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.

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. 

Aaron Chambers
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Joe House is out the door by 3 a.m. in the winter months. He departs each morning to patrol some 30 farms around Princeville, his hometown just north of Peoria, for raccoon. He surveys his traps for four hours each morning, then heads to the local high school to teach agriculture. Each year, he says, he usually catches between 100 and 150 raccoons. In 1997, a great year for him, he caught 350.

Peggy Boyer Long
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Ask central Illinois photographer Larry Kanfer what he can possibly find in this flat and seemingly empty landscape and, like any true Midwesterner, he’ll talk about the history of towns, the cycle of seasons and, of course, the significance of weather.

In awe-inspiring detail. The first thaw? That’s usually January 20 or so, when a bit of black earth shows through the snow and there’s a slight scent of spring in the air. Never mind that February will then seem as unending as the horizon. Spring is a certainty. So are summer and fall.

Farming is as fickle a calling as politics, and every farmer expects a bad year now and then. But 2001 was the fifth in a string of bad years. In April, a bushel of corn fetched $1.87 on the open market and soybeans were bringing $4.23, in both cases much less than it cost to grow them. 

Jason Lindsey

Vermont is a long way from the Mississippi River. But with the right boat and some time, it’s possible to get there, traveling a long and circuitous route up the Illinois River, through the Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal, into the Great Lakes and ultimately down Lake Champlain to Burlington. 

Illinoisans had reasons to think of Vermont this spring. That tiny state became the epicenter of a national political upheaval when Vermont’s Sen. James Jeffords renounced the Republican Party in May, thereby switching the U.S. Senate to Democratic control.

Jason Lindsey

On a spring morning in Johnson County, a chorus sings of the southern Illinois that once was. 

As the rising sun sends shafts of light into the deep green of Heron Pond, songbirds twitter, barred owls hoot and pileated woodpeckers provide the percussion. Great blue herons squawk and stretch their wings on branches of bald cypress, looking for all the world like pterodactyls. 

It seems a shame to ask such a question in the great state of Illinois, where Powell grew to maturity and developed the values and ideas that shaped an incredible career. Unfortunately, the question will prove a poser to the vast majority of the state’s residents, who know nothing of this pioneer scientist, heroic war veteran, steely eyed explorer, consummate Washington bureau chief and visionary environmentalist. 

Illinois has much to learn from this foster child of the prairies. Yet we have forgotten him.

Peggy Boyer Long
WUIS/Illinois Issues

A few weeks back, the mallard made her way to the bay from the hosta bed nearest our house, where she had, improbably, chosen to build her nest. That corner of the garden went unweeded for a month. Then one morning, tiny ducklings crowded close on their mother’s tail for their first swim. I counted five. I won’t count again. The great horned owls had begun, as they always do, searching out nests of their own in late February, sending five-note night calls through the still woods across the lane. They will be a dark presence through high summer, swift and silent in flight.

Jon Randolph

Kane County

With 10,000 residents moving into Kane County each year, farmers like Randy Klein wonder how much longer there will be room for them amid the subdivisions sprouting on former cropland west of Chicago.

Aaron Chambers
WUIS/Illinois Issues

The Illinois Department of Agriculture has it all worked out: First, slaughter all exposed cattle, pigs and sheep within a three-mile radius, then quarantine another seven miles beyond that.

Foot-and-mouth disease hasn't made it to Illinois, or to the United States for that matter, but state and federal officials are nonetheless braced for the worst. They've taken steps to prevent the disease from spreading to this country. And they've prepared detailed response plans should it arrive.

Everybody is jumping on the clean coal bandwagon. The buzzword is clean coal, heard in the newspaper offices, radio and TV stations, township halls, city halls, county courthouses, state legislatures and the Governor's Mansion in Illinois. The talk of clean coal is in the U.S. Congress and the White House.

The U.S. government made one big boo-boo in the 1990 Clean Air Act disaster. The coal underground today was on top of the ground 300 million years ago. In the last 11 years the coal mines have just about become as extinct as the dinosaurs.

Mike Cramer

It's courting season for nature lovers in Chicago as they wait for the "City in a Garden" to get over an infatuation with aviation at Meigs Field and commit to a new marriage of urban life and natural history.

Environmentalists are panting over the 90 acres of Northerly Island, where the airport now sits off Burnham Harbor.

Maybe this isn't the best moment to bring up the subject of global warming.

Black-crowned night heron
Joe Milosevich

Illinois' best hope of protecting its endangered wetland birds may be to shore up their natural habitats.

Each spring, herons, egrets, blackbirds and terns migrate to this state's wetlands to mate, nest and breed. But these ecosystems, so rich in bird life, also are the most threatened, says Steve Bailey of the Illinois Natural History Survey. In fact, 90 percent of this state's original wetlands are gone. As a result, such species as the black and yellow-crowned night herons and the snowy egret are declining in Illinois.