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Transforming Coal Country: New Startup Aims to Create Agricultural Hub in Appalachia

Danielle S

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The coal economy of Appalachia has been integral to the overall health and vitality of the region for generations. Despite this fact, the area has suffered from widespread economic anxiety as coal energy has begun to get phased out in today’s modern working environment. With that being said, Appalachia will need to find alternatives for energy creation and the jobs that go along with it and a new company is looking to do just that.

Based out of Kentucky, AppHarvest intends to operate as the largest indoor farms in the world. The company, which features Martha Stewart as a board member, is focusing on bringing resources and jobs to communities that have been suffering in the wake of a coal economy that has abandoned them. At the time of this writing, AppHarvest is already enjoying its first production run with a crop of beefsteak tomatoes sent to stores such as Kroger and Walmart.

A New National Leader in Alternative Farming

Nestled in the heart of Morehead, Kentucky, the AppHarvest headquarters can currently handle more than 45 million pounds of pesticide-free, non-GMO, and annually reproducing tomatoes. The state-of-the-art facility features extraordinary sustainable measures like recycled rainwater which gives AppHarvest the opportunity to focus on year-round cultivation.

Martha Stewart has taken the point on many of AppHarvest’s latest press releases, allowing her noted record to reinforce the words that she has been saying. Martha said of the agriculture company, “AppHarvest’s high-tech and sustainable approach is the future of food.”

Stewart would go on to detail the benefits that AppHarvest crops can provide to consumers, focusing heavily on the pesticide and chemical-free nature of an AppHarvest yield. Stewart would go on to describe that AppHarvest’s produce features nutrient-rich and enormously flavorful produce, highlighting tomatoes specifically by saying, “I’m already looking forward to integrating them in my kitchen.”

A Look at the Landscape

What makes AppHarvest truly special in this space is that they are endeavoring to accomplish something larger than craft a business, they are looking to change the entire area. Proud of their Appalachian roots, the three farms that AppHarvest has opened thus far have all been located within a day’s drive of nearly 80% of the American population. AppHarvest believes their convenient location and massive production scale will help to bring fresh produce to markets throughout Appalachia.

Collaborating with high schools throughout Kentucky, AppHarvest is also helping invest in the future of the state through investing in schools. The team at AppHarvest has already invested in teaching students how to grow food in container farms while properly providing nutrition throughout the process.

AppHarvest CEO Jonathan Webb said of his company’s efforts, “We are determined to build a climate-resilient infrastructure.” Webb went on to detail how their crops are grown with 100% recycled rainwater as well as zero chemical pesticides. Webb says of the process his farms undergo, “It’s better for them and the environment.”

At the time of this writing, AppHarvest has already secured more than $1 billion in funding and financing. The goal at AppHarvest is to create at least a dozen farms within the next four years, a mark that the company is already on track to meet.

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The Re-Establishment of Osprey in Southern England

Jolie

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When it comes to animals and breeding, the general public expects that nature just takes its course by instinct, and breeding happens on the natural. However, for anyone who’s actually been involved with animal husbandry, getting animals to do their thing can sometimes be a serious challenge. And, as it turns out, ospreys are particularly troublesome in this regard when it comes to the locale of southern England.

While ospreys in general have been breeding for years (or they wouldn’t exist otherwise), southern England has been a deadzone for the bird’s propagation. Areas around Dorset have been experiencing dwindling populations for years as the birds either move or just plain die off without generational replacement. However, thanks to the work of conservationists in the area, a particular osprey nest has been quite active and is now underway, potentially producing hatchlings for the first time in 200 recorded years. Streamed via a webcam set up by the Poole Harbour Osprey nest program, the filming has given researchers and the public a firsthand look at what has been missing from the Dorset area for approximately two centuries, at least by any serious archiving standards.

Ospreys have had a rough time, which contributed to their decline in number overall. Both in England and Europe, the birds have been hunted and intentionally culled to get rid of them or use them for taxidermy. The nests were also hunted down and plundered as the eggs were considered a delicacy. It was only in 2017 that a serious biology program was instituted to help repopulate the southern England region with the osprey via reintroduction. The birds were originally sourced from as far north as Scotland.

The Scottish effort started earlier, in 1996, and has since produced a very vibrant population of ospreys in the northern coastlands, making for plenty of candidates to relocate southward. Now, for the conservationists involved, a nest with an egg in it and being incubated by the hen osprey is a huge achievement for all the efforts that went into relocating the birds. At least seven years of effort and tireless work has gotten the program to this point in achievement. And if everything goes according to plan, a hatching set should appear by May 2022 along with feeding activity.

Generally, ospreys are a coastal sea-faring bird, feeding off of fish in the waters as their primary food source. Poole Harbour fit the bill for a relocation program given its heavy fish population and being smack dab on the normal migration path for the ospreys as they move back and forth to Europe and return annually. With tracking, the researchers were able to determine the given breeding pair made it all the way down to Arica during their seasonal flying and then returned to England to begin their breeding cycle.

Time will tell if the hatchlings make it, but if they do, there’s a very good chance Pool Harbour will start to see more and more of the birds over the next decade as a result.

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Montgomery County Maryland Teenagers Volunteer to Become Vaccine Hunters

Liz L

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Two juniors at Sherwood High School in Montgomery County, Maryland volunteered to help their Spanish teacher, Tanya Aguilar, find COVID-19 vaccination appointments for members of their community who were struggling to get the shot. Many of them are older and do not have access to computers, while others do not speak or read English well enough to schedule an appointment for themselves. Kashmira Heaton- Vakharia, who is sixteen years old, and Fernando Johnson, who is seventeen years old, started volunteering as “vaccine hunters” along with a group of students and teachers in Montgomery County, Maryland community.

The teenage volunteers use their internet skills to navigate through dozens of websites to locate available appointments. Once the appointments are located, they carefully fill in the needed information to secure the appointment. The appointments were made for members of Takoma Park Seventh Day Adventist church, which included the pastor, Daniel Xisto. Sixty church members who were identified as at risk of contracting the incredibly contagious virus were able to take advantage of the volunteer’s computer skills to book their COVID-19 vaccines. People are considered at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 for a number of reasons. One of the leading factors that place certain people at greater risk is simply their age. Anyone who is sixty-five years old or older is typically considered at high risk for contracting the COVID-19 virus if they are not vaccinated. Others may be considered at high risk because they have underlying health conditions including, but not limited to, diabetes, asthma, or heart problems. These chronic illnesses could make it difficult for the patient’s body to successfully fight off COVID-19 because the immune system is busy with other pre-existing illnesses. It was important for members of the Takoma Park Seventh Day Adventist church to know the risk factors so they could make use of the volunteers and get their vaccinations scheduled.

When asked about the experience, Fernando Johnson replied, “ It is an incredibly liberating feeling every time [ a vaccine is successfully scheduled.]” Johnson and Heaton-Vakharia have been able to utilize their computer skills and their time in order to schedule two hundred and fifteen COVID-19 vaccination appointments for members of their community. The teenage and adult volunteers are careful to fill in all the vaccine registration information correctly. Having the wrong information at the time of the appointment can cause delays and slow the process at the vaccination site.

The work of these teenage vaccine hunters did not go unrecognized. Pater Daniel Xisto made sure to get a picture of himself getting his vaccine. He wanted to show his congregation it was not a difficult thing to do. The pastor also wanted to publicly thank Johnson and Heaton-Vakharia and let them know what a wonderful service they provided to his congregation. He wants to invite them to services when his church is able to reopen. The vaccine hunters replied that it would be cool to sit down and talk to the pastor and congregation.

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Bakery Truck Fed Scores of Stranded I-95 Motorists Biblical Style

Jolie

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The Holihan’s had been stuck on I-95 in Virginia for almost 16 hours before they came up with a plan to get home.

Around 9 a.m. on Tuesday, the couple saw a Schmidt Baking Company vehicle just several feet ahead of them. At this point, they guessed that it had been 37 hours when they had eaten.

23-year-old Holihan recalls that they were “starving” at the stoppage, which took place near Quantico. “Not only were we struggling, but everyone around us was as well. Kids were wailing in the background.”

Schmidt Baking Co. in Baltimore was the number they dialed in the hopes that they’d happily offer any goods on the vehicle to famished commuters, and they were not disappointed. Despite the couple’s knowledge that it was a bit of a stretch, they and countless others, many of whom got stranded on I-95 for nearly 24 hours, were starving for food.

When they dialed the customer service phone number, they gave them their phone number.

I doubted it would work, Holihan admitted.

Chuck Paterakis, another of the founders of H&S Bakery, which owns Schmidt Baking Company, contacted the couple within 20 minutes after she had contacted them.

Afterward, he instructed the truck driver to offer up two items—a package of rolls and a loaf of bread—to everyone who requested them.

Paterakis stated, “It was a no-brainer.” With no food and water, “I would want somebody to give their products” was his final thought when asked about being stranded in the middle of nowhere.

They were on their way from Ellicott City, Md., to see Noe’s relatives in Newport, NC, on I-95 when they got into an accident.

Ron Hill, Holihan, and Noe joined the truck driver in snatching bread from the truck and dispersing it to passing motorists. Others quickly jumped on the bandwagon.

He remarked, “We started knocking on doors, and we were able to help several folks.”

About 300 loaves of bread got distributed during an hour’s trek along the ice-slicked roadways.

Holihan added that “some folks said that this was a lifesaver for them.”

For several hours, an Uber driver and a passenger got stuck on I-95. Her safety was his number one priority.

There were families with kids stranded for long periods without sustenance. “We established a tiny little commune that will stay etched in their memories,” she said of the experience of sleeping on a highway all night.

Paterakis’s compassionate act was the only thing that stood out to them in an otherwise harrowing situation.

“He didn’t have to assist us. Holihan opined, “He could have generated revenue on that bread.” He said, “It was quite touching.”

“We’re flattered and thankful that we could contribute,” Paterakis said of his family’s 80-year legacy as a family-run bakery in Baltimore. Since then, his three brothers have taken control of the business.

It has given about 3 million loaves of food aid to the poor in the Baltimore-Washington region since March 2020, he said.

It was instilled in him by his parents, who he credits with teaching him how to strive and help the less fortunate. It would be a great honor for my parents to see this.

Holihan expressed her gratitude for the bread and the unexpected community they discovered. On Tuesday evening, the pair was on the highway for 33 hours but still had roughly two hours to go before they arrived in Newport.

Even though it seemed like an interminable road journey, we could make friends with other stranded travelers and bring them bread from the rear of the truck.

All of Holihan’s friends and coworkers expressed their gratitude.

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Saving the Great Barrier Reef One Coral at a Time

Sarrah M

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The Great Barrier Reef has been the subject of news focus for a number of years now many of the existing adult coral reefs have been damaged by water temperature changes and sun bleaching. Entire ecosystems depend on the reefs, so the loss of even some of the structure could be disastrous for life in the area. As a proactive effort to reverse some of the loss, a project involving lab-created coral has been worked on with the hope of generating new coral beds with new life. The results are starting to pay off with the first generation of offspring now appearing.

Starting in 2016, 22 coral colonies were developed through lab-enhanced growth and establishment, and then they were transplanted to the Great Barrier Reef to promote establishment. Now, some five years later, the results are being seen as those artificially-created coral are now at maturity and beginning to propagate an entire new generation from them. This is exactly the long-term results researchers were hoping for.

The initial size of the planted coral when first started was microscopic. They have since grown into sizable clusters, most as big as a plate of food. Even more promising, another wave of coral at mid-development stage should be maturing within another year, creating another wave of growth and propagation in case the first one suffers some sort of a glitch. However, given the results the researchers are seeing, the planted colonies are raging forward in growth and showing no signs of sputtering at doing what they do best.

The helping hand provided by science and the conservation efforts are a big confidence booster for multiple efforts working to save the Great Barrier Reef. It’s also proving that the methodology used for prolonged coral development is a working, viable path that can be scaled up to bigger levels now that it’s a proven success. The project is the first to cross the line and re-establish successfully a coral bed and colony, especially where factors have damaged the previous coral and killed it off.

While the project is not a perfect, all-encompassing solution for the Great Barrier Reef die-off, the lab-produced coral are showing themselves to be one of the most successful approaches so far with a significant potential to replace lost coral altogether in a short period of time. If humans can help reverse the past damage, it could produce a positive karma effect that benefits future generations with a preserved ocean eco-system range vital to regional sea life.

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Incredible Use Of Technology to Save Birds Near Wind Turbines

Sarrah M

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The push for sustainable energy production that is environmentally friendly has boosted the technology and proliferation of wind turbines, among other options for alternative sourcing. And sizable wind farms can produce significant new energy in traditional wind channel areas, spanning miles across such traps to take advantage of natural air flows. However, for bird flocks, the turbine “nets” can be a death hazard, including everything from small birds to large-sized raptors flying blindly into the spinning blades. One company thinks it may have come up with an artificial intelligence solution to solve the problem.

The wind farm bird killing is such a problem, the federal government has offered funding to help find a way to stop it, or at least reduce the risk significantly. $13.5 million has been made available in the form of grant funding and research to create a fix. A Colorado company decided to take a shot at the point by using the ability of computers and cameras to “see” birds and shut down turbines before they harm or kill the fowl flying nearby. Dubbed “IdentiFlight,” the software and hardware package has already shown in testing a 560 percent improved accuracy at spotting birds in the air versus a human spotter. While there is room for error, the programming produces a 94 percent level of accuracy in spotting, incredibly well within the acceptable range of performance.

The IdentiFlight package works with special sensors designed for optical detection as well as applying algorithms to expect where a bird will end up based on its current flight path. If the combination calculates to a contact with the turbine based on the formula, then the system directs the turbine to stop spinning. In essence, the bird flies through the area without danger, and then the turbine starts up again.

The concept is not a theoretical model; it works in realtime application already. IdentiFlight was used back in 2018 at an Australian facility, and it reduced raptor deaths from turbines by 80 percent. The applicable facility ran 48 turbines with a significant span of area that affected local birds flying through. Duke Energy picked up the tool and has been applying similar at its facilities and wind farms worldwide as a result.

A key factor of modern AI has been the technology’s ability to learn and improve accuracy once it is installed and put online. The software reads off the findings, both positive and negative, and adjusts its operations for greater accuracy going forward. The result is an increased spotting ability over time unique and specific to the location the AI is positioned in. While again, there is no perfect tool that prevents birds from being hit by wind turbines completely, modern AI is doing a pretty good job of filling in the gap.

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