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.

Dan Boyce/Rocky Mountain PBS for Harvest Public Media

On the worst day of Greta Horner's life, she was dressed in a burlap robe, waiting by the window for her husband to come home from work.

The couple was down to one car. The other one was in the shop. She donned the costume for a play, set in Old Jerusalem, later that morning, part of Vacation Bible School at the church. She just needed the car to get there. 

Monarch butterflies are disappearing.

Populations of these distinctive black and orange migratory insects have been in precipitous decline for the past 20 years, but scientists aren't exactly sure what's causing them to vanish.

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

The country's top agriculture official is declining to comment on some of the largest proposed mergers the farm economy has ever seen.

Courtesy of Oxfam America

Thousands of chainmail-clad workers with knives and hooks keep a modern poultry plant running, churning out the millions of pounds of poultry we eat every year. The job is difficult and demanding, especially for line employees who make the same motion for hours, struggling to keep up with a fast-moving disassembly line. 

A new report from Oxfam America paints an even bleaker picture. 

The population of northern Colorado is booming, and we're not just talking about people here.

The number of dairy cows is now higher than ever.

At the northern edge of the state, Weld and Larimer counties are already home to high numbers of beef and dairy cattle, buttressed by the region's numerous feedlots, which send the animals to several nearby slaughterhouses. But an expansion of a cheese factory owned by dairy giant Leprino Foods will require even more cows.

Photo by Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

The population of Northern Colorado is booming. People are flocking to the area and population numbers are on the rise.

The same thing is happening with dairy cows.

Weld and Larimer counties already sport high numbers of beef and dairy cattle, buttressed by the region's feeding operations. But an expansion of a cheese factory owned by dairy giant Leprino Foods will require even more cows to churn out the milk needed to produce bricks of mozzarella cheese and whey protein powder.

Photo by Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

 

Food waste is an expensive problem. The average U.S. family puts upwards of $2,000 worth of food in the garbage every year.

What some see as a problem, however, others see as a business opportunity. A new facility, known as the Heartland Biogas Project, promises to take wasted food from Colorado's Front Range and turn it into electricity.

Americans throw away about a third of our available food.

But what some see as trash, others are seeing as a business opportunity. A new facility known as the Heartland Biogas Project is taking wasted food from Colorado's most populous areas and turning it into electricity. Through a technology known as anaerobic digestion, spoiled milk, old pet food and vats of grease combine with helpful bacteria in massive tanks to generate gas.

file: Pat Aylward/NET News

Every year Americans spend billions of dollars to grow, process and transport food that's never eaten.

ReFED, a group of nonprofits and foundations, say they have a roadmap to keep that from happening. Their plan focuses on preventing food from ending up in the trash in the first place, and diverting it to a more beneficial use when it does get tossed out.

Don Graham/Flickr

Cuts to the crop insurance program will again be a talking point on Capitol Hill.

The budget drafted by President Obama and released Tuesday would make cuts to the crop insurance system, allocate more funds for agricultural research and fund the summer program that provides free meals to children.

Courtesy: National Christmas Tree Association

It's the time of the year when Katie Abrams sees her Fort Collins, Colo., neighbors pulling up with real trees tied to car roofs. She feels small pangs of jealousy when friends post woodsy pictures in flannel shirts, cutting down the perfect spruce.

"It all sounds really nice," Abrams says. "And then once you go out and do it I can just imagine all the steps involved."

That's about when she pulls out the fake tree from the garage. An act that terrifies U.S. Christmas tree growers.

Photo by Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

Close to 60,000 jobs are set to open up in agriculture, food and natural resource sectors each year for the next five years, according to a report from Purdue University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The American agriculture industry has a problem though: there are not enough grads to fill those jobs. The report projects about two open jobs for every qualified graduate. That's left the USDA, land grant universities and private industry scrambling to try and bridge the gap.

Photo by Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

All week, Harvest Public Media's series Choice Cuts: Meat In America is examining how the meat industry is changing the U.S. food system and the American diet.

Beef, poultry and pork are staples of the American diet, baked into the country's very culture, and backbones of the agricultural economy. But lately, the meats have been saddled with some baggage.

Harvest Public Media flie photo by Peggy Lowe

Have you noticed your grocery store's organic section starting to spill over? It's not your imagination. The organic sector is raking in the dough.

The country's certified organic farms sold $5.5 billion in organic products in 2014. That's a 72 percent increase since 2008, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2014 survey of organic agriculture shows. The goods that brought in the most cash were organic milk, eggs, chicken, lettuce and apples, according to the survey.

Photo by Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

Jeff Siegfried knows just about anything you'd ever want to find out about a 50-acre corn field in northern Colorado.

The 24-year-old easily rattles off the various gadgets he uses to measure soil moisture, plant health, air temperature.

Photo by Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

Breaking up is a hard thing to do. It's even harder when you're a publicly traded, multinational seed or chemical conglomerate. Monsanto, the St. Louis-based seed company that produces the widely-used herbicide RoundUp, had to learn that lesson the hard way. The world's largest seed company announced Wednesday that after months of wooing, it's no longer pursuing Switzerland-based Syngenta, the world's largest producer of farm chemicals. The courtship began in early summer 2015 when Monsanto made an initial bid to purchase Syngenta's chemical operations.

Photo by Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, is attempting to swallow up the chemical operations of Syngenta, the world’s biggest producer of pesticides and other farm inputs. The proposed deal signals a change in focus for the agricultural giant, and could have ripple effects across farm country.

By its own admission, Monsanto lags behind in chemistry research. To correct that, and possibly find new ways to combine chemicals and biotech crops, Monsanto wants to buy the Swiss chemical company.

Photo by Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

Idaho's so-called "ag-gag" law, which outlawed undercover investigations of farming operations, is no more. A judge in the federal District Court for Idaho decided Monday that it was unconstitutional, citing First Amendment protections for free speech.

But what about the handful of other states with similar laws on the books?

Photo by Poncie Rutsch/KUNC

 

Many of the more than 3 million migrant farmworkers that plant and pick the fruits and vegetables we eat in the U.S. live on the farms they work for. But the rules that govern farmworker housing may be changing, worrying both farmers and migrant worker advocates.

Photo by Stephanie Paige Ogburn

Food companies the world over are paying close attention to the groundswell of support for food transparency, the “know where your food comes from” movement.

JBS, the largest meat producer in the world, is beginning to take notice as well.

But executives with JBS USA, the North American arm of its Brazilian parent company, at the same time acknowledge that the very nature of their business is grisly, gory and sometimes unpalatable.

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.

Courtesy of Mercy for Animals

A Morgan County, Colorado, dairy farm is at the center of an animal abuse investigation following the release of a video showing workers punching and stabbing dairy cattle.

Morgan County Sheriff Jim Crone has yet to press criminal charges against workers shown in the videos, but says he’s working with the farm’s owners Jim and Marie Goedert to locate current and former employees. In a statement, the Goederts say they’ve taken disciplinary action against the employees involved.

Photo by Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

Once a regular dining option, a mix of cultural and economic factors pushed lamb off the American dinner table. To put the meat back on the menu, ranchers and retailers are being encouraged to reach out to a more diverse set of consumers, specifically American Muslims and Latinos.

Chipotle Goes GMO-Free

Apr 28, 2015
Photo by Mr.TinDC/Creative Commons

Chipotle Mexican Grill said Monday that it completed a task that had remained elusive for years: removing all food products derived from genetically engineered crops from its menu.

The Denver-based company is the first national restaurant chain to make the change.

Photo by Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

Nate Storey’s greenhouse in west Laramie, Wyoming is packed with vegetables growing in long, upright plastic towers.

Storey’s set-up is an urban farmer’s dream: the waste from fish tanks fertilizes the crops through plastic tubing that drips water onto the vertical garden. The greenhouse is small, but produces a lot of food.

Like a proud father he shows off bok choy, butter lettuce and spinach.

Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

 

A battle is brewing in the organic food industry.

The largest trade association for organic farmers, marketers and processors wants growers to help pay for promotional campaigns, using a decades-old funding model that paid for iconic ads like “Got Milk?” and “Beef: It’s What’s For Dinner.” But deciding how to spread the organic message is dividing the sector into factions.

Peggy Lowe/Harvest Public Media file photo

Call it “peak farmers market.” Or maybe the plateau of “know your farmer.”

Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

When Jon Slutsky’s dairy farm in Wellington, Colo. is fully staffed, it’s a moment to celebrate.

Sonja Salzburg for Harvest Public Media

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.

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.

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