Build on Historic Traditions

By Dr. Jeff Boyer
Dr Boyer is a professor in the Anthropology Department and Sustainable Development Program at Appalachian State University

Peering into Appalachia’s crystal ball, 20 years out is mostly full of “ifs.” But if the current economic recession darkens our gaze, the recent election was more about hope than fear, regardless of how this person or that county voted. It means that new voices have a better chance of being heard, whether they are rural or urban, white, black, Native American or Latino. My comments come mainly from this hopeful sense about the region’s future.

We can build on the historical traditions of reciprocity and neighborliness that have long distinguished Appalachian family and community life. I hope that newcomers to the mountains learn to embrace and enrich these sharing practices. Undoubtedly our hollers, towns and cities will be more socially diverse in 20 years; therefore let’s broaden and make the “Appalachian we” as inclusive as possible.

The old mountain commons were about grazing livestock and gathering medicinal plants together in the higher elevation “open range.”

A new mountain commons should be working together to revitalize family farms, growing healthy food for ourselves and the region. We can green our energy and economy, creating new livelihoods by specializing in the manufacture of small and medium-sized technologies that are appropriate for our communities and for those in other rural areas. Appalachia’s higher educational institutions, mine included, can help by researching what is needed for this effort. By partnering with non-profits, businesses, and government, we can all help to build a more permanently sustainable economy. If we come together and do this, we could even see an appreciable restoration of the biodiversity that has been so devastated by mountaintop removal in the coal fields.

Another restoration necessary to build the inclusive “we”: Appalachia’s good traditions of welcoming the stranger, porch settin’, and listening rather than shouting past one another. Our grandchildren’s future beckons.


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