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Speaking up for energy savings

Tuesday, June 21st, 2016 - posted by guestbloggers

Editor’s note: This post by Michael Goldberg originally appeared on the website of We Own It, a national network to help electric cooperative members rediscover their role as owners of a democratically-controlled enterprise. The piece focused on the efforts of Appalachian Voices’ Energy Savings for the High Country campaign.

How members of Blue Ridge Electric got their co-op’s attention, and action, on energy efficiency.

Mary Ruble speaks at an Appalachian Voices event to present more than 1,000 signatures from Blue Ridge Electric members supporting access to "on-bill" financing.

Mary Ruble speaks at an Appalachian Voices event to present more than 1,000 signatures from Blue Ridge Electric members supporting access to “on-bill” financing.

“Oh, I don’t think we can do that.”

Mary Ruble says that was the initial response from her electric co-op — Blue Ridge Electric in western North Carolina — to the idea of an “on-bill financing” program to help more members afford home improvements that reduce electricity use and lower bills.

A year later now, Blue Ridge has launched just such a program, called the Energy SAVER loan program. As an on-bill financing program, it aims to better serve co-op members who don’t have the up-front money for weatherization and other efficiency upgrades for their homes, especially those who may not be able to get a traditional bank loan. Members who qualify for the program get a loan for upgrades such as better insulation, air and duct sealing, and improved HVAC systems – with no upfront costs – and then repay over time through a charge on their utility bill. The goal is that the electricity savings generated through the improvements will be greater than the annual repayment, so that there’s a net savings for members.

So how was Blue Ridge convinced?

“Blue Ridge kept telling us they needed to hear from the members,” explains Ruble, a retired librarian and Blue Ridge Electric co-op member in Boone, North Carolina. “So we got over 1,000 signatures from co-op members on a petition. We got publicity. We went to board meetings. We made sure they heard from members.”

A lot of effort, but rewarding

Ruble is careful to explain that convincing the executives at her co-op took a lot of work. Members of other electric co-ops may find that the challenges she describes sound familiar: “In the old days our electric co-op used to have big meetings with festivities and music, and food and door prizes,” Ruble says. “Now voting is by proxy. The board meetings are in the middle of the week in the middle of the day, so they’re hard for people to attend. You get three minutes to speak. It can feel intimidating. It can feel like they don’t really want people there.”

Another challenge is that many people don’t think much about electricity. Ruble says that showing the cost of wasted electricity gets people’s attention. “You have to pull people in based on their interests,” Ruble says. “We had a graphic of a house with very few words, just showing the loss of energy – dollars flowing out the window. That gets people’s attention. I went to that first workshop myself to see how I could save.”

In addition to workshops, staff and volunteers with Appalachian Voices talked with co-op members and gathered over 1,000 signatures from members in support of an energy efficiency loan program with on-bill financing. Appalachian Voices also organized a “Home Energy Makeover Contest,” which awarded free home energy upgrades to several residents, as well as public events to raise awareness.

The Blue Ridge program is similar to a no-debt investment program called Upgrade to $ave offered by another NC cooperative, Roanoke Electric Cooperative, which provides on-bill financing through an opt-in tariff rather than a loan. While both of these approaches are opening the doors of opportunity for members, the tariffed terms allow renters to also benefit from a utility’s cost effective investments in energy upgrades. For more information on no-debt energy efficiency, see “How Electric Co-ops Can Save Money for their Members.”

Ruble says that at first she wasn’t sure how she could best help on the effort, but realized that as a retiree she had time to spare to help with tabling at grocery stores and local fairs, and had local connections and contacts she could call on. “It’s inspiring to be involved,” she reflects. “We didn’t get everything we wanted, like extending the program to renters, which is really needed but Blue Ridge hasn’t done so far. But it’s a start. We made progress, and we can make more going forward. An electric co-op is still member-owned,” Ruble adds. “You just have to be tenacious, and stay nice.”

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Virginians challenge Gov. McAuliffe on energy policy, climate

Wednesday, June 15th, 2016 - posted by cat

Grassroots Alliance Calls for a ‘March on the Mansion’ in July to Demand Clean Power

Contact:
Kelly Trout, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, 240-396-2022, kelly@chesapeakeclimate.org
Amanda Pohl, Virginia Organizing, 804-337-1912, amanda@virginia-organizing.org
Cat McCue, Appalachian Voices, 434-293-6373, cat@appvoices.org

MoM Logo & Date Image for Share

RICHMOND, Va. – An unprecedented alliance of groups and leaders released an open letter to Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe today challenging him to stop supporting fossil fuel projects that worsen climate change and harm communities. The letter calls on the Governor to instead join the fight for “energy justice, democratic renewal, and healthy communities” in Virginia.

More than 60 groups and leaders from mountain counties to coastal communities to the DC suburbs signed the letter, which sets July 23 as the date for a mass rally at the Governor’s mansion to demand a just transition to clean energy now.

The alliance outlines how Governor McAuliffe, after running on a platform of clean energy, has yet to act with the urgency the climate crisis demands or protect communities on the front lines of fossil fuel pollution threats. McAuliffe’s support for offshore oil drilling, for example, threatened to expose the state’s coast to an oil spill on the scale of the BP disaster. The Governor’s support for major fracked-gas pipelines would destroy farms, drinking water, and property rights while triggering nearly twice as much greenhouse gas pollution as all of Virginia’s current power plants combined.

“On the biggest, most polluting issues of our time, the Governor simply has not shown he has heard the voices of affected communities or joined the growing statewide call for justice,” the letter states. “For too long, the powerful few have made energy decisions that adversely affect the vulnerable many. Now the historic moment is before us – and the duty is ours – to change that forever.”

Speakers released the letter, as well as a website to promote the “March on the Mansion” rally on July 23 in Richmond during a tele-press conference on Wednesday.

Signers range from faith groups like Virginia Interfaith Power and Light to regional coalitions like the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance, and Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights (POWHR) to environmental and justice groups like Appalachian Voices and Virginia Organizing to clean water groups like the Potomac Riverkeeper Network and New River Conservancy to Mothers Out Front in Hampton Roads and the Virginia Student Environmental Coalition.

The groups lay out their own vision for energy policy in Virginia that would match the scale of the climate crisis, give local communities a voice, and advance social and environmental justice, calling for “a state where energy development means prosperity and health for everyone, without pain and harm for sacrificed regions, without property rights denied and whole regions left behind.”

“If our voices have gone unheard from our separate regions of the state, we have a duty to bring those voices together until we are heard,” the groups state. “If the governor has difficulty hearing our specific concerns and our even more specific proposed solutions, we will help him hear them by bringing our voices directly to him.”

The letter outlines a series of steps Governor McAuliffe can take – wholly within his authority and not dependent on Congress or the Virginia General Assembly – to lead Virginia unequivocally toward a clean energy future.

These solutions include using state authority to challenge water permits for proposed fracked-gas pipelines under the Clean Water Act, dropping support for offshore drilling, and intervening to protect communities from reckless coal-ash disposal plans. They also include committing to regulations under the federal Clean Power Plan that would put a strong cap on total, aggregate greenhouse gas pollution from Virginia power plants now and into the future.

RESOURCES:
Letter released today to Governor McAuliffe
Details on the July 23rd March on the Mansion rally in Richmond.
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Coal ash controversy continues in North Carolina

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016 - posted by interns

By Hannah Petersen

A map showing the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality's risk classifications for coal ash ponds across the state.

A map showing the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality’s risk classifications for coal ash ponds across the state. Click to enlarge.

UPDATE: As of June 22, North Carolina lawmakers had taken no further action on legislation related to coal ash cleanup in the state.

On May 18, the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality released the rankings for Duke Energy’s coal ash impoundments across the state following 15 public hearings throughout March.

Eight sites are classified “high priority,” meaning the impoundments must be closed and the toxic ash excavated and moved to a lined landfill by 2019. Duke has already agreed to fully excavate these sites. The remaining 25 were ranked intermediate and must be closed and excavated by 2024. It will be Duke’s decision as to whether the intermediate sites’ ash remains on Duke property or is moved to sites such as those in Chatham or Lee counties.

But those rankings could still change. DEQ requested a change to the state law governing coal ash disposal and asked the General Assembly for an 18-month extension during which Duke Energy can take action to remediate issues such as dam deficiencies, one of the key factors leading to the intermediate classifications.

DEQ officials also say that providing water to communities around the impoundments will alleviate drinking water quality concerns, another key factor. Giving Duke 18 months to make these changes would likely cause DEQ to reclassify the sites, opening the door for Duke to cap ponds in place. Citizens living near coal ash sites disagree with DEQ’s suggestion.

“Residents are angered that DEQ is already asking the legislature to consider changing the coal ash law in 18 months, likely creating further delays and loopholes,” according to The Alliance of Carolinians Together (ACT) Against Coal Ash — a coalition of community members directly impacted by the state’s coal ash.

Under the Coal Ash Management Act, an independent commission is required to approve DEQ’s rankings within 60 days. But that commission no longer exists. In March, Gov. McCrory disbanded the state Coal Ash Management Commission after the state Supreme Court found commission appointment process encroached on the executive branch’s power.

Citizens waitiing for clean water

On May 24, however, the legislature announced that it was currently revising Senate Bill 71 to reestablish the commission and provide future regulation for coal ash cleanup. Under the current writing of the bill the commission would have seven members, five of whom would be appointed by McCrory. Duke would have to provide water to residents within half a mile of coal ash impoundments. And if the appointed commission does not approve of the rankings within 120 days after recommendations, the rankings would be rejected.

The bill could relieve Duke from the responsibility of excavating coal ash threatening the water quality and harming nearby residents by causing air quality concerns and reducing property values.

Both the state House and Senate have approved the bill, but Gov. McCrory has vetoed it saying that it “weakens environmental protections, delays water connections for well owners, ignores dam safety, hinders efforts to reuse coal ash and violate the state constitution.”

Both the House and the Senate have enough votes to override the veto, but it now appears unlikely that lawmakers will take action.

“This bill is the latest attempt by Raleigh politicians to bail out Duke Energy,” said Frank Holleman in a statement for the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Now, after heavy lobbying by Duke Energy, the Raleigh politicians want to reopen the process to try to find a way to let Duke Energy off the hook.”

While the law has been the center of attention for policymakers, it also concerns North Carolinians.

“This is a way for Duke to wiggle out of fixing the problem,” says Doris Smith, a Walnut Cove resident who lives roughly two miles from Duke’s Belews Creek Power Station, which was ranked intermediate. “And providing water does nothing for the pollution. The only solution is to get the ash out of here.”

Last year, more than 300 residents living near Duke Energy coal ash ponds were sent “Do Not Drink” letters from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services informing them of unsafe levels of heavy metals in their well water including hexavalent chromium, a carcinogen. This March, the state agencies rescinded the majority of these letters claiming that further studies revealed the recommendations were overly cautious.

But no well testing or on the ground studies had occurred. DHHS State Epidemiologist Megan Davies revealed during a deposition that the “extensive study” that the letters referenced were actually literature reviews of other state and federal policies for regulating contaminants.

“I know the language of the letter says, ‘after extensive study,’ said Davies. “To me, that doesn’t mean — it just means after reviewing the literature.”

When asked if she thought the letters should have been rescinded, the deposition transcript shows Davies’ response was, “No.”

“They treat us like we are dirt,” said Doris Smith of Walnut Cove. “I know why they don’t want to move the ash, it’s because there is so much of it. But it’s done enough damage.”

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The Path of Most Resistance

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016 - posted by interns

Renewable energy is here to stay. But utility pushback and state policy battles could determine who has access to cleaner power.

By Brian Sewell

Last December, Congress supercharged America’s already-booming solar industry when it extended federal tax credits for commercial and residential projects. The boost is expected to nearly double the total amount of solar installed — and the number of solar jobs — in the United States by 2021.

Citizens are calling on their power companies to increase access to renewable energy in creative ways.  Appalachian Power Company customers attend a grassroots meeting to oppose extra charges and size limits on solar in Virginia. Photo by Hannah Wiegard.

Citizens are calling on their power companies to increase access to renewable energy in creative ways. Appalachian Power Company customers attend a grassroots meeting to oppose extra charges and size limits on solar in Virginia. Photo by Hannah Wiegard

With federal incentives locked-in for the next five years, battles for the future of clean energy are heating up in dozens of states. Across the country, electric utilities are fighting to maintain monopoly control in the face of increasing power generation from distributed resources like rooftop solar or small wind projects that produce electricity near the point of consumption.

In many states, though, clean energy has built a constituency. Where the solar industry is well-established, it supports thousands of jobs and has the backing of a committed customer base that is calling for access to renewable power — for all.

Distributed Disputes

Pick any state on the map and there’s likely a battle related to residential solar already underway. Take West Virginia, where lawmakers approved changes last year to net metering, a policy that allows utility customers with their own solar installations to offset the cost of power they draw from the grid with power they produce.

In March 2015, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed a bill directing the state Public Service Commission to investigate utilities’ most common argument against net metering: that, as more homeowners go solar and save money, eventually customers without solar will be forced to pay more.

  A solar project designed to test North Carolina’s ban on third-party electricity sales catches some rays on the roof of a Greensboro church. Photo courtesy of NC WARN.


A solar project designed to test North Carolina’s ban on third-party electricity sales catches some rays on the roof of a Greensboro church. Photo courtesy of NC WARN

But groups including The Alliance for Solar Choice and WV SUN claimed the bill’s vague language could lead to fees and even punitive charges on West Virginians that already have solar. Two weeks after vetoing the original bill, Gov. Tomblin signed a revised version into law that also instructs the commission to consider the potential upsides of net metering.

Several state commissions are way ahead of West Virginia’s and have already concluded that the benefits of net metering are both vast and shared. In 2014, the Mississippi Public Services Commission found that net metering promotes energy security and takes pressure off the state’s power plants during periods of high energy demand.

A similar study conducted for the Maine Public Utilities Commission in 2015 valued electricity generated by distributed solar at 33 cents per kilowatt hour, compared to 13 cents per kilowatt hour, the average retail price of electricity in the state. The higher value accounts for benefits to customers with or without solar such as reductions in air and climate pollution.

Overall, a recent analysis by North Carolina State University’s Clean Energy Technology Center found that changes to net metering policies or the valuation of distributed solar were considered or enacted in 46 states last year alone. Many of those stemmed from utility-led efforts to thwart solar that are unlikely to let up.

The American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization of industry groups and state lawmakers that drafts model legislation, has resolved to change state net metering policies. In its 2016 corporate goals, the Edison Electric Institute, an association of investor-owned electric utilities that funds ALEC and helped draft the resolution, calls on power companies to continue pushing back against distributed generation.

Some utilities that have lobbied to impede distributed solar are also pushing to keep uneconomical power plants online. In March, FirstEnergy and American Electric Power, which have pushed for changes to net metering in West Virginia and other states, won approval from Ohio regulators to raise rates to keep seven aging coal plants and one nuclear plant operating until 2024, despite being uncompetitive in interstate electricity markets. Research by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis indicates the plan could cost ratepayers more than $4 billion.

Tug-of-War Tests Laws

More than any other state in the Southeast, North Carolina has emerged as a national solar leader, especially when it comes to utility-scale solar farms. Between 2007 and 2015, nearly $6 billion was invested in clean energy development in the state. Last year, North Carolina added 1,134 megawatts of solar capacity, second only to California.

State tax credits for solar projects and a standard requiring utilities to meet a portion of electricity demand with renewables have made the state a model of solar success. But some North Carolina policymakers want to take a different path. Lawmakers let the state’s solar tax credit expire at the end of 2015.

Solar power is one of the fastest growing energy sources in the United States. But due to a patchwork of regulations, the total amount of solar capacity installed varies widely by state and sector. Illustration courtesy of the Smart Electric Power Alliance.

Solar power is one of the fastest growing energy sources in the United States. But due to a patchwork of regulations, the total amount of solar capacity installed varies widely by state and sector. Illustration courtesy of the Smart Electric Power Alliance

After an attempt in the state legislature last year to weaken the state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, solar advocates are doubling down to communicate the benefits clean energy provides to residents.

“We learned that there is a lot of misinformation surrounding the solar industry and the clean energy industry as a whole,” says Maggie Clark, Interim Director of Government Affairs of the N.C. Sustainable Energy Association. “It is falsely assumed that the [renewable energy standard] is a cost to ratepayers.”

Solar power is one of the fastest growing energy sources in the United States. But due to a patchwork of regulations, the total amount of solar capacity installed varies widely by state and sector. Illustration courtesy of the Smart Electric Power Alliance.

Solar power is one of the fastest growing energy sources in the United States. But due to a patchwork of regulations, the total amount of solar capacity installed varies widely by state and sector. Illustration courtesy of the Smart Electric Power Alliance

According to the North Carolina-based research institute RTI International, energy costs are lower today than they would have been if the state continued to rely entirely on conventional power sources. Researchers estimate investments in renewables and energy efficiency to comply with the renewable standard will generate $651 million in savings for ratepayers between 2008 and 2029.

Even Jim Rogers, who was CEO of Duke Energy in 2007 when the company helped craft the standard, called out the policymakers pushing to weaken it.

“They are not focused on the future,” Rogers said last year during a speech at the Charlotte Business Journal’s Energy Inc. Summit. “They are focused on the past.”

Companies including New Belgium Brewing and Mars, Inc., sent a letter to lawmakers opposing the effort because the renewable standard gave “companies like ours the business case to build and operate in North Carolina.” Apple, Google and Facebook, which have data centers in the state, warned legislators in another letter that freezing the standard would “risk undermining the state’s almost decade-long commitment to renewable power and energy efficiency.”

The renewable standard survived due to a groundswell of public attention and support from a broad range of stakeholders. But now a different fight is pitting companies and communities that want easier access to affordable solar against Duke Energy.

In April, the North Carolina Utilities Commission shot down an experimental solar project set up on a Greensboro church to test the legality of third-party electricity sales. North Carolina is one of only four states in the country with a ban on third-party sales, which allow energy producers other than utilities to compete in the clean energy marketplace. Duke Energy operates in three of those states.

NC WARN, the Durham-based advocacy group behind the test project, appealed the commission’s ruling in May and disputed the idea that North Carolina is a leader on solar when it lacks policies to promote commercial and residential installations.

Standby for Solar

Unlike North Carolina, the solar market in Virginia has sat idle for years. The commonwealth has about the same potential for solar as its southern neighbor, but lacks a mandatory renewable portfolio standard and never enacted state tax credits to bolster clean energy investments.

An April report by the Center for Biological Diversity gave Virginia — among other southeastern states including Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee — an “F” on policies to help residents access solar. That’s harsh but not far off, according to Ivy Main, an environmental lawyer who writes about Virginia energy policy on her blog Power for the People VA.

“We’ve reached an economic tipping point where some residents and businesses find it worth doing,” says Main. ”But we also have standby charges that apply to larger residential systems.”

Another emerging trend is actions by utilities to impose fees on customers with solar that still need the grid as backup. Dominion Virginia Power and Appalachian Power Company have both instituted “standby charges” in Virginia that will cost customers with solar systems larger than 10 kilowatts hundreds of dollars each year.

Since currently only a handful of the utilities’ customers have systems that size, Main argues the extra fees are intended to discourage the residential solar market rather than protect ratepayers. And, like utility arguments against net metering, the charges ignore the benefits of distributed resources.

“[Distributed generation] is being done with private investment, but it is a tremendous public service,” Main says.

As Duke Energy and Dominion restrict access to solar, they’re making the case to utility regulators — and ratepayers — that building the $5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline to transport natural gas is a must to maintain reliability and meet growing electricity demand. The two utilities will own a majority stake in the project, but if anticipated demand for natural gas does not materialize, their customers will still be on the hook to pay for the pipeline.

“We’re seeing a clash of visions,” says Main. “It’s going to take a lot of public pressure to expand access to clean energy and make sure we’re not locked into fossil fuels for the next 30 years.”

The Miracle of Harvest

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016 - posted by interns

Meadowview Restaurant and Farm Focuses on Local Foods and Community

By Eric J. Wallace

After co-authoring 2007’s wildly successful New York Times best-seller, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle with his wife, Barbara Kingsolver, Steven Hopp got an idea: What if he used his portion of the profits to open a farm-to-table restaurant?

However, for many, Hopp’s 2008 decision to found Harvest Table Restaurant in the tiny southwest Virginia town of Meadowview seemed ludicrous. The area’s population totaled 967 and had a per-capita income of around $15,700.

‘Why would anyone open a gourmet seasonal restaurant here?’ scoffed Hopp’s critics. ‘It will have no clientele. The idea is naive. Foolhardy. And doomed.’

But Hopp thought differently. By considering the venture in terms of traditional, profit-motivated business models, detractors all but missed the point. Indeed, Hopp believed the true riddle was how to maximize a business’s positive impact on its community.

Turning a ‘Miracle’ into Reality

For Hopp, a professor of environmental science at Emory and Henry University, the notion seemed a logical outgrowth of Miracle. After all, the book had, at its heart, been about the Hopp-Kingsolver family’s year-long journey to eat and drink as locally sourced and seasonally specific as possible. As co-authors, while Kingsolver dramatized their day-to-day adventures, Hopp placed them in a larger context. Using the family’s individual struggles as a point of departure, Hopp wrote about America’s problematic eating habits.

“We’re having a lot of fun, and we’re healing the earth in the process,” says Steven Hopp, founder of Harvest Table Restaurant. Photo courtesy of 621studios.com

“We’re having a lot of fun, and we’re healing the earth in the process,” says Steven Hopp, founder of Harvest Table Restaurant. Photo courtesy of 621studios.com

Among the socio-environmental issues he took on were the problems of processed foods, genetically modified ingredients, shipping procedures that carry products thousands of miles via fossil fuels, the overuse of artificial fertilizers and pesticides, inhumane factory farming methods, and the disappearance of the family farmer, just to name a few.

“The story about our experiment to eat in-season, locally grown foods became more than just our story,” explains Hopp. “Thousands of folks responded, telling us of their efforts to reclaim a healthier food culture — they found their local farmers’ market, raised chickens and planted gardens. [Miracle] helped inspire individuals, families and communities to be involved in local food movements.”

Considered from such a vantage, opening a restaurant based on principles outlined in Miracle made perfect sense. It was simply the next phase of the project.

“The experiment started when we realized we could do something for [our little] town of Meadowview,” says Hopp. “Clearly we needed jobs. However, we needed jobs that created a deeper sense of community.”

Hopp hypothesized that if you create a business that maximizes local and regional participation, this will in turn bolster the community’s overall well-being.

Present the notion to many accountants and they will laugh in your face, decrying your thinking as, economically speaking, a loser’s bet. And likely they would be right. But in Hopp’s case, with financial backing provided by Miracle, while he wanted the business to be financially viable, he was ultimately chasing a different kind of profit.

“A sustainable and socially responsible business has three cornerstones: Financial, environmental and social,” explains Hopp. “For us, the latter was the most important … We believed if we made the restaurant a model for sustainable principles, it would effect a kind of paradigm shift for the community at large.”

Determined to test the hypothesis, Hopp bought and renovated a big building in the center of Meadowview’s dilapidated, .1-mile strip of a downtown that had once been a booming railway and textile hub. He convinced his long-time friend, protégé and farm-to-table mastermind Phillip Newton to man the kitchen, and promptly set to work.

Within a few short months of opening, Hopp and Newton had discovered nearly 50 local farms from which to purchase sustainably raised ingredients. They devised an impressive menu of Virginia-made wines, ciders and beer. Eventually, beyond free-trade coffee, South Carolina-produced rice, North Carolina seafood, organically grown Florida lemons and some spirits, Harvest Table was sourcing 90 percent of its items within a 100-mile radius.

“We quickly got to know our area producers,” says Hopp. “While we couldn’t buy every last heirloom tomato grown in the county, if someone was producing celery in October, we’d buy every last bit of it. It was a learning experience for [everyone].”

It didn’t take long for relationships to form. Growers began phoning Newton before planting the season’s vegetables. Expert foragers would stop in and peddle what they’d found. Farms were upgrading their infrastructure and purchasing additional heritage breed livestock to meet the restaurant’s demand for organic, sustainably raised meats.

In short, the project was working. However, Hopp and Newton weren’t done.

With sky-high culinary ambitions — “We wanted our food to taste as good as anywhere in the U.S.,” says Hopp. “That was one of our major goals.” — there remained specialty ingredients that weren’t getting produced. For farmers with the know-how to pull it off, the labor demands of raising small batches of specialty vegetables, herbs and spices didn’t make economic sense.

Harvest Table’s menu features well-crafted standards like stone-oven pizzas, pasture-raised meats, and vegetarian and vegan offerings. Photo courtesy of 621studios.com

Harvest Table’s menu features well-crafted standards like stone-oven pizzas, pasture-raised meats, and vegetarian and vegan offerings. Photo courtesy of 621studios.com

So in early 2010, Hopp purchased a 4.5 acre tract of property adjacent to his and Kingsolver’s homestead and hired Appalachian State University agro-ecology and sustainable development graduate Samantha Eubanks, charging her with the task of transforming the property into a world-class vegetable farm.

“Bringing on Sam allowed me to focus on the kitchen,” says Newton.

Beyond managing the farm and, as Newton and Hopp call it, ‘growing to the gaps,’ Eubanks took on sourcing duties and became Harvest Table’s insider within the local and regional farming community. In this manner, she was able to avoid growing what other farmers were already producing.

“A lot of my job is working with our suppliers to keep us all on the same page,” says Eubanks. “I coordinate with Phillip to make sure that everyone’s growing their share of what’s needed now and anticipating what’ll be needed in the future.”

Overall, the strategy has worked. Within seven years of opening, the number of partnering farms and artisans has blossomed to nearly 100. Taste-wise, by 2011 the buzz was so audible it attracted a New York Times food writer, who subsequently described the restaurant as a place that would be “an instant hit in a progressive, urban enclave like Brooklyn or Berkeley, California.”

Growing Beyond the Table

Devoted to spreading the gospel of sustainability through participatory education, Hopp began expanding his operations. He and Eubanks tapped into the World Wide Opportunities for Organic Farms network and partnered with Appalachian State to offer farming internships. They reached out to area public school systems, coordinating guided field-trips to the farm, and partnered with the Old Glade Antique Tractor Association, the city of Abingdon and White’s Mill to grow and mill heirloom corn varieties.

Harvest Table Farm gathered wood chips for mulch from state road crews, and collected nitrogen-leaching manure from local cattle and poultry operations to add to the wood chips for compost. And they spearheaded an effort to open a collective canning kitchen accessible to area growers.

As a board member of the Abingdon-based regional nonprofit Appalachian Sustainable Development, Hopp also offered keen insight into the organization’s 2012 Rooted in Appalachia initiative to create an online listing through which farmers could sell produce to regional restaurants.

Most recently, he and Eubanks partnered with the local 4-H club. “Basically we taught the kids how to grow broccoli using sustainable methods,” says Hopp. “We provided them with a template and instruction and then committed to helping them sell their crop.”

Nothing is fresher than a bite picked from the Tasting Garden, which is located along the patio in back of the restaurant and is available to patrons. Photo courtesy of 621studios.com

Nothing is fresher than a bite picked from the Tasting Garden, which is located along the patio in back of the restaurant and is available to patrons. Photo courtesy of 621studios.com

The idea was to show kids that money can be made growing more than hay and cattle.

“They got to sell produce to stores and restaurants, [which] got them excited,” says Hopp. “They could see this was a viable career path.”

The Farmers Guild General Store, a two-story cooperative retail outlet adjacent to Harvest Table, features the work of over 200 local artists and artisans, including hand-carved chess boards, home-spun wools, paintings, photographs, books, hand-blown glass ornaments, soaps, jams, furniture, jewelry, earthenware and myriad other items. All are exquisite, locally produced and definitely for sale.

By combining the storefront with the restaurant, Hopp is able to provide talented local artisans with a sales platform.

With an estimated 40 percent of Harvest Table’s customers streaming in from nearby arts presentations in Abingdon, Trip Advisor recommendations, or articles like this one, the benefits to the community are substantial. And the fact that the restaurant has been named by both Virginia Living and Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine as the state and region’s “greenest” restaurant has certainly helped.

“When someone visits we want them to have a good time and be amazed by the food,” says Hopp. “We want them to access the community experience. Which, I think, is why we have so much repeat business. That’s what keeps them coming back.”

In the end, while Hopp is quick to point out the project is not making anyone rich fast, he says the farm, restaurant and Guild are putting money in the pockets of over 300 individuals and families. The overall result, he asserts, is a net positive for the community.

“When you shop at a big-box store, 90 cents on the dollar leaves the community,” says Hopp. “Here, 85 cents of every dollar is going back into the town. A substantial share of that money comes from non-local sources … In just eight years we’ve put upwards of $1 million back into the local economy.”

Meanwhile, according to Hopp, everyone involved is learning a little something about sustainable agriculture.

“We’re touching tons of people,” he says. “Hundreds and hundreds of farmers have altered their perceptions. Children and diners are learning about environmentally responsible agriculture. We’re having a lot of fun, and we’re healing the earth in the process.”

And all of this has been made possible simply by believing in local foods. Isn’t it amazing what a meal can do?

To find more information, visit harvesttablerestaurant.com

Born to be Wild

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016 - posted by interns

Wildlife rehabilitation in Appalachia

By Lorelei Goff

After their nest was destroyed, Carlton Burke built these baby barn owls a makeshift home out of a plastic garbage can. The parent birds soon returned to care for their owlets. Photo by Carlton S. Burke, Carolina Mountain Naturalists

After their nest was destroyed, Carlton Burke built these baby barn owls a makeshift home out of a plastic garbage can. The parent birds soon returned to care for their owlets. Photo by Carlton S. Burke, Carolina Mountain Naturalists

A snapping turtle lays in the road, unborn eggs shielded inside her shattered body. A possum gives birth inside a suburban attic. A starving snowy owl wanders far outside its natural range and develops a crippling illness. A mother mallard hatches her ducklings outside a grocery store and tries to lead them across a busy highway.

Though each of these stories ended happily, thanks to wildlife rehabilitators across the region, humanity’s rapid encroachment on wild places is taking a heavy toll.

“Ninety percent of the animals come in because of human involvement,” says Jessie Cole, a wildlife rehabilitator at Rockfish Wildlife Sanctuary in Nelson County, Va. “Humans are leaving an imprint on the earth and, unfortunately, animals sometimes have to pay the consequences for that.”

 Animal rehabilitators care for a diverse range of animals, including these three infant squirrels. Photo courtesy of Kentucky Wildlife Center, Inc.

Animal rehabilitators care for a diverse range of animals, including these three infant squirrels. Photo courtesy of Kentucky Wildlife Center, Inc.

Animals that become accustomed to feeding on human food or trash are often injured or sickened and they can never be re-wilded.

Dana Dodd, president of the Appalachian Bear Rescue in Townsend, Tenn., says, “Last summer, [Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency] had to put down a mother bear and four cubs because they had made their living eating trash in Gatlinburg. It’s not the wildlife officers who kill those animals. It’s the people who cause the situation.”

Walking on the Wild Side

Rehabilitators face daunting challenges, including the cost. They operate without state or federal funding, relying on donations to cover expensive veterinary care, antibiotics, fluid therapy, milk replacer and other supplies.

Be a Good Neighbor

Humans can minimize the negative impact we have on our wild neighbors. Make food sources — like pet food, birdseed and trash — inaccessible and keep barbecue grills clean.

Think twice before throwing food scraps along roadsides where animals and birds can be injured or killed by traffic. Don’t place sticky traps where hungry birds can get caught in them, and hang something in large picture windows so birds know they’re there. Open containers of liquid are also dangerous and can drown chipmunks, bats and other small animals.

“Each species has to have its own species-specific milk replacer that’s been manufactured in the lab to closely resemble the mother’s milk,” says Jennifer Crabill, director of the Kentucky Wildlife Center in Lexington. “One 20-pound tub of raccoon milk replacer runs roughly $200. We go through that in about a week.”

Finding volunteers is another obstacle.“It’s very different from volunteering at a humane society where you’re walking dogs and playing with cats and it’s very fun,” Crabill warns.

“Volunteering with a rehabilitation center is very hard work. You get dirty. They’re wild animals so they’re unpredictable and there’s a chance that you’re going to get scratched or bit.”

According to Crabill, relying on volunteers can create its own issues. “Sometimes they decide that they have something else that they would rather do and we end up being short staffed,” she says.

Carlton Burke, a home-based wildlife rehabilitator and freelance naturalist, says tough decisions and a heavy workload also take a toll. “Sometimes you have an animal so severely injured that the animal has to be euthanized,” he says. “Possibly 50 percent or more might not be able to ever go back out to the wild. That’s just the reality of wildlife rehabilitation.

This young raccoon has a condition called leucism that affects its coloring. Photo courtesy of Kentucky Wildlife Center, Inc.

This young raccoon has a condition called leucism that affects its coloring. Photo courtesy of Kentucky Wildlife Center, Inc.

“A lot of wildlife rehabilitators get burned out,” Burke continues. “It’s very frustrating because of all the calls you get and you just can’t take care of them all. We need more rehabilitators and facilities to spread the work around a little better.”

When Love Hurts

Another frustration for rehabilitators is that many calls they receive are for orphaned birds and animals that are mistakenly kidnapped by well-intentioned humans.

“This is very common with rabbits and deer,” says Crabill. “In the wild, mother rabbits and mother deer have a very strong scent that attracts predators. The babies have no scent whatsoever. The mother only comes back to feed the babies and stays away the rest of the time so as not to attract a predator.”

These red fox kits will remain at the rehabilitation center until they are five to six months old and can be released into the wild. Photo courtesy of Rockfish Wildlife Sanctuary

These red fox kits will remain at the rehabilitation center until they are five to six months old and can be released into the wild. Photo courtesy of Rockfish Wildlife Sanctuary

According to Crabill, trying to raise an orphaned bird or animal, which is illegal in most states without the proper permits for rehabilitation or education, is a bad idea. Each species must maintain a specific body temperature and requires special milk and foods. If fed improperly or with the wrong kind of nipple, the babies can develop pneumonia or even drown.

Sometimes rescued animals need intravenous fluids and antibiotics.

Even if an orphan survives, making a pet out of wildlife and later abandoning it when it becomes too difficult to handle is essentially giving that animal a death sentence.

 In periods of heavy rains, young waterfowl — such as this Canada Goose gosling — can be separated from their family. Photo courtesy of Rockfish Wildlife Sanctuary

In periods of heavy rains, young waterfowl — such as this Canada Goose gosling — can be separated from their family. Photo courtesy of Rockfish Wildlife Sanctuary

“It would be like taking an 8- or 10-year-old child out of their home, driving them to the middle of New York City, [and] dropping them off,” says Cabrill.

An animal is considered unreleasable once it bonds with humans and depends on them for food. Jesse Cole of Rockfish Wildlife Sanctuary tells a story of a raccoon named Bob that was kept as a pet for 10 years. Often, such an unreleasable animal would be euthanized, but Bob was lucky. The sanctuary had a space for an educational animal available.

“When Bob arrived, he was about three times the size of a normal raccoon. He was fed a diet of chicken McNuggets and marshmallows, just candy and junk food,” says Cole. “So he came to us extremely obese. His hair was falling out because of his improper diet. He was depressed.”

Bob is slowly beginning to make progress after two months at the sanctuary, but Cole doesn’t know if Bob will ever be able to bond with another raccoon, even in captivity.

If You Love Somebody, Set Them Free

Rehabilitators do what they do so animals can remain free and fill their place in the web of life. While every rehabilitator cherishes a successful release, their favorite success stories are the ones that keep the animals in the wild in the first place.

On a hot, June day in 2015, Carlton Burke received a call about baby barn owls. A tree-trimming company had been hired to cut back an old silver maple at the Pines Country Inn near Brevard, N.C. A nest containing the babies was thrown from a large, hollow limb as it crashed to the ground. Two owlets were crushed under the limb and the rest were rushed to a veterinarian’s office. Burke arrived, greeted by the incredibly loud hissing of the terrified babies, and was saddened to realize that a couple more of them would have to be euthanized because of their injuries.

“I was determined to try to save the remaining two and get them back to the parents if at all possible,” says Burke.

Instead of taking them into captivity, hand-raising them and then trying to teach them to hunt and release them back into the wild, Burke devised a makeshift nest out of a large plastic trash can, put it back in the same tree and placed the fuzzy, hissing owlets inside. The parents came back and took care of them even though it wasn’t the original nest.

Burke observed the baby owls’ progress with trail cameras. Several weeks later the two fledged and flew off to take their places in the wild.

“It’s pretty gratifying to know that you stepped in and did something, and what you thought would work, actually did work,” he says.

Critters at Risk

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016 - posted by interns

Endangered Species and Habitats of Appalachia

By Elizabeth E. Payne

Central and southern Appalachia are renowned for their rich biological diversity. The temperate forests are home to thousands of species of plants and animals, many of which are found nowhere else on earth.

But according to Tierra Curry, a senior scientist for the Center for Biological Diversity, Appalachia is a “unique place where one of the highest biodiversity levels in the world overlaps geographically with some of the most destructive land use practices in the world.”

Virginia big-eared bats are found in isolated colonies in limestone caves across central and southern Appalachia. This bat is endangered largely because of loss of habitat and human disturbance. Photo by Larisa Bishop-Boro

Virginia big-eared bats are found in isolated colonies in limestone caves across central and southern Appalachia. This bat is endangered largely because of loss of habitat and human disturbance. Photo by Larisa Bishop-Boro

Part of what makes the Appalachian region so special are its varied ecosystems, such as the southern Appalachian mountain bog and the high elevation red spruce forest.

“There are species adapted exclusively to our cooler, higher summits, while others spend their entire lives on isolated rock faces deep within river gorges,” Walter Smith, assistant professor of biology at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, wrote in an email.

According to Smith, the spruce-fir forest is a particularly fragile environment, susceptible to effects of climate change. As temperatures rise, these cold-loving forests retreat farther up the mountain sides and eventually will reach the tops of the mountains and run out of habitat.

The tiny bog turtle lives in marshes and bogs across the eastern United States. Both the northern and southern populations are threatened with extinction. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The tiny bog turtle lives in marshes and bogs across the eastern United States. Both the northern and southern populations are threatened with extinction. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

These forests are home to the endangered spruce-fir moss spider. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, this tiny arachnid measures only 0.1 inches across and its habitat is “restricted to small areas of suitable moss mats on a few scattered rock outcrops and boulders beneath fir trees in the spruce-fir forests.”

Such vulnerable creatures are protected by the Endangered Species Act, which the U.S. Congress passed into law in 1973. Its main purpose was to provide protection for species at risk of becoming extinct and to protect the ecosystems in which they live. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is charged with implementing the act for land-based and freshwater species.

The act expanded previous protections provided to endangered species and allowed plants and invertebrates to be classified as “endangered” or “threatened.” The law also required federal agencies to conserve endangered species while prohibiting the agencies from damaging the habitats on which those species depend.

 Along with amphibian species worldwide, Appalachia’s diverse salamander populations are declining. At-risk species include the Cow Knob Salamander. Photo by Steven David Johnson, stevedavidjohnson.com


Along with amphibian species worldwide, Appalachia’s diverse salamander populations are declining. At-risk species include the Cow Knob Salamander. Photo by Steven David Johnson, stevedavidjohnson.com

States also have an active role in conserving the wildlife within their borders, and the act outlines a framework for this collaboration and established sources of federal funding that continue to help offset the costs of state initiatives.

To List or Not to List

The Endangered Species Act can be used to protect — or not protect — very specific classifications of plants and animals, such as subspecies of flying squirrels.

The Carolina northern flying squirrel is federally recognized as endangered and is a rare subspecies of flying squirrel found only at high elevations in western North Carolina, Southwest Virginia and East Tennessee. This nocturnal mammal reaches up to 12 inches in length and glides, rather than flies, on flaps of skin that extend from its outstretched arms. It is primarily threatened by loss of habitat, introduction of foreign pests and expansion of residential and recreational spaces.

Salamanders of Appalachia

According to the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Washington, D.C., more species of salamanders live in the varied altitudes and freshwater ecosystems of Appalachia than anywhere else on earth.

However, populations of amphibians — including many salamanders — are declining rapidly, though the specific causes of this decline are unknown. Factors such as climate change may play a role in the loss of lungless salamanders that breathe through their skin and are particularly sensitive to water quality, changes in temperature and moisture levels.

In February, the U.S. Forest Service rejected a 10-mile segment of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline — which would carry natural gas from West Virginia to Virginia and North Carolina — in order to protect critical habitats along its route. The habitats of the rare, spotted Cow Knob salamander and the brassy-flecked, threatened Cheat Mountain salamander would have been destroyed.

But another subspecies — the West Virginia northern flying squirrel — lost its protected status in 2008 after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that there was no longer a risk of extinction. This decision was challenged in court by Friends of Blackwater, a nonprofit conservation organization, and a U.S. District Court overturned the initial ruling. This flying squirrel was then returned to the endangered species list in 2011. The USFWS appealed this decision and an appellate court ruled in its favor, and in 2013 this subspecies was again removed from the endangered species list.

Central to this case were competing methodologies for estimating the size and health of the flying squirrel population. But each species considered for protected status will bring its own specific circumstances that will need to be debated.


Water is the Source of Life

The streams of Appalachia are particularly stressed, both Curry and Smith note. “These habitats are really being hit from all angles in terms of threats to biodiversity,” Smith wrote in an email. “This includes impairments in water quality from sedimentation, chemical pollution and septic waste, as well as impacts from the historical damming of many rivers across the Appalachian region.”

These streams are home to thousands of species whose habitats are now fragmented, shrinking and polluted.

“Water is the source of all life,” says Curry. “All of the animals either live in the water, near the water or they drink the water. And the water quality also affects the human community. So, water is the common thread that ties everything together.”

Along with amphibian species worldwide, Appalachia’s diverse salamander populations are declining.  At-risk species include the Cheat Mountain Salamander. Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Along with amphibian species worldwide, Appalachia’s diverse salamander populations are declining. At-risk species include the Cheat Mountain Salamander. Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

One creature that depends on these streams is the diamond darter. This translucent silver fish buries itself in sandy river bottoms to avoid predators and is recognized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as one of the most endangered species of fish in the Southeast. This member of the perch family reaches no more than five inches in length and is most active at dawn and dusk.

Poor water quality and sedimentation, as well as the fragmentation of its habitat due to the construction of dams, has severely reduced this darter’s numbers. Once found in Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia, the only surviving diamond darter population is now restricted to the Elk River of West Virginia. And the watershed of the Elk River is affected by such harmful practices as mountaintop removal coal mining, natural gas drilling and timbering, all of which impact water quality and thus further threaten the diamond darter.

Crawdads Get Respect

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service extended protection for two Appalachian crayfish in April. The Big Sandy crayfish is now recognized as threatened and the Guyandotte River crayfish as endangered.

According to a statement from the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the biggest threats to both species is mountaintop removal coal mining because of the pollution and sediment that fill affected streams and rivers. The Big Sandy crayfish lives in eastern Kentucky, Southwest Virginia and southern West Virginia. The Guyandotte River crayfish’s habitat has shrunk to a single river basin in southern West Virginia.

Citizen groups hope to redirect the route of the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline to protect three other species of rare crayfish. The USFWS is considering one species, the Elk River crayfish, for endangered status. Scientists have just recently discovered the other two species.

Mountain streams are also home to numerous species of endangered freshwater mussels, such as the Appalachian Monkeyface. Now found only in sections of the Powell and Clinch rivers of Virginia and Tennessee, this filter-feeding mollusk is losing its habitat from the construction of dams and is being poisoned by sediments and toxins in the water.

Preserving Appalachia Habitats and Humans

Groups such as the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit organization based in Tucson, Ariz., are working hard to expand federal protection to as many endangered and threatened species as possible. While the group continues to petition the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to have new species considered for protection, a 2011 settlement with the agency is also ensuring that decisions are being made about the status of species that have been on the agency’s candidate list, sometimes for many years.

The Big Sandy crayfish is one of two Appalachian crayfish now protected under the Endangered Species Act. Photo by Guenter Schuster

The Big Sandy crayfish is one of two Appalachian crayfish now protected under the Endangered Species Act. Photo by Guenter Schuster

According to Curry, a scientist with the organization, there’s a correlation between helping endangered species and helping the human populations around them.

“The things that threaten the endangered species also threaten the health and wellbeing of the human communities,” says Curry. “It’s really frustrating to me, as a native Appalachian, that we can’t petition directly to protect the people who are threatened by the same factors. … Protection for the species’ habitat is also going to directly benefit the people who live there.”

Efforts to preserve the wild creatures and places of Appalachia help preserve what makes the region so special.
“These organisms and habitats rank right up there with our region’s culture, music, and human heritage,” wrote Walter Smith. “It’s equally crucial that we preserve our natural heritage alongside our way of life.”

Stepping into the Mine Wars

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016 - posted by interns

Museum tells the story of the dramatic struggle to unionize coal mines in West Virginia

By Molly Moore

On a Saturday in May, a crowd gathered in Matewan, W.Va., to witness a local, all-volunteer cast reenact a bloody clash that affected the struggle to unionize Appalachian coal mines.
The outdoor drama recounts the 1920 shootout alternately known as the Matewan Massacre or Battle of Matewan. During the confrontation, union miners and their supporters faced off against private detectives hired by the coal companies to quash the rising labor movement.

The West Virginia Mine Wars Museum transports visitors to the early 20th century, when local miners fought against powerful coal companies to secure union rights. Inside, the collection presents oral histories, digitized film reels, artifacts, maps and historic photos. Photo by Molly Moore

The West Virginia Mine Wars Museum transports visitors to the early 20th century, when local miners fought against powerful coal companies to secure union rights. Inside, the collection presents oral histories, digitized film reels, artifacts, maps and historic photos. Photo by Molly Moore

Nearly 100 years later, the events leading up to that fateful day and the struggles that followed are featured at the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum in downtown Matewan. The museum opened in May 2015 in a building that still bears bullet holes from the confrontation. Inside, exhibits transport visitors to the turn of the 20th century, a time when coal companies exerted a degree of control over the lives of workers and their families that is nearly unfathomable today.

In the early 1900s in West Virginia, many towns were wholly owned by the coal operators. Miners rented company-owned houses and were paid in scrip, which could only be exchanged at the company store. Coal bosses also employed private, armed mine guards to enforce rules and suppress union activity.

That environment, compounded with dangers in the mines themselves, led miners of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds to unify under the banner of the United Mine Workers of America and demand improved working and living conditions.

At the museum, Kimberly McCoy serves as program fellow, welcoming visitors and imparting her passion for the subject. Her great-great-great uncle was Sid Hatfield, the Matewan chief of police who was at the center of the 1920 shootout, and her grandfather Earklis Perkins, a proud union miner, was buried in his UMWA hat.

“It was a terrible, trying time,” she says of the struggle to unionize the early 20th-century coal camps. McCoy grew up listening to her family’s stories about the hardships they endured and their passionate fight to establish the union. “It was a sacrifice, it was a sacrifice all around. And that’s what we’re trying to preserve.”

Walking through History

Visitors are greeted by an exhibit on coal camp life at the turn of the 20th century, which features black-and-white photographs of miners and their families. Artifacts on display include miners’ helmets and lanterns, household items and a collection of scrip coins emblazoned with company insignia.

Weapons and spent ammunition emphasize the violence of the time period. Photo courtesy of West Virginia Mine Wars Museum

Weapons and spent ammunition emphasize the violence of the time period. Photo courtesy of West Virginia Mine Wars Museum

“Between 1890 and 1912, the mines of West Virginia had the highest death rate among the nation’s coal-producing states; its mine-accident death rate was five times higher than that of any European country,” reads a quote from historian David Alan Corbin.

During that time, the UMWA grew in other states, but the union’s progress was slower in the company-controlled towns of southern West Virginia. In 1912 and 1913, more than 12,000 union and non-union workers went on strike at mines in Kanawha County. Demands included union recognition and equal wages. The companies hired hundreds of mine guards through the Baldwin-Felts detective agency to break the strike.

Violence troubled the area for months; mine guards evicted many miners from their homes, and guards set up machine gun embankments. The governor declared martial law, confiscating weapons from both sides and detaining suspected union sympathizers through military courts. By July 1913, after more than 50 directly related deaths, the remaining striking miners accepted a proposal that partially reflected workers’ demands.

At the museum, a replica of one of the canvas tents that evicted miner families lived in features an audio recording in the persona of national union activist Mother Jones, who had a prominent role in the Mine Wars.

Images of local and national union leaders share wall space with photographs of the Baldwin-Felts detectives. “One of the things that we aim to do is to tell this history from multiple points of view and to include multiple voices, and part of that has been the side of management,” says Dr. Lou Martin, a museum board member and a historian and department chair at Chatham University.

Tensions Unleashed

After World War I, efforts to unionize southern West Virginia were picking up steam, as was the friction between management and workers. On May 19, 1920, Baldwin-Felts detectives arrived in Matewan to evict striking miners at a nearby coal camp.

When the detectives returned to town, they were met in front of the hardware store by Matewan Chief of Police Sid Hatfield and Mayor Cabell Testerman. Armed miners watched as the pro-union Hatfield attempted to arrest the detectives. Albert Felts, one of the Baldwin-Felts detectives, then attempted to arrest Hatfield. It’s unclear who fired first, but a gun battle ensued that left seven detectives and four town residents dead, including Albert and his brother Lee Felts and Mayor Testerman.

Visitors study a map during the museum’s grand opening. Photo courtesy of West Virginia Mine Wars Museum

Visitors study a map during the museum’s grand opening. Photo courtesy of West Virginia Mine Wars Museum

Hatfield and 22 others were put on trial for their role in the Battle of Matewan, but were ultimately acquitted of murder charges.

Local strikes continued, as did violence between strikers and company agents. The following summer, Hatfield and his deputy, Ed Chambers, were charged with shooting at a coal facility. As the two men and their wives ascended the courthouse steps for the trial on Aug. 1., 1921, Hatfield and Chambers were fatally shot by Baldwin-Felts agents.

Miners across the southern coalfields were outraged. Text on the museum wall explains that a week after the shooting, 5,000 miners assembled in the state capital of Charleston. “You have no recourse except to fight,” local union leader Frank Keeney told the crowd. “The only way you can get your rights is with a high-powered rifle.”

The Battle to Save Blair Mountain

Decades after the 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain, the effort to conserve the battlefield and the mountain has put the area at the center of another sort of conflict: Alpha Natural Resources and Arch Coal both have permits for surface mining on Blair Mountain.

After years of campaigning by historical and environmental preservation organizations, in 2009 the Blair Mountain Battlefield — a 1600-acre portion of the mountain — was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Though inclusion on the national register doesn’t prohibit mining, it would establish an additional federal hurdle for any mining permits near the battlefield.

The advocates’ 2009 victory was short-lived. Just a few months later, the site was delisted “at the urging of coal companies owning land on Blair Mountain,” according to a recent court document.

But in April 2016, a federal judge declared that the battlefield had been improperly removed from the register, so the decision is now back in the hands of the Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places.

Later that month, miners began assembling in Kanawha County, aiming to march 50 miles, overthrow the mine guard system, and free workers in Logan County who had been imprisoned under martial law. Logan County Sheriff Don Chafin was firmly on the side of the coal companies. “No armed mob will cross Logan County,” he declared, and assembled a force of deputies, mine guards and local volunteers at Blair Mountain along the county line.

After initial skirmishes and a shooting of union sympathizers, tensions boiled over into the Battle of Blair Mountain on Aug. 29. During the fighting, privately hired planes dropped homemade bombs on the miners. Days later, federal troops arrived to suppress the uprising. Federal air power arrived as well, and though the planes never attacked, the museum notes that this was the only time the U.S. government planned to bomb its own citizens. The commanding general declared a cease-fire on Sept. 3, and both state forces and miners began to disband.

At the museum, displays of weapons and spent ammunition underscore the violence of this history. Between 10,000 to 20,000 miners are estimated to have been part of what became known as the Red Neck Army — so named for the red bandanas worn by union miners during the Mine Wars.

After the fighting, 528 people were charged with crimes including treason and murder against the State of West Virginia. Many were acquitted, but some were found guilty. The legal costs and negative publicity took a toll, and state UMWA membership declined dramatically during the remainder of the 1920s. As the museum notes, however, miners ultimately received the rights they sought: “In the 1930s, with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration, workers were given the right to bargain collectively and the mine guard system was abolished in West Virginia.”

Building on the Past

Pride in Matewan’s union history isn’t new — the town was placed on the National Historic Register in 1997, and visitors can press a button on the exterior wall near the bullet holes from the infamous shootout and hear an audio recording that features excerpts from oral histories collected from local residents. The Matewan Massacre outdoor drama has performed for more than a decade — often multiple times a year. And a visitor’s center, housed within a replica of the town’s historic train depot, also discusses the area’s past. But the brick-and-mortar museum devoted to the Mine Wars represents a new effort to preserve that history.

The term “redneck” can be traced back to union miners who showed their allegiance by wearing red bandanas. Photo courtesy of WV Mine Wars Museum

The term “redneck” can be traced back to union miners who showed their allegiance by wearing red bandanas. Photo courtesy of WV Mine Wars Museum

The museum’s board brings together a diverse group of people, including a local UMWA leader, a Matewan town councilwoman, a retired local teacher, a facilitator, a journalist, historians and the great-grandson of union leader Frank Keeney.

Many of the objects and photographs on display come from local collectors, in particular the museum’s Board President Kenny King, who lives near the historic Blair Mountain site. Efforts to preserve the battlefield and prevent surface mining on Blair Mountain have also pitted citizens groups like the Friends of Blair Mountain against the coal industry, and, at times, the state of West Virginia (see sidebox).

The museum displays a ribbon memorializing Sid Hatfield and Ed Chambers and a photograph of their widows. Photo courtesy of West Virginia Mine Wars Museum

The museum displays a ribbon memorializing Sid Hatfield and Ed Chambers and a photograph of their widows. Photo courtesy of West Virginia Mine Wars Museum

“It’s a subject that for a variety of reasons has been convenient to forget,” says Martin. “And that goes back to the initial participants — many of them would not talk about the events of the mine wars because they still faced potential criminal charges. But it also has been something that at times the state of West Virginia has not wanted to publicize, when they were trying to shed the image of a state that had labor strife in trying to attract new investments.”

The museum is also involved with events such as this spring’s May Day Matinee at the local union hall, which brought more than 50 attendees to listen to old-time music and watch a recent PBS documentary about the Mine Wars.

“Very much as the [coal] industry is in decline, so are communities,” says Elijah Hooker, a Logan County native and museum board member who served as the program fellow in 2015. “I think one of the things that this museum’s got going for it, particularly with the events that we hold, is attempting to reestablish that sense of community.”

Plan Your Visit

When: Museum is open Saturdays and Sundays until October, 12 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Where: 336 Mate St., Matewan, WV
Website: wvminewars.com, see website for details, special events, places to stay and area attractions
Upcoming events include the Aug. 6 unveiling of a miners’ memorial exhibit featuring guest speakers, and a Sept. 10 event where area speakers will share stories from their families’ experiences with the Mine Wars.

Roughly 2,000 visitors arrived during the museum’s first season, and 2016 is off to a strong start. Some, like a British couple that visited on a recent Sunday, make the journey after watching the PBS documentary or the 1987 film “Matewan.” Others are tourists drawn to the Tug River Valley by the notorious Hatfield-McCoy feud — there are 12 feud sites nearby, along with an extensive all-terrain vehicle trail network named after the famous families.

School groups come from near and far — one class this spring came all the way from Wisconsin’s Carroll University, and board members have presented the story of the Mine Wars to youth across southern West Virginia, in partnership with public schools and the National Parks Service.

According to Martin, volunteer groups performing service in nearby areas often tour the museum and gain a deeper understanding of the region’s past and resilience. Many visitors also come from the surrounding area or have family ties to the mine wars.

“It’s imperative to teach the generations to come about where they came from locally and how strong that their people are,” says McCoy.

Accelerating Appalachia’s Energy Savings

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016 - posted by interns
Energy Policy Director Rory McImoil discusses energy efficiency in Boone, N.C.

Energy Policy Director Rory McImoil discusses energy efficiency in Boone, N.C.

This spring, Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corp. — an electric cooperative in the N.C. High Country — announced a new financing option to help eligible members pay for energy efficiency improvements to their homes. Alongside residents, energy services contractors and local agencies, we worked with Blue Ridge Electric to launch the program, and we’re continuing to help improve the program and educate members about the new opportunity.

Our team is also expanding our community outreach around energy efficiency to residents and local organizations in the French Broad Electric Membership Corp. and Surry-Yadkin Electric Membership Corp. territories.

In Tennessee, we’re collaborating with state organizations and electric cooperatives to develop a statewide energy efficiency financing program — and so far, six Appalachian co-ops have expressed interest in taking part!

Click here to read more about these initiatives, and the reasons why rural electric cooperatives have the ability and obligation to lead the way in energy efficiency. And check out Energy Savings news and resources about how to make your home more energy efficient at appvoices.org/energysavings/.

Hellos and Goodbyes

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016 - posted by interns

Changing Faces on the Appalachian Voices Team

This spring was a time of transition at Appalachian Voices as we welcomed fresh faces to the team and several key staff members moved on to new adventures.

Susan Kruse

Susan Kruse

Susan Kruse, who has advocated for environmental protection and justice for 20 years, steps in as our new Development Director. After launching the Allegheny Defense Project in Pennsylvania and leading the National Forest Protection Alliance, Susan joined the Legal Aid Justice Center in Charlottesville, Va., as their Director of Development in 2006.

“I am thrilled to join the incredible staff and supporters of Appalachian Voices, who are leading the charge for a new economy and a healthy environment in our region,” Susan says.

Jonathan Harvey

Jonathan Harvey

This spring we said goodbye to former Director of Development Jonathan Harvey and former Director of Leadership Gifts Kayti Wingfield. Jonathan served as our Director of Development for nearly three years after working with The Nature Conservancy in his native West Virginia. Under his leadership the team was able to raise the bar, connect with new supporters and greatly expand our impact.

Kayti Wingfield

Kayti Wingfield

Before joining the Appalachian Voices team in 2011, Kayti worked with us and allies across Virginia to fight new coal-fired power plants as the Wise Energy For Virginia coalition coordinator. At Appalachian Voices, Kayti’s passion for the region helped her communicate our work to members and supporters, and she is now bringing those skills to the University of Virginia. Jonathan and Kayti’s enthusiasm and talent will be greatly missed, and we wish them luck in their pursuits!

Nick Wood

Nick Wood

Nick Wood, a resident of Durham, N.C., joins our staff as N.C. Field Coordinator, replacing Sarah Kellogg. Nick is a licensed attorney and worked as a labor union organizer before getting involved with environmental justice as Organizing Director at NC WARN. In this role, he collaborated with Sarah to help form ACT Against Coal Ash, a statewide coalition of N.C. citizens affected by coal ash.

Sarah Kellogg

Sarah Kellogg

Sarah originally joined Appalachian Voices in 2013 as an AmeriCorps Project Conserve member helping to grow our energy efficiency program and serve N.C. communities impacted by coal ash. Later, as our N.C. Outreach Coordinator, she worked with residents and organizations across the state to push for coal ash cleanup. While we’ll miss her positive energy and dedication, we wish her well as she pursues farming and builds a tiny house.

Lou Murrey

Lou Murrey

We also welcome Tennessee Outreach Associate Lou Murrey, our first OSMRE/VISTA AmeriCorps member. Lou, a native of Boone, N.C., is a documentary photographer and a steering committee member with the STAY Project. She is serving with our Energy Savings team in Knoxville, Tenn., learning from and engaging with East Tennessee communities regarding energy efficiency.