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Luke Runyon

Harvest Public Media Reporter

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

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

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

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

Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

This story is part of the special series United And Divided, which explores the links and rifts between rural and urban America.

The bell signals the start of second period. A trio of young women take seats in English class, their attention quickly drifting outside the walls of the high school in Fort Morgan, Colorado, eager to talk about what they're working toward.

Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

A war is brewing over what you pour on your breakfast cereal.  Dairy farmers say the makers of plant-based milks – such as almond milk, soy milk and a long list of other varieties – are stealing away their customers and deceiving consumers. And they would like the federal government to back them up.

Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

A doctor handed Melissa Morris her first opioid prescription when she was 20. She had a cesarean section to deliver her daughter, and to relieve post-surgical pain her doctor sent her home with Percocet. On an empty stomach, she took one pill and laid down on her bed.

Americans waste a staggering amount of food. Instead of letting it rot and wreck the environment, some entrepreneurs want to put it to work feeding insects, and see the potential to revolutionize how we feed some of the livestock that provide us our meat.

Phil Taylor's enthusiasm for insects is infectious. The University of Colorado Boulder research ecologist beams as he weaves through a small greenhouse in rural Boulder County, Colorado. A room about the size of a shipping container sits inside.

file: Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

Five of the six biggest companies that produce and sell seeds and chemicals to the world's farmers are pursuing deals that could leave a market dominated by just three giant, global companies. They say getting bigger means bringing more sophisticated and innovative solutions to farmers faster, but opponents say consolidation has irreversible downsides.

Amy Mayer/Harvest Public Media

The massive industry that supplies farmers with the tools to raise crops is on the brink of a watershed moment. High-profile deals that would see some of the largest global agri-chemical companies combine are in the works and could have ripple effects from farm fields to dinner tables across the globe.

Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

Contaminated drinking water isn't just a problem for Flint, Michigan. Many towns and cities across the Midwest and Great Plains face pollution seeping into their water supplies. A big part of the problem: farming and ranching.

Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

The hardest part of starting a new food business should be in perfecting the secret recipe. For many entrepreneurial cooks though, the tough times come when searching for a space to legally make and sell their food.

Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

Few things are more valuable to a farmer in the arid West than irrigation water. Without it, the land turns back into its natural state: dry, dusty plains. If a fast-growing city is your neighbor, then your water holds even more value.

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

Ralph Horner, or Ed as his family calls him, should've been pulling in the driveway any minute that morning in June 2014, home from his overnight shift as a maintenance employee at the beef plant in Greeley, Colorado. It's owned by JBS, the world's largest meatpacker, with its North American headquarters a short drive from the Horners' home.

Chickens aren't traditional pets. But with chicken coops springing up in more and more urban and suburban backyards, some owners take just as much pride in their poultry as they do in their dogs or cats — so much so that they're primping and preening them for beauty contests.

Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

Massive bison herds used to be a staple of the Great Plains. That is until we almost hunted them out of existence.  Now, with a new designation as the United States' national mammal, bison ranchers argue that to conserve the species we have to eat them.

Dan Boyce/Rocky Mountain PBS for Harvest Public Media

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

Monarch butterflies are disappearing.

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

Amy Mayer/Harvest Public Media

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

Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

Genetically-engineered crops are generally safe to eat, but in the 20 years since the first commercial GMO crops hit the market, they haven't delivered on all their promises, according to a new analysis from a National Academy of Sciences panel released Tuesday.

Courtesy Oxfam America

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

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

The number of dairy cows is now higher than ever.

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

Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

The population of Northern Colorado is booming. People are flocking to the area and population numbers are on the rise.  The same thing is happening with dairy cows.

Americans throw away about a third of our available food.

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

Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

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

Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

GMOs, or more precisely, genetically-engineered crops, are lightning rods in discussions of our food. For the farmers who grow them and the scientists who create them, they're a wonder of technology. For those opposed, the plants represent all that's wrong with modern agriculture.

Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

Grabbing a quick meal doesn’t just mean fast food anymore. Now there are “fast-casual” options like Chipotle or Panera, restaurants that borrow ideas from both fast food and upscale sit-down restaurants.

(Photo courtesy of Colorado State University Photography)

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

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

(Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media)

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

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

Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

After a federal judge struck down an Idaho law that made it illegal to take undercover video on farms and ranches, animal rights groups said they are primed to challenge similar so-called "ag gag" laws across the country.

Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

Jeff Siegfried knows just about anything you'd ever want to find out about a 50-acre corn field in northern Colorado.  The 24-year-old easily rattles off the various gadgets he uses to measure soil moisture, plant health, and air temperature.

Stephanie Paige Ogburn/KUNC

Slaughterhouses and meat packing plants throughout the country employ a lot of people. About a quarter of a million workers in the U.S. stun, kill, and eviscerate the animals we eat. Most of those jobs are physically demanding and require few skills.

(Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media)

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

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

Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

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

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