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The Indy Issue from Friday March 12, 2021



Visions of the Development of Salem

By Kevin Zorn

An oil on canvas mural is displayed in the post office in Salem, West Virginia. It was painted by an artist named Berni Glasgow and its production was funded
through the Treasury Department’s Section of Painting and Sculpture. It is titled “Visions of the Development of Salem” and depicts a group of people
receiving mail, in the background is a village and cattle.


Berni Glasgow was one of more than 800 artists commissioned to paint 1371 murals, the majority of which are featured in post offices.
Often mistaken as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) initiative, these Treasury funded murals were created with the intent of fostering i
nspiration in the American people who were still feeling the devastating economic and social effects of the Great Depression.


It is a testament to the shift in the ideological landscape today that I cannot believe the US Government, in tandem with local governments,
was capable of doing what the WPA accomplished. Yet, here are just some of the facts: from 1935 to 1943 8.5 million unemployed men and
women were hired by the government to build over 10,000 bridges, 620,000 miles of streets and roads, 40,000 new and 85,000 renovated
buildings including thousands of schools, gymnasiums, auditoriums, playgrounds, parks, libraries, college dormitories, tennis courts, and skating rinks.


The WPA employed artists, writers, historians, and musicians whose work directly affected the lives of millions of Americans during some of the
country’s most painful years. Musicians hired under the Federal Music Project taught free lessons to 132,000 children and adults every week.
Those hired in the Federal Writers’ Project, in addition to their popular state tourism guidebooks, recorded over 2,300 slave narratives -
an invaluable collection for scholars and historians. Under the Federal Theatre Project 1,000 plays were performed across the country every month.
Incalculable is the number of children and adults inspired by this work.


Through the colossal endeavors of the WPA in both its pre-war effort and its public projects America achieved full employment by 1942,
the same year “Visions” was painted in Salem.


It is clear that the America many of us grew up in, the structures that supported our lives, the parks we enjoyed, the schools we attended,
the infrastructure we relied upon for travel, even the art classes that inspired the next generation of creators was largely built under the
auspices of the WPA and the New Deal.


This is a salient reminder that capital “H” History is not simply a collection of memorized facts and figures, dates and obscure names.
No, History is alive in the communities in which we live. It not only teaches us, it haunts us as well. It haunts us with what was
possible before and what is possible tomorrow.


Perhaps that is the greatest battle waged in the spectacle of media and politics today - the question of what is possible.
Our expectations are managed lower and lower. We learn that the climate crisis is inevitable, that homelesness is natural,
that workers are essential until they ask for a living wage. All to say that change is impossible. Visions of better futures recede from view.

But history haunts us with an alternative. By the time Berni Glasgow painted the mural in the Salem post office, the American
government had provided millions of meaningful jobs improving, with concrete and paintbrushes, nearly every community across the nation.


Nick Taylor, the author of “American Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA”, writes this: 


“These ordinary men and women proved to be extraordinary beyond all expectation.
They were golden threads woven in the national fabric. In this, they shamed the political philosophy
that discounted their value and rewarded the one that placed its faith in them,
thus fulfilling the founding vision of a government by and for its people. All its people.” 


This weeks front page:



With the colder weather coming in, most gardens are going away. It’s time to start thinking how your garden can best recover during the winter months. Fall and winter soil restoration are crucial when it comes to soil quality in the spring. If you start off with good soil, you’ll end up with great results. But if your soil is still tapped out from the previous growing season, chances are your fruits and veggies won’t be as pretty.  

So what’s the first step in fixing your soil for next year? Testing. Get your soil tested so you know exactly what cover crops and composting materials would benefit your soil most. The first place I would look for a soil test is at the local Extension Offices. Usually they will have options for soil tests at a small fee. Plus you have less of a chance at getting an incorrect reading as you might with a do it yourself kit. If the Extension Service aren’t testing then ask them where you can get an accurate test or what test you should look for. They will point you in the right direction. Home store and garden supply store usually have soil testing kits as well. 

So the first thing I would look at is your soil’s pH levels. A lot of veggies prefer slightly more acidic soils with a pH of 7.0 or below. Some like it especially acidic. Think about what plants are going where next year and adjust your pH accordingly. To make your soil more acidic, but you’d rather not add chemicals, try adding some sawdust, composted leaves, wood chips, or peat moss. If you want to get fancy, add some calcium sulfate or elemental sulfur. If your soil proves to be too acidic, try adding some limestone. Into more organic solutions? Bone meal, crushed oyster shells, or hardwood ash are some natural solutions for a more alkaline soil. 

If you have your pH all sorted out, the most general solution is to add compost. It is the best thing you can do for better soil quality regardless of season. It provides more food and nutrients for plants. It supports more microorganisms in your soil that digest organic matter and create better soil structure. Soil structure is very important when it comes to gardens. Sandy soils can be too dry and lose nutrients, while clay filled soils are tightly compact and hold water. Compost can provide something for nutrient and water to cling to in sandy soils, and provide dense clays with some breathing and drainage room. When adding compost though, you don’t have to mix it in. Adding a few inches of compost to the top of your soil will be just fine. See, the little organisms and worms will pull the compost downward, incorporating it into your soil. plus the nutrients from the compost will soak down through the top layer of soil through rain. You don’t want the good stuff percolating into the lower soil horizons because your plants are going to be on top. 

Let’s talk about manure. You can get manure in bags at the garden supply store, or if your lucky and know someone with horses or cows, you could get some fresh stuff off them. However, use caution with fresh manure as it can contain high level of salt. It isn’t recommended that you put fresh manure on your soil immediately before planting but adding into your soil now will be just fine and will give it some time to age over the winter. 

So now you know some good things to add to your soil. But let’s talk about what you shouldn’t do. Don’t go walking all over your future planting areas. Soil compacting is a big no no. Instead create pathways between beds and make sure your beds are narrow enough for you to reach across. Don’t mess around with your soil when it’s wet. Not only will you get filthy, but it will interrupt your soil structure. What will look like a nicely tilled piece of land, will dry into a solid brick.  And lastly do not add chemicals to your soil. Fertilizers and pesticides are hard on the important microorganisms. Synthetic nitrogen is also a big no. Adding blood meal, fish meal, and alfalfa meal can add nitrogen if you need it. 

                                           – Happy Planting!