Weaving Together a Community Through Sustainable Farming

By Emily Sutton, Haw Riverkeeper

The way Isaiah Allen tells the story, the man at The Eddy’s bar had a deep farmer’s tan, sweat dried around his collar, dirt deep under his nails — and something worrying him.

Isaiah is the chef and a co-owner of The Eddy, a cozy pub tucked on the banks on the Haw River in Saxapahaw, N.C. The Eddy serves dishes like summer ratatouille with spicy duck merguez sausage, purchasing almost every box of produce and side of meat from local farms that share its commitment to the area’s soil and water. 

As it happens, Isaiah and his wife, Whitney, run an organic farm themselves. So Isaiah looked at the man at the bar and sensed this was someone whose crop, flock, or herd was in trouble. 

After Isaiah was done with his work for the night, he sat down with the man to find out what was going on. The answer: The man had a greenhouse full of tomatoes with tobacco-mosaic virus. About 800 pounds of tomatoes, big and green on the vine, wouldn’t survive to ripen. He’d begun feeding them to the hogs and mentally calculating his losses. 

Isaiah sees the importance of each piece in a sustainable system and prioritizes no-waste principles. Isaiah is a man who saw a bucket of cow fat that was about to turn and made 100 bars of soap. He puts aside The Eddy’s fry oil for a former baker who converted his old Mercedes to run on biodiesel. 

Isaiah Allen was not about to let a bunch of hogs eat 800 pounds of green tomatoes while the farmer swallowed the loss. 

“I take off my chef hat and put on my farmer hat,” Isaiah says. “I know how stressful it can be to have some really beautiful produce and feed it to pigs, or look in your walk-in and watch it rot.”

He offered the farmer a dollar a pound for the tomatoes.

“Deal,” said the farmer. “How many do you want?” 

“All of them,” Isaiah said.

Isaiah talked to his team and told them they were going to have a lot of processing to do. They pickled 15 gallons of green tomatoes. They made green tomato chow chow and green tomato chutney. Everything at The Eddy that used to come with a pickled cucumber came with pickled green tomatoes that year.

“I didn’t buy another cucumber the rest of the year,” Isaiah says. 

Isaiah does a lot for the land, using a potato digger to turn low spots on Rocky Run into culverts and irrigation trenches for the orchard, keeping the water on the farm. He uses organic fertilizers like blood meal, feather meal, and soft-rock phosphate. These are fertilizers the land has to digest for a while before they’re available to plants, fertilizers that enrich the soil a lot more, over a few years, than something that can run off in a big heavy rain. His philosophy is to feed the soil, not the plant.

He does a lot for his farming community. Eight-hundred pounds of green tomatoes aren’t the only potential problem he’s taken off someone’s hands. 

“I tell farmers, if there’s ever a time you have a ridiculous abundance of something, or you’ve got uglies and you’d like to get rid of it, call me and we’ll negotiate a price, so your problem will be my problem,” he says.

He invests in the wider community as well. The Eddy started a garden club with students, buying some of the produce they grow. It hosts the students for twice-monthly lunches, where Isaiah explains what goes into each meal, and why. He lets our group, the Haw River Assembly, and other groups, like the Saxapahaw Social Justice Exchange, use The Eddy’s function room for free on Tuesdays. 

When people ask me what one person can do to make a difference, I think of  Isaiah Allen. 

In addition to employing practices like contour farming, composting, and using organic fertilizers that protect water in the short-term and feed the soil in the long term, he also fosters relationships with farmers who can depend on him to buy all their chickens. 

Through his work, he’s woven a town, a restaurant, and nearby farms together to grow something enduring and beautiful. 

Isaiah Allen not only makes my favorite hot chicken sandwich, he serves as a reminder to all of us that we can work from where we are, whether it’s in our state legislature or behind a bar, and lead in a way that protects our waters and builds up our neighbors. 

Feature image by The Eddy Pub.

Educational Resource/ River Issues: PFAS

For the next few weeks, we are going to be sharing some videos that explain threats to the Haw and what we do at Haw River Assembly to protect our watershed from those pollution threats.

One issue that has been a major focus of my work for the past few years is monitoring for Industrial Contaminants in the Haw River watershed.

So some of you all know a lot of this already, but in case this is brand new to you, I’ll go over a quick description of what these compounds are and why we’re so concerned.
PFAS, or polyflouroalkyl substances is a class of 10k+ compounds. I generally refer to the entire class, rather than the individual compounds, but just so you know the alphabet soup of acronyms when you see it, the two that are most studied and referenced at PFOA and PFOS. Those two are generally legacy compounds. They were voluntarily removed from production processes in the US after the Dupont lawsuit in Parkersburg West Virginia. If you haven’t seen The Devil We Know, or Dark Waters yet, I HIGHLY recommend it. That helps to explain how we got here in the first place.
When those two compounds were sort of limited and had health guidances on them, chemical companies just changed the make up of them and we’re in the clear. This is often referred to as a game of whackamole. One is regulated, and another is created in its place. That’s how we ended up with things like GenX at the Chemours Facility near Fayetteville. In the Haw, we don’t have GenX, but we have so many other PFAS compounds.
PFAS compounds have been linked to serious health impacts like high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, testicular cancer, kidney cancer, and pregnancy-induced hypertension. Those studies were a result of the Dupont lawsuit, which was the largest epidemiological study to ever be conducted. The C8 panel study took seven years to complete.

So now back to our work,
We’ve been lucky to have great partners at our EPA regional offices here in Research Triangle Park, partners like Dr. Detlef Knappe at NC State, and Dr. Heather Stapleton and Dr. Lee Ferguson at Duke University.

We started monitoring at several locations throughout the Haw River basin to identify hotspots and narrow down our locations. We had our suspects but after sampling above and below those suspects, we quickly realized that the main contributor for PFAS compounds in the Haw was coming from one of the city of Burlington’s Wastewater treatment plants. Unlike the Chemours example, the city of Burlington has several industrial users that send their waste through that system.

The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) sent the City of Burlington a “Notice of Intent” (NOI) letter in November, on HRA’s behalf, telling them we intend to sue if they do not stop discharging PFAS (and 1,4-dioxane) into the Haw River and its tributaries, through their wastewater treatment plant and land application of sludge. In that letter, we described the City of Burlington’s violations of the Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation Recovery Act for these illegal discharges of harmful
industrial chemicals, known to be harmful to human health. The City recognizes that it is discharging PFAS into the Haw River from the wastewater effluent. We are continuing discussions with Burlington as they take steps to identify and address the sources of this industrial pollution into the Haw River. Our goal is to stop this pollution, and we remain prepared to sue the City of Burlington if necessary.

More recently, an article about our case was featured in the National Law Review with this quote: “The Burlington NOI should give any participant in an industrial pretreatment program pause. To date, government regulators have not often brought enforcement actions against wastewater handlers for PFAS discharges, despite the likelihood that many have discharged the contaminants for years. The
Burlington NOI provides a road map for regulators who are inclined to do so, whether or not their states have passed legislation that that specifically targets PFAS compounds.”
Haw River Assembly continues to work with scientists at North Carolina State University, Duke University, East Carolina University,
and Region 4 EPA staff to understand all sources of PFAS into the Haw and find solutions for downstream drinking water users, including Pittsboro.

 

Protecting Our Watershed – by Intern Emily Williams

March 2020

Protect National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

In the midst of an expanding public environmental consciousness, United States Congress enacted the National Environmental Policy Act, otherwise known as NEPA. Turmoil around industrialization, development, and recent environmental destruction gave way to a vital need for precautions against harm done to the environment and thus in 1970 following the 1964 Wilderness Act and 1970 Clean Air Act, NEPA was born. The premise of this legislation was to create a foundation of environmental protections against the often-damaging actions and projects of federal agencies and since its adoption, it has done just that. NEPA has not only fostered good stewardship practices, but has served as a blanket of protection for our flora and fauna by mandating that government projects complete a series of steps before they begin. This “look before you leap” checklist involves steps such as particularizing what actions their agenda entails as well as evaluating how exactly those actions will impact the land and adjacent environment. The developer must consider alternatives to their project which goes hand in hand with having to consider what modifications can be made to curtail its impact on the land. Lastly and arguably of most significance is the obligation to conduct public hearings and allow for public input concerning the project. Historically, this component of NEPA has protected our environment but it too has protected those people living in it. Many harmful government projects are launched at the detriment of low-income and minority areas and thus for 50 years, NEPA has been averting these assaults on human health and environmental wellbeing.

The Trump administration is gearing up to amend the NEPA. If enacted, these proposals would severely deteriorate NEPA’s effectiveness. Included in the proposed changes to NEPA is the imposition of a strict time limit on the entire project process and completion of environmental reviews and a shortening of the investigation period for alternative project options. This allows developers to more easily and quickly delve into their projects.  In addition, the time period for public comment on and interaction with the project will be shortened, ultimately weakening the public’s influence. The Southern Environmental Law Center is invested in protecting NEPA and has an online portal through which citizens can voice their concerns to The Council on Environmental Quality and take a stand against these rollbacks; however, there is less than a week remaining to submit a comment. March 10th is the deadline to send in your comment to fight against this attack on NEPA. Currently, there are a staggering amount of submissions in favor of these changes, so every opposing comment matters! Please consider giving your input and submitting a comment on why NEPA is important to your interests. Your voice matters!

Comment against NEPA changes:

https://www.southernenvironment.org/protect-nepa

Read about the functional importance of NEPA:

https://ceq.doe.gov/

Microplastics

Environmentalists and concerned citizens alike are no strangers to plastic pollution; however, there seems to be another player in the game: microplastics. Defined by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as being small plastic pieces less than five millimeters in length, microplastics are in goods such as personal care products, synthetic fibers, resins, pellets, and medical products. In 2015, Obama signed the “Microbead-Free Waters Act” which placed a ban on polyethylene plastic microbeads, a subset of microplastics that are often used as exfoliants in cosmetic products. Despite this action, there has not been much noise around the concept of microplastics in recent years. While the effects of microplastics on human health are still ambiguous, there is still plenty of cause for concern. Toxic chemicals such as bisphenol A or phthalates which are absorbed by or inherent to these microplastic ingredients are leached into the water. As if entanglement and ingestion of larger plastic materials is not enough, microplastic toxins can cause internal organ damage and functional processing disruptions to aquatic organisms. Bio – accumulation creates a domino effect as these toxins move up the food chain and make their way onto our dinner plates through the food we eat. Furthermore, these toxins are capable of escaping filtration and entering into our soils, groundwater, and subsequently our drinking water. The Haw River Assembly dedicates itself to preserving our watershed and doing so entails monitoring water quality concerns throughout the expanse of the Haw. Emily Sutton, Riverkeeper extraordinaire, conducted water sampling in 7 different sites from Apex to Chapel Hill and Greensboro to Saxapahaw. Microplastics were found to be present in 100% of samples collected, exemplifying the severity and rampant nature of this issue.

Another significant source of microplastic is the degradation of larger plastic debris. Those larger plastics include products such as cups, plates, lids, straws, and bags – namely single use plastics. As a business sector that relies heavily on the use of such products, the service industry is non-coincidentally a major contributor to the plastic pollution that ends up in our rivers and streams. Even though microplastic pollution is a cumulative result of a myriad of commodities, plastics from the service industry are a much more approachable culprit to target versus large scale manufacturers. HRA seeks to bring light to this problem and hopes to do so by concentrating on its source. In coordination with this endeavor there has been a call to action for local businesses to curb their dependency on single use plastics for the sake of the watershed. HRA is heading a “Plastic-Free Pledge” in which businesses commit to phasing out plastics from their front or back of house and turn to other non-plastic alternative products for replacement. The goal of this initiative is to increase the number of businesses that ban those single-use plastics and give them the recognition they deserve for being eco-warriors in their own right. Establishments that commit are demonstrating to legislators and government figures that this matter is one that deserves attention and that phasing out plastics is not a barrier to economic growth, all while bringing themselves closer to being a sustainable business. HRA is partnering with businesses in Orange, Durham, Alamance, Guilford, and Chatham Counties to crack down on microplastics. Businesses that get involved will receive recognition via social media as well as a “Plastic Free” window turtle decal signifying their contribution to the fight against microplastics. Look out for this decal in your favorite eateries, breweries, and coffee shops!

Learn about microplastics:

https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/microplastics.html
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5918521/

 From the River – by Haw Riverkeeper Emily Sutton

February 2019

PFAS
I participated in a PFAS symposium at NCSU in February. It was an audience of predominately academics in health research and risk communication, but also some community organizations and state water quality staff. The academic community is interested in holding community forums in impacted areas to answer questions from the public and communicate risk, rather than just producing data. Haw River Assembly is working with NCSU, Duke, and EPA to monitor surface and drinking water levels in the Haw watershed. The PFAS levels in the Haw are highest in low flow events, where the Haw is more effluent dominated. To see our data and presentations, click here. We are tracing sources and working with Southern Environmental Law Center, NCDEQ, NC Conservation Network, and local governments to recommend action to prevent these compounds from entering surface water. Pricey Harrison, Guilford representative, continues to propose and sponsor legislation aimed at addressing PFAS compounds. Unfortunately, the issue of PFAS compounds has not risen to the top of the state’s priority list yet. We are scheduled to meet with Representative Harrison in February and NCDEQ leadership in early March. Let your local and state officials and representatives know that you are concerned about this issue!

MVP Southgate
We are working to lobby local governments again this month- Graham/ Haw River/ Green Level/ Burlington/ Alamance/ Rockingham. Counties and municipalities with delegated stormwater programs (Alamance, Graham, Burlington) will have the authority over the stormwater permit for the MVP Southgate project. Alamance has signed a countywide resolution to oppose the project. If you live in these communities, contact your local elected officials and urge them to publicly oppose the pipeline project.  The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) has been delayed until May. When the EIS is released, we will need all of the help we can get to provide critical comments and feedback on that statement. MVP Southgate attorneys are beginning to pressure landowners to sign easement agreements. On February 17th, we learned that several people had received house visits and phone calls pressuring them to sign a twelve-page legal document. When the landowners requested a copy before the meeting, the MVP Southgate attorneys denied that request, stating that it must be handled in person. This one on one interaction puts landowners in a vulnerable situation. We are working with the NC Department of Justice to determine what protections landowners have against this pressure.  We are working on paddle event for late April- Paddle Against the Pipeline. More information and event flyers to come soon.

Waters of the US Rule (WOTUS)

The EPA is proposing to gut clean water protections. For nearly 50 years, the Clean Water Act has provided essential protections to streams, rivers, and wetlands—and given state and local governments tools to keep our water clean. Politicians in Washington, DC, just proposed to gut the Clean Water Act, stripping away longstanding protections for streams, wetlands, and smaller waterways that feed drinking water sources for millions of people in the South. This proposal would eliminate crucial protections for many of our nation’s streams—critical to the South’s special natural resources, as well as a $130 billion tourism industry. Without these clean water protections, industrial operations, sewage treatment facilities, and other polluters may be able to directly dump into these waterways without any public notice, threatening drinking water supplies and harming families and communities. That’s why elected officials from both parties are working tirelessly to protect waters in the Southeast — but they need help, and time is running out.  Visit our campaign website at http://hawriver.org/wotus/ to take action and find talking points to inform your comments, it will only take a minute. By sending comments here, we’re letting Washington know that we’re NOT ok with letting polluters contaminate the water our families, communities, and economies depend on.

Industrial Animal Operations (CAFOs) 


The Animal Feeding Operation permits are up for renewal, which is an opportunity that only comes around every 5 years. This is the time to comment and encourage NCDEQ to require more transparency in the permitting process or swine, cattle, and wet poultry production. North Carolina’s industrial animal producers operate under a waste management permit from the state, which is revised and renewed in five-year cycles. To see our talking points, click here. Submit comments in person at the upcoming public meeting in Statesville on Feb 26, 6pm, or via email at by March 4th to one of the following emails. 

Water Testing in Chatham County


UNC Chapel Hill and Virginia Tech are offering free well water testing to any resident or business using a private well for indoor and outdoor use in Chatham County, NC or nearby areas. The samples will be analyzed for metals such as lead, arsenic, and chromium. Confidential water quality results will be mailed to residents’ homes. Study results will help develop a better understanding of private well water quality in your community. Test kits will be distributed at locations and dates specified below. Any resident or business using a private well is eligible to participate. There are a limited number of kits, so they will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. Detailed sampling instructions will be provided. If you have questions about participating, please contact Andrew George at andrewg@unc.edu or 919-966-7839 or Kelsey Pieper at kpieper@vt.edu or 518-928-0177. Pick up sampling kits Tuesday, March 5 from 3:30 – 8:30 pm // Drop off sampling kits Wednesday, March 6 from 6:00 – 9:00 am at Wesley Samuels Annex, 1915 Old US 1 Hwy, Moncure, NC 27559 or at Central Carolina Community College, Conference Room 2 (Building 42), 764 West Street, Pittsboro, NC 27312.