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Ashe County Farmers Market to hold seasonal opening May 1

WEST JEFFERSON — The Ashe County Farmers Market will open for the season on Saturday, May 1, starting at 8 a.m. and closing at 1 p.m. With the COVID-19 pandemic still lurking throughout the county, face coverings and social distancing will be required.

“We are excited to have several new vendors this year which include Carrie Vargas of Vargas Family Farms, Victoria and Troy of Second Breakfast Farm, Robin Miller of the Baker’s Addict, Melanie Joyner of Sweets and Spirits Bakery and Chuck and Ann Rice of Nature’s Light Candles,” said Market Manager Carol Griffith.

The market will hold a special Arts and Craft Expo the second Saturday of each month starting in June to help artists and crafters in Ashe County who have been negatively impacted by the cancelling of festivals and fairs in 2020 due to COVID-19.

“We have had a tremendous response to this and will hold another jury in May,” Griffith said.

If you are interested in participating in this special expo, please email Griffith at farmersmarketashe@gmail.com for more information.

The market will offer baked goods, greenery, local products and more.

The last day of the season for the Ashe County Farmers Market will be Oct. 30, then followed by special Holiday openings November-December.

SpaceX astronauts inspire Ashe County students

WARRENSVILLE — A teacher’s hopeful inquiry led to the opportunity of a lifetime for the students of Ashe County Middle School who on Friday, April 23, got to partake in a Q&A session via Zoom with the astronauts of SpaceX’s Inspiration 4.

The four-person crew of Inspiration 4, consisting of geoscientist Sian Proctor, entrepreneur Jared Isaacman, Iraq War veteran and engineer Chris Sembroski and Hayley Arceneaux, a physician’s assistant at St. Jude and a survivor of childhood bone cancer are set to partake in the first all civilian space mission later this year.

The Zoom meeting was brought about by first-year teacher Charlene Horton, who was searching for engaging and inspiring learning activities to accompany her regular lesson plan, a task which she admits has been challenging since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m always trying to think of how I can get them to be really excited about what they’re learning. I can’t change the content of what I’m teaching, but I can change how I teach it,” said Horton. “During this time it’s so hard for them to stay engaged. Especially when we went remote for those couple of months.”

After learning about the recent work of SpaceX and their plans to launch the first all civilian crew into orbit, Horton decided to reach out to the private aerospace company to see if they would be interested in a virtual meeting.

“I researched Inspiration 4 and the mission that they’re doing and what they stand for, it was so exciting. So, I literally just went to the SpaceX website, went to the contact page and I just wrote a little message,” said Horton. “The biggest thing I’ve ever felt is that if you just ask the worst thing that could happen is that they say no.”

Horton noted that she did not expect a response, however, received a message from Inspiration 4’s mission director Scott Poteet within a couple of hours and was eventually able to arrange a time for a virtual meeting between the astronauts and Ashe County students. The meeting would go hand-in-hand with a science lesson Horton was teaching which required her students to build model rockets — rockets they would launch on school grounds following the virtual meeting.

During the hour long Zoom meeting — which was broadcast throughout the school — a panel of students was given the opportunity to meet the crew of Inspiration 4 and ask them questions they had regarding space travel, the crews upcoming mission and the future of civilian space exploration.

The student’s inquiries ranged from technical questions such as what makes a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket reusable to what personal belongings will the astronauts take with them to space and what role-models inspired the crew to become astronauts.

“I feel like it’s going to make them realize that you can do anything that you want to do,” said Horton. “They’re going to have this memory forever that they got to Zoom with the first all civilian trip to space.”

Also present during Friday’s events was a camera crew from Time Studios, who were filming a documentary about Inspiration 4’s all civilian space mission. Following the Q&A session with the astronauts the students gathered on the school’s football field to launch the model rockets they created.

“I’m thrilled, excited. I think it’s been a wonderful opportunity for our students,” said Dustin Farmer, Principle of Ashe County Middle School. “Certainly for our kids — some of them who have not been exposed to much more than Ashe County — we’re just so thankful for this opportunity. Hopefully it will inspire them to dream big and realize that their dreams are possible.”

Currently, SpaceX is scheduled to launch the crew of Inspiration 4 into orbit in September of this year. The crew will then orbit the earth along a customized flight path before reentering the Earth’s atmosphere for a soft water landing off the coast of Florida.

For more information regarding SpaceX and the Inspiration 4 mission visit www.spacex.com/updates/inspiration-4-mission/index.html.

Hidden Heroes: Board of Commissioners and Generations Ashe hold drive-thru Volunteer Awards

WEST JEFFERSON — The 36th annual Ashe County Volunteer Awards looked different this year as COVID-19 restrictions prevented a standard ceremony. The current guidelines allowed volunteers and assistants at Generations Ashe to come together to hold a special drive-thru awards ceremony on April 22.

Before the world of COVID-19, the awards ceremony would be held in the auditorium of Ashe County High School with a full reception. When presented with the conflict of capacity restrictions, Terri Hopkins, volunteer coordinator went to the Board of Commissioners on Feb. 1 to request a drive-thru awards ceremony in lue of the pandemic.

“This year, like last year, we’re still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Hopkins previously. “Last year we didn’t get to actually have the ceremony. We’re wanting to do it a little differently this year.”

The commissioners approved the request and planning was put in place.

The event came to fruition at 6 p.m. on April 22 with parking volunteers, live music from the JAM kids and awards being presented by the Board of Commissioners, Chair Todd McNeill, Vice Chair William Sands, Chuck Olive and Jonathan Jordan.

Hopkins had a board of volunteers also helping with the event including Board Chair Jennifer Richardson who serves as the Medi-Home Health and Hospice Volunteer Coordinator; Board Co-Chair Bevin South, who serves as the Director of Strategic Initiatives & Special Projects at Ashe Services for Aging; Board Secretary Kathy Elliott, who serves as a Medi-Home Health and Hospice Volunteer; Donna Allen-Phillips who serves as a Medi-Home Health and Hospice Volunteer; Fawn Roark who serves as the Student Success & Resource Coordinator at Ashe County Middle School and Judy Current who serves as Director of Strategic Growth & Marketing at LifeStore Banking Services.

Rebecca Williams, program director of Ashe County Arts Council also provided a live concert experience from the JAM kids musician program.

Nominations are made by volunteer coordinators and organizations, the nominations stating how many hours an individual has served, some adding up to multiple years, and what people volunteer for.

“After the documentations for the people nominated are submitted, there is a group that goes through the applications to find the best overall winners,” said Current. “Overall winners can then be submitted for a Governor’s Award.”

General winners were presented with insulated wine tumblers filled with snacks and goodies. Overall winners were given a plaque and a cheese basket.

Over 125 people drove through the ceremony and 358 letters were sent out. Before COVID-19, nearly 450 letters would be sent out, according to Hopkins.

After the drive-thru component, the overall winners were then invited to be presented with their awards from the Board of Commissioners.

This category includes volunteers from a religious/faith organization, senior citizen volunteers, business volunteers, youth volunteers, volunteers who are family, volunteers from the national service, lifetime achievement volunteers, group volunteers and the director of volunteers.

Winners of the overall category were the Home Delivered Meal Volunteers, ACHS Senior Camden Current, the Ashe County Piecemakers Quilt Guild, Midway Baptist Church/Second Chance Flower Ministry, Brenda Barker, Christina Costaines, Peggy and Terry Philbrick and Lois “Cookie” Parker.

The Volunteer Coordination Board said they hope to start new traditions going forward with the awards ceremony, stating that despite the changes due to COVID-19, the awards still hold special meaning for those all who are involved.

Mountain Times Publications to welcome Report for America reporter in June to cover environmental concerns in the High Country

HIGH COUNTRY — Mountain Times Publications will join 200-plus newsrooms in welcoming a Report for America reporter in June.

Marisa Mecke will join Mountain Times Publications in June to cover environmental issues in Watauga, Ashe and Avery counties.

Report for America is a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities. It is an initiative of The GroundTruth Project, a nonprofit journalism organization.

“As we commit resources to more investigative and in-depth reporting on environmental concerns in the High Country, Marisa’s appointment through Report For America comes at an optimal time,” said Mountain Times Publications Executive Editor Tom Mayer. “Her experience and desire will allow Marisa to laser focus on the stories in Watauga, Ashe and Avery counties that demand sunshine and thorough reporting.”

More than 300 journalists, which include a number of corps members returning for a second or third year, will join the staffs of more than 200 local news organizations across 49 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and Guam through Report For America.

“The crisis in our democracy, disinformation and polarization, is in many ways a result of the collapse of local news,” said Steven Waldman, co-founder and president of Report for America. “We have a unique opportunity to reverse this decline by filling newsrooms with talented journalists who not only view journalism as a public service, but who can make trusted connections with the communities they serve.”

Mecke will graduate from Davidson College in May with a double major in political science and Latin American Studies. During her college years, Mecke has worked as a feature writer for The Davidsonian student newspaper and worked at the student radio. She also currently works at the local NPR affiliate radio station in Davidson.

For the next year, Mecke will cover environmental issues, which she is familiar with. For the past few years, Mecke has worked as an outdoor educator at a nature center in North Atlanta. As part of that job, she would educate people on the ecology of the southeast region, especially waterways. She’s also worked as an outdoor trip leader at Davidson and is certified in wilderness medicine.

Mecke said environmental issues in Western North Carolina don’t just affect the tourism and agriculture in the region.

“There are people at the center of all of those stories about the environment,” Mecke said. “I’m hoping to do people-centered stories about how our communities in western North Carolina are interacting with the environment and how the environment is interacting with us as well.”

She wants her role as an environmental reporter for Mountain Times Publications to not just be her writing stories, but as an outlet to help the community explore their interactions with the environment.

“Keeping people informed on important issues like how much is constantly happening with environmental policy and environmental degradation will be a really special opportunity and kind of service I can do,” Mecke said.

Gene Fowler, publisher of Mountain Times Publications, said he welcomes the partnership that will bring Mecke to the High Country.

“It will open up new avenues for us to explore topics we don’t typically have the resources to delve into in a community weekly market,” Fowler said. “The newspapers and the community will benefit on the whole from this partnership.”

Mountain Times Publications covers the High Country with newspapers of record in Watauga, Ashe and Avery counties. Mecke will be reporting on environmental issues from each location.

In Avery County, editor of The Avery Journal-Times Jamie Shell said it’s a privilege to be able to help Mecke gain experience delving into environmental and societal issues in the area.

With the Christmas tree industry in Avery County, Shell said he is looking forward to Mecke reporting about how farmers are utilizing responsible environmental practices when it comes to protection of water tables and use of insecticides and fertilizers.

Watauga Democrat Editor Kayla Lasure said she is looking forward to Mecke covering issues in the county such as resistance to asphalt plants, local business sustainability practices and possible barriers to customers obtaining solar power in the area.

“So many of our High Country community members are passionate about living among beautiful mountains and waterways, and protecting our surroundings,” Lasure said. “Our area will truly benefit from a deeper dive into environmental issues facing our communities.”

In Ashe County, Mayer — who is also the editor of the Ashe Post and Times — said he is looking forward to Mecke covering water quality in the area due to previous mining and current farm chemical runoff, erosion and periodic droughts in the area.

“I know that the natural world is such an important part of everyday life in Western North Carolina, and I am excited to explore all of the stories about how we interact with the environment along with the local community,” Mecke said.

Report For America has partnered journalists with newsrooms since 2017, and this year is the first year Mountain Times Publications applied for and received a Report for America corps member.

“As a rural region, where readers still rely on the printed newspaper for news because the internet’s reach is often unreliable, we wanted to bring a top, emerging journalist to cover the environment, an under-covered issue not only in North Carolina but across the country,” said Sergio Bustos, the south regional manager for Report for America.

Bustos said Mecke was an ideal match for Mountain Times Publications because she grew up in the South and has a passion for reporting on the environment.

Corps members are funded through a funding match model. Report for America pays for half of the corps member’s salary, while encouraging and supporting its local news partners to contribute one-quarter and local and regional funders to contribute the final quarter.

“We know that the biggest global challenges of our time — like equitable health care, the impact of climate change and affordable housing — will require trusted, local public service journalism if we are to come together to solve them,” said Charles Sennott, Report for America co-founder and GroundTruth CEO.

Report for America had a nearly $10 million philanthropic impact on U.S. local news in 2020. The total amount donated to Report for America newsrooms grew from $861,000 in 2019 to $4.6 million — a 61 percent increase per reporter.