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March 19, 2015

A week of festivals in Chicago:

The 11th Annual Good Food Festival & Conference...

It's only fitting that my final interview leading up to the Good Food Festival & Conference is with Jim Slama, who is the founder, president and guiding force behind Family Farmed, which has been putting on this event for eleven years. He's not exactly a slouch when it comes to making his presence felt regarding environmental matters. From Family Farmed's website:'s work earned the Yahoo! for Good Green Award. In 1999 Jim was named by Crain's Chicago Business to its “Forty Under Forty” annual list of leading young business and civic leaders. Jim also received the Chicago Tribune Good Eating Award for his contributions to the Chicago food and beverage world. Jim was the founding publisher and editor of Conscious Choice magazine. During his 14 years tenure, Conscious Choice was named nine times by Utne Reader as a member of the Best of the Alternative Press.

Yeah, but what have you done for us lately?

Actually, the answer to that is the Good Food Festival & Conference, which brings together farmers, producers, policy stakeholders, financers, merchants, innovators, chefs, entrepreneurs and, of course, the public--all under one roof, with the common goal of figuring out ways that we can all eat tastier, healthier food.

As i write this, the event has already begun and runs at the UIC Forum, 725 W Roosevelt Road in Chicago, from March 19 through 21.

The Chicago Flower & Garden Show at Navy Pier...

Meanwhile, not that far away, on the lakefront, a show that has been running--some say as far back as 1847!--is the Chicago Flower & Garden Show presented Mariano's. Under the leadership of current president and show director Tony Abruscato, the quality of the event has slowly but surely improved. This year's show, with the theme "Do Green. Do Good." acquits itself rather well.

Among the features are 25 or so feature gardens, a marketplace, seminars and workshops, garden gourmet, kids activity garden, tablescapes, art of floral exhibit and much more.

I'm not offering a comprehensive review of this year's show, mainly because I spent most of my time there in the marketplace booth for Chicagoland Gardening Magazine, selling and signing copies of my book, Attack of the Killer Asparagus (do you have your copy yet? Seriously, what are you waiting for??) Anyway, in putting this week's podcast together, I let myself be moved by the moment...provided I had my recorder with me.

So, when I noticed that an old friend, landscape architect Scott Mehaffey, was involved in the design for a rose garden called A Classic Rose Garden, and he also happened to be standing in it and talking to garden show patrons, well, it was a no brainer to get a quick interview with him.

Then, as I was strolling through the show, I ran into a colleague and friend of The Mike Nowak Show, Dan Kosta from Vern Goers Greenhouse in Hinsdale. Now Dan had nothing to do with the flower show, except that he bought a ticket and showed up with his friend Laura. But we had just been through a couple of days of unusually warm weather, and I knew that Dan would have some good advice about what to do and what not to do in the garden in Chicago right now.

...and the people who tweet about them

What good is having a gardening or food show, if nobody knows about it? And in the 21st Century, that means more than justl the traditional media. It means Facebook and Google+ and Pinterest and Instagram and Tumblr and, of course Twitter.

Enter Bren Haas (@BG_Garden) and her fellow garden writers/bloggers/reporters, who get together every Monday night at 8pm Central Time and participate in something called #gardenchat. If you know nothing about Twitter, the hashtag (#) is a way to identify a word or a phrase that can be used by all tweeters to connect them to an online conversation. Of course, people can tweet anytime using #gardenchat, which they do.

Normally, Bren runs #gardenchat from her home in Ohio, bringing in a "guest" tweeter (I was actually in the guest chair once), but occasionally she hits the road to attend events like the Chicago Flower & Garden Show at Navy Pier. She gathered a bunch of Twitter types together at the Sheraton Chicago, where we had coffee, cheesecake, chocolate cake and, though we were sitting all together at a table, barely looked at each other for an hour as we tweeted our little hearts out.

We live in a strange century.

Anyway, Bren appears on this week's podcast, talking about her own love of growing things and how #gardenchat came together.



 Past Shows


Jim Slama

Scott Mehaffey and Mike in the rose garden at the
Chicago Flower & Garden Show

Laura, Dan and Mike at the Flower Show

Bren Haas and Mike at #gardenchat in Chicago