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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.

The War on Coal in the American Midwest

One of the nation’s biggest power producers is aggressively ramping down its reliance on coal.

By Daniel Gross, Slate, August 19, 2014

CoalWhen coal industry veterans in states such as West Virginia and Kentucky invoke a “war on coal,” they’re talking about a conspiracy—a cabal of federal bureaucrats who don’t like the industry (or modernity, or energy) trying to drive a job creator and economic-growth engine out of business.

But the reality is much different. A host of economic, political, and environmental concerns are pushing organizations—many of them profit-seeking businesses—to try to use less coal or stop using it altogether. The big increase in the production of natural gas, the sharp rise in renewables, state efforts to improve air quality, and stricter standards promulgated by the federal government are pushing utilities to act: either to install expensive new controls on coal plants or shut them down. Coal isn’t being banned or outlawed. But the rapidly changing environment is pushing businesses to reconsider its use.

We reported earlier this month on the Canadian province of Ontario, which is coming to the end of an 11-year campaign to rid its electricity generation system of coal. But a more significant campaign is being waged in the U.S., where coal still accounts for about 35 percent of electricity generation, by one of the industry’s leading players: NRG. Through aggressive acquisitions, NRG has grown into one of the largest power producers in the country.

Read the full article.

California Drought Transforms Global Food Market

From Bloomberg News, August 11, 2014

For more than 70 years, Fred Starrh’s family was among the most prominent cotton growers in California’s San Joaquin Valley. Then shifting global markets and rising water prices told him that wouldn’t work anymore.

So he replaced most of the cotton plants on his farm near Shafter, 120 miles northwest of Los Angeles, and planted almonds, which make more money per acre and are increasingly popular with consumers in Asia. “You can’t pay $1,000 an acre-foot to grow cotton,” said Starrh, 85, crouching to inspect a drip irrigator gently gurgling under an almond tree.

Such crop switching is one sign of a sweeping transformation going on in California — the nation’s biggest agricultural state by value — driven by a three-year drought that climate scientists say is a glimpse of a drier future.

Read the full article.

Back to the Land

Environmental and cultural concerns spark an interest in natural burials—and CALS soil scientists are lending their expertise

From GROW, Wisconsin’s magazine for the life sciences, Summer 2014

When Jerry Kaufman’s family was selecting his final resting place, they knew which one they didn’t want: The cemetery behind the strip mall. “My father was a planner,” says daughter Ariel Kaufman. “He wasn’t a strip mall person. It just didn’t feel right.”

Jerry Kaufman, a UW professor emeritus of urban and regional planning who died in 2013, was a holistic thinker. His work involved looking at seemingly incongruent places and systems that affect our daily lives and figuring out ways to make them work together. After retiring in 2001 after 30 years on campus, he continued to serve as board president of the Milwaukee-based urban agriculture nonprofit Growing Power, a position he held for some dozen years.

Fittingly, when Kaufman died, he was interred in the Natural Path Sanctuary at the Linda and Gene Farley Center for Peace, Justice and Sustainability near Verona. Burial sites there are incorporated into a 25-acre nature preserve located near a training center for beginning farmers featuring a community-supported agriculture program.

“The center has these other activities that are part of life—the peace, justice and sustainability work and the community food program,” says Ariel Kaufman. “It’s not like death is separate from life. They fit together.”

Read the full article.

The Case Against Sugar

From Chemical and Engineer News, August 4, 2014

Sugar is toxic. The fat and sodium we’ve spent so much time fretting over may in fact be the lesser of the evils in our diet. New evidence suggests that sugar—and possibly artificial sweeteners—might be the ultimate cause of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, and liver disease

Natural sugars in our diet aren’t the ones on trial here. It’s added sugars that are under greater scrutiny than ever before. Former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s 2012 effort to curb the sale of supersized soft drinks put a spotlight on the added sugars in soda. But added sugars are prevalent in many foods and beverages: coffee and sports drinks, juices, grain-based desserts, candy, and ready-to-eat cereals.

Read the full article.

Low Water Levels on Portage County River Cause Concern

From Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, August 2, 2014

PloverRiverThe Little Plover River in Portage County has once again fallen below minimally accepted levels set by state regulators to maintain the health of one of Wisconsin’s most closely watched waterways.

Since late June, the river has dropped below minimum levels. A University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point researcher says the situation reflects the results of his own research showing chronically low flows as summer irrigation kicks into full swing.

“With a dry July we’ve had a lot of withdrawals — it’s sparked a lot of pumping,” said George Kraft, a professor of water resources at UW-Stevens Point, who believes the region’s shallow aquifer can’t afford the heavy water use.

The Little Plover runs about 6 miles before it empties into the Wisconsin River. It attracted national attention when parts of the river ran dry in 2005. American Rivers named the Little Plover one of the nation’s 10 most endangered in an annual assessment in 2013.

Read the full article.

Exposure to Pesticides When Pregnant Linked to Three Generations of Disease

By Newsweek, July 24, 2014

In the post-Silent Spring 1960s, when the pesticide DDT was discovered to be toxic to humans and wildlife and to persist for years in the environment, farmers and landscapers turned enthusiastically to Methoxychlor. The pesticide—also commercially known as Chemform, Methoxo, Metox or Moxie—had a much shorter half-life and was billed as the safe alternative to DDT. Now, new research argues that exposure to the pesticide could cause diseases three generations later, in offspring who were never exposed to the Methoxychlor themselves.

Read the full article.

Free Guide Explains Plight of Pollinators

From CLUE, August 2014

Farmer and Landowner Guide to Pollinators and Neonicotinoids is a new 3-page guide from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, based in Minnesota. The guide provides information about neonicotinoids and their impact on pollinators, as well as information on pollinator-friendly approaches that landowners can take to help stop the decline of pollinators.

Partnership Rolls Out UWSP RiverPoint Paper Nationwide

By Stevens Point Journal, August 7, 2014

What started as a collaboration between departments at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point has expanded to a partnership with a major national supplier of high-quality art papers. RiverPoint Paper is now being marketed by Strathmore Artist Papers. The Strathmore brand of artist papers has been used to create art for more than 120 years.

“The agreement brings a new range of fine art papers to market and provides an additional revenue source for several Wisconsin companies,” said Paul Fowler, director of the Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology. WIST had been involved in the development and marketing of the paper along with other UWSP departments.

“The stars aligned,” Fowler said. “A private company from Wisconsin came to us. They saw an unmet market need for great-value, high-quality paper. We were able to meet the need, not competing, but facilitating.”

Read the full article.

Forty-Five Percent of Americans Seek Out Organic Food

By Rebecca Riffkin, Gallup, August 18, 2014

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A little less than half of Americans, 45%, actively try to include organic foods in their diets, while 15% actively avoid them. More than a third, 38%, say they “don’t think either way” about organic foods.

Eating Organic Foods

Organic agriculture is monitored and certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and must adhere to strict regulations to be certified as “organic.” Organic food is free of man-made additions like antibiotics, and organic farming is supposed to be better for the environment than traditional farming. Organic foods often cost more than non-organic foods, which could keep some Americans from including them in their diets.

This is the first year Gallup has asked about eating organic foods in the annual Consumption Habits survey. Forty-five percent actively try to include organic foods, putting such foods in the middle of the list of 12 others measured — trailing fruits and vegetables by a wide margin, but well ahead of fat, soda, and sugar. The 38% who say they “don’t think either way” about organic foods is higher than the percentage for any of the other food products.

Read the full article.

Golden Sands RC&D Evening Pasture Walk Event on August 21

From Golden Sanders RC&D Press Release, August 2014

Please join Golden Sands RC&D Council, Inc., the Auburndale Food Cooperative and our host farmer Joel Kuehnhold, for a very informative evening pasture walk featuring Joel’s diverse and growing multi-species livestock and vegetable farming operation.

Joel Kuehnhold, who also serves as the Agriculture Instructor at Wisconsin Rapids Lincoln High School purchased his farm 3 years ago and since that time has been hard at work in growing and adding diversity to his operation.  Sheep have been the main focus up to this point with100 Suffolk and Ile-de-France ewes and their lambs being raised on well managed pastures. Goals are to at least double the size of the flock. A lane and individual paddock system was built with high tensile and woven wire for easy movement of the sheep. The system was installed by Cutler Fencing of Milladore. The lambs are being raised for direct market meat sales. Farm fresh eggs and vegetables are also part of farm sales. In addition to some large outdoor gardens, a 30’x 72’ high tunnel hoop house is utilized for growing produce. A low tunnel system is also being installed in the outdoor gardens.  A few steers are now being raised with pasture raised hogs being in future plans for the farm. An old milkhouse is being converted into a commercial kitchen for processing eggs, produce, etc. With his livestock and vegetable enterprises growing, Joel looked for expanding his sales opportunities. A recently formed Auburndale Food Coop, helped fill the bill for Joel to increase his sales.  The Coop not only provides good marketing opportunities to Joel and its members, but also provides great networking for all the member farm families.  A small slide presentation about the coop will be shown at the pasture walk.

Please join us rain or shine! Directions : North of Milladore, at the intersection of Hwy 10 and County Road S, take County Road S north 4.25 miles to the Kuehnhold farm located on the right, or east side of the road. Watch for pasture walk signs! For more information or questions please contact:  Golden Sands RC&D at (715) 343-6215 or, or Grazing Specialist Bob Brandt at (715) 965-6771.


Potato Giant Finds Fewer Pesticies Please Consumers, Neighbors, Bottom Line

By Dan Gunderson, MPR News, August 10, 2014

PotatofieldsHelicopters once buzzed across R.D Offutt’s massive potato farms here, spraying fungicide about every five days. It’s how the potato industry did business, but not anymore.

Helicopters still spray and pesticides haven’t disappeared, but Offutt’s using less of them. It now employs automated weather stations and a sophisticated computer program to predict disease risk. The company tried the new system on 13 percent of the crop last year, targeting sensitive areas near homes where pesticide drift might be a problem. It cut pesticide applications by 30 percent.

This year the computer program is monitoring a third of Offutt’s 10,000 acres in north central Minnesota.

The Minnesota fields offer a clear look at how Fargo-based Offutt, the nation’s largest potato grower, is rethinking the way it uses pesticides. It’s a response to consumer and environmental concerns, and to local residents who’ve complained for years about the spray drifting off fields. It may also make good business sense.

Read the full article.

Consumers Are Demanding Antibiotic-Free Meat, and Big Food Is Starting to Listen

By Joe Rubin, PRI, August 11, 2014

Chicken2Petaluma Poultry in the hills north of San Francisco is the kind of place most people might like to imagine their chicken dinner comes from. Free-range chickens meander in a shaded outdoor area, picking for worms and bugs, while a sea of week-old chicks skitters and chirps underfoot inside a barn, with lots of room to roam.

It feels like some quaint little organic farm. But Petaluma sends a quarter of a million birds every week to supermarkets like Costco, Kroger and Trader Joe’s. And they do it without a staple of modern industrial animal farming — antibiotics.

Most poultry and livestock producers these days rely heavily on antibiotics to promote growth and prevent the diseases that can come with lots of animals raised together in close quarters. They’re cheap and effective — so cheap and effective that nearly 80 percent of antibiotics used in the US are put in animal feed.

But scientists say overuse of the drugs is contributing to a huge global problem — growing resistance to antibiotics that are crucial to human health. The World Health Organization says it threatens the achievements of modern medicine, and calls are increasing to do something about it.

Read the full article.

Seriously, They Do Recycle That Stuff

Because your refuse is more valuable than you might know

By Pat Peckham, City Pages, July 24-31, 2014 issue

Except for the curmudgeon here and there who takes odd pride in his determination not to recycle, most of us do it. It’s an easy, visible way to do something for the environment and energy conservation. At the same time, we don’t know a lot about the process of recycling. Some of us don’t even trust that those paper products, plastics and cans we haul out to the curb aren’t really just dumped into a costly landfill with the garbage.

But consider this: Common recyclables liked used milk jugs are fetching $1,050 a ton this week. And it only takes about 15,000 gallon jugs or two-liter bottles to make a ton. That’s a lot of potential tonnage from even a small city of 40,000, like Wausau. What started as an environmental effort has become an economic machine.  A waste hauler would be crazy to pay for dumping those materials in a landfill, rather than getting paid for them at a recycling center.

For a copy of the full article, contact the City Pages.

Beginning Farmers Institute Helps ‘Accidental Farmers’

By Rick Barrett, Journal Sentinel, August 9, 2014

FarmingChris Holman came to Wisconsin for a doctorate in world language studies but instead became a farmer. Kriss Marion, a former journalist from Chicago, came here to raise a few sheep and have a bigger garden. She never imagined she would have a farm that provides fresh food for 50 families.

You could call them accidental farmers, since getting into full-time agriculture was not part of their plan. What Holman and Marion have in common now, though, is they’re enrolled in the Beginning Farmers Institute, a national program meant to develop leaders in a career field that faces scores of retirements.

As the average age of a farmer in the United States creeps up into the high 50s, groups like the National Farmers Union — which sponsors the Beginning Farmers Institute — are worried. Only 9% of Wisconsin farm operators were age 34 or younger, according to the 2012 U.S. Department of Agriculture census, the most recent available figures.

Read the full article.

Eco-friendly Solar-pedal Hybrid Bike Hits Milwaukee’s Streets

By Annysa Johnson, Journal Sentinel, August 11, 2014

Solar-pedal-bikeKirsten Shead is used to turning heads. Sure, maybe it’s those Nordic good looks. Then again, it could be her eye-catching new ride.

Shead and her husband, along with another couple, are co-owners of what is thought to be southeastern Wisconsin’s first Organic Transit ELF, a solar-pedal hybrid bike in an egg-like shell that has piqued the curiosity of cycling enthusiasts and alternative transportation advocates across the country.

Read the full article.

Poison Algae that Hit Toledo Often Found in Wisconsin Lakes

By Lee Bergquist, Journal Sentinel, August 10, 2014

The thick mats of algae on Lake Erie that poisoned the water supply of Toledo, Ohio, were fed by a type of pollution that’s all too familiar in Wisconsin.

Vast quantities of nutrient runoff from streets and farm fields have long been key ingredients in algae blooms. Each summer, they overwhelm countless lakes.

But so far efforts to stem the tide have fallen short, and the fight to control such pollutants has emerged as one of the state’s most difficult environmental problems. Today, one quarter of more than 700 water bodies that fail to meet water quality standards do so because of high levels of phosphorus, which is found in sewage,agriculture and runoff from lawns, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Read the full article.

Widely Used Insecticides Are Leaching into Midwest Rivers

By Maanvi Singh, July 29, 2014

MidwestRiversA class of insecticides called neonicotinoids, which are used on a lot of big corn and soybean fields, has been getting a pretty bad rap lately.

Researchers have implicated these chemicals, which are similar to nicotine, as a contributor to the alarming decline of bee colonies. That led the European Union to place a on their use, and environmentalists want the U.S. to .

In a published July 24, researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey found that these chemicals are also leaching into streams and rivers in the Midwest — including the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. And that may be bad news for aquatic life in the region, the scientists say.

“We did the study because the use of the neonicotinoids has been increasing dramatically, especially in the Midwest,” says , an environmental organic chemist with the USGS.

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.