Cost of living

U.S. economy rebounds thanks to huge growth of farmers markets

WASHINGTON– In a surprising turn of events, new financial data from the Federal Reserve brought jubilation to both Main Street and Wall Street yesterday as the economic picture for job growth, new business starts and overall household income improved markedly improved since last month. But financial analysts were bewildered about the source of this sudden economic rebound: farmers markets reopening for spring with fresh produce.

“The looming economic recession that kept Americans on the edge of their seats for the past months has been entirely and unexpectedly averted by an infusion of revenue generated at local farmers markets,” said a grinning Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, at an appearance with President Bush at a farmers market in suburban Reston, Virginia. “We should never have underestimated the economic prowess of public markets simply because of their small size, lack of business experience, or previously tiny share of the commodity system.

 clip_image003_0004_large.jpg George Bush and Ben Bernanke

The outlook is even rosier for April and May, as farmer’s markets reopen in many states outside the Sun Belt. Concerns were raised by many economists about what happens late next fall when local farmers markets shut down at the end of harvest season, but Congress was busy all day yesterday drafting emergency legislation to construct thousands of indoor year-round public markets.

The Clinton-McCain-Obama Act, named for its chief sponsors, passed unanimously in both the House and Senate yesterday and was signed by President Bush in a special ceremony at Washington’s Eastern Market this morning. It appropriates more than $37 billion dollars to construct and manage indoor public markets in every county seat and community of more than 2500 people across America.

“Obviously, these sources of local food, public gathering places, and intra-neighborhood commerce are the engine that will drive the economy of the United States,” Bush said as several members of the White House press corps fainted in shock.

While this marks a sudden and fundamental shift in the Bush Administration’s policy, press secretary Dana Perino reminded reporters, “George Bush and Dick Cheney have always been true believers in market economics.”

“This administration may have devoted too much attention to large businesses in our first seven years,” Perino admitted. “But in our last ten months we will do everything possible to level the playing field by boosting small-scale farmers and enterprises that serve Americans right in their communities. Farmers markets are just the beginning. We also intend to boost small, independent neighborhood businesses.”

Economic analysts attribute this huge growth in farmers markets to consumers’ newfound interest in eating locally-sourced food, improving public health, boosting their local economies, creating community gathering places and supporting small, environmentally-friendly farmers everywhere.

“We must publicly acknowledge the new power of farmers markets in the U.S., and admit that we have so far missed the boat on what consumers want: healthy, locally-grown food,” said Alice Walton, daughter of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton. “We cannot stand in the way of progress. We plan to add organic farmers markets to each Wal-Mart store and will look into tearing up the parking lots to plant heirloom tomatoes.”

Interest in locally produced food is expected to grow substantially, fueled in part by a report to be released next week by the federal Centers for Disease Control that unearths long-buried research establishing clear links between eating locally and wildly prolonged human life expectancy.

Read this and all the other April 1 News at Faking Places. Hope your day was a pleasant one…

Belmont to get green this spring – Gaston towns tired of being brown

Bowing to the pressure of local small businesses dependent on public water for their livelihoods, the Belmont City Council water committee has put forth a motion to ease water restrictions in the area.

Residents would be able to hand water, drip irrigate trees, shrubs, and personal gardens.  If approved, the watering could be done during the entire day on those three days. “I don’t mind the hand held watering,” said Councilman Charlie Flowers”.

This action is occurring while other Gaston county towns are also loosening restrictions.

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It seems that the “squeaky” (re: “leaky”) wheel gets the grease.  If City Council passes the recommendation, residents still will not be able to water their lawns.

Other communities throughout the state are still working on further restrictions and closely tracking water use, Belmont gets a bit a rain and Poof! – no more drought — in some eyes.

We admit there has been some improvement in the drought, but the area is still in what is considered exceptional drought conditions. Typically late February and the month of March are “catch up” months in regards to rain. Not this spring – so far.

A special meeting next Monday evening (6:30 PM) will have this discussion and vote. Interested people should attend this meeting and see how council members who have landscapers maintain their personal yards vote on this issue.

More information links: System Status for Belmont

Belmont Water Use Tables

Facility   

Basin    Pop    2008-03-10    2008-03-03    2008-02-25    2008-02-18   
Belmont Catawba River 8,974   1,676,143 1,605,571 1,668,286

Older table dates

Facility   

Basin    Pop    08-02-04    08-01-28    08-01-21    08-01-14    08-01-07   
Belmont Catawba River 8,974 1,545,286 1,672,429 1,685,857 1,568,714 1,744,143

Sure doesn’t look like water restrictions have affected Belmont’s use of water. Going back to an earlier article where the Belmont Front Porch reported on the growing practice of new wells being dug throughout the county, the County Health Department repudiated the charge that new wells were an issue with groundwater.

With this information, it seems that local “businesses” would not be affected — according to the County health department — just dig a well.

Good for business, keeps the businesses off the backs of elected “leaders”, and keeps the progeny of local councilmembers with their jobs.

It’s all good.

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March Update – The REAL cost of living

We reported in January about the food prices at area stores. It seemed like a good idea. 

Today, with oil prices going as high a $105/barrel, we felt that it was time to do an update on our local cost of living.  

We added Walgreens to the mix because their outside sign is advertising milk prices this week. We also added eggs after discussing how much we all use eggs each week in our menu planning.

2-eggs.jpg  milk-gallon.jpg

Wed 3/5/08

Aldi Bi-Lo Food Lion Walmart Walgreens
           
Whole Milk $3.69 $4.19 $4.09 $3.78 $3.59
2% Milk $3.59 $4.19 $4.09 $3.78 $3.59
Skim Milk $3.49 $4.19 $4.09 $3.78 $3.59
           
White Bread $.75 $1.15 $1.07 $1.16  
Wheat Bread $.99 $1.59 $1.89 $1.52  
           
1 doz, Large Eggs $1.75 $2.19 $1.99 $1.82  

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We appreciate the competition between the chain stores on these particular staple food items. But the obscene amount of displayed food at Walmart puts all the other stories to shame and our editors to tears. Our one Walmart over in Montcross has more food on the shelves in one day than many stores in Haiti or Pakistan can display in a year.

We live in a land of plenty and we are thankful for the options and choices that we have in this community.

Hotline to help North Carolinians facing foreclosure

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HOPE hotline will connect callers with local non-profits to help people keep their homes

Raleigh –  Help for North Carolinians who are at risk of losing their homes to foreclosure is now just a telephone call away, Attorney General Roy Cooper and the Office of the Commissioner of Banks announced today.

“It’s tragic when families lose their homes, especially when it could be prevented,” Cooper said.  “One toll-free call could give them the advice they need to stop foreclosure.”

North Carolinians can call the HOPE Hotline toll-free at 888-995-HOPE 24 hours a day, seven days a week to receive free counseling on options to avoid foreclosure.  The hotline will connect callers with non-profit housing and credit counselors in their local community who can advise them about options such as modifying their loan, selling or refinancing their home or setting up a repayment plan with their lender.

forclose-logo.jpg

“Homeowners struggling to pay their mortgage need to know there are resources available to help them avoid foreclosure.  Call the NC HOPE Hotline and you may be able to save your home,” said Deputy Commissioner of Banks Mark Pearce.

While North Carolina has not experienced the wave of foreclosures seen in many other states due to our strong laws against unfair loans, foreclosures are on the rise in the state.  Foreclosure starts were up 9.4 percent in North Carolina in 2007 and are expected to increase by 10 to 20 percent in 2008, according to the Commissioner of Banks’ office.

According to research by Freddie Mac, more than half of all homeowners who experience foreclosure never contact their mortgage company to try to avoid unnecessary foreclosure.  Mortgage servicers and lenders have a strong incentive to help homeowners avoid foreclosure because they stand to lose $40,000 to $50,000 in net value when a typical home loan is foreclosed.  Finding a solution to foreclosure can be in the best interest of both the homeowner and the lender.

Cooper and the Commissioner of Banks have teamed up to provide $300,000 in seed money to reimburse counselors who are able to help prevent unnecessary foreclosures for North Carolinians who call the hotline, with more reimbursement going to counselors who are able to help homeowners keep their homes.  Additional funding from Congress and the General Assembly could expand access to local counselors through the hotline.

Local non-profits will also be able to connect hotline callers with other resources as needed, such as referrals for legal help when there is evidence that the homeowner may have been the victim of predatory or abusive lending practices.   The Attorney General’s Office will be notified when there is a pattern of lending abuses and can take action to enforce North Carolina’s strong laws against predatory lending. 

Counselors can also help connect homeowners who qualify with Federal Housing Administration secure loans.  In some cases, non-profits may be able to purchase a home before it is foreclosed upon and then lease it back to the homeowner, applying their lease payments to the purchase of the home.

The national Hope Hotline is a joint project between NeighborWorks America, a non-profit organization chartered by Congress, and the Homeownership Preservation Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Minnesota.  The Commissioner of Banks and Attorney General Cooper are working together to select and support more than 20 high-quality counseling agencies across the state to accept referrals from the national Hope Hotline.  These local counselors will be able to provide assistance not currently available through the national hotline.

“Foreclosures are hurting families across our state and damaging our neighborhoods and communities,” said Cooper.  “It’s in all of our interest to help homeowners find a way out of foreclosure when possible.”

More information about the hotline and the organizations involved is available at www.ncforeclosurehelp.org.

Bankruptcy Lists – Fair or Foul?

Well, our beloved editors over at the Gastonia Gazette must have really run out of news to publish.

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On Friday, the Gazette began publishing bankruptcy filings as listed by the court system. What once was a required public notice posting through classified ad listing of the legal filing, now has been distilled to the basics: name, address, type of filing, and case number.

In the interest of public service, the Gazette allocated in-house resources to distill the information to the “gentle” reading public. In the Gazette’s eyes, why subject readers to the mind-numbing review of legalese that accompany the court documents? Let’s get down to the chase – just the facts: name, address, type of filing, and case number.

The outlash was immediate and very negative from the readers, a sample:

“I have been fortunate that I have not had to file bankruptcy, but I very much resent the fact that any person or family that has fallen on hard times must be exposed to further embarrassment. Does the Gazette not realize that a lot of these folks may have worked hard all their lives, lost their job due to textiles closing or possibly a family member taking ill? As a paralegal I can tell you that everyone has problems, but for the Gazette to zero in on this is sickening. Surely the paper can find a more note worthy way to fill up its extra space. I for one did not read those names listed and I encourage others not too. Shame on the Gazette for their lack of compassion” – Maryann

“I realize that this information IS public record, but how about using a little bit of good judgement here?” – Disappointed

“At best this is dumb, at worst it is a horrific attempt by the Gazette to embarrass folks already hit by heartache. You telling me news is so slow in Gastonia today that we need to publicly humiliate these folks? Really, this is in poor taste guys.” – Gouranga

bankruptcy.jpg

We agree with the majority on this one – keep the listing where it is required. There is no need to distill the public record further in this type of circumstance. if they wish to pursue these types of records, why not fully investigate the failure of certain businesses or even industries? Usually, the well-connected Gazette/Chamber link glosses over business closings, and then only if they impact 50 or more people. There are hundreds of small businesses established every year, and there are hundreds of failures. 

The Chamber makes a big deal out of groundbreakings, ribbon-cuttings, and position announcements. How about mentoring, monitoring, and rewarding the small privately owned businesses, rather than focusing on a family’s failure or circumstances which are sometimes beyond their own control.

The Consumer Credit Counseling program of Family Service, Inc, has a tremendous process to help families overcome mounting debt-related issues. One or twice a year the Gazette does an article about this critical community nonprofit. The bully pulpit opportunity that the Gazette wields in this case could be used for much more good than to embarass people in this manner.

Gazette, instead of the full-page ads touting your “community service” and “sponsorships”, why not do more to encourage the financial education and mentoring that is needed to gain true freedom. The very freedom that is expressed as your mission.

   

The REAL cost of living in Belmont

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While the Gaston Gazette tracks gas prices, the Belmont Front Porch watches for things that we consider to be closer indicators of cost of living and quality of life: Milk and bread prices.

We tracked milk and bread prices from four local outlets of national/regional chain stores:

Wed 1/16/08

Aldi Bi-Lo Food Lion Walmart
         
Whole Milk $3.79 $4.79 $4.19 $4.52
2% Milk $3.69 $4.79 $4.19 $4.08
Skim Milk $3.59 $4.19 $4.19 $3.73
         
White Bread $.75 $1.09 $1.07 $1.16
Wheat Bread $.99 $1.49 $1.69 $1.52

All prices reflect the “house brands” of each store, not the name brands.

Oh, and you can get unleaded regular gas at the station on Pole Branch Road (Hwy 273) just over the state line below Seven Oaks for $2.84/galllon (Friday  1/18/08 prices).