Luke Runyon

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

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

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

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

On a research farm north of Fort Collins, Colorado, in a secret location, buried in the middle of a corn field, grows Colorado’s newest and most buzzed about commodity crop -- industrial hemp.

It’s almost harvest time at the farm, and soon researchers at Colorado State University will be adding bushels of hemp next to the usual, familiar piles of corn, wheat and oats.

Hemp is a member of the cannabis family, but it’s lacking in psychoactive properties. Instead, it’s grown more for fiber and oil. But decades of prohibition have left academia lacking in published scientific research about the plant’s very basic properties.

The marijuana industry has a pesticide problem. Many commercial cannabis growers use chemicals to control bugs and mold. But the plant's legal status is unresolved.

The grow room at Medical MJ Supply in Fort Collins, Colo., has all the trappings of a modern marijuana cultivation facility: glowing yellow lights, plastic irrigation tubes, and rows of knee-high cannabis plants.

"We're seeing a crop that's probably in it third or fourth week," says Nick Dice, the owner.

It’s May in Rocky Mountain National Park, but on a mountainside 10,829 feet above sea level, snow is falling. It’s pelting Jim Cheatham, a biologist with the National Park Service. Shrugging off the cold, Cheatham seizes a teachable moment. This snow, he said, holds more than just water.

“Chances are it’s carrying the excess nitrogen we’re talking about,” mused Cheatham.

For the past eight years, the biologist has spent most of his time thinking about how nitrogen pollution is changing the park’s forests, wildflowers, and alpine lakes. He’s also been looking for a way to stop it.

After more than a decade of explosive growth, sales of local food at U.S. farmers' markets are slowing. A January report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that while more farmers are selling directly to consumers, local food sales at farmers markets, farm stands and through community supported agriculture have lost some momentum.

2015 Likely To Be A Mixed Bag For Colorado Farmers

Jan 28, 2015

2014 brought with it an abundance of grain for Colorado farmers and it doesn’t look likely to change in 2015. While farmers wait for a rebound, the new year could bring substantive policy change.

Great Plains farmers are unlikely to see relief in 2015 from sluggish commodity crop prices, according to Brian Kuehl, director of federal affairs with K-Coe Isom, one of the country’s largest agricultural consulting firms. Kuehl spoke at an economic forecast event in Greeley.

An American rebound from drought, and bumper crops in other parts of the world, have caused a grain glut that has pushed down prices for corn, wheat and soybeans. Farmers are coming off a couple seasons of some of the highest corn prices in years.

Humans have been growing hemp for centuries. Hemp-based foods have taken off recently. So have lotions and soaps that use hemp oil. Studies underway now are examining how different compounds in cannabis could be used as medicine. There’s hope its chemical compounds could hold keys to medical treatments for Parkinson’s disease and childhood epilepsy.

Scientists studying industrial hemp say the plant holds a tremendous amount of promise. But to unlock its potential there’s very basic scientific research to be done.

Many beer aficionados are familiar with the rare breweries run by Trappist monks. The beer is highly sought after, but it's not the only food or drink made by a religious order. Many abbeys and convents have deep roots in agriculture, combining farm work with prayer.

The average American farmer is a white man in his late 50s. Or at least, that's who's in charge of the farm, according to new data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But the number of female-run farms has tripled since the 1970s, to nearly 14 percent in 2012. And if you dig a little deeper, you'll find women are showing up in new roles. But because of the way farm businesses are structured, women's work often isn't included in those USDA counts.

NOCO Cluster Wants To Boost Local Food's Economic Heft

Dec 2, 2014

More cities want to take eating local food from just a hip trend to an economic generator. But as with many grassroots movements, there can be some growing pains along the way. Northern Colorado advocates are trying a new model to spur growth and they’re borrowing ideas from the tech sector.

The cluster model is seen as a way to address those pains by bringing all the regional players together to solve problems affecting each piece of the supply chain that takes a locally-grown carrot from the ground to your plate.

Copyright 2014 KUNC-FM. To see more, visit



Growing Marijuana Industry Creates Real Estate Rush

Nov 7, 2014

The showing starts inside an empty office building, the kind you’d see in any humdrum workplace sitcom, stripped of its cubicles and ceiling tiles, leaving just a bare, dusty shell.

Jason Thomas with Avalon Realty Advisors, a commercial real estate firm that deals with the marijuana industry’s entrepreneurs, shows off the building’s features: a fully operational HVAC system, fire sprinklers, heavy duty warehouse doors, equipped with locks.

It’s a blank slate for a marijuana grower, ready to be outfitted with thousands of lights and complex water delivery systems.

Legalizing marijuana in Colorado created a land rush. State law says the drug has to be grown indoors, but layers of regulation meant to curb out of state investment and tight zoning requirements have made real estate hard to come by for pot growers.

On this week's Local Motion, we've decided to highlight political stories aired on our regional newscast. 

Ben Hamilton walks down the salad dressing aisle at his neighborhood grocery store in west Denver. The human resources consultant usually seeks out organic options and scans nutrition information.

"I am a label reader. I think a lot of people read labels and really are curious to know what is in our food supply," he says. But Hamilton says he wants more information, specifically whether the food he buys includes ingredients derived from genetically modified crops, or GMOs.

Voters in Colorado will decide whether or not they want the state to require labels on foods containing genetically modified ingredients, or GMOs. The 2014 ballot measure highlights a much larger national conversation about the safety and prevalence of genetically modified foods.

If passed, food companies and farmers would need to affix on a food label the text: "Produced with genetic engineering" if the product contains certain genetically modified crops and their derived oils and sugars that end up in processed foods. Those in favor of the proposal, Proposition 105, claim consumers have a right to the information. Those opposed say it amounts to a fear campaign.

Local food is no longer just a novelty. Farmers markets are growing nationwide and farms that sell directly to consumers brought in $1.3 billion in 2012, up eight percent from just five years earlier. Despite the demand, making local food work in some places is decidedly more difficult than others. Steamboat Springs is one of those places.

When Colorado legalized recreational marijuana use earlier this year, it also opened the door for food products infused with the psychoactive ingredient, THC, to anyone over the age of 21. That means bakers and food companies now have to ensure new products aren't contaminated with foodborne pathogens. And they have to make sure they're not falling into the hands of children or are too potent to eat.

Editor's note: This story contains language that may be offensive to some readers.

Life as a gay man in the U.S. has changed in the past decade — the law and cultural attitudes toward homosexuality have shifted. And those greater social and legal freedoms have also changed how some gay men choose to express their masculinity — and their femininity.

Jake Ryan, Laura Palmisano, Patricia Naft
Skip Naft

On this week's Local Motion we are showcasing our news team.

Patricia Naft, the voice of KVNF's morning regional newscast, hosts the program that features six original stories by our news director Laura Palmisano and news producer Jake Ryan.

Colorado already draws thousands of visitors each year for skiing, hiking, beer drinking and, most recently, marijuana sampling. In 2012, those visitors spent more than $16 billion in the state. Tourism officials want more and they’re looking to do it by bringing well-educated “traveling foodies” to the state.

Agritourism A Growing Opportunity On The Farm

Jul 20, 2014

Farms aren't just for food any more. With the local food movement growing, more savvy farmers are putting a price tag on more than those organic tomatoes. They are instead marketing and selling the “farm experience” in the form of agritourism attractions.

Mutton Busting A Rodeo Tradition For Rough And Tumble Kids

Jul 17, 2014

A furry beast, a brave rider and a roaring crowd make up the list of ingredients for the Western rodeo tradition known as “mutton busting.” Think of it as bull-riding, but for 6-year-olds, and the furry beast is actually a wooly sheep.

Canada Jonesing For Piece Of American (Hemp) Pie

Jun 2, 2014

The U.S. market for foods and beauty products that contain hemp is growing, but American manufacturers that use hemp have their hands tied. The crop is still illegal to cultivate, according to federal laws, which means the current American hemp industry, estimated at $500 million per year, runs on foreign hemp.

Now Appearing: Hemp, For The First Time In Decades

May 29, 2014

A handful of farmers are set to plant the country’s first hemp crop in decades, despite federal regulations that tightly restrict the plant’s cultivation.

The most recent farm bill is allowing a handful of farmers across the country to put hemp, the nonpsychoactive cousin of marijuana, in the ground.

The bill allows small-scale experimentation with the plant. But despite the new law, many farmers say they're getting mixed messages from the federal government.

Where there's pot, there's pot brownies. But how do you make sure those high-inducing sweets are safe to eat?

Colorado regulators are wrestling with that question now that the state has legalized recreational marijuana. From sodas and truffles to granola bars and butter, food products infused with THC – the chemical in marijuana that gives you a high — are already for sale.

Luke Runyon/KUNC and Harvest Public Media

Colorado made history when it opened up licensed marijuana retail shops this year. Aside from just legalizing the purchase of smoke-able marijuana, it also means pot brownies have the potential to be big business.

Food products infused with marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient, THC, are available in stores across the state.

When you picture a housing development in the suburbs, you might imagine golf courses, swimming pools, rows of identical houses.

But now, there's a new model springing up across the country that taps into the local food movement: Farms — complete with livestock, vegetables and fruit trees — are serving as the latest suburban amenity.

Luke Runyon/KUNC & Harvest Public Media

For decades, housing developments in the suburbs have come complete with golf courses, tennis courts, strip malls and swimming pools. But make way for the new subdivision amenity: the specialty farm.

A new model for suburban development is springing up across the country that taps into the local food movement. Farms, complete with livestock, vegetables and fruit trees, are serving as a way to entice potential buyers to settle in a new subdivision.

Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

Fall is planting time for wheat across the Great Plains and this year’s crop went into the ground while big changes were underway in the wheat market. Some of the biggest players in the flour milling industry are joining forces to make the country’s largest miller even larger.

Over the last 20 years, the number of sheep in the U.S. has plummeted by half. The sheep industry has actually been declining since the late 1940s, when it hit its peak.

The sharp drop in production has left ranchers to wonder, "When are we going to hit the bottom?"

Some sheep are raised for their wool, others primarily for food. Consumption of both products — lamb meat and wool — have been declining in the U.S.