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The dogs days of summer may not seem like the time to think about heat and staying warm, but that is exactly what the Jackson County Fuel Committee is worried about: providing heat and warmth for hundreds of area families during the wintertime.

There is an irony that a region particularly richest in wood is also home to populations that are most in need of heat, as unemployment and financial struggles have persisted and many families struggle to pay heating bills.

According to their website, “In the middle of 412,633 acres of prime forestland, thousands of people are freezing every winter in Jackson County. Utility costs that take up to one-third of many people’s monthly income pre­sent the grim choice of cutting tight food budgets or cutting off the heat. Electricity bills of $200 a month are common for small houses, and even wood has gone as high as $280 a cord.”

The JCFC tries to bridge that gap.

“We are dedicated to address the disparity between the lack of access to heating fuel for thousands of low-income workers and their families, and the abundance of heating resources in the area,” they explain.

One major success was three years ago, also in the thick of summertime, when they convinced the City of Ashland to donate wood cut on city-owned land. The cuts were part of the “fuel reduction” program meant to thin forests so they are not so primed for fires. But JCFC also saw an opportunity: Providing wood from a 74 acre site to needy families. At the time, Ashland Forest Division Chief Chris Chambers explained, “We can realize the benefits of a healthier watershed while also knowing that our neighbors don’t have to choose between heat and food next winter.”

Yes, exactly! A win and a win.

Beyond hands-on work and providing heat sources, JCFC also advocates for the protection of persons and families vulnerable to losing their heat sources—and, this month, let us know that they are working out with the utilities companies not to turn off heat for delinquent residents! Which doesn’t seem so important when the weather is sweltering, but is critical when it isn’t.  

On Sunday, August 7, 4- 8 pm, JCFC is hosting their sixth annual Folk Music Festival at Grizzly Peak Winery, 1600 E. Nevada, $20 suggested donation.  Go. Enjoy their great lineup. And, support an important organization.

And, in other news, that is more summertime: Beer news that has us suds up. Last week, the so-called Beer Institute announced it will begin labeling members’ beverages with information about calories, carbohydrates, and fat. Sounds good, right?

Well. . . hold your pint glass for a moment. In spite of its name, the Beer Institute is not some public-minded think tank: It is an organization representing the Big Boys of Beer, like Budweiser, Miller, Coors. The labeling change comes about because the U.S. Treasury’s Alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau recently allowed alcohol beverage companies to add serving facts on their labels. Previously, they weren’t allowed to do so.

Now, how do you think that change came about? Perhaps big-moneyed lobbying? And, more interesting, why would big beer companies want this information published? Is there a sudden altruistic mind-change for transparency? (Side-thought: Why is it that big business doesn’t want labeling when it goes against their interests—um, see the millions poured into lobbying against efforts to label GMOs?)

Here is one theory: Labeling calories on beers potentially undercuts microbreweries, with their stouts and IPAs that are much higher in calories. Follow my logic here: Microbrews account for a mere eight percent of all beer sold in America, and Budweiser washes more beer down its drains during the production process than almost all the breweries in southern Oregon produce and sell annually. Yet, clearly, the big beer companies (primarily Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors) are worried about this expanding market.

Consider: three years ago, ImBev (the massive beverage company that owns Budweiser), purchased 10 Barrel, the darling Bend brewery. Yet, in spite of their interest in buying up micro-breweries, Budweiser also has aggressively tried to undermine them (see the past two years of their Super Bowl ads that cost millions to broadcast with the message they are “proudly a macro beer” and simultaneously made fun of hipsters who “fuss over” “fancy” microbrews).

This is just us spinning our conspiracy theories, but we’ll raise a pint of a local microbrew (no matter the calories) and toast to Jackson County Fuel Committee for their important work.

Happy summertime!  


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