Mountain News & World Report

Mountain News and World Report is WMMT's bi-weekly public affairs program on life in Central Appalachia, featuring stories from folks you may or may not know, items of interest to us all, and shining moments in our living history. Join us for these stories every other Thursday at 6 p.m. or every other Sunday at 10:30 a.m., and enjoy browsing our streaming archives here.
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MN&WR: Renewal

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Read more on the first two segments of this episode at Ohio Valley ReSource by following the links above.

Reporter’s Notebook: Kelli Hansel Haywood

Indian Creek Settlement Farm is something to be experienced.  If you’ve ever seen the photos of old homesteads in Central Appalachia when logging was as common as coal mining, and nearly everyone kept livestock, you might have an idea of what the farm looks like.  The sounds, as you will hear in the story, are numerous and calming.  While it’s not the typical yard of our homes now, it feels oddly familiar.  

Tim Sanders and his wife Becky came back to Indian Creek from Arizona to retire and live a self sufficient lifestyle.  It wasn’t long, though, before neighbors and passerby were stopping and asking about the animals Tim and Becky were tending.  And naturally, seeing the heritage breeds of pigs, cows, goats, chickens, and a single turkey, folks began to ask if there was meat for sale.  So, the Sanders family entered into a growing number of coalfields Appalachians who are creating a burgeoning local food economy.

The story of Indian Creek Settlement Farm is the first of several stories about “unconventional farms” in the region that I will be working on throughout the growing season.  Be sure to tune in to Mountain News & World Report to hear about the others, and how local foods are making it onto grocery shelves and in the regions restaurants.  

Mountain News & World Report is a bi-weekly production of WMMT, and new episodes air every other Thursday at 6pm on WMMT, with a repeat broadcast the following Sunday morning at 10:30.  To listen to previous episodes, check out our streaming archives.

MN&WR: Ohio Valley ReSource and Regional Journalism

This is an episode dedicated to the Ohio Valley ReSource, a regional news collaborative of seven radio stations across three states. WMMT is one of those stations, and our reporter Benny Becker represents eastern Kentucky in the OVR.

  • Benny Becker has the story of the troubled past of water quality in Martin County, Kentucky and how many have lost trust in their water and their government. (This piece was recently picked to air on NPR.)
  • Aaron Payne delivers the startling statistics and stories behind the region’s infants born to addicted mothers in – Born Addicted: The Race to Treat the Ohio Valley’s Drug Addicted Babies. Payne is based in Athens, Ohio at WOUB.
  • WMMT’s Kelli Haywood speaks with Jeff Young who is the managing editor of the Ohio Valley ReSource and works from WFPL in Louisville, Kentucky, about the importance of regional journalism and the OVR model in these questioning times.
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Read more about Martin County, Kentucky’s water woes at – Troubled Waters: A Coalfield County Loses Trust in Water and Government by Benny Becker.

Read more about neonatal abstinence syndrome and the region’s babies born addicted at – Born Addicted: The Race to Treat Ohio Valley’s Drug-Affected Babies by Aaron Payne.  

Mountain News & World Report is a bi-weekly production of WMMT, and new episodes air every other Thursday at 6pm on WMMT, with a repeat broadcast the following Sunday morning at 10:30.  To listen to previous episodes, check out our streaming archives.

MN&WR: Hazard, Kentucky – Boom or Bust?

  • Hazard, Kentucky: Boom or Bust? Take an in depth look at community efforts to revitalize downtown Hazard with WMMT’s Kelli Haywood. An entire half hour devoted to the voices of Hazard sharing their dreams, disappointments, bumps in the road, and successes as they try to rebuild a livable community through food, arts, culture, and more.

Photos by Kelli Hansel Haywood ~top l to r and bottom l to r ~ 1. The Grand Hotel  2. Main Street  3. Samantha Haynes and 3 month old Aurora  4. InVision Hazard Mural

Photos by Kelli Hansel Haywood ~top l to r and bottom l to r ~ 1. The Grand Hotel 2. Main Street 3. Samantha Haynes and 3 month old Aurora 4. InVision Hazard Mural

Photo by Issac Boone Davis

Photo by Issac Boone Davis

Reporter’s Notebook: Kelli Hansel Haywood for WMMT

In its heyday, Hazard, the county seat of Perry County, was one of the larger eastern Kentucky boom towns.  First lumber then coal drove the economy of Perry County, turning Hazard into a major center for commerce in the mountains. In the 1940s the city’s population topped out at over 7,000 people and nearly 48,000 in all of Perry County, but from then both have seen a steady decline with changes in the coal industry.  As seen in towns throughout eastern Kentucky, the latest hit taken by the coal industry has all but devastated downtown Hazard.

For the last decade, as eastern Kentucky has experienced all of this major change, towns have either been adapting or disappearing.  Hazard remains a center of commerce for Perry and surrounding counties.  The big difference is that the business being done in Hazard has been diverted from downtown and to the big chain box stores like Wal-Mart, Food City, Lowe’s, and Big Lots.  As in many towns across America, the days of mom’s and pop’s is all but gone.  Couple that with a loss of coal jobs and you have people living on a tight budget, who have to shop at box stores because of lower prices and not enough good waged jobs to go around.  Unless you have a distinct niche business that will entice people to travel to your location for what you offer, or you are able to compete with the prices of the chain stores, entrepreneurship is more risk than most want to take on.

The people of Perry County have also received negative attention from national media for being one of the worst places to live in the country in no small part due to dismal health outcomes.  Culprits like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, hunger, and cancer are all to blame.  However, Kentucky also leads the nation in acute cases of Hepatitis C with 4.1 cases per every 100,000 residents.  Perry County is one of the top 200 counties nationwide in risk of HepC and HIV outbreak due to the opioid epidemic and needle injected drug use.   The county also has a significant population experiencing homelessness in comparison to population who find their way to Hazard to try to obtain help.

Coalfield communities in Appalachia are often stereotyped as reliant on welfare and unwilling to work or become educated by national media and those from outside of the region.  While there is some truth to all stereotypes, the explanation of them are very complicated.  A lack of access to government assistance would devastate many residents in coalfields Appalachia, and the same is true for Hazard.  This does not mean, however, that they are unwilling to do the work it takes to create a livable community for themselves and their children.  This is directly reflected in the work ethic presented by those working to revitalize downtown Hazard.

It is not simple to live in a struggling community, and sometimes hope is hard to find.  Hazard residents are diligently working to change their downtown into something never seen before in Perry County – a downtown that reflects local arts, culture, and food.  As many Hazard residents will tell you, there isn’t one thing that is going to fix their economy.  They equate the effort as needing to be like a silver buckshot as opposed to a silver bullet.  It seems that the starting point for many in Hazard and Perry County has been going back to what many in Appalachia know how to do – small scale farming.  Through efforts of Community Farm Alliance, which serves the area, North Fork Local Foods was created to operate in Hazard to run Perry County Regional Farmer’s Market and the Perry County Farm to Table Program.

As these efforts start to build, other regional and community organizations are playing a role in addressing Hazard’s crumbling infrastructure.  Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky, the Philanthropic Capital Fund for Southeast Kentucky (FILCAP), Mountain Association for Community and Economic Development (MACED), and InVision Hazard are all busy plugging away to create opportunities for more entrepreneurship in Hazard’s downtown.  Residents are not idealistic when considering what types of businesses might work in a downtown like Hazard’s.  As independent contractor, landscaper, and seamstress Pamela Farrell share in her interview for this story, “It would be great to have a couple of businesses in town, but it would have to be ones that cater to the whole lot of people, not just people with full time jobs that make good.”

Jenny Williams, a professor of English at the Hazard Community and Technical College and a very active volunteer for the revitalization effort, told Willie Davis in 2015 when the interviews that would become this story began, “Everybody should be able to live an artful life and appreciate something beautiful.  Everybody should be able to have a river that is clean, that you can wade in and fish in without worrying about the fish that you pull out of it being inedible.  And, being able to eat someplace that has fresh local, healthy food that’s affordable.  That’s art to us… Another thing I would say is I get that what we need is jobs.  I get that.   I’m not saying that we can live on love and poetry alone.”  In that reality lies Hazard.  The efforts that can amount to so much over time feel very slow in the scheme of things even if they are “baby steps in the right direction.”

The question then becomes – will we have the momentum to sustain the work that will attract people who can bring jobs to towns like Hazard while at the same time not overlooking the direct and immediate needs of the regions poor, hungry, and addicted?  Samantha Haynes, a 23 year old mother of three who currently volunteers at Second Chance Mission who serves those in need in Hazard summed up the plight of the area’s young people well when she told me, “This lady told me that it was beautiful downtown.  You know, that’s a beautiful view.  But, do you see what’s underneath that?  I’m not comfortable in that.  I’m not comfortable raising my kids around here knowing that the majority of people want to leave Hazard now, and yet, everybody wants to come home.  There’s nothing here for us, but there’s so much we have.  We’ve got all kinds of creativity from just making stuff to painting, to singing… and just talking.  It’s beautiful… but I want people to know that people like me want that for Hazard.  It just breaks my heart.  I don’t want to leave Hazard.  You know, there’s still a heartbeat here.  It’s not dead.”

Mountain News & World Report is a bi-weekly production of WMMT, and new episodes air every other Thursday at 6pm on WMMT, with a repeat broadcast the following Sunday morning at 10:30.  To listen to previous episodes, check out our streaming archives.

MN&WR: Youth Speak

  • Kentucky River Community Care’s Sapling Center in Whitesburg offers transitional youth a safe place to access basic necessities, technology, mental health services, and support for transitioning into independent living.
  • The Boone Youth Drop-In Center (Appalachian Media Institute) also in Whitesburg offers a safe and sober place for those ages 14-22 to spend time, access technology, create art, play music and games, take workshops, learn creative skills, and be fully themselves.
  • Stephanie Chernyaskiy (aged 24) a Letcher County native shares her optimism about the next 4 years with Donald Trump as president. Hannah Adams (aged 18) also of Letcher County shares what those of us living in small coalfields towns do with divided politics and no place to hide from them.

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Despite the fact that it often seems the world revolves around our youth and youth culture, the fact is that so many decisions that change the way of living for us all are made with little, or no, input from youth at all. In our society, older adults often weld a heavy hand in decision making, while many believe that young people have no opinions or are uninformed.  Is it possible, they just aren’t being heard?  Recent census data has shown that 1 in 5 young adult millennials live in poverty, and the United States is the 6th highest nation for youth ages 15-29 still living with their parents.  With financial and personal independence hard to obtain, making your voice heard can be a struggle.

For our first story, Kelli Haywood visits The Sapling Center, one of two new youth drop-in centers in Whitesburg, Kentucky.  Kentucky River Community Care (KRCC) is an organization serving eight counties in eastern Kentucky with a  focus on helping people connect with resources to meet their basic needs, including housing, crisis services, and health care.  This past November KRCC opened the second of what they hope to be one of many youth drop-in centers – The Sapling Center, in Whitesburg.  The Sapling Center targets transitional age youth from 14-25 with a focus on mental health and youth in crisis situations, but is open to any who would like a safe and supportive place to have fun.  The Sapling Center is located across from Pizza Hut at 60 Jenkins Road in Whitesburg and is open Monday through Thursday from noon to 8pm.  The Sapling Center can be reached on Facebook or you can call them at 606-633-0730 to arrange transportation to the center or get more information about programs and activities they offer.

In our second segment, you will hear a voice montage of the organizers and administrators of the Boone Youth Drop-In Center.  Ever since the old Boone Motor building on Madison Ave. in Whitesburg was acquired by Appalshop, it has been visioned as a youth space.  Seventeen years ago youth from all over the region, state, country and eventually the world began gathering at the Boone for music shows of rock, punk, metal, and much more.  It was one of the first places to foster a regional network of youth interested in art, music, zines, and flying the flag of freely expressed youth.  And now, a new, more structured, but just as open, supportive, and imaginative space has been created as another Whitesburg youth center that focuses on providing a safe and sober place for area young people to create art, play music and games, attend workshops in various subjects, teach their own workshops, use and check out technology, and otherwise have a dang good time.  Boone Master Mikie Burke, Director of the Appalachian Media Institute Kate Fowler, and Program Coordinator Lacy Hale speak of the whys, hows, and whats of the Boone Youth Drop-In Center.  Be sure to find the Boone Youth Drop-In Center on Facebook, or call Appalshop at 606-633-0108 and ask for Mikie, Kate, or Lacy, and they’d be happy to answer your questions.

In our next segment we are going to hear from two young women from Letcher County, Kentucky who express their feelings about our new president Donald Trump, and experience with the controversy surrounding his  election  The first speaker is Stephanie Chernyaskiy. And finally, we hear from 18 year old Hannah Adams.  Hannah wrote an essay and recorded it as part of Youth Radio in collaboration with The Holler which is a part of  KVEC – the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative.  She writes about living in a small town which can’t afford to stay divided.  Her story was recently featured on National Public Radio’s show Here and Now.

Mountain News & World Report is a bi-weekly production of WMMT, and new episodes air every other Thursday at 6pm on WMMT, with a repeat broadcast the following Sunday morning at 10:30.  To listen to previous episodes, check out our streaming archives.

MN&WR: Breath is Life

A miner at the Black Lung Laboratory in the Appalachian Regional Hospital in Beckley, West Virginia.

A miner at the Black Lung Laboratory in the Appalachian Regional Hospital in Beckley, West Virginia.

There’s a proverb that says – For breath is life, and if you breathe well you will live long on earth.   But, many hard working coal miners across Central Appalachia are facing the difficult truth that their life will be cut short by complicated black lung disease – the worst form possible.  This incurable form of the disease is on the rise in younger coal miners for a variety of reasons.  In our December 15th episode of Mountain News & World Report, WMMT reporter with the Ohio Valley ReSource, Benny Becker, and Howard Berkes of National Public Radio (NPR) broke the story that only a hundred cases of stage 4 black lung were reported across the country in the last five years, but that federal researchers now confirm a recent sharp spike in one clinic in Kentucky.  When NPR contacted clinics to inquire of a possible rise within their practice, the clinics reported a thousand cases across four states.  In this broadcast, we are featuring the final segment of Howard Berkes’s two part series on the findings of this investigative collaboration.  For our second segment, West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s, Jessica Lily interviews Berkes on the making of this series. 

We end this edition with a tribute to the late West Virginia Democratic Congressman, Kenneth William Hechler.  The nine term congressman passed away on December 10th at the age of 102 as the oldest living former member of Congress at the time of his death. He was born in Roslyn, New York, but came to West Virginia in 1957 to teach government at Marshall College in Huntington.  As a former editor for the presidential papers of Franklin D. Roosevelt, a speechwriter for President Harry S. Truman, and an Army combat historian who documented the European battlefront during  WWII, personally interrogating high ranking Nazis, Hechler was more than qualified to be as his campaign signs said – Your Servant in Congress.  He was not only a national leader on  Civil Rights, being the only Congressman to march with Martin Luther King, but also a champion for the health and safety of coal miners and their communities.  Hechler played an essential role in the passage  of the 1969 Coal Mine Health and Safety Act, in part  by arranging for President Richard Nixon to meet seven miners’ widows from the Farmington, W. Va. Mine Disaster that killed 78 men. The 1969 Act called for reducing dust levels in the mines and established the federal Black Lung Benefits program.  The segment is an interview Appalshop’s Herb E. Smith conducted with Hechler in 1995 wherein he recounts his memory of the Farmington widows imploring him to help stop future tragedies by getting legislation passed.

Mountain News & World Report is a bi-weekly production of WMMT, and new episodes air every other Thursday at 6pm on WMMT, with a repeat broadcast the following Sunday morning at 10:30.  To listen to previous episodes, check out our streaming archives.

MN&WR: Breath is Free

  • Benny Becker of WMMT and the Ohio Valley ReSource highlights the struggle and immense strength of the Branham family of Pike County, Kentucky whose father at the age of 38 was diagnosed with the most severe form of black lung disease and rendered unable to work.
  • Howard Berkes of NPR in collaboration with Benny Becker and the Ohio Valley ReSource reports on the data revealing an alarming increase of the form of black lung Mackie Branham Jr. is experiencing across all of Central Appalachia.
  • WMMT’s Kelli Haywood shares the progress of The City Built on Coal Project funded in Jenkins, Kentucky by the National Endowment for the Arts – Our Town Program, and the unveiling of a new mural at one entrance to Jenkins.

 

The Branham Family - Mackie Jr., Amber, and 4 children Photo by Benny Becker

The Branham Family – Mackie Jr., Amber, and 4 children
Photo by Benny Becker

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in The Great Gatsby,  “A new world, material without being real, where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air, drifted fortuitously about…like that ashen, fantastic figure gliding toward him through the amorphous trees.”

Sometimes as we are considering what to do to bring new life to our old coal towns that are fighting to eek out an existence, it can feel like we are “breathing dreams like air”.  In this episode of Mountain News & World Report, we’re exploring the fact that nothing – not even breath – is free. Our dreams will be achieved only through the hardest of work, and as many coal miners across the century have found, even the right to breath freely isn’t always a guarantee.

It seems like a new world, that in all its material and tangible things, seems only a ghost of the one some of us once knew here. Our first piece was produced by Benny Becker, the WMMT and Ohio Valley ReSource reporter in Whitesburg, Kentucky.  Benny and the ReSource have been working with NPR to investigate Black Lung in the central Appalachian coalfields.  New data shows there’s been a dramatic increase in the number of coal miners diagnosed with the worst form of black lung. The story begins in Pike County, Kentucky, where Dr. James Brandon Crum will introduce us to Mackie Branham Jr. and his family pictured above.

Over the past several months, clinics across Appalachia have been telling reporter Howard Berkes and NPR the same thing, again and again: something is terribly wrong.  There are more and more cases of the worst stage of the deadly coal miners’ disease, Black Lung.  A hundred cases were reported across the country in the last five years, and federal researchers confirmed today a recent sharp spike in one clinic in Kentucky.  But, the clinics contacted by NPR report a thousand cases across four states. 

Finally, WMMT’s Kelli Haywood brings us the story of The City Built on Coal Project.  Community members in the city of Jenkins partnered with local artists,  Appalshop, and city government in an effort to creatively keep the dignity of the place they call home despite hard economic times.  They applied and secured the funding of a National Endowment for the Arts – Our Town Program Grant to complete a three part public art project to be enjoyed by locals and tourists alike.  Jess Solomon, a Cultural Agent, describes creative place-keeping like this, “…the active care and maintenance of a place and its social fabric by the people who live and work there. It is not just preserving buildings but keeping the cultural memories associated with a locale alive, while supporting the ability of local people to maintain their way of life as they choose.”  

See the Jenkins Mural Project unveiling at our partner project’s website – Making Connections News.

 

Mountain News & World Report is a bi-weekly production of WMMT, and new episodes air every other Thursday at 6pm on WMMT, with a repeat broadcast the following Sunday morning at 10:30.  To listen to previous episodes, check out our streaming archives.