Posts Tagged ‘globalization’

Appalachia & the World

Thursday, December 13th, 2012 - posted by molly

The Appalachian Voice typically looks inward, exploring the intricacies of our region.

This time, however, we looked out at the rest of the world to see what Appalachia’s global ties could tell us about the life, history and struggles that take place within these mountains.

Take a moment to flip through the print version or visit our webpage, and let the latest issue of The Appalachian Voice take you around the world and back again.

Our features begin with Global Connections, an introduction by our editor, Jamie Goodman, that showcases Appalachia’s worldly history and busts the myth of the region’s isolation. On the facing page, Finding a Common Language examines how Appalachia’s growing Latino population is striving for, and attaining, integration with mountain communities.

Realizing that Appalachia’s energy future is closely tied to the pulse of the planet, we consider the best available energy forecasts in A Clean(er) World, which looks at how America fits into the future of electricity generation. Our centerspread, Uncharted Waters, features a global map that highlights some of the trends and hot spots in the international energy trade.

Global Connections

Thursday, December 13th, 2012 - posted by molly

Goods we take for granted today, such as spices, sugar, silk and coffee, were once signs of the early global trade system. This collage of accounts from Valle Crucis, N.C.’s Taylor and Moore Store ledger (1861 to 1874) also includes a line for the opium-based laudanum, a common pain reliever and overall remedy used during the time period; the opium to make this would have likely come from Britian or China. Images courtesy of the W.L. Eury Appalachian Collection, Appalachian State University

Busting the Myth of Appalachia’s Isolationism

By Jamie Goodman

Appalachian history is full of misleading stereotypes and misrepresentations, but none could be more inaccurate than the myth of isolationism.

As far back as the earliest explorers, European immigrants to Appalachia participated in a burgeoning global market. Frontiersmen such as Daniel Boone and Simon Kenton earned their keep hunting and trapping in the wilds of the Appalachian mountains, selling deer, beaver and otter furs to traders who would transport them to port cities such as Baltimore, Md., or Charleston, S.C., and then on to the hands of European citizens who prized the exotic items.

Even in the late 1600s, Native American tribes who interacted with the first foreign explorers quickly grasped that they were interested in New World commodities, and traded pelts for European-made goods. Settlers to the area also saw economic opportunity in the abundant land; greed over these resources was one of the factors that would ultimately force the Native Americans out.

“There is a political sociologist who argues that settlement of the mountains was driven by some sort of capitalist forces,” says Dr. Pat Beaver, director of the Center for Appalachian Studies at Appalachian State University. “We know that the fur trade was a big driver for exploration, and if you go back to the very earliest exploration, it was the quest for gold.”

When pioneers began to settle the mountains, they immediately began farming and wildcrafting native herbs to sell to intermediary traders in exchange for more cultivated overseas goods.

“If you look at old store records from the early 19th century, you’ve got coffee and tea and ginger, nutmeg, silk and china, and those were all part of this international trade,” says Beaver.

Ginseng was among the first wild mountain goods that made it to markets around the world, reaching China by the late 1700s. The prized herb may also be one of the earliest examples of Appalachian resource exploitation. According to the historical tome, “First American Frontier: Transition to Capitalism in Southern Appalachia,” by Wilma Dunaway, merchants from the Virginias “exported ginseng, yellow root, mayapple root, and snakeroot for nearly ten times the value they allowed local customers in barter.”

“One western North Carolina merchant exported 30,000 pounds [in one year],” Dunaway writes. “By 1840, Appalachian Ginseng was becoming scarcer, but the region exported $83,273 worth of the herb in that year — nearly one-fifth of the country’s total supply.”

According to Dr. Beaver, other markets were tied into the flourishing New World economy, including a triangular trade route that brought slaves from Africa and rum from the Caribbean in exchange for Appalachian goods.

The Extraction Revolution
Almost from the time pioneers started exploring the Appalachian mountain range, minerals were being extracted from the vaulted hillsides. Dunaway writes that saltpeter (used to produce gunpowder), alum (used for canning), salt from West Virginia, manganese from Southern Appalachia, lead from southwestern Virginia, gold from Georgia and Tennessee, and copper from Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia were all part of the initial rush to mine underground mountain resources for profit. Even Appalachian mineral water was bottled and exported to distant markets.

By the early- to mid-1800s, coal was already established as a key commodity in both domestic and international trading. According to Dunaway, in the 1840s close to three-quarters of a million tons of Maryland coal were being exported to Cuba and France. By 1860, “four-fifths of the region’s coal was being sent to regional, midwestern, and southern markets” to power foundries, fuel salt manufacturing, and propel steamships on the fledgling country’s mighty rivers.

But it was the advent of the railways that truly established Appalachia’s role in modern world trade. “I’d say that period of 1880s to 1920s is a real big, radical change in terms of [timber and coal],” says Beaver. “By the 1880s, things were really moving.”
According to “First American Frontier,” timber exports to places such as Western Europe and the West Indies swelled in the mid-19th century because “they had already cut their own timber.” Dunaway writes that “From the Clinch Valley of upper East Tennessee and southwestern Virginia, 1,000 rafts per year headed south for reexport out of Knoxville and Chattanooga.”

Massive logging took place throughout the southern Appalachians, with one company from Maine heavily lumbering as far south as the north Georgia mountains and exporting the timber through Savannah, helping to establish it as a major port city.

Following the railroad revolution, a new commodity was being imported into the region. Coal miners from Wales arrived in Appalachia, followed by Irish, Polish, Czechs and Greeks, among others, all looking for work and a new beginning in the region’s coal mines.

“[You had] political upheaval or drought or famines or wars driving out migration from Europe, and then the opportunities and the lures of expanding markets and industries [were] bringing people in,” says Beaver. “They’re the same kind of drivers that are happening now. People are following the industries and the industries are going where labor is inexpensive.”

Flash Forward

In this issue of The Appalachian Voice, we take a look at globalization as it has evolved to the present, and how Appalachia fits into — and influences — the international community. Through the bluegrass music revolution of the 1970s and the Latino migration of the 1990s, to the furniture crash of the 2000s, the rebirth of small farms following the demise of the tobacco industry and the rise of community activism in the face of mining issues, the seemingly microcosmic culture of Appalachia continues to have a larger-than-life presence in the world.

Recently, scholars, activists and artists from more than 60 countries — including Ecuador, Wales, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Mali, China, Italy, Canada, Mexico and the U.S. — gathered at a three-day Global Mountain Regions conference at the University of Kentucky to talk about their shared experience of living in mountain communities that have struggled with resource extraction and other exploitation as part of the modern global market.

“For the future well-being of Appalachian communities, I think it will be very important to be in conversations with mountain communities around the world,” says Dr. Ann Kingsolver, co-organizer of the event and director of the university’s Appalachian Center and Appalachian Studies program. “I think the exchange is vital as we go forward.”

A Double-Edged Sword

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012 - posted by molly

Outsourcing Appalachia’s Furniture Industry

By Jesse Wood

A sign in Buckhannon, W.Va., advertises two lumber-dependent industries — furniture and undertaking. Photo by Bill Herndon

The expansion of global markets and its effect on Appalachia has been a lopsided, double-edged sword, particularly for the furniture and lumber industries.

While exposure to foreign markets has checked inflation and opened the door to an array of new customers, it has crippled the Appalachian furniture manufacturing workforce because of cheaper labor overseas.

In North Carolina, which is home to High Point, the “Furniture Capital of the World,” employment for the industry peaked in 1990 with nearly 100,000 laborers. According to North Carolina State University’s Furniture Manufacturing and Management Center, state-wide employment has declined every year since 1999, and as of 2012, the industry employed less than 38,000 workers.

“What we have seen is a real tsunami hitting us,” says Urs Buehlmann, an associate professor at Virginia Tech. “I am pretty sure there are towns that lost 70 to 80 percent of the jobs they had. It has been disastrous for certain parts of Appalachia.”

Although the worldwide recession has contributed to job losses in recent years, Buehlmann said furniture ghost towns in Henry County, Va., such as Bassett, Stanleytown and the city of Martinsville, which has had one of the country’s highest unemployment rates for years, illustrate “the destructive powers of globalization.”

Since 2000, seven large furniture-manufacturing plants in Henry County closed, eliminating nearly 1,800 jobs, according to Furniture Today, a quarterly industry publication. During that same time span, more than 40 furniture plants, employing nearly 8,000 workers, closed in the state.

Stanley Furniture was among the most recent closings in Henry County. At the end of 2010, the plant’s 530 employees were laid off as management moved production to Southeast Asia.

“If you are managing Stanley Furniture, you probably have no problem with globalization. You may have to travel more nowadays, but you still have your job,” Buehlmann says. “But on the other hand, if you’re the mill hand at Stanley – well, you just lost your job.”

In the fall of 1993, the U.S. Congress ratified the North American Free Trade Agreement, the world’s largest and perhaps most controversial agreement of its kind. The trade deal reduced barriers to U.S. exports, making it easier and cheaper to ship out products and services while protecting U.S. interests abroad.

The results were devastating for the nation’s manufacturing workforce, as the free trade agreement offered financial incentives for companies to outsource factories to Mexico. Layoffs in Appalachia were out of proportion to the rest of the country.

Appalachia USA delegates attended the 2012 Furniture Manufacturing and Supply China trade fair in Shanghai in September. Photo courtesy of the Appalachian Regional Council

According to a Commission on Religion in Appalachia report, “Studies of NAFTA-related job losses [show] that 766,030 actual and potential jobs were lost between 1993 and 2000, and of these losses, 279,141 — or 36 percent — occurred in Appalachian states.”

But NAFTA didn’t have that severe of an impact on the furniture industry, Buehlmann says, because those jobs didn’t move to Canada and Mexico. He added that the 157-country World Trade Organization “had a much more profound impact on the furniture industry” as companies sought low-wage workers in China, Vietnam and other countries in Southeast Asia.

Scott Hercik, Export Trade Advisory Council coordinator for the Appalachian Regional Commission, an economic development agency, says that while free trade has imposed “challenges” on the furniture industry, it has had a “very positive impact” on the lumber markets of Appalachia.

The lumber industry, for one, fared better than furniture manufacturers in the face of foreign markets because of Appalachia’s unique, renowned hardwoods. Free trade agreements such as NAFTA assisted domestic lumber companies in selling more products to foreign customers, reviving the lumber market even as its number one buyer — the U.S. furniture industry — fell on hard times.

Tom Inman, president of Appalachian Hardwood Manufacturers Inc., a 200-member trade association, says that the export market for Appalachian hardwoods continues to “grow substantially,” and the biggest importers of regional lumber are Canada, China and Europe.

In response to the expanding global economy, the Appalachian Regional Commission created Appalachia USA in 2005. The initiative was designed to help Appalachian businesses establish and sustain trade partnerships in the largest, fastest growing markets in the world. Since its inception, the program has generated between $250 million and $500 million in new export sales for more than 200 Appalachian businesses at global trade shows.

Although the unemployed furniture workers in Henry County wouldn’t notice, Mike Padjen, vice president of international sales for North Carolina-based Klaussner Furniture, says the U.S. furniture industry is actually experiencing a renaissance.

For the past two years, the demand for U.S. furniture has increased as the emerging middle class in countries like Brazil, Russia, India and China are earning more money and demanding customized, higher-quality furniture.

Unfinished parts await assembly at The Hickory Chair Furniture Co. in Hickory, N.C. Photo by Cassandra LaVelle of coco+kelley,

“I see it continuing to open up. I mean, the world is going to drive this a lot,” Padjen says, adding that as the cost of living increases in places like China, the cost of manufacturing will rise, too, and “the efficiency of making product in the U.S. increases.”

Padjen, like Inman and Hercik, agrees that the expansion of global markets has both merits and flaws. All three cite the loss of jobs and closed factories, which Padjen attributes partly to the Great Recession, as the “bad part,” but Padjen also notes the lumber industry’s ability to revive itself through foreign markets and major Asian companies employing workers in North Carolina’s hard-hit furniture industry as the good parts.

Two examples Padjen mentions include Hong Kong-based Samson, one of the largest furniture companies in the world, buying upholstered-furniture maker Craftmasters and employing Americans in Taylorsville, N.C., and China-based Schnadig’s recent partnership with Key City Furniture to manufacture upper-end upholstery furniture in Wilkesboro, N.C. Even in Martinsville, six furniture companies are still operating, employing a fraction of the former workforce.

But Virginia Tech’s Dr. Buehlmann, who is a strong believer in free markets, says he doesn’t see it in “black and white,” and when he visits places like Henry County, he has doubts about the “fairness” of globalization.

“Unfortunately, we don’t seem to be able to even out the score,” Buehlmann says.
For those unemployed millhands in Bassett, Stanleytown and Martinsville, he says, “Scars still exist that won’t go away.”

Sustainable Success

Caperton FurnitureWorks is located in Berkeley Springs, W.Va., and has been for nearly 40 years. While most furniture factories have gone out of business or moved overseas, Caperton is producing high-quality pieces using local wood and local skills for national companies. Demand for American-made furniture is growing, says owner Gat Caperton, and they’re meeting that demand in Central Appalachia.

A proud West Virginian, Caperton sources nearly all of his wood locally, using a lumber mill in nearby Elkins. And the pieces his factory produces aren’t built by machines on an assembly line — each one is put together by hand.

Excerpt from a blog post by Carrie Ray, read more at

World Market

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012 - posted by molly

Sowing Seeds of Local Resilience

By Molly Moore

Appalachian farmers grow countless varieties of squash. Photo courtesy of ASAP,

Appalachian farms are many things: bucolic, rugged, diverse and productive. But rarely does the word “large” apply.

Historically, farm size was not always an indicator of farm success. But today, small farmers aren’t just competing with their neighbors; they’re competing with large multinational conglomerates for space on consumers’ grocery lists.

Allison Perrett, a researcher with Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project, a nonprofit organization working in western North Carolina, studies the impact of the world marketplace on regional agriculture. “Globalization is both this big behemoth economic global system, but it’s also the countermovements that are emerging in response to it,” she says.

The ethos of globalization — eliminating barriers to international trade and rewarding regions for maximizing productivity — entered U.S. agricultural policy in the 1950s, Perrett says, when then-President Dwight Eisenhower’s secretary of agriculture, Ezra Taft Benson, told farmers to “Get big or get out.”

“We’re in the mountains and our farms are constrained by geography,” Perrett says. “And so our farms can’t get big, for the most part they can’t achieve the volume, the economies of scale that you need to have in order to compete in a global market.” According to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau farm data, from 2007, the average U.S. farm is about 420 acres, while the average western North Carolina farm is 75 acres.

Turmoil Breeds Transition

Still, Appalachian farms were comparatively sheltered from the changes that led to the consolidation and closure of many medium- and small-scale midwestern farms during the ‘80s and ‘90s. Appalachia lost farms but retained more small growers than the rest of the nation largely because of a federal program that provided stable prices for one of the region’s signature cash crops — tobacco.

The program, a product of the New Deal that followed the Great Depression, controlled the tobacco market by guaranteeing a fixed price to growers who adhered to production quotas. But mounting public health concerns with tobacco use paved the way for the program’s demise in 2004, known as the tobacco buyout. In 1997 there were over 3,000 tobacco farms in western North Carolina alone — ten years later, there were about 250.

Members of the farming community witnessing the industry’s turmoil saw the tobacco buyout approaching. In response, Perrett says, “a group of farmers, concerned citizens, and agricultural support personnel came together and said, ‘What can we do to make sure that farming survives and stays in our communities and continues to be part of our culture?’” She sees the rise of the local food movement over the past decade as a combination of farmers’ need to transition in order to survive in the new market and consumers’ growing awareness of healthy, sustainable food.

One measure of the success of local foods is the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project’s local food guide, which has been published in western North Carolina since 2002. In a decade, the number of farms grew from 36 to over 550, and farmers’ markets increased from 28 to 91, encouraging young entrepreneurs to start farming and providing seasoned farmers with new sources of revenue to replace those outlets lost to market shifts.

Sheep at Maple Creek Farm in Burnsville, NC, enjoy a sunny day after a snow. Since the 1950s, the region around Burnsville has lost about 70 percent of its farmland. Photo courtesy of ASAP,

Costly Compliance

In Abingdon, Va., Kathyrn Terry heads Appalachian Sustainable Development, an organization that supports local food systems in the mountains of Virginia and Tennessee. She says the influence of multinational food systems can surface in unexpected places, such as when regional farmers are working to bring local food into local grocery stores. Many grocery chains require farmers to follow uniform international food safety procedures, which Terry says are well-intentioned but can be damaging to small producers.

“These food safety requirements are really not tailored for our farmers,” she says. According to Terry, it’s not uncommon for a food safety procedure to require tissue samples from each planting, which can cost $200 or more per crop, with some crops planted more than once in a growing season. For a small farm with many different crops and multiple plantings, that price tag can be high enough to keep a grower off the grocery shelves. On top of that, she says, different grocery stores often require various costly safety certifications.

Farmers without the proper certifications can be turned down from grocers, which Terry says is frustrating, especially when certified producers from countries with poor water sanitation are allowed to sell their goods. Appalachian Sustainable Development works to raise grocers’ awareness of local farmers’ needs, with some success. “Some of our buyers have been flexible to accept other certifications, which is stepping out on a limb for them,” she says.

Synchronized Swimming

Adding to regional farmers’ troubles is the simple fact that large companies can sell their product for less and still make a profit, which threatens small farmers. Still, lower-cost imports aren’t always harmful, says the University of Arizona’s Dr. Kevin Fitzsimmons, secretary-treasurer of the American Tilapia Association. Tilapia, a white fish native to Africa but frequently farmed in Asia and South America, also fares well in indoor aquaculture facilities.

In 2010, the U.S. imported over 11 times more tilapia than American farmers sold domestically. Fitzsimmons says most U.S. imports are frozen filets, which reach different markets than fresh, American-grown fish. “U.S. growers sell the vast majority of their fish as live product to Asian restaurants and grocery stores,” he says. Because tilapia require water temperatures above 60 degrees, it’s unlikely that U.S. farmers could raise tilapia for the frozen market as cost-effectively as equatorial producers. “Really all the [frozen] products coming in from China have not affected U.S. growers at all except to educate the public about what tilapia is.”

Directly or indirectly, that market education has an impact in Appalachia. Blue Ridge Aquaculture in Martinsville, Va., the biggest American producer of indoor-raised tilapia, transports live fish across the U.S. and Canada. The aquaculture facility at Johnson County High School in Mountain City, Tenn., produces the minimum amount of fish needed to keep the facility running for its main purpose — education. There’s a waiting list of local consumers who purchase the 10,000 pounds of tilapia the system currently yields annually (the hydroponic facility also yields bib lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers).

The high school’s geothermal-powered, highly efficient aquaculture facility is arguably a model of self-sufficiency and the integration of a non-native food product into a local market. Kenneth McQueen, who helps manage the high school facility, says the biggest challenge facing domestic tilapia producers isn’t international competition but something that strikes closer to home — increasing local demand for fish by encouraging Americans to eat healthier.

Ironically, Appalachia’s exposure to international trade winds might be seeding a period of resilience among Appalachian farmers. “The local food campaign’s been around for a decade, but we really are at the very beginning of this transition,” Allison Perrett says. “It took a long time for the global food system to get to where it is, and those systems are very entrenched. And it’s going to take time to develop food systems that are grounded in our communities.”