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From Digging Coal to Digging Potatoes

ROM DIGGING COAL TO DIGGING POTATOES: ONE MINER TRIES HIS HAND AT FARMING

by Angie Mullins

Shane Lucas has found what he loves to do. Now he hopes to make a living at it.

When he was laid off from the coal mine after 17 years and had to take a lower-paying highway construction job, he turned to farming his 29-acre piece of land to supplement his income.

Lucas, 40, who lives in the Cowan area of Letcher County, was recently called back to work at a coal mine in Harlan County, though he hadn't started yet as of late October. While he is glad for the money and knows he can't turn it down, he knows it's not what he wants to do.

"If I could do anything in the world, this is what I'd be doing," he said, gesturing toward his garden on a brilliant late fall afternoon.

He is proud that he was able to supplement his income this year through his farming. He says he made over $580 one particular Saturday morning at the Whitesburg Farmers' Market. He sold approximately 1,600 pounds of tomatoes this season. If not for a blight, it would have been at least 4,500 pounds, he believes. He sold potatoes, onions, greens, kale, cabbage, corn and beans too.

When asked what the other miners did to make ends meet after the massive layoffs that rocked the Eastern Kentucky coalfields in 2013 and 2014, Lucas replied, "They left."

Unwilling to join the outmigration that took so many of his co-workers hundreds of miles away to find work, Lucas dug in his heels and kept planting crops.

"It's a lot harder work than running a piece of equipment on a mine," he said. "But I love it."

He was disappointed, though, that he rarely saw coal miners at the Farmers Market buying the healthy food and supporting the local farmers.

"It bothered me," he said. "They think we're 'tree huggers'."

He even dressed in his mining uniform when he rode through the Mountain Heritage Festival Paradein Whitesburg on a parade float with Grow Appalachia and Farmers Market volunteers. He says he did this to show miners and farmers they "don't have to be against each other."

For now, Lucas knows that he must accept the call to go back to the mines to support his wife and extended family that live with him on Lucas Farm, as his new sign calls his home.

However, he says he will miss spending so much time in his garden. Perhaps this is because more than just economic stress pushed him to expand his small garden from a hobby into a business.

He was taught to raise a garden by his dad, Richard Lucas, who died in January, 2014. Since his dad died, he has put in many more hours than ever before in the garden.

"He's out here with me," Lucas said. He even bought back his dad's first tractor, a grey 1948 Ford, from a neighbor who had bought it from Lucas's dad years ago. He found the right parts and has it running again, working the land his dad once helped him farm.

Lucas has a five-year plan to try to make a living farming. He has a small produce stand near his house that he wants to expand. He has considered getting his micro-processing license and Certified Market license to expand his offerings. He's installed an efficient drip irrigation and fertilization system. He even plans to try growing 2,000 plugs of Shitake mushrooms next spring.

He has expanded his growing season by using a high tunnel type of greenhouse he built with help from a grant he was awarded through the Natural Resources Conservation Service. There are still rows upon rows of tomatoes in the high tunnel not yet ripe in late October. Lucas expects to keep growing through December and he is working on a contract to supply vegetables such as broccoli to the local school system.

"I'll just keep trying, " he said.

This entry was posted in Breaking Beans and tagged Agriculture Legacy, Angie Mullins, Breaking Beans,Economic Opportunity, Letcher County, Lucas Farm on November 11, 2014.

PZ First International Company

30 jobs coming to Corbin industrial park: Japanese company to locate first U.S. facility locally

By Kristina Smith Staff Writer, Times Tribune | Posted: Tuesday, September 23, 2014 12:55 am

Frankfort Announcement

Local and state officials along with representatives of Kowa Kentucky Inc. gathered in Frankfort Tuesday morning to announce the Japanese-based company's decision to locate its first U.S. facility in Corbin. The company will be located in the industrial park.

FRANKFORT — A Japanese corporation is moving into the United States, and they've chosen Corbin as their first spot for development.

Gov. Steve Beshear made the announcement from the state capital Monday with Kowa Kentucky Inc. and government officials standing by his side.

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ANDREW BREINER article for Climate Progress

As Kentucky Candidates talk up coal, these people are actually helping out-of-work coal miners.

In the early 20th century, Appalachian coal mining was a focal point of innovation. New technologies let fewer miners mine millions of tons more coal than ever before, creating a boom that sustained dozens of towns even as it polluted the land and employed fewer and fewer miners over the years. Now, 21st century technology and cleaning up coal's mess could be key to getting people back to work — if elected officials make it a priority. And that's going to be a central focus for voters deciding Tuesday whether Mitch McConnell or Alison Lundergan Grimes will represent them in the U.S. Senate for the next six years.

What do voters want to see from their representatives? "I'd like to see more work coming into Kentucky," said Herman Endicott, a 66-year-old former coal miner. "Getting all those miners back to work" was a top priority for Lorrean Adkins, who has many miners in her family.

Phyllis Sizemore, curator of the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum in Benham, has lived in Eastern Kentucky long enough to see the exodus happen over and over again. She can remember when laid off miners left in droves for Detroit's auto industry, and Cincinnati's factories. Now it's her own son, a former miner, who's had to move. He's working as an EMT just a few hours away in Kentucky, not quite so far as Detroit. But when people talk about saving the coal industry, she said, that's what they're really worried about.

For decades, transition away from coal mining in Kentucky has meant people leaving. Harlan County, a historical center of coal mining in Eastern Kentucky, grew fast while mining boomed, from 10,566 residents in 1910 to a peak of 75,275 in 1940. Then began the slow slide back down, to an estimated 28,499 in 2013.

That's the kind of thing that Jerry Rickett, CEO of the Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation, is trying to stop. "The skills to undertake underground mining and surface mining are pretty well-focused on just that industry," Rickett said in a phone interview. "The individuals losing jobs in the mining sector we felt needed some retraining to enter other kinds of work. We want to focus on diversifying the economy," Harlan County is part of a newly-founded Promise Zone, an initiative from the federal government announced in President Obama's 2013 State of the Union Address to aid impoverished communities across the country.

Rickett said a big part of the work needed to be bringing optimism back to the region, countering the feeling of decline and continuous job loss. The Promise Zone designation, he said, would help "rally the troops," helping the region get an idea of what its resources are, and what it can do with them.

He pointed to work on phone lines, electric lines, and broadband Internet as a particularly good fit for former miners. "If you think about it, folks were already working with complex electrical systems in these mine environments." Rickett also pointed to a program where people remotely perform computer and call center work for companies across the country, employing about 200 people so far, though not yet full-time. But that work requires Internet access. "One of our challenges is a lot of people don't have high-speed internet at home in our region," he said. "If we wanted to do one project that can impact the most people, I think getting broadband out here is probably the best one... I think that's essential." SOAR (Shaping Our Appalachian Region), an initiative by Governor Steve Beshear and Representative Harold "Hal" Rogers of Eastern Kentucky, has made broadband a first priority for similar reasons.

Alison Lundergan Grimes, running against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in Tuesday's election, has made rural broadband for Kentucky a campaign issue. She's proposed a project along the lines of Google Fiber, which currently supplies free broadband in Kansas City, Kansas, and other locations, as well as even higher-speed Internet for a price. "As your senator," she said at a March campaign appearance, "I will make federal assistance for expanding broadband capacity my No. 1 priority."

Another area that's going to require Congress to take the lead on bringing jobs to former mining country is on abandoned mine lands. The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 set up the Abandoned Mine Land Fund to collect money from coal mining companies and spend it on reclaiming land used for mining, which is often highly toxic and unusable. Reclamation projects have been a source of jobs for coal country as well as a benefit to community health.

But their future is unclear. Payments into the fund expire in 2022, and they will have to be reauthorized by Congress even earlier than that to ensure there's no interruption. But at a meeting on the future of abandoned mine lands projects in late October on the border of Kentucky and Virginia, activists were worried about the future of the fund. Even with the current level of funding, one participant said, there was a huge gap between what was needed and what was being spent. With coal production declining, the fund's method of taxing each ton of coal mined is likely to see diminishing returns. Even worse, he said, the coal industry was already starting to lobby to lower the amount of tax it pays, so it will be a fight even to keep the tax at its current level.

Technology and the coal industry brought jobs to Appalachia in the 20th century. Technology and cleaning up after the coal industry could bring them back in the 21st, if Congress makes it happen.

Rogers Leads Tour of "Silicon Holler"

October 23, 2014

SOMERSET, KY -- U.S. Rep. Harold "Hal" Rogers (KY-05) served as a tour guide on Wednesday, October 22, as 50 leaders from across southern and eastern Kentucky boarded a tour bus, dubbed by Rogers as the "Silicon Holler Express."

The tour was designed to help leaders of the SOAR-Shaping Our Appalachian Region organization learn more about five sophisticated facilities currently utilizing high-speed Internet along I-75 in southern Kentucky. Each company displayed the types of opportunities that could be created in the rest of the region with the development of the 3,000-mile broadband interstate, announced by Congressman Rogers and Governor Steve Beshear, that is scheduled to begin in Eastern Kentucky before the end of the year and will be extended to the rest of the Commonwealth.

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