Luke Runyon

I'm a reporter with Harvest Public Media based at KUNC, covering the wide range of agricultural stories in Colorado.

I came to KUNC in March 2013, after spending about two years as a reporter with Aspen Public Radio in Aspen, Colorado.

During my time in Aspen, I was recognized by the Colorado Broadcasters Association and Public Radio News Directors, Inc. for my reporting and production work. My reports have been featured on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.

I'm the product of two farm families in central Illinois, which is where I spent most of my formative years. Before moving to Colorado I spent a year covering local and state government for Illinois Public Radio and WUIS in the state's capital. I have a Master's degree in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois Springfield, the same place where I completed a Bachelor of Arts in Communication.

Newscast for Monday, August 24, 2015, 5:32 PM:
 

Newscast for Friday, August 21, 2015, 5:32 PM:
 

  • Construction is underway in Pueblo County large solar array that will generate enough electricity to power around 30,000 homes.
     
  • Colorado’s apple orchards are bearing less fruit this year.

Newscast for Friday, 8/14/15, 5:32 PM:

  • Officials in Colorado have reopened the Animas River to boating.
     
  • A lieutenant colonel at Fort Carson faces a court-martial on charges of viewing child pornography on a government computer while in Afghanistan.
     
  • A recent report from Colorado State University says if Great Plains farmers adopt more conservation practices, their carbon emissions could be drastically reduced.

The marijuana industry has a pesticide problem. Many commercial cannabis growers use chemicals to control bugs and mold. But the plant's legal status is unresolved.

The grow room at Medical MJ Supply in Fort Collins, Colo., has all the trappings of a modern marijuana cultivation facility: glowing yellow lights, plastic irrigation tubes, and rows of knee-high cannabis plants.

"We're seeing a crop that's probably in it third or fourth week," says Nick Dice, the owner.

It’s May in Rocky Mountain National Park, but on a mountainside 10,829 feet above sea level, snow is falling. It’s pelting Jim Cheatham, a biologist with the National Park Service. Shrugging off the cold, Cheatham seizes a teachable moment. This snow, he said, holds more than just water.

“Chances are it’s carrying the excess nitrogen we’re talking about,” mused Cheatham.

For the past eight years, the biologist has spent most of his time thinking about how nitrogen pollution is changing the park’s forests, wildflowers, and alpine lakes. He’s also been looking for a way to stop it.

'Prayer And Work' Go Hand In Hand At This Colorado Ranch

Jan 22, 2015

Many beer aficionados are familiar with the rare breweries run by Trappist monks. The beer is highly sought after, but it’s not the only food or drink made by a religious order. Many abbeys and convents have deep roots in agriculture, combining farm work with prayer.

Just five miles south of the Colorado-Wyoming border you’ll find one of these places. Idyllic red farm buildings sit in the shadow of the main abbey, all tucked in a stony valley. At the Abbey of St. Walburga, cattle, water buffalo and llamas graze on grass under the watchful eye of Benedictine nuns.

Humans have been growing hemp for centuries. Hemp-based foods have taken off recently. So have lotions and soaps that use hemp oil. Studies underway now are examining how different compounds in cannabis could be used as medicine. There’s hope its chemical compounds could hold keys to medical treatments for Parkinson’s disease and childhood epilepsy.

Scientists studying industrial hemp say the plant holds a tremendous amount of promise. But to unlock its potential there’s very basic scientific research to be done.

The average American farmer is a white man in his late 50s. Or at least, that's who's in charge of the farm, according to new data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But the number of female-run farms has tripled since the 1970s, to nearly 14 percent in 2012. And if you dig a little deeper, you'll find women are showing up in new roles. But because of the way farm businesses are structured, women's work often isn't included in those USDA counts.

Copyright 2014 KUNC-FM. To see more, visit http://kunc.org.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Voters across Colorado cast their final ballots yesterday on state and local issues and candidates. 

Ben Hamilton walks down the salad dressing aisle at his neighborhood grocery store in west Denver. The human resources consultant usually seeks out organic options and scans nutrition information.

"I am a label reader. I think a lot of people read labels and really are curious to know what is in our food supply," he says. But Hamilton says he wants more information, specifically whether the food he buys includes ingredients derived from genetically modified crops, or GMOs.

Voters in Colorado will decide whether or not they want the state to require labels on foods containing genetically modified ingredients, or GMOs. The 2014 ballot measure highlights a much larger national conversation about the safety and prevalence of genetically modified foods.

If passed, food companies and farmers would need to affix on a food label the text: "Produced with genetic engineering" if the product contains certain genetically modified crops and their derived oils and sugars that end up in processed foods. Those in favor of the proposal, Proposition 105, claim consumers have a right to the information. Those opposed say it amounts to a fear campaign.

When Colorado legalized recreational marijuana use earlier this year, it also opened the door for food products infused with the psychoactive ingredient, THC, to anyone over the age of 21. That means bakers and food companies now have to ensure new products aren't contaminated with foodborne pathogens. And they have to make sure they're not falling into the hands of children or are too potent to eat.

Editor's note: This story contains language that may be offensive to some readers.

Life as a gay man in the U.S. has changed in the past decade — the law and cultural attitudes toward homosexuality have shifted. And those greater social and legal freedoms have also changed how some gay men choose to express their masculinity — and their femininity.

Mutton Busting: A Rodeo Tradition

Jul 24, 2014
Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media & KUNC

A furry beast, a brave rider and a roaring crowd make up the list of ingredients for the Western rodeo tradition known as “mutton busting.” Think of it as bull-riding, but for 6-year-olds, and the furry beast is actually a wooly sheep.
 

Mutton busting has its roots in Colorado, where it was first introduced in the 1980s at the National Western Stock Show in Denver. The crowd-pleaser is now a favorite at many rodeos and county fairs across the Midwest and Great Plains.

The most recent farm bill is allowing a handful of farmers across the country to put hemp, the nonpsychoactive cousin of marijuana, in the ground.

The bill allows small-scale experimentation with the plant. But despite the new law, many farmers say they're getting mixed messages from the federal government.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

The blue corduroy jacket worn by high school students in FFA, formerly the Future Farmers of America, is an icon of rural life. To the average city dweller the jacket is a vestige of dwindling, isolated farm culture, as fewer and fewer young people grow up on farms. The numbers tell a different story however. In spite of that demographic shift, a record number of kids are donning blue jackets this year.
 

Climate Change Could Benefit Some Invasive Plants

Mar 18, 2014
Luke Runyon / KUNC and Harvest Public Media

Most climate models paint a bleak picture for the Great Plains a century from now: It will likely be warmer and the air will be richer with carbon dioxide. Though scientists don’t yet know how exactly the climate will change, new studies show it could be a boon to some invasive plant species.
 

Gallup

Colorado is no longer the least obese state in the country, according to a new Gallup poll released yesterday. KUNC’s Luke Runyon reports.
 

Since 2010 Colorado has consistently topped lists as having the slimmest population in the country. Not anymore. Montana has usurped the title, where 19.6% of the population is obese, compared to Colorado’s 20.4, putting the Centennial State in second place. Mississippi has the highest level, at 35 percent.

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The U.S Department of Agriculture is setting up seven new research hubs across the country to help farmers adapt to climate change. And as KUNC’s Luke Runyon reports, one will be in northern Colorado.
 

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says in the past few years farmers across the Midwest have grappled with epic drought, mega-blizzards and crippling heat.

Where there's pot, there's pot brownies. But how do you make sure those high-inducing sweets are safe to eat?

Colorado regulators are wrestling with that question now that the state has legalized recreational marijuana. From sodas and truffles to granola bars and butter, food products infused with THC – the chemical in marijuana that gives you a high — are already for sale.

Colorado Imposes Food Safety Rules On Marijuana Industry

Jan 29, 2014
Luke Runyon / KUNC and Harvest Public Media

 
Colorado made history when it opened up licensed marijuana retail shops. Aside from just legalizing the purchase of smoke-able marijuana, it also means pot brownies have the potential to be big business.

Food products infused with marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient, THC, are available in stores across the state.

Marijuana, though, is still considered illegal by the federal government. The existing food safety system, which relies heavily on support from federal agencies, can’t ensure that marijuana-infused foods are safe.

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Colorado’s fledgling recreational marijuana industry has a new set of rules to live by. And as KUNC’s Luke Runyon reports, many of them deal with food safety.
 

Until now, products infused with THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, didn’t have to be tested in a lab. But manufacturers of so-called “edible marijuana products” must now test their creations for foodborne pathogens like E.Coli and salmonella, plus a test to see how potent it is.

When you picture a housing development in the suburbs, you might imagine golf courses, swimming pools, rows of identical houses.

But now, there's a new model springing up across the country that taps into the local food movement: Farms — complete with livestock, vegetables and fruit trees — are serving as the latest suburban amenity.

Luke Runyon / KUNC and Harvest Public Media

For decades, housing developments in the suburbs have come complete with golf courses, tennis courts, strip malls and swimming pools. But make way for the new subdivision amenity: the specialty farm.

A new model for suburban development is springing up across the country that taps into the local food movement. Farms, complete with livestock, vegetables and fruit trees, are serving as a way to entice potential buyers to settle in a new subdivision.

Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

Past the razor-wire fences, beyond huge metal gates, behind thick walls, you’ll find one of the most unique dairies in the country. The Four Mile Correctional Center in Cañon City, Colo., is home to what could very well be the country’s largest herd of domesticated water buffalo – buffalo milked for their rich, frothy milk.

At the Four Mile dairy, inmates run the milking parlor, not a farmer in overalls. And it’s not black and white cows dotting the landscape, instead it’s water buffalo with big, curved horns.

Over the last 20 years, the number of sheep in the U.S. has plummeted by half. The sheep industry has actually been declining since the late 1940s, when it hit its peak.

The sharp drop in production has left ranchers to wonder, "When are we going to hit the bottom?"

Some sheep are raised for their wool, others primarily for food. Consumption of both products — lamb meat and wool — have been declining in the U.S.

Walk through a health food store and you'll find amaranth, sorghum, quinoa — heritage grains that have been staples around the world for generations. Americans are just discovering them.

There's another age-old grain that grows right here on the Great Plains: millet.

Recent flood waters have left behind plenty of damage, but there is one silver lining. Rains recharged the soil, which the 2012 drought left bone dry. KUNC’s Luke Runyon has more…

While there are still pockets of dry areas in the state, the drought has been almost completely wiped out in the foothills and northeastern plains of Colorado. State climatologist Nolan Doesken says these types of weather extremes happen. Colorado may have been drenched in rain, but Doesken says that can change in a matter of months.

As the remaining flood survivors continue to be airlifted out of towns cut off by flooding, the focus is beginning to shift to recovery. Specifically on the very reason they have to be airlifted: roads.

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