Visions for the Future: Build It Up, W.Va.

The opinions expressed in Viewpoints are those of the author’s and are not necessarily reflected by The Appalachian Voice

By Joe Gorman

Appalachia’s population is aging and its youth are leaving. This is a critical moment: for a sustainable future we need to give youth a reason to stay here.

Currently, the Appalachian economy is choked by extractive industries and doesn’t offer much for people who don’t want to mine coal or offer ‘fries with that.’ This is the big-picture reason we created the Build-It-Up West Virginia summer program—to instill hope and values of sustainability in young people and hook youth into creative and proactive forms of resistance that are building diverse and regional economies.

I see food and energy as key components of sustainability in Appalachia’s future. All energy production is extractive, but the more we produce our own energy, the bigger the incentive is to boot out practices that destroy our natural systems that supply us with water and food

West Virginia can easily provide all its own energy from less harmful, decentralized, renewable sources if we can break our exploitation by extractive corporations and invest in energy conservation. There is a multifaceted fight against the energy status quo, but we are working to get youth involved in grassroots renewable energy projects as well.

Though our first major exports were pelts, cattle and moonshine, West Virginia now sits at the bottom of the list for agriculture, and most farmers are on the verge of retirement.

But the Green Revolution’s focus on large-scale monocultures caused it to skip over Appalachia, and sustainable food traditions never fully disappeared. Farmers are physically closer than agricultural people in other parts of the country, which facilitates traditional knowledge sharing and building self-sufficient communities.

So in my work, I will continue to foster those connections and inspire youth with the concrete change we make in local and sustainable energy and food.

Joe Gorman is the group coordinator for Build-It-Up West Virginia, a project of the Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC) sponsored by Americorps VISTA, Step-by-Step West Virginia, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, and Coal River Mountain Watch. The 2010 program started June 6th and continues through August 1st.

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