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Election 2020: Biden in Durham

By Karen Tam

Former Vice President Joe Biden made a mysterious trip to Durham on Sunday where few people heard or saw him. Biden had a virtual meeting with African-American faith leaders and he spoke inside the Riverside High School campus to a selected few. As he spoke at Riverside, Redouane and Kim Hafidi of Durham wore their “VOTE” masks as they stood outside the fenced area. Redouane Hafidi, originally from Morocco, said he thought Biden would be a better president who will be more supportive of the immigrant population.

Eight-year-old Owen Weinard of Durham, along with his mother, Ashley Weinard, also waited outside Riverside, hoping to get a glimpse of Biden. Owen said he is also counting the years till he can vote.

Later in the afternoon, the Latino part of the Biden campaign, Todos con Biden, organized a car parade. Cars gathered at the Compare Foods shopping center on University Drive, lining up for what would become a horn-honking caravan to the South Regional Library for early voting.

Biden did not make an appearance at the Todos con Biden caravan or South Regional. He stopped by Cook Out after his speech at Riverside.

Election 2020: Trump holds rally in Greenville; some supporters ready to hear more about policy

President Donald Trump made his seventh campaign visit to North Carolina this election year to Greenville on Thursday, where he told about 1,000 supporters at Pitt-Greenville Airport to get out and vote, boasted of the number of votes he got during the 2016 election, and touted Republican plans for the country.

“For years, you had a president who apologized for America. Now, you have a president who is standing up for America and standing up for the great people of North Carolina,” Trump said toward the end of his speech.

“So again, this is the most important election of our lives, maybe in the history of our country. So get your friends, get your family, get your neighbors, get out and vote! The red wave is coming. The red wave is coming,” Trump said to cheers.  

Supporters from Greenville and around the state began filing into the event stage on the tarmac of the airport early Thursday morning, bringing their families and friends, donning MAGA hats and outfits made out of the American flag, and wearing face masks saying, “Trump Pence.” They waited in the sun and got refreshments from food trucks parked on site.

As the crowd waited for Trump’s arrival, the music started and the Trump campaign blasted hits like “YMCA,” Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean,” “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion, and Andrea Bocelli’s “Time to Say Goodbye.” The energy kept up and the rally almost felt like an old style rock concert, or a state fair.

Catherine Truitt, Republican candidate for North Carolina State Superintendent, spoke ahead of Trump’s arrival.

“Do you believe parents should have control over where kids go to school? Do you agree with President Trump that students belong in schools and it’s time to open schools safely?” Truitt said. “We do not need more one size fits none mandates from Roy Cooper.”

Trump was scheduled to speak at 1 p.m. At about 1:30 p.m., the crowd finally glimpsed Air Force One, still so far away in the sky that it was barely visible. The crowd turned and all attention focused, people watched as Air Force One slowly became bigger and descended into the airport. Loud cheers erupted when it landed and made its way toward the event stage.

The plane parked right behind the podium and the flags set up for Trump’s speech. Trump finally came out of the plane and walked down to the podium, and the crowd chanted, “USA! USA!”

“It’s fantastic to be back in North Carolina with thousands of loyal, hardworking Americans,” Trump started his speech. “Nineteen days from now, we’re going to win the state of North Carolina and we’re going to win four more years in the White House. The choice is very simple. If Biden wins, China wins.” At this, the crowd boo’ed. “And if we win, North Carolina wins and America wins.”  

Trump touched on the major talking points he has had throughout this election year: Jobs, China, building a wall, rebuilding the economy.

Like at other rallies in North Carolina, one of the biggest cheers he received was when he criticized Gov. Roy Cooper for the state’s lockdowns from the coronavirus.

“In 2016, North Carolina voted out the corrupt political establishment and you elected an outsider as president of the United States,” he said. “I don’t sound like a typical Washington politicians. It’s because I’m not a politician.” At this, the crowd cheered.

“By the way, North Carolina, tell your governor, ‘Open up your state! Open up your schools!’” The cheers grew more louder.

Chants of “USA!” “Four more years,” and “We love you,” rang out and blended from one to the next from the crowd.

Trump’s visit to Greenville marked a turning point in the perceptions and needs of voters in North Carolina. Supporters at the rally were ready to hear more about policy.

“I am planning to vote. I’m just weighing my options right now,” said Angelene Mitchell, 60, a businesswoman in Greenville, who came to rally because she wanted to hear what Trump has to say.

“I like that he’s about minorities being on board with a lot of things, not just where you want them to be at,” Mitchell said, and added that she was particularly concerned about jobs.

“[Trump] says, ‘A lot of jobs,’ but a lot of them were factory,” she said. “There are a lot of degree-holding, young African-Americans without jobs.”

“I’m not knocking him. He’s bringing jobs back. I don’t believe that we should be exporting all of our benefits to other countries,” Mitchell said, referring to Trump’s trade deal moves to bring jobs back to the U.S.

“He knows how to go after people and win people,” Mitchell said, and added, “But he is a little pompous.”

Maria Johnson, 39, came to the rally from Smithfield with her family. “It’s an opportunity of a lifetime,” she said. “This is a president who is doing something.” When asked if she was voting for Trump, she replied, “Absolutely.”

“I believe he has the country in his best interests,” Johnson said. “I like how he includes himself in public conversation.”

Johnson said she liked that Trump supports the military, and she was also concerned about the economy. “We keep shutting things down. I don’t know about swiftly opening up, but we’ve got to do something,” she said.

Zac Lanto, 21, came to Greenville from Emerald Isle. “He’s for America and for the military,” Lanto said. He said he liked Trump’s stance on immigration, and didn’t like Biden or his running mate Kamala Harris.

Ray “Rayzor” Reynolds, a photographer who has followed the Trump campaign to every rally since 2015, said the Greenville event would be his 74th.

Reynolds, who is from South Carolina, said what drew him to Trump was when he lost his parents. He didn’t feel his mother was taken care of under the Affordable Care system, or Obamacare. In 2017, he wrote a book, “The Trump Movement: My Plan, My Purpose,” about his experiences.

“I think it’s going to be a landslide,” Reynolds said. “For every 100 people I see, there’s 10 Democrats. New Jersey about five months ago, that was the biggest rally I had been to.”

Reynolds said he will turn 60 years old next year. “I need insurance. A third of my income goes to health care.”

A 36-year-old man who only wanted to go by the name, J.C., said of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, “It’s kind of disappointing that’s the Democratic national opponent.”

“I don’t know what he stands for. The ’94 crime bill, that really hurt the black community,” J.C. said. “And many times, I’ve seen him say, ‘I don’t work for you.’ And as an elected official, he should be working for the public, for us.”

“I don’t know if he can be trusted,” he said.

Trump’s visit to Greenville on Thursday was more relaxed and a clear contrast to the last time he came to the city. In July 2019, to kick off his campaign for re-election, Trump held a rally at East Carolina University’s Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum. The crowd reacted vehemently when he blasted the freshmen congresswomen referred to as, “the Squad,” in particular Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minnesota.

The crowd chanted, “Send her back! Send her back! Send her back!”

The moment made headlines around the world.

This time, Trump’s visit did not have the same intensity. It was a different crowd, one that treated the rally as a more casual gathering. As Trump’s speech went on, people also listened more intently and waited for policy points, and began filing out when they grew tired.

Trump also laid into Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, embroiled in a scandal this week over his business deals in Ukraine. “Facebook can try to shut us down, but you know what? Everybody knows it,” he said. “How does this kid of the vice president walk into countries and walk away with deals with no talent, no skill and no expertise – and the press doesn’t want to cover it?”   

Trump boasted of his election results in 2016 and how he and his campaign watched the results come in from various states. “Then we won a place called North Carolina! So it went from 25 to 32 percent. You remember that evening? That was a great evening,” he reminisced.

As the event wound down and Trump returned to Air Force One, Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” played over the speakers and the departing crowd turned toward the plane, gathering at the barriers and waving. Just as the song was ending, Air Force One took off. Trump was heading toward the NBC-hosted Town Hall in Florida scheduled for Thursday evening.

The Trump administration’s $4 billion Farmers to Families program. What is it? How does it work?

When the lockdowns from the coronavirus started happening this year, Gaye Walker and her husband, Dave Walker, who own Walker Farm in Hillsborough, immediately lost the ability to sell to restaurants.

And what made the first months even more panic-inducing, the farmers’ markets they participated in also closed, leaving the Walkers with just the produce stand at their farm as their only reliable source of income.

“We had a new business – a new farm that opened up around the corner of us. We were real concerned that between the pandemic and them, it was going to really affect us business-wise,” Walker said.

These are the kinds of problems that the $3 billion Farmers to Families Food Box program, launched in April, seeks to alleviate. In August, President Donald Trump and advisor Ivanka Trump also announced during a visit to distributors in Mills River that it would get $1 billion more in funding, for a total of $4 billion. Ivanka Trump, along with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, also made a surprise visit to speak on the program at the State Farmers Market earlier this month.

The Walkers participated in donation drives to feed the hungry in Orange County. But six months later, their income still has not stabilized.

“We have one restaurant that’s now purchasing from us, but he’s purchasing a third, or maybe a fourth of what he purchased last year,” Gaye Walker said. “The restaurants, I’m really concerned about with this pandemic.”

Farmers to Families has gone through two rounds. The first round purchased $1.2 billion from May to June, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The second round, which began in July, purchased $1.5 billion. In July, USDA also announced the third round, with distributions planned to occur September to October.

The program is administered by the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service and is part of the $16 billion Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. To date, the USDA announced on Tuesday, Farmers to Families has distributed 100 million food boxes nationwide.

“I would say that the program has been extremely successful,” said William Kelley, director of the Henderson County Cooperative Extension with N.C. State University. “It has provided food to millions of people that needed it. And in the process, farmers who weren’t able to otherwise sell or distribute, or move their products had been able to move their products because of this program. It was a win-win situation.”

Kelley also praised how quickly the program was launched. “The farmer in Henderson County that’s doing this, he’s never seen a program get into place as quickly as this one did,” Kelley said. “He thought that by the time the paperwork was done, the pandemic would be done.”

Help for small farmers

The program allows distributors and nonprofits to distribute the boxes, and any nonprofit can sign up to be a recipient as long as they can show they have the ability to store and give out the perishable boxes.

Both producers and recipients are tied to the distributors, who are the ones to submit the applications. Most recipients have been school systems, food banks and churches.

Baptists on Mission, the Cary-based organization highlighted by Trump’s visit, is also distributing in the state in the third round. Other distributors serving North Carolina in this round are Greensboro-based Foster-Caviness Inc., Gargiulo, Frank M. & Son Inc., and Military Produce Group, among others.

Kelley said the program could be improved when it comes to helping more small farmers.

Farmers to Families requires participating farms to have GAP audits, which stands for Good Agricultural Practices. Those are voluntary but costly, and are more normally used by large farms selling products over long distances. Small farms selling at produce stands, farmers’ markets and participating in CSAs, or community-supported agriculture, usually do not have GAP audits.

Kelley said if the safety requirement could be adjusted to FSMA, it could open up the program to more small farmers. FSMA is the Food Safety Modernization Act, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration law passed in 2010.

“They required all the suppliers to be GAP-certified. That requires a lot of record-keeping and inspections and so forth,” Kelley said. “The reason was to make sure the products that were getting distributed met all the food safety requirements. But with FSMA, they could have included more people.”

On Aug. 24, President Donald Trump announced in Mills River $1 billion in additional funding to the Farmers to Families program. Baptists on Mission is a Cary-based organization that has been distributing the food boxes in North Carolina. Source: The White House

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition stated in June that the program had seven percent participation rate from small farmers. The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, which advocates for sustainable practices and organic growers said the USDA fell short of the 10 percent goal it had set.

Wes King, a senior policy specialist with NSAC who wrote the blog post, said he had arrived at the 7 percent figure by looking through the USDA’s contracts in the first round.

“I and a few others painstakingly researched every entity that received a contract in the first round and made what amounts to professional judgement calls as to whether or not we thought the contractor was a local and regional food systems entities,” King said in an e-mail on Tuesday. “For some it was obvious they were farms who normally engaged in sales to local schools, restaurants and to consumers through farmers markets and CSAs; for others it was less straightforward.”

The FSMA also notably has an amendment by the late North Carolina Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan, who worked with Sen. Jon Tester, D-MT, to give small farms exemption from the new federal rule. The amendment defines small farms simply as those farms selling less than $500,000 a year and who sell 50 percent of their goods within state or within a 400-mile radius.  

The Tester-Hagan amendment leaves small farms back under the oversight of local and state entities.

Orange County closed the Eno River Farmers’ Market in Hillsborough in March. The market stayed closed through North Carolina’s phase 2 reopening in May, and had customers do pre-orders and pick-ups only. It will not reopen until October. In its most recent newsletter in September, the market stated even that reopening will be “soft,” with fewer vendors.

The Hillsborough Farmers Market, a smaller market run by UNC Healthcare, remains closed.

Distributors’ enthusiasm

When the lockdowns began in March, the demand for produce at restaurants “absolutely collapsed,” said Debbie Hamrick, director of specialty crops with the N.C. Farm Bureau Federation in the Triangle.

And because of the way agriculture is run, producers could not go from selling to restaurants to selling directly to consumers.

“You buy them 25-30 pounds at a time. That supply chain that was set up to supply tomatoes now all of a sudden had no sales outlets. The demand shifted overnight,” Hamrick said. “We were at 52 or 53 percent, from the economic research at USDA – almost half of the meals for Americans were out of the house. All of a sudden, that was gone and Americans were eating at home.”

“The farmers in that production channel were just absolutely screaming,” she added. “And milk, cheese, meat. These products, you don’t just go from packing a bulk product to packaging for the consumer – from 50 pounds to half pound, wrapped, paper products like a butcher shop product – instantaneously. It was a massive disruption and the USDA wanted to do something.”

Like Kelley, Hamrick praised the USDA for putting the program together so fast.

“They got it out there and it was not perfect, but it’s been iterative and they’ve improved it,” she said. “We all get surprised when we hear government does something good. But there are some really good people. USDA, man, they got a bunch of money and had to put in a billion-dollar program that had never been done before. And somehow, it’s not perfect, but it has happened.”

Courtney Tellefsen, founder and CEO of The Produce Box, a Raleigh membership-based service that delivers weekly groceries, participated in the first two rounds of Farmers to Families by linking up with Baptists on Mission to build their boxes.

“They had a network of churches. … So they had an easy way to get the boxes from us to people who needed them. And they already had the logistics and trucking and everything,” Tellefsen.

Tellefsen said her company submitted its own application to be a distributor to the USDA for the third round, but was rejected.

Joey McNeill, vice president of Ward’s Produce in Raleigh, said his company delivered more than 634,000 boxes from May to September. The company had participated in the first two rounds to deliver produce boxes, but not for the third, which is asking for combination boxes of produce, dairy and meat.

McNeill said that as a result of the program, his company not only retained its workforce but even hired new workers this year.

“Given the quickness of the program rolling out, the mobilization on the USDA was nothing short of incredible,” McNeill said. “We were able to hire more people to help us with packing. There are so many food insecure families out there that it was a godsend. We worked with 90-plus unique nonprofits in terms of referring products to people, the end use recipients.”

“We went from 40 employees at the time of the shutdown and then we were operating with 55-60 employees while the program was in place,” he said.

Ward’s Produce delivered boxes to numerous organizations, including: the Food Banks of Central and Eastern North Carolina in Raleigh and Durham and other food banks in the state, Durham Rescue Mission, PORCH in Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill Public Housing, Orange County Social Services, school systems in Johnston, Person and Vance counties, the Inter-faith Food Shuttle in Raleigh, and churches across the state.

McNeill said he hopes the USDA will keep the program going.  

“I hope (the USDA) will do something similar to this because there will still be food insecure people in this country after COVID passes,” he said.  

Blog post: Pierce Freelon has been appointed to the Durham City Council. But is it legal?

Durham City Council voted on Aug. 31 to appoint Pierce Freelon to the Ward 3 seat.

The seat had been left vacant by Vernetta Alston in April when she left for the 29th district seat on the state House of Representatives. Freelon is a musician and son of the late architect Phil Freelon and jazz musician Nnenna Freelon. He had run unsuccessfully for the state senate this year and for Durham mayor in 2017.

In April, the city council was debating whether to appoint someone to the seat or to let the public decide on election day.

So why was the appointment of Freelon suddenly made some four months after Alston left? And was this action legal?

Both the city charter and the state statute are written in such a way that they require the appointment to be made soon after the vacancy occurs, and that the appointment should be in place only until when the public can elect a new representative.

That is, the law protects the public’s right to vote for their elected officials and to be represented.

The city charter’s Section 13.2 states the appointment shall be made within 60 days of the vacancy.

Here is the state statute:

A vacancy that occurs in an elective office of a city shall be filled by appointment of the city council. If the term of the office expires immediately following the next regular city election, or if the next regular city election will be held within 90 days after the vacancy occurs, the person appointed to fill the vacancy shall serve the remainder of the unexpired term. Otherwise, a successor shall be elected at the next regularly scheduled city election that is held more than 90 days after the vacancy occurs, and the person appointed to fill the vacancy shall serve only until the elected successor takes office. The elected successor shall then serve the remainder of the unexpired term.

By the state statute, if the vacancy occurs too close to an election — within 90 days — then the person appointed will serve the rest of the unexpired term.

Otherwise, if the election occurs 90 days after the vacancy, that gives the public enough time to make an informed decision and elect a new official.

By the city charter and state statute, Durham residents should have been able to vote for a new representative to serve on the Ward 3 seat.

So why did Freelon’s appointment happen? Is it legal?

Election 2020: Trump in Winston-Salem

President Donald Trump was in Winston-Salem on Tuesday for his fourth visit to North Carolina since July, where he drew thousands of supporters from around the state.

The campaign rally was held at the Smith Reynolds Regional Airport. Supporters donning Trump T-shirts, Keep America Great hats and holding up signs waited for hours for Air Force One to arrive.

Trump’s speech began shortly after 7 p.m. and focused on familiar themes of his campaign this election year: Bringing jobs back to America, tax cuts, and warning the crowd against mail-in ballots. Trump criticized Gov. Roy Cooper for North Carolina’s continued lockdown and gave Lt. Gov. Dan Forest a boost for his run for the state’s top office.

Trump was also in Florida on Tuesday. “I just left Florida. We’re going to win Florida,” he said to the North Carolina crowd to cheers.

Check out the photo gallery by Karen Tam.

Marc Dreyfors’ Eco-Innovations

Behind a small, nondescript building in Efland, a gravel driveway reveals an old textiles manufacturing warehouse, biodiesel production tanks and rows of vegetables at the Orange County Eco-Innovations Park.

A fleet of buses that run on biodiesel sit across from the warehouse. “This pink party bus runs green!” whimsical slogans on the front say. “We are a revolution in motion!”

Because of the coronavirus, the buses have been out of commission, and the Eco-Innovations Park’s founder and General Manager Marc Dreyfors is busy working to to keep his nonprofits and businesses afloat.

“That was a blow to us,” Dreyfors said of the buses.

Walking across the sun-baked grounds toward potted hemp plants and rows of vegetables, Dreyfors stops to examine the squashes and help a worker fix a stand of tomatoes that have drooped over.

Dreyfors’ main enterprise is the nonprofit, The Forest Foundation, which he founded in 2001. It’s the umbrella organization for Carolina Biofuels, Greenway Transit, Green Tracks, Forests of the World, and the newest business, CannDo CBD Oil. After a grant application to Durham City fell through earlier this year and then the coronavirus, Dreyfors is focused on securing funding and revenue.

“We’ve been over the years so under-resourced,” Dreyfors said during a phone interview. “We’re very lean, and we can survive through the worst situations. 2008 was brutal and things slowed down pretty significantly. But we’ve been able to grow and make it.”

“But man, everything is hand-to-mouth. We want to go from, ‘That’s a cool thing you’re doing’ to, ‘Wow you’re really making a really cool impact.’ We’re tired of being the cool poster child. We want to make an impact,” he said.

The organization moved from East Durham to Efland a year ago, and Dreyfors has ventured into something new – growing hemp for the CBD business, and vegetables for a CSA, or community-supported agriculture.

The organization recently got back Duke University’s physician’s assistants program as a customer for the biodiesel buses.

Within the industrial space and office of the old textiles warehouse, Dreyfors talks about the possibilities of the site. There is compressed air in the warehouse, room for biodiesel production, and barrels of harvested hemp.

The center, at 2.8 acres, is bigger than his old site on Cross Street in East Durham, which means there is more room to grow and expand. However, it’s also removed from the urban environment in Durham, where Dreyfors had been based for more than a decade and built his eco-innovation philosophy.

East Durham was where he had converted a polluted brownfield site to producing biodiesel, worked with young people, and been involved in other environmental organizations. The pedicabs Dreyfors used to ride around Durham now sit unused in the warehouse.

But some things remain the same. There is his main work: converting restaurant grease into biodiesel. He is hiring. “We have a lot of work,” he said.

The draw of biodiesel is that it is – in the terminology of the green space – a “drop in” technology. That is, biodiesel, made from restaurant grease and vegetable oils, can be readily used in diesel-running vehicles without having to modify the engine.

Dreyfors’ Carolina Biofuels has three active pumps in the Triangle. At the Eco-Innovation Park, Larry’s Beans in Raleigh, and at Carrboro Public Works, where Dreyfors said they’ve had problems with the pump being shut off without notice.


Dreyfors at the biodiesel pump at the Eco-Innovation Park.

Biodiesel is also at the intersection of Dreyfors’ interests, which is summed up with The Forest Foundation’s “GOAL” model. “GOAL” stands for “Green Oil and Light.”

The “Green” stands for the work of shifting energy away from fossil fuels to renewable energy. The “Light” is about “finding the light” in community and neighborhood-based redevelopment. “This provides a great stage for the work being done, in transformation, regeneration and renewal,” states the foundation’s web site.

Dreyfors counts among his supporters other organizations in the area that have succeeded in the green space.

Eric Henry, president of T.S. Designs, the organic cotton T-shirt maker in Burlington, also has been interested in biodiesel. “I was big into biodiesel,” Henry said.

“It’s a renewable resource and not a fossil fuel. Typically what we do personally is we blend it with regular petro diesel. The main thing is it adds better lubricity. It’s slicker,” Henry said. “With my Volkswagen Golf, we could run biodiesel or straight vegetable oil. You can run 100 percent biodiesel or 100 percent diesel or any combination.”

“Marc and I are very much on a similar journey. People, planet, profit,” Henry said, referring to the triple bottomline of the green space.

Stephen Hren, who works in sustainable building, used to work for Dreyfors in Green Tracks and praised him for his dedication. Green Tracks is the green jobs training program of The Forest Foundation.

“For a dozen years, Marc has kept his sustainable tour company going on the most shoestring of budgets, hardly paying himself anything,” Hren said in an e-mail. “Many of his employees have substance abuse or are ex-felons who most employers would not bother to deal with. But despite his mordant humor, Marc has a deep-rooted faith in humanity that is exceptionally inspiring.”

Throughout his work, Dreyfors displays an interest in community work and wanting to work with young people, combined with an instinctive desire to work with real materials — biodiesel, buses, pedicabs, hemp. He also has a thirst for the big thinking in the environmental space, connecting the macro to the local and making it relevant to real work.

The work of converting restaurant grease into biodiesel, for instance, puts Dreyfors into the community, going to restaurants and engaging with owners. And it’s hands-on work, which Dreyfors has been drawn to throughout his career.

A Wilmington native, Dreyfors graduated from UNC-Wilmington with a degree in environmental sciences in 1988. While a graduate student at the Duke Nicholas School of the Environment, he and a classmate discussed biodiversity conservation and sustainable development. After graduating, the two classmates began what would become Dreyfors’ first business, Forests of the World, importing crafts from Costa Rica and creating educational materials about rain forests. 

Some of these wares are still in the office of the Eco-Innovation Park.

In 2001, he founded The Forest Foundation, the main umbrella organization over the other ventures. Its website proudly touts proudly the work they’ve done, from having a booth at the North Carolina State Fair to Green Tracks, its venture for green jobs training, founded in 2009.

Greenway Transit

Dreyfors on a pedicab with Greenway Transit, one of the ventures under The Forest Foundation. Photo courtesy of The Forest Foundation

One of his favorite projects is the buses. Dreyfors passionately talks about the benefits of running buses, especially school buses, on biodiesel.

“It’s a lot of pollution that affects kids,” he says.

Ask him about a new technology, and he says and laughs, “I’ve probably read everything about that.”

Having worked with the environment for decades, Dreyfors is also familiar with the emotional and spiritual work that has to be done. If you share your own frustrations with him, he nods knowingly. Yep, he’s been there too. “Just breathe through it, work through it,” he says.

Dreyfors’ organizations has never made too much in revenue, and he wants to change that.

According to tax filings, The Forest Foundation normally posts a combined total of revenue and grant funding and contributions of under $50,000. 2010 and 2011 were its best years, when it reported $50,344 and $86,587 total revenue, respectively.

Adding to the low revenue have been problems over the years with finding and keeping a permanent space.

In 2009, Carolina Biofuels was evicted from its space in East Durham off Angier Avenue. There, Dreyfors’ organization worked with young people with YIKES!, or Youth Involved in Keeping Earth Sustainable, painting an eco mural and rain barrels, and helped Recyclique, another nonprofit focused on sustainability, get off the ground.

Orange Recycling Co., owner of the site, decided to lease it to another business instead.

“We constantly roll ourselves into a situation where there are all these benefits from what we want to do,” Dreyfors said, but admits that finding people to pay for it is a problem.

There is also a potential problem with the new site in Efland. Orange County officials have told him to pave the gravel driveway and put in parking spaces. “But why would you do that?” Dreyfors asks.

“We need better messaging,” Dreyfors admits. “We need to communicate better. We need more investment. We need more people supporting us.”

The fight for the West Point on the Eno

Every year, thousands of Durham residents flock to the West Point on the Eno Park for the annual Eno River festival, to look at crafts, eat food, listen to music, and even take a dip in the river itself.

But with a dense residential development planned for nearby, some neighbors are sounding the alarm that the project could ruin the park, and damage the health of the Eno River.

Sun Forest Systems, a Chapel Hill-based custom design and building company, wants to build “Westpoint at Eno,” with 278 townhomes and 101 single-family homes. The 94-acre site runs along the south of the West Point on the Eno park, with an entrance on North Roxboro Road.

The development would build over Black Meadow Ridge, an area that is a buffer between the West Point park and neighborhoods. Black Meadow Ridge has been under discussion for possible conservation over the years.

“We had heard about this just through word of mouth,” said Chris Hodgson, who lives in one of the neighborhoods right behind Black Meadow Ridge.

Hodgson is part of “Save Black Meadow Ridge,” formed earlier this year. The neighbors have hired an attorney and filed an appeal with the Durham City Board of Adjustment, asking the board to halt the project’s move through planning. They also have set up a web site and are getting the word out through social media.

One of the main concerns of the neighbors is the impact a development of this density and size would have on the West Point on the Eno.

The neighbors say in the appeal that the development should be going through a public hearing process. Instead, the project only has to go through administrative approval at the planning department.

Site plans were filed in July 2019.

The proposed development “Westpoint at the Eno” would run along the south of the West Point park. Source: Save Black Meadow Ridge

“Nobody had communicated to any of the neighbors this was happening. A neighbor literally came across it,” Hodgson said. “That was the first thing that struck all of us. Pretty much everybody we talked to has said, ‘How is it possible to approve this with zero public input?’ It’s such a large undertaking.”

The neighbors have hired an attorney and filed an appeal with the Durham City Board of Adjustments. They also have set up a web site, started a petition and are getting the word out through social media.

Sun Forest Systems, the developer behind Westpoint, was founded in 1984 by Keith Brown, an architect who has designed various modernist homes in the Triangle.

Point Ridge Park LLC, based in Chatham County and with Brown as the registered agent, was set up for the development.

The company did not respond to a request for comment this week.

Since hearing about the development, the Save Black Meadow Ridge group has compiled planning documents, going back to the decision that gave the project the initial go-ahead. That was a letter from Steve Medlin, then-planning director, in July 2016.

In that letter, Medlin said the development’s density was allowed on the basis of existing zoning and a site plan for a similar development called “Foxmoor” — from 1973.

“After reviewing the case file and the plan on file with the Planning Department I have confirmed that the site can be developed under the existing development plan of record…,” Medlin wrote.

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The neighbors are questioning the validity of this decision.

“This whole thing is predicated on this plan from 1972. One of the things we want to do is get the records from behind it. Why is this plan getting constructed and why is it all of a sudden getting built now?” Hodgson said.

“Whatever was approved in the ’70s is not what was submitted,” Hodgson added. “There’s just a certain part of not doing your job that’s part of this whole thing. If the planning department was more thorough in 2016, we wouldn’t have to do this appeal.”

The Board of Adjustment will hear the appeal on Sept. 22. Until then, Sara Young, Durham City interim planning director, said the project will continue to go through the planning department.

“After a thorough review, the former director’s letter has been interpreted as binding as no other contradictory documents have been found,” Young said in an e-mail.

“By law, the site plan must be approved. We cannot predict if that will occur before or after the hearing of the appeal,” she added. The only way to stop the development now is with an injunction.

Young took over in June after the departure of Patrick Young, who had been Durham’s planning director since 2017 and is now Raleigh’s lead planner. Medlin was planning director 2008 to 2017.

The planning department is still waiting for the developer to address technical issues in the plan. As of this week, Westpoint had not yet been approved.

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The Save Black Meadow Ridge group also points out other problems in the townhomes site plan, including environmental impact to the Eno River and the West Point park, not to mention the destruction of the Black Meadow Ridge itself.

The development is on “keystone” parcels in Durham’s Critical Areas Protection Plan, which means they are “the highest priority private parcels identified for protection in each watershed,” according to the neighbors’ appeal.

The West Point park is considered the crown jewel of Durham’s parks and a focal point of the city’s heritage. The Eno River festival at the 404-acre park is an annual celebration of the river and Durham itself.

Eno River and the park also have been beset with flooding problems in recent years, which have been documented by the Save Black Meadow Ridge group on their web site.

Black Meadow Ridge has trails that runs from the subdivisions down to the park. There are pines and hardwoods, black boulders and creeks.

When reached for comment, Eno River Association’s Executive Director Jessica Sheffield said they will not seek an injunction to stop the development.

The nonprofit held the virtual “One Eno” festival this year. Sheffield referred questions on flooding issues on the Eno and at the West Point park to the Save Black Meadow Ridge group. The Eno River Association recently received $2 million in funding.

This is one of several recent changes to affect the Eno River. In April, the Durham City Council reclassified part of the Eno as a water source to allow for a new water pump flowing from the Eno into Teer Quarry.

Save Black Meadow Ridge is not the first neighborhood organization to raise attention for the buffer land. In 2008, there was the “Friends of West Point,” that discussed possibly transferring ownership of West Point on the Eno to the state parks system, which would also preserve Black Meadow Ridge.

Seafood in the summer

By Matt Goad

A door slams shut behind a satisfied customer and another door opens with a new customer not far behind.

This happens all day long, three days a week in the small, cinder-block shack that houses Tom Robinson’s Carolina Seafood of Carrboro.

With a small staff, the business manages to get to the North Carolina coast every Wednesday to get fish and shellfish to sell in the Piedmont on the weekend. It brings in salmon from Nova Scotia, and some oysters from Virginia, depending on the season, but almost everything comes from North Carolina.

Manager Salvador Bonilla generally travels to Morehead City, Swansboro and Beaufort to deal with the local anglers there.

Tom Robinson started the business in Chapel Hill in 1975, selling from the back of a truck parked at Pantana Bob’s bar on Rosemary Street.


Tom Robinson’s Carolina Seafood Manager Salvador Bonilla cleans a salmon and readies it for sale at the business. Photo by Matt Goad

Bonilla has managed the business for the last 16 years. He didn’t know much about the fish business at the time. He worked as a chef at Vespa, the defunct Italian restaurant on Franklin Street, and Robinson supplied the restaurant with fish.

Bonilla asked Robinson about working for him part time, and ended up managing the shop for him.

About six or seven years later, Robinson died, but his girlfriend talked Bonilla into keep the business going under Robinson’s name.

“ ‘We got everything,’ ” Bonilla says they told each other. “ ‘We got a truck. Let’s just keep going.’ ”

Bonilla deals with the same sellers he has dealt with for years, all small operators. “I like these people,” he said.

Instead of trying to bring in the same varieties of fish and shellfish week and after week, he goes with what is freshest. Top sellers include salmon, tuna, shrimp and red snapper.

Bonilla said he tends to sell crabs on nice days and shrimp on rainy days.

He gets a lot of requests for lobster and cod from New England, but he doesn’t carry them.

Including Bonilla, the business has four employees. John Pereti followed his brother David to Robinson’s.

David said the hardest part of the business is learning all the different fish.

“That’s because you already had knife skills as a chef,” John replied.

On a sunny Friday afternoon at Capital Seafood Market in Durham there’s no place to park. An attendant in a yellow vest helps cars find a place as other customers back out to leave.

Friday is the market’s busiest day, owner and founder Dwayne Greene said. The market is open seven days a week.

Greene, originally from Raleigh, started a Capital Seafood Market, which is still in business, in Raleigh 28 years ago. He opened his Durham location on University Drive 20 years ago.

“I saw a man selling fish on the side of the street, and I thought I could do it better,” he said. “I knew nothing about fish.”

Whereas Tom Robinson’s specializes in North Carolina seafood, Capital is global, both in its sources and customers, taking advantage of the Internet. Capital delivers all over the world.

And unlike Tom Robinson’s, Capital offers the same varieties of fish and shellfish every day. The market carries 35 different types of seafood every day. “Everything that swims we got to have it,” Greene said.

Top sellers are croaker, shrimp, flounder and live crabs.

The Durham Capital also has a small restaurant specializing in fried seafood but also offering soul food and fried and baked chicken.

Iris Monroe of Durham said she comes to Capital about every two weeks. She generally shops for porgies, catfish, spot, shrimp and scallops.

Photo gallery: Scenes in downtown Chapel Hill

UNC students working on Franklin Street. The margaritas at Bandido’s. Murals in hidden places. The photos covering the walls of Sutton’s Drug Store.

Some things have not changed in downtown Chapel Hill.

Long-time photographer Karen Tam, who has worked for The News & Observer and The Raleigh Times, and freelanced for The Associated Press, spent a recent Friday afternoon capturing the goings-on.

See the photos here.


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Opinion: The Wake Stone quarry should be rejected for these reasons

1. RDU does not need the money.

When Raleigh-Durham International Airport’s leadership began work on the “Vision 2040” master plan in 2015, the airport was the most modern it had been in decades. The top executives and the board of RDU had basically inherited a perfect airport, the culmination of decades of planning and work.

So why is it that by 2019, RDU signed a lease with Morrisville-based Wake Stone to mine the Odd Fellows tract for $24 million over 35 years?

RDU also recently got $49.5 million in federal aid for coronavirus relief. Before that, it received about $61.5 million total in federal and state capital contributions for the past three years.

On top of that, RDU has posted jumps to its bottomline in recent years. For fiscal year 2018-2019, ending in March 2019, the airport’s net position increased by $128.2 million. In 2018, it increased by $56.3 million. In 2017, it was $26.4 million.

The airport has had passenger total booms in recent years that are just reset by the coronavirus. In 2015, its passenger totals were closer to historic norms, at 9.94 million, according to the FAA. In 1992, it was 9.93 million.

So while RDU has had a temporary increase in traffic, it also reaped more than $100 million in federal and state funding, and increased its profit. Where is the financial need for this project?

2. The destruction of the Odd Fellows tract would be a nightmarish outcome for this area.

Having two quarries by Umstead Park is not something most people want. Neither is having Crabtree Creek suspended above two quarries. That’s not a natural state for a river. Or having a place that was used by Boy Scouts and has quartz stones on the ground, beech trees, pine, oak, and pretty ravines be destroyed.

If it’s approved, then this will be destructive of nature, and real memory and experience and real need, for temporary and false claims.

Symbolically, this would be a nightmarish outcome.

The economic and political side of what’s been going on will take time to figure out. Right now, the natural resources need to be protected.

3. What the Odd Fellows tract is and what it could be.

The Odd Fellows tract, I think of more as an extension of Morrisville and Cary. It’s one of those suburban wilderness areas that we have in the Triangle that you pass on I-40 or I-440, and with the view of the pine trees your mind wanders, and you think of nature and the world in new ways. Maybe you’ll explore it one day, but it’s very likely you will not. It’s just another part of the landscape of this area. But it would be a surprise and delight to people who do go there, to see it has a lake, and quartz stones on the ground, stones in the trees put there by Boy Scouts, a quarry nearby that has had so much fight and stories put into it, and Crabtree Creek flows through it, going from Cary into Umstead Park and then to Raleigh.

Different people get different things out of it. Jean Spooner pointed out the Great Depression history of the area, how so much of the typography happened as a result of the needs of that time. The rivulets on a hill are actually erosion from over-farming. The “Ghost of Odd Fellows,” the style of the photography and the comments feel like someone who is probably Gen X or older, someone who got their science education in the pre-digital era who sees nature in a very whole, classical way. Ron Sutherland talked about how the area has a timeless, mythical quality.

For me, I would like that land to be left alone. I think that in terms of this area, the Odd Fellows land is a place that’s out of your awareness but imparts interesting things when you go. It’s easier for me to see it through other people’s perspective than to experience it myself. I can’t think of another spot that’s exactly like that. It’s a place that’s not quite a garden, not quite wilderness, but something else.

Maybe the Odd Fellows tract could be left alone for future odd fellows.