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This blog’s primary purpose is to help people learn about events and initiatives related to sustainability in Central Wisconsin. On a regular basis we post great stories in recent sustainability news, including topics of interest on the local, Wisconsin, national, and international level. In addition, we work with the many organizations and individuals working on sustainability issues in Central Wisconsin to gather and post a calendar of events. Follow our blog on an ongoing basis, and/or sign up for a monthly reminder.

Insecticides in Our Food and Water, New Studies Find

By Dave Orrick, Twin Cities Pioneer Press, July 25, 2014

NeonicNicotine-related insecticides widely used on crops are finding their way into the food we eat and the water we drink, two national studies published in the past two months have concluded. A study released this week by the U.S. Geological Survey found neonicotinoids — a relatively new family of insect-killing chemicals exploding in use in the Farm Belt and a leading suspect in the collapse of bee populations — in nine Midwestern rivers, including the Mississippi and Missouri. Last month, a study by the Harvard School of Public Health found “neonics” in fruits, vegetables and honey purchased from grocery stores.

The findings come as the Minnesota Department of Agriculture is weighing stronger enforcement of pesticide use, following a push from the Legislature. The human health effects of neonicotinoids aren’t fully understood, and the Harvard scholars said their findings suggest it’s a pressing question — especially since washing the produce might not remove the chemicals.

Read the full article.

Fair Trade Products Bring Big Sales, Clear Conscious

By Joyce Rosenberg, AP, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 27, 2014

Brooklyn Roasting Co. has a booming business based on helping people thousands of miles away. Ninety percent of the coffee the New York-based company sells is Fair Trade — certified as produced by people who are treated and paid well. Being socially responsible pays off for Brooklyn Roasting, which sells to restaurants, food stores and the public through its website. Sales of its Fair Trade coffee, which comes from Mexico, Peru, Indonesia and Ethiopia, have soared from $900,000 in 2011 to $4.4 million last year. They are expected to reach $6 million in 2014. “In a thoughtful urban center like New York City, I think it’s a smart business decision to be the company known for responsible coffee sourcing,” co-owner Jim Munson says.

Demand for Fair Trade products is rising as people become more aware of how their food and other products are made. That makes the Fair Trade market a growing opportunity for small-business owners. While companies sell Fair Trade food, clothing and bedding products because they believe in being socially responsible, the goods can also be part of a marketing strategy, says Russell Winer, a marketing professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business. Sixty percent of shoppers are willing to pay the higher prices that Fair Trade items tend to have, according to a 2013 study he co-wrote.

Read the full article.

Hull Residents Pledge to Fight Proposed Well

By Sari Lesk, Stevens Point Journal, July 24, 2014

HighCapacityWellWhen Matt Johnson and his family moved to the town of Hull, he checked to ensure the water quality there was good and that he wouldn’t have to worry about what his three young children would be drinking.

Now, a local farmer’s request to drill a new high-capacity well near Johnson’s subdivision has residents worried about their own health and ready to fight to preserve the quantity and quality of water coming from their wells.

“It feels very unneighborly right now, and that bothers the heck out of me,” Johnson said.

Read the full article.

The Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables: A Glorious Fight against Food Waste

This video by Intermarche discusses food waste. Watch here.


Girl Scouts Learn about Groundwater Conservation

By Marisa Cuellar, Marshfield News Herald, July 23, 2014

Temperatures soared into the 80s Tuesday, but Girl Scouts spent time learning how to conserve water instead of splashing in it.

A group of 75 Girl Scouts from Abbotsford, Granton, Marshfield, Medford, Neillsville, Stratford, Westfield and Wisconsin Rapids attended a workshop presented by Marshfield Utilities and the local Groundwater Guardians group, where they learned about groundwater and protecting the precious natural resource.

The girls learned about the connection between groundwater and surface water, participated in bucket relays with ladles of water, created edible aquifers and made a natural cleaning solution using vinegar, baking soda and water.

Read the full article.

Historic Farm Bill Funding Available to Organic Producers and Handlers

From USDA Website, July 17, 2014

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced today that approximately $13 million in Farm Bill funding is now available for organic certification cost-share assistance, making certification more accessible than ever for small certified producers and handlers.

“Consumer demand for organic products is surging across the country,” said Secretary Tom Vilsack. “To meet this demand, we need to make sure that small farmers who choose to grow organic products can afford to get certified. Organic food is now a multi-billion dollar industry, and helping this sector continue to grow creates jobs across the country.”

Read the full article.

CSA Health Insurance Rebates Touted as a ‘Sustainable Solution’

From Fairshare CSA Coalition newsetter, July 2014

Scandinavian think tank SUSTAINIA recently released a study of 100 leading sustainability innovations deployed across global markets. FairShare was selected for inclusion in the Health sector based on the CSA health insurance rebates.

More than 900 technologies and projects on nearly all continents were researched to identify 100 outstanding cases in 142 countries, and to document where and how innovations are being developed and deployed. “While we don’t have the luxury of time to fix the problems, we do have the luxury of readily available solutions. And with Sustainia100, we now know where to find the most inspiring of them,” says Dr. Rajendra K. Pachauri, Chair of the UN panel for climate Change, IPCC.

FairShare partners with Dean Health, Group Health Cooperative -SCW, Physicians Plus and Unity Health on the rebates. In Wisconsin, Mayo’s Health Traditions Health Plan also offers a CSA rebate. Read the full article. Read about the program on page 119 of the report.


Vernon Electric Cooperative Unveils State’s First Community Solar Project

By Chris Hubbuch, La Crosse Tribune, June 26, 2014

WESTBY — Merlin and Trudy Simonson have long been interested in solar energy.

VernonsolarThey wanted to put solar panels on their home in Genoa but were “afraid we’d do it wrong,” said Merlin, a retired Department of Defense worker.

So when their utility, Vernon Electric Cooperative, offered a chance to buy panels in a solar farm, they jumped.

“This could not have come at a better time for us,” Merlin said Wednesday as Trudy signed their name on a few of the couple’s 59 panels in the 2-acre array tucked between farm fields. “Carbon costs are only going to increase.” They expect their investment will offset about 80 percent of their electric bill, which includes heat for their Genoa home.

John Evenstad doesn’t expect quite so much from his single panel, which he purchased “for the fun of it.”

Both are among 120 owners of the community-owned solar array, the first of its kind in Wisconsin.

Read the full article.

Regulators Move to Chance Incentive Provisions for Renewable Energy

By Thomas Content, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 10, 2014

State energy regulators moved Thursday to make a big change in how incentives are provided for renewable energy projects. The state Public Service Commission agreed to set up a $16 million revolving loan fund that would work with a commercial lender to help finance installation of solar, wind or bioenergy projects.

The program is modeled in part on a similar initiative already in place in Iowa. The move follows several years of different approaches on funding for renewable power projects, including several occasions in which incentives for renewable projects were suspended.

Commissioner Ellen Nowak said the revolving loan fund would “hold the renewable industry more accountable for its own development” and free up more dollars for energy efficiency incentives, which are more cost-effective initiatives for utility ratepayer dollars.

Read the full article.

Missed Targets: When Companies Fail to Keep Their Key Sustainability Promises

Disney, Target, Walmart and 3M are among the companies that have fallen behind on their environmental commitments. But their stumbles haven’t received much attention

By Jennifer Inez Ward, The Guardian, July 21, 2014

When the Walt Disney Company reached out to Rainforest Action Network for help in crafting a new sustainable paper sourcing policy in 2012, the nonprofit was all ears. As the world’s largest publisher of children’s books and magazines, with more than 700m products sold each year, Disney’s paper sourcing influences the operations of 25,000 factories in more than 100 countries.

But after 18 months of working closely with the company, some of Rainforest Action Network’s officials have grown frustrated with Disney’s slow pace. [....]

Disney isn’t the only company that has stumbled on the path to meeting some of its sustainability targets. After setting very public goals, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, conserving water and cutting energy usage, many large corporations are falling behind or missing self-set benchmarks.

Read the full article. Read the full CERES report on corporations’ progress toward sustainability.


Once a Niche, Local Foods Growing into Big Business

By Mary Clare Jalonick, Associated Press, July 16, 2014

Once a niche business, locally grown foods aren’t just for farmers markets anymore.

A growing network of companies and organizations is delivering food directly from local farms to major institutions like Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in downtown Philadelphia, eliminating scores of middlemen from farm to fork. Along the way, they’re increasing profits and recognition for smaller farms and bringing consumers healthier, fresher foods.

Over the past five years, with more than $25 million in federal aid, these so-called food hubs have helped transform locally grown foods into a bigger business, supplying hospitals, schools, restaurant chains and grocery stores as consumer demand grows.

Read the full article.

Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross PV System

From Energy On Wisconsin Newsletter, June/July 2014

Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross in Green Bay, WI during the construction of their 112 kW solar photovoltaic system. The PV system, activated in June, is estimated to produce 30% of their electricity needs or 147,000 kW annually and is expected to pay for itself in 10 years.

Learn more in the May archive of the Energy On Wisconsin Newsletter on their website. Email Sherrie Gruber to sign up for the newsletter.

More Wisconsin Employers Set Up CSA Drop-Off Sites at the Workplace

Some Companies Also Offer Payroll Deductions, Other Incentives For Workers Interested In Shares Of Produce

By Maureen McCollum, WPR News, July 17, 2014

Craig Scott pulls up in a delivery truck to his first stop of the day: Trane Company in La Crosse. After calling security to tell them he’s arrived, Scott lifts the door on the back of his truck. Community supported agriculture (CSA) boxes filled with fresh vegetables and herbs are stacked to the ceiling. It’s clear that basil is part of this week’s delivery, since the smell overpowers everything else. In addition, says Scott, there’s “broccoli, basil, zucchini, beets, kohlrabi, Swiss chard, (and) scallions.”

Trane is one of many employers who are setting up CSA drop-off sites in their offices, enabling workers around Wisconsin to take boxes of fresh vegetables home with them after a long day of work. Later in the day, Trane employees will pick up their box of organic produce that Scott has dropped off from a small closet dedicated to the CSA drop-off.

Read the full article.

County Officials Call for Action to Save Water Supply

By Sari Lesk, Stevens Point Journal, July 15, 2014

Portage County’s major water users need to work together to preserve groundwater before they create a real crisis, local leaders said Tuesday.

County Executive Patty Dreier raised the issue during her annual State of the County address, characterizing the stewardship of groundwater as a top concern. Portage County used more groundwater than any other county in Wisconsin in 2011 and 2012, according to state Department of Natural Resources reports.

“Water means everything to us,” Dreier said. “We can’t wait. The free-for-all on water has got to stop.” Dreier didn’t cite any specific businesses or individual major users, although Portage County is home to numerous high-capacity wells and large irrigation systems. She noted that the potato industry is one that relies heavily on groundwater.

Read the full article. Watch the county executive’s speech (starting at 3:57).

Conference Will Feature Environmental Education and Green & Healthy Schools

By WCEE, July 14, 2014

Register now for the 40th annual Wisconsin Association for Environmental Education (WAEE) conference combined this year with the first ever Green & Healthy Schools Institute, August 13-15, at the Dreyfus University Center (DUC) on the campus of UW-Stevens Point. Join educators from around the state on exciting field trips and participate in hands-on workshops to learn new teaching techniques. The conference offers an excellent opportunity for educators, administrators, students and others interested in environmental education to network, share, and learn.

One exciting event you won’t want to miss is the keynote, Stephen Ritz, founder of the Green Bronx Machine, on Wednesday, August 13 from 1-2 pm in the Laird Room. Ritz is a South Bronx teacher/administrator who believes that students shouldn’t have to leave their community to live, learn and earn in a better one. Moving generations of students into spheres of personal and academic successes they have never imagined while reclaiming and rebuilding the Bronx, Stephen’s extended student and community family have grown over 25,000 pounds of vegetables in the Bronx while generating extraordinary academic performance.

The 3-day conference fee is only $95! Register now! Early bird deadline is July 25. Learn more on the website.

WCEE Conference Logo

Solar vs. Electric Battles Heating Up in Iowa, Wisconsin

By Thomas Content, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 12, 2014

Skirmishes between solar power supporters and electric utilities are intensifying, with standoffs in Iowa and Wisconsin attracting attention around the country. Most recently, in a decision cheered by solar advocates, the Iowa Supreme Court on Friday rebuffed concerns raised by Iowa regulators and Madison-based Alliant Energy Corp., which argued that a solar company’s move to install panels on the roof of a government building in Dubuque unfairly competed with Alliant’s monopoly electric utility in Iowa.

The 4-2 court decision could trigger a surge of solar power projects in the Hawkeye State by companies that build and own solar panels and lease them to homeowners and small businesses. The leasing trend helps reduce upfront costs to install solar panels and has spurred a wave of solar power growth in states that have allowed it.

In Wisconsin, Milwaukee-based We Energies proposed late last month to bar its customers from leasing solar panels. The company also sought to impose a new surcharge on customers that generate their own power.

Read the full article.

UW-Madison Scientists Seek Alternatives to Cranberry Pollination

By Emily Conover, Milwaukee Journal Sentinal, July 13, 2014

CranberryresearchCranberries are blooming this month in Wisconsin — each delicate blossom awaiting a visit from a bee to pollinate it before the plants can produce their famously tart, red berries.

To ensure the flowers are pollinated, cranberry farmers need bees — lots of bees. Farmers typically hire beekeepers to bring hives of honeybees to pollinate the flowers. But what if there were a better way?

That’s what scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison want to answer. They plan to test whether planting wildflowers around crop fields can improve farmers’ fruit yield by attracting more bees — particularly wild, native bees — to the fields.

Read the full article.

USDA Grant Aims to Help Increase Honey Bee Population

By Amanda Tyler, WEAU, July 8, 2014

beeThe buzz of honey bees is sound that’s been getting softer over the last decade, but a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture hopes to revive a declining population. The USDA has announced five states including Wisconsin will split $8-million to create new habitats for bees.

“From a food security standpoint, honeybees are crucial,” Eau Claire bee keeper Drew Kaiser said. In addition to tending to his own hives, Kaiser is also the leader of a group pushing to bring more honey bees into the urban setting. The local bee keeper says lack of diversity among farm fields has made it tougher for bees to form natural habitats. “Creating larger pockets of rotating blossoms that are appealing and encouraging to honey bees is going to be really important,” Kaiser explained.

Creating more habitats for bees is exactly what the USDA plans to do with an $8-million grant being rolled out in the coming months. That grant money will provide incentives to farmers to dedicate land toward bee habitats. Read the full article.

CLUE Note: Contact your local FSA office to find out more about the grants. You can find your local office at this link.

Food Packaging Contains 175 Potentially Dangerous Chemicals, New Report Finds

By Nathan Rao, Express, July 7, 2014

Toxic substances used to make a wide range of packets and wrappings could end up in the food itself, experts have warned in a new report. The study, published in Food Additives and Contaminants, claims chemicals in packaging can interfere with hormones, sperm production and organ malformation. However under European rules they are completely legal. Industry experts have tonight called on manufacturers to voluntarily avoid using them in food packaging.

Doctor Jane Muncke, managing director of the Food Packaging Forum which conducted the research described the findings as “undesirable”. She said: “Chemicals with highly toxic properties may legally be used in the production of food contact materials, but not in other consumer products such as computers, textiles and paints even though exposure through food contact materials may be far more relevant. “From a consumer perspective, it is certainly undesirable and also unexpected to find chemicals of concern being intentionally used in food contact materials.”

The study found 175 potentially dangerous chemicals are legally used in the production of food packaging. These include Phthalates, used as plasticisers, which have been linked to male infertility, genital malformations and cancer. Read the full article.

Phthalates Are Out of Infants’ Toys but a Heavy Dose Is Still in Their Food

By Lenny Bernstein, Washington Post, July 8, 2014

Remember the great phthalate scare of 2008? C0ngress, in a rare bipartisan response to a clamor from parents and health experts that children’s toys made abroad were laced with chemicals that could harm boys’ reproductive systems, banned the toxins so infants would no longer ingest them by mouthing the plastic objects. And then phthalates (pronounced thal-eights) pretty much faded from public view.

But a new study shows that an infant with a typical diet is still consuming twice as much of the chemicals as the Environmental Protection Agency considers safe. Meats — poultry in particular — high fat dairy products such as whole milk and cream, cooking oils and fats such as margarine all contain high levels of the chemicals, according to the research, published in June in the journal Environmental Health.

Read the full article.

Food Waste Reduction Could Help Feed World’s Starving

by Caroline Hepker, BBC News, July 2, 2014

“If food was as expensive as a Ferrari, we would polish it and look after it.” Instead, we waste staggering amounts. So says Professor Per Pinstrup-Andersen, head of an independent panel of experts advising the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization on how to tackle the problem.

Some 40% of all the food produced in the United States is never eaten. In Europe, we throw away 100 million tonnes of food every year. And yet there are one billion starving people in the world. The FAO’s best guess is that one third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted before it is eaten.

The latest report from the expert panel of the UN Committee on World Food Security concludes that food waste happens for many different reasons in different parts of the world and therefore the solutions have to be local. Read the full article.

Growing Number of Solar Panels a Concern for Wisconsin Utilities

By Thomas Content, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, June 28, 2014

At first glance, solar panels installed on homes and businesses don’t seem like much of a threat to Wisconsin utilities. After all, electricity generated by solar panels accounted for just a a fraction of the state’s energy mix last year.

At a time when renewable energy increased again, and now accounts for 10% of Wisconsin electricity sales, solar’s share is well under 1%. Yet costs are rapidly declining for homes and businesses to install the solar panels. And utilities around the country are responding as more customers are generating their own power. One result is a move to make customers pay a larger fixed monthly charge, rather than bill them based on how much energy they use. [....]

The companies want to pay less to customers that generate solar power from their rooftops, and they want to shift a greater portion of a customer’s monthly bill to a fixed charge rather than a charge that fluctuates each month depending on how much power is used by the home or business. The fixed charges, they argue, should pay for everything not tied to the energy cost itself — including the cost of substations and poles, transformers and power lines. Critics say higher fixed charges will discourage customers from conserving energy and open another door for utilities to higher profits.

Read the full article.