A hard rain’s gonna fall.

Bill has been unemployed for 2 years, sold his house in Florida at a loss, and now lives in tents with 5 family members.

I just got back from spending six rain-soaked days in Appalachia and the Arkansas Delta, viewing some of Heifer’s newest projects to reduce hunger and poverty here in America.It was a damp and eye-opening trip in which I got to meet some remarkable people, experience despair at the entrenched poverty I saw, and feel beams of hope in the creativity and passion of farmers, cheese-makers, biker pastors, entrepreneurs and dreamers in both regions.

Charles Church, organic farmer.

American poverty is the great silent shame of our time. At $15 trillion dollars a year, the American economy is the largest in the world, producing ¼ of the planet’s entire gross domestic product. Yet one in seven people in America live below the poverty line of $22, 113 for a family of four. A person working full-time at the minimum wage earns about $14,500 a year – and 80% of single mothers heading a household work at least one job and still can’t provide the basic necessities for their children.

The largest demographic of poor people are children – with 44% of American children living in low-income working families. About half of all American children will receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (food stamps) before the age of 20; for African-American children, that number is 90%. And the majority of all Americans will live in poverty at some point before reaching the age of 65.

Now that you’re in a coma of statistics and depression … let me tell you how beautiful Appalachia is. (I’ll get to the beautiful Delta later..)

I spent my first four days in Boone, North Carolina and the surrounding towns in far western North Carolina. Even in the relentless rain, the green of the fields and mountains, the tidy gardens of the small households, and the sweeping vistas you knew were huddled behind the dark clouds were glorious. But you can’t eat beauty. In Appalachia, the problem is not a lack of land but the lack of production of local food, organic produce, and provisions that are sought after and becoming ever more valuable in these tourist-driven communities. In the Delta, amidst huge agribusiness farms on endless swaths of land, the people have no acres to call their own, their local economy has dried up like the drought-stricken earth, and they are literally stranded in towns buffeted by crop dusters and blown past by anyone with wheels.

Poison raining down from above.

Somehow the land’s beauty in both places makes the hardscrabble lives of so many residents even harder to accept– along with the mining and manufacturing jobs that won’t be coming back, and the traditional ways of life evaporating like fog on the mountain. But Heifer and a bunch of other folks in these mountain and Delta communities are determined to draw a line in the sand and simply not allow that to happen.

Mast General provisions .. yummm!

I’ll be telling you their stories over the next two weeks. In the meantime, here’s Bob Dylan to take you back to those days when we swore we’d never let something like this happen here.

Categories: Agriculture, Appalachia, Farming, Heifer International, Photography, Poverty, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

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25 thoughts on “A hard rain’s gonna fall.

  1. Earth Ocean Sky Redux

    Betty: It is your posts from Appalachia that I was longing to read about the most. The poor in America is especially difficult concept to accept and honestly, most of us ignore them, assuming some government assistance program will solve their needs and we can feel okay. I find myself fighting (usually a lost cause) with my friends all the time when they give to international causes and I suggest we have to take care of our own first. I was just in western North Carolina myself, not in Boone, but another very deeply affected pocket of poverty. It’s a startling slap of reality to see our fellow citizens in such despair, but I agree with your assessment that for all their heartache, they are resilient, forward-looking and hopeful. I got the sense it’s their deep faith that keeps them focused on the good.

    I look forward to more stories from this region.

    • Thank you, EOSR — and I completely share your feeling of outrage that in our country there is so much poverty we basically refuse to see. I have a lot to write on this subject and the Heifer projects, I am so happy that you are reading — and bless you for be willing to give here in America!

  2. Beautiful post, and you are a beautiful person for so eloquently calling attention to this national shame.

  3. Deb Morrow Palmer

    I have been to this area and several in Kentucky repairing homes. It is amazing the standard of living in these areas. I wonder how they survive some of the harsh winters. I am so thankful Heifer International has recognized this and is looking for solutions to help. Because of our country’s wealth, many of the international programs over look USA. I always am amazed at what we pay our politicians who run this country, and they vote in raises to their already excessive budget, yet overlook the areas of our country that is devastating. Another area is South Dakota Indian Reservation. I am so ashamed of our country ignoring the truly needy. Their answer is to give them a welfare check, not monitor how it is spent, and not educate them in a worthwhile long lasting job!! I definitely walk a conservative liberal line on politics. BUT every politician making it to the top positions in my lifetime have proven to be greedy and take advantage of their position to advance those that will pour money into their personal needs. Oh well, off my bandstand. You are amazing and I pray you have many readers. Your blogs are so beautifully eye opening.

    • Debbie — You are totally right that it is hard to consider welfare a sane solution when it seems to just disempower people to take control of their own lives and future and make them dependent — and depressed. And yet, it’s hard to blame welfare when there are literally no jobs for people to take. I’m not at all sure what the answer is, but I know it HAS to start with jobs and opportunities for the people who live there so they can improve their own lives. I’m really excited to write about the stuff I’ve seen right here in the USA!

  4. Betty,
    Thank you for bringing attention to the heartbreaking problems in our own country.

  5. Can’t wait to hear more since its a couple hours from me and beautiful lands. I know they need dentists as I have seen many a visitor in the hospital with no teeth from the mountains and the north. Thanks Betty! What about fishing n farming instead of mining? What about the crop duster’s?

    • Yes, in the latest Heifer magazine, they talked about a dental ministry coming in and doing $55,000 worth of free dental services in a single day. Talk about need… and I will be talking about fishing AND farming to provide jobs (the crop dusters work on the giant agribusiness farms in the Delta and they are everywhere, spraying pesticides that drift over everybody’s house, towns and gardens. Yuck!!!

      • Earth Ocean Sky Redux

        One final comment and I’ll stop. Sorry to blab on. I have volunteered for Friends of Appalachia and they partner with a group called Kids First Dental, dentists who travel and donate their services all throughout Appalachia. Fabulous group.

      • Thanks for all this info!

  6. Beautiful post!! I am very familiar with the area of which you talk about. My late grandfather retired in Western N. Carolina and taught at Western Carolina University. My husband and I met each other at Lake Junaluska, NC (Waynesville/Maggie Valley area)- We were up there a couple of weeks ago and experienced the rain of which you speak. I love the fog coming off the mountains early in the morning and after a good hard rain up there. We also love the Mast General Store.

    This post made me smile in more ways than one. Prayers and hugs to the ministry that you are doing through Heifer.

    • I LOVED Mast General and have all kinds of visions of all those provisions being created by people in the area … it’s such a beautiful part of the country, and I’m glad you have seen so much of it!!

  7. I am disheartened at what agribusiness and modern day mining are doing to so many parts of the country. We destroy the environment, we destroy lives. Betty, Betty, Betty, you are a gift to us all. Your voice rings loud and true.

    • Earth Ocean Sky Redux

      Boomer: I would say mining is the salvation to the poor in Appalachia. With new regulations to eliminate all coal mining, those impoverished towns that existed thanks TO mining, are now worse off. I spoke with so many people in the towns where I volunteer that are now forced to move because their towns are without a source of employment. It’s a double edge sword Boomer. Me, I’d vote for the people to stay employed before I would say we are destroying our environment. But that’s just my point of view.

      • That’s a really tough one, EOSR, but I have to say — when you see the horrible destruction that mountaintop removal has caused, you just want it to stop. On the other hand, when it’s the only source of income for people, it’s a horrible paradox. I think the answer is for the PLANET to get off of its addiction to coal (which is probably the cause of more climate change than any other single thing) – and to develop more environmentally sound solutions to the ever-increasing demand for energy. It’s not easy — god knows – but I have total faith that we are bright, inventive and creative enough to do it if we have the will and the investment money behind it!

  8. Thanks SO much, Renee — it’s difficult to write about hunger and poverty in America in a way that isn’t totally depressing, because it’s become so much more entrenched (and that definitely has to do with environmental horrors like mountaintop removal and all the extractive/exploitative industries in both the Delta and Appalachia) … but I do believe that there is a way to improve the situation, and Heifer has some great ideas here!

  9. I’ve been wondering about Heifer’s work in the U.S. So glad you are teaching us, Betty. You can’t eat beauty is a painfully important concept.

  10. It’s sad, isn’t it? One of the best books I’ve read about poverty in America is Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Nickled and Dimed.” I ussed to teach part of it in my writing class at the Univ. of KY.

    Perhaps, the most powerful line in this post is about our not being able to eat beauty. That’s true for so much of the world.

    Thanks for sharing this important message, Betty.


  11. Kathryn, I LOVED that book — it totally opened my eyes to the trap of poverty and how you absolutely need to have money to get out of poverty (how ironic) and always recommend it! Thanks for reading so faithfully, Kathryn, and always having something positive to say! xooxxo b p.s. How did I not know you taught writing at the U. of KY?? I’d LOVE to take a class from you!!!

  12. so sad on so very many levels.

    and how much of that trillion dollar economy is spent on the military ?

  13. Martha Radatz

    If this doesn’t make a person angry, I don’t know what will. We have plenty to be proud of in this country, but more than we care to admit to be ashamed about.

  14. Pingback: Heifer 12 x 12 USA Round-Up | Heifer Blog

  15. Pingback: Heifer Sustainability Summit « Hello, World

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