Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Rural Action News

Sunday Creek Day Camp Educates, Entertains

By Clay Flaherty, Media VISTA

During the week past, the Sunday Creek Watershed Group (SCWG), a program housed by regional development group Rural Action, held its annual day camp. The focus of the program was education about regional environmental problems.

The camp, which ran between July 14 and July 18, taught 35 young children about the environment and culture of Appalachian Ohio – and the necessity of protecting it.

“We are so excited this year about our day camp; it has been totally re-vamped,” said Emily Boyer, an AmeriCORPS VISTA with SCWG. “This year was our largest day camp in six years, with a diverse group of kids from all over the region.”

The children learned about acid mine damage in the Sunday Creek watershed, and its effects upon ecosystems in local streams. They also visited New Straitsville for a tour of Robinson’s Cave with Little Cities of Black Diamonds, and participated in the nationwide Passport to Fishing program.

The camps emphasized conservation in its activities, with children learning about the efforts currently underway to reverse regional environmental damage, and the value of renewable resources like solar power.

However, despite the full schedule of serious subject matter, the camp was a mixture between scientific education and fun.

Appalachia has unbelievable natural resources that are great education tools,” she said. “When young people are outdoors, they have the opportunity to use their imagination and creativity in play.”

Instruction from volunteers and counselors came in the form of participatory activities that sought to explain and show the value of stewardship.

However, when one visited the camp sessions you weren’t greeted by solemn discussions or rigid classes. Instead, there was the sound of children laughing and playing with their peers in the outdoors. An element that Boyer said is vital to the success of the camps.

“Being outside opens their eyes to environmental discoveries, giving them knowledge and a sense of wonder,” she said. “Hopefully this will to inspire them to preserve our lands in their natural state and continue educating new environmental stewards.”

The campers concluded their week with a pizza party on the shores of the lake at Burr Oak. And, while conservation-mindedness was part of the camp, the end result seems to have been much simpler than that – allowing kids to interact with their environment and each other.

The Sunday Creek Watershed Group (SCWG) is one of four watersheds affiliated with Rural Action that are working towards improving water quality and connecting communities to their natural assets.

For more information, visit the SCWG website (

New AmeriCorps*VISTA Members Begin Service at Rural Action

by Tori Patterson, AmeriCORPS*VISTA Leader

As happens every July, Rural Action is pleased to wel

come a new group of AmeriCorps*VISTA (Volunteer in Service to America) members to our team. Four VISTAs began their service to Appalachian Ohio on July 10, and we are fortunate to have such a talented bunch with us for the next year.

Replacing Kelsey McCoy as editor of the Rural Rambler is Clay Flaherty. An Athens native and recent graduate of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, Clay will be working as Rural Action’s Media and Communications Developer. With a background in multimedia and online journalism, we are sure to see fresh, new formats in the coming months.

Coming to us from Chicago is Susi Rankis, Rural Action’s new Sustainable Forestry VISTA. Susi graduated from DePaul University this spring with a degree in geography. Before relocating to Ohio to be closer to her family, and pursue graduate studies, Susi had been working in training and development with Whole Foods. She is looking forward to providing support for the Ohio Premium Pine Cooperative and working on a new carbon offset initiative for Rural Action.

Brian Blair jumped right into his new position with Sunday Creek/Monday Creek last week by working at the Rural Action watershed day camp. Originally from rural Missouri, Brian relocated to Glouster last year with his wife Kate. He will be working in education and outreach for both watershed groups, and is hoping to increase both water quality and community engagement in the watersheds.

One of our partner organizations, Community Food Initiatives, welcomes Daniel Martino as their inaugural full-year VISTA member. Daniel is a graduate of Ohio University and a longtime resident of Athens. He will be working on media and graphic design for the organization, as well working on outreach to local school districts.

Annual Meeting Honors Local Activists

by Clay Flaherty, Media VISTA

Rural Action held its Annual Meeting this past Thursday, July 17, during which the organization discussed its plans for the future and honored local volunteerism with their annual Sustainability Awards.

The event was held at the Athens Community Center and was robust, with over 70 people estimated to be in attendance during the evening of speeches and accolades.

During the ceremony, Rural Action recognized Greg Kremer, the Athens’ City Kroger, and Marshall and Betty Lowe as recipients of this year’s

Sustainability Awards.

Greg Kremer received the Livelihood Award for his “professional and personal choices which exemplify a sustainable lifestyle.” Greg has a long-standing history of activism in energy initiatives, serving as the Associate Director in the Ohio Coal Research Center where he supervises fuel cell and biodiesel testing for engines. He also serves as a youth group leader at Christ the King Catholic Church, mentoring the youth on sustainable lifestyle through the examples that he sets. Greg also uses a bicycle as his primary form of transportation to work and personal commitments.

Marshall and Betty Lowe were the recipients of a Lifetime Achievement Award for their dedication to building sustainable communication in the community. The Lowe’s involvement with Rural Action goes back to AOPIC, when Marshall served on the board. They were among the founders of the Forest Advisory Board and the Ohio Premium Pine Cooperative in Rural Action’s Sustainable Forest Program.

The Lowes also serve with the Southeast Ohio Woodland Owners Group and the Nature Conservancy. They exemplify reclamation initiatives through the extensive coal field restoration efforts that they have conducted on their Morgan County farm, which serve as a model for others to follow in the future.

The Athens’ City Kroger received an award for Sustainable Business in recognition of their consistent commitment to local produce, despite pressure from their larger parent company. They were also recognized for their response to demands for organic produce, and contributions to community events. They have previously worked with Rural Action in the past, supporting them through a grant from Starbucks.

The award was accepted on behalf of Kroger by Dave Shull, the store’s general manager.

Other highlights from the meeting also included a speech from Ohio Consumer’s Counsel Janine Migden-Ostrander who discussed the importance of Ohio Senate Bill 221, which would call for a reduction in electricity needs and require utility companies to integrate alternative energy into their production quotas.

FDA Gives Tomatoes Further Clean Bill of Health

By Clay Flaherty, Media VISTA

According to information released by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) yesterday, the strain of salmonella which has sickened hundreds of Americans since April has been directly linked with jalapeno peppers, and tomatoes are no longer considered the likely of these infections.

The FDA discovered a contaminated jalapeno pepper during an inspection of produce at a distribution center in McAllen, Texas. Genetic sequencing by the FDA and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has confirmed that the strain of salmonella found on the pepper, called Salmonella Saintpaul, is identical to the cases across the country.

The FDA reported yesterday that the contaminated pepper used for the genetic sequencing originated from a farm in Mexico. However, there is no evidence to suggest that the pepper was contaminated in Mexico, as it could have easily been contaminated in transit, or at the distribution center in Texas.

This news does not bode well for jalapeno sales in the coming weeks with grocery stores like Kroger have already begun pulling the peppers from their shelves nationwide. However, the exoneration of tomatoes may spell great news for farmers, who suffered a sore blow earlier in the season when the FDA originally reported a “strong link” between the consumption of raw tomatoes and the original outbreak.

Locally, Tom Redfern of Rural Action reported that there’s been little effect on the sale of tomatoes at markets like the Chesterhill Produce Auction, as the FDA cleared Ohio’s crops early-on.

Ohio was cleared from the beginning,” Redfern said.

The warning against the consumption of tomatoes was originally lifted on July 18, but the discovery of the presumed culprit will be another much-needed step towards a return to agrarian normalcy for producers and consumers of tomatoes alike.

Papers in early July were reporting that the losses of farmers and suppliers nationwide may likely top more than $100 million. Hopefully this latest revelation has come in time for sales to bounce back on the crop – which is currently coming in at markets around the country.

This outbreak of salmonella has ignited a heated debate over the way that food is produced, distributed, and tracked in the United States. Such arguments often call for the creation of intensive traceability programs for tracking produce, but often fail to underline the benefits of purchasing local produce.

Erin Barnett, director of the sustainability organization Local Harvest, argues in his monthly newsletter that the focus of programs shouldn’t be bureaucratic fail-safes, but support for local food initiatives.

“What we ought to be doing instead is creating programs that encourage people to go into farming, so we can have as decentralized a food system as possible,” wrote Barnett. “That -- and developing relationships with the farmers who grow your food -- is where true food security lies.”

Jalapeno peppers, meanwhile, remain under stringent inspections from the CDC and the FDA, which issued this joint warning yesterday:

“The contaminated peppers may still be in grocery stores, homes, and restaurants. Until more is known about the likely location of contamination, FDA is advising all persons to avoid consuming raw jalapeño peppers and dishes containing those raw peppers. Consumers should be aware that raw jalapeño peppers are often used in the preparation of fresh salsa, pico de gallo, guacamole, and other dishes. Cooked or pickled peppers from jars and cans are not part of this warning.”

In the meantime, for lovers of tomatoes:

Bon appetit.

Above image taken from Salmonella Blog (

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