Chicago Botanic Garden Puts Local Focus on World Environment Day

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By Cassandra West

World Environment Day (WED) came and went without the kind of local fanfare that usually surrounds events like Earth Day. The Chicago Botanic Garden was the exception. It put on a #WED2015 extravaganza on June 6 that featured a full day of lectures, demonstrations, exhibitions and entertainment at stations throughout the Garden. Celebrated every June 5, WED raises awareness around pressing environmental issues. The United Nations General Assembly first established the day in 1972. 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 around the world, including in Milan, where global leaders discussed the links between water and sustainable development.

For the Garden’s eighth annual WED festivities, Danielle Nierenberg, president and co-founder of Food Tank, gave the keynote presentation. She 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.

 Milkweed germinating seeds.

Milkweed germinating seeds.

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 theme, “A day for awareness and action,” the Garden provided ongoing demonstrations and displays in almost every building on its 385-acre grounds.

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 for being good to the environment.