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June Unemployment Lowest in TN History, says State Labor Dept.

PRESS RELEASE from the State of Tennessee, July 20, 2017:

Tennessee has rate of 3.6 percent for June 2017

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Burns Phillips today announced Tennessee’s unemployment rate for June 2017 was 3.6 percent, the lowest in Tennessee recorded history.

The June 2017 preliminary seasonally adjusted rate surpasses the previous low of 3.7 percent from March 2000. The state has not experienced an unemployment rate below 4.0 percent since it was 3.9 percent in February 2001.

“What’s truly exciting about today’s news is that this is a statewide story,” Haslam said. “Today more than ever, businesses have a choice of where to grow or expand, and because of the policies this administration has put in place working with the General Assembly, we’re seeing the job growth that comes when businesses choose Tennessee.”

June’s rate declines four-tenths of a percentage point from the May revised rate of 4.0 percent. Amid notable improvements in Tennessee’s unemployment rate, the national preliminary rate increases by one-tenth of a percentage point from the previous month to 4.4 percent, lingering in the 4.0 percentile.

“When a state’s rate declines during a national uptick in unemployment, that’s something to note,” Phillips said. “Just seven years ago more than 10 percent of Tennesseans were out of work. One of Governor Haslam’s top priorities has been to make Tennessee the best state in the southeast for high quality jobs. All indications point to that priority becoming a reality.”

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Lee Leads Expeditions in Imagination at Liberty Paper

DeKalb County artist expands frontiers of experimental creativity

Claudia Lee loves what she does and loves living where she does it.

Growing up in Connecticut and New Jersey, Lee always knew she wanted to live in Tennessee.

“When I was little, I had a best friend and he and I were determined to move to Tennessee because that is where Davy Crockett was from. We were big Davy Crockett fans,” recalls Lee, who 20 years ago moved to the woodsy slopes and shady hollers northeast of Dowelltown. Prior to that she spent three decades in the Tri-Cities area, in fact not far from Crockett’s Greene County birthplace.

Lee has become something of a pioneer in her own right — not just living, as she does, encompassed by DeKalb County’s timberland wilds — but as an artist. On an old farmstead along Cripps Road, she’s made a home and runs her Liberty Paper art studio amidst the tall pines, thick cedar and sturdy hardwoods, by a small stream that runs down to Smith Fork Creek.

Lee’s artistic expertise lies in handcrafting colorfully elaborate paper — typically from raw fibrous plant materials, like flax and leaves of abaca, a species of banana tree native to the Philippines. In turn, she masterfully stitches, weaves, molds and otherwise shapes the paper into elegant sculptures, ornamental boxes, wall pieces, decorative lamps, table adornments and richly detailed book covers and scrapbook pages.

Lee says she’s always experimenting, always making unique paper sheets with novel textures, hues and consistencies.

She’s collected numerous honors and recognitions for her expressive spirit and innovative initiative over the years.

In 2011, she was commissioned to design the various individual Governor’s Awards that the Tennessee Arts Commission biennially bestows upon the Volunteer State’s most creative contributors to the arts and cultural life. “The awards themselves represent artistic genius from some of the finest working artists across the state of Tennessee,” the commission’s website declares.

Light sculptures by Claudia Lee.

Lee’s latest accolade came in the form of a cover-feature and six-page photo spread of her work in this summer’s edition of a national quarterly magazine called Bound & Lettered, which is prominent in the world of bookbinding, papercraft and calligraphy. In addition, the editors asked her to craft an essay detailing her fascination with papermaking.

Lee wrote that her vision has always been to “develop a signature body of work” which would blend “many textile techniques, including weaving, spinning, dyeing, and stitching.” But it’s the methods of her undertakings, as much or more even than the finished products, that fulfill her yearning for artistic adventure.

“When you make paper almost every day for more than thirty years, it’s impossible not to get caught up in the magic of the process,” Lee wrote. “It begins with a humble plant growing in yard, field, or woods; cooking the plant to remove non-cellulosic materials; beating it into pulp; and adding the pulp to a vat of water.

“Next is stirring the vat with your hands,” she continued. “An experienced papermaker can tell by the feel of the pulp in the water if the amount of pulp is sufficient for a sheet. With each dip of the mould and deckle into the vat, the sheet miraculously forms before your eyes.”

Lee doesn’t see her artistic role solely as one of blazing new trails and charting exploratory courses on her own. She gains great satisfaction and gratification in teaching the techniques of her craft both to novices and other experienced artists.

Lee said papermaking was something she learned “from the ground up.”

She knew immediately it was something she wanted to learn when she first encountered it at a craft school decades ago. It’s something that often draws people in from the moment they see it, she said.

“Sometimes people just walk into the studio and that’s it,” Lee said. “It is very tactile. And it is immediately accessible to people.”

Getting started “is so easy to do,” she said.

“I have worked with small children and handicapped kids, they can all make paper,” said Lee. “So it is a very friendly medium. If you make a mistake, you dump it back in and make another one. It is user-friendly, easy to do and you can do it very simply at home with very little equipment.”

One of Lee’s primary objectives when instructing people is to teach them in a way that build their confidence and understanding of the process, so they indeed can do it again on their own. “I want them to go home and do it,” she said. “I don’t want them to be like, OK, I did that once, now what?”

Those who take an immediate interest have sometimes become absorbed already with scrapbooking or notecards or activities that require purchasing a lot of paper at a craft store. “It’s kind of the next step up to make your own paper,” Lee said.

Working with established artists who’re already proficient in some other medium is also rewarding, she said. Helping them incorporate their own handmade paper into other projects and creations enables them to dive deeper into their own creative processes.

“People can design a unique sheet of paper for their work, so that no one else is going to have that kind of paper,” Lee said. “And the great thing about making your paper if you are an artist is you can design what you need. If you run out, you just make more.”

To set up a time to visit with Ms. Lee, tour her studio or inquire about attending classes or purchasing her work, email her at libertypapermaking@gmail.com. Visit her website at claudialeepaper.com.

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Demand for Pest-Free Firewood Heating Up

Parks and campgrounds urging heat-treatment certification

Federal and state natural resource agencies like the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation want to expand availability of government-certified firewood at public campgrounds.

Public lands managers are looking to put a damper on fires made from wood that hasn’t undergone heat treatment beforehand. For that reason, hauling unapproved firewood into a state park or federal recreation area might become a thing of the past in the not-too-distant future.

Their aim is to impede the spread of tree-threatening non-native creepy-crawlies, like the emerald ash borer and longhorned beetles, both indigenous to Asia, as well as the gypsy moth and gold spotted oak borer, which are unwelcome guests to Tennessee from, respectively, Europe and the southwestern United States.

“All these things have been introduced — that’s why we call them invasive,” said Greg Aydelotte, who administers plant protection and quarantine procedures for the USDA.

Aydelotte was one of several forest-health specialists who delivered presentations in Cookeville this spring during a seminar on the certification process. The goal of the May 25 conference, attended by about 50 people, was to cultivate interest in the certification program among would-be Upper Cumberland wood-products entrepreneurs.

“Emerald ash borer tends to be the one that we handle in most situations involving firewood,” Aydelotte said. “People will bring firewood from long distances.”

For that reason, campgrounds are often suspected as a point of entry when invasive pests spread into areas that were previously free of them.

According to a TDEC information sheet on the state’s “Don’t Move Firewood” campaign, “Native trees have defenses against insects and diseases that they’ve been living with for millions of years. Likewise, native predators eat native insects, keeping their numbers in check. Non-native insects and diseases have no predators in their new homes and the trees have no natural defenses against them. Because these foreign bugs don’t have anything stopping them, they reproduce rapidly, killing thousands of trees in their wake.”

All Tennessee State Parks now adhere to a certified-firewood-only “policy” — although it’s not actually a state law, according to TDEC spokeswoman Kim Schofinski.

State park managers also don’t want people bringing untreated wood in from the surrounding vicinity. TDEC officials believe areas near Tennessee state parks may in some cases already have infestations of invasive forests pests, even if they’re as yet undetected.

“We encourage campground and cabin guests to follow this policy in the effort to stem the spread of invasive pests that damage our forests,” Schofinski wrote in an email to Center Hill Sun. “This is a joint education effort with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s Division of Forestry and the Nature Conservancy of Tennessee. National Parks also have firewood policies in place.”

Campers are still allowed to make fires using “dead material on the ground” or “downed wood collected inside the park, near the campsite.” However, in many circumstances such fuel is scarce near high-use camping areas, or gathering it may in fact be prohibited in some places.

Park and campground managers are encouraging private vendors to fill the void by selling more certified heat-treated wood that’s “clearly marked with a state/federal seal.”

Obtaining a government seal of approval — and with it, an official online listing by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture as a certified-firewood seller — requires signing a compliance agreement and acquiring a firewood-heating system, which in turn must undergo periodic inspection by regulators.

To ensure the firewood is heated to at least 140 degrees for 60 minutes, as required for the certification, temperature probes are inserted into individual sticks of firewood throughout the kiln.

“We’re looking for the center to reach those temperatures,” said Heather Slayton, a forest health and sustainability expert for the state Division of Forestry who has been delivering presentations around Tennessee on the firewood-certification program. “The probes are put randomly throughout your kiln, and every single one of the probes have to pass the certification.”

Slayton said there are a number of “turnkey” kilns available on the market, but homemade rigs and systems work just fine, too. Woodland property owners, farmers, loggers and anybody else that might have access to a steady supply of fuel-timber is encouraged to get into the firewood-selling game.

Constructing a homemade kiln-heating mechanism is perfectly acceptable. “We’re not certifying the kiln design,” said Slayton. “Build it how ever you want to build it.”

The central requirement is that certification regulators verify that it’s heating the wood sufficiently, and for the appropriate period of time, to terminate all unwanted bugs and their larva, she said.

According to the USDA, heat treatment procedures may employ steam, hot water, kilns or any other method that raises the center of the wood to 140 degrees for a full hour.

“It doesn’t have to be high-tech,” said Slayton. “But you do have to be able to monitor your temperatures and write them down. If you’re going to build your own, you need to make sure you think about how the thermodynamics work.”

If the kiln isn’t insulated properly or doesn’t allow for appropriate air circulation to disperse the heat, it may fail when put to the test by the certifying agents. “You’ve got to hit those temperature thresholds,” said Slayton.

Retail sellers of certified firewood include big-box stores like Lowes, Home Depot, Gander Mountain, Academy Sports, as well as numerous other smaller vendors like grocery stores and gas stations, she said.

While the number of certified firewood-drying kilns in Tennessee is still relatively small, Slayton said she’s “working extremely hard to raise that number so folks can buy Tennessee-produced certified firewood as opposed to out of state producers.”

If you’d like to get more information about the procedures for certification, contact Ms. Slayton at heather.slayton@tn.gov.

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Best Local Bets for a Good Cup of Joe

There’s obvious truth in the observation that unforeseen slips often come ‘twixt cup and lip. It’s easy to forget, though, that much goes into making the cup’s contents worthy of attempting a sip to begin with.

Local roasting experts agree that starting with freshly roasted coffee beans makes all the difference.

Coffee flavor stems from the bean itself and Eric Tate of Bootleg Roasting Company takes time to learn the best roasting profile for each bean he sells.

Bootleg specializes in a dark roast, but they have found certain high-end beans, such as those from Hawaii’s famed Kona Region, taste much better at a medium to light roast. BRC, derived their name as a joke about being a black-market bean provider: they were an underground source for fantastic coffee for their family and friends.

Calfkiller Brewing Company’s fire-roasted blend sprung from roaster Don Sergio’s love of a quality cup of coffee and a need for something special to add to a coffeehouse stout beer. After experimenting with a homemade contraption over an open fire, Sergio developed his own roasting system to take advantage of his unique take on flame-based roasting.

It isn’t too difficult to fashion your own intermediate-sized coffee roaster, like this one one built into a propane grill.

Roasters in our region all tell a similar tale that starts with equal parts love of good coffee and passion for local marketing. They began roasting at home, then grew to providing coffee for family and friends. They built their own intermediate-sized roasters – each adding a unique take on the concept. And as their skills developed, they took the plunge into the retail market.

Yet there is more to roasting coffee than simply applying heat to a green bean, according to Zach Buckner of Broast in Cookeville.

Ambient temperature, airflow and relative humidity can impact the speed of the roast as well as the flavor of the end product. Buckner compares using freshly roasted coffee to using fresh herbs.

Buckner says there is just no comparison between a coffee roasted four days ago and one that has been sitting on a shelf for six months. In sum: Freshness matters.

With the growing number of micro-roasters in the Upper Cumberland region, there is likely a fresh bean that meets the preference of any coffee drinker. Consider trying something new in your morning brew from a local craftsman.

Local Microroasters
● Calfkiller, Sparta: http://calfkillerbrewingco.storenvy.com/
● Broast, Cookeville: http://www.broasttn.com/
● Bootleg Roasting Co., Cookeville: https://www.facebook.com/bootlegroastingco/
● Holler Roast Coffee, Lancaster: HollerHomestead.com

Nicole Sauce is a local coffee roaster, backwoods podcaster and publisher of Center Hill Sun. Learn more about her homesteading endeavors at LivingFreeinTennessee.com.