On this blog, we post recent sustainability news to help people learn about initiatives and events related to sustainability in Central Wisconsin.

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Video Features Organic Cranberry Farm

From CLUE, February 2015

A recent edition of Victory Garden’s edibleFEAST, features the first organic cranberry farm in Wisconsin. The Ruesch Century Farm is located in the Wisconsin Rapids area. The farm segment begins at the 7 minute mark.

In addition, the video includes a visit to the Underground Food Collective and a pig farm, teaches you how to make an herb spiral, and includes an interview with the owners of the first Laotian restaurant in Madison.

View the video.

Walker’s Budget Calls for More Recycling Cuts

From Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, February 2015

Gov. Scott Walker is proposing cuts in his budget for recycling, a move that represents more than a 50% reduction in funding to communities over a five-year period. In the two-year budget he unveiled on Feb. 3, Walker proposed $15 million in state spending for local recycling programs.

That’s a drop from $32.1 million in fiscal 2010-’11, according to budget figures. Recycling funds come from a $7 per ton tipping fee charged at landfills.

Walker’s proposed reductions come at a time when household recycling is on the decline. [….] The cuts and a trend of falling recycling rates prompted the chairman of the Wisconsin Council on Recycling to say Walker’s actions could mean less plastic, metal, glass and paper going into recycling bins.

Read the full article.

MREA Receives WIDRC Funding

From MREA Press Release, February 10, 2015

MREAThe Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA) was awarded funding from the Wisconsin Distributed Resources Collaborative (WIDRC) to expand municipal outreach and education efforts in Wisconsin with the objective of implementing best practices in the areas of solar permitting, planning and zoning in local Wisconsin units of government. These funds will help develop and execute a “Solar Permitting, Planning and Zoning” workshop track at The 26th Annual Energy Fair to be held June 19-21, 2015 in Custer, WI.

The workshop track will be tailored to a municipal audience and will provide attendees with actionable information on how to remove solar market barriers in local jurisdictions. Resources developed for the workshop track will be made publicly available online after the Energy Fair. Donated funds will support the development of the workshop track, outreach and marketing materials for the event and training stipends for up to 40 attendees from Wisconsin municipalities.

To foster market-based development of distributed resources in Wisconsin, WIDRC addresses five main issues that represent current and potential barriers to market development in Wisconsin. These issues include: technical requirements, commercial requirements and business practices, siting, applied research and development and associated data collection and education and communication.

Renewable Energy Advocates Win Court Case on Utility Solar Charges

From Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, February 2015

In their fight against Wisconsin utilities, solar advocates haven’t had the state Public Service Commission on their side. But for the second time in less than a year, a judge has sided with Renew Wisconsin in a suit challenging changes in the way solar power customers are compensated.

The PSC had permitted Wisconsin Public Service Corp. to scale back the size of solar systems that qualify for net metering, a mechanism that gives solar customers credit for any electricity they generate that’s more than their building needs.

The PSC had allowed the utility to limit net metering to systems of up to 20 kilowatts, instead of up to 100 kilowatts. The change restricted the ability of many businesses, schools and other medium-sized electricity users to participate in the program, according to Renew.

Read the full article.

US Launches Plan to Halt Decline of Monarch Butterfly

From The Guardian, February 2015

$2m to be spent on growing milkweed and other butterfly-friendly plants along main migration routes from Minnesota to Mexico as population slumps by 90%

The Obama administration and conservation groups launched a plan on Monday to halt the death spiral of the monarch butterfly.Monarch

The most familiar of American butterflies, known for their extraordinary migration from Mexico through the mid-west to Canada, monarch populations have plummetted 90 percent over the past 20 years.

Read the full article.

Study Helps Predict Pesticide Exposure in Diet

From Boise State University Press Release, February 2015

While health-conscious individuals understand the benefits of eating fresh fruits and veggies, they may not be aware of the amount of pesticides they could be ingesting along with their vitamin C and fiber. A new study published in the Feb. 5 edition of Environmental Health Perspectives is among the first to predict a person’s pesticide exposure based on information about their usual diet.

The study was led by Cynthia Curl, an  assistant professor in Boise State University’s School of Allied Health Sciences. She recently joined Boise State from the University of Washington.

Curl and her colleagues analyzed the dietary exposure of nearly 4,500 people from six U.S. cities to organophosphates (OPs), the most common insecticides used on conventionally grown produce in the United States. OP pesticides are linked to a number of detrimental health effects, particularly among agricultural workers who are regularly exposed to the chemicals.

Read the full article. Read the research study.

New Brine Machine To Help City Clear Road Faster

From Stevens Point Journal, February 6, 2015

City streets might be cleared more quickly after snowfalls now that the city has purchased and installed a new brine sprayer.

The new system arrived in Stevens Point in the past month and cost about $90,000. It mixes salt and water to the optimal ratio of 23.3 percent salt, which the Streets Department can use before snow falls, rather than waiting until after a storm to salt.

Read the full article.

Learn about Community Supported Agriculture in Central Wisconsin

By CLUE, February 2015

Chicken2The Center for Land Use Education has updated our publication on community supported agriculture in Central Wisconsin, including a list of CSA farms in our region. Learn about each farm’s products, growing practices, pick up sites, and more. The publication is available at this link.

Midwest Renewable Energy Association Receives Grant

From WSAU, January 30, 2015

A major U.S. Department of Energy grant has been awarded to a central Wisconsin based solar energy project.

The Midwest Renewable Energy Association based in Custer is receiving $1,025,400 through the Solar Market Pathways program. The DOE is awarding funds to 15 SunShot projects that take various approaches to developing and expanding solar electricity use in residential, community, and commercial properties. MREA has to contribute $258,900 towards the project in cost sharing obligations.

The Midwest Renewable Energy Association is working with stakeholders at four universities to create solar investment proposals for consideration by university governance boards. This effort showcases the potential of university solar photovoltaic (PV) investments, advances favorable board policies to govern PV investments, and provides a roadmap for universities across the country to deploy PV—advancing their sustainability goals.

Read the full article.

County Executive to Present Groundwater Findings

From Stevens Point Journal, January 29, 2015

Portage County Executive Patty Dreier will summarize the findings of her groundwater forums at a final session Wednesday.

Dreier began her tour around the county hosting 90-minute sessions that offered residents a chance to share their ideas and concerns about the county’s quality and stewardship of groundwater. The tour began after her 2014 state of the county address, which was focused as a call to action on Portage County’s groundwater shortage and related issues.

Portage County pumped more groundwater than any other Wisconsin county in 2012 and 2013, and tensions have flared over new and proposed high-capacity wells that would extract even more water. During the time Dreir’s been conducting the listening sessions, homeowners also discovered that the nitrate concentration in their private wells is unsafe for consumption.

Read the full article.

Farm to School Grant Connects Food Service, Vendors

From the Wisconsin Rapids Tribune, January 26th, 2015

A business relationship the Wood County Farm to School program set up between county school districts and a south central Wisconsin produce wholesaler will make it easier for area schools to fill students’ lunch trays with fresh food.

Sue Anderson, Wood County Farm to School coordinator, served as a liaison between school districts and food producers to get the program off the ground, but food service directors in each district now are able to order directly from Parrfection Produce and farmers in central Wisconsin. […]

The Wood County Farm to School program will highlight its accomplishments from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Jan. 29 during a showcase following the 2015 Wisconsin Farm to School Summit in Wisconsin Rapids.

Food service representatives, teachers, students and farmers who have participated in the program will be on hand to answer questions about their projects, including school gardens and foods made in the schools’ agricultural kitchens.

Read full article.

County’s Biomass Project Provides Economic, Environmental Benefits

From Sustainability City Network, January 2015

Perseverance was the key for Sullivan County’s District Energy biomass project, but officials said it was more than worth the wait since the benefits have been immediate.

Sullivan County, N.H. was interested in utilizing biomass for quite some time in order to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and carbon emissions. After much research by Facilities Director John Cressy and his team, the county purchased a Hurst biomass boiler district heating system with a backpressure steam turbine/generator to serve the county’s 166-bed nursing home and 168-bed prison complex, as well as two smaller on-site buildings in Unity, N.H.

Read the full article.

Moves Afoot to Ban Microbeads from Personal Care Products

From Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, January 23, 2015.

Tiny plastic beads in personal care products are showing up in the Great Lakes and other water bodies amid growing worries about the danger they pose for humans, fish and other aquatic life. The small bits of plastic, known as microbeads, are washed down sinks and toilets and eventually wend their way to public waterways.

Scientists say fish confuse them for food, since they often resemble fish eggs. Fish consume the tiny pellets, which can absorb toxins, potentially harming shore birds and possibly humans who eat the fish.

Microbeads are increasingly coming under fire, and in Wisconsin, Republican and Democratic lawmakers are introducing separate bills that would ban their manufacture and use in the state. Read the full article.

Wisconsin Has Highest Potential for Combined Heat and Power in the Midwest

From Energy On Wisconsin’s Newsletter, January 2015

Combined heat and power (CHP) or cogeneration systems are energy efficient, help with resiliency, and could help comply with federal carbon pollution reduction requirements. CHP, the generation of on-site electricity that captures the waste heat (thermal energy) to provide heating and cooling from a single fuel source, is used at more than 4100 U.S. industrial facilities, hospitals, and universities to reduce operating costs and ensure reliability. In Wisconsin, CHP systems are in place statewide from dairies to wastewater treatment plants to paper mills. CHP represents approximately 8% of installed U.S. electric generating capacity and over 12% of total electricity generation (USDOE and USEPA, 2012), but has much greater potential.

Each year, as part of the State Energy Efficiency Scorecard, the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) ranks states on policies that encourage deployment of CHP. ACEEE developed a state-by-state CHP favorability index to get a rough look at the degree to which electricity and gas prices influence the CHP market in a given state. In Wisconsin, where electricity costs are among the highest in the nation, onsite energy generation with CHP is favorable. Among twelve Midwest states, Wisconsin ranked highest on the policy favorability index and among seven with an extremely high level of market favorability for CHP deployment.

WI Electric Rate Cases Finalized

From Energy on Wisconsin’s Newsletter, January 2015

The PSC finalized their decisions to increase fixed base electric rates to customers in WPS, We Energies and Madison Gas & Electric territories. Any court challenges to the decisions must be filed by the end of January. For details see Utility Rate Restructuring Decisions in December Energy On Wisconsin news.

To read more WSJ, We Energies

Clean Green Action Develops 2015 Projects

By Joe Ancel, January 20, 2015

Clean GreCleanGreenen Action (formerly known as Citizens for a Clean, Green & Welcoming Community) is beginning its eighth year of working on projects that focus on sustainability and reducing our impact on the environment.  In 2015 we will work on both new and continuing projects in the Wood County area.

Continuing projects include the following:

  • Choose to Reuse – This event, which is organized by different area townships (e.g. Rome, Grant, Grand Rapids, Saratoga, Seneca), allows people to drop off useful items for others to have for free. Check with your local township for dates.
  • Recycling Rangers – This activity will continue to provide recycling containers and volunteers at local community events.
  • Sustainable Wisconsin Rapids – This involves working with Wisconsin Rapids officials to move the city towards becoming a sustainable community. Look for opportunities in the near future to get involved with the Mayor’s Sustainability Council.
  • Green Map – Sustainable businesses, parks/green spaces, and other organizations can be found on the Central Wisconsin Green Map, a web-based interactive map that uses the universal Green Map icons to highlight the ecological, social, cultural, and sustainable resources of central Wisconsin. This mapping system helps central Wisconsin visitors and residents to discover and locate the area’s sustainable assets.  Check it out at this link and support your local sustainable businesses.
  • Earth Care Booklet – This booklet contains information on items to recycle, energy saving tips, buying locally, and money saving options with respect to food and transportation.  To review the electronic version of this booklet, go to the Clean Green Wisconsin Rapids Area Facebook page.
  • Bird City – The Bird City designation for Wisconsin Rapids was renewed with a June event at Lake Wazeecha in conjuntion with the Kiwanis Youth Outdoor Day. More events are planned for 2015.
  • Highway Pickup – Our adopted stretch of highway is cleaned up twice each year so our group can walk the talk in a public and noticeable way.
  • Chicken Ordinance – We were successful in 2014 in getting the City of Wisconsin Rapids to approve an ordinance that allows city residents to raise chickens.  If you live in the city and wish to raise chickens, contact the city for details.
  • Nonpartisan legislative committee – This committee keeps the group abreast of pending legislation and policies that impact the environment.
  • Booth at local/area fairs – Look for us at events like the Grand Affair to learn more about our group.
  • Event Reycling Ordinance –  We continue to advocate for the adoption of ordinances that would require event recycling as part of an event permit.

We are also involved in projects for which other agencies have the lead. For example, in 2014 we advocated for a Clean Sweep program for residential and agricultural hazardous waste.  UW-Extension was successful in obtaining a state grant, and a Clean Sweep event will be held on October 3 at the Town of Saratoga garage. Our members are also assisting on a Bike Share program. Wood County Health Department is leading this effort which will be rolled out in spring 2015. Clean Green Action members also help out at the Growing Friends Community Garden which has completed two successful growing seasons.

New projects for 2015 involve working with other organizations.  Our members will help

  • with the processing of EBT at the Wisconsin Rapids farmers market.
  • expand gleaning by collecting food donations from the vendors at the farmers market.
  • plan a one-day Tire Pressure Day during which customers at a local gas station will learn about the benefits of keeping tires inflated at the proper pressure.

The success of our on-going and new projects depends upon our selfless volunteers. With more help, our chances of success will improve. Clean Green Action is a local grassroots, citizen-led group working to create a sustainable community through education, recycling and conservation efforts in the south Wood County area. If you are interested in joining our group and helping out on one or more of these projects, we invite you to attend our meetings which occur at 4 p.m. on the first Wednesday of each month (except for June, July and August) at McMillan Library.


‘Living Green’ Focus of Library Exhibit

From Waupaca County Post, January 14, 2015

What does it mean to live green or sustainably? To people in Waupaca County, it means many things, from sustainable farming and beekeeping to solar energy. These ideas of sustainable living are what make up the current exhibit at the Waupaca Area Public Library called “Living Green.”

Today, local farms, businesses and individuals are working to spread the word on the importance of buying locally and living in a sustainable way. Businesses are using solar and renewable energy, while people are reusing materials and finding ways to make their homes more efficient. Raising chickens, gardening and canning are all ways Waupaca residents are “living green.”

The exhibit features local farms and families, tips for living sustainably at home and in ones backyard and the Midwest Renewable Energy Association. Come generate power on an exercise bike and see how to make a light bulb glow or power a cellphone.

The Waupaca Area Public Library will host a program at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 19 with author Bob Ramlow. The program will take place in the lower-level meeting rooms. Ramlow has been involved in renewable energy for more than 40 years and is a founding member of the Midwest Renewable Energy Association. He has taught workshops and classes throughout the United States and has co-authored the book “Solar Water Heating: A Comprehensive Guide to Solar Water and Space Heating Systems.” He lives with his family in a zero-energy home near Amherst.

The exhibit is open during library hours and is free to the public. For more information, contact Tracy Behrendt, exhibit room coordinator, at 715-258-4417. Read the full article.

Power to the Pupils!

From Incourage Community Foundation newsletter, December 2014

Incourage3Knowledge is power. In this case, solar power. A $45,000 grant from Constellation Energy provided renewable energy curriculum and continuing education for area high school teachers. A partnership between Mid-State Technical College’s Renewable Energy Program and Assumption, Lincoln, Port Edwards and Nekoosa high schools put the power in students’ hands as they helped install solar panels for hands-on learning. They’ll continue learning as they monitor the solar panels’ energy production.  It’s due, in part, to Incourage’s Business/Education partnership which links businesses and educational systems to create better understanding and more opportunities between our schools and businesses.

Watch the video here. Read the full newsletter.

Whick Food Companies Don’t Use BPA-Lined Cans?

From Mother Nature Network, January 6, 2015

BPAThere are many reasons to be concerned about the chemical bisphenol-A or BPA. The Food and Drug Administration says BPA is safe low levels, but other countries take a more cautious approach: Austria, Denmark, Belgium, France and China limit the chemical’s contact with food. The FDA continues to study the issue.
Studies have shown that BPA, a plastic-stiffening chemical and synthetic female hormone, can be a contributing factor to asthma, sexual dysfunction, breast cancer, obesity and other health issues. The material is so widely used in in polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins that it’s difficult to avoid. The resin is commonly used as a lining in many canned foods, even though BPA can seep out if it comes in contact with heat or acid.
In response, several companies have removed BPA from their cans, and others have moved away from using it in the cans of specific foods. Here’s a list of national brands that produce canned foods that do no have BPA in the lining.

Read the full article.

To Save Power, Appeal to Health Benefits

From Daily Climate, January 12, 2015

Conventional wisdom holds that the most effective way to get people to save energy is to show them how much money they’ll save. Turns out there’s a more efficient approach. The amount of money consumers could save by cutting energy just wasn’t high enough to be motivating.

Reminders of the environmental health benefits of cutting electricity use are far more powerful motivation, scientists found in research published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. Smart meters and appliance-level monitoring technology were installed in the homes of about 120 young Los Angeles couples and families in the randomized, controlled experiment by UCLA researchers. The households were sent weekly e-mails to test the power of different motivational messages.

The group that received reminders of how much money they could save by cutting back on electricity showed no net energy savings over the four-month trial. But a similar group cut energy use 8 percent after receiving e-mails about the amount of pollution they were producing, and how it has been shown to cause childhood asthma and cancer. The health message was most effective in the subset of households with children at home; they slashed power use a whopping 19 percent.

Read the full article.

Local Food Fundraiser Supports Schools and Local Farmers

From Hoopla, January 2015

During Farmshed’s recent “Local Food Tastes Great!” school fundraiser, students at nine local schools sold winter veggie sampler and squash mixes, certified organic fresh cranberries, Wisconsin fruit jams, locally roasted coffee, honey, maple syrup, dried cranberries, beef sticks, cheese, certified organic summer sausage, potatoes, onions, Wisconsin based cookbooks, holiday wreathes, and gift certificates to local farms and businesses. The Local Food Fundraiser is part of Farmshed’s Farm to School Program in Central Wisconsin which also includes food system and nutrition education lessons as well as school garden support.

Read the full article.


Pigeon River Farm: USDA Certified Organic

From Hoopla, January 2015

In 2003 something exciting began for the Braun Family. They bought a farm. Pigeon River Farm is a 50-acres USDA Certfied Organic parcel owned and operated by the entire Braun family. On the southern branch of the Pigeon River near Clintonville, in Waupaca County, you will find it.

As parents and grantparents Robert and Kim Braun understand the importance of nutrional food and the role they play as caretakers of their children and to the land.

Read the full article.

At Incourage, Knowing Better Means Doing Better

By Rick Merdan, Incourage Community Foundation, January 2015

We all have that picture in our head: 4th of July fireworks, parades, picnics, and the resulting mess left after these events that blows in the wind or drops into the river for turtles, ducks, or fish to consume and suffer. They leave bags upon bags of garbage, at least the stuff that made it into the overflowing garbage cans.

That was the unplanned scene from Incourage Community Foundation’s first community picnic in 2012. We had planned for up to 500 people and 1,000 showed up! We struggled to keep up with the overflowing garbage cans and recycling containers. Guesstimates put the total per participant generation at 0.8 pounds. That included plates, utensils, corn cobs and many other recycleable or compostable materials.

“When you knew better, you did better.”

At this past summer’s community picnic, we took a more strategic approach, planning to use local foods and dramatically lower our environmental footprint. All picnic supIncourage1plies were reviewed to maximize recyclable or compostable elements. We increased the number of waste stations with specific receptacles for recyclables, compostables, and true waste. Each of the receptacles had examples of the specific picnic wastes being generated and where each should go: water bottles in recycling, corn cobs in composting, potato chip bags in the waste. (In the photo at right, Waste Steward Richard Breen and fellow volunteer explain to picnic goers where each item goes.) Using the 0.8 lb. rate from the first picnic, with 3,500 attendees, the potential impact would have been 1.4 tons of garbage. Instead, with most materials recycled or composted, the garbage total was around 300 pounds. This was less than half the amount generated the first year even though we had three times as many people.

We learned a valuable lesson. IF we choose to, we can make a significant difference by the choices we make.


CPS Cafe, Farmshed Partnership Benefits Students, Community

From Stevens Point Journal, January 1, 2015

A partnership involving CPS Cafe, Central Rivers Farmshed and the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point will give students a broader food management experience while meeting a community need and reducing food waste.

Farmshed’s new community kitchen at the former Sorenson’s greenhouse on Briggs Court will be a site for community members to learn how to preserve locally grown food. Fresh fruits and vegetables unsold at farmers markets will be purchased and processed, and then they will be available at local food pantries or for sale.

This partnership will provide UWSP students hands-on experience in local food processing and distribution, said Annie Wetter, Health Promotion-Human Development Department chairwoman. “They will see how organizations can partner to synergize resources. They’ll see how a need in the community can be addressed creatively through collaboration and market economics.”

Read the full article.

2014 Wisconsin State of the Birds Report Highlights Effective Conservation Measures

From Wisconsin DNR, December 2014

The Wisconsin State of the Birds Report contains excerpts from the State of the Birds Report, which is a national overview of the conservation status of birds in the United States issued by the U.S. committee of the North American Bird Conservation Initiative. It estimates population trends for birds grouped by broad habitat categories and shows how the trends have changed in recent years.

Read full article. Read full report.

Congress to Nutritionists: Don’t Talk about the Environment

From NPR, December 15, 2014

A government-appointed group of top nutrition experts, assigned to lay the scientific groundwork for a new version of the nation’s dietary guidelines, decided earlier this year to collect data on the environmental implication of different food choices.

Congress now has slapped them down.

Lawmakers attached a list of “congressional directives” to a massive spending bill that was passed by both the House and the Senate in recent days. One of those directives expresses “concern” that the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee “is showing an interest in incorporating agriculture production practices and environmental factors” into their recommendations, and directs the Obama administration to ignore such factors in the next revision of the guidelines, which is due out next year.

Read full article.

This Week’s Vote Secures Minneapolis’ Title as Climate Champion

From Renewable Energy World, December 12, 2014

In August 2013, Minneapolis (MN) was in the news for considering a take-over of its energy utilities. Today, they’re back in the news for supporting a first-in-the-nation clean energy partnership with those same utilities and a pioneering effort to bring more local input into the city’s energy future. It’s been a whirlwind week.

Read full article.

Switching to Vehicles Powered by Electricity from Renewables Could Save Lives

From University of Minnesota, December 15, 2014

Driving vehicles that use electricity from renewable energy instead of gasoline could reduce the resulting deaths due to air pollution by 70 percent. This finding comes from a new life cycle analysis of conventional and alternative vehicles and their air pollution-related public health impacts, published Monday, Dec. 15, 2014, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Read full article.