Sunday Roundup: Finding ‘Higher Ground’

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The New York Times’s Sabrina Tavernise has a wonderful story today about a play produced in Harlan County, Kentucky.

Residents of the coal county in the far southeast corner of the state have been putting on plays about their community since 2005. The first addressed the region’s prescription drug abuse epidemic. This year’s version is about young people struggling with the question of whether to stay or leave. Robert Gipe, the community college professor who helped begin the series, calls the plays “Higher Ground.” This year’s version is titled “Talking Dirt.”

Tavernise writes:

Carlton Hughes, a professor at Southeast, said the play had changed the attitude of his 15-year-old son, Noah, who for some time had been chafing at life in Harlan County.

“With every breath, he would say, ‘I can’t wait to get out of here,’ ” Mr. Hughes said.

But Noah agreed to take a role in the play, and during a recent performance, Mr. Hughes was pleased to see him laughing and cavorting with a retired coal miner many times his age.

Despite the unconventional subject matter, the play has a fairly standard happy ending. Mr. Gipe makes no apologies for it.

“Somewhere along the line, artistic validity became associated with everything ending in a mess,” he said. “But if you articulate what’s best in us and put characters in front of people who don’t resort to their basest instincts, that’s real, too.” 

•For only the second time in history, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened the Morganza Floodway, diverting the flooded Mississippi River into the Atchafalaya basin and inundating thousands of acres of rural Louisiana. As usual, the best coverage comes from the New Orleans Times-Picayune: 

About 25,000 people and 11,000 structures are in harm’s way, as up to 25 feet of flooding is expected in a 3,000 square-mile area of Cajun country stretching from Melville to Morgan City.

The water is expected to pass below Interstate 10 in a day and reach Morgan City in three days, said Col. Ed Fleming, commander of the corps’ New Orleans district.

• Shirley Sherrod is back at USDA.

Remember, Sherrod was forced to quit her job with the Ag Department when a edited version of her remarks made her appear to be racially insensitive. Now Politico reports that she’s been hired as a contract employee to help restore relations between minority farmers and ranchers and the USDA. 

• “Why is Eastern Kentucky so much worse off than the rest of Appalachia?” an editorial in the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader asks.

Nearly eight out of ten of Kentucky’s Appalachian counties are described as economically “distressed.” No other state’s mountain counties come close to this kind of poverty. The paper writes:

“What has any of this got to do with me?” you might wonder if you live in Lexington or another of Kentucky’s urban or exurban areas that are growing.

To that we do have an answer: There is just one Kentucky.

The state’s economic future is entwined with the fate of the mountains and other depressed rural areas. 

• Agribusinesses are asking Congress to release land from the Conservation Reserve Program and to allow those acres to be put into production. 

The Des Moines Register said the groups, including meatpacker Tyson Foods and fertilizer manufacturers, wrote a letter to House and Senate ag committee members saying that more land needed to be farmed in order to restore grain reserves.

Environmental groups oppose this. Land in the CRP helps reduce soil erosion and pollution of streams and rivers.

 

 

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