The Dark Side of Bright Lights

  • Most of us are using 125-year-old technology to light our homes. 95-percent of the energy used by a light bulb is heat. Only five-percent actually is used to produce light. (Photo courtesy of the National Museum of American History, gift of the Department of Engineering, Princeton University, 1961)

Many of us say we want to be good environmentalists. But we often make choices based on other desires. One of those choices is lighting. Most of us use lights that are very inefficient… and the trend in home lighting is moving toward using more energy… not less. As part of the series, “Your Choice; Your Planet,” the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham takes a look at light bulbs… and starts at the beginning:

Transcript

Many of us say we want to be good environmentalists. But we often make choices based on other desires. One of those choices is lighting. Most of us use lights that are very inefficient, and the trend in home lighting is moving toward using more energy, not less. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham takes a look at light bulbs and starts at the beginning:


We’re getting a behind the scenes look at a pretty significant historical artifact. Marc Gruether is pulling back a plastic tarpaulin that covers a row of file cabinets.


Gruether: “We are in one of the storage areas in the Henry Ford Museum. And drawer eleven has this light bulb in it which I will very carefully remove. It’s certainly one of the oldest Edison light bulbs that’s in existence. This is one of the lamps that was used in the December 1879 demonstration at Menlo Park.”


Graham: “Now, looking at it, I can see that it’s got that kind of bulbous shape, I can see the filament, I mean, I would recognize this easily as a light bulb.”


Gruether: ““Absolutely. It’s a recognizable light bulb. You’re exactly right. That all looks forward to the kind of lamp forms that became common and that we’d recognize today.”


And that’s not all that’s the same. Just like the first light bulbs, the incandescent bulbs most of us use in our homes today, waste energy. 95% of the energy used is expended in heat. Only five-percent actually makes light. That means everytime you switch on the light – if it’s an incadescent bulb – you’re wasting 95% of the electricity your paying for. In our homes, not much has changed in the last hundred years or so. But in commercial buildings, things have changed a lot.


Commercial builders and industrial architects learned a long time ago that energy efficiency is important. Most of the new office building and factories built today use passive sunlight and high-efficiency lighting that not only saves energy but uses the right spectrum of light to get the best output from their employees.


Moji Navvab teaches about light in architecture at the University of Michigan. He says you can learn a lot about good energy efficient light too. He says with the wide variety of fluorescent, LED, and spot lighting, you can get the right kind of light for whatever you’re doing and use a lot less electricity compared to a house lit only by traditional incandescent bulbs. It’s about using the right light for the right place. Navvab says, really, it’s pretty simple and you can get a lot of information about proper lighting on the Internet.


“If you really are focusing on healthy lighting or you want to save energy, if you go search on the web right away, you can get the information and then you can go to your local stores and they can match it for you.”


But at the local store, most of the time buyers are not very well-informed at all.


Beverly Slack is a salesperson at Kendall Lighting in Okemos, Michigan. She says unless they ask, she doesn’t push energy efficient lighting. And when she does mention fluorescent lighting, which uses about one-fourth the energy that incadescent bulbs use, customers grimace.


“Right. But, they don’t realize the difference in the fluorescent lamps, how they’ve changed, how the different colors have changed in the fluorescents. They’re still thinking of the old standard cool white so, people don’t want them because of that fact.”


Slack says what customers really want is dramatic lighting, and lots of it. They want trendy, recessed lights and track lights that often use extremely hot burning bulbs in a way that’s interesting, but not often very useful.


“They want decorative, decorative, decorative. I mean, it’s amazing. Because I can just see their light bills going sky high.”


Slack says the trend in home lighting in recent years has been just the opposite of commercial lighting. At home, people are using more light, more fixtures, and less energy efficient bulbs. With the trend in new houses being larger, requiring more lights, and homeowners wanting decorative lighting to show off their big new houses, conservation at home is often just being ignored.


It’s no longer about turning off the light when you leave the room, it’s about lighting up the showplace. And as long as the power bill is lower than the mortgage, it’ll probably stay that way.


For the GLRC, this is Lester Graham.

Related Links

How Long Do You Keep a Polluting Heap?

  • Motor oil dripping from cars can add up and end up contaminating waterways and sediments. (Photo by Brandon Blinkenberg)

Industries and companies get labeled as
“polluters.” But what do you do when you find out you’re a pretty big polluter yourself… and you find out it’s going to cost you a lot of money to fix the
problem? As part of the series, “Your Choice; Your
Planet,” the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Rebecca
Williams finds herself in that dilemma:

Transcript

Industries and companies get labeled as “polluters.” But what do you do when you find out you’re a pretty big polluter yourself… and you find out it’s going to cost you a lot of money to fix the problem? As part of the series, “Your Choice; Your Planet,” the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Rebecca Williams finds herself in that dilemma:


(sound of car starting)


This is my ‘89 Toyota Camry. It has 188,000 miles on it. Pieces of
plastic trim fly off on the highway, and I have to climb in from the
backseat when my door gets frozen in the winter. But I got it for free, I get good gas mileage, and my insurance is cheap. But now, it’s leaking oil – lots of oil. I knew it was bad when I started
pouring in a quart of oil every other week.


I thought I’d better take it in to the shop.


(sound of car shop)


My mechanic, Walt Hayes, didn’t exactly have good news for me.


“You know, you’re probably leaking about 80% of that, just from experience, I’d say
you’re burning 20% and leaking 80%.”


Walt says the rear main seal is leaking, and the oil’s just dripping
straight to the ground. Walt tells me the seal costs 25 dollars, but he’d
have to take the transmission out to get to the seal. That means I’d be
paying him 650 dollars.


650 bucks to fix an oil leak, when no one would steal my car’s radio. There’s no way. Obviously, it’s cheaper to spend two dollars on each quart of oil, than to fix the seal.


“Right – what else is going to break, you know? You might fix the rear main
seal, and your transmission might go out next week or something. Your car,
because of its age, is on the edge all the time. So to invest in a 25 dollar seal, spending a lot of money for labor, almost doesn’t make sense on an
older car.”


That’s my mechanic telling me not to fix my car. In fact, he says he’s seen
plenty of people driving even older Toyotas, and he says my engine will
probably hold out a while longer. But now I can’t stop thinking about the
quarts of oil I’m slowly dripping all over town.


I need someone to tell me: is my one leaky car really all that bad? Ralph
Reznick works with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. He
spends his time trying to get polluters to change their behavior.


“That’s a lot for an old car. If you were the only car in the parking lot,
that wouldn’t be very much. But the fact is, there’s a lot of cars just
like yours that are doing the same thing.”


Reznick says the oil and antifreeze and other things that leak from and fall
off cars like mine add up.


“The accumulative impact of your car and other cars, by hitting the
pavement, and washing off the pavement into the waterways, is a very large
impact. It’s one of the largest sources of pollution we’re dealing with
today.”


Reznick says even just a quart of oil can pollute thousands of gallons of
water. And he says toxins in oil can build up in sediment at the bottom of
rivers and lakes. That can be bad news for aquatic animals and plants.
There’s no question – he wants me to fix the leak.


But I am NOT pouring 650 bucks into this car when the only thing it has going
for it is that it’s saving me money. So I can either keep driving it, and
feel pretty guilty, or I can scrap it and get a new car.


But it does take a lot of steel and plastic and aluminum to make a new car.
Maybe I’m doing something right for the environment by driving a car that’s
already got that stuff invested in it.


I went to the Center for Sustainable Systems at the University of Michigan
and talked to Greg Keoleian. He’s done studies on how many years it makes
sense to keep a car. He says if you look at personal costs, and the energy
that goes into a making a midsize car, it makes sense to hang onto it for a
long time… like 16 years.


No problem there – I finally did something right!


Well, sort of.


“In your case, from an emissions point of view, you should definitely
replace your vehicle. It turns out that a small fraction of vehicles are
really contributing to a lot of the local air pollution. Older vehicles
tend to be more polluting, and you would definitely benefit the environment
by retiring your vehicle.”


Keoleian says if I get a newer car, it won’t be leaking oil, and it won’t
putting out nearly as much nitrogen oxide and other chemicals that lead to
smog. Oh yeah, he also says I really need to start looking today.


And so doing the right thing for the environment is going to cost me money.
There’s no way around that. The more I think about my rusty old car, the
more I notice all the OTHER old heaps on the road. Maybe all of you are a
bit like me, hoping to make it through just one more winter without car
payments.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Rebecca Williams.

Related Links

Cultivating the Humanure Revolution

  • Source: The Humanure Handbook. Jenkins Publishing, PO Box 607, Grove City, PA 16127 www.jenkinspublishing.com

Books can be powerful. Sometimes they can even change your life. As part of our ongoing series on individual choices that impact the environment— “Your Choice; Your Planet”—the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Curtis Gilbert brings us the story of one book that changed his mother’s life… a book that so profoundly affected her that she felt compelled to share its teachings with strangers. It wasn’t the Bible or the Koran… or “Chicken Soup for the Soul.” And the part of his mother’s life that it changed is one so exceedingly private that most people don’t even like to talk about it. He’ll explain:

Transcript

Books can be powerful. Sometimes they can even change your life. As part of our ongoing
series on individual choices that impact the environment — “Your Choice; Your Planet” —
the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Curtis Gilbert brings us the story of one book that
changed his mother’s life…a book that so profoundly affected her that she felt compelled
to share its teachings with strangers. It wasn’t the Bible or the Koran… or “Chicken Soup
for the Soul.” And the part of his mother’s life that it changed is one so exceedingly private
that most people don’t even like to talk about it. He’ll explain:


There’s a sound — something familiar to everyone who lives in a Western, industrialized
country — but it’s a sound you’ll almost never hear at my mother’s house.


(sound of toilet flushing)


Five years ago, my mom turned off the to water to her toilet. She put a house plant on top
of the seat and opposite it built a five-gallon bucket in a box that took over all the duties
of its porcelain counterpart.


“Well I had seen ‘The Humanure Handbook’ in the FEDCO Seed catalog — and it just sort of
intrigued me. And I decided one year that I would read it since I was curious about it year after
year. And I read it and then I began to feel really bad every time I flushed the toilet.”


That’s because every time my mom flushed the toilet she was rendering undrinkable several
gallons of otherwise perfectly good water. And what’s more, she was whisking away valuable
nutrients that she could have just as easily returned to the earth.


That’s right… Humanure is a contraction consisting of two words: human and manure.


Here’s how it works: You use the humanure bucket in pretty much the same way you’d use a flush
toilet. Everything’s the same, except that instead of flushing when you’re done, there’s another
bucket right beside the humanure bucket and it’s filled with sawdust. You use a little cup to
scoop up some sawdust and then you just dump the sawdust in the humanure bucket when you’re
finished using it. That’s it. And the crazy thing, the thing that always surprises people when
I tell them about my mother’s humanure project is that it doesn’t smell bad.


“Anytime anything’s stinky in the humanure, you just cover it with sawdust and it doesn’t stink
anymore, except of course what is already in the air, which is like any toilet.”


Once a day my mom takes the bucket brimming with sawdust and humanure and dumps it into her
massive compost pile. There, it mingles with her kitchen scraps, weeds from the garden, and
just about every other bit of organic matter she can find… and in two years time the humanure
cooks down into dark, rich, fertile soil.


For the first couple of years, my mom was content just to operate her own humanure compost
heap and let her garden reap the benefits — but the more she did it the more of a true believer
she became. Strict adherence to the faith wasn’t enough for her anymore. She had to become a
missionary. She bought a case of Humanure Handbooks and set up a booth at an organic gardening
festival called Wild Gathering.


“And I think I sold one at that Wild Gathering. And then after that I was giving them away right
and left to my sisters and nieces and friends and whoever! And I used them all up and then this
last year I decided that not only was I going to get another box of Humanure Handbooks, I was
going to collect humanure at Wild Gathering!”


My mom knew she’d a lot of buckets for the project, so went door to door at the businesses
in town. She didn’t say what she needed them for, and luckily they didn’t ask. She collected eight
buckets full in all — not quite the payload she was hoping for. Attendance at Wild Gathering was
pretty low that year, due to rain, but relatively speaking, sales of the Humanure Handbook were
way up.


“I sold more at this last Wild Gathering. I think I sold five or six. And I gave one away for
Christmas this year to Natasha, who had been having plumbing problems. And I started my spiel and
she was really quite interested. And, I think we may have a convert there before long.”


Conversion. The ultimate goal of any evangelist. My mom admits that she doesn’t know of anyone
she’s actually brought into the fold — but she likes to think she’s planting seeds. Just
introducing people to the idea that there’s a alternative to flush toilets, she says, is a huge
step forward.


“This is really a shocking idea to a lot of people and a lot of people who come to the house will
not use it. I have to make the water toilet available to them.”


My grandmother won’t use it. Neither will my mom’s friend, Rochelle. And then there’s my
girlfriend, Kelsey. Last summer the two of us spent several days at my mom’s house in Maine
before taking a road trip back to where we live in Minnesota. After quietly weighing the
ramifications of sawdust versus water toilets, Kelsey finally decided to brave the humanure…
well, sort of.


Curtis: “So you used it for some things, but you’ve told me before that there were some things
that you couldn’t bring yourself to do.”


(laughing)


Kelsey: “No, I couldn’t. I did not have a bowel movement during our entire visit to your
house, over the course of four days.”


I’d like to think that Kelsey’s physical inability to make full use of the sawdust toilet
was an anomaly, that most people would have no problem going to the bathroom at my mom’s house
in Maine… But I doubt that’s the case. And that’s not the only reason I’m a little skeptical about
my mom’s vision of a world humanure revolution.


Curtis: “It occurs to me, and I’m about 100 pages into the book at this point, that this is
all well and good for people living in rural areas, but I live in a city. Where am I going to
put a compost heap?”


Mom: “You know, there could be chutes in buildings. There would have to be temporary storage.
Trucks would come in and take it out. Great huge compost piles would be built and it would work
down very… I think that where there’s a will, there’s a way.”


I’ll admit it; I’m still skeptical. I mean I believe in humanure, sure. But I also haven’t
put a house plant on top of the toilet in my big city apartment…and I probably never will.
Call me a summer soldier in the humanure revolution if you will, but when I go home to my
Mom’s next Christmas, I’ll be flushing with sawdust and I’ll be proud.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Curtis Gilbert.

Related Links

Glassing Bottled Water’s Image

  • While your bottle of water may depict this... (Photo by Ian Britton)

Over the past ten years, sales of bottled water have tripled. There’s a huge thirst for water that’s pure, clean and conveniently packaged. As part of the ongoing series, “Your Choice, Your Planet,” the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Victoria Fenner takes a look at why we’re turning to bottled water and whether it’s worth the price:

Transcript

Over the past ten years, sales of bottled water have tripled. There’s
a huge thirst for water that’s pure, clean and conveniently packaged.
As part of the ongoing series, “Your Choice, Your Planet,” the Great
Lakes Radio Consortium’s Victoria Fenner takes a look at why we’re
turning to bottled water and whether it’s worth the price:


On a warm sunny day, it’s easy to believe that sales of bottled water
are skyrocketing. People everywhere in this waterfront park in
Toronto are carrying plastic water bottles labeled with pictures of
glaciers and mountains. With a price tag of anywhere from fifty
cents to over a dollar a bottle, that’s a lot of profit flowing to
the companies that sell it.


But Catherine Crockett and Colin Hinz are packing water the old-
fashioned way. They don’t buy bottled water. Instead, they fill up
their own bottle before they leave home and refill it at the drinking
fountain.


Crockett: “Well, it’s cheaper and as an environmentalist, I’d rather
refill a container than waste a lot of money on pre-filled stuff that
isn’t necessarily any better than Toronto tap water. What’s the
point in paying a dollar for a disposable bottle full of what’s
probably filtered tap water anyway?”


Hinz: “Personally I think a lot of what’s behind bottled water is
marketing and I don’t really buy into that very well.”


Colin Hinz’s suspicions are shared by Paul Muldoon, the Executive
Director of the Canadian Environmental Law Association. His
organization has done a lot of research on water issues. He says the
reality often doesn’t live up to the image that companies have tried
to cultivate.


“There’s no doubt in my mind that when a person buys bottled water at
the cost they pay for it, they’re expecting some sort of pristine 200
year-old water that’s from some mountain range that’s never
been touched or explored by humans, and that the sip of water they’re
getting is water that is so pure that it’s never seen the infringement
of modern society. In reality, pollution’s everywhere and there are
very few sources of water that has been untouched by human intervention
in some way, shape or form.”


Environmentalists say it’s not always clear what you’re getting when
you look at the label on an average bottle of water. First of all,
it’s hard to tell by looking at the label what the source of the
water is. In many cases, it comes from rural areas just outside of
major cities. It can even be ordinary tap water which has been
refiltered. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does set maximum
levels of contaminants, and some labeling requirements as well. But
they don’t regulate water which is bottled and sold in the same
state. That’s one of the reasons critics of the bottled water
industry say the standards for tap water are at least as stringent,
and often even higher than for packaged water.


Lynda Lukasic is Executive Director with Environment Hamilton, an
environmental advocacy group in Ontario. She still has confidence in
tap water, despite the fact that the water supply in a neighborhood
in Hamilton was recently shut down because of the threat of
contamination.


“I think we’d all be better to focus on ‘what is the water
supply like in the place that we’re in?’ and ensuring that we’re
offering people who live in communities safe, affordable sources of
drinking water. And going the route of bottled water does a few
things. It creates problems in exporting bottled water out of
certain watersheds when maybe that’s not what we want to see
happening. But there’s also a price tag attached to bottled water.”


Paul Muldoon of the Canadian Environmental Law Association says there
are other costs associated with bottled water that can’t be measured
in dollars.


“Some of the costs of bottled water include the transportation of water
itself, and certainly there’s local impacts. There are many residents
who are now neighbors to water facilities with truck traffic and all
that kind of stuff. There’s also the issue of bottling itself. You’ve
now got containers, hundreds of thousands… millions of them probably.
So there is the whole notion of cost, which have to be dealt with and
put into the equation.”


There are many things to take into account when you pick up a bottle
of water. You can think about the cost and whether or not there are
better ways of spending your dollar. You might think about
convenience. And whether the added convenience is worth the price. Ask
yourself what you’re really getting. Read the label to find out
where the water comes from and consider whether it’s any better than
what comes out of your tap.


The bottom line is, be an informed consumer. And keep in mind that
the choices aren’t as crystal clear as the kind of water you want to
drink.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Victoria Fenner.

Related Links

Shoppers Challenge ‘Homegrown’ Label

It’s harvest time for some of the local crops. The fields are ripe with homegrown produce. Some supermarkets are advertising homegrown vegetables for sale. But some supermarkets define “homegrown” a lot differently than you might think. As part of an ongoing series called, “Your Choice; Your Planet,” the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Joyce Kryszak reports on some misleading marketing that’s hurting local farmers:

Transcript

It’s harvest time for some of the local crops. The fields are ripe with homegrown
produce. Some supermarkets are advertising homegrown vegetables for sale. But some
supermarkets define “homegrown” a lot differently than you might think. The Great
Lakes Radio Consortium’s Joyce Kryszak reports on some misleading marketing that’s
hurting local farmers:


(sound of market)


This time of year you can find the true veggie-lovers at the roadside stands and
farmers markets. Here you can fill your bags with vegetables and fruits so fresh
from the field that they’re still warm from the sun.


But many people racing between work and home don’t have time to make an extra
shopping trip. And they don’t have to. They can pick up the same succulent,
homegrown produce right at the local supermarket.


At least that’s what the stores advertise. Shelley Stieger shops at the
supermarkets. She says she’s been a bit disappointed by her grocery store’s
“homegrown” produce.


“My impression from the ad would be that they’d be from around here – but I don’t
think they are.”


JK: “Why is that? What do you base that on?”


“Well, I bought some tomatoes the other day and it said homegrown. I thought they
were. But I got them home and they aren’t homegrown tomatoes. They still taste like
plastic tomatoes, so they’re not.”


That all kind of depends on your definition of homegrown. The tomatoes that Stieger
bought were homegrown in New Jersey. But Stieger lives in western New York. Where
she lives, the tomatoes were still pretty green on the vine. And the homegrown
eggplant that her store advertised in its flyer? That local crop won’t be ready for
another week. The plump, purple eggplant in the produce section now is actually
from out of state. Stephanie Zakowicz is a
spokesperson for the supermarket chain Tops.


“For Tops, our definition of homegrown is anything grown within a 250 mile radius of
the store. And this year with the weather not cooperating as much with our farmers
as usual, unfortunately, when our ads are produced so far in advance, sometimes the
product doesn’t get delivered and we
need to procure it elsewhere.”


Tops may not be alone. Other supermarket chains may also be defining homegrown a
little far a field.


When shoppers learn about the broader definition, they’re usually not very happy.
Zakowicz says Tops puts signs in the stores saying where their produce comes from.


But apparently a lot of people never see the signs. It was news to the people who
have been calling county politician Jeanne Chase. She says her constituents feel
they’ve been fooled.


“They were very concerned. Because they read when it says homegrown produce and
they get a very warm and fuzzy feeling, because they assume they know the people who
are growing the produce and that it’s really being grown in their county, in their
own backyard, so to speak. And they were a little outraged to find out it was being
grown in Pennsylvania or New Jersey’s backyard.”


Zakowicz from Tops says supermarkets really don’t have a choice. It’s a question of
supply and demand. People now expect year-round access to their favorite produce.
And this year’s particularly wet season has prevented local farmers from bringing
those crops in on time – or in peak condition.


Bill Zittel’s family has been farming in Eden for about a hundred years. Zittel
says the definition of homegrown isn’t the only thing that’s changing. When stores
can’t get local produce because isn’t yet in season, they buy from out-of-state
instead. Zittel says that might leave local farmers with nowhere to sell their
crops once they are ready.


“There’s a fine line between production, quality, what you have to sell the product
for, and who’s going to buy it. The end result is you can produce all the food you
want, but if there’s nobody to buy it, then you might as well not do it, because
it’s going to go to waste.”


Bottomline, Zittel says it’s difficult to compete with growers from warmer climates
that get multiple growing seasons. Great Lakes states get one – and in northern
areas, it’s a very short one. Still, local shoppers expect the sweet corn they buy
in late summer to be local… not the second or third crop of the season shipped in
from Florida.


Despite the disagreement about the use of the term “homegrown,” Stephanie Zakowicz
from Tops says the supermarket chain is committed to local farmers.


“It’s a high priority for us to supply our customers with homegrown products.
They’re wonderful. Our customers look for them. And we try to work with our farmers
to get as much as we can, as long as they meet our quality standards.”


And apparently, only if they meet the timing of their ads.


So, if it’s important to you that your produce is truly locally “homegrown,” it’s a
good idea to check the fine print. Most supermarket chains say “homegrown” produce
should have a sign declaring near whose home it was grown.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Joyce Kryszak.

Related Links

Buying Organic: Grocery Stores or Local Farm-Raised?

It can be tough deciding whether to buy organic foods at the market. Organic produce often costs more, sometimes doesn’t look as nice, and can compete with locally-produced products that might be raised organically but don’t carry the government’s certification. As part of an ongoing series “Your Choice, Your Planet,” the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie Grant looks at what you’re getting when you buy the organic label:

Transcript

It can be tough deciding whether to buy organic foods at the market. Organic produce often costs more, sometimes doesn’t look as nice, and can compete with locally-produced products that might be raised organically but don’t carry the government’s certification. As part of an ongoing series called “Your Choice, Your Planet,” the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie Grant looks at what you’re getting when you buy the organic label:


(sound of supermarket)


Elizabeth Culotta is shopping around the natural and organic food section of the Acme Supermarket in Kent, Ohio. She’s glad there are now standardized stickers on the fruits and vegetables that say “USDA Organic” because it makes it easier to judge what’s grown without pesticides.


EC: “It matters to me, because I feel like organic produce is grown in a way that is better for the global environment. So it matters to me in a global sense. I’m not actually a person who that is worried about the health aspects of pesticides.”


JG: “If the prices were comparable, would you buy organic over conventional?”


EC: “Sure. Sure. Definitely. If you look at these organic cherry tomatoes, they look great. But they’re $3.99 a pint.”

JG: “Let’s go look at the conventional.”

EC: “Here’s some grape tomatoes. A little different. And they are… $1.49 for a pint. So that is less than half the price.”


One reason organics cost more is the price farms pay for USDA certification. It’s an involved process…


(farm sound)


Mick Luber inspects farms for the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association. His group is approved by the USDA to certify farms as organic. This morning he’s visiting Larry Luschek’s farm in Ohio. Until a couple of years ago, cabbage, collards, or other produce claiming to be “organic” could be certified by any number of organizations. But, now the USDA has established guidelines everyone must follow. Luber says that actually hasn’t changed his inspections much.


(sound in fields)


Out in the fields… he sticks a metal probe in the ground and pulls out a soil sample… the soil structure looks right.


ML: “See that little white stuff there? That’s bacteria in the soil. It means the soil is alive. And you also look for earthworm activity.”


JG: “What would any of that mean for certification?”


ML: “Means soil is alive. That’s what the whole organic thing is about is alive soil. You’re not just using NPNK to produce your plants. You’re using the soil as a living organism.”


JG: “NPNK is?”


ML: “Nitrogen-potassium-phosphorous. A living soil is a living soil, it actually produces a lot of those things itself…”


In addition to the soil, Luber checks the equipment for oil leakage, the barrels used to clean produce, and everything else he can think of to bring back to an inspection committee.”


(kitchen sound)


He sits at Larry Luschek’s kitchen table for more than an hour, asking where Larry buys his seeds and checking his receipts. There’s a lot of paperwork involved in getting the USDA’s organic certification.


Not everybody thinks it’s worth the hassle.


(market sound)


At the North Union Farmers’ Market in Cleveland, Mark Welton and his teenage daughter are selling rhubarb. Welton owns a three-acre farm…


MW: “We do everything organically with no herbicides, pesticides, lot of composting, cover cropping, crop rotation. You know, things like that.”


Welton used to certify his farm organic. But he stopped once the USDA national standards went into effect.


MW: “I just didn’t feel I needed to keep it going anymore. And it was getting expensive. It was getting expensive to stay certified. I said, I haven’t changed my practices, I’ve been doing it twenty years that way. I just felt now was the time just to say… okay, I’m done.”


Welton says people at the market know him and trust that he’s not using chemical-laden seeds or spraying things like NPNK on his fields. He says they can visit his farm if they want to check for themselves.


Farmer Bruce Cormack thinks that’s a lot more important than the USDA organic label. He wonders if huge organic farms on the west coast are really
earth friendly…


BW: “I mean, I think the organic certification is supposed to be, as far as environment, less impact and better for everybody but when you have 800 horsepower tractors and shipping 4,000 miles it doesn’t make any sense. I don’t see how that is not impacting the environment.”


Shoppers at the farmers’ market know they’re paying more than the average price for produce. They don’t seem to mind because it’s fresh and locally grown. But not everyone has the time to get to the farmers’ market, let alone drive out to the farm to make sure it’s organic.


(supermarket sound)


Back at the supermarket, Elizabeth Culotta is glad the federal government has standardized what it means to be an organic farm…


EC: “Yes. I mean I think that makes it simpler for someone like me to go into a grocery store and if I can find something that says organic, then I can probably be pretty sure that that’s probably going to meet what I want. As opposed to having to parse the label and trying to figure out from the ads who is exactly doing what.”


The USDA organic label does let people know how the food was grown and processed. It does not tell them whether it’s good for the planet. That’s something shoppers still have to figure out for themselves.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Julie Grant.

Related Links

Beefy Guy Buys Organic Bovine

  • David Hammond's inspiration to experiment with a low-carb diet. (Self portrait by David Hammond)

Each year, Americans spend tens of billions of dollars on diets and diet aids. Low carbohydrate diets like South Beach, the Zone, and Atkins are all becoming household words and companies are scrambling to cash in. As part of an ongoing series called “Your Choice, Your Planet,” the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s David Hammond looks in the mirror as he investigates the potential environmental impacts of the low-carb diet:

Transcript

Each year, Americans spend tens of billions of
dollars on diets and diet aids. Low carbohydrate
diets like South Beach, the Zone, and Atkins are all
becoming household words and companies are
scrambling to cash in. As part of an ongoing series
called “Your Choice, Your Planet,” the Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s David Hammond looks in the
mirror as he investigates the potential
environmental impacts of the low-carb diet:


(sound of shower door closing, shower being turned on)


Every day it’s the same. As I wait for the shower to
warm up, I fight off an assault on my self-esteem.
First, there’s my naked reflection in the bathroom
mirror. (Ugh.) To my right, a stack of clothes that
don’t fit anymore. And in front of me, the most
damning thing of all… the bathroom scale.


I know I should ignore it, but its pull is irresistible.


Hammond: “Okay, here comes the big
moment of truth. Ohh… you gotta be kidding
me. Well, according to my scale, I am four pounds
heavier than yesterday. I don’t know how
that can be possible.”


You see, I’m fat. Not “oversized.” Not “full-figured.” Fat. I weigh 268 lbs and desperately need
to lose some weight. None of my clothes fit. My
cholesterol is through the roof. And my wife? Well, she
seems to have cornered the market on migraine
headaches.


(shower fades out)


But what kind of diet? I needed a diet that would
work within my lifestyle, not totally change it.
Because giving up meat wasn’t an option for me, I
figured low-carb was the way to go.


A recent Roper Report estimated that up to 40
million Americans were reducing their
carbohydrates.


40 million carb counters can’t be wrong, can they?


My gut told me that low-carb dieters must be
demanding more meat and poultry. But
was there an environmental impact?


For advice, I turned to the Sierra Club. They have a
program focused on concentrated animal feeding
operations — better known as factory
farms. These are operations where thousands of animals,
sometimes tens of thousands, are housed
together in relatively small spaces.


Environmentalists say the problem is their manure.
So much of it is produced, in such a small area that
simply spreading it on nearby fields can lead to
severe water pollution.


Anne Woiwode is the Director of the Sierra Club’s
office in Lansing, MI. She said that manure is not
the only problem. A bigger threat may be the
antibiotics that the animals are given to promote
their growth.


“Up to 70% of the antibiotics used in
this country right now are being fed to animals so
that they are fattened quickly. And because
animals are consuming so many antibiotics, you
are actually creating super bugs or super
bacteria.”


As far as my diet is concerned, with all this talk
about manure, bacteria, and super bugs, I wasn’t
sure that I needed to diet after all. I’d pretty much
lost my appetite.


Well, almost… it is still barbeque season after
all.


What I need is a low-carb fix that I can feel good
about. A local butcher mentioned Roseland Farm.
It’s located in southwest Michigan, near the Indiana border.
They’re one of the region’s largest, certified organic
farms. It’s a family farm. Merrill Clark is one of
the owners.


“We’re a 1,800 acre certified organic beef farm, we also
raise some grains and other garden vegetables on
a smaller scale but we are mostly known for our
beef. We’ve been, I’ll say certified organic, for
nearly 20 years.”


Certified organic means that Clark and her family
feed their cattle with crops grown without pesticides
or synthetic fertilizers. They also don’t give their
cattle antibiotics or growth hormones.


Nearly a quarter of their farm is devoted to grazing,
so the Clarks avoid the manure problems of factory
farms. They just leave the manure where it drops
and it becomes natural fertilizer.


Natural grazing also reduces the need to feed the
cattle grains like corn and soybeans. When used for
cattle feed, those grains are usually inefficient and
expensive to produce.


Even though the Clark family runs a large organic
farm, they know that in the scheme of things, they are still very small.
Merrill Clark says that’s fine.


“If some major Kroger or Meijer’s wanted to buy all of our
meat, I don’t think we would want to. We sort of
feel connected to our label and our own name and
our identity. It’s just so interesting this way. You
meet great people. Because you’re face to face with
your own customers.”


In my case, Merrill and I didn’t actually meet face-
to-face, but we bonded. We talked long after the
interview was over. And I was impressed enough to buy
a 35-lb cooler full of ground sirloin, strips, and
fillets. Enough to get me through those first few
weeks of my diet.


So even though I’m still fat, and tomorrow, the
bathroom scale was going to be just as unforgiving,
I’m starting to feel a little bit better about myself. For
the first time, I feel connected to my food. I feel a
bond to the farmer. And I feel like I was supporting
something worthwhile. And you know what, it
feels good.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m David
Hammond.

Related Links

Rain Gardens Prevent Pollution

  • Homeowners across the Midwest are discovering the benefits of rain gardens. Slightly sunken areas of native plants hold heavy rains and cleanse runoff as it sinks slowly into the ground. Photo courtesy Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

A good Midwestern summer storm can dump a lot of water in one place. Sometimes there’s so much rainwater, it overwhelms the underground sewage pipes. The rainwater mixes with untreated sewage and washes into lakes and rivers. Cities around the country are each spending millions of dollars to solve the problem. In one city, officials are encouraging people to build “rain gardens.” The perennial gardens are designed to hold rainwater and let it seep gradually into the ground. In another installment of the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s “Your Choice; Your Planet” series… Stephanie Hemphill reports:

Transcript

A good midwestern summer storm can dump a lot of water in one
place. Sometimes there’s so much rainwater, it floods into the
underground pipes that carry sewer waste. It mixes with untreated
sewage and washes into lakes and rivers. Cities around the country
are each spending millions of dollars to solve the problem. In one
city, officials are encouraging people to build “rain gardens.” The
perennial gardens are designed to hold rainwater and let it seep
gradually into the ground. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Stephanie Hemphill reports:


The sewage treatment plant sits right on the waterfront of Lake
Superior in Superior, Wisconsin. You can see treatment tanks and
pump houses at the edge of the lake, and lately you can also see
gardens. They’re demonstration plots, showing how homeowners
can help solve a serious problem. Each garden is like a shallow
bowl; about six inches lower than the surrounding ground. The
buildings next to the gardens have down spouts that carry water from
the roofs right into the gardens.


Charlene Johnson is creating these rain gardens. She digs away the
surface soil, adds compost, and then plants native grasses and
perennials.


“We’ve got the Golden alexander starting to bloom, this one has
purple coneflower, Green-headed coneflower, Cardinal flower, the
bonisette.”


They’re pretty and they’re all plants that can live with a lot of water, or
just a little. Johnson says they do a much better job of holding onto
rainwater than a regular lawn, because they have deep roots.

“You know, the average lawn is about 1-2 inches. Therefore you’d
only have one or two inches of roots. Roots equal storage capacity.
Also as the roots penetrate through the ground, they die back, and
those holes can also be used for storm water retention.”

That helps keep some of the rainwater from rushing into the sewer
system. Johnson would like it if every yard in Superior had a rain
garden. The ideal size depends on the size of the house and the
type of soil in the yard, but they’re usually about the size of a small
patio.


A lot of us are building water gardens these days – small pools or
ponds – but a rain garden is different. It’s not designed to hold water
or goldfish. It’s designed to absorb big rains and let them sink slowly
into the ground.


“Plants and soil naturally cleanse pollutants from water. By the time it
recharges into the groundwater aquifers, the water is essentially
clean. ”


Charlene Johnson says rain gardens cost about the same to build as
any other perennial garden – between $3 and 5 a square foot. Most
of that is to buy plants, so it’s a one-time purchase. Even if it’s not
that expensive, you might be thinking it’s still a lot of money just to
help the city save on treating sewage, but Johnson says it can pay off
in the long run, because keeping rainwater out of the sewage
treatment system, means the city won’t have to treat as much
volume. That saves money and keeps your monthly sewer bill lower.


Your rain garden will also help the environment by keeping the rush
of water from overwhelming the sewer system and sending it into the
river or lake near your home.


On the other side of town, Jan Murphy says she loves her rain
garden. She built it seven years ago when she built her bookstore
and coffee shop in Superior.


(sound of blackbird)


“We’ve had ducks. That’s a baby redwing blackbird I believe, it’s
been very delightful. We’ve had lots of little critters in here from time
to time. ”


Runoff from the bookstore parking lot flows into the garden, where the cattails and other
native plants clean it up before it seeps into the city storm water system. Now, if you and
your neighbors build rain gardens, it still might not completely solve your city’s problems
with storm water runoff, but the experts say it can help.


Kurt Soderberg directs the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District in
Duluth. He says rainwater picks up all kinds of pollution as it flows
across parking lots, streets, and yards, and eventually into rivers and
lakes.


“Rainwater is a big impact on water quality. Whether it’s sediment
washing into the lake, whether it’s fecal coliform going into the creeks
and the lakes, there are a whole lot of reasons why you want to stop
storm water from rushing into the natural bodies of water. ”


Soderberg says rain gardens can filter and clean the water before it
reaches lakes and rivers. A lot of cities are spending millions of
dollars each, trying to keep storm water from overwhelming the sewer
system. Soderberg says rain gardens could be part of the solution.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Stephanie Hemphill.

To Bag or Not to Bag Grass Clippings

  • Reporter David Hammond's yard. He has the vague notion that not bagging grass clippings is more environmentally friendly. (Photo by David Hammond)

At one point or another, most of us have had to do yard work. If it was one of your chores as a kid, you probably developed a strong aversion to it, but as some of us get older, get married, and move to the suburbs, something interesting happens. Taking care of the yard becomes important, but is there an environmental impact? As part of an ongoing series, called “Your Choice; Your Planet,” the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s David Hammond takes a closer look at his own back yard:

Transcript

At one point or another, most of us have had to do yard work. If it was one of your chores as a kid,
you probably developed a strong aversion to it. But as we get older, get married, and move to the
suburbs, something interesting happens. Taking care of the yard becomes important. But is there
an environmental impact? As part of an ongoing series, called “Your Choice; Your Planet,” the
Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s David Hammond examines his own backyard.


To bag or not to bag? That is the question. Well, at least that’s my question… on most Saturdays
say about 10am.


(lawnmower sound up far away distance)


That’s when the men of my neighborhood head outside for their weekly call to arms. It’s yard day.
And once the first mower starts, like fruit flies to a banana, everyone heads outside to do their
mowing, edging, and weeding. It’s a procession that lasts all weekend.


(lawnmower sound up close distance, up and under)


This is a new neighborhood… only a couple of years old. Everybody has put in new landscaping,
and everybody spends a lot of time taking care of their lawns. Brian Van Netta is one of my
neighbors.


“It’s the showpiece of the house. It’s the first thing that people see when they drive by and it sets the tone for the rest of the house.”


Around here, that means bagging your lawn clippings. You know the routine. Mow a couple of
strips across the yard. Stop the mower. Take the grass bag and dump it into the compost bag.
Put the grass bag back on the mower. Mow a couple more strips then dump again. Then repeat
all afternoon.


I think it’s lunacy… a waste of the weekend. Something keeping me from solving really important
issues like: Does my beer taste great or is it less filling? I’ve also have a vague notion that not
bagging is better environmentally, but I can’t back it up with facts. So I decide to investigate.


(lawnmower sound out)


First stop – Wade Martingdale. He’s a neighbor who’s worked in the landscape business. Around
here, his word carries weight. Unfortunately for me, he recommends bagging.


“If you have a real full turf grass, you know, real thick and full, that when you cut your grass, the
grass clippings are so thick that actually strangles out your grass, its doesn’t let the water get to the
roots, the air, and then what water does get to the roots, it won’t dry so it can promote disease.”


He also says bagging makes a yard look better… usually as he’s looking at my yard.


“You can’t really tell from a distance, but you can tell up close. Just like your grass has a lot of
clumps in it…” (pause… laughter)


I was getting worried. If bagging was really the best environmental and the best neighborly thing to
do, I might actually have to start. No sense getting kicked out of poker night on account of some
grass clippings, but as I looked down my street at all the 30-gallon bags waiting to be picked up, I wondered where all that waste was going.


(sound of trucks picking up waste – up and under)


Canton Waste Recycling handles all of the recycling pickups in my town. Each week, they pick up
yard waste from nearly 20,000 homes, and then haul it to a regional processing center. There it’s
turned into compost and sold to landscapers and fertilizer companies. The only caveat is that the
yard waste collected from the neighborhoods can’t have any debris in it. If there are stumps or
rocks or concrete in the compost bags, then an entire truckload can be wasted. When that
happens, it gets sent to the landfill.


(begin fading truck sound)


So assuming that folks in my neighborhood are not sneaking any dead cats into their yard waste…
bagging seems like a decent bet environmentally. Sure, there is energy used to pick up and
process the yard waste, but the program employs a dozen local people. I had to give it thumbs up.


(truck sound out)


But now, my worry had turned to panic. I could see the rest of my summer out in front of me. No
more pool. No more picnics. No more Sea Breezes at high tea. No, what I saw was a sweat-stained, fat guy lugging 30-gallon compost bags to the curb. That was going to be my summer.
Hell, it was going to be the rest of my summers.


My last hope was The Huron River Watershed Council. They’re a local environmental group and
have developed a lawn care tip sheet. As I read through it, I started to feel the ol’ fun quotient
starting to rise. That’s because the tip sheet recommended not bagging your clippings. That is, if
you mulched them well when you cut them. Laura Rubin is the Executive Director.


“By leaving them there, they are sort of leaching those nutrients right back into the soil. So when
you mulch them, and you leave them, they just naturally put those nutrients back into the ground
and that’s what the soil needs.”


Rubin says that those added nutrients would allow me to save money because I wouldn’t have to
buy as much fertilizer. I also wouldn’t have to buy the composting bags. Rubin added that she’s
not against community compost programs. Just that leaving the clippings was a simpler
alternative.


“Community-wide composting programs are great and if you have a good one, you can’t go wrong.
It’s just changing the waste stream to a different area, but I don’t want to stress that there’s sort of
a ‘good way’ and a ‘bad way.’ If you send it to a composting program, you are still recycling and composting
that up rather than bagging it, and sending it to the landfill is the worst.”


So in the great bagging debate, it seems that both sides can claim the environmental high ground.
As long as I mulch my lawn clippings well, I can continue not bagging in good conscience. And for
the hardy souls who do bag? You’re good too. In fact, next Saturday, as I watch you schlepping
all those bags to the curb, I’ll tip a glass to you.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m David Hammond.

Related Links

Water Gardens a Route for New Invasives

  • These two goldfish were pulled out of a pond in Duluth. They started out as small, aquarium goldfish, but when introduced into the wild, they can grow up to more than a foot in length. (Photo by Chris Julin)

You can hear frogs croaking and chirping in the middle of a city these days. You can see cattails and water lilies out your window even if you live nowhere near a lake. Water gardens are all the rage. But some scientists are warning that we have to be careful with our gardens. If plants or animals get out of a backyard pond, they can endanger native species. As part of an ongoing series called “Your Choice; Your Planet,” the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris Julin reports:

Transcript

You can hear frogs croaking and chirping in the middle of a city these days. You can see cattails and water lilies out your window even if you live nowhere near a lake. Water gardens are all the rage. But some scientists are warning that we have to be careful with our gardens. If plants or animals get out of a backyard pond, they can endanger native species. As part of an ongoing series called “Your Choice; Your Planet,” the Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Chris Julin reports:


For a while this spring, this pond was empty. Workers pumped out the water so they could catch fish. There were a few puddles, here and there on the pond bottom, and Tyler Winter got the job of scooping fish out of the puddles. He’s a college biology student. His five-gallon plastic bucket was half-full of fish — each one about the size of his hand.


“We got domestic goldfish, of various sizes and colors. This is the same kind of a thing that you would find at a pet store, but when introduced into the wild and they have more room to grow and they don’t die quickly, they can grow up to 10 or 16 inches.”


It appears that somebody — lots of somebodies — took the goldfish from their aquariums and water gardens and tossed them into this pond. They probably thought it was better than flushing the fish down the toilet.


The problem is, the pond flows into a designated trout stream. Trout need clean water, but goldfish stir up muck from the bottom when they feed. That could make the stream uninhabitable for trout.


People release lots of animals and plants, even though it’s often illegal. In the Great Lakes region alone, 38 species of aquatic animals and plants have reached the “infestation” level after being released into the wild. These plants and animals are crowding out native species.


(sound of gurgling pond)


Debbie Braeu’s back yard is thick with trees and shade-loving plants.


“There’s a pump in the pond that recirculates and the water comes down the stream, goes back up. As you can see, this is real close to our house, so we can sit and have coffee and we can watch the goldfish.”


The Braue’s run a nursery and landscaping business, and they’ve helped a lot of other people start water gardens. They’re big fans of native plants — irises and water lilies that naturally grow here. They sell some exotic pond plants, too, but not the ones that can escape, and live through a Great Lakes winter, and spread.


That’s what Barb Liukkonen likes to hear. She’s a hydrologist with Minnesota Sea Grant, and she’s trying to slow down the spread of non-native water plants. She wants gardeners to use more native plants.


“There are a lot of invasive aquatic plants — some that nobody would import intentionally. Things like Eurasian watermilfoil, or curly-leaf pondweed, things that cause a real problem in our lakes. But there are a whole range of plants that are being used for water gardens and to restore shorelines that may also be very invasive. They’re really pretty. Things like yellow iris, floating yellow heart — plants that look good, but they can be very invasive.”


Barb Liukkonen says gardeners sometimes put exotic plants in a lake intentionally — even though it’s against the law. And beyond that, gardeners sometimes spread exotic plants by accident. Liukkonen says the State of Minnesota recently paid for research into aquatic-plant-buying on the Internet.


“Ninety-two percent of time, the plants that are ordered had hitchhikers – that is, unintended plants or animals or seeds. And those can be introduced when you plant those plants along your shoreline or into your water garden.”


She says the researchers found something else disturbing.


“When they ordered plants that were prohibited, that is illegal to own or to plant or to sell in Minnesota, they still received them 13 our of 14 times. So even though they’re against the law here, people can still order those plants.”


Barb Liukkonen says local greenhouses are more likely to know what plants are banned in their areas. She and colleagues across the country are putting together a public education campaign. They’re designing stickers and fliers that businesses can attach to plants and aquariums. Their message is simple: Don’t release exotic plants and animals into the wild. Keep your goldfish and your garden plants at home.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Chris Julin in Duluth.

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