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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Businesses Moving Toward Sustainability: Emy J’s

By Cassandra Lund, CLUE Student Office Assistant, October 28, 2014

Emy J’s, a local restaurant and café in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, is well known for their delicious, local food. In an interview with Guy Janssen, the owner of Emy J’s, I got a bit more insight into what they are doing as a sustainably focused business. Read full article.



Farmers Markets Move Indoors for Winter

From Stevens Point Journal, October 19, 2014

wintermarketEven though the cold weather and winter months are slowly nudging farmers markets out of the outdoors, it doesn’t mean consumers have to forgo their services completely.

The close of October will bring the end of the outdoor farmers market season, but some vendors still have products to sell. There might not be as much produce variety during the winter, said Bill Lubing, farmers market manager of Saturday Market on the Square in Madison, but vendors do make sure there’s an adequate supply of what they can offer. “There isn’t as much to buy,” Lubing said. “But there’s certainly a lot to purchase.”

In central Wisconsin, enthusiasts can soothe their hankering for niche and fresh goods found at farmers markets by visiting one of the area’s several winter markets. Both Wausau and Wisconsin Rapids have new indoor markets to shield vendors — and their customers — from the snow and freezing temperatures. Both started markets up last winter in response to farmers’ need for a venue to sell their products.

Read the full article.

UWSP Marks National Campus Sustainability Day with Fair

From Stevens Point Journal, October 22, 2014

The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point joined universities across the United States on Wednesday recognizing sustainability efforts on campus and in the community.

Nearly 30 businesses, nonprofit organizations and student groups took part in the university’s National Campus Sustainability Day fair, held in the Laird Room in the Dreyfus University Center. Started in 2003, National Campus Sustainability Day has been held to recognize the successes, challenges and innovation in higher education to reduce the impact people have on the planet.

UWSP is nationally recognized for its green initiatives, sustainability and energy efficiency. The university was recently ranked No. 5 on a list of 50 affordable and eco-friendly colleges by the website www.bestchoiceschools.com.

Read the full article.

Saratoga Approves Monitoring Well Network around CAFO

From Wisconsin Daily Tribune, October 2, 2014

The Saratoga Town Board unanimously approved Wednesday night the installation of a $60,000 well network to carry out groundwater monitoring activities around a proposed large-scale dairy.

The purpose of the well network will be to record the groundwater’s present state, enabling the town to detect whether the proposed Wysocki Golden Sands Dairy — a concentrated animal feeding operation — is hydraulically or chemically affecting the local groundwater flow system, according to a proposal and cost estimate presented to the town.

“We got to get a baseline for what’s in the water as it is right now, before the farm comes in,” said Terry Rickaby, chairman of the Saratoga Town Board. “That’s the baseline we need — that’s the one that’s going to protect us.”

Read the full article.

Meet New Climate Change Warrior: Your Doctor

From TakePart, September 29, 2014

Doctors aren’t just worried about heart disease, diabetes, and obesity these days. Climate change is climbing to the top of their list of public health hazards, and that could have big implications in the political fight to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.

Among the more than 310,000 demonstrators marching through Manhattan in last week’s People’s Climate March were contingents of physicians. Now The Journal of the American Medical Association, the voice of the nation’s powerful medical establishment, has issued a call to arms to doctors, urging those in health-related fields to throw their weight behind climate change prevention efforts.

Read the full article.

Report on Sustainability in State Lists Wins and Losses

From Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, October 13, 2014

A new report chalks up Wisconsin’s wins and losses in the three key areas important for sustainability — economy, environment and social.

Those three categories — often referred to as the triple bottom line — are documented in the fifth annual state report published by the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council in conjunction with the nonprofit group Cool Choices, which advises businesses and others on ways to reduce their carbon footprint.

Among Wisconsin’s wins: Its leadership in manufacturing and organic farming, renewable energy digesters on dairy farms and high school graduation rates.

Among the losses: The state is generating more power from coal after the shutdown of the Kewaunee nuclear power plant; its greenhouse gas emissions were on the rise while its renewable energy production is falling behind other states; and the racial disparity in Wisconsin high school graduation rates is third-worst in the country.

Read the full article.

EPA Finds Neonicotinoid Seed Treatments of Little or No Benefit to U.S. Soybean Production

From EPA Pesticide Program Updates, October 16, 2014

Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released an analysis of the benefits of neonicotinoid seed treatments for insect control in soybeans.  A Federal Register notice inviting the public to comment on the analysis will publish in the near future.

“We have made the review of neonicotinoid pesticides a high priority. During the review, we found that many scientific publications claim that treating soybean seeds has little value,” said Jim Jones, Assistant Administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. “This propelled the agency to evaluate the economic benefits of this use. “We found that the benefits to U.S. soybean farmers on a national scale were just not there.”

The EPA assessment examined the effectiveness of these seed treatments for pest control and estimated the impacts on crop yields and quality, as well as financial losses and gains.

Read the full article.

Whole Foods to Rate Its Produce and Flowers for Environmental Impact

From The New York Times, October 16, 2014

WholeFoodsWhole Foods Market on Wednesday began a ratings program for fruits, vegetables and flowers aimed at giving consumers more information about pesticide and water use, the treatment of farm workers and waste management, and other issues surrounding the food they eat.

The upscale grocery chain will rate the produce of suppliers electing to participate in the program, Responsibly Grown, as “good,” “better,” or “best,” depending on, for example, how they handle plastic waste in their operations and whether they provide conservation areas to foster bees, butterflies and other pollinators.

Read the full article.

Groundwater Sessions to Continue through February

From Stevens Point Journal, October 16, 2014

County Executive Patty Dreier has announced a second wave of listening sessions to gather information about the state of groundwater throughout Portage County.

A total of 10 sessions are now scheduled through Feb. 4, each taking place in a different part of the county. The sessions focus on both quality and quantity. As of Thursday, Dreier had hosted three sessions — in the village of Amherst, Junction City and the town of Almond. Each addressed water issues specific to the location of the session.

The sessions are broken into three 30-minutes segments: an education phase, an input phase and a discussion phase.

Read the full article.

Renewable Energy, Climate Change and Wisconsin Agriculture

From WPR, October 9, 2014

Wisconsin Public Radio’s Route 51 looks at efforts to get farms and small businesses in rural Wisconsin converted to renewable energy resources, as farmers struggle with the effects of climate change on Wisconsin agriculture. Host Glen Moberg will moderate a discussion with Stan Gruszynski, U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development State Director; fifth generation potato farmer and author Justin Isherwood of Plover; and Tony Schultz, owner of Stoney Acres Farm of Athens. USDA Rural Development is providing hundreds of thousands of dollars of assistance for renewable energy systems in Wisconsin through the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP).

Listen to a recording of the show now at this link.


Fire Retardants Wash Out in Laundry

From C&EN, October 1, 2014

Flame retardants used in furniture and electronics work their way into aquatic food chains, accumulating in organisms from mussels to fish to seals. Scientists know that rivers and lakes receive significant amounts of fire suppressants from treated wastewater, but how the compounds get into sewage plants has remained a mystery. For the first time, a new study suggests that the biggest contributors are our washing machines. Flame retardants hitch a ride on our clothing and then come out in the wash, the researchers say (Environ. Sci. Technol. 2014, DOI: 10.1021/es502227h).

Scientists worry about the fate of flame retardants because studies have linked the chemicals to cancer, neurotoxicity, and hormone disruption. Researchers have tried to chase the compounds as they go from consumer goods such as couch cushions and TV casings to accumulate in air, water, human breast milk, and aquatic food chains. “We know that flame retardants escape to house dust and that clothing gets dirty and accumulates dust,” says Erika D. Schreder, science director at the Washington Toxics Coalition, an environmental research and advocacy group in Seattle. Studies have also shown that sewage effluent is one of the largest sources of flame retardants to rivers and lakes, so “we thought that laundry water might be an important source of flame retardants,” Schreder says.

Read the full article.

A Rising Tide of Contaminants

From The New York Times, September 25, 2014

ContaminantsDeborah Swackhamer, a professor of environmental health sciences at the University of Minnesota, decided last year to investigate the chemistry of the nearby Zumbro River. She and her colleagues were not surprised to find traces of pesticides in the water.

Neither were they shocked to find prescription drugs ranging from antibiotics to the anti–convulsive carbamazepine. Researchers realized more than 15 years ago that pharmaceuticals – excreted by users, dumped down drains – were slipping through wastewater treatment systems.

But though she is a leading expert in so-called emerging contaminants, Dr. Swackhamer was both surprised and dismayed by the sheer range and variety of what she found. Caffeine drifted through the river water, testament to local consumption of everything from coffee to energy drinks. There were relatively high levels of acetaminophen, the over-the-counter painkiller. Acetaminophen causes liver damage in humans at high doses; no one knows what it does to fish.

“We don’t know what these background levels mean in terms of environmental or public health,” she said. “It’s definitely another thing that we’re going to be looking at.”

Read the full article.

1 in 3 US Children Attends School in Chemical Danger Zone

From Aljazeera, October 2, 2014

One in three children attend schools in areas vulnerable to chemical accidents from nearby facilities, according to a study released by the Center for Effective Government (CEG).

The “Kids in Danger Zones” report maps the locations of 122,968 public and private schools against areas susceptible to contamination from over 3,400 high-risk chemical facilities in the U.S. A vulnerability zone is the areas around each facility that would be affected if a chemical release or explosion occurred.

“If an explosion or chemical leak occurred at one of these facilities, the result could be catastrophic,” explains President and CEO Katherine McFate on the CEG website.

More than 19.6 million children in 48 states attend schools within the vulnerability zone of a hazardous chemical facility, according to the report, with California, Texas, Florida, Illinois, and New York having the largest number of students at risk.

Read the full article.

Antibiotics in Livestock: FDA Finds Use Is Rising

From New York Times, October 2, 2014

The amount of antibiotics sold for use in livestock rose substantially in recent years, according to the Food and Drug Administration, a pattern that experts said was troubling given the efforts to battle antibiotic resistance in humans.

In an annual report posted online on Thursday, the agency said the amount of medically important antibiotics sold to farmers and ranchers for use in animals raised for meat grew by 16 percent from 2009 to 2012.

Most troubling, health advocates say, was a rise in the sale of cephalosporins, a class of drug that is important in human health, despite new restrictions the F.D.A. put into place in early 2012. The report showed an 8 percent increase in the sale of those drugs in 2012, confirming advocates’ fears that the agency’s efforts may not be having the desired effect. Sales of those drugs rose by 37 percent from 2009 to 2012.

Read the full article.

In MN, Wildlife Experts Campaign for Copper Bullets

From Minneapolis Star Tribune, October 2, 2014

Last November, Dr. Brian Hiller was sitting in a deer stand on private land near Bemidji, hoping to kill his first deer in Minnesota with a rifle.

“The little buck settled in about 50 yards from me,” said Hiller, 40, who has been an assistant professor of biology at Bemidji State University since 2012. “My bullet hit about 2 inches in front of the left shoulder and it immediately collapsed. It never twitched or moved. It was a clean, humane kill.”

The “clean kill” pleased Hiller because he was using nontoxic copper bullets and wanted to ascertain their effectiveness in his rifle compared to traditional lead ammunition — a mainstay for rifle deer hunters in Minnesota and elsewhere for decades because of its affordability, availability and effectiveness. However, lead is also a poisonous neurotoxin, with “no safe exposure levels,” according to Hiller.

Read the full article.

Seminars to Help Farms, Food Businesses Grow Local Markets

From DATCP Press Release, September 2014

If your business plan includes producing, processing or handling Wisconsin-grown food, then the Local Food Business Seminar Series is designed for you. This series, scheduled between October and March, will feature seven different topics – including business planning, food safety and marketing. Each topic will be presented at four locations around the state. The Madison workshops will also be available free via webinar.

“These low-cost seminars are great ways to gain technical knowledge from industry experts,” said Sarah Elliott, Local and Regional Agriculture Program supervisor for the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP). “We are excited to continue to provide a wide array of resources that promote the economic viability of Wisconsin’s local food industry.”

Registration is open now. Full-day classes will cost $15 and will include lunch. Half-day classes will cost $10. Those who register for all seven classes at once can do so for the reduced cost of $55. Something Special from Wisconsin ™ members get a $5 discount per class, although the discount does not apply to the $55 reduced price.

For a full schedule or to register, click here. On the same page, you can find information about the  partners that worked with DATCP’s Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin program to develop the seminar series.


Viroqua Meat Processor Open for Business

From Organic Processing Institute, October 8, 2014

Driftless Meats and More is up and running with their slaughter and fabrication processes, and working towards opening their retail store. It’s a fast turnaround considering that Doug and Kris Wolf just purchased the former Premier Meats facility in July.

“This week we’ll find out if everything’s in place to open the retail store,” plant manager Tim Rehbein said, and added that their website is being developed.

Read the full article.

The Food Waste Fiasco

From Rob Greenfield, October 6, 2014

You may have already heard a few appalling facts about food waste but just in case you haven’t, here are a few tidbits of information to catch you up on the issue.

  • We throw away 165 billion dollars worth of food per year in America. That’s more than the budgets for America’s national parks, public libraries, federal prisons, veteran’s health care, the FBI, and the FDA combined.
  • About 50 million of our 317 million Americans are food insecure yet we produce enough food to feed over 500 million Americans.
  • To create just the amount of food that ends up in the landfills we waste enough water to meet the domestic water needs of every American citizen.

Even with these mind-blowing statistics you probably still need to see it to believe it. That is where I come in.

Read the full article.

County Hosts First Groundwater Listening Session

From Stevens Point Journal, September 30, 2014

Portage County hosted its first groundwater listening session in Amherst on Tuesday night, attracting about 40 community members to share diverse views and interests pertaining to the shared resource.

County Executive Patty Dreier organized a series of 10 listening sessions around the county, which are scheduled to last through February, as part of her effort to bring voices and viewpoints into conversation and develop a process for residents to responsibly care for the county’s groundwater supply.

“If we could agree on a process, we could really get somewhere,” Dreier said.

Read the full article.

US Foods Labels ‘Natural’ Often Contain GMOs, Group Reports

From Reuters, October 7, 2014

A majority of U.S. packaged foods labeled as “natural” and tested by Consumer Reports actually contained a substantial level of genetically modified ingredients, according to a report issued Tuesday by the non-profit product testing group.

Consumers are being misled by the “natural” label, said Urvashi Rangan, executive director of Consumer Reports Food Safety and Sustainability.

Consumer Reports said it had conducted a survey of more than 80 different processed foods containing corn or soy, the two most widely grown genetically engineered crops in the United States, to determine whether labeling claims for GMO presence were accurate.

While foods labeled as “non-GMO,” or “organic” were found to be free of genetically modified corn and soy, virtually all of the foods labeled as “natural” or not labeled with any claim related to GMO content contained substantial amounts of GMO ingredients, Consumer Reports said.

Read the full article.

Green Burials Are on the Rise as Baby Boomers Plan for Their Future, and Funerals

From Washington Post, October 6, 2014

Jay Castaño knows exactly what his funeral will be like. A few days after he dies, friends and family will gather in Southeast Washington, say a few kind words and put his unembalmed body straight into the Earth.

“I want to be wrapped in a shroud like a little burrito,” says Castaño, a credentialing officer at a D.C. public charter school. “They can call it a Chipotle funeral. They can wrap me up and throw me there and cover me up with some grass and soil.”

He doesn’t even have a particular preference for the shroud. “It could be a bedsheet,” he says, “as long as it’s clean and nice.”

For the record, Castaño has no plans to die anytime soon. But the 65-year-old has written in his last will and testament that whenever he does pass, he intends to become part of the “green burial” movement — a push to strip away the trappings of the modern funeral industry and get back to basics. Dust to dust and all that jazz.

Read the full article.

USDA Awards $1.4 Million to Wisconsin Specialty Crops

From DATCP News Release, October 7, 2014

Agricultural research and study are key to developing new food products and protecting the ones we already have. To that end, the United States Department of Agriculture last week awarded the state of Wisconsin $1.4 million to fund 24 projects through the Specialty Crop Block Grant program.

“Specialty crops add to the diversity that is so important to Wisconsin agriculture and provide opportunities for many farm families and agribusinesses to expand into new markets and increase their profitability,” said Dan Smith, administrator of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection’s (DATCP’s) Division of Agricultural Development. “This money will fund many worthy products including research to protect Wisconsin’s pollinators, manage crop pests and grow markets for Wisconsin foods.”

Specialty crops include fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture and nursery crops, including floriculture. In Wisconsin, those products include cranberries; ginseng; apples; and processing vegetables such as potatoes, carrots or onions, to name a few.

Read the full article.

Growing on a Shoestring: Diversity Is Key for Milladore Farmer

From The Country Today, September 2, 2014

JoelfarmJoel Kuehnhold said his goal is to build up his own brand of homegrown food products, but he is facing a long line of challenges, including growing a business on a shoestring. “It means taking everything I have and using it to the best of my ability,” Kuehnhold said. “The key to a small farm is diversity.”

Kuehnhold is testing that key in a lot of locks. He grows lamb for direct sale, keeps 150 laying hens for egg production and keeps several gardens from which he is canning salsa and sauces for the Wausau Winter Market. He has aspirations of renting out space to other entrepreneurs in a certified kitchen and is looking at options for adding hogs, beef and rhubarb to his on-farm business.

Kuehnhold, who is also an agriculture science teacher at Lincoln High School in Wisconsin Rapids, said he is supposed to tell students that agriculture is more than just farming. “But farming is really the center of it,” he said.

Read the full article.

New OSU Study Shows Association between Gas Kitchen Stove Ventilation and Asthma

From Medical News, September 30, 2014

Parents with children at home should use ventilation when cooking with a gas stove, researchers from Oregon State University are recommending, after a new study showed an association between gas kitchen stove ventilation and asthma, asthma symptoms and chronic bronchitis.

“In homes where a gas stove was used without venting, the prevalence of asthma and wheezing is higher than in homes where a gas stove was used with ventilation,” said Ellen Smit, an associate professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU and one of the study’s authors. “Parents of all children should use ventilation while using a gas stove.”

Researchers can’t say that gas stove use without ventilation causes respiratory issues, but the new study clearly shows an association between having asthma and use of ventilation, Smit said. More study is needed to understand that relationship, including whether emissions from gas stoves could cause or exacerbate asthma in children, the researchers said.

Read the full article.

WWF: Half the World’s Wildlife Gone Over Last 40 Years

From Chicago Tribune, September 30, 2014

The world populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles fell overall by 52 percent between 1970 and 2010, far faster than previously thought, the World Wildlife Fund said on Tuesday.

The conservation group’s Living Planet Report, published every two years, said humankind’s demands were now 50 percent more than nature can bear, with trees being felled, groundwater pumped and carbon dioxide emitted faster than Earth can recover.

“This damage is not inevitable but a consequence of the way we choose to live,” Ken Norris, Director of Science at the Zoological Society of London, said in a statement. However, there was still hope if politicians and businesses took the right action to protect nature, the report said.

Read the full article.