Lester Graham | Michigan Radio
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Lester Graham

Reporter / Host, Stateside & The Environment Report

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report and also hosts Stateside (Fridays). He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Radio from 1998-2010.

He has been a journalist since 1985. Graham has served as a board member of the Public Radio News Directors Inc., and also served as President of the Illinois News Broadcasters Association. He is a member of the Radio-Television Digital News Association (RTDNA), Society of Professional Journalists and other professional groups.

Lester has received 15 first place national awards for journalism excellence and scores more at the national, regional, and state levels.

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Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

In a nondescript building in Marshall, Derek Smith is reaming a hole to fit a tuning key into head of a mandolin. That sound is a squeaky and a little irritating. 

It wasn't long before I asked Smith if he could create a different sound. I asked him to play something on one of the mandolins in the shop, a much better sound.

Smith and the rest of the team at Northfield Mandolins make high-end instruments. And the demand for the mandolins is brisk.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

On the counter there was a big stone mortar and pestle, and a capped bottle with a vivid green liquid in it labeled “ARUGULA.” It was clear, this was going to be a different kind of drink.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Tom Fuleky is showing me some of his work. He’s a stonemason and he’s been at it for nearly 50 years.

“And it took me 30 to really figure it out. And I know it sounds crazy, but once I figured it out, oh my god, it wasn't as frustrating,” he says.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The state has finished testing all the public water systems in Michigan for PFAS chemicals. Of more than a thousand municipal systems, 119 are contaminated by PFAS. 

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Mardi Gras in New Orleans is the inspiration for our drink on Cheers! If you’ve ever been on Bourbon Street late at night, you’ll see people sipping from a rum-heavy, red, sugary drink in a plastic cup called the Hurricane. It’s like someone spiked a kid’s slushy.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

It's early in the morning in the shop of Johnson’s Sporting Goods in Adrian. Steven Durren is using a rasp to form a rifle stock. He makes custom firearms, mostly early American style from the Civil War to WWI. They’re not exact reproductions, but in the style of those single shot and bolt action rifles.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Bees and Blossoms sounds like it might be a drink for spring, but Tammy Coxen with Tammy’s Tastings says you can only get one of the ingredients during the winter.

“One of the few things that I appreciate about winter is that we get this great influx of really interesting citrus fruits,” she said. 

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

A lot of people assume a healthy diet is also good for the environment. A recently published study lends some credence to that conventional wisdom.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Sometimes your plans get disrupted. Sometimes you take a leap of faith.

That’s the story of David Sutherland.

He started as a musician.

“Years after I had finished a PhD in musicology at the University of Michigan and had taught for four years, I couldn’t get a job. And I decided, well, hey, teaching didn't work out so well," he said as he sat at a harpsichord he built.

It's been an interesting journey since.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Combining the best of an after dinner coffee and an after dinner amaro, Tammy Coxen of Tammy’s Tastings came up with the perfect night cap thanks to a collaboration between a Grand Rapids distiller and a Grand Rapids coffee roaster.

Tammy has been playing around with a new product from Long Road Distillers named Amaro Pazzo in a collaboration with Madcap Coffee.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

David Zaret builds cabinetry for kitchens, but he started out as a software engineer.

“It got to the point where I just couldn’t stare at a screen anymore after 20 some years of doing it. And though I still engineering software and I’m still involved in it, day by day I have to do a physical build rather than a virtual build,” Zaret explained.

When he says physical, he really means it.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Bees are disappearing. You might have heard that colony collapse disorder of European honeybees can nearly wipe out a hive. But native bees are also in trouble. 

There are several kinds of bumblebees in Michigan. A recent survey found during the last 20 years, there were a dozen that were fairly common.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The partial federal government shutdown could have wide-ranging consequences for the Great Lakes. There already are some problems, but things could get worse if the shutdown drags on.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

A combination of state and federal proposals to change protections of wetlands and streams could damage waterways. 

The Trump administration proposes to strip some protections from wetlands and other bodies of water. State legislators propose removing protections for wetlands smaller than ten acres. They also don’t want Michigan agencies to exceed federal rules.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Mike Cameron and Michael Konas are the co-founders and creative forces behind Dog Might Games. 

If you visit their woodshop, you’ll first be greeted by a dog. He’s a rescue.

Dog Might Games says it doesn’t have customers; it has fans. The fans named the dog “Sawdust.”

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The copper mug was on the mixing table, but I knew Tammy Coxen with Tammy’s Tastings was probably not going to be mixing a Moscow mule. She was about to throw me a curve.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

“One of the most popular drinks that I teach in my classes is hot buttered rum,” said Tammy Coxen with Tammy’s Tastings as she was putting the kettle on to boil.

However, we are not making hot buttered rum.

“I am a sucker for clever wordplay, so when I came across a recipe for hot butternut rum, I had to make it,” Tammy said.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Some cities in Michigan could lose half of all their trees due to disease or pests. Foresters are working to reduce the potential devastation.

“So, I just wanted to show you, this is a neighborhood with old maple trees," Kerry Gray said as she led the way down a tree-lined street in Ann Arbor. She's the urban forester for the city. She’s worried about losing a lot of the city’s trees to a pest or disease. It’s happened before.

Courtesy: Michigan Saves

Soon, you’ll start seeing your energy bills start to rise each month because of the cold weather. That’s never fun. But, you might be paying a lot more than necessary to heat your home. We decided to look into whether a new efficient furnace adds up to much in the way of energy savings.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The Cheers! cocktail this week comes with lots of flavor, but none of it from the alcohol in the drink.

“For me, cocktails are all about the interplay of flavor,” said Tammy Coxen of Tammy’s Tastings.

Vodka brings nothing to the glass as far as flavor is concerned.

It’s odorless, flavorless, and colorless.

“It's meant to be very neutral and very smooth,” Tammy noted.

There’s an advantage if you have a drink that already has great flavors: vodka doesn’t interrupt the ingredients as they play off of each other.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

State agencies in Michigan have issued a ‘Do Not Eat’ advisory for deer in Oscoda Township near the closed Wurtsmith Air Force Base.

The state tested deer tissue from areas across the state known to have PFAS chemical contamination, including places such as Grayling, Rockford, and Oscoda Township.

Emma Winowiecki / Michigan Radio

Do not eat the fish because of pfas sign
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The State of Michigan is finding industrial chemicals known as PFAS in the tissue of fish. So it's been issuing “Don’t Eat the Fish” advisories along lakes, rivers and streams. But there are concerns about whether state officials are doing as much as they should. 

Before we get too far into the story, we have to start with a little science.

The reason PFAS chemical contamination in fish is such a concern is because of something called bioaccumulation.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

One of the contaminated PFAS sites first documented in Michigan was in Oscoda Township near the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base. The base has been closed for years.  Firefighting training there used a fire suppressant foam containing a PFAS chemical.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

There have been more news stories in recent months about water contamination from a group of industrial chemicals. PFAS chemical pollution seems to have come out of nowhere. That’s not exactly true. PFAS contamination has been known to be a problem. What's different is we’re discovering the problem is bigger than imagined.

In recent months, the State of Michigan has found several places where drinking water and fish are contaminated by a class of chemicals called PFAS. This pollution is coming from a variety of sources.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Michigan Radio’s Stateside colleagues April Van Buren and Mercedes Mejia challenged the Cheers! team to make a pina colada using paw paw.

The Cheers! drink expert, Tammy Coxen of Tammy’s Tastings, loved the idea.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Riding a bike to work might be good for the environment, but automobile drivers are still getting used to the idea of sharing the road. 

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

It’s after Labor Day, but the weather has been pretty hot in Michigan. The Cheers! team of Tammy Coxen and Lester Graham are not thinking about apple cider and fall cocktails just yet.

“Because it’s been so hot, I thought I’d take us in a Tiki direction today,” Tammy said as she was grinding ice in a vintage contraption (more on that later).

She’s been researching beer cocktails for an upcoming Tammy’s Tastings cocktail class. Beer might not be the first thing you think about in a fruity Tiki cocktail.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The elk is an important Michigan symbol. It’s even on our state flag. But have you ever seen an elk in the wild in Michigan?  Did you even know there are elk in Michigan?

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