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Archives for March 19, 2016

Chesterfield Valley Nursery: Landscaping Beauty Outside of the Box


Photo courtesy of Chesterfield Valley Nursery

Since 1983, Chesterfield Valley Nursery’s Jim Graeler has worked to create a business that’s outside the box. He started as a one-man operation and is now at 45 employees, some of whom are family members.

“I’ve always been impressed with the unique and unusual,” he says. “We don’t do things ‘cookie-cutter’ here.”

Chesterfield Valley Nursery has grown over the years to become a full-service landscape company, incorporating new, unique plant varieties each year. Graeler says the wide range of plants it provides is a big source of inspiration for him and his business.

“We want [our customers] to walk outside and be wowed by their space,” he says. “We want to create a space that they are drawn to.”

Graeler recalls asking a professor in his college design class if designing is a gift or something you learn. The professor told him it’s both, and Graeler firmly believes that.

“There’s a lot you need to learn about plants to do this, but God creates us all with different gifts and talents,” he says.

When it comes to landscaping and yard design, Graeler says most people are looking for something different – something that doesn’t look like their neighbor’s yard.

“You do that by the types of plants you use, how you group things and how you look at a space,” he says. “Our nursery is set up like that. We have certain areas where we put unique plant combinations together so people can walk through and get ideas.”

The nursery’s mission is to provide quality service to its customers in a friendly, honest and forthright manner. Graeler and his employees welcome visitors to their retail Garden Center to tour their displays, including patio materials, retaining walls, boulders, waterfalls and plant materials.

To learn more, visit or call 636-532-9307.

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Death of a Mannequin: Marco Rubio’s Last Day

On the evening of Tuesday the 15th, when even Marco Rubio must have finally understood that his campaign was over, the 5,000 seats of the Florida International University Arena sat empty as his supporters were herded into a narrow rectangle in the lobby. It was staging for the last time, the crowd — like the ones promised for months — vapor even at the end. 

The signs out in Sunrise, Florida, declared THIS IS RUBIO COUNTRY, and for once they were right. They’d said that in Nevada, where Donald Trump beat Rubio by 22 points, and they’d said that in South Carolina, where Trump beat him by 10. But out here, past West Miami, and its over 60 percent Cuban population, was Rubio’s center of gravity, and, at the end of the day, it was the only place in the state that would have him.

By the time the event started at FIU there were no lines. The Secret Service whisked people through, and for a while journalists outnumbered attendees. Donor types recognized each other, shook hands and leaned in for unsmiling conversation — their voices eventually rising only to compete with the music and talking heads shooting stand-ups. 

The crowd was almost as bad as six days before, when someone either forgot to cancel an event at a Hialeah football stadium or else couldn’t get the deposit back. Rubio’s people made the mistake of shaping the crowd into a terminal metaphor by corralling them in an end zone, but the empty stands gave the game away. Even with the official cameras tight in on the people there, they couldn’t stop others from taking a snapshot of the surrounding emptiness.

Eventually the supporters-to-journalists ratio stabilized at 1:1, as Rubio’s handlers packed people closer to the stage. For a free event on a college campus, only a few kids trickled in to shift the demographics in Rubio’s favor, but just before the polls closed at 8:00, 25 more journalists frogmarched in and blew the numbers at the last second. A woman walked patiently after her toddling daughter, who excitedly half-ran out a set of doors, unaware she was attending a funeral.

Twelve people before the stage waved signs. A “Marco! Marco! Marco!” chant went up for exactly one minute. There were whispers in the crowd. Nineteen points. Trump had taken every county in the state but Miami-Dade, the one we were in. An attempt at booing stopped almost as it started, perhaps out of embarrassment.

A few minutes later, an announcer who might have been thrown in a van and driven over from a motor speedway boomed, “Lllllllaaaaaadiesssss and gentlemennnnn, please welcome Senator Maaaaaarrrrrrrco Rrrrrrrrrruuuuuubiiiiiioooooo,” and no engines started.

The Rubio campaign died quietly — in a small room of true believers, vastly outnumbered by the rest of the citizenry — smothered by all the space between expectations and reality, as Marco Rubio exhorted his fellow Republicans with aspirational, warmed-over bullshit that no one, especially now, had much use for.

Better things were supposed to be in store for Marco Rubio. The people paid to tell you that couldn’t stop telling you.

He was young and good-looking and told inspiring stories that made the hairs stand on the backs of the necks of people who can be inspired by American conservatism. He stood a generation apart from Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, and he could deliver a new way forward, for the American people. He was the one candidate that the Beltway chattering classes knew the Democratic establishment most feared, and some Democrats agreed with them. He could make his voice warble when saying “America” emphatically.

Rubio; Florida
Rubio campaigning in West Palm Beach Monday. Paul Sancya/AP

Understanding the stupidity of this reasoning isn’t difficult. If Washington narrative meant anything, we’d be entering year eight of the Rudy Giuliani/Fred Thompson administration. If looks and charm and stirring speeches determined elections, Democratic nominee Martin O’Malley — a soft-voiced, sweetly accented governor with a gift for taut but idealistic oratory and looking ridiculously fit either shirtless or with an acoustic guitar — would be waiting for Rubio to finish crushing Ted Cruz, a man whose face looks like it was assembled from the spare parts of factory-reject heads.

And of course, Donald Trump would never have entered the race, because he was just flirting with running to sell books or steaks or mattresses. He would have been scared off by financial disclosure requirements. And even if he’d gotten that far, the American people would have rejected a pathologically dishonest, gauche braggart indistinguishable from what happens when a Doug Exeter wig grafts onto a hunk of Velveeta that’s been left too close to the radiator.

But you didn’t need to look at the rest of the field to know that the pundits’ Marco Narrative was just as absurdly committed to seeming inevitable and as tautly and plausibly plotted as a Star Wars prequel. You could’ve just asked the sort of person who knew and loathed him best: a Floridian.

The fatal streak running through the Rubio narrative was the same one that runs through so many conservative candidates. For someone bound by blood to the cult of the self-made entrepreneur as the only non-cop/soldier of any value as a citizen, Rubio merely spent two awkward belches in the private sector amid a career built on taxpayer dollars, donor largesse and patronage. He was a career politician and glad-hander calling out government cronyism with a sense of self-awareness so broken that he couldn’t weather the barest standards of his own ideology.

Rubio started making his political connections in 1991, volunteering on campaigns for Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Lincoln Diaz-Balart (who subsequently wrote him law school recommendations) and later on Bob Dole’s 1996 campaign. A little over a year out of law school, he was running for West Miami Commissioner, where he settled into the job for a full year before running for the Florida House.

From there, it was on to Speaker of the House, an honor reserved for only those special hacks with either career extortion on hand or a fresh face and the illusion of upward momentum. After leaving the House via term limitations, Rubio struggled for two years with a $300,000 salary at a law firm that definitely unironically hired him for his skill as a jurist, as well as an unadvertised job teaching at FIU that was funded through private donations, including $100,000 from billionaire Norman Braman, who kept him as a pet.

You can start unspooling the Rubio finances there, since Braman supported him repeatedly throughout his career and was rewarded in Tallahassee for his generosity. Braman’s largesse grew to include Rubio’s wife, who drew a $54,000 salary at one of Braman’s charities in 2013, where she held meetings, often with people. That same year, the charity made hundreds of stock trades, racked up $150,000 worth of air travel fees and donated a whopping $250.

But the Rubios understand family value in a pretty literal way. Take a New York Times article that was mocked at the time by Jon Stewart, despite its mostly containing details previously reported by other outlets. Rubio’s wife ran one of his PACs, which paid the family for gas, food and long-distance phone calls. Another PAC employed three other family members. Later, yet another PAC employed his friends and nephews. 

Rubio also spent thousands of dollars on state GOP credit cards — including landscaping, a five-figure trip to an out-of-state family reunion, hundred-dollar trips to the barber and clothes shopping in New York. Amid all his lectures about how government spending must be curtailed and other Americans need to be more fiscally responsible, his personal finances have been such a continually spendthrift shambles that a house he owned in Tallahassee nearly went into foreclosure. The two biggest reasons he’s not currently in debt are massive advances for ghostwritten campaign books that publishers know PACs and friendly think tanks will bulk-buy and give away in exchange for donations.

Those revelations didn’t hurt Rubio in the past. The Rubio campaign liked to chalk that up to destiny, and he invoked that theme even as he was dying on his feet last weekend talking to the elderly at The Villages. His 2010 defeat of Charlie Crist, despite the Crist campaign hammering him on his finances, shall forever represent the cherry on the Inevitable Rubio sundae. Just forget the context.

Rubio; GOP
Rubio and Charlie Crist before a 2010 Florida Senate debate. J Pat Carter/AP

Forget that Rubio wasn’t running against merely Crist but also a black Democrat in a three-way race. Forget that Crist had been enormously popular, but was also a Southern governor who was caught on camera hugging Barack Obama in the same year conservatives discovered that he’s Black Hitler. Forget, too, that 2010 was the Tea Party wave election, and that Rubio tacked to the right of Crist, a social-issues centrist. And forget that the Florida GOP was already ridiculously corrupt and racked by two years of the Jim Greer scandal, which made accusations of funny finances sound like the new normal. Lastly, forget that, in the same year Rubio beat all the odds, Floridians elected as governor a man whose company had set the record for the largest fine for Medicare and Medicaid fraud in history.

What the Rubio campaign needed everyone to forget was that — to anyone who doesn’t live off political news, to anyone not inured to the blocked toilet that is Florida politics — Marco Rubio sounded like either a moron or a crook.

All that might have been enough to overlook if there had been any ideas behind Rubiomentum. But Rubio was a Reagan Republican in the same way that all other Republicans are Reagan Republicans: 95 percent of what he believes hasn’t been updated since 1981. As to the remaining five percent, any time something new came out of his mouth, half the journalists covering him wanted to run around to the side of the stage to catch a glimpse of the puppeteer from the Heritage Foundation with an arm shoulder-deep up his ass.

Even the rare new ideas were insanely atavistic. Only Rubio could write an atrocious book with the word “innovate” on practically every page and decide to solve the college debt crisis with ideas fresh from the Renaissance. Why not, he argued, pair students of promise with an investor class who would pay for their academic apprenticeships in exchange for a fixed period of work after graduation? Sounds great! Rubio was into EDM: Maybe you could become the court DJ for the Archbishop of Salzburg or Emperor Joseph. Just don’t play too many beats. There are only so many beats the royal ear can hear.

The biggest joke of the Rubio campaign was its slogan, “A New American Century,” which is a hilarious reboot concept 15 years into a century. But the slogan also echoed the Project for the New American Century, the Bill Kristol think tank whose gameplan for the Middle East led us into Iraq and the flowering peace and political pluralism we see across the region today. Rubio didn’t disappoint. Between his book and his saber-rattling on the trail, America was poised to drop bombs on — or start firing from warships at — the South China Sea, Ukraine, Iran, Syria and whatever country he thinks ISIS is.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama was trying to destroy America with $17 trillion in debt. Rubio promised a tax plan that would add $8.2 trillion to it, because if $17 trillion is a mortal threat, then $25.2 trillion is a fucking clambake. Abortion? Forget it, go to hell, ladies, not even in cases of rape. Obamacare? Repeal and replace. Devolve everything to the states. Fix poverty by having people get married

Marco Rubio; GOP
Jae C. Hong/AP

On climate change, the noted astronomer from parts of Florida that will be underwater during the New American Century observed that “America is not a planet.” Nice one. This is the “What can I do!” theory of intervention that says, “If you come upon someone trying to kill another person, and nobody else in the crowd is intervening, just hang back and see what happens.” Besides, alternate energy plans would only increase Americans’ energy costs, because there’s no bargain like moving Americans from disappearing coastal cities and fighting the global destabilization of hundreds of millions of refugees.

The intellectual engine of the Rubio campaign was something that could have come out of any Tenth Amendment-humping geriatric on Capitol Hill. All Marco would have had to do was open his mouth and leave it there while a 40-year-old tape loop played, periodically interrupted by a new overdub saying the word “Uber.”

And what about Rubio’s campaign? Eschewing centuries of hidebound political thinking, the campaign studiously avoided the same thing that drove Rubio away from the private sector in the first place: work.

Over the course of his career, Rubio was slapped with the well-deserved label of someone not especially interested in his current job except as a vehicle for applying for the next one in between meeting rich people. He almost immediately ditched the West Miami Commission for the Florida House, then displayed a chronic absenteeism while there. This is not necessarily a liability in the party that rejects almost all government functionality as tyranny, and it was no obstacle to entering the U.S. Senate, where his work allergy metastasized into outright contempt for the concept. By October, 2015, one of Rubio’s core arguments for his candidacy was give me the most important job in the world because I don’t feel like doing my current one.

At the same time, Rubio didn’t seem to much feel like campaigning either. His trips to Iowa were rare, and he had very little ground game there or in New Hampshire. Focused on winning the “money primary,” which put him in position to spend time with rich people, Rubio didn’t bother with the grubby work of meeting voters and convincing them that they liked him. 

Rubio even forgot one of the lessons that hurt Charlie Crist in 2010: He didn’t maintain retail politics and face time in his own state. Five days before the Florida primary, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn told Bloomberg, “I am the mayor of the third-largest city in this state. I have never met Marco Rubio. He has never taken the time, either in Washington, D.C. or in Tampa.”

That didn’t come out if you read the national Rubio narrative, which said that he was poised to break out at any second, probably on the basis of the debate he won, or the other one, or the other one. Rubio won debates the same way Hillary Clinton does — by having it be too headachy for analysts to assume a different outcome was possible. The fact that outlets like Politico either got their debate evaluations from party insiders or simply wrote from their mindset didn’t help: If you ask a dog if an ass smells great, it’s going to say yeah.

Marco Rubio
Rubio listens to a prayer before a campaign rally this week. Paul Sancya/AP

As with everything else during this election, the usual metrics didn’t work. Poise and concision in debate answers counted for fuck-all, due in no little part to the fact that they were pre-written to guarantee or state as much. The fact that Rubio was a political Ken doll that could repeat the same phrases every time Hugh Hewitt jerked his cord at best negatively distinguished him from Trump. Chris Christie’s battering Rubio into a stuttering, repetitive wreck finally exposed something Florida voters beset by his speeches for decades could have told anyone: that he couldn’t reliably express anything he hadn’t memorized.

Even focusing on his flip-flops on immigration misses the point. Cruz and Rubio attacked each other on their previous flirtations with amnesty because there was hardly an inch of space between them, and Donald Trump’s history of hiring practices reveal a decades-long hypocrisy. What mattered wasn’t the record but the rage. 

No conservative was likely to win much of anything among Latino voters — Rubio was no different — but at least Trump cannily recognized that it was time to dispense with the allusive tone, quasi-legalese and established pieties of the conservative discourse. What voters abandoned by party bromides just as they lost the bulk of their equity in America in 2008 and what those scared by the rise of Obama shared was a desire to see someone to take up Colonel Kurtz’s grease pencil and scrawl EXTERMINATE THE BRUTES across the flag.

Marco Rubio couldn’t do that, because nobody at the American Enterprise Institute had written that script dozens of times in synonymous policy papers over several decades. Ironically, the one idea the prophet of a New American Century could neither understand nor express was one that sounded new to anyone under 40. The only lines he had left were ones everyone in the audience at home could already guess. He could scare the shit out of you about ISIS, or he could scare the shit out of you about the American Dream.

Those were the two settings on Marco. An existential threat that needed to be met with death, or an existential threat that needed to be met with the profundity of his tears. Marco Rubio could weep at you for months on end about the promise of America that he grew up with, and he could weep at you for months on end about restoring the promise of America that he saw falling away. In our moment of direst crisis, he would not be afraid to gaze across the expanse of America and feel things. Feel them hard. Observably.

Rubio spent the last two weeks of his campaign apologizing for betraying his principles and the dignity of his office by mocking Donald Trump’s hair and dick. He claimed that he could no longer abide the unfair, classless street fight that Trump had reduced the discourse to, and merely got carried away. But it was bullshit. He was trying to shore up falling numbers. He’d never have apologized if it had worked.

His announcement that his campaign was over could not have been more fitting for what his campaign represented: A passionate delivery of an old idea everyone had already memorized, delivered instead as news. A few people listening had red eyes, as some internal mechanism in Rubio yanked down a lever to the Emotionally Uplifting Twaddle setting.

“I ask the American people: Do not give in to the fear. Do not give in to the frustration,” he said. “We can disagree about public policy, we can disagree about it vibrantly, passionately. But we are a hopeful people, and we have every right to be hopeful.”

It was a valediction of bullshit, as inexorable and damned as the rising Florida tide.

It was Rubio’s campaign, after all, that announced, “Nothing matters if we aren’t safe,” that inflated a potential single Iranian nuclear weapon into an existential threat to the whole United States, that portrayed the border as a sieve through which ISIS would infiltrate potentially thousands of terrorists, that implied we’d restart the Guantanamo torture machine, that said we’d nearly conceded the rest of the century to China, that proclaimed the next generation nearly certain to be immiserated compared to their parents and described the president as alternately a mortally dangerous incompetent and a godless Machiavel who spent the last seven years fundamentally transforming the nation into an unrecognizable dystopia.

It was a masterpiece of bullshit, combining the Rubio experience’s two true and constant outcomes: a text any follower could have reasonably assembled from the greatest hits, and one whose philosophical aspirations were invalidated by the person voicing them. Rubio’s rhetoric never tried to soar higher than when it was being undermined by everything else he campaigned on.

It was the last weepy gesture of a bozo charlatan, and it sent most of the audience away unaffected. When he finished, people moved as if to exit and found themselves suddenly stopped by a room so full of journalists that everyone had their own personal interviewer. 

On Thursday, Rubio told reporters that he is “not running for anything” and is going to “be a private citizen.” And that, too, is almost certainly bullshit.

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Cleveland Home and Remodeling Expo: 5 things to check out this weekend (photos)

CLEVELAND, Ohio — You’ll see colorful gnomes, tiny homes and tons of decorating ideas at the Cleveland Home and Remodeling Expo, which started today and runs through Sunday.

With 275 exhibits, there’s something for almost anyone who wants advice or ideas on how to tackle a home project this spring, whether you are do-it-yourselfer or looking for an expert to hire.

Here are 5 things to check out at the three-day expo at FirstMerit Cleveland Convention Center, 300 Lakeside Ave.

  • Better Gnomes Gardens, near the exhibit entrance. Thinking about plopping an adorable little gnome to your garden this spring? Even if you’re not, don’t miss the Better Gnomes Gardens display, where 16 bright, colorful characters are on display. The fun figures aren’t just for show. They will be sold via silent auction, with the proceeds to benefit Ronald McDonald House of Cleveland. You can also vote on your favorite for a chance to win prizes.
  • Tiny Homes built by Small Spaces CLE. Chances are by now you’ve read and seen programs about tiny houses, which are getting a lot of attention these days, and wonder how it must feel to be inside of and move around in such a small living space. Now is your chance to find out. Small Spaces CLE erected three homes, each under 200-square-feet, and visitors can walk through them. If nothing else, you might come away with ideas on what to do with small room.
  • Drab to Fab (booth 161): Armed with a small budget, local design experts and DIY bloggers will be “upcycling” outdated chairs to become clever and decorative. Several ones before and after already are on display. Visitors can bid on the redesigned chairs, and all proceeds will benefit Habitat for Humanity of Summit County.
  • Ask the Designer (booth 69): Are you addicted to home improvement and design television shows? If so, be sure to bring and pen and paper and stop by the Ask the Designer booth for the latest design tricks with an expert from Room 2 Room Interior Designs.
  • The Main Stage decorated by Metro Home: The main stage at many home and garden shows tends to be makeshift and bland, but not this room. Designed by Metro Home, this stage where guest speakers will appear has the look of a luxury bedroom done in neutral shades and presented in a panoply of textures, from the window treatment to the bedding.

The expo also features a smattering of landscaping strewn throughout in case you’re anxious for the sight and scent of flowers and a marketplace with a variety of art, clothing and jewelry and more.

Celebrities who will be stopping by the main stage include brothers HGTV’s “Property Brothers” Jonathan and Drew Scott; Derek “Deek” Diedricksen, recent host of “Tiny House Builders”; and Ursula Carmona, the DIY superhero behind the blog, “Home Made by Carmona.”

The expo, produced by Solon-based Marketplace Events, is open until 9 tonight. Saturday hours are from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Admission is $10 for adults; $8 online at and at Discount Drug Mart; $8 for seniors; $5 for children ages 6-12 and free for children 5 and younger.

On Saturday, all active or retired fire, police, and military personnel get free admission with valid ID. 

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Lawn and leisure show helps bring outdoor ideas to life

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Hy-Vee keeps 2 million pounds of food from landfills

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The brown-spotted bananas, misshapen green peppers and wilted lettuce you passed over at your local Hy-Vee grocery store may well be part of the dark, rich compost you buy at the store’s garden center this spring.

Turning food waste into usable goods is becoming more the rule than the exception at a growing number of Iowa grocery stores, restaurants, hospitals and public institutions.

Those companies collect unsold produce, table scraps and food waste otherwise bound for the landfill and turn it over to companies that recycle the slop into compost.

West Des Moines-based Hy-Vee Inc. takes the process one step further by selling the end product at many of its stores.

“Our food waste includes outdated food; salads that didn’t sell. Also there are peelings from cutting fruit, cutting vegetables,” Hy-Vee Chief Executive Randy Edeker said. “Do you grind them up and send them down the sewer or do you collect them and recycle them? So we’re collecting to reuse and recycle.”

The movement to reduce and recycle food waste is gaining traction nationally — fueled in part to increased public awareness, better disposal options and corporate responsibility.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack last September announced an initiative to reduce the nation’s food waste by 50 percent in the next 15 years. The USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency are enlisting farmers, food manufacturers, grocery stores, restaurants, schools, local governments and others in the effort.

It’s a daunting task considering more than 40 percent of food in the U.S. is wasted, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Edeker challenged all 240 company stores to eliminate food waste by the end of last year. The stores, which for years have recycled cardboard, plastics, wood pallets and kitchen grease, are now recycling unsold produce, meat and produce trimmings, floral clippings and other items.

Hy-Vee stores divert more than 2 million pounds of food waste from landfills each month — equivalent to two Boeing 747 jets, the company said.

“There are things you do because you think customers are going to care about them and things you do because it’s the right thing to do,” Edeker said. “We are by no means doing a great job yet … but we’re on a really good path.”

About 33 million tons of food waste ends up in landfills each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The average American throws away about 20 pounds of food each month worth between $28 and $43, according to a NRDC report. If 15 percent less food was wasted, 25 million people could be fed, the report said.

Solid waste streaming into Iowa landfills — including food — has increased 62 percent by weight over the last five years, said Dan Nickey, associate director of the Iowa Waste Reduction Center at the University of Northern Iowa, a nonprofit organization that helps businesses reduce landfill waste and air emissions.

That’s a problem because rotting food produces methane, a greenhouse gas that is harmful to the environment.

“We are actively trying to address the problem,” said Nickey. “We have been reaching out to grocers like Hy-Vee to encourage them to divert organic matter from landfills.”

Unity Point Health, Gateway Market and Hy-Vee’s Iowa stores all contract with Blairsburg, Ia.-based GreenRU, which collects food waste and converts it into compost used on farms, in landscaping and other places. Companies pay for GreenRU’s hauling services, which takes inedible food that cannot be donated or eaten, said Chaz Olson, operations manager.

Hy-Vee store employees put food waste and floral department trimmings into 5-gallon buckets, which are emptied into a large Dumpster outside the store. GreenRU trucks empty the Dumpsters up to twice a week.

At the company’s plant the waste is mixed with recycled wood and “cooked” for several months before being bagged and sold to farmers and home and garden centers.

Hy-Vee sells the compost and uses it to fertilize 69 community gardens often located adjacent to its stores.

“Any company wants to be the one leading the way and doing the right thing,” Edeker said. “Hopefully somebody’s going to notice and think you do good things for the community. We hope it makes people love us more. But it’s also the right thing to do.”

Commercial composting is cost-prohibitive for a lot of smaller companies or those that don’t produce large amounts of food waste, Olson said.

“Everybody wants to be green until they find out how much it costs,” he said. For larger companies the cost to have GreenRU collect the food waste is comparable to depositing it in a landfill, he said.

Smaller grocers like Boone-based Fareway Stores Inc. don’t generate enough food waste to justify composting, although individual stores can work with local farmers or composters, company President Fred Greiner said. Any food that is not expired or damaged is donated to local food banks, he said.

Hy-Vee and other grocers such as Whole Foods, Wal-Mart and Target are reducing landfill trips by donating unsold items to local food banks. In fiscal year 2015, Des Moines area Hy-Vee stores donated more than $3.5 million in food to local food banks and shelters, the company said.

UnityPoint Health, which operates Iowa Methodist Medical Center, Iowa Lutheran and Methodist West hospitals in the metro, tries to minimize food waste by managing food storage and monitoring overproduction in its kitchens. The health care company also does some composting.

“Decreasing food waste means not producing that much waste,” said Clif White, environmental coordinator. That means trying to train cafeteria customers to dispose of food waste properly. It’s a consistent challenge.

“People just don’t pay attention to where they throw their items although we have signs up,” he said.

Another solution is making food as it is ordered as opposed to filling up cases with items that cooks think customers will want, said Cheryl Lounsberry, integrated services director. “But in the cafeteria people with only a half hour for lunch are in a hurry,” she said.

The hospitals, which serves patients with a variety of dietary needs, saw a decrease in food waste when patients started ordering food room-service style. “That way they are getting what they want” and more likely eating the food, she said.

You can pitch in too

Here are some tips from the EPA on reducing food waste:

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The Duchess with a digger: how Emma Manners is transforming the landscape at Belvoir Castle

What is it like to be the First Lady of Belvoir? Busy, Emma says. She’s not just a duchess but chief executive, too, in charge of Belvoir’s commercial wing. Since arriving in 1999, when her husband succeeded to the dukedom, work has been non-stop. Recently, she has been constructing a “new” Capability Brown landscape there. In 2003, detailed plans by Brown dating back to 1780 were found in the basement, presumed lost in a fire that destroyed half the castle in 1816. Although these appeared typical of his previous work, incorporating his trademark lakes, flattened areas and belts of trees, they also showed a progression in his thinking.

While at nearby Burghley House he tore up parterres and at Chatsworth demolished the village of Edensor to move it out of sight of the house, by the time he reached Belvoir, Brown was drawn towards a medieval style of landscaping. To show this, he retained the estate village of Woolsthorpe, and reinstated the warren – the hunting space for hare, pheasant and partridge with a hawk – and the chase, the open land for hunting deer and foxes with dogs; and focused on trees and vistas. Even its name is indicative, meaning “beautiful view”. Brown’s trademark theatrical “spot the castle” experience so prevalent in his work is also present: “Everywhere there’s a glimpse – it’s hidden, and then it comes into view, and then it goes away again,” Emma says.

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This week’s gardening tips: plant tender bedding plants, remove faded flowers

It should be safe now to plant tender bedding plants, such as marigolds, zinnias, blue daze, pentas, celosia, salvia, portulaca, purslane, lantana and others. Try to wait until the weather is hotter in April to plant periwinkles to minimize the chance of disease problems. Cool-season bedding plants are currently putting on an outstanding display, and will continue to do so through next month. Enjoy them until they begin to play out in late April or May. At that time, remove the old cool-season bedding plants and plant your warm-season flowers into those beds.

Remove faded flowers and developing seed pods from spring-flowering bulbs that are to be kept for bloom next year. Do not remove any of the green foliage, and fertilize them if you did not do so last month. Those spring-flowering bulbs being grown as annuals, such as tulips, can be discarded any time after flowering. Chop them up and put them in your compost pile.

Don’t miss the Northshore Garden Show and Plant Sale Friday and Saturday (March 18-19) in the Bobby Fletcher Agriculture Center at the St. Tammany Parish Fairgrounds in Covington. Admission to the show, held from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., is $5 per person, with those under 18 entering free.

Warmer temperatures and active growth make watering increasingly important if regular rainfall does not occur. New plantings of vegetables and bedding plant transplants need the most attention. They are vulnerable to drying out until the plants have a chance to grow a strong root system. You may need to thoroughly water new plantings twice a week, or as needed, especially those in full sun.

Dan Gill is a horticulturist with the LSU AgCenter.

Love to read about gorgeous gardens? Sign up for’s weekly home and garden newsletter, and you’ll get Dan Gill’s latest tips as well as stories about  local landscapes. It’s free. Just click here. And while you’re at it, head over to the’s New Orleans Homes and Gardens page on Facebook.

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Home & Garden: 10 Tips for Getting Your Power Equipment Tuned-up for Spring!

James Zahn

About James: A work-from-home Dad with a pair of daughters (Released in 2009 and 2012) – James Zahn is THE ROCK FATHER™. 

Bringing over two decades of experience in the entertainment industry into the family realm, Zahn is an Illinois-based Entertainment Writer, Media Personality, Commentator, Adventurer and Raconteur. 

He writes for Fandango Family and the Netflix #StreamTeam, serves as a Brand Ambassador and spokesperson for several Globally-recognized brands, and consults for a number of toy manufacturers.

Creatively, James has directed/edited music videos, lyric videos, and album trailers for bands such as FEAR FACTORY, has appeared as an actor in feature films and commercials, written comic books, and performed in bands. He currently serves as co-manager and video director for Napalm Records’ PRODUCT OF HATE.

James and/or his work have been featured in/on CNN, NBC, G4, The Chicago Tribune, Blogcritics, Fangoria, Starlog, The River Cities’ Reader. Slowfish, Oil, and more. He’s appeared as a music expert on CNN’s AC360, has been quoted in BusinessWire, CNN and Babble, in addition to making appearances on ABC News, WGN and more. In the past he served as a PBS KIDS VIP (Very Involved Parent), penned articles for Sprout, and was a contributor to Chicago Parent.

Learn more here. 

Connect with James on Facebook or Twitter.


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Five ways to get your garden ready for spring

Spring officially starts March 20, ushering in warmer weather and budding landscapes.

It’s time to get your garden ready.

Gary Streb, president-elect of James City County/Williamsburg Master Gardeners, and Susan Dippre, landscape supervisor at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, offered advice on spring gardening tasks.

Spring cleaning

Clean out and neaten flower beds, whether leaves, weeds, dead plants. Waiting could exacerbate problems.

“Leaves are great for mulching, but if you leave them wet, they’re just going to get moldy,” Streb said.

Even more, if you let weeds go to seed, Streb said, they could be there for years. Pulling up weeds now allows a greater chance of controlling them.

Dippre said to identify plants that didn’t make it through the winter and pull them out. That way, you have an idea of empty spaces to fill when it comes time to plant.

Prune with caution. “Check a pruning calendar to see when is the appropriate time to prune your plants,” Streb said.

For example, pruning azaleas now would rid them of their flowers, Dippre said. But Streb said now is a good time to prune roses, ornamental grasses and liriope.

Healthy soil, healthy plants

“Bottom line: the soil is the key to a healthy plant,” Streb said.

Streb recommended starting with a soil test, which reports the nutrients already in your soil. This helps determine what type of fertilizer to use, and how much.

“Fertilizer is nutrients for the plant, but you may be overdosing the plant on some of the nutrients if the plant doesn’t need it,” Streb said. Not to mention the potential of wasted money and increased run-off.

A soil sample box and instructions are available from the local Virginia Cooperative Extension office, 3127 Forge Road. Once the test returns, then you can begin creating healthy soil. Streb recommended either slow-release fertilizer or compost.

‘Compost, compost, compost’

Dippre said she dresses her garden with compost, instead of mulch. “Mulch can kind of take stuff out of the soil, but compost always improves the soil,” she said.

Streb said top-dress garden beds with about an inch of compost. Or, if creating a new bed, add up to six inches and till it in.

“Compost, compost, compost – that’s the answer to really healthy soil,” he said.

You can buy bagged compost at any garden store. And while it’s too late to make your own compost for this spring season, it’s never too late to start making compost. Simply layer organic matter in a pile – whether leaves, clippings, vegetable and fruit scraps, etc. Turn it over and add water periodically. By next spring, the compost will be ready to go.

“It’s energy saving, time saving, money saving,” Streb said. “You know what’s in it.”

Divide and conquer

Early spring is good for dividing perennials, especially if plants have grown into a large clump and died in the center. Dig the plant up, separate it and replant.

“Dividing perennials will create more plants. The plants that you have will be healthier, more productive,” Streb said. He said the coming weeks are perfect for dividing – but only for plants not yet blooming.

It’s time for new plants, too, whether annuals, perennials, trees, shrubs. But be conscious of where and how you plant. You may have the perfect place in mind, Streb said, but it needs to be the right place for the plant – a place where light and water conditions are met.

“Everything you need is on the label, so read the label,” Streb said.

Be patient

Still, be careful – Dippre cautioned against buying annuals and tender plants too early.

Streb said the area’s traditional last frost date is April 15. Determined by historical data, this is the point at which frosting is guaranteed not to happen. Though Williamsburg has started to warm, you never know what turn the weather might take.

Streb and Dippre said it’s best to plant annuals, and any tender plants, after the frost date.

“What I advise people on is to just be patient and not try to push things,” Dippre said. “They can go out and enjoy what’s already happening in the landscape.”

“Enjoy spring. Let spring have it’s time,” she said.

Bridges can be reached by phone at 757-345-2342.

Need help?

Registration is open for Landscape Love, a free consultation program by James City County/Williamsburg Master Gardeners. In an individualized session, a team of Master Gardeners visits your home to discuss a range of landscape problems, from plant selection, placement and care to reducing use of water and fertilizer.

Available at, applications are accepted until April 15, with visits in late April and May. Spots are limited, decided on a first-come, first-serve basis. Must be a resident of James City County or City of Williamsburg to apply.

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Master Gardeners Presents :Green Thumb Garden Tips Brown Bag on Fungal Diseases

Veteran Master Gardener Bob Cain will discuss the most common fungal diseases in gardens on the Olympic Peninsula Thursday, March 24, at noon in the County Commissioners meeting room at the Clallam County Courthouse in Port Angeles.
This presentation is part of the “Green Thumb Garden Tips” brown bag series sponsored by the WSU Clallam County Master Gardeners.
Cain will explain the various kinds of fungi, good and bad, their role in nature, how they grow and what conditions favor their development. He will also discuss how they can cause various diseases.
Cain will highlight many fungal diseases that are locally common in ornamental shrubs, fruit, and vegetables and identify when they occur so the home gardener can have advanced warning as to when to apply control measures. He will distinguish between symptoms which appear early in the year from those occurring later in the warmer weather. He will identify the key symptoms to look for and explain conventional, organic and integrated pest management methods that are used to control fungal diseases. New research on herbal-based fungicides will also be presented.
Cain, a Master Gardener since 2009, has 40 years of experience growing vegetables in Scotland, Ireland, Colorado and Washington. He writes a monthly article on plant disease for the Clallam County Master Gardener Newsletter and is a frequent contributor to local newspaper gardening columns. He is the 2009 Master Gardener Intern of the Year and 2011 Master Gardener of the Year. He served as the Garden Manager of the Woodcock Demonstration Garden for five years and is a past President and Board member of the Master Gardener Foundation of Clallam County.
The Master Gardener Brown Bag series continues on the second and fourth Thursday of each month. Presentations occur from 12:00 noon to 1:00 p.m. For questions, call 565-2679.

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  • 17th – 4:40pm Olympic Driftwood Sculptors 2016 Spring Driftwood Art Show
  • 17th – 4:38pm Soroptimist International of Sequim 18th Annual Gala Garden Show
  • 17th – 4:33pm Master Gardeners Presents :Green Thumb Garden Tips Brown Bag on Fungal Diseases
  • 17th – 4:31pm The Class of 1965 Has No Host Luncheon in Memory of Classmate Mike Caso
  • 25th – 11:01am Pruning Tree Fruit – The Basics from WSU
  • 25th – 10:40am WSU Pruning and Training Systems – Tree Fruit
  • 25th – 9:20am Master Gardeners Training and Pruning Home Orchards

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