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

December 17, 1993

Air Date: December 17, 1993


Shopping for Eco-Gifts

Host Steve Curwood roams the aisles at Eco-Expo, the national environmental products fair, in search of green holiday gifts from a wide array of environmentally responsible merchants. (07:13)

Christmas Giving / Ruth Page

Commentator Ruth Page offers some lyrical suggestions for what may be the most environmentally sound gifts you can offer — gifts of your own time. (02:13)

Claus Enters Low-Emission Vheicle Market / John Reiger

John Reiger reports from Los Angeles on the latest entry in California's anti-smog sweepstakes. The new Claus zero-emission vehicle promises to make both gasoline and electric motors a thing of the past, but skeptics say it will never get off the ground. (Repeat) (04:51)

Green Guitars / Mary Ambose

Reporter Mary Ambose profiles environmentally-conscious guitar maker Linda Manzer. Manzer's guitars, played by artists such as Pat Metheny and Bruce Cockburn, forgoes the ivory and rainforest wood found in many high-quality guitars for cow bone and driftwood, or wood from windfalls or sustainably harvested trees. (06:50)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

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

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Mary Ambrose, Jeff Davies, Dave Kiffer, Stephanie O'Neil, John Rieger

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

It's holiday time again. This week we explore eco gift-giving at a giant eco product fair, where the theme is renew, reuse, and recycle.

VOICE #1: Our favorite item is a bottlecap belt, and it has a seat belt buckle, inner tube strap, with bottle caps, and it stretches when you wear it so you can just wrap it right around your jeans. And it buckles.

CURWOOD: Also, some say the best eco-gifts can't be bought. And, holiday music from Bruce Cockburn's guitar, made by an ecologically sensitive guitar maker.

MANZER: The guitar he has that I made the tope is from a piece of cedar that rolled up on the beach in Vancouver Island. It's using wood that would otherwise not be used.

CURWOOD: And, a visit from Mr. Claus, this week on Living on Earth. First, news.

Environmental News

NUNLEY: I'm Jan Nunley with this week's environmental news.

Logging in one of North America's last temperate rainforests could be severely curtailed under an unusual agreement between the British Columbian government and local native leaders. The deal gives aboriginal residents greater control over logging practices in the Clayoquot Sound area of Vancouver Island, on Canada's West Coast. It comes amid a growing international effort to stop clearcutting in the area. The CBC's Jeff Davies reports.

DAVIES: Clayoquot Sound is home to some of the last intact rainforest on the west coast of Canada. It's also an area that's heavily dependent on jobs and income from the forest industry. This year, more than 800 people determined to stop the logging were arrested for trying to block the road. Much of this is taking place on land claimed by Native bands. They've criticized the government of British Columbia for allowing logging to go ahead without their permission. Now the government has struck a landmark deal with five Native bands. It does not stop logging but it effectively gives the Native people a veto over logging practices they don't like. Native members will serve on a board that can accept, reject, or change any land use plans for Clayoquot Sound. The Native leaders have said they do not want any more clear-cut logging; they want only selective cutting. That's won the applause of environmentalists. It has the potential to bring major changes to the forest industry. For Living on Earth, I'm Jeff Davies in Victoria, British Columbia.

NUNLEY: Meanwhile, a dispute up the coast in the Alaska panhandle is providing an important early test for the new director of the US Forest Service. Jack Ward Thomas has decided to review a decision, made under his predecessor, to cut thousands of acres of virgin rainforest in the Tongass National Forest. From KRBD in Ketchikan, Alaska, Dave Kiffer has the story.

KIFFER: The proposed sale would cover thousands of acres of old-growth timber in the Tongass, the nation's largest national forest. US Forest Service chief Jack Ward Thomas' decision to review the sale is being cheered by environmental groups and some Congressional leaders. But the region's timber industry, hurt by a weak pulp paper market, and already claiming the Forest Service is not living up to the obligations of its long-term timber contract, says further delays could lead to shut-downs that could cripple the area's economy. Although the Forest Service is downplaying the significance of the review, observers say Thomas' eventual decision will set the tone for future Forest Service policy. That decision is due by the middle of January. For Living on Earth, this is Dave Kiffer in Ketchikan, Alaska.

NUNLEY: The U.S. government conducted a dozen open-air radiation experiments in the 1940s and '50s, according to previously classified Energy Department records. A new report by the General Accounting Office says the tests, which were part of the U.S. nuclear weapons research program, exposed an undetermined number of residents of Tennessee, Utah, and New Mexico to dangerous amounts of radiation. Radioactive isotopes were dropped from planes or released on the ground so scientists could study the dispersion of radiation.

This is Living on Earth.

Ireland says it's looking into possible action to stop the opening of a nuclear waste reprocessing plant in northwestern England. The plant is less than 70 miles from Ireland's main population centers. The British government recently gave its state-owned plant in Sellafield the go-ahead to begin accepting nuclear fuel rods for reconditioning. The facility will produce up to seven tons of plutonium a year. Opponents fear it will add to the world's glut of fissionable material and make it more difficult to stem nuclear proliferation. Neighboring countries also fear accidents during the ocean transport of nuclear material to and from the plant. Along with Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Finland, and Denmark have expressed concern about the plant.

A businessman whose California firm illegally shipped toxic waste to Mexico has been sentenced to prison. The conviction is the result of unprecedented cooperation between U.S. and Mexican authorities. From Los Angeles, Stephanie O'Neill reports.

O'NEILL: 63-year old Morris Kirk will serve 16 months in a California state prison for illegally shipping toxic lead waste to Mexico and storing it at one of his company plants outside of Tijuana, near the California border. Kirk's now-bankrupt company, Alco Pacific, was fined 2.5 million dollars for the dumping. Chemical reactions from the waste have caused serious fires at the site. Polluted water from the plant has poisoned cows at a nearby dairy, and residents living near the plant have suffered skin and respiratory diseases. The case was initiated and filed by the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office after the federal government refused to pursue it. For Living on Earth, I'm Stephanie O'NeilL in Los Angeles.

NUNLEY: Three California men have been indicted for poaching over 2200 Federally-protected butterflies from several national parks. Especially sought by the poaching ring was the rare Kaibab Swallowtail butterfly, found in the Grand Canyon. Federal agents seized letters from over 400 collectors seeking mounted specimens of the insect. If convicted, each poacher faces up to five years in prison and a quarter-of-a-million-dollar fine.

That's this week's environmental news. I'm Jan Nunley.

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(Theme music up and under)

Shopping for Eco-Gifts

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

Another year's gone by, and once again most of us are taking the time to celebrate in our own ways, as the sun dips to its lowest point in the sky for those north of the equator. And whether it's honoring the birth of Jesus, the Festival of Lights, the more secular spirit of Santa Claus, or the solstice itself, it's a time for giving. But the buying and giving of millions of new items can add to the strain on the earth's environment and resources. So, many people these days are looking for gifts that are a bit more eco-friendly. I recently went window-shopping at what may be the world's largest gathering of environmentally-focused merchants, the Eco Expo, when it visited Boston. I found a profusion of renewable, recycled, and reused goods beckoning to my wallet.

CURWOOD: So, what do you have here?
VOICE #1: We have tagua nut jewelry. Tagua nut is a substitute for ivory, it's popularly known as vegetable ivory, and the good news is, it grows on a palm tree in the rainforest, so local people in the Amazon have incentives to save the tree because it's producing income for them. And the good news for elephants is it's a substitute for ivory, so we get to save some elephants at the same time. And they're brought in by our company, Amazonia: Discoveries from the Rainforest.
CURWOOD: Now, if you were going to give some holiday gifts, what would you pick?
VOICE #1: Well, I would pick for a ladyfriend, the heart fetish necklace, because it's a great way to tell her, "I'm nuts about you."
CURWOOD: (laughter) Thank you very much. Looks like you have a big pillow here.
VOICE #2: Hi, we have our Harvester line of comforters and pillows. This is Ogalala down, which is a blend of milkweed floss and white goose down. Milkweed floss, right - it's the white seed here that we blend with the down and that makes the comforters hypoallergenic and also more comfortable in that they breathe better.
CURWOOD: Why is this good for the environment?
VOICE #2: This is good for the environment because milkweed floss is a low-impact agricultural crop. It protects the soil because it's a perennial plant that doesn't have to be replanted every year; it's got deep roots that protect the soil. And in manufacturing, we use all the plant in the product - the floss in our Ogalala down, the seed we make oil for, and the meal that's left over from the seed is a good animal feed and the biomass is used then in paper making.
CURWOOD: Is it cheaper than goose down?
VOICE #2: Yes, it is. Our price of our products is about 15% below comparable goose down products.
CURWOOD: Let's see here, that feels pretty comfortable. So what would you recommend as a gift out of your products for the holiday season?
VOICE #2: A gift? Well, I would recommend a comforter and a pillow set.
CURWOOD: Well, thank you. Hi, so what do you have here?
VOICE #3: We are the Concord Spice and Grain Cotton Collection. We're a retail shop, and we carry organic cotton clothing and green cotton clothing for men, women, and children.
CURWOOD: Green cotton?
VOICE #3: Green cotton - there's a difference between green cotton and organic cotton. Green cotton is conventionally-grown cotton, but once it's harvested it's not treated with formaldehyde or bleaches; whereas, organically grown cotton is organically grown, it's not treated with pesticides, herbicides, and then it's not treated with formaldehyde or bleaches once it's harvested.
CURWOOD: Why is this good for consumers?
VOICE #3: Well, for two reasons. If you are a person who has environmental sensitivities, i.e., you're oftentimes allergic to wools or cotton fibers you will find that these clothes are not irritating to your skin. Also for people who are concerned about a sustainable future, these clothes are concerned about a sustainable environment.
CURWOOD: Now at the holiday season, if I wanted to come to your shop and get a gift, what would you recommend?
VOICE #3: Well, there's a variety of items. If you were just looking for a quick introduction to organic clothing, you can get organic socks, organic underwear - there are great little teddy bears and rag dolls made from organic cotton for kids and also a full line of clothing, so if you wanted a whole outfit for someone you could do that.
CURWOOD: Is organic cotton more expensive than other cottons?
VOICE #3: It tends to be. We carry two different lines. We have a line called "Wearable Integrity" - they're a little bit more fashion-forward, little bit more expensive. We also carry a line called "Eco Sport." They're a little bit more comparable to regular cotton clothing, so a t-shirt can be 16 dollars, which is fairly reasonable.
CURWOOD: Thank you very much...So, can I ask what you have here?
VOICE #4: Well, we're two companies. This is Transistor Sister, and it's all jewelry made out of circuits and fuses, diodes; and these are Technotes, these are notebooks made out of circuit boards that are reutilized, and we have notebooks, clipboards, agendas, memo books.
CURWOOD: What do these go for?
VOICE #4: Anywhere from 10 to 35 dollars.
CURWOOD: Now, why is this good for the environment?
VOICE #4: Well, normally these boards would end up in the landfill, and we take from 7 to 12 tons a year that would normally go into landfills and reutilize them.
CURWOOD: OK, thank you. Hi there. What do we have here?
VOICE #5: We have accessories that are made from recycled materials. We have bags that are made from inner tube rubber, hub caps; belts that are made from seat belt buckles and bottle caps.
CURWOOD: Why is this good for the environment?
VOICE #5: Because we are using post-consumer waste. Period.
CURWOOD: Can you show me your favorite item here?
VOICE #5: On our belts - Our favorite item is a bottlecap belt, and it has a seat belt buckle, inner tube strap, with bottle caps, and it stretches when you wear it so you can just wrap it right around your jeans. And it buckles. That is one of our favorite pieces in the belts. In the bags, this is called the hubcap purse, and it's two hubcaps encircled in license plates with a seat belt buckle as a closure - open it up, and it's lined with denim, or an American flag, or whatever materials we can find to recycle. And then you close it. And it's got a seat belt strap as a shoulder strap.
CURWOOD: And the company's called -
VOICE #5: Recycled Revolution.
CURWOOD: How much is the belt?
VOICE #5: The belt retails at from 40 to 45, depending on how much they mark up.
CURWOOD: OK, thank you very much.

Back to top

CURWOOD: If you'd like to know how to reach the makers of these products, or comment about our show, give us a call on our listener line at 617-868-7454. That's 617-868-7454. Or you can write to us at Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. That's Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. You can also get a transcript or tape of the program for 10 dollars.

Christmas Giving

CURWOOD: With all the attention paid to shopping and acquiring at this time of year, commentator Ruth Page wonders if maybe the greenest way to give at the holidays can't be found in catalogues or stores.

PAGE: I've been pondering, in my retirement,
the holidays, and the environment.
What to plan, and what to give
with which the world - and I - can live.
I ask myself, "How shall I plan
to help the earth as best I can?"
Or at the least, not do it harm
or set off any eco-alarm.
Came the answer to my brain -
Yaay, it's wakened up again -
to keep this Christmas green, not blue,
the best that you can give is you.
Gifts of time, and thought, and aid
don't need wrappings, are not paid
but they will show that you care -
when friends need you, you'll be there.
Friends with children? Much the nicest
help is sitting in a crisis
with their kids.
There's another nasty duty -
just you wait, this one's a beauty -
any friend would love assistance
if you're fit to go the distance
when they're cleaning their garage out
once committed, you can't dodge out.
When it's done, though, they will thank you.
No acquaintance will outrank you
on your buddy's list of neighbors
who have done the greatest favors.
Married son or married daughter?
Give free help - you hadn't oughter
give to friends and not relations -
Family, too, go on vacations.
Need someone to check the house out?
If you're busy, send your spouse out.
That's not more than you can handle,
saving friends from thief or vandal.
Field-grown roses or tomatoes,
lovely lilies, big potatoes,
things like that make super presents
both for princes and for peasants.
These great gifts ain't automatic -
they are work. I'll clean your attic
is a promise stores aren't making.
Shops don't say, "I'll do your baking"
on a day when you are frantic
and have guests from South Niantic.
Here is what I'm emphasizing:
if you find your temper rising
as you face the rush of Christmas
with it's money-spending business
and you think we'd better ban it
e'er it hurts this poor old planet -
don't be worried, don't be nervous,
put yourself at other's service.
The environment will thank you
and the futurists will rank you
with the best and with the brightest.
Your impact will be the lightest.

CURWOOD: Commentator Ruth Page lives in Burlington, Vermont. She comes to us from Vermont Public Radio.

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(Music up and under)

Claus Enters Low-Emission Vheicle Market

CURWOOD: A year ago at this time Living on Earth reported on a promising new entry into the low-emission vehicle market. Well, a year later the technology is still so far above everything else in its field that we decided the story bears repeating. From Los Angeles, here's Living on Earth contributor John Rieger.

VOICE OF GERMAN INDUSTRIALIST: I am pleased to announce that we have received approval to operate a new vehicle in the state of California...

REIGER: This was the scene at the Airport Holiday Inn in Los Angeles earlier this month, as Wilhelm Klaus, 46-year old head of the Polaris Group, announced that the family-owned toy and transportation giant would enter the zero-emissions vehicle market with a prototype vehicle that uses neither gasoline nor electricity.

KLAUS: We are extremely optimistic about the success of our design, which we have been developing for many years. The vehicle, as you know, is pulled by reindeer, eight or in some cases nine, and is capable of traveling enormous distances in comparison to the electric car. By eliminating both the fuel tank and the battery array, we have allowed for really huge cargo space. And of course, there's no problem with parking, since even homes here in California have a roof.

REIGER: The dapper and sophisticated Klaus makes a striking contrast to his affable and white-bearded father, from whom he took over the reins just ten years ago. But it has proven to be a decade of remarkable change for the Polaris Group, in many ways.

KLAUS: Of course, there have been changes since my father's day. He was a jolly, fat man, a beloved man. I am perhaps more of a business man. Maybe I am not so beloved. Of course we also now run fleets of these vehicles. It is no longer a one-man operation as it was in my father's day. However, I feel that the Polaris Group is continuing on in the tradition of my father's good work.

REIGER: Nowhere is the spirit of change more apparent than here, the state-of-the-art vehicle manufacturing and animal husbandry facility in Anaheim, California, where Polaris will build the new vehicle. I toured the plant with American manager Bill Rudolph.

RUDOLPH: We chose Anaheim primarily for its workforce, which we felt would be able to adapt to what we're trying to do. We're striving for a flatter organization with more room for worker input, and more than that, an environment in which worker creativity is nurtured and can grow and contribute to the process.

REIGER: Amid the optimism, a number of questions remain to be resolved, and Polaris' future in the vehicle industry is far from assured. Skeptics have questioned whether the vehicle, developed and tested in extremely cold conditions, will work in California, where there is little snow. The eight reindeer that power the vehicle could require as much as a hundred pounds of hay and grain each day. At present, neither fueling stations nor the vast delivery infrastructure to support a substantial number of vehicles exists. But California Department of Transportation spokesperson Lester Frank says that finding answers to questions like these is the purpose of a prototype program.

FRANK: It's true that a number of important questions about fuel and maintenance and so on do need to be answered, but the same is true of the electric car. We feel that as regulators, our job is to encourage the market to find solutions to California's need for a practical zero-emissions vehicle.

REIGER: But others are not so sanguine. Thea Hansen is a transportation specialist with the Washington-based consumer group, Citizens Alarm.

HANSEN: The market can only decide once all the costs are counted. And in this case, that can't happen. Because this is being sold as a zero-emissions vehicle, when in fact, it is not. Reindeer emissions include substantial amounts of methane, which is a significant factor in global warming, as well as large volumes of solid waste, which will be aerially discharged by these flying vehicles over a wide area - a prospect which we believe the public will view with genuine and justified alarm. Ultimately, we think a zero-emissions vehicle, powered by flying reindeer, is a fantasy. About as likely to materialize as cold fusion or the Easter Bunny.

KLAUS: Well, of course, every child can tell you that this will work. In answer to the second question, we are aware of a vocal minority that has been saying "not in my back yard." We think that the majority of Californians, however, are tired of this so-called NIMBYism standing in the way of meaningful progress. So we will go ahead. We are prepared to go to court if necessary to make this revolutionary vehicle available to the maximum number of people both here in California and eventually in the United States as a whole.

REIGER: The Polaris Group has announced that the first California-built vehicles are expected to fly off the line in 1995. Meanwhile, the company says several imported prototypes will be flying this December. For Living on Earth, I'm John Reiger in Los Angeles.

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(music up and under)

Green Guitars

CURWOOD: Many fine guitars are made from Brazilian or Indian rosewood, and ivory. But with Brazilian rosewood being cut faster than it is growing back, and the endangerment of elephants, how do environmentally sensitive musicians find new instruments with beautiful tone? Increasingly, they are turning to green guitar makers like Linda Manzer. Mary Ambrose has our report.

AMBROSE: Linda Manzer's workshop in Toronto is cramped and hot and full of wood dust. She doesn't need much space - she only works on one guitar at a time. It takes from two to four months to build one. The waiting list for one of her instruments is a year and a half. Manzer began her love affair with the guitar when she played it herself. She decided not to be a professional musician and found another way to satisfy her love for music.

MANZER: Being a guitar maker combined three things that I really loved, which was music, working with my hands, and fixing things and designing things. And the three of them put together was just a perfect chemistry for me to be at peace with myself. And luckily I can make a living doing it.

AMBROSE: She's been doing it for 20 years and she's very good. She's sold guitars to Carlos Santana and Bruce Cockburn. She sold 13 guitars to jazz guitarist Pat Metheny.

(Metheny music up and under)

AMBROSE: This guitar cost Metheny $2000 when he bought it from Manzer in 1982. Her cheapest guitar now is $3000, but they can go up to $20,000. Bill Garrett is a guitarist. He's taught guitar and he's owned a guitar store. He says that technically all of Manzer's guitars are wonderfully precise.

GARRETT: There is a clarity in the notes, and particularly higher up in the finger board. And that sometimes is hard for builders to find. So you have an equal response from the different notes coming off the different frets all the way up and down the finger board. That's something that not everybody achieves. But she does.

AMBROSE: But ever since she apprenticed as a guitar maker, Manzer was aware of the environmental implications of her avocation. Historically, the pegs of a guitar are made from ivory. When her sister showed her a book about elephants being slaughtered for their tusks, Manzer stopped making guitars with ivory. She used cow bones for the pegs, instead, and it made her guitars a tougher sell.

MANZER: When I stopped using ivory, everybody thought my guitars were of lesser quality because I was using only bone instead of ivory. The public has now become educated to where they refuse to have ivory on their guitars, besides the fact that it's illegal now. But the same thing will probably happen with wood, but in the meantime, guitar makers are now at this sort of awkward, in-between stage where the public hasn't quite caught up with the reality.

AMBROSE: One of the realities is that the traditional woods used for making guitars, like Brazilian rosewood, have been chopped down at a furious rate. They have only begun to be replanted. Afraid that the wood will be wiped out entirely, it is now illegal to have a guitar made with Brazilian rosewood unless the tree was made before June 1992.

So Linda Manzer is using cedar from Washington State, which has fallen naturally during storms. She's using Indian rosewood which goes beside tea plantations and is winnowed out when it covers too much of the tea. She's talking to a cooperative in Peru which strip farms a new wood which she likes called Quinilla Colorado. She's trying new approaches to an old art, but she has to convince the players it's a good idea.

MANZER: I've found the most effective way of selling somebody well known, such as Bruce Cockburn. The guitar he has that I made the top of it is from a piece of cedar that rolled up on the beach in Vancouver Island. And what I did was, I cut it with a saw just as I was leaving my apprenticeship with Larivee and I saved it for years and I cut it into guitar tops. Well, I personally wasn't responsible for that tree being cut down, although somebody was, somewhere, but it's using wood that would otherwise not be used. A tree didn't get cut down. So he's got that on his guitar. And when I tell people that story, everyone wants a piece of that wood.

(Music under)

AMBROSE: Soft wood is used in making tops for guitars. It has to be at least 200 years old. Younger wood is too thin and not wide enough for the front of the guitar. If the guitar top is glued more than once, the sound suffers. Wood from an old tree is more even, and that gives the instruments the best tone. The grain lines, or the rings of growth, help carry the guitar's tone. But in 50 years' time, all the wood which is that old will have been logged already or will be locked up in a preserve. There's a move to make acoustic instruments out of plastics, but Manzer says she doesn't think that's environmentally sound and she admits that she'd stop making instruments if she couldn't use wood. Music remains her first love, and that's the reason she builds guitars.

MANZER: I just love, I absolutely love the sound of acoustic guitars. It speaks very loudly to me as an instrument, and - it sounds corny - but it kind of resonates with how I think musically. It's the kind of instrument that you can pour yourself into and it seems to come right out of it. It's a very revealing way of playing a musical instrument, is to play it acoustically.

AMBROSE: Pat Metheny has recently commissioned another guitar from Linda Manzer. Since he never specifies which wood he wants, she may persuade him to let her use Quinilla Colorado, or she may try some Sitka spruce which was found having fallen in a storm in a Washington state forest. It won't be hard to convince Metheny - he trusts her completely. Meanwhile, Bruce Cockburn has just released a new album of Christmas music and for the first time, Linda Manzer has been given an album credit. For Living on Earth, this is Mary Ambrose.

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CURWOOD: Happy holidays from all of us at Living on Earth - Peter Thomson, George Homsy, Deborah Stavro, Jan Nunley, Kim Motylewski, Chris Page, Colleen Singer Coxe, Andrea Cassola, Jessica Bellameera, and our engineers, Laurie Azaria, Keith Shields, and Monica Spain. Our theme music was composed by Michael Aharon.

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

(Music up and under)

ANNOUNCER: Major support for Living on Earth comes from all-natural Stonyfield Farm Yogurt. Stonyfield Farm Yogurt is made with milk from family farms to feed the local economy. Major support also comes from the W. Alton Jones Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts, and the National Science Foundation. Additional contributors include the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and the Joyce Foundation.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

The preceding text has been professionally transcribed. However, although the text has been checked against an audio track, in order to meet rigid distribution and transmission deadlines, it has not yet been proofread against tape.


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