A plant disease that could threaten oak trees has moved
from California to the Midwest. The GLRC’s Chris Lehman
A plant disease that could threaten oak trees has moved
from California to the Midwest. The GLRC’s Chris
Lehman has more:
The disease was discovered in California in 1995 and has
mainly been confined to the Pacific Northwest. The
scientific name is Phytophthora ramorum. It
attacks some types of oak trees and shrubs.
Scientists say it could threaten large portions of eastern woodland.
Symptoms of the disease are hard to spot with the un-
trained eye, and some trees survive for years after
The Indiana Department of Natural Resources says the
disease was discovered on a shrub that was shipped to a
hardware store from the state of Oregon.
Officials hope the early discovery of the disease means it won’t immediately
spread. But they say the incident is an example of how
easily deadly plant diseases can move from one part of the
country to another.
People who are often exposed to high levels of pesticides
could be at a higher risk of developing Parkinson’s Disease. The
GLRC’s Chris Lehman reports on the findings of a new study:
People who are often exposed to high levels of pesticides could be at a higher risk of
developing Parkinson’s Disease. The GLRC’s Chris Lehman reports on the findings of a
Researchers say people who are routinely around pesticides are 70 percent more likely to
develop Parkinson’s Disease. Alberto Aschiero was the lead researcher. He says the
pattern seems to be true for both farmers and backyard gardeners. He says even though
the findings are not conclusive, they confirm the results of earlier studies:
“I think this is enough to recommend to people to be very conservative in using
pesticides, especially when one is not essential, like in some home and garden
Aschiero says he’s not advocating a warning label be placed on pesticide products yet.
He says that would be more appropriate if researchers can pinpoint specific pesticides
that are linked to Parkinson’s disease.
Milking Devon cattle are rare domestic breeds from an earlier day, some dating back to the 18th century. The animals hold genetic information that some people think is too valuable to lose. (Photo by Lester Graham)
The Garfield Farm Museum is preserving antiquated domestic breeds of farm animals, such as these Black Java chickens. (Photo by Lester Graham)
The Garfield Farm Museum, between Geneva and Elburn, Illinois, brings together farming experiences of the past 150 years with an appreciation of the natural environment, according to its website. (Photo by Lester Graham)
When you think of endangered species, farm animals might not top the list. But some types of farm animals are in danger of going extinct.
Certain breeds of common barnyard creatures are no longer considered commercially viable, and are being allowed to die off. But as the GLRC’s Chris Lehman reports, there’s an effort to preserve some rare varieties of
When you think of endangered species, farm animals might not top the list. But some
types of farm animals are in danger of going extinct. Certain breeds of common barnyard
creatures are no longer considered commercially viable, and are being allowed to die off.
But as the GLRC’s Chris Lehman reports, there’s an effort to preserve some rare varieties
When you buy a pound of ground beef or a pack of chicken legs, you probably don’t
think about what kind of cow or chicken the meat came from. And in most stores,
you don’t have a choice. Beef is beef and chicken is chicken.
Of course, there’s many different kinds of cows and chickens, but most farmers stick with
just a handful of types. They prefer animals that are specially bred to produce more meat
in less time.
That’s all well and good if your motive is profit.
But some people think the move towards designer farm animals is risky.
Jerome Johnson is executive director of Garfield Farm Museum.
(Sound of turkeys gobbling)
Johnson says breeds like these Narragansett turkeys carry genetic traits that could be
desirable in the future. They don’t require as much food, for instance. That could be an
attractive feature as costs continue to rise:
“Some of the high-producing, high-yielding animals today, they may require a lot of
input. In other words, a lot of feed, more expense since so many things are derived from
petroleum, from the diesel fuel that powers the tractors to the production of fertilizer
and the like, and chemicals for herbicides and all… that as the cost of that goes up, it may
actually be cheaper to raise a different type of animal, that doesn’t require that much.”
Johnson also says some common poultry breeds get sick more easily. That’s part of the
risk farmers take when they choose meatier birds. Normally that might not be a problem,
but if Avian flu spreads to the US, some of the older breeds might carry genes that could
resist the disease. If those breeds disappear, that genetic information would be lost.
But some farmers choose rare livestock breeds for completely different reasons.
(Sound of baby chicks)
Scott Lehr and his family raise several varieties of pure-bred poultry, sheep, and goats on
their northern Illinois farm. These chicks are just a few weeks old…
(Sound of baby chicks)
“These are all pure-bred birds. These are birds that have been around a long time. Some
of the breeds that are in there, there’s Bantam Brown Leghorns, Bantam White Leghorns.”
Some of the poultry breeds are so rare and exotic they’re practically collector’s items.
Lehr’s son enters them in competitions. But the animals on their farm aren’t just for
showing off. Scott says they use the wool from their herd of Border Cheviot sheep for a
craft studio they opened in a nearby town:
“There’s quite a bit of demand growing for handspun wool and the rising interest in the
hand arts, if you will… knitting and spinning and weaving and those kinds of things… are
really beginning to come into, I guess, the consciousness of the American public in many
ways. It’s evolving beyond a cottage industry.”
And the wool of rare breeds like the Border Cheviot sheep is popular among people who want handspun wool.
(Sound of Johnson calling to giant pig, “Hey, buddy, how ya doin’?”)
Back at the Garfield Farm Museum, Jerome Johnson offers a handful of grass to a 700
pound Berkshire hog. This Berkshire is different from the variety of pig with the same
name that’s relatively common today. Johnson says these old-style Berkshires have a
different nose and more white hair than the modern Berkshire. They also tend to be fatter,
which used to be a more desirable trait.
The museum’s pair of old-style Berkshires are literally a dying breed. Johnson says the
boar isn’t fertile anymore:
“They were the last breeding pair that we knew of. These were once quite common but
now are quite rare. And we maybe have found a boar that is fertile that is up in
Wisconsin that was brought in from England here a couple years ago that we could try
crossing with our sow to see if we can preserve some of these genetics.”
(Sound of pigs)
Advocates of rare livestock breeds say the animals can be healthier and sometimes tastier
than the kinds raised on large commercial farms. And although you won’t find many
farm animals on the endangered species list, they could have important benefits for future
The sound of train horns is loud and makes your cover your ears.
Now, there is a different kind of horn, the wayside train horn, that could make all that sound a little less noisy. (Photo courtesy of the Department of Transportation)
The sound of a train blowing its horn is an unavoidable part of life in many communities. One town is taking steps to make trains a little less intrusive on the lives of people who live near the tracks. The GLRC’s Chris Lehman reports:
The sound of a train blowing its horn is an unavoidable part of life in
many communities. One town is taking steps to make trains a little less
intrusive on the lives of people who live near the tracks. The GLRC’s
Chris Lehman reports:
About 80 freight trains roll through this crossing every day. They’re not
(Sound of train horn)
That’s what a Union Pacific locomotive sounds like as it rolls through
this city in northern Illinois.
Now, here’s a different kind of train whistle:
(Sound of a wayside train horn)
That’s something called a wayside horn. The City of DeKalb is seeking
permission to install these horns at four of the seven street crossings
along the main Union Pacific east-west tracks through the city. The
other streets would have upgraded crossing gates. The goal would be to
eliminate the need for most engines to blow their horns as they pass
The wayside horns themselves aren’t much quieter than a regular train
horn. After all, they’re not supposed to be quiet. Cars and pedestrians
would still be warned about oncoming trains. The difference is that a
train sounds its horn as it approaches the crossing.
The wayside horn stays at the crossing. The theory is that a wayside
horn directs its sound down the street…it’s not the indiscriminate
blasting that interrupts people who live in houses that happen to be near
the tracks but nowhere near a crossing.
(Sound of walkie-talkie)
DeKalb City Engineer Joel Maurer recently set up a wayside horn and
walked through a residential neighborhood to test the theory. This is
what a wayside horn sounds like a block away from the tracks, but on the
same street as a crossing:
(Sound of wayside horn)
Now, this is what a wayside horn sounds like a block away from the
tracks, but on a street where there isn’t a crossing. You’ll have to listen
(Sound of walkie-talkie, then faint sound of horn)
If you’re having trouble hearing it…well, that’s kind of the point.
Now, here’s what a train horn sounds like at that same street corner:
(Sound of train horn)
The City’s tests found that in areas a block or more away from the tracks,
the wayside horns measured some ten decibels lower than train horns,
but the wayside horns won’t make a difference in just residential
Jennifer Groce is director of Main Street DeKalb, a downtown advocacy
organization. Her office is about a block from the tracks. She says she’s
looking forward to the switch to wayside horns…
“Any help to help deafen the sound a little bit is definitely an
improvement to what we have now. With 80 trains a day, it’s a huge
influence on our businesses. We talk with all different kinds of people
throughout the day, and you can hear us on our phones, you can hear that
train, all the time. It’s a great factor for us to be able to deafen it a
little bit. Especially for the residents that are down here and have to
hear it. A lot of times we can’t open our windows, you can’t
have your car window rolled down…so to be able to stand here freely
without having to plug your ears, is a very nice thing.”
It could be a while before Groce can unplug her ears, though. The City
has to get the wayside horn plan cleared by a web of state and Federal
agencies, but DeKalb does have precedence on its side. Wayside horns
have been installed in about 60 communities nationwide, with the highest
concentration in the Midwest. Some towns have banned train whistles
altogether. But new, stricter Federal regulations now make that all but
impossible in many locations. That might make the wayside horns ever
Compact fluorescent light bulbs can save energy and money. (Photo courtesy of National Renewable Energy Laboratory)
They say that charity begins at home. So does energy conservation. At least, that’s the idea behind a new program designed to get children interested in saving energy, one light bulb at a time. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris Lehman reports:
They say that charity begins at home. So does energy conservation. At least,
that’s the idea behind a new program designed to get children interested in
saving energy, one light bulb at a time. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Chris Lehman reports:
All of German Valley Elementary School’s 100 students are gathered in the
gymnasium to learn about saving the world…
“You guys are the ones who are going to have to worry about this stuff down
the road as you become adults and go out into the world. We always want to
plan, don’t we fifth grade.”
These kids are about to get a lesson in saving the planet. Although German
Valley Elementary is surrounded by farmland, the students are going to be
treated to a rap concert as part of that lesson. Their teachers are the rap stars,
trying to drive the message home…
(Sound of teacher rap skit)
The unusual school assembly is the kick-off event in a program called PEAK,
which stands for Preserving Energy for All Kids. It’s funded by a legal
settlement against one of the biggest power companies in Illinois: ComEd.
An audit found ComEd under funded its infrastructure. As part of a court
settlement, money was set aside to encourage energy conservation.
David Kolata is Executive Director of the Citizen’s Utility Board. The
consumer advocacy group is one of the agencies charged by the courts with
dispersing the 16 million dollar ComEd settlement.
“The mandate is simply to use that money to reduce our energy usage as
much as we can. We’ve taken the approach that there are multiple programs
out there that makes sense and we’re trying to see…basically pilot programs
to see what works and what doesn’t.”
So, German Valley Elementary is a testing ground. The school was
recommended by State Representative Jim Sacia. Sacia says educational
programs such as PEAK are crucial as younger generations face growing
questions about energy shortages in the future.
“I think it’s just so important that they learn at a young age the importance of
conserving energy and to consider alternative energy sources so that they can
make the world a far more energy-efficient place in years to come.”
The PEAK program includes more than school assemblies and teachers
mimicking rappers. The bulk of the lessons take place in the classroom…
(Sound of classroom presentation)
Teachers at schools participating in the PEAK program use teaching
materials generated by a California-based organization. One of the first
lessons is about the difference between standard light bulbs and compact
fluorescent light bulbs. Those bulbs use about one-third of the energy of a
standard incandescent light bulb, and can last up to ten years.
Students are given an assignment: to go home and count all of the light bulbs
in their house. Then they’ll figure out how much money their parents could
save by switching to compact fluorescents.
The PEAK program is in its beginning stages at German Valley Elementary,
but the message of energy conservation seemed to be hitting home with fifth
grader Brian Kraft:
“Because if we’re older and we don’t have any energy there will be nothing
to do and see.”
“How do you want to save energy yourself?”
“Turn lights off, play outside more than play inside.”
Playing outside means less TV watching and video game playing… and that
saves energy too.
Fifth grade science teacher Robert Nelson says the initial phase of the PEAK
program has generated positive feedback from children and their parents.
The school intends to sell compact fluorescent bulbs as a fundraiser later in
the school year.
Large-scale livestock farms struggle with ways to dispose of their animal waste. Now, efforts are under way to make an Indiana town the first in the nation to get its power entirely from hog manure, but as the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris Lehman reports, this venture has a long way to go before it becomes a reality:
Large scale livestock farms struggle with ways to dispose of their
animal waste. Now, efforts are under way to make an Indiana town the first
in the nation to get its power entirely from hog manure, but as the Great
Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris Lehman reports, this venture has a long way
to go before it becomes a reality:
Indiana Agriculture Department officials have unofficially renamed the
village of Reynolds as Bio-Town USA. They hope to supply the town’s power
needs with energy produced from animal waste. The technology to convert the
so-called biomass into usable power is in its infancy.
Agriculture Department spokeswoman, Deb Abbott, admits the project is venturing
into some uncharted territory.
“We don’t have all the answers. We’re gonna look for the answers and we
don’t have an exact time frame.”
Abbott says Reynolds was chosen because it’s a typical mid-west small town.
It also has easy access to manure. The state estimates more than
150-thousand hogs are within a 15-mile radius of the town.
Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, also known as factory farms, produce a lot of animal waste. Some groups are worried that a new EPA rule will be too easy on enforcement of environmental regulations. (Photo courtesy of the EPA)
A coalition of environmental groups is asking a federal judge to review an agreement between the Environmental Protection Agency and operators of large-scale livestock farms. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris Lehman
A coalition of environmental groups is asking a Federal Judge to review an agreement between the EPA and operators of large-scale livestock farms. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris Lehman reports:
The environmental groups say these large-scale farms are responsible for emitting harmful pollutants. The EPA recently offered farm operators the chance to take part in further studies on those emissions. In exchange, the agency relaxed its enforcement of certain environmental regulations during the period of the study.
The Environmental Integrity Project and three other groups recently filed a lawsuit questioning the legality of the agreement. Michelle Merkele is Senior Counsel for The Environmental Integrity Project. She says the agreement is unnecessary.
“The EPA has had the authority under the Clean Air Act to gather the kind of data it needs to determine emissions levels at these industrial farming operations. It doesn’t need the industry’s permission.”
The EPA says it believes the agreement is the best way to completely assess the situation and to eventually bring the entire industry into compliance.
Each year, monarch butterflies make a perilous migration from Mexico up to the Midwest. (Photo by Deb Walker)
Monarch butterflies are on their way north once again. The Great
Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris Lehman has an update on the threats facing
the monarchs on their long journey from Mexico:
Monarch butterflies are on their way north once again. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris Lehman has an update on the threats facing the monarchs on their long journey from Mexico:
The annual migration from Mexico to the upper Midwest takes several months. The butterflies that ultimately arrive here are the second and third generation of those that spend the winter in Mexico.
Matt Douglas is a professor of zoology at Grand Rapids Community College in Michigan. He’s studied monarchs for more than 25 years and has visited their wintering grounds in Mexico several times. He says monarchs so far have been able to withstand threats from nearby logging operations there. But he says the butterflies are far from invincible.
“You never know what’s going to hit you or when. If you have multiple bad experiences with weather or with parasites and predators, you’re not going to have many monarchs.”
Douglas says if all goes well, people in the Midwest should begin to see monarch butterflies starting in late May.
Vegetables are a great way to get vitamins and minerals. But studies show techniques for faster-growing and bigger vegetables could be producing plants that actually have less of these health benefits. (photo by Justin Richards)
Vegetables are less nutritious than they were 50 years ago. That’s according to a new study that tested 43 different garden crops. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris Lehman reports:
Vegetables are less nutritious than they were 50 years ago. That’s the finding of a new study that tested 43 different garden crops. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris Lehman reports:
Researchers analyzed U.S. Department of Agriculture nutrition data from the past 50 years. They found that levels of several vitamins and minerals decreased by as much as 38% in garden crops over the time period. Don Davis is the lead author of the study. He’s with the University of Texas Biochemical Institute. He says the decline could be the result of decades of breeding plants to produce more and bigger vegetables.
“There’s emerging evidence that when you genetically select for higher yields, you get a plant that grows bigger and faster but it isn’t necessarily able to produce nutrients or uptake minerals from the soil at the same faster rate.”
Davis says despite the fact that vegetables have fewer nutrients in them, he says they’re still the most efficient way to get vitamins and minerals into your system.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Chris Lehman.
Wind turbines can be both a blessing for farmers, as a source of extra income... and annoying to the neighbors. (Photo by Lester Graham)
Wind farms of huge turbines are springing up along coastlines,
windy ridges and blustery farmland. Most of us see them from a distance.
The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris Lehman recently visited some
of them up close… and has the first of two reports on wind energy:
Wind farms of huge turbines are springing up along coast lines, windy ridges and
farmland. Most of us see them from a distance. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Lehman recently visited some of them up close… and has the first of two reports on
If you can imagine the sight… there are 63 wind turbines scattered across the
their huge blades sweeping around, capturing energy from the wind. Each turbine is
high. You can see them from miles around. But it isn’t until you stand directly
80-foot long blades as they rotate in the wind that you begin to appreciate their size…
(sound of wind from underneath turbine)
“This is probably a typical day. They’re probably producing at about 30 percent of
what they are
rated at, and probably on average, for a year, this is what you’d expect.”
Christopher Moore is Director of Development for Navitas Energy. The Minnesota- based
company opened the Mendota Hills Wind Farm in northern Illinois just over a year ago.
Q: “What are some of the highest levels that you’ve reached?”
“Each turbine is capable of producing 800 kw, and there are times when we’ve had the
working at about maximum.”
Moore says the Mendota Hills Wind Farm produces enough electricity to power about 15-
thousand homes per year. It’s the first wind farm in the state of Illinois.
Brian Lammers is a Project Manager for Navitas Energy. He says the location is
ideal since it’s
windy here nearly all year long…
“The wind here is more robust in the fall, winter and spring. So we have more
those months than we do during June, July, August.”
Unfortunately, the summer months are the months that most often experience peak
electricity. Because of that, and because it takes so many windmills to generate
lower amounts of
power, it’s unlikely that current wind energy will completely replace fossil fuel
(sound of turbines)
On the flat prairies of Illinois, the giant turbines are the tallest structures for
miles around. You
begin to wonder about things like lightning strikes…
“We might have experienced one or two last year. The turbines are protected from
entire wind farm is grounded, so if there is a strike typically it will just be
grounded down to the
ground grid. There’s typically no long-term damage associated with a lightning
strike. But as you
can imagine, they’re the tallest structures around so there are periodic lightning
Q “What about a tornado? This is tornado country…what would happen if one came
“I don’t know. These turbines are built to withstand everything but a direct strike
from a tornado,
so I think the same thing would happen to a wind turbine that would happen to any
structure if they were struck by a tornado. You’d probably have some significant
(fade up sound inside turbine)
Inside the turbine, there’s a distinct hum as the blades whirl away at the top of
the hollow shaft.
It’s about ten feet across at the base, and a metal ladder allows anyone brave
enough to climb all
the way to the top.
Despite the hum of the turbine’s blades up close, the sound fades away just a few
dozen feet from
the tower. But noise isn’t much of a concern for this wind farm. It’s in the
middle of a soybean
field and there are no neighbors nearby.
Noise is just one of the aesthetic concerns for neighbors of wind farms. Appearance
The Mendota Hills turbines are coated with a special paint that appears white in
But when the sun’s not out, the turbines appear grey, and seem to blend in with the
Dennis Cradduck has 19 of the turbines on his corn and soybean farm. He says the
hasn’t been a problem. Of course, he’s getting paid by Navitas for allowing the
turbines on his
land. But he says the wind farm has led to an unexpected benefit: getting to meet
across the country who pull off the highway for a closer look…
“We get people almost on a daily basis that drive by on the interstate and see them,
and stop and
want to look at them, and they’re amazed at them, and most—about 99 percent of them
positive comments. In fact, one fellow from North Carolina stopped the other day
and said ‘I wish
we’d build more of these around the country because we need renewable energy.'”
The prospect of more renewable energy is appealing to most environmentalists. But
that wind farms can be deadly to birds. A study by the National Wind Coordinating
found that wind turbines kill an average of two birds per year.
Another concern is that windmills disrupt the scenery. But the only view around
here is farmland
as far as the eye can see. And on this brisk day, it isn’t just corn and soybeans
being harvested: it’s
the power of wind.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Chris Lehman.