NPR Illinois Community Advisory Board identified the subject of food and health as important subjects for coverage in 2012. Health+Harvest provides for community engagement on health and food issues along with reporting on farm, field and fuel.  From seed to plate, from farmer's markets to GMOs, central Illinoisans need to know how to stay healthy and what they are eating.  In 2013, NPR Illinois joined a consortium of public media in the Harvest Public Media network.  The network provides broader coverage to Midwest food issues.

By examining these local, regional and national issues and their implications with in-depth and unbiased reporting, Health+Harvest fills a critical information void.

Support for Health+Harvest coverage comes from Central Illinois Farm Bureaus and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.  If you'd like to support this initiative, please contact Nice Bogdanovich at 217-206-9847.

Peggy Boyer Long
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Nine summers ago, we published the first of what would become an annual issue devoted to Illinois' natural environment. With this edition, we aim to start a new tradition.

Each summer, we will assess the evolving relationship between nature and culture in an annual environment and arts issue. We think this is (excuse the expression) a natural next step. After all, our environment is, and always has been, a social construct. It is how we perceive it to be, how we see it or don't see it, and how that has changed over time.

Preserve gets final approval

That interplay of the river and the wetlands produced  an amazingly complex and productive web of habitats and organisms. But over the past century and a half, four million acres of wetlands in the Illinois River Basin have been lost to agriculture and other development.

If every acre of U.S. corn went from the farm field to the fuel pump, ethanol still would fall woefully short of quenching our nation's thirst for fossil fuels. That conclusion came this summer from University of Minnesota researchers, who had only slightly better news for backers of soybean-based biodiesel.

To most Illinoisans, the phrase "dead zone" suggests the Illinois Statehouse on a weekend, or Main Street after the Wal-Mart opens. But the dead zone that may end up mattering the most to Illinoisans is some 900 miles away, in the Gulf of Mexico off Texas and Louisiana. That part of the Gulf supports commercial and recreational fisheries that add some $3 billion a year to the economy. And Illinois, some say, is killing them. 

Grocery aisles offer something for everyone these days: low-sodium soup for adults with high blood pressure, gluten-free pasta for children with wheat allergies and "Certified Humane Raised and Handled" meats for animal lovers of all ages. 

UIS biology student Andy Grant and high school student Nick Boltuc wade through a thick stand of giant ragweed at the unrestored LaGrange refuge near Meredosia.
University of Illinois at Springfield

Illinois is striving to preserve and protect its last few wild places — even, occasionally, returning farmland to Nature. The Illinois River Valley and the Cache River Basin are two areas of the state rich in habitat and in various stages of restoration, regeneration

Few disciplines ask quite so much as the study of history. Consider for a moment the millennia intervening since the invention of written language. Couple to that the resilience of human cultures spread across the globe. The sheer task of recording it all — much less explaining what happened and why — levels the imagination. 

Bethany Jaeger
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Worrying about the environment seems rather trendy these days. That's not to demean former Vice President Al Gore's new global warming film, An Inconvenient Truth, nor is it to belittle increasing awareness of global warming. But the reality is that we often don't start caring about an issue until we learn how it relates to our checkbooks or, worse, our health.

Peggy Boyer Long
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Among my memories of the 1970s — filed between images of motorists seething in long gas lines and Iranian militants kidnapping U.S. embassy staff — is the picture of President Jimmy Carter on national television in the winter of 1977 announcing his new energy policy.

Wearing a practical, grandfatherly cardigan, Carter managed to wrap the growing global energy crisis in old-fashioned can-do. Americans could, Carter assured them, reduce their dependence on oil if they simply used less of it.

Peggy Boyer Long
WUIS/Illinois Issues

We knew it was hot. But forget the TV weather guy's comparisons to last summer's heat index, or even   the summer's before that. Try telling the neighbors we're living in one of the warmest periods of the past 100,000 years.

We've had good reason to think about the weather this year. But the scientists over at the Illinois State Water Survey in Champaign tend to think much longer term, and they've concluded it's warmer by 7 degrees to 8 degrees Fahrenheit than the last stage of the ice age that ended 11,000 years ago.

On the hottest of Chicago's summer days it's not unusual to see an illegally uncorked fire hydrant gushing to the delight of neighborhood children. It's also not uncommon to see a city worker bottle up that fun with the conscientious turn of a wrench.

Call it an early message in moderation for Lake Michigan's young benefactors. Or a microcosm of water management for the Great Lakes region. Either way, the scene illustrates a lesson learned by local policymakers.

Late one night as I stood on the deck of a two-masted schooner motoring up Lake Michigan, I had an encounter with history. The Malabar was a replica of schooners that worked the lakes by the thousands in the final decades of the 19th century. That was part of the history I sensed. Part of it, too, was personal history, the memories of a lifetime brought vividly to mind while seeing new places, or old places in new ways.

The Great Lakes have beckoned for more than 30 years now. I have witnessed these inland seas in all their varied moods, from the tranquil silence of a summer afternoon to the pregnant violence of a spring morning. 

There has been much to write, several ways of seeing. In a single paragraph, any decent writer can paint an image of a fawn lapping from the waters of Lake Michigan. Couple that thought to the knowledge of deadly effluents seeking the same lake every day. What matters is the seeing. 

Editor's Notebook: It's summer reading time, naturally

Jul 1, 2005
Peggy Boyer Long
WUIS/Illinois Issues

We ignore at our peril the power and indifference of nature. 

This is worth considering as we head into the far side of summer. Before we hit that hiking trail or take to Lake Michigan in a canoe, we might want to stay indoors long enough to pick up a couple of books that render this essential point in hair-raising detail.

Pat Guinane
WUIS/Illinois Issues

It's not easy to make a molehill out of a 90-foot mountain.

But because of some prickly family politics, Gov. Rod Blagojevich has managed to overshadow sweeping environmental legislation that would shutter illegal dumps, including the giant mound of bricks, concrete and dirt that looms large in Ford Heights, one of Chicago's poorest suburbs.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Heading north on Interstate 39 on a summer day as the land rises from the Illinois River valley, a motorist sees a strange sight ahead on the horizon to the west: a shimmering company of slender figures, languidly spiraling their arms in a slow-motion ballet. The vision is not that of magical dancers on an enchanted prairie, however. Instead, it's a peek at what might become a commonplace sight in rural Illinois and a significant part of the state's energy future: a wind farm.

Perched well above $2 a gallon, gas prices hang over summer travelers like vultures. 

Yet SUVs and sedans still lumber across the landscape like the once-ubiquitous buffalo. If climbing pump prices aren't enough to convince motorists to abandon their gas-guzzling beasts, can government steer citizens to more energy-efficient modes of transportation?

Though it was nicknamed the "Prairie State" in 1842, Illinois has lost most of its natural prairie to development. Efforts to preserve Illinois' remaining grasslands and green spaces, and to protect wildlife and promote recreation, began attracting major state dollars two decades ago. But maintaining that commitment has become a preservation effort in and of itself. 

The nation’s first federally designated tallgrass prairie preserve, located in Illinois, recently opened its first trails for bicyclists, hikers and equestrians.

The threat is real. The potential targets are virtually unprotected. The weapon is low-tech and easily obtained. Government officials in charge of food safety are hesitant even to talk about agroterrorism, a word that’s entered the nation’s lexicon only recently and one that represents a potential economic catastrophe for Illinois and other food-producing states. “The fact is, agroterrorism is a very real threat,” says U.S. Sen.

Cougars in Illinois? Felis concolor dwells here again

Jul 1, 2004

Democratic governors came back to Illinois — why not cougars? Officially, Illinois has no wild cougars; the cougar is not listed as an endangered species in Illinois for the simple reason that a species can’t be endangered if it doesn’t exist. Donald Hoffmeister, former director of the University of Illinois’ Museum of Natural History, who authored what amounts to the Debrett’s of Illinois mammalia, reports that cougars were probably exterminated in Illinois before 1870. Today the only cougars in Illinois are kept in zoos and in people’s homes, illegally, as pets.

Peggy Boyer Long
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Forty-two years ago, a government biologist and science editor helped launch an environmental revolution. In Silent Spring, Rachel Carson untangled scientific jargon and unmasked industry spin to catalog the ways toxic chemicals commonly used in insecticides are reconfiguring cellular processes in plants and animals, altering the soil, the water and the air, and changing the relationship of humans to the Earth itself.

Pat Guinane
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Like the central Illinois towns of Shelbyville, Decatur and Springfield, the Metro East village of Hartford is home to a man-made lake. With estimates as large as 4 million gallons, the Hartford lake would be roughly one-fourth as large as the reservoir that provides recreation and drinking water to the state capital. But, unlike Lake Springfield, the Hartford lake is underground — and made of gasoline, not water. 

Four years ago, Yorkville, a growing community of 6,189 people in north-central Kendall County, faced a guessing game over how to make its local water supply safe to drink. 

New standards for radium were under discussion at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Getting a jump on improvements before they were handed down could save money in the long run. But guessing what the standards would be was financially risky. 

Illinois has joined 12 other states and the District of Columbia in asking the U.S. Court of Appeals to review new rules they contend will take the teeth out of the federal Clean Air Act. 

Peggy Boyer Long
WUIS/Illinois Issues

We can only imagine what the great prairies and the Great Lakes were like two centuries ago. We do know Illinois once was an ocean of tall grass, home to countless Henslow’s sparrows and regal fritillary butterflies. On the north were vast inland seas of fresh water, filled with numberless blue pike and whitefish. Now those seemingly endless grasslands are gone, the lakes depleted. 

Aaron Chambers
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Kane County is just 25 miles from Lake Michigan, one of the world’s largest sources of fresh water, yet it appears out of reach. As Kane develops new communities, or expands existing ones, county officials likely will need to look elsewhere for water.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

An alarming scenario could be brewing for the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. The potential nightmare for the state’s pollution fighters doesn’t include visions of corrosive fumes enveloping a town or toxic wastes polluting a local water supply.

Rather than chemistry gone awry, the looming disaster is rooted in the state’s fiscal problems. Simply put, the EPA could run out of money to operate in the new fiscal year, which began July 1.

Rudolf Diesel might be amazed at all the hoopla. When the late German engineer demonstrated his new high-compression engine at the 1900 World’s Fair, he powered it with peanut oil. Nowadays, peanut oil is sooner found in a restaurant deep fryer than in the fuel tank of a truck or tractor. Though the diesel engine was designed to run on vegetable oil, it’s most often powered by petroleum.

But more than a century after Diesel’s high-compression engine made its debut, vegetable oil is gaining ground. 

Howard Learner is a busy man. This might seem surprising. After all, he heads a progressive environmental think tank in the tradition-bound corn-and-bean belt. Yet this spring he could be found in Washington, D.C., promoting energy conservation provisions in the new federal farm bill, and at a wind power conference in Portland, Ore., studying the possibilities in renewable energy. At this last stop, he managed to pause long enough to take a call from Illinois.