Celebrating a Historic Moment in Disarmament: The Crucial Role of Activism and Collaboration

RICHMOND, Ky. – As of July 11, 2023, in an extraordinary stride towards a safer world, the last of the United States’ once-vast chemical weapons arsenal has been eliminated, marking a watershed moment in global disarmament history. While this journey has been decades in the making, it highlights the power of community advocacy and steadfast commitment to environmental safety.

The final chemical weapons were stored in military compounds, including the Blue Grass Army Depot in Richmond, Kentucky. Their safe and methodical destruction is largely attributed to relentless activism, with community leaders like Craig Williams and the Kentucky Environmental Foundation (KEF), a node in the Livelihoods Knowledge Exchange Network (LiKEN), leading the charge.

Williams and KEF were featured in a recent New York Times article about the final destruction of the United States’ supply of chemical weapons.

When Williams discovered the nearby storage of these deadly weapons in 1984, he began a tireless campaign for their safe elimination. KEF formed the Chemical Weapons Working Group in 1991 a coalition of Madison County residents, to engage in grassroots organizing, policy development and advocacy to mandate legislation to develop safer disposal methods. Through a collaborative effort with KEF and LiKEN, Williams and other members of the community worked towards creating a safer community, a goal achieved through dedicated  advocacy, education, and commitment to alternative, safe disposal technologies.

KEF director Craig Williams walks with Martin Luther King III in an anti-incineration march in Anniston, Alabama (2002). A large crowd of people surround them holding signs and flags demanding environmental justics and chemical disarmament through safe means.
KEF director Craig Williams walks with Martin Luther King III in an anti-incineration march in Anniston, Alabama (2002).

Local and international partnerships throughout the process ensured transparency and community involvement, offering a blueprint for effective community action and environmental safety.

We applaud the efforts of Craig Williams, KEF’s Chemical Weapons Working Group, and all the activists who contributed to this historic achievement. 

LiKEN publishes report about heirs’ property in Kentucky, Georgia, and Alabama

LiKEN has completed a study that evaluates the efficacy of a major law that seeks to protect families that own heirs’ property.  Heirs’ property is created when land passes without a will to two or more descendants who become “tenants in common”. This kind of “tangled title” can make families vulnerable to predatory land grabs. Across the Cotton Belt of the U.S. South, heirs’ property correlates with low wealth and land loss in African American communities and is common in other regions with entrenched poverty (Central Appalachia, the colonias in southern Texas, and Native American communities).. 

As an effort to help preserve family wealth and reduce the likelihood of forced sales and inequitable land grabs, the Uniform Partition of Heirs’ Property Act (UPHPA) was drafted in 2010. It has since been passed in 18 states and introduced in seven others. In 2012 and 2014, Georgia and Alabama, respectively, passed the UPHPA. The act was introduced in Kentucky in early 2021.  

LiKEN just completed a 10 month study to see how well this law has worked in Georgia and Alabama, and what its benefits might be in Kentucky. The full report can be downloaded here.

Our findings (click here or the image below to view full size PDF)

We welcome your suggestions and hope that if you are interested in learning more about this project, please contact Carson Benn cbenn@likenknowledge.org. If you are an heirs’ property owner, you may assist this research by agreeing to an interview with one of our researchers, or by making and sharing your own photographs and video recordings.

This research was supported by funds from the Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Policy Research Center.

Social Innovation & User-Experience Design

Request for Proposal

To develop popular education materials about pipeline safety

Livelihoods Knowledge Exchange Network (LiKEN) is seeking a social innovation and user-experience/user-interface design contractor (individual or firm) to develop a creative series of digital and non-digital, on-line and off-line education and engagement products, materials, and prototypes. These products, materials, and prototypes will utilize existing gas and hazardous liquids pipeline safety information, education, and public outreach materials that have been collected during research projects conducted over the past twelve years by Pipeline Safety Coalition (PSC)

The contractor will be responsible for facilitating ideation, design, prototypes, user-testing, and final product and material development using environmental justice and public health models of prevention principles and approaches. These principles and approaches require a commitment to understanding and working with local community experiences, different types of existing knowledges, perceptions of risk, and institutional and informational power imbalances in order to ensure that all products, materials, and prototypes are developed and disseminated in information rich, culturally relevant, and broadly inclusive and accessible formats. 

The design focus will be on collaborative and integrated, iterative processes to assist in meeting the challenges of both designing and disseminating a series of products and materials that can be immediately used by local communities as well as a series of prototypes that will be available to organizations, local communities, researchers, educators, and designers for future development. 

The design contractor will report to and work closely with LiKEN and core team members from both PSC and Arizona State University (ASU). The contractor will be expected to collaborate with a cross-sector Advisory Group composed of local community residents, pipeline industry personnel, federal government staff, and educators. All designs and prototypes produced will be user-tested in at least two rural and urban low-income and/or digitally isolated communities in Arizona, Georgia, Kentucky, or Pennsylvania. The distribution and disposition of final products and materials and the prototypes from all design work will be coordinated with ASU’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society (SFIS) and the Civic Futures Lab.

The estimated contract period will be 9-10 months.

RFP sent: 11/08/2021

Responses due: 12/03/2021

Send any questions to: Simona Perry, sperry@likenknowledge.org 

Send proposals to: Simona Perry, sperry@likenknowledge.org

Total Project Budget: $100,000

Available for Design Services: $50,000 – $60,000

Expected delivery date: 9/30/2022

Organizational background

LiKEN is a not-for-profit link-tank for policy-relevant research to steward place, culture, and land. From its formal incorporation in 1990 under the name of Kentucky Environmental Foundation (KEF), the organization has evolved into a link-tank (now called LiKEN) connecting wide webs of communities, scholars, practitioners, and government agencies.  From the beginning, LiKEN’s work has been about building collaboration across sectors— linking grassroots community mobilization and popular education, with the best available science while working closely with government agencies.  

Type of audience for this proposal

The primary audience for this design work will be communities living in rural and urban low-income and/or digitally isolated parts of Arizona, Georgia, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania where natural gas and hazardous liquids pipelines are located. Part of the contractor’s work will involve conducting a community analysis of at least two of these communities in which LiKEN and partners already have relationships to better understand the local pipeline safety context, information seeking behaviors, cultural and linguistic and other barriers to information seeking and acquisition, and establish realistic outcome expectations around increased awareness, increased engagement, and greater access to different types of pipeline safety information and knowledge. 

Design objective: Pipeline Safety KEEs

The objective of this design work is to design, prototype, conduct user testing, and develop a set of innovative and locally relevant knowledge guides, educational resources, and engagement toolkits on pipeline safety information and knowledge (“Pipeline Safety KEE content modules” or “Pipeline Safety KEEs”) that are specifically for local communities in both rural areas and in lower-income urban locations within Qualified Opportunity Zones (QOZs) in Arizona, Georgia, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania, USA. Due to budget and time constraints this is considered a pilot design and development project, with future plans for continuing this design and development work under the guidance of organizational and research partners. 

The outcomes from this project are expected to strengthen, support, and broaden public awareness, access to information, and local community engagement around the safe operation of rural and urban gas and hazardous liquid pipeline networks across the United States. 

Present state of information

The raw materials and basic information of the Pipeline Safety KEEs are currently in the form of digital powerpoints, webpages, pdfs, surveys, technical reports, image files, maps, and archival files that were collected and created over the past eleven years through PSC’s outreach, education, and research activities on community pipeline safety. In order to meet the information gaps and challenges of delivering relevant, timely, and accurate pipeline safety information that involves complex laws and technical knowledge to rural and urban low income and digitally isolated communities, these raw materials will be provided to the design contractor in three categories:

1) Pipeline Safety Public Information and Communication Knowledge Guides: current and emerging research and information about pipeline safety topics of importance and interest to the public, tips and best practices for the public in communicating their pipeline safety concerns, and how to locate accurate and current information on pipeline safety from trusted and reliable sources.

2) Basics of Pipeline Safety Public Education Series: public education and training resources about gas and hazardous liquids pipeline infrastructure and safety concepts, regulations, and policies. 

3) Pipeline Safety Public Engagement Toolkits: tools to get the public engaged in pipeline safety within their own community, including creative ideas about how to develop, incorporate, adapt, and customize pipeline safety best practices into existing local community planning processes.

These raw materials will serve as the Knowledge, Education, and Engagement content for the design of the Pipeline Safety KEEs. 

Types of products and materials expected

To ensure the accessibility of the KEEs to everyone regardless of internet access and technology available, it is important that the design of all guides, resources, and toolkits be flexible enough to be used via several different formats or distribution channels: 

  • Non-digital (e.g., posters, letter-sized print materials, postcard-size print materials, etc.)
  • Digital off-line (e.g., CDs, USBs, videos, etc.)
  • On-line (e.g., story maps, website portals, web pages, etc.)

Once user-testing (via two community design workshops) is complete and further refinements made towards the end of the project, it is anticipated that there will be KEE modules (based on the three categories of raw materials designated above) that will be fully tested and ready for public use immediately and KEE modules that will still require further prototyping and testing. 

Both the pilot-tested public-ready KEEs and the prototyped-only KEEs will be made freely accessible to everyone through a publicly available information repository for use by communications experts, social innovation designers, and local communities across the United States. This repository will be housed at Arizona State University’s (ASU) School for the Future of Innovation in Society (SFIS) and the CivicFutures Lab. The goal of the pilot project is that all KEE Modules, whether fully tested and ready for use or still at the prototyped phase, be made widely and freely available for immediate use to rural and low-income communities and for further development as open-source content and designs. All KEE Modules will be developed with a central focus on creative outreach and education, improving transparency and access to information on pipeline safety, increasing public understanding, and strengthening the depth and quality of public participation and engagement in the safe operation of pipelines in and around communities of concern today, and into the future. 

Outline of project activities & deliverables

Project activities are divided into three chronological task areas:

Task 1. Design and Develop Content for KEE Modules

Task 2. Prototype of KEE Modules and Community Testing

Task 3. Finalize and Launch of Pilot Pipeline Safety KEEs

Design contract Deliverables that should be considered within these three task areas: 

Deliverable 1 (Task 1) County Selection & Community Analysis (with LiKEN and Advisory Group)

Deliverable 2 (Task 1) Testing & Evaluation Plan (with LiKEN and Advisory Group)

Deliverable 3 (Task 1) Initial KEE module prototypes for review by Advisory Group

Deliverable 4 (Task 2) Modified KEE module prototypes, products, and materials 

developed after community design workshops (workshops co-facilitated with LiKEN and ASU)

Deliverable 5 (Task 3) Final KEE module prototypes, products, and materials for dissemination to communities and roll-out with ASU and Advisory Group

Deliverable 6 (Task 3) Plan for dissemination and communication of KEE prototypes, products, and materials  

We anticipate there will be at least three virtual LiKEN-facilitated meetings of the Advisory Group and design contractors, and two in-person community design workshops in two different states (either Georgia, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, or Arizona) organized by LiKEN and co-facilitated by LiKEN or ASU and the design contractor. 

Design dissemination details

All final content from this pilot project will be digitally housed at ASU’s Civic Futures Lab where it will be freely available for anyone and become a focal point for on-going community-engaged and academic research related to the public understanding of technology and science and energy infrastructure. The design contractor will be expected to work directly with the ASU partner to decide on appropriate platform(s) for housing and making accessible all products, materials, and prototypes developed from this project.  

Budget details and criteria for selection

The budget for this design is not to exceed $60,000. The criterion for selection is the most favorable offer from the vendor who can demonstrate they have completed similar work to this RFP within budget and on time. Vendors that can offer additional expertise in environmental justice and public health models of prevention approaches, linear projects, risk education and outreach, and/or collaborative design in rural and low-income urban communities, will have an advantage. All invoices for this project must be billed before 9/30/2022.

Respondent requirements

Please incorporate the following in your proposal response:

  • Your professional and/or company background.
  • If applying as a company, provide the names, qualifications, and roles of top members of your team who will work on this project.
  • Provide examples of your completed work that applies most closely to this RFP in terms of: 1) scope, 2) creative approach, 3) collaboration approach, 4) types of community engagements and ethics, 5) budget, and 6) timeline.
  • Describe in detail your approaches and ethics related to collaboration with clients and historically and geographically marginalized and/or disadvantaged communities that make you stand out from the competition.
  • Describe in detail your approach to designing and developing creative solutions to communicating complex or technical information that make you stand out from the competition.
  • Provide an estimated number of days to complete each activity/deliverable outlined in the RFP and the rate and/or fee per deliverable. 
  • At least one reference from a community or user group you have worked with.
  • At least one reference from a client you have worked with.

Where to send proposals

All respondent requirements and complete proposal materials should be sent to Simona Perry via email, sperry@likenknowledge.org,  with the Subject Line “Pipeline Safety KEEs Design Proposal”

RFP & Project timeline details 

RFP sent: 11/08/2021

Questions from respondents due to Simona Perry, sperry@likenknowledge.org: 11/17/2021

Answers to questions sent to respondents: 11/19/2021

Responses due: 12/03/2021

Finalists selected: 12/07/2021

Winner selected: 12/10/2021

Estimated project start: 12/15/2021

Final UX deliverables: 9/30/2022

Thank you for your interest in responding to this RFP with a proposal for the Pipeline Safety KEEs. We look forward to your response!

Bridging the Rural / Urban Divide — watch the recorded first session & enroll for next 3 sessions!

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Job Announcement:

LiKEN & Martin County Concerned Citizens seek Community Engagement Coordinator 

Posted: June 4, 2021
Application deadline: June 25, 2021 or until position is filled

We seek a full-time community organizer to work on community development projects in eastern Kentucky. The position will be based primarily in Martin and surrounding counties. The initial contract will be for one year, with the potential to become a permanent position.

Job Description: We are looking for an energetic individual with a passion to contribute to the wellbeing of communities in eastern Kentucky. We seek someone who enjoys working with people. A key responsibility will be to organize outreach and recruit participants in various community development projects. Your role will be to motivate and support people as they come together to identify needs and to solve problems in their locales. You will play an essential role in building effective communication and collaboration among diverse partners in this work — including community members and nonprofits, local and state officials, and researchers. Your first responsibility is to listen deeply to the diverse perspectives within the communities you serve. Other responsibilities will be to conduct educational and planning workshops, write reports, and to build leadership and skills among project participants. In 2021-22, this job will focus on projects to improve the safety and affordability of drinking water and to document problems of heirs’ property (e.g., land that has been passed on without a will to multiple descendents)  across many counties in eastern KY.

Background:  This position is co-managed by Martin County Concerned Citizens (MCCC) and the Livelihoods Knowledge Exchange Network (LiKEN). MCCC is a grassroots organization based in Inez, KY. Its mission is to help the citizens of Martin County in their pursuit of safe, reliable, and affordable drinking water and to give them a voice in their own community.  LiKEN is a linktank, based in Lexington, KY www.likenknowledge.org. LiKEN’s mission is to help communities to grow good livelihoods based on local assets, to build community health and wealth, and to take evidence-based action for future well-being based on deep understanding of the past. We work on projects to protect and care for resources that people depend on for basic life needs — such as safe and affordable water, healthy forests and food, vibrant culture, equitable and dependable access to land and public revenues, etc.

Responsibilities Include:

  • Recruit new project participants
  • Plan and implement action plans
  • Conduct research
  • Train members in organizing and leadership skills
  • Communicate clearly, both orally and in writing
  • Plan and generate turnout for events
  • Help members in their contacts with public officials and researchers and help to translate between, and overcome miscommunication among, community members, officials, and researchers

Essential Qualifications:

  • A self-starter with the ability to work independently, think strategically, and be organized in a fast paced work environment
  • Demonstrated experience in bringing people together and guiding them towards collective action
  • Ability to complete complex assignments in a timely manner, to conduct research with accuracy and attention to details, and to document activities adequately for other team members
  • Strong speaking and writing skills
  • Skills in conflict resolution
  • Familiarity with computers and Microsoft Office
  • Bachelor’s Degree 

Personal characteristics

  • Commitment to MCCC and LiKEN’s goals and values
  • Ability to get along well with people from diverse backgrounds
  • Kind, empathic, and community-oriented
  • Desire to seek out and learn from feedback
  • Respectful of human differences and non judgemental
  • Ability to work some evenings and weekends, and to occasionally travel out of town for 3-4 days at a time
  • Residence in one of the counties served by our projects

Preferred Qualifications:

  • Personal and / or family roots in, and first-hand experience of Appalachian KY, and a good understanding of the region’s history and issues
  • Experience with online organizing and outreach tools
  • College-level courses in Appalachian Studies as well as courses in water or other environmental or natural sciences 

Salary and Benefits:

Starting salary $31k-$38k, depending on experience. Benefits include health insurance coverage, two weeks’ paid vacation, retirement program.

Application must include: cover letter (tell us why you are interested in the job), resume, contact information for 3 professional references

Send application materials to: Betsy Taylor, director@likenknowledge.org.

All documents should be in either Microsoft Word (.doc or .docx) or Adobe Acrobat (.pdf).


How much is a glass of water?

by Sana Aslam

Ricki Draper (past LiKEN Community Engagement Coordinator) and Mary Cromer (Deputy Director of the Appalachian Citizens Law Center) published an Appalachian Citizens Law Center (ACLC) report (September 2019) examining water affordability and the impact of rate increases in eastern Kentucky’s Martin County.  County residents have been organizing around water quality and demanding accountability from their local district government since a 2000 coal slurry spill into the nearby waterways. Martin County has one of the highest costs for water which many residents do not rely on for drinking, cooking or hygiene. This is due to the water’s known murky color and hazardous qualities. 

The study grounds itself in the issue of water burden, which the authors define as the percent of a household’s income spent on its water bill. Presenting water burden for households in 10 income brackets and using the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) standard for affordability, the study finds that water is unaffordable for over 45.8% of Martin County households.  The EPA upholds that a water burden of 2.5% or above is unaffordable, and for 18.1% of Martin County households with incomes below $10,000 — the water burden is 6.5%, which is more than twice the EPA threshold. Findings indicate this burden is even higher for Martin County’s 1,229 SSI recipients, who would be spending 7.97% of their income on water with the district’s rates. This is more than three times the EPA threshold. 

16% of household water meters were disconnected between July 2018-June 2019, further demonstrating the unaffordability of the district’s current rates. Martin County residents cannot afford ongoing rate increases. The district claims the increases are to acquire revenue to fix the water system, but this system has neglected residents for years. Residents are concerned about how the district allocates public revenue towards projects that do not best serve the needs of their communities. 

The report concludes with several suggestions for responding to the affordability crisis, such as asking the district to protect citizens – especially their most vulnerable – from ongoing rate increases. The authors urge the Public Service Commission to consider affordability when setting public utility rates and to explore alternative rate structures. 

Since the report was published, the water district has entered into a contract with the outside management company Alliance Water Resources. In the study report, the authors note that over the past year, the district’s water loss rates have varied from 72.8% in August 2018 to 57.4% in February 2019. In September 2019, the average water loss rate for the year in Martin County was 69.54%. 

At the Martin County water board meeting held in July, the district reported that the water loss rate was 70.77% in June 2020. Six months into Alliance’s management, 37, 173 gallons of water were lost out of the 52, 524 gallons produced. Citizens have also expressed recent concerns over higher water bills, which Alliance has said is due to their transition to new software that reads to the nearest ten gallons as opposed to the nearest 1,000 gallons. Martin County citizens continue to advocate for infrastructural changes and an urgent need for funding to be allocated towards improving water quality and water affordability. 

Martin County Concerned Citizen meeting.
Photo by Roger Smith, The Mountain Citizen.

Eastern Kentucky Water Network 

LiKEN has helped convene a vibrant Eastern Kentucky Water Network (EKWN), composed of organizations and individuals working passionately on water issues across Eastern Kentucky. The network was formed in late 2019, and continues to meet bimonthly since then. EKWN provides a platform for stakeholders to work together to secure clean and affordable drinking water and improved watershed quality in Eastern Kentucky. The Network hopes to equip Eastern Kentucky residents with the capacity to affect and change water related policies at the local, state, and national level. 

MCCC collecting water tests at an intake site. Photo by Ricki Draper.

Tap Water Study

Martin County residents have long distrusted their district’s water system. For more than a decade, residents have regularly received notifications in water bills that disinfectant byproduct levels have exceeded EPA maximum contaminant levels. 
A recent collaborative tap water study — the first of its kind — confirms how water in the county exceeds the U.S. EPA maximum contaminant levels for cancer associated disinfection byproducts and coliform bacteria. 

The University of Kentucky College of Appalachian Research in Environmental Sciences (UK-CARES) and citizen scientists from Martin County Concerned Citizens worked together to pilot the study. Over the course of the 2018-2019 calendar year, Ricki Draper and Nina McCoy visited 97 households in Martin County to collect water samples for chemical analysis and to administer a survey aimed at evaluating community health concerns. 

Preliminary findings were published this year and reported back in a community forum in July. 47% of household samples had at least one contaminant that exceeded at least one U.S. EPA maximum contaminant level or secondary maximum contaminant level. The study also found that 99% of respondents reported concerns with their drinking water, including problems with odor, appearance, taste, and water pressure. Only 12% of respondents reported actually using tap water for drinking water. 

UK-CARES and MCCC will continue to work to examine these issues more in depth and to develop technical tools to help water utilities respond to the problems that have been identified. 

“If you are interested in participating in the East Kentucky Water Network, please contact Betsy Taylor director@likenknowledge.org

Jars of water from Martin County Water District customer’s tap, posted on “Martin County Water Warriors” Facebook Group by Hefner Hare, February, 2018.
The Teamsters delivering donated bottled water to Martin County during a water crisis. Photo by Ricki Draper.

All Land is not Creating Equal:Unleashing Family and Community Wealth through Land Ownership

UPDATE: Sharing Successes in Forest Farming across Central Appalachia

A project of the Livelihoods Knowledge Exchange Network (LiKEN) 

In May 2020, LiKEN initiated a project to develop educational materials about agroforestry in Central Appalachia. With funding from the National Agroforestry Center of the US Forest Service, this project will not only identify and encourage successful practitioners in our region, but help develop connections between communities, landholders and service providers to help guide new agroforesters, whether that be through linking practitioners with apprentices, identifying land access opportunities, or through the development of compelling narratives of success. Our new LiKENeer, Chris Burney, directs this project, which is part of our emerging Appalachian Mother Forest project.

What exactly is agroforestry? 

Agroforestry is generally described as ecologically sustainable land-use practices that incorporate tree crops with agricultural crops and/or livestock. The USDA defines agroforestry in terms of its five practices and the four I’s. The five main practices of agroforestry are:

  • Forest farming – growing food, herbal, botanical, or decorative crops under a forest canopy;
  • Alley cropping – crops between rows of trees to provide income while the trees mature; 
  • Silvopasture – combining trees and livestock on one piece of land;
  • Riparian buffers – natural or re-established areas along rivers and streams made up of trees, shrubs, and grasses;
  • Windbreaks that shelter crops, animals, buildings, wildlife, and soil from wind, snow, dust, and odors.

These practices can be found in many ancient, traditional, and Indigenous systems which have provided human sustenance for millenia while stewarding land, trees, and biodiversity. So, in some ways, scientific agroforestry is just catching up with past wisdom. Contemporary research shows that the above practices can increase long-term production, while benefiting local ecologies. When looking for agroforestry practices, though they may not be termed as such in everyday language, we look for what are called the ‘four I’s’ of agroforestry; practices that are intentional, intensive, integrated and interactive. 

Case studies and videos for farmers 

To reach diverse audiences, we will produce materials in diverse formats:

  • To inspire farmers who are considering transitioning to agroforestry, this project will produce six case studies of highly successful agroforestry ventures from across Appalachian Virginia, West Virginia, and Ohio. Each case study will describe challenges, costs, and rewards experienced by individuals over the years involved in their transition into forest farming and economic growth.
  • We will also develop videos that can be shared over diverse platforms to attract new farmers, especially youth. Short educational videos will focus on topics that producers identify as most useful for beginners in agroforestry, from land access to planting and sales. 
  • Testimonial videos will document traditional Appalachian practices that reflect rich knowledge about the remarkable biodiversity of this ancient temperate rainforest.  How are growers and producers engaging and fostering non-timber forest products, including understory botanicals, mushrooms, fruit, nut, and syrup producing trees?  What forms of traditional knowledge, tools, and management may be used to encourage pollinators, and harness aspects of distinctively Central Appalachian forest habitats, including streams, soils, and characteristic features such as coves, hollows, and bottomland for the production of crops and game animals?

This project will also reach out to service providers (extension agents, non-profits, etc.) as they help landowners make decisions about the sustainable management of their forests, opportunities for income generation and sustainable livelihoods. We will develop briefing papers about scenarios for multistory forest farming adapted to two economic, ecological, and physiographic subregions that reflect current farming communities across Central Appalachia. 

  • Some scenarios will focus on mid-size farms in highly rural, primarily agricultural communities with stressed, overused soil and watersheds. 
  • Other scenarios will focus on Appalachian cove forests and small landholders in historically coal-dependent areas with pockets of less disturbed land with high biodiversity arising from microclimate, rich cove soil, and abundant waters.
All photos by Chris Burney

Project collaborators  

The project is directed by LiKENeer Chris Burney (who is also completing a PhD in Plant and Soil Sciences at West Virginia University) in collaboration with Dr. Tom Hammett (Sustainable Biomaterials, Virginia Tech), Dr. Mary Hufford (LiKEN Associate Director and visiting professor in Folklore, Ohio State University),  Dr. Betsy Taylor (LiKEN Executive Director), and Dr. James Thompson (Plant and Soil Sciences, West Virginia University).   Ruby Daniels (LiKEN Community Engagement Coordinator), retired school teacher Wilma Steele, retired coal miner Terry Steele, Sprouting Farms, Yew Mountain Center, and Future Generations University are playing key roles in outreach and gathering of feedback from diverse stakeholders and networks.

Contact for more information…

We welcome your suggestions and hope that if you are interested in learning more about this project you may contact Chris Burney, cburney@likenknowledge.org or visit the LiKEN website www.likenknowledge.org   If you are a farmer, you may assist this research by agreeing to an interview and a walking tour of your agroforestry plots  with one of our researchers, or by making and sharing your own photographs and video recordings.

Funding by:

“The Worst Problem you never heard of”: Heirs’ Property Ownership in Appalachia and the South

A project of the Livelihoods Knowledge Exchange Network (LiKEN) 

Heirs’ property is created when land passes without a will to two or more descendants who become “tenants in common” of the property. This kind of “tangled title” can make families vulnerable. Land speculators can acquire a small share of the property and force a partition sale, often far below fair market value. Extensive research across the Cotton Belt of the U.S. South has found that heirs’ property correlates with low wealth in African American communities. The U.S. Department of Agriculture considers heirs’ property to be the leading cause of African American involuntary land loss. Heirs’ property also seems to be common in other regions with entrenched poverty (Central Appalachia, the colonias in southern Texas, and Native American communities) but only a few scholars have studied the issue in these communities. Heirs’ property has been called “the worst problem you never heard of”. 

In October 2020, LiKEN began a project investigating heirs’ property occurrence and the experiences of heirs’ property owners in selected counties of Alabama, Georgia, and eastern Kentucky. This project is supported by funds from the Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Policy Center at Alcorn State University in Mississippi. In Alabama and Georgia, this project will assess outcomes of the Uniform Partition of heirs’ Property Act (UPHPA) by looking at changes in partition sales since the passing of the act and by talking to local officials, lawyers, and heirs’ property-owning families. In the selected eastern Kentucky counties, the project will estimate the frequency of heirs’ property and speak with heirs’ property owners to gain an understanding of their experiences and perceptions related to heirs’ property. 

How heirs’ property creates household vulnerability

The “clouded title” associated with heirs’ property can result in a variety of issues for landowners. Lack of clear title makes it difficult for an heirs’ property owner to make improvements to their property because they must obtain permission from all the other heirs. Depending on how many heirs there are, a number which can increase rapidly with successive generations, getting a consensus from all owners can be a nearly insurmountable obstacle. Clouded title also eliminates the option of using land and buildings as collateral on loans. In the event of a disaster, clouded title can make it impossible to access relief and resources. 

Another major risk heirs’ property owners face is the possibility of a forced partition sale. If one heir wants to sell the property, a judge may order a partition sale, even if all the owners are not in agreement. Over the past several decades, speculators and developers have taken advantage of this legal practice by buying one owner’s share of an heirs’ property, forcing the sale of the entire property, and buying it, often at a low cost. In the 19th and 20th centuries, coal speculators in Appalachia took advantage of the vulnerability of households with clouded titles. More recently, African American communities in coastal Georgia and South Carolina have lost family lands to developers seeking to profit from the tourism economy of the region. In already socially and economically disadvantaged communities, these challenges further dampen prospects for sustainable well-being and security.

Policy solutions: a beginning

As an effort to help preserve family wealth and reduce the likelihood of partition sales, the Uniform Partition of Heirs’ Property Act (UPHPA) was drafted in 2010. It has since been passed in 17 states and introduced in six others. In 2012 and 2014, Georgia and Alabama, respectively, passed the UPHPA. The act has not yet been introduced in Kentucky. Virginia enacted the UPHPA in 2020 (the only Central Appalachian state to do so). It was introduced in the West Virginia legislature in 2020.

Our work

This project seeks first to evaluate the impact of the UPHPA on both the number and rate of partition sales and on the actors involved in these sales in Georgia and Alabama. The project will assess court-level impressions of how the act has worked  to influence partition by sale versus partition in kind (or other means) in Georgia and Alabama. We will also assess the frequency and impact of heirs’ property in Kentucky – a state that has not adopted the UPHPA. In Kentucky, we hope to communicate our findings on the nature and impact of heirs’ property to catalyze public conversation about the UPHPA.

Project collaborators  

The project is directed by LiKENeer Megan White in collaboration with co-Principal Investigators, Dr. Cassandra Johnson Gaither (Social Scientist, U.S. Forest Service) and Dr. Betsy Taylor (LiKEN Executive Director). This project spans across several communities and requires expertise in multiple areas. The core advisory group, made up of Mary Cromer (Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center), Joe Childers (Childers & Baxter, PLLC), Brady Deaton (Univ of Guelph), Dr. Aaron Guest (Arizona State Univ), and Putnam LaBarre (Oscar P. LaBarre LLC), provide legal and methodological expertise. Advisors on other targeted areas of the project include Marty Newell (Center for Rural Strategies), Dr. Simona Perry (c.a.s.e. Consulting Services), Dr. Karen Rignall (UnivKY), Sarah Stein (Federal Reserve of Atlanta), and Dr. Robert Zabawa (Tuskegee University). We will be working collaboratively with the Appalachian Land Study collective.

Contact for more information…

We welcome your suggestions and hope that if you are interested in learning more about this project you will contact Megan White, mwhite@likenknowledge.org, or visit the LiKEN website www.likenknowledge.org. If you are an heirs’ property owner in any of the counties listed above, you may assist this research by agreeing to an interview with one of our researchers, or by making and sharing your own photographs and video recordings.

Watch for more publications from us!

We will regularly produce educational materials about heirs’ property in general, and our findings in particular — on LiKEN’s new “Popular Education page”.  Please stay tuned for upcoming webinars, issue briefings, research reports, infographics, etc.

Make sure that you are on our mailing list.

This research was supported by funds from the Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Policy Research Center.

References cited

Presser, Lizzie.“Their Family Bought Land One Generation After Slavery”. ProPublica. July 15, 2019 https://features.propublica.org/black-land-loss/heirs-property-rights-why-black-families-lose-land-south/. Accessed Nov. 14, 2020

Johnson Gaither, Cassandra

Preventing the Preposterous: Kinder-Morgan Pipeline Unpurposed

By Craig Williams

In February 2015, Kinder- Morgan, Inc., one of the nation’s largest energy infrastructure companies, proposed the re-purposing of 964 miles of their 70+ year old 24 inch pipeline from transporting Natural Gas (NG) to transporting Natural Gas Liquids (NGL). One needn’t be a genius to realize it would take more pressure to move a liquid through the pipeline than to move a gas. But, that was just the beginning of our concerns. 

Upon digging a little deeper, it became apparent that there were many additional risks associated with this proposal, such as leaks, explosions, water and land contamination and the like. The pipeline company also wanted to reverse the flow from South to North using this antiquated line, so fracking materials destined for export could be moved to the Gulf from PA and OH. People began to question the potential risks associated with this proposal.

It didn’t take long for them to recognize this was a plan that prioritized profit over people and to begin organizing against it. Efforts were initiated to bring citizens, organizations, governments, and institutions out in opposition to this plan in an organized fashion. Legal strategies were developed as an additional tool to protect communities along the route. The Kentucky Environmental Foundation (KEF), a project under LiKEN, worked with local, city, and county governments, academic institutions, and economic development organizations to educate, and to urge vocal opposition to the proposal. 

Over the course of the following three and a half years, KEF was able to get more than fifteen of these types of entities to not only vocally come out in their respective communities, but, also, to send letters directly to the Kinder-Morgan President and CEO urging them to cease and desist. All were copied to the appropriate Congressional officials, as well as the federal agencies responsible for issuing permits to begin the project. Two counties went so far as to pass their own ordinances requiring conditional permits be issued by them prior to the project moving forward. (See joint Press Release for a list of entities who made public statements against the pipeline re-purposing). 

Meanwhile, grassroots efforts to educate the general public were vigorously undertaken to provide the underpinning needed to increase the political pressure objectives. In addition, legal actions were taken to challenge the pro-project decrees issued by the federal agencies along the way. These efforts were bolstered by presentations by scientists and documentation of problems associated with similar proposals. This multifaceted approach eventually tipped the scales in favor of communities. On October 2, 2018 Kinder-Morgan filed a request to vacate the certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity previously issued, that would have allowed the project to proceed. KEF and LiKEN are proud of the role they played in achieving this victory on behalf of the public’s health and safety and the protection of our collective environment.