Southwest Virginia is home to beautiful landscapes and friendly, welcoming people. I admire the sense of community shown in many of our visits. People are proud of their culture and traditions. Tyler Hughes, a musician and local elected official, was an example of a young person passionate about helping his community. The coal museum and the Trail of the Lonesome Pine Outdoor Drama we attended both showed the area’s history.
We got to see some producers interact with their extension agent (and our VALOR classmate), Amy. They were proud to share their successes with her. It was easy to see the trusting relationship they had built and how they relied on her for advice and input.
In opposition to many of the individuals we met who shared the successes of their businesses, the area is known for poverty, failing industries and the opioid crisis. A lot of the debriefing discussion among the VALOR fellow was about what should or could be done to help the area.
I believe it is in the best interest of the communities and state as a whole for government and nonprofit entities to provide assistance for necessities of life for those who want it but cannot afford it, including food and healthcare. People cannot begin to better their situation without these necessities. The Health Wagon is doing amazing work in this area to help provide low cost or free healthcare in remote areas.
Education and infrastructure are also important. We saw these areas in action at the LMU Vet School and Appalachian Sustainable Development. ASD, for example, is working to help put some infrastructure in place to help producers from the area market their products, such as the food hub and herb hub. They are also connecting farmers with market opportunities, such as Lush Cosmetics.
In the end, the people have to want the help being offered. I think it will take local leaders, like Amy and Tyler, to continue making a difference in their communities in combination with assistance programs provided by government and nonprofit entities to help bring more prosperity to the area.