Illegal Pete’s Pete Turner pays his employees close to $20 per hour

Pete Turner made international news a few years back when he refused to submit to outside pressure and change the name of his chain of burrito-and-beverage joints, Illegal Pete’s.

The name was borrowed from a book Turner read as an English major at University of Colorado Boulder, and paid homage to his father, also named Pete, who helped him launch the first Illegal Pete’s, and who died of cancer only two years later.

Amid the hullaballoo of negative press, Turner was working on something radically positive at Illegal Pete’s, something that could change the way communities support criminally underpaid restaurant workers around the world: providing health care and a living wage for every employee.

It was a lesson he learned from his father.

“It was put into my head by my father,” Turner says. “He was terminally ill with cancer and he always made sure I had health care.”

Turner launched Illegal Pete’s when he was just 23, buoyed by the support from his father, family and friends. Being so young, Turner says that as the company has grown the employees have been his peers, and so he feels an obligation to take care of them, the way his father took care of him in Illegal Pete’s early days.

Now, 23 years after launching, Illegal Pete’s pays its employees $15 per hour, with an average of $4.72 per hour in tips, $3,800 per year in free food and drinks, paid time off and sick leave, and health care. The change has been years in the making.

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In labor? Try laughing gas, ladders and VR headsets at Boulder County hospitals

In the not-too-distant past, pregnant women going into labor had few options to manage the pain of delivery. In fact, they had two options.

“Traditionally it’s been you get an epidural or you get nothing, which one do you want?” says Dr. Kristen Wolfe of Boulder Medical Center. “But, really, the more appropriate thing might be something in the middle.”

In just the last few years, Boulder County hospitals have embraced new pain management tools — everything from nitrous oxide to virtual reality — and have made a conscious decision to phase out opioid use. The change has been supported by Boulder County mothers, who choose to use epidurals at relatively low rates (less than 50 percent at some hospitals), and who are eager to try these new and innovative ways to manage labor pain.

Nationally, the rate of women who choose to use epidurals is around 70 percent, though many of the doctors, nurses and midwives we spoke to for this story say hospitals they’ve worked at previously had a rate closer to 80 percent. There are plenty of reasons why the epidural rate is lower in Boulder County — a strong commitment to naturopathic and holistic medicine, a desire among local women to be more active during labor, and skepticism and wariness of medical intervention, particularly one that requires an anesthesiologist and a large needle in the back.   

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A new wave of grain

When it comes to grain, the future looks like the past. Go back a half-century in Boulder County, and there’s Old Man Webber coming into town with his portable combine. Word gets passed around and Webber goes to every farm, home and plot growing wheat and chops it. Then Beth near Valmont gets her seed cleaner running, and people take their grains there. Of course John Miller has the mill, and he gets it running in his barn. Out comes flour of all types of grain — dozens of varieties of spelt, rye, winter wheat, oat, einkorn… and on and on. Bakers buy some for their loaves. Families buy bags instead of the prepackaged grocery store cheap stuff. Webber moves on to a new community, Beth and Miller shut down their machines, and Boulder County has local, healthy, hardy flour for another season.

If you ask the people trying to rebuild that local grain chain, they’ll say that’s a system that’s not too far away from being revived — maybe five to 10 years. That’s assuming, however, that we overcome major obstacles: we have to find seeds to grow; the fields that once grew wheat now grow other crops; Old Man Webber is dead; Beth sold off her seed cleaner for a hoop house; and Miller’s mill is mothy and only grinds rust nowadays.

But change is afoot. Now that we’ve buoyed a resurgence of heritage and heirloom vegetables, fruit and meat, a motivated group of locals is creating a network to restore grain.

“All these vegetables are great,” says Bill McDorman, founder of the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance, which is working to put heritage grains in the hands of growers. “But they’re just the icing. We need the cake.”

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Boulder County’s vaccination problem

This is not a story about why you should vaccinate your children. Every state, local and federal public health agency says you should, and if you don’t, you’re required to notify your child’s school that you didn’t, and allow your child to be quarantined in the event of an outbreak of a potentially fatal but vaccine-preventable disease like measles, polio, pertussis or diptheria. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) estimates vaccines save the lives of 3 million children every year, and it encourages every parent to vaccinate their kids.

Instead, this is a story about why, despite increased educational outreach, Boulder County persists in having some of the lowest child vaccination rates in the country — with some schools reporting less than 50 percent of their students are fully vaccinated — and what local and state health officials are doing to educate communities, protect vulnerable populations and prepare for potential outbreaks.

“A lot of what we are trying to do is because there’s so much misinformation and fear out there,” says Teresa Luker, Boulder County’s immunization program coordinator. “It confuses some people, especially new parents, and we just try to provide an avenue to encourage anybody who is unsure just to talk to their health care provider about their concerns so they are fully understanding how vaccines work and the risk from getting a vaccine versus getting a vaccine-preventable illness.”

Skepticism of vaccines is not unique to Boulder County. In fact, it’s not unique to the most recent generation of parents. People were skeptical of early versions of vaccines for smallpox going back about 1,000 years ago. But, certainly, the internet has allowed for the proliferation of dubious science, including the roundly debunked study by Andrew Wakefield that linked the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism.

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Gastronauts is weird and wonderful, and you need to go there

After two “bonks” on the head rendered John blind, Ham the space monkey showed up, and Sheila quit her job as a landscape architect and dyed her hair purple. Two years later, Sheila has 12 kids in the American Legion kitchen, and John spends months on secret recipes for pizza dough.

Now that’s the short story of how Gastronauts took off and became one of Boulder County’s brightest food stars. But the long story is also loaded with details that seem out of this world.

1. Sheila has a photographic memory of customers. When I meet Sheila and John at the building owned by and connected to the American Legion, which Gastronauts shares with Gravity Brewing, Sheila says hello to everyone at the bar and places her hand on each of their backs.

“I know everybody by name,” Sheila says. “I was a teacher, and I’m Irish, so I always had to remember names, and I’m really good at it. And I remember details.”

“There’re people who haven’t been in in a year and she’ll say, ‘Are you gonna have the hamburger because that’s what you had last time,’” John says.

As we sit at a picnic table on the outdoor patio, talking about how many people Sheila knows, a young couple and their dog walk by and Sheila asks how their hike went. Later, she asks me, “You had the crispy broccoli, right?” Yes, I did, but more than a year ago.

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Michael Pollan talks psychedelics and the mind

Michael Pollan says he writes about where “nature and culture intersect,” places that often end up being on our dinner plates and in our bodies. His book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, won a James Beard Award and was one of The New York Times 10 best books of 2006. His follow-ups, Food Rules and In Defense of Food, among others, investigated food and agricultural systems so thoroughly that many people use Pollan’s work as a manifesto for the way they eat, shop and live. His line, “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much,” has now become the rallying cry for sustainable food advocates and those people just looking to eat a little better.

But Pollan’s latest book, How to Change Your Mind, departs from food issues and delves into psychedelic drugs and how they can be used to cure psychological disorders and connect us better to the world. Pollan, as in his other books, takes a hands-on approach and recounts his own experiences with psychedelics, using research to provide context for what he learned.

We talked with Pollan ahead of his appearance on June 1 hosted by the Boulder Book Store at First Congregational Church.

Boulder Weekly: I’m wondering if you’ve been surprised by this reaction that people seem to take your work as almost a prescription.

Michael Pollan: Yeah, I have been surprised. It didn’t occur to me when I was writing this new book that I was trying to transfer the authority I’ve earned with readers on issues having to do with food and agriculture and nutrition to this new area. When people tell me, “Oh, you’re going to do for psychedelics what you’ve done for food,” I bristle, because they’re not comparable. And, you know, I’m not being prescriptive. I am writing about very hopeful research, and I can see why people are getting excited about it.

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Inside CU’s initial decision to strip student government’s control of budget

In early April 2018, University of Colorado Boulder Chancellor Phil DiStefano announced the CU Student Government (CUSG) would lose control of about 90 percent of its $24 million budget, which would be shifted to the purview of the university’s Student Affairs staff.

There was an immediate outcry from students, alumni, parents, faculty and community members, and in May, CU announced the decision on whether or not to shift control of the funds was “put on hold, and until further notice all offices should act as they did before.”

Boulder Weekly filed a public records request shortly after that announcement seeking to find out why the original decision was made, why the temporary reversal was issued and who was directing the effort to strip CUSG of control of its full budget. What we found were many voices who felt like the process was done without enough insight from those most affected by the decision, and the catalogue of emails and memos we received raised questions about the motivations of the CU administration, including the Board of Regents, and their reactions to peoples’ concerns.

The CUSG has been around, under various names, for more than four decades. Its roughly $24 million budget is large compared to other public universities. DiStefano pointed out in his original decision that “most Pac-12 schools have student government budgets of $1 million to $2 million and focus on student organization and event funding — not oversight of facilities and professional staff.” Arizona State, DiStefano pointed out, has nearly twice as many students as CU, but the student government operates with a $2.4 million budget.

“This decision brings CU Boulder in line with our peers,” DiStefano wrote.

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Why didn’t anyone test for toxins in fish relocated to public waters from polluted Valmont Reservoir?

Hudson, a 1,500-person pit-stop town about 30 miles east of Boulder, has a small community fishing pond. On a recent Saturday morning, about two dozen fishermen picked spots around the lake to drop their lines. The fish were biting. Ted Collins said everyone was catching trout. He said he’s been taking home one more than he should the last few weeks because the stock seemed so ample.

I asked if he was catching any largemouth bass. Why, he asked. I said because the state just relocated a bunch of them to this fishing pond from Valmont Reservoir, which is owned by Xcel Energy and has been used to settle harmful water contaminants from the company’s coal production for decades, and has a longer history of arsenic and lead contamination from the site’s former neighbor, Allied Chemical. Oh, and it was nearly a Superfund site.

You’re kidding, he said.

Neither the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) nor Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) tested the fish for contaminants before the latter group relocated 1,600 of them from Valmont Reservoir to Hudson and catch-and-release waters in Boulder County. Fish raised in similar circumstances — that is, in bodies of water on or near coal-fired plants — have been found to contain levels of selenium, mercury, lead and other contaminants toxic to animals up and down the aquatic food chain, and which would likely be harmful to humans who consume them. One, like Ted Collins, might think fish from these waters would be tested before relocation.

Yet, “Valmont Reservoir was not prioritized for sampling,” ends a statement sent to Boulder Weekly signed by multiple people in the state Water Quality Control Division.

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Should Colorado teachers bear arms?

Last summer, 17 Colorado teachers met at the Weld County Sheriff’s Department shooting range to take part in a three-day firearm training course. They learned about the psychology of school shooters, took target practice and learned how to administer medical care. The course website provided a gear list, which included a gun (ideally a 9-mm semi-automatic), three full-capacity magazines, a holster, a magazine pouch, a gun belt, and ear and eye protection.

This year, in the wake of a school shooting that killed 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, there are 50 teachers registered to take the class, and the potential for more.

In 2017, Laura Carno brought the course, FASTER (Faculty/Administrator Safety Training and Emergency Response), to Colorado with the help of the conservative think-tank Independence Institute. In the last five years, Carno says 1,300 school officials have been through the program in Ohio, where it originated.

With President Trump saying multiple times recently that arming teachers is a viable approach to preventing school shootings, programs like FASTER may likely serve as early models for training that Legion of educators.

Colorado being a state that allows the concealed carriage of guns makes it a prime test case for the practice.

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