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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Growing Styrofoam Out of Mushrooms

From Marketplace, December 12, 2014

In a college dorm room, under a twin XL bed, a company was born. Ecovative, a biodesign company based in Albany, N.Y,, began as a science project for Gavin McIntyre and Eben Bayer –they grew oyster mushrooms under their beds, in the hopes of using them to recycle farm waste, and eventually, create an alternative to soft plastics like Styrofoam.

View full article and podcast.

Icy Roads Prescribed a Low-Sodium Diet

From Living on Earth, December 12, 2014

Road salt helps to melt ice and keep travelers safe but too much can harm the environment and wildlife. Living on Earth’s Jenni Doering reports that scientists are testing unusual salt alternatives including waste products from sugar beets, barley and cheese to cut the salt and keep roads clear.

View full podcast.

Fish Farming Finding Home in the Midwest

From Associated Press, December 13, 2014

With global consumption of seafood outpacing wild fish populations, many have turned from roving the world’s waters to aquaculture, using coastal net pens or ponds to raise freshwater and saltwater species. But the emerging trend of indoor aquaculture is bringing the surf to America’s turf.

Video by Chris Hartleb of UWSP, “Blue Revolution: Farming Water to Grow Food”

Read full article.

Lawsuit Hits Wisconsin DNR for Dragging Feet on 2010 Air Quality Rules

By Wisconsin State Journal, December 12, 2014

Nearly five years after the federal government set new standards designed to protect public health from short, sharp spikes in air pollution levels, Wisconsin hasn’t made the rules mandatory for all polluters.

The state Department of Natural Resources hasn’t had enough time to consult with businesses about the economic impact of change, the agency’s top air-quality regulator said Thursday.

In a lawsuit filed Thursday, two Madison-based environmental groups asked a Dane County judge to force the DNR to implement limits on emissions linked to acid rain, climate change and potentially life-threatening respiratory ills.

Read full article.

Farmers Find New Cash Crop: Renewable Energy

From ClimateWire, November 26, 2014

Conservative Iowans make cash from wind turbines and solar power on their land.

Yoder, whose Mennonite traditions generally eschew many energy-consuming home comforts, takes pride in his farm’s energy self-sufficiency and clean energy credentials. But the economics of renewable energy, and particularly solar power, bring the most satisfaction to the tall, 50-year-old farmer.

“I do like renewable energy,” he says. “And if I can make it pay, I’ll do it.”

Yoder makes it pay to the tune of $500 to $700 each month in avoided energy costs, or roughly half what his electricity bill totaled before he installed the turbine and solar panels and began selling power to the Kalona co-op under a unique feed-in tariff program that is tailored to the locals’ strong sense of self-reliance and energy independence.

More than bringing solar power to a traditional farming area, the Kalona co-op’s initiatives have helped spur Iowa’s nascent solar industry, which between 2012 and 2014 added more than 600 projects with a value of nearly $25 million, according to state tax credit data reported by the Iowa Department of Revenue.

Read full article.

Big U.S. School Districts Plan Switch to Antibiotic-free Chicken

From Reuters, December 10, 2014

Six of the largest U.S. school districts are switching to antibiotic-free chicken, officials said on Tuesday, pressuring the world’s top meat companies to adjust production practices in the latest push against drugs used on farms.

The move by districts in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Miami-Dade County and Orlando County is intended to protect children’s health amid concerns about the rise of so-called “superbugs,” bacteria that gain resistance to conventional medicines, school officials said.


Read the full article.

Copenhagen Lighting the Way to Greener, More Efficient Cities

From New York Times, December 8, 2014

On a busy road in the center of town here, a string of green lights embedded in the bike path — the “Green Wave” — flashes on, helping cyclists avoid red traffic lights.

On a main artery into the city, truck drivers can see on smartphones when the next light will change. And in a nearby suburb, new LED streetlights brighten only as vehicles approach, dimming once they pass.

Aimed at saving money, cutting the use of fossil fuels and easing mobility, the installations are part of a growing wireless network of streetlamps and sensors that officials hope will help this city of roughly 1.2 million meet its ambitious goal of becoming the world’s first carbon-neutral capital by 2025.

Read the full article.

Poll: 83% of Americans Say Climate Is Changing

From USA Today, December 2, 2014

Eight out of 10 Americans now believe the climate is changing, according to a new survey conducted for Munich Re America, the world’s largest reinsurance firm.

“Our survey findings indicate that national sentiment over whether or not climatic changes are occurring has finally reached a tipping point,” said Tony Kuczinski, president of Munich Re America.

The survey’s release today coincides with negotiations among more than 190 countries that got underway this month in Lima, Peru, on a long-elusive global climate accord that’s supposed to be adopted next year in Paris. Read the full article.


The Energy Fair Wins Excellence in Wisconsin Recycling Award

From MREA Press Release, December 9, 2014

The Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA) has received a 2014 Recycling Excellence Award from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for its 2013 Energy Fair. The Energy Fair, the longest-running renewable energy education event in the nation, diverted approximately 13 cubic yards of mixed recycling, paper and compost from a landfill. All participating food vendors used compostable utensils and were encouraged to use sustainable and locally sourced food.

“These awards reflect the high level of community interest in recycling here in Wisconsin. We’re really pleased to recognize the hard work and creativity of our local recycling partners,” said Ann Coakley, Waste and Materials Management Program director. The Recycling Excellence Award program publicly acknowledges special events and communities with outstanding recycling performance.

The 2015 Energy Fair, June 19-21, will strive to surpass its 2013 recycling efforts. The food vendors will again be required to use biodegradable food service items such as plates, cups, etc. If food vendors do not have access to biodegradable food service items, the MREA will provide them for purchase. Food vendors will still be unable to sell bottled water or juice in order to encourage refilling of reusable beverage containers throughout the fairgrounds.

Register as a 2015 Energy Fair food vendor here. Read more Energy Fair information.

Researchers Find Exposure to Chemicals Used in Controversial Extraction Process Could Damage Fertility and Cause Birth Defects

By businessgreen.com, December 5, 2014

Researchers find exposure to chemicals used in controversial extraction process could damage fertility and cause birth defects.

Read full study.

NewPage Stevens Point Mill Earns 2014 Green Masters Award for Recognition of Leading Sustainable Business Practices

NewPage Corporation (NewPage) announced today that its Stevens Point specialty paper mill achieved recognition as a 2014 Green Masters Award winner, joining an exclusive group of leading Wisconsin companies being recognized by the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council for significant and ongoing sustainability practices.

Read full News Release.

Gundersen Health Energy Independence Efforts Aim for Better Environment

By Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Online, December 6,2014

On 14 days last month, Gundersen produced enough of its own energy to meet the health system’s needs. It took a lot of different pieces to do it — a combination of wind farms, bioenergy projects, some solar, and a large landfill gas project and geothermal heating system.

The project all started with Thompson and his team setting a goal to live up to the Gundersen mission statement by promoting a healthy population and healthy local community.

Making changes helped wean Gundersen off coal, and the energy savings that resulted help the health system keep costs in check.

Changes included:

  • An aggressive investment in energy-saving projects to eliminate waste.
  • Programs to cut waste, such as construction products and medical waste.
  • An extensive renewable energy initiative.

Read full article.

Fourth Generation Farmer Grows Another Successful Organic Cranberry Crop

By Cassandra Lund, CLUE Student Office Assistant, December 9, 2014

As the weather gets colder, we get to enjoy delicious seasonal products such as squash, carrots, broccoli and cranberries. Cranberries are a popular festive fall fruit in Wisconsin and can be prepared in sauces, breads, desserts, dried, and more. Wisconsin has about 100 acres of certified organic cranberries, compared to 19,000 acres of commercial cranberries.

Originally started by his grandfather in 1879, Brian Ruesch is now the fourth generation in his family to run an organic farm. When his grandfather began the farm, it was mainly for dairy production along with a quarter acre cranberry marsh. From the beginning, his family chose not to use chemicals on their crops. In 1993, the farm was the first in Wisconsin to become a certified organic cranberry farm. They were also the first cranberry farm in the state to grow cranberries upland rather than the common technique of growing in marshes and bogs. Today, the eighty acre organic farm consists of 5 acres of cranberries, along with hay, soy, corn, hardwood, and pasture.

Read full article.

UW-Madison Offers Free Online Course on Changing Weather and Climate in the Great Lakes Region

From UW-Madison Press Release

The University of Wisconsin-Madison invites you to join us February 23, 2015 for a unique, free online learning experience: our Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) Changing Weather and Climate in the Great Lakes Region.

The 4-week MOOC will feature a new season each week through short lectures and activities covering Great Lakes weather, observed changes in the climate, and societal impacts of climate change. The course will share important data in addition to focusing on people and communities adjusting to climate changes. And to slow the rate of future climate change, we’ll share actions you can take that benefit you and everyone who loves the weather and climate of the Great Lakes Region.

MOOCs are free, non-credit, online learning opportunities, which are available to anyone interested in learning with us. They are one of the many ways UW-Madison extends our lifelong learning and outreach mission to new audiences.

Changing Weather and Climate in the Great Lakes Region is the 2nd of 6 MOOCs being offered in 2015. All learners are welcome and encouraged to participate!

Video Drives Home Impact of Cumulative Environmental Toxic Exposures on Children’s Brain Development

From Medicalxpress, November 2014

A new video co-produced by a Simon Fraser University researcher highlights how low-level exposures to prevalent environmental toxicants have adverse life-long effects on children’s intellectual and behavioral development. Bruce Lanphear, a well-published expert on children’s environmental health, will unveil the video Little Things Matter at a first-of-its-kind conference at the University of Ottawa, Nov. 20-21.

“There is strong evidence that learning disabilities and lower IQ scores can be attributed to extremely low levels of exposure to toxic metals like lead and mercury, persistent toxins such as polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs), and other toxins including organophosphate (OP) pesticides and compounds used as flame-retardants. These toxins are common in our daily environments,” says Lanphear, an SFU health sciences professor.

Read the full article.

Partnership Enhances Food Supply, Economic Development

From Stevens Point Journal, November 28, 2014

In this season of thanks, an estimated one in eight people go to bed hungry. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates nearly 870 million of the world’s 7.1 billion people are undernourished. In Wisconsin, “food hardship” rates are even worse in households with children, where 22 percent did not have food security, according to the Food Resource Action Council.

The problem is real, and one solution is a partnership involving the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point that may lead to providing a sustainable, secure global food supply year-round.

We have partnered with Nelson and Pade Inc., a global leader in aquaponics in Montello. Together we are teaching students from across the country and world about sustainable ways to grow fresh food that do not rely on ample acreage, fertile soil or warm weather.

Read the full article.

UWGB Students Turn Food Waste into Meals

By Fox 11 News, November 26, 2014

“We’re serving people that are potentially food insecure and don’t potentially know where their next meal is coming from,” said student Nicole Roth.

Roth and her friends are part of the Campus Kitchens organization.

“I don’t think people know how much food is being wasted. And how much we can reuse some of that and give it to those who are in need,” student Naomi Moua said.

Read full article.

Community Power

From City Pages, November 26-December 4, 2014 Issue

RosholtA 40-minute drive from Wausau through the countryside delivers you to the doorstep of an electrip cooperative in Rosholt that’s doing more–much more–than just distribution power to members. [….]

The Rosholt-based Central Wisconsin Electric Cooperative is a rural island between two power giants, the for-profit investor-owned Wisconsin Public Service Corp., which serves the majority of Marathon, Lincoln and Portage counties, and Alliant, which covers the communities directly east of CWEC’s area. [….] Today CWEC serves rural communities in Marathon, Portage, Shawano and Waupaca counties. [….]

Central Wisconsin Electrical Co-op also is looking into producing some of its own energy through a community solar option. A co-op member would invest $700 or $1,000 in a solar panel that’s housed on land adjacent to the co-op.

Read the full article in the November 26-December 4, 2014 issue. Learn more on the website.

Tire-Crumb Turf

From City Pages, November 26 – December 4, 2014 edition

Q: Is it true that playing on artificial turf fields can cause cancer? If so, how can I minimize exposure for my sports-loving kids?

A. Just when you thought it was safe to play soccer on that brand-new synthetic-turf field, it may be time to think again. Those little black dirt-like granules that fill up the space between synthetic blades of grass and make up some 90% of today’s artificial turf fiels are ground-up car and truck tires. As such they contain a host of potentially noxious chemicals.

Four of the constituent chemicals in these “tire crumbs” or “tire mulch”, as they’re called–arsenic, benzene, cadmium, and nickel–are known carcinogens, as deemed by the International Agency for Cancer Research. Others have been linked to skin, eye and resp8iratory irritation, kidney and liver problems, allergic reactions, nervous system disorders and developmental delays.

Read the full article in the November 26 – December 4, 2014 City Pages. See their website for more info.

The Downside of the Boom

From The New York Times, November 23, 2014

In early August 2013, Arlene Skurupey of Blacksburg, Va., got an animated call from the normally taciturn farmer who rents her family land in Billings County, N.D. There had been an accident at the Skurupey 1-9H oil well. “Oh, my gosh, the gold is blowing,” she said he told her. “Bakken gold.”

It was the 11th blowout since 2006 at a North Dakota well operated by Continental Resources, the most prolific producer in the booming Bakken oil patch. Spewing some 173,250 gallons of potential pollutants, the eruption, undisclosed at the time, was serious enough to bring the Oklahoma-based company’s chairman and chief executive, Harold G. Hamm, to the remote scene. [….]

Since 2006, when advances in hydraulic fracturing — fracking — and horizontal drilling began unlocking a trove of sweet crude oil in the Bakken shale formation, North Dakota has shed its identity as an agricultural state in decline to become an oil powerhouse second only to Texas. A small state that believes in small government, it took on the oversight of a multibillion-dollar industry with a slender regulatory system built on neighborly trust, verbal warnings and second chances.

In recent years, as the boom really exploded, the number of reported spills, leaks, fires and blowouts has soared, with an increase in spillage that outpaces the increase in oil production, an investigation by The New York Times found. Yet, even as the state has hired more oil field inspectors and imposed new regulations, forgiveness remains embedded in the Industrial Commission’s approach to an industry that has given North Dakota the fastest-growing economy and lowest jobless rate in the country.

Read the full article.


New Institute Will Address Sustainability in Portage County

By Mary Maller, November 24, 2014

In Portage County small groups are forming to turn big, global issues into bite-sized local actions. Topics include sustainable work places, energy, food, water, health, climate, ecosystems, and simpler living. Businesses, churches, schools, neighborhoods, community and campus organizations are invited to sponsor a group and share in a celebration for all participants an Earth Day in April.

Register or join a group at a free, public orientation on January 20, noon and 6:30pm at the Portage County Library, Pinery Room. The orientation will be repeated on January 27 on the UW-Stevens Point campus. Self-directed courses from the Northwest Earth Institute and local resources will supply groups with input and discussion format. Individuals and groups will decide their own responses for a greener county, country and planet.

Find information about events and partners for this county-wide collaboration on the CWEI Facebook page. For more information or to check on possible weather-related cancellations, please call Mary at 715-544-4859.

Holiday Food Donations Accepted at Area Food Pantries and Meal Sites

From CLUE, November 25, 2014

As we shop for our turkey, stuffing, potatoes and squash for Thanksgiving dinner, many of us will realize, and give thanks, that we have more than enough food to eat this holiday season. Yet according to a recent article, one in seven Americans visited a food pantry last year. These families and individuals need access to “nourishing, nutritionally dense nonperishables”. Consider purchasing a few extra items to donate to area food pantries and meal sites in Central Wisconsin. In addition, check to see if they have the capacity to accept perishable items such as potatoes, onions, and squash. Some sites also accept cooking and cleaning supplies and clothing donations.

Pantry and Meal Sites
Portage County list
Wood, Waushara, and Other Counties list
Marathon, Lincoln and Other Counties list

“Gobble Gobble”: Youth Connect with Farms and Learn about Turkeys

From Farmshed Press Release, November 20, 2014

Central Rivers Farmshed and the Boys and Girls Club of Portage County Gateway Report Center have enjoyed a unique partnership over the past few years. When Farmsheturkeyd took on their
downtown renovation project at the former Sorenson’s Garden Center, the Gateway Report Center was looking for more community service partners. When the two organizations found each other, it was a perfect fit. The teens started helping with construction and clean up projects, specifically at the Farmshed facility throughout the school year. Then in 2013, Farmshed worked with Gateway staff to introduce the teens to several farmer partners, on Tuesdays during the summer, when more program hours were available.

Farmshed’s farm partners included: Cutler Country Comfort, The Sand Box, Rose of Sharon Homestead, Nami Moon Farms, Whitefeather Organics, Lonely Oak Farm, Liberation Farmers, and Painted Rock Farms. When the teens arrived, they assisted with large projects that gave them a glimpse into life on small, diversified farms. These projects included but were not limitedto composting, planting trees and shrubs, feeding animals, pulling thistle and, of course, weeding vegetable plots.

To round out this season’s partnership, the teens went to Whitefeather Organics to choose a turkey for their Thanksgiving feast set for November 20. The turkey was donated by the
Whitefeathers (Tony, Laura, Siris, Ashae, and Indie) and community members, Kent and Sue Hall. During the teens’ visit to the farm, just two days before the dinner, they went into the pasture
and together captured a suitably sized bird. Afterwards they learned from Tony and Laura Whitefeather the process of raising birds on pasture based systems, how to butcher a turkey, and
about poultry’s anatomy. The teens were amazed that turkeys eat grit and pebbles; storing them in their crops before passing the debris to their gizzards. The turkey’s gizzard helps to
grind their food, since turkeys don’t have teeth. For many of the teens, this was an eye opening way to learn how food, like Thanksgiving turkeys, reach our plates.

This partnership between Farmshed and Gateway has been great for many reasons. We look forward to seeing it grows in years to come. Partnerships like these help teens become part of
their community, teaches them how food is raised, and it involves hard work in all aspects. Everyone involved has much to be thankful for…Happy Thanksgiving from Farmshed and the
Gateway Report Center.

School for Beginning Market Growers Helps Beginning Farmers

From CIAS, November 2014

The Wisconsin School for Beginning Market Growers, a three-day workshop for anyone planning to start a fresh market vegetable farm, will be offered January 9-11, 2015 on the UW-Madison campus. The program, now in its 17th year, serves new and beginning farmers seeking to grow and market fresh produce. The focus of the program is to provide information and inspiration to help new growers make smart business decisions about production, marketing, pricing, capitalization and labor.  This is accomplished by having a team of experienced growers do the majority of the teaching.

The program emphasizes organic production methods and direct marketing. Participants will learn about fertility management, greenhouse use, season extension, pest management, equipment needs, and get real-world perspectives on the financial and quality-of-life realities of running a small scale farm.

The School for Beginning Market Growers is sponsored by the UW-Madison Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems. Registration for the program costs $325. Enrollment is limited, so early sign-ups are advised. For more information, contact John Hendrickson at (608) 265-3704 or jhendric@wisc.edu, or visit the CIAS website. Click here for online registration.

9th Annual Wisconsin Local Food Summit To Be Held in Wisconsin Rapids

From WLFN, November 2014

The 9th Annual Wisconsin Local Food Summit, Seeds for Change: Learning from the past to grow food for tomorrow will be January 30 and 31 at Hotel Mead in Wisconsin Rapids, in conjunction with the Wisconsin Farm to School Summit, on Thursday, January 29, also at Hotel Mead. Make one trip to attend TWO Summits!

The summit brings together community organizers, agency advocates, educators, local food producers, students, and stakeholders from all aspects of our food system to learn, network, and help shape our local food systems. This year’s summit has a great line up of workshop presenters (tentative schedule), and for the first time will feature poster presentations that visually highlight local food system research, education, innovative models and artwork. The 2015 keynote speakers are Venice Williams, Alice’s Garden; and Irwin Goldman, Professor and Department Head, University of Wisconsin, Department of Horticulture and Open Source Seed Initiative.