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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:



Composting can be a very rewarding, but intimidating process. What temperature does it need to be? How much Nitrogen do I need? Should I buy worms to put in the pile? Do I need a fancy swivel barrel contraption? Don’t you just pile up yard waste and let it sit? It can all be very daunting. However the benefits of a compost pile can greatly outweigh the initial confusion. Not only does composting provide cheap, rich, nutrient-packed fertilizer for your garden or flowerbeds and reduce unnecessary, organic waste, it also  promotes a “greener” lifestyle practice and makes you rethink the waste we humans produce.



Compost takes time; don’t let this discourage you from starting! Keep in mind, that starting a brand new compost pile now, will mean beautiful compost in about four months, if conditions are perfect. This will not be finished in time for spring plantings.

Moving on from the disclaimer, the first step in deciding if compost is right for you, is if you have a suitable location for it. A variety of factors come into play on this step such as sun, shade, aesthetics, smell, room, and compost receptacle type. Compost piles should not be in all day sun due to over drying and over heating. They should also avoid full shade because of too much moisture and becoming too cool. Many people do not care for the look or smell of a giant heap of rotting plant material. If you decided to tuck your pile behind some bushes or a shed, make sure the lighting and the drainage are sufficient. If you live in the immediate proximity of a sensitive nosed neighbor, make sure to keep the pile at a distance, or be prepared to hear about it. If you don’t really have a ton of extra yard space, or are a container gardener, consider investing in the stand alone, smaller, movable compost spinners. These can be easier altogether by actually, making turning piles, looks, and smell a non issue. If you a building a more permanent bin, consider aeration, durability, and your strength level. A completely closed sided bin will cause for less air flow than one with slotted sides, however if you’ve found your heaps to be dry maybe this is what you need. A plastic bin will last longer than an untreated wooden bin, however they can also be more expensive. Lastly if you make your bin too hard to get into, or the walls too high, this can make turning and stirring a real task. Make sure the person who will mainly be turning the pile can do so with ease. Finding what’s right for the space and strength you have will be entirely up to you and your budget.

 A rustic completely biodegradable compost bin.

After you’ve found your spot, you must now have a building plan. There are hundreds of compost bin designs online, plenty of resources from libraries, or your local Extension Office can point you in the right direction. Because of the vast number of designs, variations on bins, and your personal factors, explaining them all would take more time and print than we are willing to dish out. You will have no problem finding a design close to what you want and we will leave this step up to you to research.

 A simple compost bin constructed from old pallets.

Once your bin or barrel is up and you’re ready to fill, keep in mind that ingredients can be classified as “Greens” and “Browns”.  Greens are lawn trimmings and mostly  fruit and vegetable waste from kitchens. Browns are more fibrous material that are slow to rot such as tree pruning waste, dead leaves, straw, cardboard, and even old newspapers. It’s recommended that you have pretty equal amounts of both in your pile at a time. What you put in the pile will also effect the pH of the pile and upon application your soil.  Animal manure is a fantastic addition to your compost if you have the resources, but can add a lot of extra weight. Without being super specific, make sure your pile is warm, moist but not waterlogged, and balanced in Greens and Browns. 

 A barrel type composter can be made or bought. 

There are some ways to speed up the process. Turning your pile every so often will speed things along as well as aerate the pile and give you a change to make sure your compost is balanced. Filling your compost as much as you can, while still being able to put a lid on it, will encourage the temperature to rise and further aid in the decomposition process. Chopping up bulky items with your shovel, wood chipper, or brush machete will allow for a more exposed surface area and faster composting.

The benefits of composting are many. Not only is your garden healthier, but you don’t have to use as many chemical fertilizers, which can be expensive. Your garbage bags will be lighter, and your flowers will be brighter. You will be surprised at the amount of nutrient rich materials you’ve been throwing away, when you could have been using it.