Posts Tagged ‘Tennessee’

Bored to Death

Sunday, August 10th, 2014 - posted by Jack Rooney

By Amber Ellis

Originally from eastern Russia and northeastern Asia, the emerald ash borer found its way to southeastern Michigan through infested cargo ships in 2002 and quickly became North America’s most destructive forest pest. Since then, the invasive beetle has plagued forests in 22 states, including most of Appalachia and, as of June, five more counties in East Tennessee.

The pest’s larvae bores under an ash tree’s bark, destroying the nutrient and water transport systems and starving the canopy until the entire tree dies. To contain the spread of the emerald ash borer and other invasive pests, experts urge residents and visitors to avoid transporting firewood of any kind.

Exploring Mountain Bogs

Sunday, August 10th, 2014 - posted by Jack Rooney

By Amber Ellis

If you take one of The Nature Conservancy’s monthly hikes through Bluff Mountain Preserve in Ashe County, N.C., you’ll experience a rare mountain fen firsthand. Walking along the trail, the trees suddenly give way to a clearing closely resembling a meadow of grasses and flowers. Meadows are rarely found at 4,500 feet elevation, however, and do not typically swallow your boots in mud.

Wetlands such as bogs and fens are some of the rarest natural communities across central and southern Appalachia. Bogs are defined by their nutrient-poor, acidic and saturated soil, and are usually found in depressions or low-lying areas filled by precipitation. Mosses and shrubs thrive while mature trees are rare.

In Ashe County, N.C., the oak forests of Bluff Mountain give way to a rare mountain fen. Photographer Kim Hadley, who captured this image, began volunteering with The Nature Conservancy to help care for the area in 2004.

In Ashe County, N.C., the oak forests of Bluff Mountain give way to a rare mountain fen. Photographer Kim Hadley, who captured this image, began volunteering with The Nature Conservancy to help care for the area in 2004.


A fen is essentially a bog fed by groundwater. This makes them slightly less acidic, more nutrient-rich and home to a wider variety of grasses than bogs, accounting for the characteristic meadow-like look of fens.

Functionally, however, fens and bogs are nearly identical. Because of this similarity, high-elevation, isolated wetlands are often collectively referred to as “bogs.”

Although mountain bogs represent less than one percent of the southern Appalachian landscape, they are highly functional pockets of immense ecological and practical importance. Not only are the bogs biodiversity hotspots for rare and specially adapted species such as the mountain sweet pitcher plant and the Carolina northern flying squirrel, they also provide natural water-level controls for surrounding communities. Bogs act as buffers in times of both drought and flood, replenishing springs during dry spells and catching overflow during heavy rain.

This consistent water supply attracts critters such as the water shrew, a small mammal whose hairy hind feet allow it to run or glide across the water without getting stuck in the mud. Mountain bogs are also habitats to many game species as well as species of conservation concern. This means wildlife such as the wood duck and ruffed grouse live alongside rare plants and amphibians such as bunched arrowhead and numerous salamander species.

In North Carolina, the smallness and isolation of these mountain bogs is of particular importance in light of recently proposed wetland regulation updates from the state legislature. Although wetlands are generally protected under the federal Clean Water Act, regulation of isolated wetlands is left up to the state. The current draft legislation would increase the size required for a wetland area to trigger environmental protection. Given that mountain bogs are typically small, the proposed regulations would make them particularly vulnerable to development.

The importance of bogs has not gone unnoticed, however, and the proposed legislation makes conservation efforts all the more relevant. In 2012, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began work on the Mountain Bogs National Wildlife Refuge to protect, restore and manage the unique wildlife habitats. Promoting these goals will involve connecting people to nature and developing landscape-level conservation and conservation partnerships. The proposed refuge would ultimately include as many as 23,000 acres spread across thirty sites in western North Carolina and East Tennessee.

According to Gary Peeples, the man spearheading the proposal from the Fish and Wildlife Service office in Asheville, N.C., the refuge is a chance to “make a big step forward when it comes to bog conservation … especially in the conservation of those federally threatened and endangered plants and animals.”

Conservation areas for the project include the bog itself, the surrounding upland area, and when applicable, an area upstream. The proposal has already received federal approval and widespread support from local nonprofits and private landowners, but, Peeples says, “the biggest limiting factor right now is money to purchase land.”

A volunteer with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service monitors the population health of the elusive and endangered Appalachian mountain bog turtle. Photo courtesy of Gary Peeples of USFWS

A volunteer with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service monitors the population health of the elusive and endangered Appalachian mountain bog turtle. Photo courtesy of Gary Peeples of USFWS

This means the project will happen in pieces, with land parcels being bought as funding is approved by the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. Peeples points out, though, that “the bigger picture here is the conservation of the bogs,” and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also works with landowners who wish to manage and conserve their privately owned bogs apart from the National Wildlife Refuge.

Once acquired wetlands in the refuge are stable enough to allow public access, recreational activities such as hunting, birdwatching and wildlife photography will take priority. The goal is to ensure the health and survival of bog ecosystems for the sake of their inhabitants as well as for curious naturalists, eager to slog through the mud and discover one of the regions’ rarest gems.

Endangered Inhabitants of the Mountain Bogs

Bog Turtle

bog-turtle-1_RGB

The mountain bogs of Southern Appalachia are one of the bog turtle’s few remaining homes. As North America’s tiniest turtles, they are prized in the pet world for their small size and distinctive coloring — particularly the bright orange patches on either side of their head.

Measuring only 3 – 4.5 inches long, bog turtles feed mainly on seeds, insect larvae, beetles and millipedes and are much more concerned with avoiding predators than being one. Though bog turtles have multiple natural predators, human impact through poaching and habitat loss are responsible for their status as a critically endangered species.

Rock Gnome Lichen

NN.Sidebar.Lichen.1_RGB

High in the fog of lofty elevations, deep in the mists of river gorges, or nestled in the dampness of mountains — these are some of the only bogs are the only places one can find the rock gnome lichen, a fungus unique to Southern Appalachia. Clustering on vertical rock faces, the blue-gray lichen gets its nutrients from water and sunlight and reproduces asexually at a very slow rate. Trampling and soil erosion from hikers and rock-climbers contribute to the rock gnome lichen’s endangered status. Habitat destruction due to invasive insects killing trees that shade the lichen is also a major cause.

Mountain Sweet Pitcher Plant

NN.CloseUp.MountainSweet.5_RGB

Found in only a few counties along the western North Carolina/ South Carolina border, the endangered Mountain Sweet Pitcher Plant is specifically adapted to the low-nutrient environment of mountain bogs. Like most plants, the Mountain Sweet has photosynthetic leaves that convert the sun’s energy into usable sugars. However, while most plants use their roots to gather additional nutrients from surrounding soil, a bog offers few freebies, so the Mountain Sweet opts for a more lively food source. Small, nectar-seeking insects are lured into the plant’s pitcher organ, an upright, leafy tube lined with hairs, and greeted with a bath of enzyme-rich digestive fluids that break down their bodies into the nutrients the plant needs. North Carolina has already claimed the Venus Fly Trap as the state’s official carnivorous plant, but the Mountain Sweet Pitcher Plant stands out as a regional treasure.

New Moth Named to Honor Cherokee

Sunday, August 10th, 2014 - posted by Jack Rooney

The Cherokeea attakullakulla now boasts a name of high distinction. A researcher first described the moth in the 1950s, but it was not until this summer that a team of scientists published a report recognizing it as an unidentified species native to North Carolina and Tennessee. Once a nameless moth drifting through Appalachia, its name honors the environmental stewardship of the Cherokee Nation.

Expecting Justice: The backward priorities of a billionaire coal baron

Thursday, August 7th, 2014 - posted by brian

If spending $30 million to see your favorite NFL team play in your backyard is possible, practical even, then so is paying your debts.

One of these things is not like the other, but they're all owned by Jim Justice. Premium Coal's Zeb Mountain (top) and Windrock Mountain mines in Tennessee, and the Greenbrier's new training complex. Photos from tnleaf.org and Facebook.

One of these things is not like the other, but they’re all owned by Jim Justice. Premium Coal’s Zeb Mountain (top) and Windrock Mountain mines in Tennessee, and the Greenbrier’s new training complex. Photos from tnleaf.org and Facebook.

On July 25, as opponents of mountaintop removal celebrated an order that halted three companies’ surface mining operations in Tennessee, New Orleans Saints fans flocked to the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., where the NFL football team began training camp at a brand new $30 million facility.

At the center of both stories is Jim Justice, a billionaire West Virginia native who in recent years cut his coal losses by investing heavily in resort properties like the Greenbrier.

The Sierra Club and Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment shared the news that the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement issued 39 cessation orders against National Coal, Premium Coal and S&H Mining, each owned by Justice, for failing to report water monitoring data and meet mine reclamation requirements.

In fact, coal mines owned by Justice in Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia have racked up more than 250 violations, with unpaid penalties of about $2 million.

“I guess I just screwed up,” Justice said to the Roanoke Times in July about his subsidiaries’ transgressions. “I mean, we’re not a public company … The majority of this is all paperwork, and I’m cleaning it up.”

Purchased Power

Justice is worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.6 billion. Forbes magazine puts him at number 292 on a list of wealthiest Americans and estimates that his personal wealth has grown by $500 million in the last year.

In some circles, he is revered for rescuing West Virginia’s historic Greenbrier Resort from bankruptcy in 2009. And even as violations against Justice-owned operations pile up, West Virginia’s lone billionaire is helping his state through troubled times.

“Sure, some have raised questions about some of Justice’s companies’ practices, late payments, regulatory fines and the like,” a July editorial in the Charleston Daily Mail postured in guarded praise. “Yet, while many talk of diversifying the state’s economy in the face of market and regulatory setbacks for the coal industry, Jim Justice and company are doing something about it.”

Photo from the Justice to Justice campaign's Facebook page.

Photo from the Justice to Justice campaign’s Facebook page.

Some folks in Kentucky feel differently, and understandably so — nearly half of the 266 violations Justice faces resulted from problems at mines in that state’s eastern counties.

Along with violations for failing to pay fines or breaking promises after previous enforcement actions, the charges in Kentucky stem from companies failing to submit water monitoring reports and failing to meet reclamation requirements. The problem has gotten so bad that some states are considering bond forfeiture, a last resort that could push the costs of proper reclamation off on the communities Justice’s companies have already put in harm’s way.

It’s not the first time his companies’ poor regulatory records have hurt their ability to do business. Outstanding violations in Virginia led to a massive victory for opponents of mountaintop removal last year when the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy denied a permit for Justice’s A&G Coal Corp. to strip-mine Ison Rock Ridge in Wise County.

But the recent cessation order in Tennessee represents the largest action to date taken against Justice’s companies. Unlike all the other states where his operations face violations and fines, Tennessee’s mining regulatory program is handled by the federal government.

Before the cessation orders were issued, the federal Office of Surface Mining held public hearings in Anderson County, Tenn., to address Premium Coal’s failure to meet reclamation requirements at two mine sites. Premium Coal requested the orders be dropped because the crew they hired had planted trees upside down with the roots sticking up.

Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards formed the Justice to Justice campaign this year to raise awareness about the dismal regulatory records and outstanding debts of Justice-owned coal companies. Photo from justicetojustice.org

Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards formed the Justice to Justice campaign to raise awareness about the dismal regulatory records and outstanding debts of Justice-owned coal companies. Photo from justicetojustice.com.

“You’d think a coal billionaire could hire firms that can plant a tree the right way around. Sadly, Premium Coal’s reasoning for not meeting permit requirements was simply that,” said Sierra Club Organizer Bonnie Swinford in a press release. “Justice and his firms have a legal responsibility to ensure adequate reclamation of strip-mined land in our state — and upside-down trees don’t cut it.”

Add it all up, and it’s no wonder the Southwest Virgnia-based Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards formed the Justice to Justice campaign this year to call on the mogul to use his power to diversify Appalachia’s economy and put an end to mountaintop removal. In early July, SAMS members marched outside the Greenbrier and the towns of White Sulphur Springs and Lewisburg, W.Va., holding signs with messages such as “You got rich, we got sick,” “Employ local people in reclamation,” and “Hey Jim Justice, be a good neighbor to ALL of Appalachia.”

According to the Justice to Justice website, many tourists and even local residents had no idea that the Greenbrier patriarch’s fortune had been built in part “on the backs of blasted mountains and abandoned communities.”

Courting the Saints

Sadly, media coverage of Justice’s latest major investment has obscured everything mentioned so far in this post. A USA Today story about the new facility built for the New Orleans Saints praised a genial, sports-loving Justice, calling him a “refreshingly grounded billionaire.” Justice was proud to share the amount he spent to see the Saints come to the Greenbrier.

“This is on me — I spent $30 million of my own money,” Justice told USA Today. “The Saints are paying for their rooms and their meals. Basically, that’s it. The Saints didn’t put money in this deal.”

The facility, which has variously been described as “posh,” “lavish,” and “state-of-the-art,” was built in about 100 days. You can watch the video at right from the Charleston Daily Mail’s YouTube account for a look inside.

“It’s unbelievable when you think about it,” Justice told reporters gathered in the locker room. “This is, gosh, I’m trying to think, a little over 90 days in the doing, and with a whole lot of earth-moving, it had to be done before that.”

Yes, it is unbelievable, and exceedingly hard to not just conclude that Justice sees himself as being above the law. If dropping $30 million to see your favorite NFL team play in your backyard is possible, practical even, then so is abiding by surface mining laws and properly reclaiming mines — trees planted root-side down and all.

Justice says the demands of his critics, who he calls “anti-mining activists,” are unrealistic. But considering the circumstances, a regional movement calling on his companies to clean up their mess, pay off their debts and stop poisoning water is not only realistic, it’s unavoidable. Justice practically created it. To do right by Appalachia, he should meet those demands and then some. And he could start by responding to the open letter and request for a meeting the Justice to Justice campaign sent him months ago.

Back at the Greenbrier, likely in a dining room every bit as lavish as the new sports complex, Saints’ Coach Sean Payton and Justice had dinner together the night before training camp started. At one point, according to USA Today, Payton told Justice, “You exceeded expectations.”

Given the same chance, someone from Central Appalachia expecting justice — whether an out-of-work miner, a contractor waiting to be paid, a fed up environmental regulator or a mother concerned about the poorly reclaimed mine looming over her community — might all say the opposite: “Not even close.”

Appalachian Voices, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment and Coal River Mountain Watch recently signed on to Justice to Justice campaign. Learn more here and by liking the campaign’s Facebook page.

The Power of Energy Efficiency — Building a Stronger Economy for Appalachia (Part 4)

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014 - posted by rory

{ Editor’s Note } This is the fourth installment in a five-part series illustrating the need for greater investments in residential energy efficiency as an economic driver in rural Appalachia.

Part 4: Closing Arguments — Why Rural Electric Cooperatives Should Provide Financial Support for Home Energy Efficiency Improvements

I love my electric utility. In fact, as I write, I am wearing a hat they gave me.

Mountain Electric is a small electric co-op serving just over 30,000 members in the rural mountains of East Tennessee. They have a small staff, but are always willing to help out if I have a question or problem. They also seem to sincerely care about the people they serve, and work hard to address member concerns. One way they do this is by helping to reduce members’ electricity bills through energy efficiency incentives and limited financing programs.

I also love Mountain Electric because they are part of a team of co-ops exploring the development of a small-scale on-bill financing program for home energy efficiency in Tennessee. Even more, I admire the co-op model and their potential for doing good in the communities they serve, and I have developed a good relationship with my co-op, as all members should. That’s why I wear the hat.

The Rural Electric Cooperative: History and Mission

I didn’t always know much about electric co-ops, and most people who aren’t a member of one — and even many who are — don’t know much about them either.

According to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, as late as the mid-1930s approximately 90 percent of all rural homes in America were without electricity. This was due to the fact that the large power companies did not think it was cost-effective to run thousands of miles of transmission lines to areas with low population density.

With the signing of an Executive Order by President Franklin Roosevelt establishing the Rural Electrification Administration in 1935, and the subsequent passage of the Rural Electrification Act the following year, a lending program was put in place that supported the creation of rural electric co-ops, and everything began to change. By 1953, more than 90 percent of farms across the nation had electricity, and today, more than 900 co-ops provide electricity to more than 42 million people.

[Notes: For those interested, NRECA has put together a neat map showing the growth in the number of co-ops over time. Also, REA is now the Rural Utilities Service, or RUS, and is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.]

[Notes: For those interested, NRECA has put together a neat map showing the growth in the number of co-ops over time. Also, REA is now the Rural Utilities Service, or RUS, and is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.]

What distinguishes co-ops from investor-owned utilities is that they are non-profit entities owned by the utility’s electricity customers. Every “member” owns a share of the co-op, and, at least in theory, has a direct voice in decisions made by the co-op. In addition, unlike large profit-driven utilities, co-ops operate according to the Seven Cooperative Principles, which include a voluntary and open membership, democratic governance by members, economic participation, autonomy and independence, cooperation among cooperatives and concern for community.

Why Co-ops Should Provide Home Energy Efficiency Loans

The seventh principle, that of concern for community, is described by NRECA as “working for the sustainable development of communities through policies accepted by [the] members.” This principle speaks directly to the mission of Appalachian Voices’ Energy Savings for Appalachia program, which is to work with electric co-ops in Appalachia to alleviate poverty and generate new jobs through the creation of comprehensive home energy efficiency loan programs known as “on-bill finance.” With on-bill finance, the electric utility provides a “loan” to a customer to make a variety of home energy efficiency improvements such as weatherization, insulation and new energy efficient heating and cooling systems. After the improvements have been made, the customer repays the loan through an extra charge on their electric bill. The intent of these finance programs is for the annual savings to exceed the loan payments, thereby resulting in a net reduction in their electric bills.

On-bill financing supports the concept of sustainable development by reducing energy costs for community residents (thereby alleviating poverty), and supporting the development of a local energy services industry, potentially creating hundreds of long-lasting jobs (e.g. energy auditors, home appliance contractors, retailers, etc) while helping to diversify and strengthen local economies. In addition, the widespread adoption of such programs would result in cleaner air and water and therefore healthier communities.

Many co-ops across the Southeast already provide some sort of financial support or incentives, such as rebates and credits on electric bills, for their members to invest in energy efficiency (does yours?). However, most of the cost of the improvements still have to be paid upfront by the member. Currently only five co-ops in Appalachia–all located in Kentucky–provide financing for their members to make multiple efficiency improvements all at once.

 

Barriers to Implementation, and Resources Available to Co-ops

One thing to recognize is that many co-ops face significant barriers to developing and implementing energy efficiency programs of any kind, much less full on-bill finance programs. First of all, like my co-op, a lot of co-ops have limited staff, and it takes a significant amount of staff time to put these programs together and have them be effective.

Secondly, it takes money, something which most co-ops also do not have because their cost of generating or obtaining electricity and distributing it to their members is on the rise. Further, co-ops have to pay for constructing and maintaining the distribution system (transmission lines, transformers, etc). In addition, most co-ops are still paying off debts associated with loans received to cover past expenses.

Finally, in a lot of areas, the lack of an energy services industry (energy auditors, retrofitters, retailers) means that contractors would have to be identified and certified before an on-bill finance program can be implemented. Each of these factors may pose a significant challenge for a co-op interested in developing a financing program. However, there are a growing number of resources available that can help.

For starters, the USDA now has two (and potentially three) funding programs that co-ops can access in order to fund an on-bill finance program. The two existing programs are the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Loan Program, and the Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant Program. While the requirements and details associated with these two programs are much different, they both provide a significant amount of funding that co-ops can use to fund the program. Another similar initiative known as the Rural Energy Savings Program may become available by as early as 2015, and would provide zero interest loans to co-ops specifically for the purpose of developing an on-bill financing program.

In addition, there are many different models that exist all across the country that co-ops can reference in designing their own program (we wrote about two of them in our last post), and the USDA and others are in the process of developing toolkits and model program designs to help co-ops put a workable and effective program together. Growing interest is also leading many government and nonprofit entities to offer funding and other support for these programs. One such leader is the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance, which offers a variety of financial assistance for energy efficiency programs. Appalachian Voices has also been supporting and partnering with co-ops in our region who are taking steps toward developing an on-bill finance program.

What YOU can do to promote more energy efficiency support through your electric co-op

While there is wealth of resources available to help co-ops navigate the process of designing, developing and implementing an on-bill financing program, the availability of these resources will itself not move a co-op to develop a program. If you are a co-op member, that responsibility lies with you.

Find out whether your co-op offers an on-bill finance program by visiting our Energy Savings Action Center, and if they don’t, then send a letter requesting that they develop one. Also, get out in your community and talk with your neighbors about how stronger energy efficiency investments can help strengthen your local economy and provide financial relief and greater comfort for those who need it.

Finally, get to know the people that manage your co-op. Call them up, stop in their office, invite them to a barbeque. You will find that they are good folks that care about you and your neighbors, and are willing to explore ways that they can do more to help all of their members. That is concern for community, and it’s the foundation of creating healthy, sustainable economies in Appalachia and elsewhere.

Tennessee sprouting up as a leader in home energy efficiency

Monday, June 23rd, 2014 - posted by ann

Summer has arrived in Tennessee. Gardens are starting to produce a bounty of flowers and veggies. The longing for home grown tomatoes will soon be satisfied, and energy efficiency prospects are springing up all across the volunteer state.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association have recently announced that the Volunteer state was selected as one of six states to participate in the National Governors Association retreat on energy efficiency. According to TECA’s website, the special retreat will help Tennessee focus on policy development and implementation strategies for “reducing energy consumption, stimulating economic demand for local energy-related jobs and services, and lowering emissions associated with the electricity generation”.

Appalachian Voices has been working with TECA and rural electric co-ops in Tennessee to explore the possibilities for the development of an on-bill financing program for home energy efficiency.

Very few co-ops in the region (only five in Appalachia, all located in Kentucky) provide financing for their members to make multiple energy efficiency improvements all at once — improvements that include weatherization, insulation, and upgrading heating and cooling systems. In truth, the majority of co-ops in Appalachia could be doing a lot more to help reduce energy costs for their members and move the communities they serve closer to achieving real sustainable development.

The fact that TDEC and TECA applied for and received this grant shows that they care about the people they serve, and are willing to work hard to help reduce electricity bills by providing energy efficiency incentives and financing programs. The Tennessee workshop will address specific challenges the state faces in advancing energy efficiency programs in rural areas served by co-ops, and will help the state develop tools and strategies for designing and deploying successful financing programs for co-op members.

ActionCenterHouse_320px

The Tennessee Team will consist of representatives from the Office of Governor Haslam, TDEC, TECA, other state agencies, the USDA Rural Utilities Service, Tennessee Valley Authority, Appalachian Voices and Pathway Lending, a community development financial institution.

It’s exciting to see Tennessee sowing the seeds of a sustainable energy efficiency program, and we couldn’t be prouder to be part of this effort. Visit our Energy Savings Action Center to learn more about your local energy provider.

More Than a Market

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014 - posted by Carvan

By Megan Northcote

Families with young children particularly enjoy special event days at the Chattanooga Market, which offer sample tastings of seasonal produce, such as strawberries. Photo courtesy of Chattanooga Farmers Market.

Families with young children particularly enjoy special event days at the Chattanooga Market, which offer sample tastings of seasonal produce, such as strawberries. Photo courtesy of Chattanooga Farmers Market

Shopping for fresh, locally grown foods at farmers markets is always a refreshing way to find healthy foods while supporting the community. But in recent years, some farmers markets have transformed from grocery store alternatives to tourist destinations, featuring cooking and artisan demonstrations, hands-on healthy living activities for children, and food and farm festivals for all ages. While similarly innovative markets are popping up across the Appalachian region, these eight family-friendly markets offer a small taste of the kinds of educational entertainment that’s enticing both visitors and locals to spend a fun-filled day at the market.

Morgantown Farmers Market – W.Va.

Housed in a new pavilion, this innovative market is celebrating the opening of a grant-funded culinary station that will host healthy cooking classes and demonstrations. Youngsters can enjoy a new 10-week kids’ club called “POP” (Power of Produce), which provides each child with $2 in weekly market tokens and culminates in a healthy eating activity. Different fitness activities, including a yoga flash mob, belly dancing, and hula hooping sessions keep the grown-ups in shape too. Local musicians and nonprofit booths create a lively, atmosphere. Morgantown Market Place, 415 Spruce St. Open: May 3 – early Nov., Saturdays, 8:30 a.m. – noon. Visit: morgantownfarmers.org or call (304) 993-2410

Photo courtesy of Lexington Farmers Market

Photo courtesy of Lexington Farmers Market

Lexington Farmers Market – Ky.

Open since 1975, Lexington’s Saturday market in the heart of downtown features more than 60 vendors and draws more than 5,000 visitors during peak season. Each week, the Homegrown Authors series features talks and book signings by local writers. Monthly favorites include chef demonstrations led by local culinary students and an area master gardener information booth. Each week, different organizations host children’s activities, including arts and crafts and pony rides, along with live local music. Cheapside Park. Open: Saturdays, Spring-Fall, 7 a.m.-2p.m., Winter 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Visit: lexingtonfarmersmarket.com or call (859) 608-2655

Downtown Hickory Farmers Market – N.C.

This year, a new Thursday evening summer market, Tastin’, Tunes & Tomatoes, along with the city’s widely popular Saturday market, offers chef demonstrations as well as clogging, music and healthy food scavenger hunts for children. Wind down after the Saturday market with yoga at Union Square or grab a bite at a downtown restaurant. On June 12, Thursday’s market will host Schmoozapalooza, featuring 50 additional vendors as well as beer, wine and food sampling. Union Square, downtown Hickory. Open: April 16-Nov. 1, Saturdays, 8 a.m. – 1 p.m., Wednesdays, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m; and June 5-Aug. 28, Thursdays, 5-8 p.m. Visit: hickoryfarmersmarket.com or call (828) 306-6508

Chattanooga Farmers Market – Tenn.

Now in its 13th season, Chattanooga’s bustling market has exploded into one of the biggest in the region with more than 800 vendors drawing as many as 1,300 people each Sunday. Each market is themed and includes two free music concerts, 20 food trucks and numerous chef demonstrations. During June and July, foodie festivals abound, honoring the blueberry, tomato and peach as well as the Chattanooga Street Food Festival on June 22. Beat the heat at the July 13 Ice Cream Social where $5 buys five scoops from local creameries with proceeds benefiting a community childcare center. 1829 Carter St., Open: April 27- Nov. 23. Sundays, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. Visit: chattanoogamarket.com or call 423-648-2496

Independence Farmers Market – Va.

Almost every Friday in the summer, this southwestern Virginia market hosts family-friendly special event days. At Dairy Day on June 13, youngsters can learn how to milk a cow. In July, build a vegetable vehicle to enter in the zucchini car races, or challenge the family to a pie-eating contest at Berry Fest on July 18. Enjoy monthly fiber and beekeeping demonstrations as well as chef presentations during the first market of the month and free kids activities at every market. McKnight Park, Hwy. 21 and 58 intersection. Open: May-Oct., Friday, 9 a.m.-2p.m. Visit: independencefarmersmarket.org or call (276) 655-4045

The Wild Ramp – W.Va.
This 125-vendor indoor farmers market in Huntington, W.Va., will more than double in size when it moves into the Old Central City Market building this summer. Staffed by volunteers, the year-round consignment market affords farmers more time for the harvest. Vendors can lead monthly classes about canning, cooking, herbal recipes, cheese making and more. Nonprofits lead various children’s activities, such as making seed bombs. In June, enjoy a grand opening celebration during Old Central City Days, featuring food, music and antiques. 555 14th St., Huntington. Open: year-round, Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. – 7 p.m., Saturday, 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. Visit: wildramp.org or call (304) 523-7267

Charlottesville City Market – Va.

With more than 100 vendors, this downtown market is a bustling hub of seasonal cooking and artisan demonstrations accented by music. Chef Mark Gresge of l’etoile restaurant leads culinary workshops throughout the summer and food preservation classes later in the season. Ten community partners offer numerous children’s activities. The annual Labor Day weekend Farm Tour, sponsored by the nonprofit Market Central, is an excellent opportunity to explore more than 20 vendors’ farms by car. Corner of Water St. and South St. Open: Saturdays, April-Oct., 7 a.m. – noon, Nov.-Dec., 8 a.m. – 1 p.m. Visit: charlottesville.org or call (434) 970-3371

Asheville City Market – N.C.

Situated in the heart of the city’s thriving local food scene, Asheville’s eclectic Charlotte St. market attracts hundreds of foodies craving monthly cooking demonstrations. Every Saturday, the Growing Minds @ Market booth hosts a nonprofit to engage children in exercise and food-related arts and crafts. A strawberry summer festival features samples of creative berry recipes, while the Market Meal Challenge in late June awards prizes to the healthiest shopper. Live local music as well as healthy living booths round out the weekly experience. 161 S. Charlotte St. Open: April 5 – Dec. 20, Saturdays, 8 a.m.- 1 p.m. Visit: asapconnections.org or call (828) 348-0340

Mobile Market Transforms Tennessee Town With Fresh Food

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014 - posted by Carvan

By Megan Northcote

Ten years ago, abandoned grocery carts left near entrances to public housing complexes dotted the rural landscape in Greeneville, Tenn. Lacking public transportation and deterred by hilly terrain, residents were too often discouraged to return their carts to the nearest grocery store after their weekly shopping trip.

Each week, Mobile Market Manager Rhonda Hensley, left, delivers food to this loyal customer, right, and her four children who lack proper transportation to travel to the nearest grocery store. Photo courtesy  of Rural Resources.

Each week, Mobile Market Manager Rhonda Hensley, left, delivers food to this loyal customer, right, and her four children who lack proper transportation to travel to the nearest grocery store. Photo courtesy of Rural Resources

In 2005, that all changed with Greeneville’s first Mobile Farmers Market. Funded by a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant, the project is an initiative of Rural Resources, a nonprofit focused on connecting farms, food and families with sustainable practices throughout Greene County.

Now in its 10th year, this market on wheels delivers 1,700 pounds of locally grown, fresh food to more than 200 individuals each week — including those living in public or elderly housing — who otherwise would not have access.
“We live in a food desert here where there are not a lot of choices for eating fresh food,” says Rhonda Hensley, market manager and an Appalachia CARES/Americorps member. “I love educating people about the goodness of eating local, fresh food that comes from the earth.”

Each week, customers place their food order online. Volunteers then fill boxes with produce from Rural Resources’ own on-site community farm, as well as meat, eggs and honey provided by local farmers, and baked goods and casseroles prepared by the nonprofit’s Farm & Food Teen Training program. On Thursdays, the mobile market makes deliveries to designated drop-off locations, primarily serving low-income housing areas; the program has seen purchases with electronic food stamps quadruple since the first year.

For Hensley, introducing children to healthier foods and watching their eating habits change makes her job immeasurably rewarding.

“I love filling kids’ hands with blueberries or giving them a piece of kale to taste for the first time,” Hensley says. “This food is so delicious. There’s no comparison to processed foods.”

The mobile market has even empowered clients to grow their own food by providing 60 garden containers and helping one neighborhood start a community garden.

As the program grows, Hensley is planning for local restaurants, hospitals and hotels to turn to the mobile market for fresh, healthy food supplements for their menus.

For more information, visit ruralresources.locallygrown.net or call Hensley at 423-470-4047.

Progress for Tennessee Wilderness

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014 - posted by Carvan

By Molly Moore

A waterfall flows through Upper Bald Wilderness Study Area, which would be protected as wilderness under the proposed bill. Photo by Bill Hodge.

A waterfall flows through Upper Bald Wilderness Study Area, which would be protected as wilderness under the proposed bill. Photo by Bill Hodge

Efforts to preserve wild lands in East Tennessee took a step forward this spring when a bill to designate nearly 20,000 acres in the Cherokee National Forest as wilderness passed the Senate Agriculture Committee.

First introduced by Tennessee Republican Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker in 2010, the Tennessee Wilderness Act would grant wilderness designation — the highest form of protection for public lands — to one new section of Cherokee National Forest and expand the boundaries of five existing wilderness areas.

“Creating and expanding these wilderness areas would have no effect on privately-owned land and will not increase costs for taxpayers,” Alexander said in a press statement.

Now that the bill has passed committee it is eligible to be heard on the Senate floor. A companion bill has not been introduced in the House of Representatives.

Virginia Land Trust Drilling Controversy Resolved

By Carvan Craft

This spring, nonprofit land trust Virginia Outdoors Foundation removed a provision allowing drilling for oil and gas on their conservation easements. Land trusts are organizations which, through contracts with landowners, aim to protect natural lands from development by placing that land into permanent conservation. Yet since 2012, the foundation has allowed landowners to maintain drilling rights on their easements.

Environmental groups including Virginia’s Piedmont Environmental Council were critical of the land trust’s drilling provision, which the group denounced as “contrary to the purpose of most easements.” The council has also noted growing concerns amongst local communities regarding the potential for hydraulic fracturing to impact water quality.

The Power of Energy Efficiency — Building a Stronger Economy for Appalachia (Part 3)

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014 - posted by rory

{ Editor’s Note }This is the third installment in a five-part series illustrating the need for greater investments in residential energy efficiency as an economic driver in rural Appalachia.

Part 3: How Energy Efficiency Can Help Diversify Local Economies in Appalachia

Let’s consider our energy use for a moment, and how it might relate to our local economy.

I think of my refrigerator and other appliances, but most of all, of the energy I use heating my home. The house I live in doesn’t have air conditioning, so in the summer I keep the doors open and the ceiling fans running. However, despite having a well-insulated home with double-pane windows, I rely on old, energy-wasting electric baseboard heat to keep me warm in the winter.

Even though baseboard heat runs up my electric bill in the winter, my house is more energy efficient than the homes that many Appalachian families live in. A large number of those homes also rely on baseboard heaters, but also have drafty windows, lack proper insulation in their floors, walls and ceilings, and have inefficient water heaters and appliances. The people who live in these homes are typically poor and cannot afford to pay their electric bills during extreme winter and summer months, much less pay the upfront cost of improving their home’s energy efficiency.

But what if they could? What if they had access to low-cost loans that would cover the cost of making home energy efficiency improvements? Imagine what that could do for residents struggling to pay their electric bills. Imagine what that could do for the local economy.

A home energy efficiency loan could help a single family save hundreds of dollars each year that they might then spend in their community, or use to pay for other basic needs such as education and healthcare. Imagine what the impact would be if 100 homes received such a loan, or 1,000, especially in rural Appalachia, where many small towns are struggling to stay afloat.

Chart by Opower.

Economic output per millions of dollars invested in energy efficiency programs. Chart by Opower. Click to enlarge.

In addition, each home retrofit would require many different services such as home energy audits or the installation of new heating and air systems or insulation, for example, that more likely than not would be carried out by local businesses. Because most of the services associated with home energy efficiency can be locally sourced, a strong loan program could result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in new investment being added to the local economy. For many Appalachian communities, that would be a significant economic boost, and could result in the development of new local or regional industries and businesses, thereby creating jobs and helping to diversify the local economy.

Energy efficiency loan programs are not new. They have been popping up all over the place, in fact. We’ve written about South Carolina’s Help My House pilot program, which financed energy efficiency improvements for 125 homes, saving each an average of nearly $1,200 a year on their energy costs (almost $300 of which they were able to put in their pockets). In Kentucky, a program called How$mart Kentucky was developed that is saving residential participants an average of more than 20 percent on their electric bills. These two programs are good models for how home energy efficiency loan programs can save residents a significant amount of money. And each program was developed by member-owned rural electric cooperatives (co-ops), like my own co-op, Mountain Electric (who is yours?).

Chart by Opower

Jobs created by region per one million dollars invested in energy efficiency programs. Chart by Opower. Click to enlarge.

The greatest impact of these programs is the amount of local investment and the jobs created as a result of the home energy loans. For South Carolina’s program, the 125 loans generated $940,000 in new investment in the communities where the loans were provided. In Kentucky, the loan program generated more than $500,000 in new investment during the program’s 1-2 year pilot phase, and more electric co-ops are beginning to join the program. These two programs — and there are more than 30 more similar programs being offered throughout the U.S. — have resulted in approximately $1.5 million of investment in the communities where they have been implemented.

According to the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance, $1 million invested in energy efficiency in the Southeast generates between $1.5 million and $5 million in new economic output and creates between 5 and 20 new jobs. Energy efficiency investments generate a greater economic impact and create more jobs than the same amount invested in other industries, and those impacts are just the result of direct investment. The benefits increase as a result of the money that is saved. According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, for every $1 million in investment, the home energy savings from efficiency programs have been estimated to create another 17 local jobs.

Looking at the potential savings for co-op customers in South Carolina, an economic analysis by Coastal Carolina University estimated that, if co-ops in the state committed to an full-scale energy efficiency loan program for 20 years, it would create more than 7,000 jobs and save co-op members $355.5 million annually.

Strong investments in energy efficiency can have profound economic impacts for local economies in Appalachia. Energy efficiency is merely one strategy that local governments, economic development agencies working with the rural electric co-op or municipal utilities might employ with the goal of diversifying the local economy. But the proven benefits of energy efficiency investments suggest it should be a key focus in any plan for local economic diversification. As we described in the previous post of this series, most communities across the Central and Southern Appalachia are in dire need of a comprehensive strategy for diversifying their local economies.

If my own rural electric co-op, Mountain Electric, were to develop a program that allowed me to save money on my electric bills while also supporting my local economy, I would take advantage of the opportunity. Wouldn’t you?