Born after Dust Bowl, local agency marks 75 years of conservation work

Born after Dust Bowl, local agency marks 75 years of conservation work

The Cheshire County Conservation District will mark 75 years of protecting and promoting local natural resources during an anniversary event Tuesday night. WASHINGTON (AP) — Wasting no time, the Senate is on track to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court by next Monday, charging toward a rare weekend session Question: if the goy goes on his own and purchases something on Shabbos which is missing from the party can you use that item at the party Answer: Essentia Hayden Shamel feels mentally exhausted. California and Washington both have heat standards that protest farmworkers and others who make a living outdoors. North Carolina doesn’t. Date: 2020-08-20 12:35:20🔎 High-pay GLOBAL work-from-home jobs now hiring! This global online job is 100% remote! Entry level. Paid training, paid time off, and benefits included! High school diploma or GED ok. Watch the full

The Cheshire County Conservation District will mark 75 years of protecting and promoting local natural resources during an anniversary event Tuesday night.

“It’s a celebration,” said Andy Pressman, who chairs the leadership board. “Seventy-five years — that’s an accomplishment. [And an opportunity] to show that we have such amazing dedication of our staff, board, volunteers and community.”

According to its website, the Walpole-based district has been protecting Cheshire County’s land and water resources since its inception.

“We are the voice at the local level to bring partner resources,” said Amanda Littleton, who has served as district manager for the past 13 years. “We focus on bringing resources into the county to serve local needs. That’s why we exist from the beginning.”

The organization was founded in 1945 by the federal government in response to the Dust Bowl, according to Littleton.

That event, which took place over several years in the 1930s, ranks among the most disastrous in U.S. history. A series of severe dust storms swept the Great Plains predominately, wreaking unprecedented damage to agriculture. That, coupled with longtime drought conditions and the overcultivation of the dry land, decimated millions of acres of farmland.

The government took measures to prevent such widespread loss in the future.

“The government set up conservation districts in every state,” said Littleton, who holds a graduate degree in environmental education from Antioch University New England in Keene. “Each was a little different. Every state has different needs, so they all have a different focus.”

The CCCD offers a variety of diverse programs, which Littleton said are entirely funded by grants and donations. They focus on conserving and fostering the viability of soil, water, wildlife and farms throughout Cheshire County.

One example is a farm equipment rental program that the district makes available to all farmers. This year, due to COVID-19, area dairy farmers — a group that is especially struggling to survive — can use the equipment for free. Another recent project involves high tunnels for local greenhouse growers to control crop disease and weeds without chemicals.

Littleton listens carefully to what farmers say they need, and develops initiatives accordingly.

“We have a longstanding relationship with farmers,” she said. “We try to reach new audiences to increase our outreach. Farmers now come to us when there is a need. We try to find grants and resources [to meet it] … We rely on what landowners tell us about where we should be focusing our efforts.”

A big part of her job, she says, is grant writing and project management. She also builds relationships with local farmers, landowners and other organizations. In everything the district does, she notes, CCCD collaborates with partners, including Antioch University New England, the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, Cheshire Medical Center and other state and nonprofit entities.

Historically, the CCCD works with farms of all sizes, but recently has focused on several key small projects. In 2019, for example, the Farm Share Program was launched, with funding from Cheshire Medical. With the program now in its second year, individuals and families who usually could not afford to buy weekly CSA shares can now receive 50 percent discounts. Currently, about three dozen families benefit from the program.

A separate initiative lets government SNAP (food stamp) recipients purchase fresh produce at area farmers markets.

Beyond that, the district works on projects involving area waterways, and encourages the conservation and expansion of pollinator habitats.

“What can we do to provide more habitat for pollinators?” Littleton said, referring to insects such as bees and butterflies. “Pollinators are in backyard patios or porches — wherever you have plants — or on 100 acres. Everyone can do something to expand their habitats.”

Another recent endeavor is a community-supported solar array established on Sun Moon Farm in Rindge. The CCCD partnered with the Monadnock Sustainability Hub and ReVision Energy for the project. ReVision will install the array and provide local investors. Other farmers will be able to buy shares in the project to defray their electricity costs. The CCCD was awarded a grant from the Thomas W. Haas Fund of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation to help reduce the costs to farmers.

There is also a host of other programs, including conservation plant sales.

“[Our mission] is to make sure our land, our lakes and rivers and our wildlife habitats continue to function in a healthy manner,” Pressman said.

He works as the regional office director of National Center for Appropriate Technology — an agriculture education and training organization — and also owns a small, family-operated farm in Jaffrey.

Pressman and Littleton welcome volunteers from throughout Cheshire County to work on projects, or to serve on the CCCD’s supervisory board. And Pressman strongly encourages anyone who wants to learn more about the organization to attend Tuesday’s virtual online anniversary event.

The celebration, which runs concurrent with the CCCD’s annual meeting, is free and open to the public, and starts at 6 p.m.

It features keynote speaker Alan Rumrill of the Historical Society of Cheshire County discussing the past 75 years of agriculture in Cheshire County, along with award presentations.

The 2020 Educator of the Year is Steve Roberge of Peterborough. A University of New Hampshire graduate with a forestry degree, Roberge spent 13 years as Cheshire County forester. In March, he accepted the new position of University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension state forestry specialist.

The recipient of the 2020 Cooperator of the Year award is Wingate Farm in Hinsdale, which is owned and operated by Olivia Pettengill and Susie Park-Sutherland. They were chosen for the award because of the work they’ve done in the past year in the area of soil health as well as water quality and solar projects.

Pre-registration for the anniversary event is required for information to access various streaming platforms. To register visit

“We’re celebrating 75 years of conservation work in Cheshire County and in New Hampshire,” Pressman said. “It shows how much folks in the county cherish our natural resources.”


Author: Joan Geary Contributing Writer

Senate to work through weekend to push Barrett onto court

Senate to work through weekend to push Barrett onto court

WASHINGTON (AP) — Wasting no time, the Senate is on track to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court by next Monday, charging toward a rare weekend session as Republicans push past procedural steps to install President Donald Trump’s pick before Election Day.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he will begin the process as soon as the Senate Judiciary Committee wraps up its work Thursday. With a 53-47 Republican majority, and just two GOP senators opposed, Trump’s nominee is on a glide path to confirmation that will seal a conservative hold on the court for years to come.

McConnell said Monday that Barrett demonstrated over several days of public hearings the “sheer intellectual horsepower that the American people deserve to have on the Supreme Court.”

Without the votes to stop Barrett’s ascent, Democrats have few options left. They are searching for two more GOP senators to break ranks and halt confirmation, but that seems unlikely. Never before as a court nominee been voted on so close to a presidential election.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer decried what he called the “farcical” process to “jam” through Trump’s choice, even as the coronavirus outbreak sidelined GOP senators.

“The Republican majority is running the most hypocritical, most partisan and least legitimate process in the history of Supreme Court confirmations,” he said during speech as the Senate opened.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is set to meet Thursday to vote on recommending Barrett’s nomination to the full Senate.

By Friday, procedural votes are expected, continuing over the weekend as Republicans push through the steps for a final vote to confirm Barrett as soon as Monday.

The 48-year-old appellate court judge from Indiana delivered few specific answers during several days of public testimony as senators probed her previously outspoken views against abortion, the Affordable Care Act and other issues before the court. She declined to say whether she would recuse herself from cases involving the election between Trump and Democrat Joe Biden.

Trump has said he wants the judge seated in time to hear any potential disputes from the Nov. 3 election. He also has said he’s looking for a judge who would rule against the Obama-era health care law, which is headed to the court in a case justices are expected to hear Nov. 10.

If confirmed, Barrett would be Trump’s third justice on the court. She would fill the vacancy from the late Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the liberal icon, locking in a 6-3 conservative majority on the high court..

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.


Author: LISA MASCARO AP Congressional Correspondent

Work by gentile on Shabbat - Non-Jew that bought something for party on Shabbos - Din - Ask the Rabbi

Work by gentile on Shabbat – Non-Jew that bought something for party on Shabbos – Din – Ask the Rabbi

if the goy goes on his own and purchases something on Shabbos which is missing from the party can you use that item at the party

Essentially since the people he is buying the items for are Jewish, it is prohibited, however might be room for leniency under certain conditions. If the gentile had to a melacha d’orayso in order to buy the item, (he needed to drive there, or he brought the item thru a reshus horabim) then we cannot benefit from what was purchased. If however the gentile would didn’t have to violate a d’orayso, (he didn’t have reasonably have to drive there, and he didn’t take it thru a resus horabim, etc.) then it would depend on how important the item that he purchased is. If it is only an extra, but they can manage without it, then it is not permitted to benefit from what he brought. However if the item that he brought was essential for the Shabbos meal, i.e. they forgot to buy cups to drink with, then they may benefit from what was bought. The reason for this is because there is a heter called shevus d’shevus b’makom mitzva. The gentile doing work for the Jew is a rabbinic prohibition, and if the gentile only violated a rabbinic prohibition, (called shevus d’shevus) and it was essential for the Shabbos meal, (b’makom mitzva) then it is permitted.

As a side point, I would recommend that you buy the sefer “The Sanctity of Shabbos” By R’ Simcha Bunim Cohen, which goes thru these halachos.

All the best


Author: Rabbonim of the Beis Hora’a

Teachers' dual roles doubling their work

Teachers’ dual roles doubling their work

Hayden Shamel feels mentally exhausted.

Shamel, a high school teacher in Hot Springs, routinely works through her lunch period. She takes her work home at night and on weekends to video-record lessons, grade assignments and answer emails.

She has 147 students in her two English classes and four Spanish classes at Lakeside High School. Roughly one-fourth of her students are doing school online.

Catering to the needs of both her in-person and her online students is like performing two jobs.

She’s not alone. Many public school teachers across Arkansas are struggling in a situation caused by the covid-19 pandemic, Shamel said.

“It’s very, very hard,” she said. “I had a teacher tell me this afternoon, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to be able to keep this up.’ This was a veteran teacher.”

[CORONAVIRUS: Click here for our complete coverage »]

The pandemic has forced teachers to adjust, from wearing a mask in class to ensuring desks and other surfaces in their classrooms are regularly disinfected. Surfaces in upper grade levels must be cleaned between each class period. Teachers also are maintaining records of seating charts in case contact tracing is necessary.

They’ve had to adapt quickly to digital programs and platforms that become mandatory for the job. Many are still struggling with how best to simultaneously provide in-person and online education.

The quality of education suffers for both online and in-person students, teachers said. Educators find it difficult to relate and communicate with students via computer screen, they said.

Masks worn by students and teachers hinder communication for even the in-person learners, teachers said.

“I think a teacher motto is, ‘we can do anything for a year,'” said Holly Howard, chairwoman of the English department at Bentonville High School.

[Click here for more photos »]

Teachers noted that the pandemic guidelines have prompted many students to be more responsible for their health and the health of others, and sharpened focus and listening skills. Districts also have been more open and innovative on ways to help the teachers’ workloads, teachers said.

Howard noted another helpful takeaway: Her handle on technology has improved.

“I used to pride myself on that at the beginning of my career, but the older I get, the less I keep up with some of these tools, and this is forcing me to do that,” she said.

The extra work occurs in the stressful context of a virus pandemic that, two months into this school year, has infected 2,032 faculty and staff members, and 5,389 students in K-12 public schools statewide as of Thursday, according to the Arkansas Department of Health.

Six public school employees in the state, including two teachers, have died from covid-19.


Most teachers, administrators and other close observers of education agree that the biggest source of stress for teachers is having to teach in-person and virtual students at the same time.

[PODCAST: Education reporter Dave Perozek chats with teachers about how covid-19 has affected them »]

Teachers are “essentially working two jobs,” said Carol Fleming, president of the Arkansas Education Association, the state’s largest professional organization for educators and support staffers.

Glen Fenter, superintendent of the Marion School District in east Arkansas, sees the frustration.

“It’s very time consuming and certainly a big departure from what the norm has been,” Fenter said.

Some school districts are appropriately staffed and equipped to have separate sets of teachers doing either in-person instruction or online.

“The vast majority of school districts in the state don’t fit that category,” Fenter said.

Michele Linch, executive director of the Arkansas State Teachers Association, takes a different view. She believes districts of all shapes and sizes could do it if they tried, she said.

Linch said the experience of teachers this school year comes down to the leadership capacity within their school districts. She could predict which districts were going to fare well and which ones wouldn’t, based on what she knew about the administration of each one, she said.

Having teachers instruct in-person and online students simultaneously isn’t sustainable, she said.

“And they’re doing it, but they’re upset because they know that neither group of students is being served well,” Linch said.

Arkansas’ elementary and secondary schools received $128.8 million through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. Some districts used some of the money to hire additional support staff to cover duties such as lunch and recess supervision to give teachers extra planning time, Linch said.

“So it upsets me when I hear of teachers who aren’t even being given their 30-minute lunch. Because I know all over the state there are districts able to do that,” she said.


Kim Trujillo teaches seventh grade English at Clinton Junior High School in north-central Arkansas. Addressing students while wearing a mask is hard, so on the weekends, she records videos of herself giving lessons, videos that she then shows to her virtual and in-person students.

“That saves me from having to talk all day with a mask on. I lose my voice by about the third hour if I do,” she said.

Trujillo, now in her 29th year in education, said she’s putting in at least 55 hours of work per week, about 10 more than was typical for her in past years.

The constant flux of students going from the in-person to online school models — some of whom have had to be quarantined — adds to the challenge, she said. She feels like she spends half her time tracking attendance, trying to figure out who’s supposed to be in her classroom, who’s not supposed to be there and why.

She must keep online and in-person students on the same track lesson-wise. That can be tricky.

One day, for example, her in-person students weren’t able to finish a particular assignment, and it was continued until the next week. Meanwhile, 10 of her online students finished it and were ready to move on.

“It becomes a mess some days,” she said. “It’s really hard just keeping up with all of that in your head. We’re good at multitasking, but this is like, above and beyond. You just go home some days and cry because you’re so overwhelmed with thinking.”

Trujillo said she’s not contemplating quitting, but, “I have heard two teachers say, ‘If I could, I would.'”

Howard, the Bentonville High School teacher, teaches five sections of 11th grade English, all online. She works in a room with three other English teachers who also teach all online, an arrangement they jokingly call the English call center.

“I think as teachers, and especially as English teachers, we want to teach so that we can talk to kids, we want to hear from kids, we want kids to learn to relate to each other. And all that is pretty much absent in the virtual setting,” she said.

Some kids are reluctant to turn on cameras or microphones, so it’s a struggle to form connections with students, and for students to connect with one another. Six weeks into the semester, when grading papers, she sees students’ name and tries to conjure their faces, she said.

“I don’t know who they are or what they look like or what their story is, and so much of that is important when you’re trying to teach a kid. The human element is missing,” Howard said.


Jay Chalk, superintendent of the Clinton School District, knows as well as any administrator the pressure on teachers.

“I know how overworked and stressed they are. I can feel it. Plus, I hear it every day. My wife teaches here,” he said. “But I would hope they know we hear them and care for them as a staff.”

The parking lots at many school buildings are half full on Sundays, he said, unlike the two or three cars in past years, he said.

Clinton administrators gathered about a month ago to brainstorm about what they could do to help teachers.

Administrators at the elementary school added a 45-minute preparation period to the workweek for teachers. Nonteaching staff members cover for them during that time. The staffers also cover teachers’ afternoon recess for them, said Assistant Principal Audra Smith.

Fleming said communication is key. The state has personal protection equipment available for school districts, but the association continues to hear from educators throughout the state that they don’t have enough of it, she said.

Tally Thornton, a science teacher at Courtway Middle School in Conway, said administrators at her school step in and serve as substitute teachers when necessary.

“There was one day when they told the teachers, ‘No recess duty today, you guys stay inside and work.’ It’s those little things that give you an extra 15 or 20 minutes where you can battle through technology that takes three times as long to do what you normally can do in the blink of an eye,” Thornton said.

Numerous school districts are adopting a virtual “flex” day per week, or an early-release day, for students to get caught up and for teachers to plan and catch up on their work. Conway instituted such a schedule this month with “blended Fridays.” All students have the option of learning either from home or at school on Fridays, and teachers are not covering new material on those days.

The change has “helped a lot with the stress level on everyone’s part,” Thornton said.

Tiffany Hamilton, a television production teacher at Siloam Springs High School, praised her bosses for finding ways to ease the burden on teachers. She cited as an example the help administrators provided in arranging parent-teacher conferences last month, which saved teachers time.

Deputy Education Commissioner Ivy Pfeffer said the state Education Department has taken measures to reduce the stress on teachers this school year. One of those measures was to waive the requirement of the performance evaluation teachers are required to undergo every four years.

The department encourages districts to ask teachers what adjustments are needed to their schedules. The department is surveying districts about such changes, Pfeffer said.

Her department talked to the state’s 14 education service cooperatives about the need for more intense and specialized mentoring for new teachers this year, she said.

The department and Gov. Asa Hutchinson also created a covid-19 emergency leave fund for public school employees, so school districts are reimbursed for the pay if they must be quarantined, Pfeffer said.


Teachers point to positives coming from their experiences this year.

Grover Welch teaches English at Newport High School in the state’s northeast corner. This is his seventh year in education. He said he’s well aware of the complaints of fellow teachers, but to him, the job is essentially the same as it’s always been.

“The situation is the situation,” Welch said. “We have to persevere, and we have to do what we’ve always done, which is come in, do a good job and go home at night and sleep well knowing we did the best we could.”

Gretchen Wilkes, an art teacher at Farmington Junior High School in Northwest Arkansas, said the new rules at school — the requirement to wear masks and practice social distancing — have required kids to become more responsible and recognize that they must take care of others just as they take care of themselves.

The social distancing requirement means Wilkes can’t lean in next to students and physically help them with a painting or drawing. That means students must pay closer attention to her instruction and the demonstrations she gives.

“So they’ll have to become really responsible learners, and I think that’s a good thing,” Wilkes said.

The push to reopen schools this fall to in-person instruction has met some opposition from teachers and others across the state.

Still, Melissa Jones, a math teacher at Murfreesboro High School in southwest Arkansas, said teachers were excited to get back in their classrooms. Teachers simply couldn’t reach some students after schools closed in March. Jones worried about their well-being.

“We’ve got kids who, their only meals were here. And then they weren’t getting that,” she said. “This is where they took a shower because they didn’t have running water. Needs I felt were more important at that time than the reasons we weren’t going to school, because those kids desperately needed us.”


Exactly how the pandemic will affect the state’s teacher supply remains to be seen.

Arkansas has not seen a rise in the number of educators retiring this year. The Arkansas Teacher Retirement System reported 2,591 retirements for the state fiscal year that ended June 30, which was 162 fewer retirements than the previous fiscal year.

Arkansas was making progress in its ability to attract and to retain teachers before the pandemic.

The number of enrollees in the state’s teacher preparation programs for 2018-19 — the latest year for which data are available — was 5,506, a 35% increase from a year earlier and the highest that number has been since 2012-13, according to the Arkansas Department of Education’s 2020 Educator Preparation Provider Quality Report.

Recent efforts to increase teacher pay may attract even more to the profession. The General Assembly and Gov. Asa Hutchinson passed a law in 2019 that increases the minimum teacher salary incrementally over several years, from $31,800 during the 2018-19 school year to $36,000 in the 2022-23 school year.

Amber Harbin, the STEM coordinator at Forest Heights STEM Academy in Little Rock, has heard about Little Rock district employees choosing to retire early this year.

“I will tell you, we have a lot more tears this year from teachers,” Harbin said. “We’re basically asking teachers to redo the way you’ve ever done anything before, and it’s an extremely high learning curve.”

Kathy Short is one teacher who decided to retire early because of the pandemic. Short, 63, finished her 37th year with the Springdale School District in May as a fifth grade math and science teacher. She said she probably would have taught a couple of more years if not for covid-19.

“It’s not my age. I’m healthy. I just didn’t feel safe,” she said. “I didn’t want to retire like this.”

Short said she didn’t see much support or leadership coming from the state when it came to reopening schools this fall.

“If you’re going to ask teachers to adapt to a situation like this, my first response would have been, what do teachers think needs to be done,” she said.

The personal finance website last month released its report on the safest states for schools to reopen. Arkansas ranked 48th among the 50 states in that report, which compared the 50 states across 15 key metrics, including the covid-19 infection rate among children, average class size and the ratio of students to school nurses.

The Arkansas Division of Elementary and Secondary Education directed school districts to prepare an education program for this school year that relies on face-to-face and online instruction with the flexibility to blend them and to pivot from one to the other.

Education Commissioner Johnny Key said in August that he was asked numerous times why schools closed to in-person instruction in the spring but planned to reopen for the 2020-21 school year despite covid-19 still flourishing in the state.

“And my response is, we know a lot more” about the disease, he said. “We are learning more every day about its epidemiology. And now we know and are more confident in our processes to mitigate the risk,” he said.

“The benefit of bringing kids on campus and the educational benefit, the social benefit, all the elements that accompany having on-site classes is something we have to get back to.”

An outlet for teachers to express their concerns is on a private Facebook group called AR School Employees & Friends, which is run by Shelley Smith, who retired this year as an art teacher in the Mountain View School District. Her decision to retire after 32 years in education wasn’t related to the pandemic, she said.

Smith launched the page about seven years ago. The group has more than 18,000 members. When asked to describe what teachers are going through this school year, Smith said they are working harder than ever.

“It’s extremely challenging. Probably the toughest year anybody has ever had,” she said. “On top of that, they’re worried about their own health or the health of the kids in their class.”

Arkansas teacher retirements

More News

Teacher retention rates in Arkansas have exceeded the national rate for each of the last 10 years. Arkansas has a 92% retention rate after one year of work in the classroom, 75% after five years and about 56% after 10 years.

Nationally, those percentages are 90% after a year, 62% after five years and 46% after 10 years.

Source: Arkansas Department of Education

About ‘Covid Classroom’

“Covid Classroom” is an ongoing series examining the effects of the coronavirus

pandemic on kindergarten- through-12th-grade public education across Arkansas. The project is reported and presented by the news staffs of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, with the support of the Walton Family Foundation.

The series is produced independently, with no input in the research, writing or editing from the funding organization.

All elements of the project will be available online for nonsubscribers.

“Covid Classroom” is one of several similar projects around the country involving 16 news organizations and 50 newsrooms.

Dave Perozek can be reached at or on Twitter @NWADaveP.


Author: Dave Perozek

'Your body can't handle the work': They make a living outside in dangerous North Carolina heat

‘Your body can’t handle the work’: They make a living outside in dangerous North Carolina heat

BENSON — This summer, Rafael traded the beans and maize of his native Veracruz, Mexico, for Johnston County’s tobacco and soy.

Rafael was working in those fields at about 11 a.m. in late July when he suddenly felt dizzy. He couldn’t breathe. He vomited.

“I felt like I couldn’t keep working and I got cramps,” Rafael told The News & Observer in Spanish about a month later.

Rafael stood shirtless as he spoke to the N&O one day after work. Nearby, wet clothing hung on a line. Workers were scattered around the one-story barracks, many sitting under trees, some with cool towels draped over their heads while they scrolled their smartphones.

About 150,000 farmworkers harvest North Carolina’s crops, tend to its fields and support the state’s largest industry.

This is an industry that comes with particular risks. Outdoor work is a leading cause of reported heat illness in North Carolina, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. A 2016 Wake Forest University study found that 36% of 101 farmworkers surveyed have suffered symptoms of heat illness while working outside, while 67% have worked in temperatures they called “extremely hot.”

“We always know that heat is a threat,” said Gayle Thomas, the medical director of DHHS’ farmworker health program.

These conditions are almost certain to get worse, a direct consequence of human-caused climate change leading to more hot days, more heat waves and warmer nights. By the middle of the century, it is likely that annual average temperatures will rise between 2 and 5 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the N.C. Climate Science Report released earlier this year.

Farmworker advocates point to heat standards, or rules requiring growers to give workers more breaks and provide water when temperatures are high, as one possible solution. California and Washington have passed such laws, but there are political hurdles in North Carolina.

One thing is certain: Workers in the fields are already noticing a different climate.

David has come to North Carolina every summer since 2002. Like all of the farmworkers in this story, David agreed to talk with the N&O if he was identified by only his first name in order to protect his job.

While some years are warmer than others, David said in Spanish, the temperature used to start growing cool in September.

“Not anymore,” David said in late August. “Now it’s hotter, and the cool climate doesn’t come until October.”

More warm days ahead

Michelle Tigchelaar was a researcher at the University of Washington in 2017 when a farmworker died picking blueberries in the coastal community of Bellingham.

“That really sparked my interest from an academic point of view — realizing people in my research community weren’t thinking at all about the people doing the work and focusing on the crops,” Tigchelaar, now an early-career fellow at the Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions, said in an interview with the N&O.

Tigchelaar wanted to find out when working conditions grow unsafe for farmworkers and what steps they can take to make the summer months safer. Her research looked at workers’ pace, the kind of clothing they wear and how frequently they take breaks.

Under existing working conditions, farmworkers become susceptible to heat illness when the heat index averages 83.4 degrees Fahrenheit, Tigchelaar reported in a study published in August in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

That number was initially surprising, Tigchelaar said, because it is much lower than what either the National Weather Service or OSHA identify as a dangerous range.

“It reflects the actual work people are doing and how they are doing that work, specifically as it regards clothing, where the Weather Service and OSHA reflect the general population,” Tigchelaar said, noting that farmworkers often wear multiple layers of clothing to protect themselves from pesticides.

If global warming is held to two degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, the number of unsafe working days will double. If the world warms four degrees Celsius, or 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit, Tigchelaar projects that the number of unsafe working days will triple.

Here’s what that looks like in practice: In Duplin County, where there are 823 agricultural workers, there are 41 days where the heat makes working conditions unsafe right now. Under the two degree Celsius scenario, there would be 91 unsafe heat days. At four degrees, there would be 121 unsafe days, or roughly four months.

In South Carolina, 25 counties are projected to have more than 100 unsafe days under the two-degree scenario, led by Beaufort County with 118. Brunswick would be the only North Carolina county likely to reach that threshold, although other counties in the southeastern part of the state would be close.

The four degree Celsius scenario would see virtually every county in North and South Carolina hit 100 unsafe working days, with the exception of a dozen counties in the western North Carolina mountains.

“At that point, you’re looking at basically the entire growing season is unsafe if we continue working the way we’re working,” Tigchelaar said.

In her paper, Tigchelaar calls for “the full spectrum of risk-reduction levers” to protect farmworkers from intensifying temperatures.

The research found, for instance, that the dangerous heat index rose to 95.2 degrees Fahrenheit – giving them a greater margin of safety — if workers worked 54 minutes of every hour at a light pace wearing single-layer clothing and resting in air-conditioned spaces. Under a different scenario, where workers spent every half-hour working at a light pace wearing double-layer clothing and resting in shade, the heat stress threshold would creep upward to 97.3 degrees.

Without changes, Tigchelaar warned, farmworker productivity could decline as the temperatures rise.

“There will probably be a lag between that productivity and increases in temperature because people aren’t always in a position to prioritize their health in that regard,” she said, “but ultimately as people are struggling in the heat, that will impact people’s ability to do the work.”

Farmers can’t take NC heat

Javier came to Johnston County in 2018.

That first summer was the hottest, said Javier, who has learned to go into the the fields with a straw hat on and a bandanna around his head or neck. Despite the high temperatures, he wears a long-sleeved shirt to keep the chemicals that collect on wet tobacco leaves from touching his skin.

That’s not always enough, though.

“There are times that the body can’t take the heat the same daily. There are times that the body can’t handle the temperature, and sometimes the weather is OK but your body can’t handle the work,” Javier told the N&O in Spanish.

Days grow the hottest around 1 p.m., Javier said. As he spoke, Javier was sitting on his bed in his grower-provided housing, one of four arranged around the edges of the small room. Each bed seemed to belong to one person’s space. A box fan hung diagonally from the ceiling, pointed at the head of one of the beds.

A window cooling unit was turned to 60 degrees, but the temperature inside was nowhere near that cool. Underneath Javier’s bed sat a collection of soft drinks, sports drinks and electrolyte packets.

Several times this summer, Javier has felt nausea and insomnia set in, illnesses he attributes partly to green tobacco sickness caused by nicotine from wet leaves and partly to heat illness. When he or other workers feel sick, Javier said, they head to the school bus that takes them to and from work. Often, that is the only spot of shade.

When that happens, Javier said, workers’ pay is cut for the time they spend recovering on the bus.

Would a heat standard help NC farmers?

North Carolina farmworker advocates, DHHS and the state Department of Labor each provide training around heat illness. Outreach workers conduct health assessments and educate farmworkers about the symptoms of heat illness, while the Department of Labor has created a PowerPoint presentation for employers.

But North Carolina does not have any explicit rules requiring farmers to take specific steps to protect their workers from high temperatures.

The N.C. Department of Labor confirmed that through Dolores Quesenberry, a department spokeswoman. Instead, Quesenberry wrote, the Occupational Health and Safety Division can write citations for violations of the General Duty Clause, a wide and vague standard that says employers need to protect employees from recognized hazards causing serious harm.

While the state labor department’s agricultural health division has conducted 66 inspections leading to general duty clause violations since 2010, Quesenberry said it was impossible to tell how many of those were for heat exposure.

But legal advocates question how effective the general duty clause really is at providing protections against heat.

Lori Johnson, the managing attorney of Legal Aid of North Carolina’s farmworker unit, said there is a distinct difference between a law requiring breaks at certain intervals in certain conditions and the general duty clause, which only protects workers’ rights to take a break if not doing so would put them at risk of imminent harm.

“The end result is that people take fewer breaks, even if they probably need it,” Johnson said.

Advocates and researchers have long called for a national heat standard, a labor rule requiring growers to provide certain breaks or cooling guidelines if temperatures reach certain levels. But these efforts have gained little traction outside of California, Minnesota and Washington, which have adopted such rules.

Another important protection provided by a heat standard is that by codifying paid breaks, it protects workers who are often unwilling to take breaks because of how they are paid.

“Often, they’re paid by the piece, meaning they’re paid by how much they harvest instead of by the harvest,” said Thomas, the DHHS medical director. “And they are here for one purpose and that’s to make money during the agriculture season to send to their families.”

“Farmworkers are already an exploited vulnerable population, so they’re afraid to ask for more breaks and they’re afraid to ask for medical attention,” said Joanna Wellborn, a spokeswoman for Student Action With Farmworkers, which recruits students to work with partner agencies who aid farmworkers.

Wellborn also said there hasn’t been a concerted push for state heat standards because they would have little chance of succeeding due to the strong influence of the agriculture industry in Raleigh. Instead, she said, the organization is pushing for federal heat standards.

“We think we would have a better chance,” Wellborn said.

Current efforts at federal legislation include the Asuncion Valdiva Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act of 2019, a House bill whose 79 Democratic co-sponsors include North Carolina’s Alma Adams. The bill would require the federal Department of Labor to enact a heat standard within 18 months of its passage, require employers to create heat illness prevention plans and mandate employer-provided training.

But efforts against a heat standard have prominent opponents. During a visit to the North Carolina State Farmer’s Market in September, Sonny Perdue, the U.S. secretary of agriculture and a self-described “old farm boy” said he thinks workers can take care of themselves.

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“I’m probably the wrong person to ask about those kind of standards because I’ve lived them,” Perdue said. “I’ve experienced them side by side with many people working on a farm. Farm work is hard work, it’s hot work. That’s why we have difficulty finding domestic workers who tell you they want to work on farms.

“So I understand the challenges, but as far as standards, we want people to take care of themselves. If I felt sick or faint or hot, go sit under a shade tree, drink some water and go back to work.”

North Carolina farmworkers and advocates think a heat standard would help, though.

Javier, who has suffered heat illness in Johnston County, said that while his boss sometimes calls workers out of fields early if temperatures are especially high, a heat standard “would be good.”

And Thomas Arcury, who along with his wife, Sara Quandt, has studied heat illness among North Carolina’s farmworkers for more than two decades, minces no words.

“We need a heat standard,” Arcury, the director of Wake Forest University’s Center for Worker Health, said in an interview. “That would be a big help now, and that would be a big help later, as temperatures rise.”

Arcury’s Wake Forest team conducted a study that found more than a third of the farmworkers they interviewed had suffered heat illness.

To differentiate between heat illness and poisoning from nicotine gathered on tobacco leaves, the Wake Forest team asks workers about their symptoms, said Arcury. While the maladies can overlap, Arcury said, a headache or dizziness combined with vomiting are typically green tobacco poisoning, while muscle cramps and clamminess are signs of heat illness.

The conditions can also exacerbate each other, though.

“One of the major problems with heat illness is dehydration,” Arcury said. “If you’re vomiting all of your fluids out and you can’t take down fluids because of green tobacco sickness, that exacerbates the effects of heat.

California’s heat standard

To see how a heat standard would actually work, North Carolina could look to California.

Following a series of heat-related farmworker deaths in 2005, California regulators enacted emergency heat regulations. A year later, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health’s first heat standard went into effect.

The most recent version of the rule requires employers to: create and maintain a written plan for dealing with high temperatures; provide heat illness prevention training for employees and staff; encourage workers to drink at least 32 ounces of water each hour; and provide shade.

As part of the effort to provide shade, employers tow roofed-in trailers with benches built on top to the work sites. Others have shades built onto the sides of buses that extend out to protect against the sun.

Furthermore, there are additional rules that go into effect when the temperature reaches 95 degrees. At that point, employers must either observe employees for ill effects from heat or implement a buddy system. Furthermore, workers must be allowed to take a 10-minute break every two hours, with additional breaks every two hours after the traditional eight-hour workday.

As the director of the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation’s pesticide and work safety project, Anne Katten has long recognized the risks heat poses to farmworkers. Along with the United Farm Workers Union, Katten worked on the initial rule in 2005 and has been part of several efforts to update it.

The regulation has, Katten said, “improved conditions. There’s more water and shade out in the field, and workers are getting trained more. There is a pretty good curriculum out there — shade, water, rest — but there’s always room for improvement.

“Unfortunately,” Katten continued, “the frequency of heat waves is increasing, so the pressure on workers is increasing.”

Katten also recognizes that there are potential weaknesses to any rule. For instance, she points to the rule’s saying that shade and water need only to be as close as is practical. Advocates have, Katten said, called for there to be limits to how far away resources can be placed from a work site.

Another potential shortfall is the California regulation’s basis solely on degrees Fahrenheit. That is not, Katten said, as much of a problem in California where much of agricultural work takes place in dry heat, but in the Southeast humidity can exacerbate the impact of heat on the body and it may be more appropriate to base a regulation on the heat index or another measurement.

“There has been improvement,” Katten said, “but we need more improvement, and as much as possible, we need to just try to reduce the amount of time workers have to work in the heat.”

‘It’s complicated’

When he fell ill in July, Rafael, the Johnston County farmworker, took nausea and pain medicine. He also drank water mixed with an electrolyte packet to restore fluids to his body.

As the summer wore on, Rafael acclimated. He also learned how to protect himself.

When he goes to work now, Rafael wears a hat. He’s also added layers of clothing to protect himself against the chemicals gathered on tobacco plants.

But even though he earns more in one hour in North Carolina than in a day back home, Rafael is not sure he’ll return next year.

“It’s complicated,” he said, “but I want to finish the season and see if I like it.”

This story is part of the Pulitzer Center’s nationwide Connected Coastlines reporting initiative. For more information, go to

This reporting was also financially supported by Report for America/GroundTruth Project, The North Carolina Local News Lab Fund of the North Carolina Community Foundation, Dogwood Health Trust, Solutions Journalism Network and more than 700 individual contributions. The News & Observer maintains full editorial control of the work. To support the future of this reporting, subscribe or donate.


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Born after Dust Bowl, local agency marks 75 years of conservation work

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