Chicago Green Festival 2013

•May 2, 2013 • Leave a Comment

No matter what shade of green you are, the Chicago Green Festival536583_10150821738764410_278215457_n is sure to have something to interest you.

I’ve gone several years and always come away with an interesting product, having met a fascinating person or learned about a new trend or opportunity.

If Chicago isn’t convenient for you, check out the other locations around the USA.

There’s something for everyone.  I encourage you to go get your green on May 18 & 19.


Spring is the Ultimate Growing Summit

•May 2, 2013 • Leave a Comment

In March I was honored to attend and be one of the keynote speakers for the annual Unity Gardens’ Growing Summit.  People from around the community came to learn how to grow all sorts of things from food to bees.

Now I’d like to encourage you to take the next step and actually start growing.  This May 11th the Unity Gardens located at LaSalle Square in South Bend is hosting their annual Spring Garden Opening.  It’s a chance to see a garden “in action”.  You’ll have an opportunity to buy seeds and plants, observe gardening techniques and meeting experts on an array of subjects.  Even the Mayor of South Bend will be there.

Don’t just talk about growing, start doing it!  May 11th is the perfect follow up to the Growing Summit.  The next step will be planting something on your own!


Get Up and Grow

•April 4, 2013 • 1 Comment


I’d like to issue you a challenge this spring.

Get up and GROW!

That’s right, this is the year to grow something.  But when I say grow something, I’m not referring to the grass that has to be fertilized and watered so it can grow in order for you to use time, energy and money to cut it back down to the size so you can water and fertilize it again in order to cut it down again so you can…well, you get the picture.   This year, grow something that gives back…grow FOOD!

Now I know when I say that, many of you already have a voice in your head listing the reasons you cannot grow food.

I don’t have the room for a garden.

Who said anything about a garden?  Let’s stop gardening and start growing.  Growing food can be as simple as a container on the porch as elaborate as acres of well situated rows of vegetables in the sun.  No one can define for you what YOUR garden should look like.  Find a spot, plant a seed and grow food.  Even the New York Times included a recent article about planting your garden in or…on a straw bale.  The photos were enough to make even the most experienced gardener question ever planting in soil again.  One small plant can yield a bountiful harvest.  But if you want more than just a plant, consider buying a plot at your local community garden and plant a salsa garden or an italian cooking garden.  You’ll bs surprised at what a tiny plot of ground can produce.  I have had lived in apartments with no yard at all and grown all my garden on window sills and tiny decks.  The results were…tasty!  If you have room for  a potted plant on your porch or yard, you have room to grow!

I don’t have time.

Growing a few vegetables in a small plot or containers takes far less time and maintenance than a grassy lawn and the results are far more satisfying to the eye…and the tummy!  Growing food takes very little time because there is very little maintenance.  Buy some potting soil, put it in a bucket, add a small tomato plant and watch it grow. You’ll spend more time cooking with it and eating it than you ever did growing it.

I don’t have a green thumb.  

There is no magical green thumb.  Growing food is so much easier than you think.  Start with something small and simple.  Choose some simple herbs like basil, mint or oregano.  Plant them in small pots placed in a sunny location, water daily and harvest accor.  By the end of summer you’ll barely be able to contain the plants in the pots.  You don’t have to know anything except how to  or lettuce.  But small plants from a local grower and follow the instructions given with the plant.  No experience required.  Still feel a little intimidated by it?  Talk to a fellow gardener.  Find a helpful website or Facebook page.  Visit your local community gardens.

So silence the voices in your head by proving them wrong.  Don’t believe the excuses. Get up and GROW!

Ignite Michiana got me Fired Up!

•March 31, 2013 • 1 Comment

ignite_michiana1-300x225Never have I been more inspired by my city than I was Thursday, March 28th at Ignite Michiana.

It was a spectacular evening of inspiring ideas, eighteen of them to be exact, each presented in a 5 minute Ted Talk style accompanied by photos and graphics on the big screen behind them.  The common thread of all the talks was Innovation and Sustainability, so naturally I was interested.  I resisted the urge to participate myself and instead just went as another interested person from South Bend.   I wasn’t sure how my city would respond to this somewhat abstract event that was unlike anything before in South Bend.  To my delight (and to the delight of the organizers) I was one of over 400 people who poured into the new reopened, landmark State Theater in downtown.

The music was thudding as the seats began filling up.  The energy was high and fast paced.  Local foods and drinks were being served along with “I Love South Bend” merchandise.  The crowd was an eclectic mix spanned age barriers and included political leaders, hipsters, college students, educators, business owners, community leaders and more.  Side by side sat, male, female, gay, straight, Republican, Democrat  and everything in between!

The ideas presented were as varied as the audience.  The first presentation of the evening set the stage for innovation by introducing the concept of Science Cafe’s being held on a regular basis in South Bend.  The idea reminded me of Green Drinks in format:  People sharing a common interest coming together over food or drink to benefit from one another.

Next in the evening were water bottles turned into solar lanterns for  lighting rural Africa.  These lanterns are being made right here in South Bend by young teenagers.

We heard about South Bend’s new smart sewer system, the Potowatomi Tribe’s efforts to live harmoniously with Mother Earth via sustainable housing developments.

From there the topics ranged from community gardens, cooperatives, local eating, cloud computing, alternative energy, growing food in your yard, eliminating bottled water and farm based education in schools.

Every idea carried with it some innovation and some element of sustainability.  But perhaps the most encouraging thing about the evening was the crowd itself.  Over 400 people turned out on a Thursday night in South Bend to listen to 18 short lectures on sustainability and innovation.  Now THAT tell me something about the new direction of South Bend.

I’ve never been more inspired by city than I was in that moment.


Growing Summit is Just the Beginning of a Terrific Gardening Season

•March 31, 2013 • 1 Comment

Last week I had the honor presenting the key note address at the 2013 Unity Garden’s Growing Summit along with Krista Bailey.  Together we shared a presentation called “Plant a Garden, Change the World” in which we shared a blend of research, history, facts and colorful stories about community gardening in the USA but more importantly  here in South Bend.  Our talk on Friday night was the kick off to the event, but Saturday is when everyone really had a chance to get their hands in the dirt, so to speak.

Saturday was broken up into many workshops on various gardening topics. Whether you are a aspiring gardner or a master gardner there was a workshop for you.

But the growing summit is just a springboard for growing.  The Unity Gardens continues education by offering classes and workshops all year long.

There is no reason to stop growing!  Look up a class to attend today and get your grow on!

01 Green Gardenbeets

Looking at South Bend through Green Colored Glasses

•March 31, 2013 • Leave a Comment

green-colored-glasses_articleHave you noticed how green South Bend is becoming?  I’m not referring to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.  Like spring’s slow emergence, there has been a greening taking place all around South Bend.

Just a few years ago the words green or sustainable, were almost like a foreign language here.  A few lone figures like Mike Keen of IUSB’s Center for a Sustainable Future, Gary Gilot with the city of South Bend and and a handful of others were quietly speaking the language of sustainability across South Bend .  At first it was difficult to get people to listen to this foreign tongue, but thanks to the diligence of a few a network was built and  now people are listening and understanding.

For decades the message of sustainability was packaged in environmentalism.  Those who aligned themselves with the movement were often labeled treehuggers, hippies, whackos and extremists.  Perhaps this was in part to the message of doom and gloom that seemed to be the basis for hoping to motivate change.  “Let’s scare them into caring.”  It had some impact, but was a turn off for the masses.  People don’t jump on a sinking ship, they jump off of it.

An awakening has happened over the last 20 years.  Most have dropped the language of doom and gloom and embraced something called “The Natural Step”  Instead of issuing a list of do’s and don’ts The Natural Step encourages everyone to look at  where they want to be in living a more sustainable lifestyle and then backcast to the present each natural step to take to get to that goal.  Each step bears in mind the balance and harmony of the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit.

Here in South Bend a handful of voices united and began looking at our city through green colored glasses asking the question “What is the next step we can do to make our city more sustainable?”

Over the last 5 years South Bend has been greening.

The Green Ribbon Commission supports the City of South Bend in its efforts to reduce local contributions to global-warming pollution. It also proposes policies to reduce community energy costs and consumption, and it recommends sustainable practices for adoption by municipal government, private businesses and local citizens.

  • Meanwhile  Notre Dame opened the Office of Sustainability and IUSB began the Center for a Sustainable Future.
  • South Bend Green Drinks began in 2009 providing a monthly meeting for those interested in sustainability to gather and network.
  • LEED certified buildings have popped up around the city including the Transpo Center, IUSB Student Housing, the Kroc Center and others.  Food is changing too.  Local restaurants are featuring more farm to table selections from our region.  The Purple Porch Coop has grown and will soon be moving into their own space in downtown South Bend providing another local food retail option in addition to the South Bend Farmer’s Market. The Unity Gardens have blossomed in just 4 years from 1 garden to over 50 all across our city, offering free food to all.
  • Local business has made a comeback.  Take a drive through downtown and note all the independent retail shops, restaurants and attractions that help make South Bend truly unique and not just a carbon copy of “Anywhere USA”.
  • Earlier this year a hydro turbine was installed in the river.  The Municipal Energy office has gotten involved in energy saving projects like the “Greening of the Garages” in which new, high efficiency lighting is being installed in all three parking garages.  Now thanks to organizations like Greening the Bend, ideas like a green roof on the Century Center, an herb gardens on skyway, rainwater collection from parking garages, living walls  and solar panels on buildings, and more are being explored.

My list would not be complete without mentioning Energy Week 2012, Earth Day Celebrations, the Urban Chicken Alliance, Bike the Bend and most recently Ignite Michiana!

In my fourteen years in South Bend, things have never looked greener!  Our city has what it needs and the right people are engaged to make South Bend a leader in sustainability.  It happens one person at a time.  So now it’s your turn.  What’s your next natural step?

Can a Parking Garage be Green?

•March 24, 2013 • 3 Comments


Everywhere you turn today someone or something is claiming to be “green”.  Because of this overuse, I can’t help but wonder if people of downtown South Bend shrugged and rolled their eyes a bit when I announced a “Greening of the Garages”.  Parking garages hardly seem like the picture of anything “green”.  Here in one massive, single-use structure approximately 400 gas guzzling vehicles each carrying one person come together in a lighted space that requires energy, water, staff and a lot of money to maintain.

As an advocate of sustainability, my perfect world would have no need for parking garages.  People would walk, ride their bikes, take public transportation or at least car pool.  But let’s be honest, while we are making progress in turning South Bend into a more walkable community and encouraging bike ridership, eliminating the need for parking garages is highly unlikely.

So rather than mourn the need for parking garages why not look at how to make them a more sustainable piece of our infrastructure?  Isn’t this the beauty of sustainability?   meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.  We have a need for parking garages in downtown South Bend.

The need?  Parking garages to accommodate the vehicles of those who come downtown.  Let’s meet this present need and still maintain the harmony of environment, economy and society.

Society:  People are essential to downtown South Bend.  We want them to live, work, and play here.  It is important that they have a place to park once they arrive.  To eliminate parking garages would eliminate people.  This would hardly be sustainable.  Parking garages are meeting the societal needs of our present generation.

Economy:  The people who live, work and play in downtown are essential to the economy of South Bend.  To eliminate parking options in downtown would destroy the economy.  Again, this is not sustainable.  Parking garages do not pay for themselves.  They are not a money-making proposition.  The monthly and daily rates paid by parkers does not cover the maintenance and operational costs of the garages.  It requires an ongoing investment of tax dollars to keep these structures open.  They are considered a service offered to those who contribute to the economy each time they park there.

Environment:  The only real environmental element of a parking garage is that it has a smaller footprint than a large parking lot.  Otherwise these garages were built on pure function with no consideration given to sustainability.

So we’ve determined that we need the garages which hold the cars that people drive to downtown.  So the portion of this triple bottom line that is suffering the most is the environmental impact.  So what can we do to bring a better balance to this equation?

How about we “Green the Garages”?

All three city parking garages are currently having a new lighting system installed.  This system will incorporate new highly efficient, energy saving florescent light bulbs.  Each fixture is equipped with sensors that control how much light is used depending on the available daylight and the amount of activity nearby.  It is expected to use 50% less energy.

This summer an unused parking office in the Leighton Garage will be turned into a bicycle garage for cyclist commuters to have a indoor, secure space to lock up their bikes while they are at work.  Plans are already underway for an expansion of this concept.  Soon commuter cyclists will have be renting space for their bikes.

Greening the Bend has been exploring other green ideas such as a rainwater collection area to reuse water run off for watering landscape near the garage.

The garages may one day have solar panels on the sides and top of the roofs to power the lights, elevators and parking equipment.

The garages could be equipped to have vertical green walls on the outside to contribute to clean air in downtown.  Those walls could grow food and control temperature in the garages.

Together we can Green The Garages.

There can be harmony between society, economy and environment.

Speaking Freely

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"…and take counsel with them in all matters of common concern; then, when you have made a decision (accordingly), place your trust in God." Qur'an (3,159) "قال تعالى :" وَشَاوِرْهُمْ فِي الأَمْرِ فَإِذَا عَزَمْتَ فَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى اللَّهِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُتَوَكِّلِين

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