At the H.W. Meador Coal Museum in Big Stone Gap, we were treated to the music of Tyler Hughes. The title of this blog post refers to a song he performed about the life of coal workers.
Determined. Proud. Innovative. Resilient.
These are just a few words that come to mind when reflecting over our time in Southwest Virginia. I thoroughly enjoyed the trip and gained a new respect and understanding for the perspective of those who live there. The citizens and the culture represent a time and industry that very few others can related to. How does the region survive in a modern era, yet still retain the qualities that make it so strong and unique? For me, this was the first VALOR session that forced me to think beyond the agriculture industry and really examine the bigger picture and ask some tough questions.
No room for one size fits all
On the ag side, one thing that struck me was how different the operations were on the mine reclamation lands, and how creative and hard-working farmers had to be in order to be successful. From Mountain Rose Vineyards to the Powell River Project to Big Branch Cattle, these producers have put a lot of equity (both sweat and otherwise) into making this land work for them. It is truly not a one-size fits all approach to utilizing that land, and I think the same can be said for addressing the challenges the area faces.
The many uses of reclamation land:
Throughout our travels, our class had several discussions on what it will take to keep people in Southwest Virginia and how you entice the “Amazons of the world” to set up shop in the area. It’s a catch-22, because these companies want to come to where the large employee pool is, but most people, particularly younger generations, don’t want to live in an area where there is very little to do, and in some cases, are struggling to provide basic needs. Who do you target first? You can’t attract people without jobs, and you can’t attract jobs without people to fill them.
I was inspired by the work that is currently being done to begin to address these challenges. The Health Wagon is providing quality medical care to the medically underserved in Appalachia, and the LMU DeBusk Vet School is living proof of “if you build it, they will come.” I’m looking forward to more discussions with Class IV on how we as agricultural leaders can contribute to and continue this progress!