Here is another holler coming at you readers from the hollows of southwest Virginia! Though I haven’t been very disciplined about my blog updates, I had to take a moment to reflect on the great connections that were made yesterday, in the SAMS office.
For those of you who do not know about my work these days (or need a reminder due to the inconsistency of my posts), I am currently working with a small - AWESOME – grass roots organization, SAMS, that focuses on environmental justice issues in our region. What is environmental justice, do you ask? I think of it in pretty simple terms… environmental justice is the recognition that we treat the land the same way we treat the people. Environmental destruction is felt by people… especially those that live right up against it. Like community members that are at the foot of a mountain that just so happens to be blasted for coal (aka mountaintop removal or MTR), for example. This is exactly what happens in MY community in Wise County, Virginia.
Wise County has lost 25% of it’s land mass to mountaintop removal strip mining. More is slated to go in the permits that haven’t yet been passed. What does this have to do with food access and sustainability, you might now ask? Well, the way environmental IN-justice works here, folks not only experience direct negative consequences of MTR (like black lung even though they don’t work in deep mines, increased cancer rates, asthma, loss of clean water sources, etc) they experience more – of what some would consider – “indirect” negative consequences from the control of the coal industry as well. According to a study done by Downstream Strategies, mining jobs have been on the decline for the last few decades even though strip mining and mining production has increased. Wise County is one of the most unhealthy counties in the Commonwealth and 5-10% of the population in the coalfield counties of VA (Dickinson, Buchanan, Wise, and Lee) are in “food deserts” or have no transportation access readily and available and no supermarket within a mile. But lets not keep talking about the problems. Why don’t I finally get to what I planned on talking about in this post…
Yesterday, a wonderful organization from Asheville visited SAMS to learn more about MTR and how it affects us. The organization, Asheville Green Opportunities (GO!), does great work to move Asheville forward into sustainable futures sooner rather than later. GO! empowers individual and communities by providing FREE trainings ranging from leadership and kitchen skills to weatherization and energy auditing. Folks are then able to get jobs that are at the forefront of energy efficiency and other sustainable work. And this just one facet of their work. Their organization is multi-purpose, multi-functional and has extensive relationships with the City of Asheville and community organizations (like the local Action Agency) which all contribute to its effectiveness.
Their visit with us went exceptionally well. GO! training team members were able to ask SAMS folks how they are directly impacted by mountaintop removal. They were maddened when they heard about Jeremy Davidson, a three year old boy that lived in the coal camp of Inman (just outside of my town) and was killed in his sleep when illegal MTR mining was happening late at night and knocked a half-ton boulder off the mountain that rolled all the way down the mountain, into his home, and over his bed. Through our stories, it was easy to tell that mountaintop removal is “legalized insanity” (as one SAMS member put it). I’d like to think this gave GO! folks a renewed sense of purpose and pride in their work. On the other hand, SAMS folks were so excited to hear about how this organization is solving community issues not only in their own home of Asheville but ours as well. If folks looking for jobs in Wise County were offered free trainings to learn weatherization, energy efficiency techniques, small business development, or home-scale water conservation and had an organization that helped to place them in jobs that pertained to these trainings… do you think coal jobs would be so popular?
This idea left all of us at SAMS wondering how we could turn things around and support the development of an “Appalachia Green Opportunities” (wink wink). We all felt inspired and supported by the Asheville GO! team. And, I am thankful to say, that the interactions, inspiration, and collaboration did not end yesterday. SA S will have Asheville GO! back in the fall to give some of their trainings during the Appalachian Community Economic Series.