Young farmers face numerous obstacles in making their dreams come true. Land available for sale or lease is scarce in Rockbridge County. It's also expensive. Once farmers acquire land, they must deal with financial hurdles in securing funding for equipment, animals, feed and the technology required to run a successful farm. Aspiring farmers also must wait to get their starts because older, more established farmers aren't ready to relinquish control.
All refugees are immigrants, but not all immigrants are refugees. The United Nations defines refugees as people with a "well-founded fear" that they will face religious, ethnic, racial or social persecution should they return to their home countries. Two agencies serve the Shenandoah Valley, helping refugees resettle and make new lives for themselves, mainly in Harrisonburg and Roanoke.
Over the past two decades, the Asian population in Rockbridge County has increased by 50 percent practically unnoticed by people who have grown up here and others who are most recent arrivals. The Asian residents of the county are a population without a sense of community in large part because they came from a variety of countries with diverse cultures and religions.
The national conversation about transgender people focuses mainly on access to bathrooms. But it's not the only issue this minority group faces. In Roanoke, Va., a thriving transgender community continues to grow. It's a place where kinship networks replace biological families and drag performance is a form of self-expression. It's also a place where legal protections are few and health care options are expensive. Trans people who live in rural communities have stories to tell. And the truth behind the transgender experience in Roanoke is more complex than access to bathrooms.
The proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline would be a 600-mile long natural gas pipeline that meanders from West Virginia, through Virginia and into North Carolina. The proposed route of the 42-inch wide pipeline has not yet been approved, and both supporters and opponents are waiting on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to release its final environmental impact statement in June. A team of reporters explored the social, environmental and economic impacts the project will have on rural Appalachian Virginia.
When Gus Deeds attacked his father, a state senator, with a knife and then shot himself to death in 2013, the tragedy set off a chain reaction of blame and shame among state mental health officials. But it wasn't the first time. Six years earlier, state officials reacted similarly after a mentally ill student went on a rampage at Virginia Tech, killing 32 people before taking his own life. Mental health experts say the Deeds case highlights everything that is wrong with Virginia's reactive mental health care system. What happened to Gus Deeds exposed uneven care, depending on whether a patient lives in a wealthy or poor county. It also revealed a lack of communication between mental health officials and hospitals that can have devastating consequences. It further illustrated that people who need to be hospitalized should not be left on the streets, without care.
Women - young and old, rich and poor - struggle to get the care they need in rural Virginia because of limited options. Lexington lost its last obstetrician/gynecologist almost a decade ago, which has forced women to travel to Fishersville for routine reproductive health checkups. The situation is exacerbated because many doctors don't want to practice in rural areas; they are often burdened with debt after medical school and can't make enough money. For some doctors, operating a private practice in a rural area gives them freedom and flexibility. But they find it increasingly difficult to resist large health systems, such as Augusta and Carilion, which are gobbling up smaller practices, and changing the business of health care.
Heroin is back. In Virginia, the number of deaths from a heroin overdose has more than doubled in the past three years. Rockbridge County is not immune. The Rockbridge County Drug Task Force says it has seen a 150 percent increase in both heroin possession and trafficking cases in the last year. Heroin was a popular recreational drug in the 1970s and 1980s, but lost its relevance with cocaine's rise in popularity. Now heroin is back, and it's cheaper, stronger and more addictive than ever before.
Smoking causes one in five deaths in the United States every year and costs $300 billion in health care costs. Nearly 20 percent of Virginians smoke, a rate that is 3 percentage points higher the national average. Perhaps not coincidentally, Virginia also has the country's second-lowest tax on cigarettes-
30 cents per pack-at a time when the national average is more than five times that. Virginia lawmakers propose raising the cigarette tax rate almost every year, but it has not budged since 2005, even as other tobacco states have raised theirs. All five states that border Virginia now have significantly higher cigarette tax rates-and the District of Columbia's is $2.50 a pack. A higher cigarette tax leads to fewer smokers and more state revenue. But with tobacco's deep roots in Virginia and Philip Morris' headquarters in Richmond, future attempts might just be...butting heads.
Eight years after these services started in 2008, Airbnb and Uber are two of the largest marketplace platforms in the "sharing economy," a form of peer-to-peer commerce that has enabled exchanges of goods and services directly between individuals, not corporations.
In Lexington and Rockbridge County, Airbnb is proving to be a formidable alternative accommodation, especially on busy weekends at the area's three universities. And now, state and local governments are starting to consider regulations that might change the lodging landscape.
In December 2014, Cheryl borrowed $250 from a payday lender to buy her children Christmas gifts. Even after working 40 hours a week in the Rockbridge area, she couldn't pay back the loan and the piling fees until three months later. Cheryl's family is only one of 2.5 million American families who take out payday loans each year. Millions more consumers pay high fees to use alternative financial products, including car title loans and open-ended lines of credit. In a month, a federal administrative proposal might change how much consumers pay for alternative credit, where to get it and how to repay.
Has youth football seen the end of its glory days? As high-profile concussion research gains the attention of parents, football players and Hollywood, the lasting effects of even minor hits to the head point to potential problems for the sport's youngest players. In Rockbridge County, football remains a pillar of the community, where nearly 200 local kids join more than 1 million Americans aged 8 to 12 in tackle football each year. The community also boasts a decades-old high school rivalry and three college teams. But as parents are made more aware of the prevalence of concussions in football, will America's favorite pastime change?