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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

December 2, 1994

Air Date: December 2, 1994


Amish / John Gregory

Many see America’s tightly-knit Amish communities as odd throwbacks to the days of the horse and buggy. But Amish beliefs don’t reject progress so much as they call for the sustainable use of God’s gifts of creation. (08:15)

Community-Supported Farms

Caretaker Farm in Williamstown, Massachusetts finishes out the year. (03:01)

Enviro CD-ROMs / Ben Paulos

Multimedia is the next big thing in home computing. Our reviewer looks at what’s good — and not so good — in multimedia about the environment. (06:43)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

Copyright (c) 1994 by World Media Foundation. No portion of this transcript may be copied, sold, or transmitted without the written authority of World Media Foundation.

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Joel Southern, Jyl Hoyt, John Gregory
GUESTS: Elizabeth and Sam Smith

(Theme music intro)

CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living On Earth.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

Many see America's tightly-knit Amish communities as odd throwbacks to the days of the horse and buggy, but Amish beliefs don't reject progress so much as they call for the sustainable use of the gifts of creation.

KLINE: Even though we farm with horses, we still have modern technology right at our fingertips. You know, we can use modern technology. We just try to limit it.

CURWOOD: And a harvest-time look at community-supported agriculture. Also, multi-media is the next big thing in home computing. Our reviewer looks at what's good and not so good in multimedia about the environment.

DUVALL: Hello. I'm Shelley Duvall. Who wishes they a were... a cat.? No. Who's glad they're a bird?

CURWOOD: On Living On Earth, right after this news.

Environmental News

NUNLEY: From Living On Earth, I'm Jan Nunley. Money is the main topic at a meeting of signers of the global biodiversity treaty underway in the Bahamas. The accord is supposed to help nations catalogue and conserve plants and animals. It was agreed to at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, but details about who pays were left up in the air. Critics of the accord, who have blocked ratification in the US Senate, say they'll continue to oppose the treaty, fearing the US will have to pay a big portion of the tab.

A recent study raises new safety questions about the Alaska oil pipeline. The private audit performed for Alyeska Pipeline Company found inadequate fire, earthquake, and other emergency safeguards. That follows 2 government studies which also found serious problems with Alyeska's pipeline safety standards. The pipeline has come under increasingly close Congressional scrutiny in recent years. Now, as Joel Southern of Alaska Public Radio reports from Washington, some pipeline watchers are concerned that the new Congress will turn down the spotlight of publicity.

SOUTHERN: For years, the Trans-Alaska pipeline has been overseen by the House Energy and Commerce Committee and its chairman, John Dingell, who's a tough critic of the oil industry. But with the changeover in Congress, oversight of the pipeline will shift to the House Natural Resources Committee, and Alaska Republican Don Young, a staunch oil industry supporter. That worries environmental groups and aids to Dingell. Because of tough scrutiny by Congress and the Clinton Administration over the past few years, Alyeska has been forced to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to fix structural and electrical problems that could cause oil spills. Alyeska won't comment about the changes in Congress, but says it's committed to fixing the problems. For Living On Earth, I'm Joel Southern in Washington.

NUNLEY: Louisiana officials have started a long-term study of health problems in poor and minority communities along the lower Mississippi River. It's an area many residents call "cancer alley," because of a high concentration of chemical plants. State officials say cancer rates in the region aren't any higher than national averages, but cancer mortality rates are much higher and they want to know why. The 15-year study will compare industrial toxins, race, gender, lifestyle, and access to health care. A spokesperson for the Gulf Coast Tenant Association says they believe cancer rates are higher than state data shows and doubt the new study's usefulness.

Communities near polluting industries now have access to a lot more information about toxic substances released into the environment. The Environmental Protection Agency has added 286 chemicals to its Toxics Release Inventory, nearly doubling the number of substances whose release must be made public. The EPA says the Inventory now covers over 23,000 businesses.

The Federal Government oversaw extermination of the gray wolf in most of the US in the 1930s. Now it's planning to reintroduce the wolf at 2 western sites. But plans to release 50 wolves are being challenged in court. From WBSU in Boise, Idaho, Jyl Hoyt reports.

HOYT: Federal biologists had hoped to capture Canadian wolves and transport them to Yellowstone National Park in central Idaho last month. But the American Farm Bureau filed a motion for a temporary restraining order to prevent the plan. Ranchers say the species that biologists would transplant never lived in Yellowstone. They also argue that the wolf is not extinct, because at least 50,000 of them live in Canada and parts of Minnesota. They also worry wolves will kill some of their livestock. Larry Barret of the Wyoming Farm Bureau says bringing back the wolf means increased Federal regulation and higher management costs for western ranchers.

BARRET: Corral our livestock at night and keep them in barns and that sort of thing. That they have to remove carrion so it won't attract wolves.

HOYT: Environmentalists say ranchers would be compensated for any cattle or sheep killed by wolves. An attorney for the National Wildlife Federation says the Endangered Species Act specifically allows for recovery efforts where species have been exterminated. The judge is expected to make his ruling December 21st. For Living On Earth, I'm Jyl Hoyt in Boise.

NUNLEY: Meanwhile, the recent suspension of Alaska's controversial wolf kill program may become permanent. The head of the State Fish and Game Department ordered the retrieval of all wolf traps after a biologist discovered many traps snared the predators without quickly killing them. Alaska's new governor, Tony Knoll, says he'll order a review of the wolf kill program.

The apparent resurgence of an endangered Gulf of Mexico turtle is spurring cautious optimism about the animal's chances for survival. The US Fish and Wildlife Service estimates there are now about 1,000 adult Kemp's Ridley sea turtles, 3 times as many as 8 years ago. The turnaround is largely due to the use of special devices to keep the turtles out of shrimp nets. Still, the Kemp's Ridley remains one of the nation's most endangered species. Federal authorities say the turtle is still threatened by some shrimpers' refusal to use turtle excluder devices.

That's this week's Living On Earth news. I'm Jan Nunley.

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(Theme music up and under)


CURWOOD: This is Living On Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. It's easy to see the Amish as oddities. Dressed in plain clothes, shunning modern conveniences, and riding in horse-drawn buggies. But from their perspective, it's the English, the non-Amish, who are the oddities, pursuing what the Amish see as disrespectful use of land and natural resources. Self-sufficiency on their land became crucial when the Amish fled to the countryside to avoid religious persecution in 16th century Switzerland, and the Amish brought this discipline with them to the tolerant colony of Pennsylvania in the 1700s. Today, about 140,000 Amish live in tightly-knit communities in 22 states. And their strong tradition of stewardship has been handed down through the generations. To the Amish, the land is more than a source of food. It's part of God's creation, which they are called to tend and preserve. David Kline's family tends to 175 acres of creation in central Ohio. Reporter John Gregory recently visited the Kline farm to explore the unique Amish bond with the land. He found that while Kline's Amish community rejects some modern inventions, their view of technology is complex and sophisticated. And they adopt new tools only on their own terms.

(Sound of walking among tall grasses and dried husks)

GREGORY: On a cold fall afternoon, Amish farmer David Kline wades through his corn field, pushing aside the 7-foot stalks to clear a path. In the middle of the patch, Kline stops, kneels down, and grabs a handful of dirt.

KLINE: Smell that. Doesn't that smell earthy and rich?

GREGORY: Kline rolls the dirt through his thick, weathered hands and lets it trickle to the ground. At 49, his hair is brown with threads of gray and it wraps around the bald spot on his head and across the line of his lower jaw in the traditional Amish beard. Looking out on the modest white frame house where he was born and now lives with his wife and 5 children, Kline strokes his beard and explains the intricacies of Amish agriculture.

KLINE: We farm as America would have farmed 40, 50 years ago, you know, the smaller farms. The diversity in livestock. And we have maintained that largely because we stuck with the horse.

GREGORY: Kline's 120-acre farm has been in his family since 1918. He works 70 acres of this gently rolling Ohio land using only draft horses to plow, plant, and harvest. To bale hay, spread manure, and gather wood.

KLINE: It would happen in church that the bishop would point to the Scripture and say, okay, this is exactly the reason why we don't farm with tractors, because the Bible says thou shalt not use a motor-driven instrument in the field. (Laughs) No, no it's not at all. I would think it's horse farming, this goes so well with family life.

GREGORY: Kline says using horses keeps farms to a scale that a family can manage. And besides, they don't compact the soil like tractors do. They're much cheaper to operate. And they create their own fertilizer. Another staple of Amish agriculture is crop rotation: planting fields in clover or alfalfa, then corn, then oats, and finally wheat in a continuous 4-year cycle. This, says Kline, maintains soil fertility and saves money on chemical pesticides and fertilizers.

KLINE: So often, the agricultural colleges look at Amish farmers as oh - oh, they say, that way of farming. We left that 30, 40 years ago; we don't want to go back. That's a false impression because we - even though we farm with horses, we still have modern technology right at our fingertips. You know, we can use modern technology; we just try to limit it.

GREGORY: In fact, groups of Amish are sometimes defined by the technology they use. The most conservative Amish use no tractors, indoor plumbing, or electricity, while more liberal groups, of which Kline is a member, may have plumbing or use electric generators and tractors for some activities.

(Tractor engine)

GREGORY: Kline uses a big green John Deere tractor to help grind corn in his barn. He also employs a small Honda generator to charge the batteries that power his electric fence, and to drive the machinery that helps him milk his 30 dairy cows.

(Milking pumps)

GREGORY: You name your cows?
KLINE: Mm hmm. The first one is Glow, and then Petunia. Doris. Joy. Ethel...

GREGORY: Although this selective use of technology seems random, even eccentric, to some outsiders, it's based on the Amish belief that machines should make work easier and not disrupt family life or tempt one to expand the size of one's farm. By not using expensive machinery, the Amish rely more on family and neighbors to help with farm chores, like baling hay and threshing wheat.

KLINE: It's a - and of course, to love they neighbor as thyself. You know, if you love your neighbor you don't want his land. Because then you wouldn't have a neighbor.

GREGORY: And contrary to popular belief, small farms still can be financially viable. Kline recounts the story of one local Amish couple who paid off a $100,000 farm in 6 years. On his own farm, Kline says his milk revenues, along with some grain and vegetable sales, supports his family.

KLINE: One might have a gross sale of $60,000 on the farm, and half of that is probably net. It's not, doesn't compare with Lee Iacocca, but you know, it's a good life. Or with these baseball players. (Laughs) But I have fewer worries, I'm sure. See, I'll never have to go on strike, and I'll never be out of work. And we'll always have food to eat.

(Traffic sounds)

GREGORY: Mount Hope, Ohio, is a thriving community of about 300 people, mostly Amish. It looks like many small towns with its hardware store, bank, grocery, and other businesses. But you're as likely to see an Amish horse and buggy drive down the main street as you are a car.

(Horse and buggy on the road)

GREGORY: This is where David Kline's family comes to shop, catch up on the local news, and occasionally enjoy a cone of chocolate frozen yogurt. Kline explains that the stability of Mount Hope and other small Amish towns reflects the dedication of the Amish to their communities and the quality of their land.

KLINE: Our community is only as good as its soil. If the soil is good and people are working that soil and then you'll have services. You'll have the fire department, you'll have hospitals, you'll have doctors. You'll have all the professions. Because after all, it all comes from that surrounding soil. If the soil is no good, or if the soil is poor, then it doesn't support people on the land and there won't be people there that will require those services.

GREGORY: Kline says that Amish farmers struggle with the same problems that all small farmers face these days. Low market prices, high land costs, and a trend towards factory farming operations that make farmers more dependent on distant corporations than on local communities. To supplement their incomes, Kline says some local Amish families will begin growing vegetables for produce wholesalers next year, while others may get jobs at the small wood and metal working shops in the area.

KLINE: The Amish have always been an agrarian people, and that's why I worry. We have only, like, 37% of our people are living on farms in this community. And as the shift is away from agriculture, I think we'll have to sacrifice so much.

(Door sliding on hinges, water being poured)

GREGORY: At the end of the day, after the cows are milked and the hogs are watered, Kline retreats to an old log cabin he rebuilt next to his house. The cabin is a place where Kline reads and works on his nature column for the local newspaper. Here again, the ironies of Amish life are present. In the glow of a gas lamp, Kline writes with a small word processor powered by a modified car battery. Resting on an old couch, he reflects on his younger days when he almost left the community. But now, Kline says he accepts the traditions that bind him to the Amish culture because of the satisfactions of living a Christian life that is ecologically sound.

KLINE: Then you know, when we say our evening prayers, it always comes across thankful for this free country we live in and thankful for the good land we have to work with. This land has been good to us, that it supports us, and that we care for it and we'll support future generations. Just from the soil on this farm.

GREGORY: Amish farmer David Kline lives with his family near Mount Hope, Ohio. For Living On Earth, I'm John Gregory.

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(Music up and under)

Community-Supported Farms

CURWOOD: The Amish lifestyle is one way to care for the earth and ensure a supply of locally grown food. Another way is a community-supported farm, where members pay up front for a share of the season's produce and the option to work at and enjoy the farm. We've been visiting this year with the owners and members of Caretaker Farm in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Elizabeth and Sam Smith turned their commercial organic operation into a community-supported one a few years ago, in an effort to ensure a steady income and build a closer relationship with their community. They're with us on the line. Thanks for joining us one last time.

E. SMITH: Welcome, Steve.

S. SMITH: Greetings.

CURWOOD: Well tell me, how did it go this year? Did all the crops come in the way you wanted?

S. SMITH: Yes, Steve. It was one of the best years we've had. Practically every crop came in, almost as well as you could possibly wish.

CURWOOD: You've had a hard frost at Caretaker Farm, but of course you're still eating. What do you still have to distribute to your members?

E. SMITH: From the gardens, we still have beautiful kale and some Brussels sprouts still out there. They get better with the frost: sweeter and even more tender. And then, from the root cellar, from crops that have already been harvested and have been stored away for the winter, leeks and parsnips and rutabagas and carrots and potatoes and onions.

CURWOOD: Well it sounds pretty good. How long will all this last? When will your root cellar be - run on empty?

E. SMITH: Probably, last year we still had potatoes and onions into March.

CURWOOD: Now tell me about the money this year, Sam. The crop was good. How were the finances? You had a budget of about $75,000 as I recall.

S. SMITH: It was slightly under that. We had a budget of $68,500. We came in maybe a few thousand dollars below that, and the community voluntarily will kick in the difference, which will amount to no more probably than about $5 per adult in the community.

CURWOOD: So you have a bit of a shortfall this year. Are you going to change how you do things next year as a result?

S. SMITH: Yeah. The reason for the slight shortfall was, is that every member could pledge support in a range, and if it was a 2-adult household, then the range would have been anywheres from $490 to $630, with the hope that the average pledge to the farm was about $585. Next year, we're going to eliminate the range, so we won't have that kind of a problem.

CURWOOD: Do you want to share with us now some of the lessons of the past year?

E. SMITH: I would like to have more participation from the members of the community. Perhaps some kind of a work requirement from everyone. Say, 2 hours a year or something like that. I'd like to see them get down into the dirt a little bit. Not that we need their help as much as I think that they would enjoy doing it.

CURWOOD: Well, listen. Thank you both for taking this time with us throughout the whole growing season, having Living On Earth come out to visit you in Williamstown at Caretaker Farm. And the time that you spent with us on the telephone. Sam and Elizabeth Smith, thank you both very much.

E. SMITH: Thank you.

S. SMITH: Thank you, Steve. It's been wonderful.

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(Music up and under)

Enviro CD-ROMs

(Tropical bird song)

CURWOOD: We're deep in the rainforest, surrounded by snakes and bugs and vines that look like they want to grab you! Not really. You're just hearing the sound track to a computer program, a multimedia presentation on animals. Multimedia is the latest thing in home computing, and if you've ever ordered anything from a computer company, your mailbox is probably stuffed with catalogues listing the stuff. Most of the titles are encyclopedias and games, but ecology is carving out a promising niche. Reviewer Ben Paulos gives us a taste of what's out there.

PAULOS: I've been hanging out in Cambridge lately, where there's a software store on every corner. Nearly every one of these stores has at least a few environmental multimedia programs buried under all the space battles and monster melees. Don't tell your kids, but some of these discs are very educational. Or they can be. Some aren't quite so great. So far, most environmental discs are aimed at kids, and kids like animals. So we've got zoos, National Geographic specials and Jacques Cousteau. And James Earl Jones.

JONES: Earth. What makes our planet so special? So unusual?

PAULOS: (Against backdrop of the program's music) A World Alive is billed as an interactive documentary. Like a normal documentary, you can passively watch a 30-minute video on wildlife. But when an interesting or strange animal comes on, you can pause the video and click the mouse to go immediately to more information. For example, the video shows a howler monkey climbing a tree. With a click of the mouse - (music stops) - we can jump, monkey-like, to a page of facts and learn that the monkey's howl can be heard 3 miles away. For some reason, we can't hear it. The disc only gives us graphics where sound would be really compelling.

This is a common shortcoming of some environmental CD-ROMs, but more on that later. A World Alive also tells us that the howler monkey shares its habitat with a bunch of other animals, including the Mexican free-tail bat. Selecting the bat from this list (clicks mouse), we fly over to the bat's page of facts, which tells us that its droppings were used to make gunpowder in the American Civil War.

A World Alive is visually quite nice, and the interactive format means you can ask questions of the video. But it runs a little short on facts, offering something more like flash cards than an encyclopedia. (Clicks mouse)

VOICE: (Against a backdrop of wind and chirping birds) Like the real zoo, the multimedia zoo is made up of hundreds of exhibits, like this one...

PAULOS: Another wildlife CD, The Animals, presents a virtual visit to the San Diego Zoo.

VOICE: (Against same backdrop) This is the tundra biome exhibit, where you can explore the tundra biome...

PAULOS: The Animals isn't as neat conceptually as the interactive documentary, but it presents a bottomless pit of information. And somehow, it manages to have twice as much video as A World Alive.

VOICE: You can discover what the tundra looks like and how plants and animals get along there.

PAULOS: This difference between The Animals and A World Alive shows some of the difficulties that software developers face. Most environmental discs are what industry types call "edu-tainment." But it's hard for developers to balance the "edu," the education, with the "tainment," the fun.

Some of these CDs pay too much attention to flash and not enough to the quality of the information. Others suffer from simple lack of imagination. CD-ROMs should be a lot more than books on tape.

VOICE: The Earth is a complicated system. And it is the only planet in the universe known to have life...

PAULOS: One flashy but flawed interactive program is The Big Green Disk. I had high hopes for this one. It's one of the very few that deals with substantive issues, from water pollution to global warming. And one reviewer called it, "a really lush disc." I admit, it looks great. But the lushness seems to stop at the sound and video. The only sounds, in fact, are the voices of the narrator and guests, and the only video is clips of people sitting and talking.

VOICE: The niche is the position...

PAULOS: Fortunately, you can pause it at any time (clicks mouse; voice stops). And maybe I'm expecting too much, but the content can be pretty simplistic. At one point it says, "Plastics are not recyclable, so try to avoid them." In fact, some plastics are commonly recycled, and some aren't. This could have been a chance for the program to explain the complicated issues of plastics recycling, and the virtues of source reduction. Instead, The Big Green Disk offers a pat solution that cuts off the learning process. (Clicks mouse)

VOICE: Confused? Well, it's not surprising.

PAULOS: And while other disks may be factually correct, they can give messages that are debatable at best. (Clicks mouse)

DUVALL: Hello. I'm Shelley Duvall. Who wishes they a were... a cat.? No. Who's glad they're a bird?

PAULOS: It's A Bird's Life is an interactive CD with a children's story written by actress Shelley Duvall. It tells the story of 8 parrots, 6 of which are endangered species, living in a house in Los Angeles with Shelley and her guy. When the house burns down in a brush fire, the parrots head for the Amazon, only to find widespread destruction of the rainforest from logging and mining.

PARROT #1: We should have stayed in LA. Or, even better, we should have stayed with Pearlie at the zoo in San Diego.

PARROT #2: Oh come on, George! You want to live in a zoo?

PARROT #3: It would have been better than here. Some paradise this is!

PAULOS: They decide that LA is where they belong, and convince no less than 32 other parrots to return with them. They arrive to find the house rebuilt and settle in to stay.

DUVALL: And so, the birds had found their way home. It was great to know they didn't have to worry any more about food, weather, bird catchers, smog, mining or logging. Now this was paradise.

PAULOS: It's just great that this CD teaches young kids about the destruction of the rainforest. But the solution it offers - that endangered species should be taken into the celebrity homes of America - is half-baked. This CD is pure Hollywood. It's all 'tainment and no edu. Clearly, environmental multimedia has yet to fully mature. But, with that warning in mind, multimedia CDs can be a great way to learn about complicated environmental problems. By giving you text, audio and video in a single package, it can present environmental issues in a way that a book, a TV show, or - yes, even a radio show can't by itself.

(Sounds of cellophane packaging.)

PAULOS: Oh yeah, one more thing. Nearly every one of these CDs comes in a box that is way too big for the product, just to take up shelf space and get your attention in the store. But that's another story. For Living On Earth, this is Ben Paulos. (Clicks mouse)

VOICE: Lots of the products we buy have far too much paper or plastic wrapped around them. Try to avoid over-packaged goods, or buy those in recyclable or biodegradable packaging.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: And for this week, that's Living On Earth. Our program is produced and edited by Peter Thomson. The coordinating producer is George Homsy, and our director is Deborah Stavro. Our production team includes Kim Motylewski, Jan Nunley, Julia Madeson, David Dunlap, Jonathan Medwed, Heather Corson, and Jessika Bella Mura. Our WBUR studio engineers are Mark Navin and Frank DeAngelis. Our theme music was composed by Michael Aharon. Special thanks this week to WFPL in Louisville, Kentucky, and KOTO in Telluride, Colorado.

Living on Earth is a project of the World Media Foundation, and is recorded in the studios of WBUR, Boston. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer.

ANNOUNCER: Living On Earth is made possible with major funding provided by the National Science Foundation for coverage of science and the environment; and all-natural Stonyfield Farm Yogurt - whether supporting worthwhile causes or producing healthy foods, Stonyfield's goal is to make you feel good inside. Support also comes from the Great Lakes Protection Fund and the George Gund Foundation.


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