Liam Niemeyer

"Liam Niemeyer is a reporter for the Ohio Valley Resource covering agriculture and infrastructure in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia and also serves Assistant News Director at WKMS. He has reported for public radio stations across the country from Appalachia to Alaska, most recently as a reporter for WOUB Public Media in Athens, Ohio. He is a recent alumnus of Ohio University and enjoys playing tenor saxophone in various jazz groups."

 

 
 

Liam Niemeyer/ Ohio Valley ReSource

Toddlers yelling, running around the hardwood floors and leaving cracker crumbs on the ground. A laptop screen dented by a soup can dropped by a kid. At one point, a room covered from ceiling to floor with hand prints after kids were left alone with a paint can. 

But for the moment, Sherman Neal’s kids — two-year-old Skyler and three-year-old Jett — are on the leather couch, fixated on another "Max & Ruby" cartoon. 


USDA

As the economies of the Ohio Valley gradually reopen from the pandemic closures, state officials are still reporting hundreds of coronavirus cases each day in the region. In Kentucky, coronavirus cases are again on the rise, with a week-long average of daily cases approaching the highest level yet. Public health officials are concerned about a spread of coronavirus into more rural parts of the region. 

Liam Niemeyer / Ohio Valley ReSource

Ohio Valley farmers have received more than $100 million so far in federal relief payments to offset the economic damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic, with potentially more payments on the way.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Coronavirus Food Assistance program plans to distribute up to $16 billion in direct payments to farmers, with farmers able to apply for relief through August. USDA data released Monday show 220,280 farmers across the country have already received $2,895,127,039 in total.

Sydney Boles / Ohio Valley ReSource

 


By now it’s become a familiar scene: Marchers fill the streets with placards proclaiming “Black Lives Matter,” and chants fill the air as the demonstrators recite the names of those lost. 

But there’s something different about some of these protests around the Ohio Valley in the past week. They’re not just happening in the larger cities such as Louisville, Lexington, Columbus and Cincinnati. Smaller college towns such as Athens, Ohio, and Morgantown, West Virginia, have seen marches. Communities in Kentucky farmland and the heart of Appalachian coal country, such as Hazard and Harlan, Kentucky, have seen people protesting against racial injustice and police violence. 

 

Food is ready for loading and distribution the Facing Hunger Food Bank in Huntington, West Virginia..
Glynis Board / West Virginia Public Broadcasting file photo

A new federal program is buying more than $1 billion in farm products such as dairy, produce and meat unable to be sold due to the pandemic’s disruptions to the food supply and send “food boxes'' to needy families. But some anti-hunger advocates worry that parts of the Ohio Valley may be overlooked in getting this aid.

Aaron Payne / Ohio Valley ReSource

A new study shows the Ohio Valley has some of the nation’s highest rates of food insecurity among older adults, and anti-hunger advocates say that situation could be made worse by the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.


Cattle farmers are seeing increased local demand amid the pandemic.
Liam Niemeyer / Ohio Valley ReSource

 


Debby Dulworth has a lot of conversations with her cattle each day. She swings open a gate, driving the herd with repeated calls and the Hereford cattle, respond in kind with groans and snorts.

“They talk to me,” Dulworth said with a laugh, as the cows come bounding out into a fresh field of Kentucky fescue and buttercups. She’s been corralling them from pasture to pasture on her farm for decades near Monkey’s Eyebrow, Kentucky, nestled in a bend of the Ohio River.

Screenshot

It’s the uncertainty that gets to Darlene Davis. The uncertainty of when she’ll see her 87-year-old mother in person again. The uncertainty of her co-workers’ health. The uncertainty that comes with the novel coronavirus.

When a co-worker of hers at the JBS Swift meatpacking plant in Louisville died from COVID-19, she said that uncertainty turned into fear for many of the 1,200 employees at the plant. The Louisville Metro Health Department was made aware of the death on April 4.

With hog prices dropping, will these little piggies go to market?
Nicole Erwin / Ohio Valley ReSource

This story was updated on Thursday,  April 30, 2020 at 9:00 a.m., to include Gov. Beshear’s comments and information about public health inspections at the JBS facility.

As President Trump ordered meatpacking plants on Tuesday to keep operating amid the coronavirus pandemic, more details are emerging about the concerns workers had about their safety at a facility in Louisville, where dozens of workers were infected and one died. 

With hog prices dropping, will these little piggies go to market?
Nicole Erwin / Ohio Valley ReSource

This is breaking news; this article will be updated.

The Kentucky Department for Public Health has confirmed 220 employees at meatpacking plants across Kentucky have tested positive for the coronavirus, with one employee death related to the virus in Louisville.

Courtesy Tonia Casey

Food banks and pantries across the Ohio Valley are seeing spiked demand as an unprecedented surge of people continue to file for unemployment benefits, with food banks facing weeks long delays to get certain products. Meanwhile, some farmers are facing a financial crisis, sitting on excess food they can’t sell — food that could be directed to food banks and pantries. 

Alice Welch for USDA

As the number of coronavirus cases surge across the country, some meatpacking facilities have been temporarily shuttered due to workers falling ill to the virus. Three workers in Georgia have even died.

With workers at some Ohio Valley facilities now testing positive for the virus, worker safety advocates are raising concerns about how adequately workers are being protected and the implications for the food supply.

Courtesy Kentucky Hospital Association

As coronavirus cases continue to increase throughout the Ohio Valley, rural hospitals are preparing for a potential surge of COVID-19 patients. But as they do so, these hospitals face tough financial decisions, and some could close down altogether.

Courtesy Michael Brumage

As new cases of coronavirus mount in the Ohio Valley, health officials are bracing for an onslaught of patients and what could be unprecedented demand for beds, medical staff and specialized equipment.

Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia have disproportionately high rates of people vulnerable to serious illness from COVID-19. But the region’s capacity to treat them has been sharply reduced by the closure of some 21 hospitals over the past 15 years. An analysis by the Ohio Valley ReSource shows some of the communities where hospitals have closed have some of the nation’s poorest health outcomes, making them especially vulnerable.

Local public health departments and hospitals are on the front lines of facing the coronavirus throughout the Ohio Valley, yet the health professionals who run these facilities say years of underfunding and hospital closures have diminished these services that now face the crisis.

Liam Niemeyer / Ohio Valley ReSource

John Fuller is waiting for another farmer he’s never met before to talk about a situation he never imagined he would be in.

It’s an overcast January day on his farm in west Kentucky, where he grew 18 acres of hemp last year, investing more than $250,000 of his own cash. He’s one of nearly 1,000 licensed hemp growers in 2019 who helped grow Kentucky’s biggest hemp crop since the state reintroduced it, trying to cash in on what could be a $1 billion industry for CBD products made from hemp.

But now, Fuller is wondering how much of that investment he’ll get back.

Liam Niemeyer / Ohio Valley ReSource

Tom Folz drives around on a sunny, August afternoon and surveys the thousands of acres of dark green, leafy soybean plants and tall stalks of corn he grows on his sprawling farm in Christian County, Kentucky.

At 54, Folz has wispy, white hair matching his white mustache. It’s taken him several long work weeks to get his crop to where it is today.

“You got to be a little bit ‘off’ to be a farmer,” Folz said. ”You don’t get to enjoy anything during harvest and planting season because we’re working.”

Liam Niemeyer / Ohio Valley ReSource

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will decide over the next six months whether to follow through with a Trump administration executive order that would dramatically change federal protections for such streams and wetlands.

The proposed revision would roll back an expanded Clean Water Act rule from the Obama administration, that included protections for ephemeral streams and wetlands in something called the “Waters of the United States,” or WOTUS. 


Shea Castleberry works in a time capsule of sorts. He walks through the aisles of the Family Video store he manages in Murray, Ky., a small city surrounded by rolling farmland about two hours north of Nashville.

Next to the movies and popcorn, there's a new addition to his store that surprises some of his regulars.

"A lot of people are like 'a video store selling CBD?' But it really does tie into our values. Which is, we're here for the community," Castleberry said.