evolving stories About Growing Food in a Big City

Danielle Nierenberg will speak at Chicago Botanic Garden on World Environment Day

Cassandra West

Danielle Nierenberg, president of Food Tank and an expert on sustainable agriculture and food issues, will give the keynote address, “The Food Scorecard: Local and Global,” during World Environment Day at the Chicago Botanic Garden on June 6.

The food activist and sustainable agriculture expert will share insights gleaned from two years spent meeting with farmers and farmers’ groups, scientists and researchers around the world about protecting the environment.

The two-year-old New York-based Food Tank is a 501(c)(3) that focuses “on building a global community for safe, healthy, nourished eaters.”

Nierenberg, who says our food system depends on a healthy environment, points to the fact that agriculture is responsible for much of the environmental degradation all over the world.

In a recent email to Food Tank followers, she wrote: “Beekeepers continue to lose 30 percent of honeybee colonies during an average winter likely because of pesticides and other agrochemicals. Soil degradation is occurring at staggering rates with soils being depleted 10 to 40 times faster than they are being replenished. And up to 100,000 plant varieties are currently endangered worldwide.”

A panel of local agriculture and food advocates will join Nierenberg: Angela Mason, the Garden’s associate vice president for urban agriculture and the Windy City Harvest program. Mason will discuss the indispensable role of training and education in creating a sustainable agriculture system in both urban and ex-urban environments. Other panelists include Jim Slama, founder of Family Farmed and the Good Food Business Accelerator; Kris Murray, director of the Washburne Culinary & Hospitality Institute at Kennedy King College, part of the City Colleges of Chicago; and Bobby Turner, regional vice president of purchasing and distribution for the Whole Foods Market Midwest Region. The presentation begins at 10:30 a.m. in the Alsdorf Auditorium.

The actual World Environment Day, established by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), is Friday, June 5. This will be the Botanic Garden’s eighth annual World Environment Day celebration, designed to inspire environmental action with a full day of presentations, demonstrations and family activities from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday.

  • WGN-TV chief meteorologist Tom Skilling will questions about local weather trends and global climate change, and discuss action the Garden is taking to mitigate these risks.
  • Jacob Burns, curator of herbaceous perennials, will answer questions atop the Plant Science Center’s green roof garden, an ongoing research project evaluating the best plants for rooftops in the upper Midwest.
  • Nyree Zerega, Ph.D., will present her research on breadfruit, a non-traditional food crop with the potential to feed citizens in the world’s poorest countries.
  • Other researchers will present work on night time pollinators, monarch butterflies, wild land restoration, the ecology of urban rooftop gardens,and managing native prairies.
  • Garden horticulturist Lisa Hilgenberg will offer tips on growing vegetables the organic way.
  • Cleetus Friedman, executive chef of innovative Chicago eateries Fountainhead, the Bar on Buena and the Northman and a leader in Chicago’s green food movement will offer up ways to prepare fresh. Friedman will give cooking demonstrations at 1:30 and 2:30 p.m. in the Fruit & Vegetable Garden Demonstration. Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis.
  • Members of the sustainable agricultural community, such as Band Farmers: The Chicagoland CSA Coalition and the East Slope Farms CSA, will provide information on obtaining locally and sustainably grown produce, and supporting regional farmers.