Economy

Hemp Farmers Form Cooperatives Amid Growth And Uncertainty

Oct 14, 2019
Tony Silvernail (left) and Shawn Lucas (right) inside their high tunnel where hemp is drying.
Liam Niemeyer / Ohio Valley ReSource

Tony Silvernail swings a heavy machete at a stalk of bushy hemp and chops the plant near the root, grabbing the five-foot-tall shoot with his sun-weathered hand. 

It’s an unusually hot October day on his farm, Beyond The Bridge LLC, tucked in the hills outside of Frankfort, Kentucky. But the heat doesn’t faze Silvernail, sporting a sweat-soaked shirt, a huge smile, and a fat cigar between his teeth.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, some Ohio Valley farmers are reaping their first hemp harvest since federal law changed to legalize hemp. With some 27,000 acres under production in the region, hemp is booming. But it remains a risky crop, with uncertainty about markets, growing practices, and concern that larger players might squeeze out small growers.

The Ohio Valley ReSource’s Liam Niemeyer reports some hemp farmers are forming new cooperatives to reduce that risk and protect small farmers.

Scott Allen, who runs Pettit Creek Farms in bone-dry Bartow County, Ga., poses for a photo Oct. 7, 2019.
Jeff Martin / Associated Press

— Across a vast expanse of the South stretching from Texas to Maryland, there are growing concerns for the cattle, cotton and corn amid a worsening drought fueled by this summer’s record high temperatures.

One of the bullseyes marking the nation’s driest areas is Bartow County, Georgia, where extreme drought has kicked up buckets of dust and left cattle pastures bare. The farm country northwest of Atlanta is among the hardest hit spots in a dozen Southern states where more than 45 million residents are now living in some type of drought conditions, the most recent U.S. Drought Monitor report shows.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, we hear from WVPB’s podcast Us & Them. Host Trey Kay speaks with journalist Timothy Pratt, who produced an investigative series for 100 Days in Appalachia about undocumented seasonal workers who’ve struggled to recover from Hurricane Florence. That storm hit the Carolina coast in the fall of 2018.

Blackhawk Mining says it's closing three mines and two preparation plants in West Virginia amid weak global coal markets.

The Kentucky-based coal company on Tuesday announced the idling of its facilities in Logan and Mingo counties.

Why Worker Training Programs Alone Won’t Save Coal Country

Oct 8, 2019
Participants in a West Virginia worker training program offered by Coalfield Development Corporation.
Rebecca Kiger / Ohio Valley ReSource

Bobby Bowman mined coal in West Virginia for 12 years before his employer shut down.

“I don’t think that mine will ever open again,” he said.

Bowman lives in Welch, in the south of the state, where he worked at the Pinnacle Mine, which shut down almost exactly one year ago, putting him and about 400 others out of work. After waiting a month in hopes someone would buy Pinnacle and the mine would reopen, Bowman decided to do a four-week training program offered by the United Mine Workers Career Center. He enjoyed it and earned a certification in heavy equipment operation. But when he came back home, he struggled to find a job in the field. So Bowman took matters into his own hands.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, the U.S. Department of Labor recently announced nearly $5 million dollars for worker training programs in Appalachia. It’s the latest influx of funding aimed at blunting the job losses in the region’s coal sector. But critics of those programs say worker training alone is no solution. The Ohio Valley ReSource’s Becca Schimmel reports.

The Trump administration has proposed a new rule governing the wages of tipped employees, after an earlier effort sparked a backlash from waitstaff, bartenders and other workers.

Brittany Patterson / Ohio Valley ReSource

Standing on the breezy outlook at Flag Rock Recreation Area, Norton City Manager Fred Ramey is taking in the panoramic view of downtown Norton, Virginia. The brick building-lined streets are framed by the verdant, rolling Appalachian mountains. Jagged, brown scars from mountaintop mining operations can be seen in the distance, reminders of the region’s history of coal production.

Liz McCormick / West Virginia Public Broadcasting


From 2010 to 2018, Berkeley County, West Virginia has grown in population by nearly 13,000 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau

That’s more than 1,500 new people each year. While population growth can be a great thing – it adds to the economy and the workforce – it also takes a toll on roads. 

Glynis Board / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

A news release Friday from the Kanawha County Commission says the layoffs are planned at the Chemours plant in Belle.

The company formed as a spinoff from DuPont in 2015 and currently employs 207 people at the facility along the Kanawha River.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, Appalachia’s coal country is struggling to diversify its local economies amid the sharp declines in employment at mines and power plants. An eastern Kentucky organization called SOAR, or “Shaping Our Appalachian Region,” is trying to help.

The group is betting big on high-speed internet and industrial development. But as the Ohio Valley ReSource’s Sydney Boles reports, those are proving tough items to deliver in the rural, coal mining region.

US Department of Agriculture

The U.S. Census Bureau released data last week that showed the percentage of Americans living below the poverty line went down for the first time since the Great Recession of 2008. 

Overall, the number of people living in poverty, nationwide, decreased by half a percentage point from 2017 to 2018 covering nearly 1.5 million people.

SOAR at 6: Group’s Lofty Goals for Coal Country Meet Challenges on the Ground

Sep 13, 2019
Rep. Hal Rogers and Gov. Matt Bevin announce the completion of east Kentucky’s middle mile of high-speed internet.
Sydney Boles / Ohio Valley ReSource

In a conference hall in Pikeville, Kentucky, this September, Gov. Matt Bevin led an eager audience in a countdown. When the audience reached “One!,” a map on the screen behind the governor lit up with the promise of a high-tech future.

After years of delay and scandal, major portions of the commonwealth’s “middle mile” of high-speed internet were complete.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, many farmers wage a never-ending battle with weeds. “Pigweed” or as folks in Arkansas call it “Satan’s Weed” -- is one of the hardest to get rid of. 

Farmers across the nation are divided over the use of the controversial herbicide called Dicamba. The chemical has the tendency to drift and damage nearby crops and plants.

West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s Us & Them host Trey Kay and his colleague Loretta Williams have been following the issue with their developing story called “Farm Wars.”

courtesy Brandon Dennison

The founder of a West Virginia job-training organization called Coalfield Development has been awarded $250,000 from the Heinz Family Foundation. 


Brandon Dennison is being recognized for his work to help address generational poverty in central and southern West Virginia.

The MARC train's Brunswick Line parked at the Martinsburg Train Station. Photo taken in Apr. 2018.
Liz McCormick / West Virginia Public Broadcasting


A few hundred people attended a public hearing in Charles Town over the weekend regarding the future of the MARC train service, or Maryland Area Regional Commuter, in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle. Maryland is asking West Virginia to either foot the bill or see a reduction in service.

A man on the train tracks. Near the scene of the miners' protest in Harlan Co., KY.
CURREN SHELDON

This week on Inside Appalachia, we’ll look at how our history is intertwined with our future. We’ll hear from coal miners and children about how they are reshaping Appalachia, while remembering the past. Also in this episode, we’ll hear from a woman who found recovery, and a job, after struggling with drug addiction for more than two decades.

And we’ll hear from some of the miners in Harlan County, Kentucky who are protesting their employer, coal operator Blackjewel LLC. We’ll talk about what the protest says about the state of organized labor in the mines.

Some of the crew aboard a tow boat operated by Amherst Madison in W.Va.
Eric Douglas/ WVPB

A decline in coal production over the past decade affected more than just coal miners. It also impacted the riverboat industry. Amherst Madison is a riverboat company based outside Charleston, West Virginia. For decades, the company has made most of their money towing coal barges. But a downturn in coal meant the company had to look for other ways to stay afloat. 

West Virginia Public Broadcasting spent some time with these folks inside the river industry, and we asked them what the future of the industry looks like.

hospital bed
Blogotron / wikimedia commons

Notices filed in West Virginia and Ohio reveal that 1,079 workers will lose their jobs when two hospitals are closed this fall.

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.”

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks during a campaign stop Thursday, May 5, at the Morgantown Event Center.
Jesse Wright / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Vermont Senator and Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders will visit Kentucky and West Virginia just days after releasing his plan to address climate change.

Sanders is scheduled to speak in Louisville, Kentucky, Sunday. He planned to visit Morgantown, West Virginia, Monday, but plans to visit the Mountain State have since been canceled.

Justin Hayhurst / 100 Days in Appalachia

 

For more than a decade, more than 100 migrant and refugee families from countries like Myanmar (formerly Burma), Vietnam, Ethiopia, Guatemala and others have come to Moorefield, West Virginia.

They’ve done so to work at Pilgrim’s Pride – a large poultry plant that is Hardy County’s biggest employer with 1,700 workers.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, Health officials in Huntington, say a cluster of HIV infections has grown to 71 confirmed cases. That’s in a city that usually sees about eight HIV infections in a year. As with an earlier such cluster in northern Kentucky, the primary cause of infection is needle drug use.

Health officials say harm reduction programs are an effective tool against HIV, offering needle exchanges and health screening services. 

But as the Ohio Valley ReSource’s Mary Meehan explains, many people are wary of syringe exchanges. And in some places, that means programs are closing just when they’re most needed.

The Poultry Plant That’s Changed the Face of This Appalachian Town

Aug 15, 2019
Justin Hayhurst / 100 Days in Appalachia

When Sheena Van Meter graduated from Moorefield High School in 2000, her class was mainly comprised of the children of families that had long-planted roots in West Virginia’s eastern Potomac Highlands. Some were African American. Most were white. And for the Moorefield resident, the closest exposure she had to other cultures, before leaving for college, came in the form of an occasional foreign-exchange student. 

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, we continue a series that considers how some communities in our region have been impacted by deindustrialization. We also hear the latest in our ongoing series, “Wild, Wondering West Virginia.”

Nearly $37 million in general revenue surplus money will be given to West Virginia’s Medicaid program as well as the state’s Rainy Day emergency reserve fund.

Associate Producing Director Peggy McKowen and Founder and Producing Director Ed Herendeen speak at an event for the 2019 season of CATF. Photo taken May 2019.
Contemporary American Theater Festival / catf.org

The Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown, West Virginia just closed on its 29th season. The festival draws visitors from all over the world to West Virginia and has helped the state stand out in the professional theater scene.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

We continue a podcast series from the Northern Panhandle on this West Virginia Morning. The series is called What Happened to Weirton. In the third episode, titled As Goes the Mill, reporter Ella Jennings traces the town’s history as it slides from boom to bust.

Michael/Flickr

The West Virginia Department of Transportation announced Tuesday that the next round of Governor Jim Justice’s Secondary Roads Initiative is underway.

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