Washington comes to Asheville (and vice versa)

On June 24, Rep. Heath Shuler welcomed Asheville filmmakers Francine Cavanaugh and Adams Wood to the Capitol Hill Visitors Center in Washington, D.C., for a special screening of their film, On Coal River. The screening was sponsored by Shuler and Rep. Patrick Kennedy, who represents Rhode Island, as well as the Western North Carolina nonprofit Appalachian Voices.

Shuler said Western North Carolina is proud to be home to number of talented artists, and the filmmakers told Shuler about the impact the region had on their project.

"When we moved to the North Carolina mountains from the San Francisco Bay area in 2002, we soon learned about mountaintop removal through an article in an environmental newspaper. We were startled by the pictures and descriptions of this coal-mining technique, and we were also really shocked by our own ignorance — at that point, we didn't even know that our electricity came from coal [or] that our new home state was the No. 1 user of mountaintop removal coal," Cavanaugh and Wood said in a joint statement.

"Something about the concept of mountaintop removal really grabbed us — maybe because mountains usually serve as metaphors for something that will endure much longer than we humans will," the filmmakers remarked.

Rep. Shuler added, "It is important that we know how our actions, including the production of the energy we use, affect the health of our communities and our natural environment. Congress must take steps to protect the quality of our air and water and ensure that our natural resources are preserved for future generations here in Appalachia and across the country."

Cavanaugh and Wood were joined by some of the activists depicted in the film, which is a DownRiver Media production.

USDA under secretary visits Asheville

In other news with a Washington connection, Edward Avalos visited the Asheville City Market on June 26. U.S. Department of Agriculture under secretary for marketing and regulatory programs, Avalos was in town to meet vendors and learn more about the market's successful EBT/SNAP program.

EBT (electronic benefits transfer) is the state's electronic food-stamps option, which is similar to a debit card, and SNAP is its Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. To broaden their customer base, more and more farmers' markets now offer an EBT/SNAP payment option, say representatives of the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project, the regional nonprofit that runs the market.

Avalos also officially announced the release of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) at Farmers Markets: A How-To Handbook, a joint effort of the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, USDA Food and Nutrition Service, and Project for Public Spaces, Inc. The handbook will provide technical guidance for market managers on how and where to introduce EBT technology.

Avalos selected the Asheville City Market because of its recent record-setting EBT/SNAP token sales. Market customers can use EBT to buy tokens and then exchange those tokens with dozens of market vendors for goods, including produce, cheese, eggs, and meats. On June 12, ASAP exceeded its 2009 record EBT sales day by 300 tokens.

The record-setting Saturday came on the heels of reporting by the nonprofit organization Leaflight that the market had the highest amount of EBT/SNAP sales in 2009 of any participating farmers' market in the Southeast. Leaflight, contracted by the state's Department of Social Services to manage EBT operations at markets, reports that the Asheville market currently leads North Carolina farmers' markets in credit, debit and EBT sales for 2010.

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