UI Study: More consumers choosing locally-produced foods


A shot from the Iowa City Farmers Market in 2011. (Alan Light/Flickr)
A shot from the Iowa City Farmers Market in 2011. (Alan Light/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | August 27, 2015

A new study by researchers at the University of Iowa finds that American consumers are choosing to shop at local food markets more than ever before.

The study was led by Ion Vasi, an associate professor with joint appointments in the Department of Sociology and the Tippie College of Business, who shared his findings during the American Sociology Association Annual meeting in Chicago last weekend. Vasi found that consumers are supporting local food producers not just because they think the food tastes better but also because they like knowing who grows their food.

“It’s not just about the economical exchange; it’s a relational and ideological exchange as well,” Vasi told Iowa Now.

Farmers markets, food cooperatives, community-supported agriculture providers (CSAs), and other local food markets create what sociologists call a “moralized market,” which allows consumers to combine economic activities with their social values. Vasi’s research found that communities with a strong commitment to civic participation, health, and the environment were more likely to be supportive of local food markets. These markets were also more likely to thrive in areas with higher levels of education and income and where institutions of higher education are located. Researchers on this project conducted 40 interviews with producers and consumers in different local food markets in Iowa and New York.

Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show there were 8,268 farmers markets in the U.S. in 2014 compared to 3,706 in 2004. The data also show that Iowa currently has 229 farmers markets.

On the Radio: Record blue-green algae blooms causing health concerns


(Bobby McKay / Flickr)
(Bobby McKay / Flickr)
August 24, 2015

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at public health concerns over the record number of blue-green algae blooms in Iowa this summer. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: Blue green algae causing health concerns

Toxins from dangerous algal blooms are appearing in record numbers across the state this summer.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The most recent report from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources advises Iowans to avoid two beaches that exceed healthy levels of a toxin produced by cyanobacteria, also known as blue green algae. This brings the total number of advisories this summer to 25, already ahead of the record of 24 set in 2013.

Toxic cyanobacteria blooms are an indirect effect of nutrient runoff and weather conditions aided by climate change. That’s according to CGRER’s Peter Thorne, head of Occupational and Environmental Health at the University of Iowa:

“Higher surface temperatures and reduced mixing of hot surface water with deeper colder water, and increased nutrient loads, produce growth of toxic cyanobacteria which make the water unsuitable for consumption.”

Contact with the blooms can cause severe sickness and even death in humans and animals, and fish kills like one in Crystal Lake that claimed the lives of thousands of fish in July. Continued sunny and dry conditions will likely lead to more warnings in Iowa lakes before the end of the summer.

For more information about algal blooms, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org. From the UI Center for Global & Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Qnu-7MPn8I

NASA astronauts consume lettuce grown in space


The International Space Station orbits above the United States's east coast in 2012. (NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center/Flickr)
The International Space Station orbits above the east coast of the United States in 2012. (NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | August 12, 2015

Astronauts in the International Space Station did something this week that’s never been done before: grow and eat food in space.

The astronauts on Expedition 44 harvested red romaine lettuce from NASA’s experimental plant growth system called Veg-01. This system consists of a “microgravity environment in which plants grow from seed ‘pillows’ under primarily red and blue LED lights.” The first “pillows” were activated and nurtured by the crew on Expedition 39 in May 2014. These plants grew for 33 days in space before returning to earth and undergoing a food safety analysis at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The current crew will eat half of the lettuce harvested and preserve the other half for scientific analysis when the crew returns to earth. NASA scientists cite that developing methods for sustainable food production in space will be crucial in the agency’s Journey to Mars mission, which aims to send humans to Mars by the 2030s.

“The farther and longer humans go away from Earth, the greater the need to be able to grow plants for food, atmosphere recycling and psychological benefits. I think that plant systems will become important components of any long-duration exploration scenario,” NASA Project Scientist Gioia Massa said in a statement.

The Expedition 44 crew consists of astronauts from Japan, Russia, and the United States. The crew is expected to return to earth in December.

Midwest researchers come together for research project


Doug Schnoebelen, left, explains early 20th century mussel production along the Mississippi River during the CZO-IML conference on July 29, 2015. (Photo by Nick Fetty)
Doug Schnoebelen explains early 20th century mussel production along the Mississippi River during the CZO-IML conference on July 29, 2015. From left, Schnoebelen, Praveen Kumar, Thanos Papanicolaou, and Chris Wilson. (Photo by Nick Fetty)

Nick Fetty | July 30, 2015

Roughly 30 students, professors, and researchers from six different institutions met in Muscatine this week to discuss a collaborative research effort to improve land, water, and air quality in the Midwest.

This Midwestern project is part of a nation-wide project known as the Critical Zone Observatory (CZO) an effort by the National Science Foundation to “[study] the zone where rock meets life.” The Midwestern project is called the CZO-IML (Intensely Managed Landscapes) and focuses on watersheds and lands in Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota.

The Lucille A. Carver Mississippi Riverside Environmental Research Station (LACMRERS) in Muscatine hosted the IML-CZO conference which began Tuesday and ends today. This marked the second annual meeting for what will be a five year project.

“The first year was a lot of planning and field campaigns. The second year we’ve collected some data will be able to get that back to look at the results. We finally have some things to discuss, some real science,” said LACMRERS Director Doug Schnoebelen.

Schnoebelen, who also serves as a contributor for the IML-CZO project as well as a member of CGRER, said he hopes this research will be helpful not just for farmers and watershed managers but also for the general public.

“We’re hoping to look at an integrated approach and that’s what the Critical Zone is, being able to say something about water movement, soil conservation, transformation of carbon and energy in the environment. All of these things are really critical to the soil, the water, and the way we live.”

The conference brought together researchers from Indiana University, Northwestern University, Purdue University, University of Illinois, University of Iowa, and University of Tennessee. Schnoebelen said this emphasis on collaboration over competition has been key to the success of the project. He added that he is also grateful the CZO chose to support a Midwestern research project since much of the CZO’s other research takes place on the coasts.

“I think it was important when the national team came out and they realized how managed our landscape was and how important this research really was. It’s not just flyover country in the Midwest, it’s a critical part of our economy for food and energy.”

On the Radio: Unexpected consequences of beef hormones on aquatic ecosystems


Cattle in the snow near Monmouth, Iowa (Phil Roeder/Flickr)
Cattle in the snow near Monmouth, Iowa (Phil Roeder/Flickr)
July 13, 2015

This week’s On the Radio looks at new research suggesting beef hormones can make their way to waterways for longer periods than originally thought. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript:

Transcript: Beef hormones and waterways

A powerful growth hormone used on cattle may be having unexpected consequences on U.S. waterways.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

An Indiana University study co-authored by two University of Iowa researchers shows that trenbolone acetate, or TBA, a growth hormone given to cattle, may be making its way to streams and rivers in an unexpected and highly potent form. That’s according to lead author and CGRER member Adam Ward:

“These are incredibly potent steroids; we designed them to be potent. We designed them to persist so they don’t break down in cattle and continue to have that impact. And when these reach the environment, they do the same thing to fish.”

In the case of TBA, the byproduct is a new compound called 17-alpha-trenbolone, a powerful endocrine disruptor that can affect the reproductive processes of fish and can even cause sex changes from female to male.

“That means the product, what is unexpectedly made in the environment, is more harmful than what we put into the environment.”

For more information about this study, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global & Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jerry Schnoor.

http://www.missourifarmertoday.com/news/livestock/hormones-released-into-environment-persist-longer-than-expected/article_bbe8101a-04a0-11e5-ae13-a77458cdfbb3.html

http://news.indiana.edu/releases/iu/2015/05/beef-hormone-exposure.shtml

Poll shows majority of Iowa farmers support Nutrient Reduction Strategy


Riparian buffers are one way to protect waterways from agriculture run off such as this one on Bear Creek in Story County, Iowa. (Merrill College of Journalism Press Release/Flickr)
Riparian buffers are one way to protect waterways from agricultural runoff such as this one on Bear Creek in Story County, Iowa. (Merrill College of Journalism Press Release/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | June 12, 2015

A recent poll by researchers at Iowa State University shows that many Iowa farmers are aware of the Nutrient Reduction Strategy and support its objectives.

The Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll has been conducted each year since 1982 and is “the longest-running survey of its kind in the nation.” The 2014 edition asked farmers about their awareness and knowledge of the 2013 nutrient reduction strategy, their awareness and concern about nutrient-related water quality issues, attitudes toward the strategy, and perceived barriers to action. Surveys were sent out to 2,218 farmers in February 2014 and 1,128 (51 percent) replied with usable data.

Just over 20 percent of farmers surveyed identified as “not at all knowledgeable” in regard to the nutrient reduction strategy while 21.6 percent identified as “knowledgeable” or “very knowledgeable.” More than 75 percent of farmers either agreed (60.8 percent) or strongly agreed (15.3 percent) that agriculture is impacting Iowa water quality. When asked if they think nutrients from Iowa farms contribute to hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico, just over 50 percent said they either agree (40.9 percent) or strongly agree (11.2 percent) while roughly 40 percent said they were uncertain. Nearly 85 percent of respondents said they agree (63.3 percent) or strongly agree (20.3 percent) that “Iowa farmers should do more to reduce nutrient and sediment run-off into waterways.”

“Viewed as a whole, the results of the 2014 Farm Poll indicate that substantial progress has been made in raising farmers’ awareness of the Nutrient Reduction Strategy. This is a critical step. However, the challenge going forward will be to translate awareness and positive attitudes into much more widespread use of conservation practices and farming systems that lead to sustained progress toward nutrient loss reduction goals,” the poll’s authors concluded.

The poll was collaboration by the ISU Extension and Outreach, the Iowa Agriculture and Home Economics Experiment Station, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, and the Iowa Agricultural Statistics Service.

On the Radio: Energy from manure to receive a boost


(dmblue444/Flickr)
(dmblue444/Flickr)
June 8, 2015

This week’s On the Radio segment looks to a new standard that could give a boost to an energy industry that utilizes animal manure. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: Energy from manure to receive a boost

BY NICK FETTY

A RECENT CHANGE BY THE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY, COULD BOOST AN ENERGY INDUSTRY IN IOWA THAT UTILIZES ANIMAL MANURE.

THIS IS THE IOWA ENVIRONMENTAL FOCUS.

LAST SUMMER, THE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY REVISED ITS RENEWABLE FUELS STANDARD TO GIVE BIOGAS MORE VALUE IN THE FUEL MARKETPLACE. THIS HAS MADE IT SO THAT THE FUELS DERIVED FROM ANIMAL MANURE AND OTHER SOURCES CAN BETTER COMPETE WITH BIOFUELS SUCH AS ETHANOL. METHANE GAS IN PARTICULAR CAN BE EXTRACTED FROM THESE RESOURCES AND USED TO CREATE RENEWABLE ENERGY.

A 2013 REPORT BY THE NATIONAL RENEWABLE ENERGY LABORATORY FOUND THAT IOWA LED THE NATION IN THE AMOUNT OF METHANE AVAILABLE FROM ANIMAL MANURE.

IOWA STATE UNIVERSITY TEAMED UP WITH THE DES MOINES-BASED COMPANY –“ECO-ENGINEERINGS” TO CREATE AN INTERACTIVE MAP AND WEBSITE THAT ALLOWS USERS TO VIEW THE AMOUNT OF METHANE-CONTAINING WASTE IN THEIR AREA.

FOR A LINK TO THE MAP OR TO READ MORE ABOUT THIS INITIATIVE, VISIT IOWA.ENVIROINMENTALFOCUS.ORG.

FROM THE UI CENTER FOR GLOBAL AND REGIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH, I’M JERRY SCHNOOR.

http://iowaenvironmentalfocus.org/2015/04/23/animal-manure-could-create-a-new-energy-market-in-iowa/