An Illinois River Almanac Jason Haupt's Energy and Environment Blog Sun, 15 May 2005 13:02:08 -0500 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb322/rss.xml Look But Don’t Touch https://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb322/entry_13358/ Mon, 21 May 2018 10:38:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb322/entry_13358/ Spring is a wonderful time of year. It is a time of warmer weather, a time of renewal, a time of mud, and a time of new birth. I love seeing birds return to the area. Waking to the sound of birds singing is wonderful. With the return of wildlife to our yards, means the return of baby animals as well. Every year I get a few questions about how to care for abandoned baby animals. If you suspect you have abandoned animals in your yard here are a few things to keep in mind.

Leave them alone. I cannot stress this enough. If you think you have abandoned animals, the fact is more likely than not they are not abandoned.

With birds, a nest may appear to be abandoned but the fact that you are near the nest or have been near the nest will keep the parents away for a while. This is a very common behavior. When a parent bird senses what it perceives as a predator the most common response is to leave the nest alone and try and draw the predator away. If the parents keep returning to the nest it can lead the predator right to the young. Some of the most interesting bird behaviors are the ones that keep their nests safe. Killdeer as an example will move away from the nest and pretend to have a broken wing to lead predators away from the nest.

Rabbits are another animal that seems to be found and assumed to be abandoned. Most mammals do not leave the den until they are at least partially independent and for the most part, weened. The general rule of thumb is if the eyes are open there is not any danger in leaving them alone. Young rabbits should be left alone if they are found. The mother will move dens regularly during the first part of the year. This helps to protect the young from predators. The mother will lead the young to the next nest site and though they might get separated the mother will come back for any young left behind.

Handling animals pose dangers to you and the animals. Improper care for a wild animal does more harm than good and can result in the death of the animal in question. Animals are also carriers of diseases that can be passed on to both your pets and to you, so interacting with wild animals should be avoided as much as possible.

The ONLY reason to help an animal is if your dog or cat has cornered or captured the animal. Make sure the animal is still alive. If it is still alive contact a local wildlife rehabber. A local rehabber can be found at http://web.extension.illinois.edu/wildlife/professionals.cfm. You can search by county and find a rehabber that is close to you. They will give you instructions on what to do and how to get the animal to them.

Spring is a wonderful time of year. When I was growing up, upon entering a store with my mom was often prefaced with the phrase "Look but Don't Touch." The same principle holds true for wildlife. "You Can Look but Don't Touch."

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An Organic Question Part 4- Health https://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb322/entry_13323/ Mon, 14 May 2018 10:30:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb322/entry_13323/ The issue of organic food is a very complicated one and if you read the last three article on the subject, you know that there is a lot to unpack in the question of "Is Organic Better?" The original driver behind the push for organic food was a push to be more environmentally conscious about our food but the question of whether organic is more healthy has also arisen.

The first claim – "organic food is better for you because it has more nutrients." There have been a number of research projects that have looked into this claim, and they all found no evidence to support this statement. I mentioned in the first article that the biggest factor in the nutrient content of the produce we eat has more to do with how fresh it is, not how it was produced. In one study organic produce when compared to traditional produce, has no significant difference in nutrient content. The biggest differences found in produce, both organic and traditional, were those taken directly from the field compared to produce purchased from a grocery.

The second and by far the most concerning health issue associated with organic vs traditional produce is the use of chemicals on our food. Pesticide residue is found in some concentration on all traditionally produced food. Though pesticide residue is concerning for all food, the biggest danger is in what the Environmental Working Group has labeled the "Dirty Dozen." This list is very easy to find and is updated every year. The EWG tests produce looking at the concentration of pesticides and pesticide residues on food. Foods make their way onto the list based on the concentration of pesticides. The EWG also puts out a "Clean Fifteen" list and you guessed it. These are the foods with the lowest concentrations.

Organic food can be expensive. For many, reducing the exposure to pesticides on our foods is the target. Using the "Dirty Dozen" as a guide is a good way to ensure that you and your families exposure to these chemicals are reduced. If you do not have access to the list, a good rule of thumb to follow is if you are eating the skin, leaves or stalk, or the skin is thin you might be better off buying organic. If the skin is thick your risk is lower and traditional produce is okay.

The best way to ensure that you are getting the most out of your food and reduce your exposure to pesticides is to grow your own food or buy food grown locally. Develop a relationship with the people who grow your food and you will have a great idea of how it is produced. It is also much fresher than what you would typically find in the grocery store increasing its nutrient value. Farmers markets are available throughout the state, and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) projects are amazing ways to find fresh, local, and seasonal produce that tastes better and is better for you. To find a CSA near you check out www.localharvest.org/csa.

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An Organic Question Part 3- Carbon Footprint https://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb322/entry_13322/ Mon, 07 May 2018 10:29:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb322/entry_13322/ The issue of organic food is a very complicated one, and if you read the last two articles on this subject, you know that there is a lot to unpack in the question of "Is Organic Better?" The original driver behind the push for organic food was a push to be more environmentally conscious about our food and reduce the environmental impact of our food production.

Though there are many environmental concerns, one of the major concerns is the carbon footprint of our food. The term carbon footprint refers to the amount of carbon that is emitted during the production, transportation and for certain foods the preservation or processing of our food. Different foods present different sized footprints, but one of the advantages of organic food production is the potential for the reduction of carbon emissions.

As a whole, organic food has a smaller carbon footprint when compared to traditionally grown produce. Local food grown using non-organic methods has the smallest carbon impact.

I mentioned in the first article that one of the biggest disadvantages to organic food is the labeling. The expense of obtaining an official "Organic" label restricts who is able to afford the certification process. The need to produce a large quantity of food under these practices to offset the cost of the certification process means that the majority of food produced "organically" is done on an industrial scale. This then means that though the certified organic food that you are finding in your grocery stores is using organic practices in the production of the food, they often have a much larger carbon footprint than food that is grown in a small responsible manner that is not able to afford the official label.

Organic food production does not eliminate the use of tractors and other mechanical farming practices. The organic label simply restricts how the food is produced through the restriction of the use of chemical inputs on the fields. Reducing the chemical inputs has a huge impact on the carbon footprint of the food that we eat. The production, transportation, and application of these chemicals are very carbon intensive. Simply by removing these chemicals from the farming practices has a huge impact on the carbon footprint of our food.

In addition to the need for certified organic production to be larger scale production, most of the certified organic food is produced outside Illinois. This further adds to the carbon footprint of the food. The transportation of the food, which is done primarily through over the road trucking, has a very high carbon cost. On the other side of the coin, much of the non-organic food that we eat has a much higher transportation cost. Much of this food is produced outside the country and is flown into the country.

Eating locally grown food can have a huge impact on the carbon footprint of our food. Many local growers and community supported agriculture groups use organic practices when growing their produce. Getting to know your local growers will allow you to know how your food is grown and you will have confidence that you are reducing your foods carbon footprint as much as possible. Farmers Markets are very easy to find and many local grocers have started to carry food produced by local farmers and producers. Find a local grower at www.localharvest.org.

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An Organic Question Part 2 - The Environment https://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb322/entry_13321/ Mon, 30 Apr 2018 10:29:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb322/entry_13321/ The issue of organic food is a very complicated one. If you read the last article on the subject, An Organic Question, you know that there is a lot to unpack in the question of "Is Organic Better?" The original driver behind the push for organic food was a push to be more environmentally conscious about our food and reduce the environmental impact of our food production.

As I said in the previous article, there are both advantages and disadvantages to organic production practices. There is research showing that there are advantages and disadvantages to organic farming. A paper published by a group of researchers headed by a US Department of Agriculture researcher noted that under current practices, though there are advantages (higher soil nutrients, soil organic matter, and lower global warming potential) there are some disadvantages as well (higher soil erosion and higher nitrous oxide emissions).

Concerted efforts to improve soil health through increasing soil nutrients and soil organic matter play a large role in creating the advantages of organic farming practices. Higher soil nutrients mean that crops production reduces or eliminates the need for chemical nutrient input before, during, or after the growing season. A combination of many practices including crop rotation, cover crops, and the use of compost or other natural nutrient sources make this possible. Higher soil organic matter further plays a role in increasing the soil nutrients through providing a slow release of nutrients throughout the growing season but it also plays a role in increasing the water storage capacity of the soil. The increase in water storage capacity reduced the need for watering. Many organic farming practices also look at the reduction of water in their considerations. Using drip irrigation and other water conservation techniques to reduce the amount of water needed to grow their crops.

The lowering of global warming potential is two sides of a coin as this can be both an advantage and a disadvantage. The use of cover crops and buffer strips around fields provide greenhouse gas emissions offsets. By not using pesticides and chemical nutrients, there is a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the production of these products. However, as was mentioned in the previous article certified organic produce often has a very large carbon footprint. Because the cost of certification is highly restrictive, the majority of organic produce that is available in grocery stores uses industrial techniques using tractors and other heavy equipment. In addition, the majority of organic produce is grown outside Illinois. This requires transportation, using over the road trucks, further increasing the carbon footprint.

The industrial organic farming techniques are the major factors in the disadvantages to organic food. The increased carbon footprint is accompanied by the increase in Nitrous Oxide (NOx) emissions. Using diesel engines throughout the production process and the transportation of organic produce greatly increases the NOx released into the atmosphere. NOx is a major factor in smog creation.

The best way to reduce the environmental impact that your food has is to buy from local producers. Many of them use organic practices and the smaller farms have very small carbon footprints. Find a local grower at www.localharvest.org or go to your local farmers market.

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An Organic Question Part 1 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb322/entry_13320/ Mon, 23 Apr 2018 10:28:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb322/entry_13320/ A few days ago, I was presented with a very interesting question. The person in question wanted to know if there was anything to the "Organic is Better" claim. And my answer was "well that is a complicated answer." There is a lot to unpack here and I will do my best.

The way that I see it, there are two major themes that need to be considered when we are talking about the advantages to organics. There is an environmental and health consideration.

Environmental issues are the ecological impact, carbon footprint, nutrient and soil erosion, and greenhouse gas emissions. There is research showing that there are advantages and disadvantages to organic farming. A paper published by a group of researchers headed by a US Department of Agriculture noted that under current practices, though there are advantages (higher soil nutrients, soil organic matter, and lower global warming potential), there are some disadvantages as well (higher soil erosion and higher nitrous oxide emissions).

The carbon footprint of organic food also tends to be a grey area. Though the production of organic food can be a smaller carbon footprint, organic food does not exclude the use of heavy equipment in its production. Much of the organic food that is found in grocery stores require significant transportation, further increasing the carbon footprint of the food.

Another issue with organic food is the labeling system. There is a certification process that must be done for food to be labeled "Organic" this is an expensive process and many small local farms that grow food using organic methods cannot afford to get this certification. This means that large "industrial" farms are the only ones that can afford to have this label.

Research regarding nutrients of organic and nonorganic foods showed no significant difference in the two. The biggest factor in nutrient content had more to do with how fresh the product was and not its production technique.

The biggest health concern is the presence of residual chemicals on produce. According to the USDA, the biggest danger that is presented here is on the surface of the produce not in the produce itself. If you can peel the produce you are removing the biggest danger of exposure to the residual chemicals. Check the Dirty Dozen List (based on USDA findings and published by the Environmental Working Group) for foods that are recommended you buy organic.

If you are truly concerned about the environment and reducing your exposure to chemicals through the food that you eat, the best thing that you can do is to buy local produce. Develop a relationship with the people who grow your food and you will have a great idea of how it is produced. Locally grown is fresher than what you would typically find in the grocery store increasing its nutrient value. Farmers markets are available throughout the state, and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) projects are amazing ways to find fresh, local, and seasonal produce that tastes better and is better for you. To find a CSA near you check out www.localharvest.org/csa.

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Waste Not Want Not https://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb322/entry_13324/ Fri, 20 Apr 2018 10:31:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb322/entry_13324/ What if I told you that you are throwing approximately $400.00 per person in your home in the garbage and you may not even realize. The truth is that Americans as a whole throw away more food than any other country. Roughly fifty percent of all produce in the US finds its way into our landfills. Estimates from 2016 are sixty million tons of produce that is an estimated $160 Billion. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), the single biggest fraction of waste in our landfills is wasted food.

People in the US are terrible about wasting food. Americans throw approximately one third of food purchased away. Either through purchasing food and never preparing it or by never eating leftover food.

Food waste is not just a problem of the consumer it is all the way down the line. Food is relatively inexpensive in the US and Americans are particular about what their food looks like. We live in a culture of Instagram food and perfectly shaped fruits and vegetables. As a whole we do not buy misshaped, oddly shaped, brown, bruised, or slightly damaged produce. This ends up leading to grocers throwing away a large amount of produce without even putting it out for purchased.

According to an interview with producers done for an article published by The Guardian producers know that some produce will not even be sold based on how it looks so large amounts of produce doesn't even make it out of the fields. Produces are leaving ugly or misshaped produce in the fields, composting it, hauling it directly to landfills, or feeding it to livestock.

As consumers, we have the power to make changes and reduce the waste of food. First, we can make a conscious effort to eat the prepared food in our homes. If we make this effort to eat all that we buy, we can make a significant impact on the food that ends up in our landfills. We can also make an effort to do smaller shopping trips only purchasing what is needed for a couple of days rather than a week or multiple weeks. Second, if we as consumers were to make a choice to purchase produce not based on its appearance we could drive the market to include all produce not just the "pretty" produce. Many grocers have started selling "ugly" fruit at a reduced price and this is a great first step to show grocers that there is a market for all produce. Finally, we can work with our communities and governments to push for the inclusion of compostable waste collection. If we were to include this in our local trash collection it will reduce our waste landfill waste and will also provide a good source of nutrients that would be available without using fertilizers.

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Turn the Lights Out https://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb322/entry_13254/ Tue, 03 Apr 2018 08:15:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb322/entry_13254/ We have a natural fear of the dark. Whether it is the fact that we cannot see the edge of the table to protect our toes or because we fear the monsters that are hiding in the shadows, darkness makes us uncomfortable. Our battle over the dark extends back in time and it seems that we are finally driving the darkness back. But is this a good thing? As little, as 100 years ago in all but the largest cities, the Milky Way was visible but even in rural Illinois, the Milky Way is not visible. This loss of visible stars is known as Light Pollution.

Light Pollution has many negative effects other than not being able to see stars and the Milky Way. Light Pollution has negative effects on wildlife. Birds migrate at night and it is suspected that much of their navigation is based on the stars. Bright lights in cities can confuse migrating birds slowing the migration potentially stranding birds in areas. The constant light also affects nocturnal and diurnal animals. Nocturnal animals are not as successful in hunting without the darkness to cover them. Diurnal animals are also extending their foraging times. Constant light also has a negative effect on humans. The constant light has been shown to affect the circadian rhythm.

Light pollution has far-reaching effects. In addition to affecting wildlife, it has had an impact on astronomical research reducing the effectiveness of ground telescopes. Many of us have been driving in rural areas and have seen a glow on the horizon or a bubble of light that surrounds a city or town. For me, this is an eyesore on the night sky. One of the things that I find very enjoyable is sitting beside a fire just looking at the stars. If you have been out to Montana you know how many more stars are visible compared to here in Illinois. This is the result of light pollution.

Here are some very effective ways of reducing light pollution:

  • Turn off Lights- This is the simplest and the most effective way of reducing light pollution. Unless the lights are needed turn them out.
  • Shield your lights- Direct your light to the ground. You are not trying to light up the night (at least I hope not). Having a simple shield will direct the light to the ground where it is needed.
  • Reduce the number of lights- Work with your local government to reduce the number of street lights. Only having every other light lit is an option. It saves the community money and reduces the amount of light emitted. Changing the building codes to require new homes and neighborhoods to have lamp posts in the front yard rather than large light poles.
  • Reduce the wattage- Look at using a lower wattage bulb in your outdoor lights. Find a bulb that is bright enough for the job and no brighter.
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