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.

Natural Illinois

Jul 1, 2011
Adeline Jay Geo-Karis Illinois Beach State Park is at Zion on Lake Michigan.
Adele Hodde / Illinois Department of Natural Resource

With large a backlog of maintenance and repair needs, state parks such as Starved Rock, shown here, are unable to replace even basic items such as interpretive panels that are worn out or defaced.
Chris Young

A backlog of repairs and maintenance at Illinois state parks has piled up to the tune of three-quarters of a billion dollars, and no one is sure how the Illinois Department of Natural Resources is ever going to catch up.

DNR says nearly $750 million in repairs and maintenance are needed. 

“It is truly a staggering amount,” says former DNR director Brent Manning. “If you allow things to go downhill, depreciate in a very significant fashion, replacement costs get higher and higher.”

South fork of the Apple River in Jo Daviess County
Helping Others Maintain Environmental Standards

Matthew Alschuler couldn’t believe his eyes. The South Fork of the Apple River near his home in Jo Daviess County was flowing in front of him, and it was the color of grape Kool-Aid.

His first thought last fall was of the nearby unfinished “mega-dairy” that was somewhat operational. “He’s done it again,” Alschuler says he thought. “We’d complained about previous discharges before, but this was just staggering. The guy doesn’t even have cows there yet.”

Much like counting calories can sometimes cause people to make healthier food choices, seeing in black-and-white terms how much power you are using may inspire you to use a little less and maybe turn off some lights.
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Illinois’ outdated electrical grid needs extensive work as power demands grow. The state needs all the bells and whistles of new technologies that could make power more reliable and help to cut down on energy usage. And above all, it needs to move forward with the upgrades quickly to avoid eating the dust of other states making such improvements.

So say those backing legislation recently approved by the General Assembly that would allow the state’s two biggest utility companies to raise customers’ rates so they can invest billions in the grid. 

Dana Heupel
WUIS/Illinois Issues

The voice on my radio this morning intoned that this was the seventh-wettest spring in Illinois since records began being kept in 1895. Statewide, we slogged through an average of 15.4 inches of the wet stuff from March through May, 4.3 inches above average.

And then came June, with an early heat wave that stoked temperatures up into the 90s across Illinois and much of the eastern part of the nation. And that followed this spring’s horrendous tornado outbreaks in Missouri, Alabama and elsewhere, along with the disastrous floods down South.

Celebration of Nature: The Art of Lorado Taft's Illinois

Dec 1, 2010
Most of the original Eagle’s Nest structures, meant to be temporary housing for the “campers,” have been lost to time and the elements. Taft’s cabin is one of the three remaining structures.
Tom Handy

In 1911, high on the bluffs near Oregon, Ill., a 48-foot concrete statue known as Black Hawk was unveiled — a massive, robed figure with arms crossed, gaze fixed upon the Rock River. As the unveiling ceremony progressed, the statue’s sculptor, Lorado Taft, was called upon to speak.

The Healing Ground: Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie Photo Essay

Jul 1, 2010
Photographs courtesy of The Wetlands Initiative and Renee Thakali, U.S Forest Service
Renee Thakali / The Wetlands Initiative & U.S. Forest Service

Gradually, the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie is growing into its name. 

About 2,000 acres of the 19,000-acre complex has been restored to tallgrass prairie, and the wetlands and woodlands there are increasingly inviting to flora and fauna.

The evolution of the site, located about 50 miles southwest of Chicago, suits the name Midewin, which comes from the Potawatomi word for healing.

WUIS/Illinois Issues

When Lynn Miller eases into the seat of his recumbent bike and heads down the Interurban Trail between Springfield and Chatham, he’s putting a lot more than miles behind him.

That’s because getting the thin ribbon of asphalt to stretch 8.71 miles between the two communities took years. Planning started back in the mid-’90s. Then it took a second heroic effort to keep the link from being severed shortly after it opened.

“Thank God it worked out the way it did,” Miller says. “For a while, we thought the trail was going to be a goner.”

Editor's Note: A Few Tips on How to be Greener

Jul 1, 2010
Dana Heupel
WUIS/Illinois Issues

I generally try to follow this well-known admonition of my era: Think globally, act locally.

However, I also must agree with another famous slogan — more from my son’s era, actually — by that astute amphibian Kermit: It’s not easy being green.

Barges go between the Des Plaines River and the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Fairy tales aside, ugly ducklings don’t become beautiful swans — biology just won’t have it. Likewise, transforming a sewage canal into a lush and lazy river may be a bit unrealistic. At least that’s the position of Chicago’s sewage handlers when it comes to disinfection and recreation on the city’s manufactured waterways. 

Turbines at the Twin Groves Wind Farm near Bloomington
WUIS/Illinois Issues

When a railcar manufacturer shuttered its Clinton plant a decade ago, the sudden loss of 150 jobs was another troubling sign of economic woes plaguing small towns throughout Illinois. But now the factory is back open and retooled to churn out some of the state’s hottest commodities: components for wind turbines sprouting up across the flatlands.

Chad Pregracke is a man on a mission. Raised “10 feet from the river” in Hampton near East Moline, he grew up with the Mississippi as his playground. As a teenager, he worked in its silt-filled bottoms as a mussel diver and quit college to be a commercial fisherman. But his passion for wanting his view of the river free from debris has led to his life’s work. At 34, he is director of the nonprofit foundation Living Lands & Waters, and as such, he and thousands of volunteers over the past 15 years have collected tons of trash from the banks of the Mississippi, Illinois and Ohio rivers.

Utilities don’t profit from the cost of energy. They simply pass that cost on to their customers, which accounts for about two-thirds of their overall bills. Utilities make their profits from a charge to deliver that power.
WUIS/Illinois Issues

The ease of flipping a switch on a kitchen wall masks the complicated process that flows electricity to homes and businesses.

Electricity customers can be blissfully unaware that the process underwent a regulatory facelift of sorts over the past two years. Commonwealth Edison, which serves the northern part of the state, and Ameren Illinois, which serves the central and southern regions, no longer procure their own power loads.

The Illinois Power Agency does it for them.

Bethany Jaeger
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Tricia Krause asked Crestwood residents to tie color-coded ribbons around their trees to demonstrate the village’s “epidemiological cancer map.”

“And, therefore, it would show the significance of how many people are sick in the village — because there are so many,” she says.

An artist’s depiction of FutureGen, the near-zero emissions coal plant proposed for construction in Mattoon.
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Although concern over climate change has escalated in recent years, America won’t stop burning coal anytime soon. Coal-fired power plants generate half the nation’s electricity, while creating more than a quarter of all the harmful carbon dioxide pollution in the United States.

Wetlands store rainwater to keep it from running off and harbor a diversity of plants and animals.
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Everyone knows what happens when you withdraw more from a bank account than you deposit into it. 

And with heavy rains swelling rivers and keeping farmers on the sidelines this spring, it might be hard to believe Illinois’ bank account of fresh water could ever be in the red. But with a growing population, especially in northeastern Illinois, demand for water for residences, power generation, agriculture and other uses likely will continue to increase. Some communities already are forecasting water shortages by the year 2020.

This three-story, 2,500-square-foot modular house sits in a park on the grounds of the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. It includes a green-roof garden as well as photovoltaic film, which harvests daylight and provides much of the electricity.
JB Spector / Museum of Science and Industry

Levinthal likes the idea of saving money on energy and doing his small part to reduce global warming. So when he built his new home in north suburban Glenview, he incorporated solar panels that will lower his utility bill and generate electricity to sell back to the power company. He uses geothermal and radiant heating systems and captures sunlight through skylights and well-placed windows for extra heat and light. Building green also meant choosing renewable woods such as bamboo for flooring and foam insulation made from recycled newspapers. 

The Illinois House chamber uses a ventilation system that circulates air from columns in the chamber to the attic, where the air is filtered and dispersed over the lawmakers’ desks.
Bethany Jaeger / WUIS/Illinois Issues

State Sen. Mattie Hunter says she used to leave her home in Chicago feeling perfectly fine. But as soon as she walked off the elevator on the way to her office in the Capitol in Springfield, her nose would run. The headaches would start.

“The pounding headaches, you know?” she says. “And it never happened until I got into this building on this floor.”

She says she has asthma, sinusitis and a mold allergy, so she felt particularly sensitive to the air quality. She wanted to know whether the sixth-floor office space was making her sicker.

Dana Heupel
WUIS/Illinois Issues

As you’re probably aware, this is our annual environmental issue. It isn’t that we neglect environmental coverage the rest of the year; it’s that the health of the planet that we leave to our children and theirs — in areas such as water, air and energy — is so important that it deserves the focus of an entire edition of any public policy magazine.

Bethany Jaeger
WUIS/Illinois Issues

During the closing hours of their spring session, legislators debated whether the state should change its rules so a Nebraska-based energy company could invest in a central Illinois coal plant using pollution-control technology.

The plan fell just shy of the votes needed, further delaying the $2.5 billion project that’s been in the works for years.

It’s the second time the General Assembly rejected the plan, making supporters question whether that’s the final straw for Tenaska Inc. to give up on constructing the proposed Taylorville Energy Center.

The Chicago City Hall Garden
City of Chicago — Department of Environment

A mere generation ago, Chicago was known as a colorful but smoggy, water-polluting metropolis. Now, Nelson Algren's gritty "City on the Make" is home to the most rooftop garden space in the nation. It's a place that encourages the owners of homes and buildings to go green.   

Nature is a foreign country to those raised in the city. And just as advanced cultures have always sought out foreign countries — especially primitive ones — in which they might indulge themselves in ways forbidden at home, nature-lovers of this country often find satisfactions in doing and thinking things in nature's world that are forbidden in their own. 

Critics Dismissed: An Inconvenient Truth as a politically driven statement.

There are two sides to every story, and each side deserves equal play. It's a basic principle of news reporting called balance, and it's designed to ensure a more complete story while minimizing complaints about bias.

But when it comes to coverage of global warming, some say balance is the problem. As one critical study puts it, balance means bias.

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.