Several lakefront communities in the region have banned certain lawn fertilizers. Naturally, some lawn care companies are opposed to the ban, and now they’re cultivating a case for court. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shamane Mills reports:
Several lakefront communities in the region have banned certain lawn fertilizers. Naturally, some
lawn care companies are opposed to the ban, and now they’re cultivating a case for court. The
Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shamane Mills reports:
(sound of waves)
The 44 lakes in Dane County are one of Wisconsin’s biggest attractions. Also eye-catching are
lawns around the lakes, but officials say fertilizer from these lawns is running into lakes,
causing stinky, ugly, algae blooms. To improve water quality, Dane County has become the latest
community in the region to restrict phosphorus fertilizer.
The Wisconsin Landscape Federation hopes their lawsuit will stop next year’s ordinance from
taking effect. David Swingle is the Federation’s Executive Director. He contends the phosphorus
ban breaks state law and is based on faulty science.
“This was an effort to try to bring attention to area lakes, the problems they’re having from
so many other sources… and lawn fertilizer really was an easy to target to grandstand on.”
County officials are reviewing the ban to see if it will hold up in court…
or whether changes need to be made.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Shamane Mills.
In the wake of the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, there’s been a lot of talk about how to balance human needs with the health of the planet. Ecologists have been trying to measure the impact of humans on the environment for a number of years, with some sobering results. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Daniel Grossman went to the New York Botanical Garden recently to gauge mankind’s ecological footprint:
In the wake of the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South
Africa, there’s been a lot of talk about how to balance human needs with the health of the
planet. Ecologists have been trying to measure the impact of humans on the environment
for a number of years, with some sobering results. The Great Lake Radio Consortium’s Daniel Grossman went to the New
York Botanical Garden recently to gauge mankind’s ecological footprint.
[Rain forest sounds, misters, tinkling of water, rain falling on leaves]
To get a good sense of the impact humans are having on earth, you could travel for weeks
on intercontinental plane flights, river boats and desert jeeps. Or, as Columbia University
biologist, Stuart Pimm suggested, visit a botanical garden. There, under the glass and
ironwork of a conservatory, Pimm says you can see a resource that humans are
over-using – Earth’s most important resource, its plant-life.
“We’re sitting in the rain forest here at the New York Botanical Society. And it’s a riot of
Professor Pimm says here beneath the misters in the Tropical Rain Forest Gallery is a
good place to start a whirlwind tour of Earth’s greenery. The air is heavy with moisture
“Rain forests are some of the most productive parts of the planet. They grow extremely
quickly and they are therefore generating a lot of biological production.”
What Pimm calls biological production most of us know as plant growth. Biologists say
all this green growth in tropical forests and elsewhere on Earth is the foundation upon
which all life rests.
“Everything in our lives is dependent upon biological productivity – everything that we
eat, everything that our domestic animals eat.”
And everything that every other animal eats as well. In a recent book, Pimm painstakingly
tallies up how much biological productivity we use. He starts with the rain forest. In the
last 50 years, loggers and settlers have cut down 3 million square miles of lush tropical
forests. Much was cut down for subsistence agriculture, a purpose Pimm says it serves
“Although the tropical forest looks rich and productive, it is a very special place. And
when you chop that forest down the areas that replace it often become very, very much
[Sound of walking around conservatory]
Pimm speaks of the toll on greenery of cities and roads and of land converted to farming
in temperate regions such as the U.S. Midwest. Then, trekking along the botanical
garden’s gravel paths, he leaves behind the tropical mists and steps into the dry heat of a
Southwestern desert. Deserts and other dry lands are not very productive, but they
account for a substantial fraction of Earth’s land surface. Most of it is grazed by flocks of
sheep, goats, camels and cattle, often causing severe damage to vegetation. When these
uses are added to the other impacts of humanity on earth’s bounty, the results are
“What silence has shown is that we are taking 2/5ths of the biological production on land,
a third from the oceans. And that of the world’s fresh water supply, we’re taking half.”
[Fade out sound of conservatory. Fade up sound of Texas frogs.]
[Sound of plane engines]
Frogs and toads croak out a spring mating ritual in a concrete drainage ditch. Nearby, a
pilot practices maneuvers in a small plane occasionally drowning out the amphibian
serenade. Living in culverts, sharing the night with droning engines, these wild animals
are never completely free of human influences. From his Stanford University office,
Professor Peter Vitousek says wherever you look, the din of human activities is
interrupting and crowding out other species. Vitousek made one of the first attempts to
tally the impact of people on plant productivity in 1985.
[Frogs fade out in time for Vitousek’s act]
“The message to me was that we are already having a huge impact on all the other species
because of our use of the production of Earth and the land surface of Earth. That’s not
something that our models predict for some time in the future or something that we’re
guessing at on the basis of fairly weak information. It’s something that we’re clearly
doing now. That’s already happening.”
Many ecologists say this conclusion is beyond doubt. What they can’t say is whether
human domination of so much of nature’s output is good or bad. University of Minnesota
Professor David Tilman says as a member of the human race himself, he appreciates the
comforts in clothing, shelter and food our lifestyles buy us. And he acknowledges that the
survival of our own species is probably not imperiled – at least for the moment – by the
destruction of others. Still, he wonders if someday we’ll regret today’s resource intensive
“I think the more relevant question to me is, ‘Are we doing this wisely?’ ‘Are we wisely
appropriating the resources of the world?’ So, my concern is that we live in a balanced
way – a way that is sustainable through generations – that we leave our children and
grandchildren the same kind of world that we have.”
An expert on the impacts of agriculture, Tilman says we’re using up more resources than
can be replaced. He says if we don’t grapple with these important issues now, by the time
the human population reaches eight to ten billion or so people later this century, it might
be too difficult for us to do enough to save the planet’s life as we know it today.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Daniel Grossman.
There’s a new kind of farmer being trained… city farmers. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Ben Calhoun has the story of someone who has dedicated his life to training them:
There’s a new kind of farmer being trained…city farmers. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Ben Calhoun has
the story of someone who has dedicated his life to training them.
Will Allen has been farming all his life. But ten years ago, he decided he wanted to do
something different. So he started ‘Growing Power.’
You’ll find Growing Power’s Farm on a busy street on the northside of Milwaukee. It’s in
the middle of a row of houses and for a farm its pretty small.
Most days you’ll also find Will Allen there. Today, Allen’s giving a tour of the place. He
leads the group through Growing Power’s four green houses. There are rows of herbs,
eggplants, compost heaps, and boxes filled with worms.
“And where do you set the worms?”
“The worms, we started out with 35 pounds of worms some five years ago. Now we
have millions of worms.”
There’s a lot to see here.
Allen pulls together a lot of pieces to make his organization work.
Growing Power has been finding people to start urban farms for more than ten years –
something Allen says is actually harder than most people think, because he says farming
is harder than most people think.
“And when I sit down with kids’ groups I tell ’em, I say, ‘ Look at my hands. If you guys
are gonna do this work, your hands are gonna look like mine, if you’re truly gonna do it.’
I’m not talking about going into a class and growing a bean in a cup. I say, ‘You’re
gonna get hot, you’re gonna get sweaty, you’re gonna get dirty, you’re going to get
frustrated sometimes.’ But I say when you grow something, it’s gonna take all that pain
Allen’s found a lot of people who want to do that type of work.
Farming projects launched by Growing Power are scattered across the Midwest.
About 80 miles southwest of Chicago is the kind of place that Allen builds – it’s called
‘Growing Home.’ Growing Home is a farming project started by Chicago’s Coalition for
the Homeless. The Coalition buses homeless people here to grow corn, beans, and
Here Milton Marks sweats as he pulls black-eyed pea plants out of the dirt. Marks used
to be an auto mechanic. And he came to the project through a city job program. Marks
says it took a while to get used to working here on a farm.
“You know, at first it put me in mind of that picture, ‘Children of the Corn.’ (laughs)
So uh, I was kinda careful when I went up in the corn field – you know what I’m saying?
Yeah, I was kinda careful. But it was interesting and I liked the concept.”
Marks isn’t working alone, and just a few bean rows over, Ron Carter is stomping a
pitchfork into the ground.
Ron became involved through a homeless shelter in Chicago. He says he’s found a new
niche for himself working here on the farm.
“I love it, I love this type of work. You know, but at first, not in my wildest dreams.
Thought that I would be interested in this type of work. It’s been an overwhelming
feeling. It’s been really, really overwhelming.”
Carter’s spent his whole life in Chicago. He says the people he knows in the city, they
just don’t farm.
But in Chicago’s Southside Woodlawn neighborhood there’s another project actually
bringing farming into the city. Right in the middle of the residential neighborhood is
what looks like a home garden – maybe 50 feet by 60 feet. It’s filled with vegetables.
Carol Hughes started this space. As we walk around the plot of plants, she describes
what she thinks is already making her project a success.
“There’s a certain serenity about being in this space. Can’t you feel it? You know, even
though you’re here and there are cars swishing by on either side of us, and other elements
of the community are out (laughs), it’s just, there’s a serenity here, there’s a quiet here,
there’s the greenery. And I love seeing that light, I love seeing things grow.”
Hughes says right now most of the people working on her project are kids. But she says
the farm is getting lots of interest from all parts of her community.
Will Allen says that’s the kind of excitement that makes a project a success. He also
says it’s something that keeps him going.
“I see it happen, every year, year after year. But to see somebody else’s face . . . ‘ I can’t
believe I grew these peppers, or tomatoes, or corn.’ You know, that’s a beautiful thing.
That’s another one of the things that keeps me doing this.”
Allen says Carol Hughes’ project will be four times bigger next year than it is this year.
He says they’ll work to purify the soil so they can use all their land. All together,
Growing Power will continue working with about 35 projects starting up throughout the
Midwest. And they say they expect five more to be up and running by next season.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Ben Calhoun.