Cleaning Up Abandoned Wells

Cleaning up abandoned wells is proving to be costly to G&O producing states. These wells are called orphaned wells. Orphan wells are when extraction companies abandon their wells and leave the cleanup to the taxpayers.

At the work site in Adams County, Colo., northeast of Denver, the orphan well unit is preparing to close off an abandoned well. 

They have more than 250 of those high-risk wells to cap by 2023, and in the past year they’ve plugged only 10. 

Instead of drilling a mile beneath the surface to extract oil, they’re about to rip pipe out of the ground. In its place, they’ll leave concrete plugs strong enough to seal the hole permanently. 

The well in question is known as an “orphaned well.” When G&O companies go bankrupt or stop taking care of their equipment, their wells fall into the state’s hands. 

Thus, the term “orphaned.”

As the current administration looks to roll back regulations to boost the O&G industry, more states with growing energy production are grappling with how to handle these types of wells, some of which pose a danger to nearby homes and schools. 

The EPA estimates there may be more than 1 million of these orphans scattered across the country. 

Last year in Colorado, the state Legislature approved a tenfold increase in funding for orphaned well cleanup. States like Alabama and Ohio have followed suit. As did Pennsylvania, where the state Department of Environmental Protection estimates there could be up to 560,000 abandoned wells. 

This led to crews like the one working northeast of Denver, which are saddled with demanding schedules, heavy equipment, explosives and other factors that make working conditions dangerous. 

Some orphaned wells are more than 100 years old. Others were drilled within the past decade. Many lack proper state records, meaning crews have to improvise when cleaning them up. 

At the edge of the site, Mike Hickey, an engineer with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s orphan well unit, braces himself for the day ahead. 

“We never operated this well,” Hickey said. “So we’re not completely sure what’s in it until we start pulling it out.”

In front of him, the rig fires up. 

Varying responses 

There are a variety of ways wells become abandoned. The well stops producing, they stop taking care of their equipment, multiple violations to the company, and bankruptcy.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission knows of 275 orphaned wells and 422 associated locations or facilities. There are likely many more. 

In Wyoming, thousands of wells were orphaned in 2014 after a coal bed methane bust. Their owners lacked the money to clean them up, so they became the state’s problem. 

In response, the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission expanded its cleanup program. It has since plugged more than 2,300 wells. Crews have also repurposed more than 100 into new water wells. 

Jill Morrison, executive director of the Powder River Basin Resource Council, an environmental group in Wyoming, says every state that has oil and gas is struggling with the cleanup task “because the industry has not been held accountable by the regulators and by the government to pay the cost of doing business.” 

Morrison also worries another bust could put Wyoming’s orphan well program budget over the edge. 

“We’re going to quickly be in the tens of millions of dollars responsible for plugging and reclaiming oil and gas wells if we don’t require upfront bonding,” she said. 

That means making companies pay the full cost of plugging wells even before they start drilling. 

Mark Watson, WOGCC supervisor, says he’s less concerned about a similar situation happening again. He points to a law passed in 2016 that allows the state to examine an operator’s financials prior to drilling. 

“We’re being more proactive with the companies,” Watson said. “We keep a lot closer tab on these operators than we did before.”

But the industry pushes back on the idea.

A week of work

But the state remains concerned about these wells. Colorado has set a deadline of 2023 to get the highest-risk ones plugged.

That includes the well northeast of Denver.

Hickey’s crew uses explosives to crack the rock around the well and then pours in concrete to seal it shut — nearly a week after starting the whole process.

“And then we cut it off 4 feet down, weld a cap on it, put identifying information on that cap, bury it, and sweep the floor,” he says. 

Hickey says his crew is working as hard as it can to meet the state’s 2023 deadline.

“We just got to get them cleaned up,” he says. “They’re not supposed to be this way. They’re contrary to our rules, and it’s our job to fix them.” 

But progress is slow. They have more than 250 of those high-risk wells to cap, and in the past year they’ve plugged only 10. 

The crew hopes to move faster, but it’s still unclear whether it will finish the job in time.

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Methane Leak in Anthem

A special meeting was held on Monday September 30th at the City Council Chambers to discuss a methane leak the City and County of Broomfield discovered during routine soil and gas testing in Anthem Highlands. Those present included the City and County of Broomfield staff, representatives from COGCC, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, and North Metro Fire Department. The source of the leak has still not been identified, and no wells will be shut down in the interim. 

This was the first time we’ve gotten to see Broomfield’s new City Manager, Jennifer Hoffman, display her leadership style. Personally, as a long time advocate for Health & Safety, Broomfield may have finally gotten the City Manager we need. 

Here is the City video from the Meeting. The meeting begins at 5 minutes into the video. Because it is a two hour video, please give it a moment to buffer on your device.

Solar Panels Pair Surprisingly Well with Tomatoes, Peppers and Pollinators

Solar panels pair surprisingly well with tomatoes, peppers and pollinators.

In ‘agrivoltaics,’ crops and solar panels not only share land and sunlight, but also help each other function more efficiently.

The world already needs more solar power. It’s clean, renewable energy, and it’s quickly outpacing the job creation and affordability of fossil fuels. But on top of that, a growing field of research suggests it can improve agriculture, too, helping us grow more food and pollinator habitat while also conserving land and water.

Big, utility-scale “solar farms” are one important source of solar power, helping complement smaller, less centralized sources like solar panels on the roofs of buildings. Solar farms take up a lot of space, though — and they thrive in places with many of the same qualities favored by food crops. As one recent study found, the areas with the greatest potential for solar power tend to already be in use as croplands, which makes sense, given the importance of sunlight for both.

“It turns out that 8,000 years ago, farmers found the best places to harvest solar energy on Earth,” said Chad Higgins, study co-author and professor of agricultural sciences at Oregon State University, in a statement.

Since crops already occupy many of those places, this might seem to cast solar farms and food farms as rivals for real estate. Yet while it’s smart to balance food and energy production, a growing field of research suggests it can also be smart to combine them. Unlike fossil fuels, one of the great things about solar power is that it’s clean enough to still use the land for food production, without needing to worry about contamination. And not only can crops and solar panels co-exist on the same land, but when combined in the right ways at the right locations, researchers say each can help the other function more efficiently than it would alone.

This idea — known in the U.S. as “agrivoltaics,” a mashup of agriculture and photovoltaics — isn’t new, but new research is shedding light on how beneficial it can be. Beyond the benefits of harvesting food and clean energy from the same land, studies suggest solar panels also boost crops’ performance — potentially raising yield and reducing water needs — while crops help the panels work more efficiently. This could increase global land productivity by 73%, while generating more food from less water, since some crops under solar panels are up to 328% more water-efficient.

Agrivoltaics won’t necessarily work the same for every location or every crop, but we don’t need it to. According to Higgins’ research, if even less than 1% of existing cropland was converted to an agrivoltaic system, solar power could fulfill global demand for electricity. That still wouldn’t be as simple as it sounds, but amid the growing urgency of climate change, energy demand and food insecurity, it’s an idea that seems more than ready for its moment in the sun.

Types of agrivoltaic systems

illustration of three different agrivoltaics systems

Three different types of agrivoltaic systems: (a) using the space between solar panels for crops, (b) a photovoltaic greenhouse, and (c) a stilt-mounted system. (Illustration: Sekiyama et al. [CC BY 4.0]/Environments)

The basic idea of agrivoltaics dates back at least to 1981, when two German scientists proposed a new kind of photovoltaic power plant “which allows for additional agricultural use of the land involved.” It has evolved in the decades since, leading to new twists on the concept that have found success in several countries, including Japan — which has emerged as a global leader in “solar sharing,” as the practice is known there — as well as France, Italy and Austria, among others.

There are three general categories of agrivoltaic systems. The original idea placed crops between rows of solar panels, capitalizing on spaces that are otherwise mostly unused (see example “a” in the illustration above). A different tactic, developed in 2004 by Japanese engineer Akira Nagashima, involves solar panels raised on stilts about 3 meters (10 feet) off the ground, creating a pergola-like structure with space below for crops (example “c” above). A third category resembles the stilted method, but places the solar panels on top of a greenhouse (example “b”).

It’s one thing to plant crops in sunny gaps between solar panels, but sowing them underneath the panels means sunlight is blocked for at least a few hours every day. If the goal is to maximize the efficiency of both the crops and the solar panels, why let one block any sunlight from the other?

Made in the shade

agrivoltaic or solar-sharing system at rice farm in Japan

Solar panels stand above a rice paddy at a solar-sharing farm in Japan. (Photo: Σ64 [CC BY 3.0]/Wikimedia Commons)

Plants obviously need sunlight, but even they have limits. Once a plant maxes out its ability to use sunlight for photosynthesis, more sunlight can actually impede its productivity. Plants native to dry climates have evolved various ways to deal with excessive solar energy, but as researchers at the University of Arizona point out, many of our agricultural crops are not desert-adapted. To successfully grow them in deserts, we make up for their lack of adaptation with intensive irrigation.

Instead of using all that water, though, we could also mimic some of the natural adaptations used by dry-climate plants. Some deal with their harsh habitats by growing in the shade of other plants, for example, and that’s what agrivoltaics advocates are trying imitate by growing crops in the shadows of solar panels.

And that payoff can be substantial, depending on the crops and conditions. According to a September 2019 study published in the journal Nature Sustainability, agrivoltaics systems can improve three important variables that affect plant growth and reproduction: air temperatures, direct sunlight and atmospheric demand for water.

The study’s authors created an agrivoltaics research site at Biosphere 2 in Arizona, where they grew chiltepin peppers, jalapeños and cherry tomatoes under a photovoltaic (PV) array. Throughout the summer growing season, they continuously monitored sunlight levels, air temperature and relative humidity using sensors mounted above the soil surface, as well as soil temperature and moisture at a depth of 5 centimeters (2 inches). As a control, they also set up a traditional planting area near the agrivoltaics site, both of which received equal irrigation rates and were tested under two irrigation schedules, either daily or every other day.

agrivoltaic system at Biosphere 2 in Arizona

A view of the agrivoltaic system at Biosphere 2 in southern Arizona. (Photo: Patrick Murphy/University of Arizona)

Shade from the panels led to cooler daytime temperatures and warmer nighttime temperatures for plants growing below, as well as more moisture available in the air. This affected each crop differently, but all three saw significant benefits.

“We found that many of our food crops do better in the shade of solar panels because they are spared from the direct sun,” said lead author Greg Barron-Gafford, a professor of geography and development at the University of Arizona, in a statement. “In fact, total chiltepin fruit production was three times greater under the PV panels in an agrivoltaic system, and tomato production was twice as great!”

Jalapeños produced a similar amount of fruit in both the agrivoltaic and traditional scenarios, but did so with 65% less transpirational water loss in the agrivoltaic setup.

“At the same time, we found that each irrigation event can support crop growth for days, not just hours, as in current agriculture practices,” Barron-Gafford said. “This finding suggests we could reduce our water use but still maintain levels of food production.” Soil moisture remained about 15% higher in the agrivoltaics system than in the control plot when irrigating every other day.

This echoes other recent research, including a 2018 study published in the journal PLOS One, which tested the environmental effects of solar panels on an unirrigated pasture that often experiences water stress. It found that areas under PV panels were 328% more water-efficient, and also showed a “significant increase in late-season biomass,” with 90% more biomass under solar panels than in other areas.

agrivoltaic system at UMass in South Deerfield, Massachusetts

Machinery can still operate among panels in an agrivoltaic setup, researchers say. (Photo: NREL [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]/Flickr)

The presence of solar panels might seem like a headache when it’s time to harvest crops, but as Barron-Gafford recently told the Ecological Society of America (ESA), the panels can be arranged in a way that lets farmers continue using much of the same equipment. “We raised the panels so that they were about 3 meters (10 feet) off the ground on the low end so that typical tractors could access the site. This is was the first thing that farmers in the area said would have to be in place for them to consider any kind of adoption of an agrivoltaic system.”

Of course, the details of agrivoltaics vary widely depending on the crops, the local climate and the specific setup of solar panels. It won’t work in every situation, but researchers are busy trying to identify where and how it can work.

A ‘win-win-win’

agrivoltaic system at UMass in South Deerfield, Massachusetts

NREL researcher Jordan Macknick and University of Massachusetts professor Stephen Herbert survey an agrivoltaic test plot at the UMass Crop Animal Research and Education Center. (Photo: NREL [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]/Flickr)

The potential perks for crops alone might make agrivoltaics worthwhile, not to mention the reduced competition for land and demand for water. But there’s more. For one thing, research has found that an agrivoltaic system can also increase the efficiency of energy production from the solar panels.

Solar panels are inherently sensitive to temperature, becoming less efficient as they warm up. As Barron-Gafford and his colleagues found in their recent study, cultivating crops reduced the temperature of panels overhead.

“Those overheating solar panels are actually cooled down by the fact that the crops underneath are emitting water through their natural process of transpiration — just like misters on the patio of your favorite restaurant,” Barron-Gafford said. “All told, that is a win-win-win in terms of bettering how we grow our food, utilize our precious water resources and produce renewable energy.”

Or maybe it’s a win-win-win-win? While solar panels and crops cool each other off, they might do the same for people working in the fields. Preliminary data suggest human skin temperature can be about 18 degrees Fahrenheit cooler in an agrivoltaics area than in traditional agriculture, according to research from the University of Arizona. “Climate change is already disrupting food production and farm worker health in Arizona,” says agroecologist Gary Nabhan, a co-author of the Nature Sustainability study. “The Southwestern U.S. sees a lot of heat stroke and heat-related death among our farm laborers; this could have a direct impact there, too.”

Generating buzz

solar panels and wildflowers (Tithonia rotundifolia)

The space around solar panels can provide valuable habitat for pollinators, hosting wildflowers like these Mexican sunflowers. (Photo: Michael G. McKinne/Shutterstock)

Aside from all the aforementioned benefits of agrivoltaics — for crops, solar panels, land availability, water supplies and workers — this kind of combination could turn out to be a big deal for bees, too, along with other pollinators.

Insects are responsible for pollinating nearly 75% of all crops grown by humans, and about 80% of all flowering plants, yet they’re now fading from habitats worldwide. The plight of honeybees tends to get more attention, but pollinators of all kinds have been declining for years, largely due to a mix of habitat loss, pesticide exposure, invasive species and disease, among other threats. That includes bumblebees and other native bees — some of which are better at pollinating food crops than domesticated honeybees are — as well as beetles, butterflies, moths and wasps.

Lots of valuable crops depend heavily on insect pollination, including most fruits, nuts, berries and other fresh produce. Foods like almonds, chocolate, coffee and vanilla wouldn’t be available without insect pollinators, according to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, and many dairy products would be limited, too, given the large number of cows that feed on pollinator-dependent plants like alfalfa or clover. Even many crops that don’t need insect pollinators — like soy or strawberries, for example — produce higher yields if they’re pollinated by insects.

And that’s the impetus behind a push for more pollinator habitat on solar farms, especially in agricultural areas where pollinators can play the biggest economic role. This is well-established in the U.K., where a solar company began letting beekeepers set up hives at some of its solar farms in 2010, according to CleanTechnica. The idea spread, and the U.K. now has a “long and well-documented success using pollinator habitat on solar sites,” as Minnesota nonprofit Fresh Energy describes it.

monarch butterfly on Mexican sunflower near solar panels

A monarch butterfly rests on a wildflower in front of a solar panel. (Photo: Michael G. McKinne/Shutterstock)

The pairing of pollinators and solar power is increasingly popular in the U.S., too, especially after Minnesota enacted the Pollinator Friendly Solar Act in 2016. That law was the first of its kind in the country, establishing science-based standards for how to incorporate pollinator habitat into solar farms. It has since been followed by similar laws in other states, including MarylandIllinois and Vermont.

Much like crops, wildflowers could help cool off solar panels overhead, while the panels’ shade could help wildflowers thrive in hot, dry places without taxing water supplies. But the main beneficiaries would be bees and other pollinators, who should then pass on their good fortune to nearby farmers.

For a 2018 study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, researchers at Argonne National Laboratory looked at 2,800 existing and planned utility-scale solar energy (USSE) facilities in the contiguous U.S., finding “the area around solar panels could provide an ideal location for the plants that attract pollinators.” These areas are often just filled with gravel or turf grass, they noted, which would be easy to replace with native plants like prairie grasses and wildflowers.

And aside from helping pollinators in general — which would likely be wise even if we couldn’t quantify the payoff for humans — the Argonne researchers also looked at how “solar-sited pollinator habitat” might in turn boost local agriculture. Having more pollinators around can increase the productivity of crops, potentially offering farmers a higher yield without using additional resources like water, fertilizer or pesticides.

The researchers found more than 3,500 square kilometers (1,351 square miles, or 865,000 acres) of farmland near existing and planned USSE facilities that could benefit from more pollinator habitat nearby. They looked at three example crops (soybeans, almonds and cranberries) that rely on insect pollinators for their annual crop yield, examining how more solar-sited pollinator habitat might affect them. If all existing and planned solar facilities near these crops included pollinator habitat, and if yields rose by just 1%, crop values could rise by $1.75 million, $4 million and $233,000 for soybeans, almonds and cranberries, respectively, they found.

Enlightening research

peppers and solar panels at agrivoltaic farm

Peppers grow under solar panels at the UMass agrivoltaic test plot. (Photo: NREL [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]/Flickr)

Farming in the U.S. has become increasingly difficult lately, due to a mix of factors from droughts and floods to the U.S.-China trade war, which has reduced demand for many American crops. As the Wall Street Journal reports, this is leading some farmers to use their land for harvesting solar power instead of food, either by leasing the land to energy companies or by installing their own panels to cut electricity bills.

“There’s been very little profit at the end of the year,” says one Wisconsin corn and soybean farmer, who’s leasing 322 acres to a solar company for $700 per acre annually, according to the WSJ. “Solar becomes a good way to diversify your income.”

Agrivoltaics may not be a quick fix for farmers who are struggling now, but that could change as research reveals more insights, potentially informing government incentives that make it easier to adopt the practice. That’s what many researchers are focusing on now, including Barron-Gafford and his colleagues. They’re working with the U.S. Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Lab to assess the viability of agrivoltaics beyond the U.S. Southwest, and to examine how regional policies might encourage more novel synergies between agriculture and clean energy.

Still, farmers and solar companies don’t necessarily need to wait for more research to capitalize on what we already know. To make money from agrivoltaics right away, Barron-Gafford tells the ESA, it’s mostly just a matter of elevating the masts that hold up the solar panels. “That is part of what makes this current work so exciting,” he says. “A small change in planning can yield a ton of great benefits!”

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Stop Fracking Our Future

Sunday afternoon, I got to participate in an amazing Peaceful Protest at the corner of Lowell Blvd. and Sheridan Parkway. I was joined by many familiar faces I’ve known for the last seven years. And many new faces of the next generation and those who are now aware of the dangers of fracking. Thank you again for everyone who spoke, everyone who planted, everyone who had the courage to come and be present. Thank you to the Elders who opened and closed the Ceremony. Thank you to Christiaan Van Woudenberg for speaking and for your continued support. And a special thank you to the Police who did not intervene and let us exercise our First Amendment Rights. 

Lakewood’s Sustainability Plan

On Thursday September 26th, I met with Jonathan Wachtel, the Sustainability Manager for the City of Lakewood. He was giving a Sustainability presentation for the American Public Works Association (APWA). Lakewood, after more than two years of collaborative planning between city staff, residents, community stakeholders, and industry experts, formally approved the Sustainability Plan on May 11, 2015. 

For the last eleven years, Lakewood has been holding Sustainability Awards Ceremonies for the City. Competition has been fierce, and the entire approach to what it means to be sustainable, has changed Lakewood down to its core. They now have an approach to creating balance in all new projects, and they have formalized their new philosophy with a Sustainability Plan and a Lakewood City Sustainability Manager. 

“SUSTAINABILITY MEANS creating balance among the environment, the economy, and society to ensure that practices and decisions do not compromise the quality of life for future generations. Sustainability is not an end goal, but an approach that recognizes the interplay between natural, economic, and social interests. As our population and economy continue to grow, we depend on the resources and services that our surrounding ecosystems provide. Sustainable development requires an understanding of these systems and how we can survive and thrive within the patterns and cycles of the natural world.”

Lakewood 2015 Sustainability Plan

Successful implementation of sustainability plans support the long-term resilience of communities. 

Here are the links to the Lakewood Sustainability Plan

As Broomfield moves forward, we are increasingly confronted with economic and ecological issues. We are also learning how those issues impact our quality of life. How certain practices and approaches are no longer Sustainable, and in some cases, never were. We can learn from our Coloradan neighbors who are already doing what we would aspire to do.

Broomfield Days 2019

Broomfield Days main event is the Saturday Parade. My family has been participating in the parade going back to when my children were in Elementary School representing Aspen Creek. The exciting chance to march down Midway, representing our community, and being part of what it means to live in Broomfield. From high school marching bands to celebrating and honoring our veterans. Then after the parade is over, wandering through the myriad of booths and stages for food, information, exhibitions, and bands. A day for locals to show their flair, and for residents to learn a little more about their community. 

Crescent Grange September 2019

Broomfield Crescent Grange was honored to participate in the Broomfield History Tour, along with our friends at the Broomfield Depot Museum and Broomfield Veterans Memorial Museum. Marci Heiser gave a fantastic presentation to the group, and Beau Juenemann serenaded them by guitar. Thanks to Marci, Karen, Tara, Beau, and Chris Cleary (photography).


Standing Strong Since 2013

I originally got started with Our Broomfield in 2013 when they needed pictures and help with their website. My wife AnnMarie had already been involved with Our Broomfield, and she was expressing frustration over how much money people wanted to charge for photography and web design. At the time, Our Broomfield was just a handful of concerned parents and citizens, without a budget, trying to educate all of Broomfield as to what fracking was, and trying to prevent it from entering Broomfield. I volunteered to take photographs and donate them. I asked for locations of wells, and then went out for the day to take pictures. I came back with pictures, a headache, and a spotting nosebleed. I was furious. I asked how I could help. And that’s the beginning of what brought me here. 

First Fracking Pictures 2013

Broomfield Days 2013

Protesting in 2014

Mom’s Demand Action: Shannon Watts & Tom Sullivan

I started participating with Mom’s Demand Action in early 2014, after working with Laura Fronckiewicz on the “Our Broomfield” ballot initiative 300 for the moratorium on fracking in Broomfield, CO. My introduction to Mom’s Demand Action was to create Valentine’s cards, each with a mass shooting written on the card, that were to be used at our protest at the State Capitol. There were so many mass shootings that by the time we got to the State Capitol, we needed to create more cards and update the numbers on our posters. 

I first met Shannon Watts and Tom Sullivan in October of 2014 when there was a new Mom’s Demand Action office opening in the Denver Metro area. I met up with both of them again this year, after the publication of Shannon’s book “Fight Like A Mother”. Shannon was doing a speaking and book signing event at the Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver. While she was speaking, Tom Sullivan had quietly joined the back of the room. This was the same day it was announced the recall effort against Tom Sullivan was going to be dropped. It was wonderful to meet them again, and share the story of our first meeting five years early, and how far everyone had come. I was able to get pictures of the event, and took a moment to get Shannon and Tom in a picture after she signed his copy of the book. 

Shannon Watt’s & Tom Sullivan 2019

Shannon Watts & Tom Sullivan 2014

Boston Hospital Rooftop Farm

Three years ago, the hospital launched a rooftop farm to grow fresh produce for the pantry. The farm has produced 6,000 pounds of food a year, with 3,500 pounds slated for the pantry. The rest of its produce goes to the hospital’s cafeteria, patients, a teaching kitchen and an in-house portable farmers market.

The hospital joined a handful of medical facilities across the country that have started growing food on their roofs. The initiative is the first hospital-based farm in Massachusetts and the largest rooftop farm in Boston. The facility’s 2,658-square-foot garden houses more than 25 crops, organically grown in a milk crate system.

“Food is medicine. That’s why we’re doing what we’re doing,” says David Maffeo, the hospital’s senior director of support services. “Most urban environments are food deserts. It’s hard to get locally grown food and I think it’s something that we owe to our patients and our community.”

Lindsay Allen, a farmer who has been managing the rooftop oasis since its inception, says her farm’s produce is being used for preventative care as well as in reactive care. She says 72 percent of the hospital’s patients are considered underserved, and likely don’t have access to healthy, local organic food.

What people put in their bodies has a direct link to their health she says, adding that hospitals have a responsibility to give their patients better food.

In addition to running the farm, Allen teaches a number of farming workshops to educate patients, employees and their families on how to grow their own food. The hospital’s teaching kitchen employs a number of food technicians and dieticians who offer their expertise to patients on how they can make meals with the local produce they’re given.

This is part of the medical center’s objective to not only give patients good food, but also provide them the tools to lead a healthy life.

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Boulder Pridefest 2019

I’ve been an ally of LGBTQ Rights for several decades. Part of the Pride Celebration is to participate in the Visibility Marches. To give open support to the LGBTQ Community and to Celebrate the day of Inclusion, Visibility, and to Honor other Human Beings. This year, in Boulder, was the biggest Visibility March yet! I marched proudly with my entire family. Below are some of the highlights from the Boulder Pridefest. 


Moving To Opportunity?

How much does where you live affect your shot at the American Dream? An overlooked government program from the nineties tried to answer that question. Recently, it has been getting new attention.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST: 

The American dream is supposed to go like this – with the right effort, a person or family can climb from the bottom of the economic ladder to the top. Study after study shows that’s getting harder to do. So Karen Duffin from our Planet Money podcast went looking for government programs that might help change that.

KAREN DUFFIN, BYLINE: Once upon a time, in a cubicle not so far away, sat a government bureaucrat in his government-issued chair.

MARK SHRODER: I was new to HUD. This was, like, my first couple months of HUD.

DUFFIN: This is Mark Shroder, and HUD is the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Shroder was an economist there in 1991, when HUD was trying to test a theory – could they improve a family’s odds of climbing the economic ladder just by moving them to a better neighborhood? It would be a big social experiment, and they would call it Moving to Opportunity.

SHRODER: Almost everything about Moving to Opportunity has been a surprise, not only to me but to practically everybody else.

DUFFIN: Here’s how the experiment worked – HUD chose thousands of families who lived in public housing in five big cities.

SHRODER: Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York.

DUFFIN: They split the families into three groups, by lottery, and one of these groups was required to move out of public housing into, specifically, a low-poverty neighborhood. The government would help them cover rent in that new neighborhood by way of what’s known as a Section 8 voucher. So this should be a better neighborhood, hopefully more opportunity. But not everyone saw it that way.

SHRODER: There were some people who were praying, literally praying, they would be in the regular voucher group.

DUFFIN: Was that disappointing?

SHRODER: That wasn’t that surprising.

DUFFIN: Historically, families who’d gotten Section 8 vouchers were not using them to move to lower-poverty areas for a lot of complex reasons, both personal and systemic. But thousands of families did sign up, and for four years, they moved. HUD gathered data on them, and then in 2008, HUD tallied the data.

SHRODER: We did not find any impacts on earnings or children’s test scores.

DUFFIN: HUD’s theory was wrong. The moves had basically no economic or educational impact. And this was a landmark study, so researchers took the findings and moved their hopes, dollars and programs elsewhere – basically stopped looking at housing as a way to fix the American dream. But then about six years later, another economist was studying upward mobility.

NATHAN HENDREN: My name is Nathan Hendren. I am a professor of economics at Harvard.

DUFFIN: Hendren and a few of his research pals were combing through income tax data when they spotted a pattern that surprised them.

HENDREN: We started to see these exposure effect patterns; that the longer a child spent in a neighborhood with higher rates of upward mobility, the higher their outcomes were in adulthood.

DUFFIN: But that contradicted what that big HUD study found. As they dug deeper, they realized HUD had stopped looking at the data too soon. The younger kids who moved to opportunity just hadn’t started getting jobs by then.

HENDREN: Back in 2008, you wouldn’t have seen it. There just weren’t enough young children into the labor market where you’d really be able to say, ah, looks like there’s an effect here.

DUFFIN: But for kids who moved before they turned 13…

HENDREN: The children were 4 percentage points more likely to go to college, had about 30% higher earnings.

DUFFIN: And bonus – these kids will likely pay more in income tax over time, so the program should essentially pay for itself.

HENDREN: You could kind of feel that we had something that was going to change the way people thought about equality of opportunity in the United States.

DUFFIN: Hendren and his colleagues decided to not just release data but to turn it into an actual program. They’re currently working with cities to basically reboot the original HUD program, starting in Seattle. Congress also just passed a bipartisan law to run programs like this. And the researchers hope that, over time, they can take what they learned from the families that moved to opportunity and move that opportunity back into the neighborhoods they left behind.

Karen Duffin, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE SHINS’ “THE FEAR”)

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