Posts Tagged With: Appalachia

Holler back, Appalachia & The Delta.

hollerLast July I spent five rainy days in Appalachia, in the far west of North Carolina near Boone – and another two days in the Arkansas Delta in the town of Hughes, visiting new projects Heifer International is undertaking here in America. barn

This is pretty country.hydrangea

In the Delta, it’s awesomely fertile country (or at least it was before the advent of agribusiness with its soil-stripping, water-hogging monoculture of corn, cotton, rice and soybeans that requires only one person per 1,000 acres to farm). agribusinessBut this is also hardscrabble America … where poverty prevails, industry has fled, opportunity seems to have vanished, and hope is hard to find.shedIt’s important to see this America.

The only food store in Hughes burnt last year.

The only food store in Hughes burnt down last year.

It matters.Austin

Because 15% — or 46.2 million people– now live in poverty in America; and when I say poor, I mean a family of four earning less than $22,200 a year. And 36% of those poor people are children. The miracle of grapes

But to most of us, they’re invisible.waitressesWhen you’re in a place like Hughes or Ashe, N.C., (or just living with our heads in the sand), it’s easy to feel like there’s nothing that can be done. But Heifer’s crew of Jeffrey, Perry, Edward, Pastor Rob, Bubba, Duncan, Travis and a host of others have a different view.

Edward Rucker, Heifer's charismatic community organizer in Hughes.

Edward Rucker, Heifer’s charismatic community organizer in Hughes.

Biker/gardener Duncan and his wife

Biker/gardener Duncan and his wife tend a huge community garden in North Wilkesboro, NC

Carol Coulter, cheesemaker extraordinaire.

Carol Coulter, Appalachian cheesemaker extraordinaire.

Heifer’s plan is to work within these communities using sustainable agriculture to improve the health, nutrition and income of the people – organizing smallholder farmers (providing land when necessary) to grow fruits, honey, nuts, meats, and vegetables that can be sold in local markets. hopeBasically, it’s about turning these food deserts and manufacturing graveyards into oases of growth. pepperThat endeavor requires education, support, counsel, supply chains, marketing and attitudinal changes – but Heifer and hundreds of activists in the community believe it can be done– and who am I to argue with hope?Angela, Chad and Pastor Rob BrooksAs Perry Jones, Heifer’s USA country director says, “Once an opportunity is given and people have a chance for a dignified, self-reliant life, they lunge into it.” secret

Have hope. Read more from Appalachia & The Delta here:

https://heifer12x12.com/2012/07/18/a-hard-rains-gonna-fall/

https://heifer12x12.com/2012/07/24/seeds-of-changesprouts-of-hope-2/

https://heifer12x12.com/2012/07/27/down-on-the-farm-sure-looks-like-up-to-me/

https://heifer12x12.com/2012/08/01/bikers-for-broccoli/

https://heifer12x12.com/2012/08/06/a-short-rant-about-food/

https://heifer12x12.com/2012/08/09/despair-hope-in-the-delta/

Categories: Agriculture, Appalachia, Food, Heifer International, Photography, Poverty, Travel, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Despair & hope in the Delta.

Traveling from Appalachia to the Arkansas Delta was a shock to me. I thought I was prepared to see poverty – heck, I’ve been seeing poverty this whole year of travel with Heifer – but there was something about the sheer desolation of the town of Hughes, Arkansas that just about broke my heart.

The Delta stretches across the far eastern part of Arkansas, in the vastly fertile bottom lands of the Mississippi River where giant agribusiness farms of 10,000 acres prevail. Yet in an ocean of agricultural fecundity, Hughes is a food desert – its only grocery store burned to the ground.

Delta folk are predominantly African-American; brought to the region as slaves, they worked as sharecroppers for decades after the Civil War, then as agricultural day laborers until farm mechanization reduced the need for human labor. Now unemployment in the Delta stands at about 40%, prostitution and drug use are rampant, food insecurity of children is about 25%, and even the Blue Devils Hughes football team is a fading memory on a rusting water tower.

Main Street, Hughes

But as Perry Jones, Director of Heifer USA reminded me, “This is the before photo. We’re just getting started here, and things are going to change.”

Sweet girls of Hughes saying, “Take my picture! Take my picture!”

Heifer’s Seeds of Change program will focus five years working in 9 counties in the Arkansas Delta to create community food enterprises (and jobs) growing healthy, local, organic food and linking small-scale farmers to larger and diverse markets in nearby Little Rock and Memphis, where local food is sought-after and valued.

That sounds good on paper, but it’s the people making it work who turned my feelings of despair into something approaching optimism. Perry himself is a fire hose of positivity. Having spent 14 years working for Heifer in Bolivia, Jones still believes he has the “best job in the world” and that “if you give people the chance for a dignified, self-reliant life, they’ll lunge into that opportunity.”

Gardener William Eldridge

And indeed, we saw some of that lunging. William Eldridge, a local gardener, introduced himself to us on the street while I was taking photos and was eager to drag us over to see his garden.

Edward Rucker, Heifer Production Manager in Hughes.

Edward Rucker, Heifer’s Production Manager, grew up in the area and is recruiting local growers like William, assisting them with farm trainings and marketing, and searching for a place to establish a Farmer’s Market to sell local produce. The East Arkansas Enterprise Community, established in 1995, is partnering with Heifer to offer technical and financial assistance to these local growers and to help dispel negative notions that keep people from farming. Notions like working the land is tantamount to slavery, or that giving up government assistance to work is too big a risk (any income can cause essential benefits to be taken away). These are real issues and can only be resolved with proof that success is possible.

Local sweet potatoes, a high value crop in the Delta.

And that’s what Perry and his team are out to do: create a model of economic, social and environmental health in a place where it has never existed. Like in the new Hughes Community Garden, overseen by Reverend W.E. DuBois — 90 years old and “retired” from teaching agriculture in the nearby community college.

Reverend W. E. DuBois and his garden

It’s been said that the darkest hour is just before the dawn, and I’m praying that’s true. It’s high time for a Delta dawn.

Categories: Agriculture, Appalachia, Farming, Heifer International, Hunger, Photography, Poverty, Travel, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 36 Comments

Bikers for Broccoli.

Pastor Duncan Overrein of Crossfire Biker Church

I’m not much of a biker chick (I proudly ride a scooter, dude) and precious few people confuse me with an evangelical Christian, but I have to tell you, I was about ready to jump on a Harley and get a few big Jesus tattoos after meeting the liturgical heads of the Crossfire Biker Church in Wilkes, North Carolina, during my trip with Heifer to Appalachia.

Big, sweet Dwight “Bubba” Smith

Duncan Overrein and Dwight (Bubba) Smith are the Associate Pastors (Alan Rice is the Senior Pastor) of Crossfire, an admittedly unorthodox United Methodist Church. Their sanctuary is in Cooler #1 of a 17,000 square-foot former refrigerated trucking terminal, their choir is a kick-ass hard rock band, and their collection basket is called “Loot the Boot” –but if their mission isn’t pure love in action, I don’t know what is.

Duncan and Bubba were called to the ministry after admittedly colorful pasts, and they have thrown their hearts and their Harleys into the work. With Heifer’s help, they’ve created The Giving Table, a hub for a regional food system whose mission is to bring jobs, better nutrition and income to Wilkes County.

The collection boots.

Bubba, who worked in Crossfire’s terminal/tabernacle for 8 years and knows every nook and cranny in the massive place, is planning to use every square foot of refrigerated space to distribute grass-fed, hormone-free beef to a burgeoning market, plus they’ve already started a food pantry that feeds 50 needy families a week, partnered with Wilkes County to get a $358,000 grant to build a greenhouse that is supplying thousands of seedlings to local gardeners, and started their own one-acre vegetable garden that is donating oodles of fresh produce to those in need.

And there are a lot of needy people in Wilkes County. Fully 25% of Crossfire’s own congregation is unemployed, and the county is one of the poorest and most food insecure in the state. But on the up side, Wilkes is fourth of North Carolina’s 100 counties in beef production. So Smith is working with Heifer’s Jeffrey Scott to make that a viable enterprise: buying finished steers from local farmers, partnering with a local slaughterhouse (more jobs!), distributing the meat to stores and restaurants, and donating 10% of all that beef to the Second Harvest food pantry. Which is really a good thing, as nationally food pantry demand has gone up by about 50% while government support has decreased by about 66%.

Until they get started with beef, sugar & salt hams are curing in Crossfire’s warehouse.

Meanwhile, out back Duncan is overseeing Crossfire’s big, beautiful God’s Garden in Community with a passel of volunteers who show up every day to stake, tend, harvest & weed. When I ask Duncan if he’s always been a gardener, he looks at me like I’m a bit loco and says,  “No, I’ve always been a biker. But the Lord showed me to it.” I ask how the Lord showed him and he replies, “In Genesis, Adam and Eve were told ‘In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread’ … so I figured I needed to learn how to grow things. And look how awesome God is!”

Duncan gestures exuberantly  at his abundant garden and I totally concur: it is pretty darn awesome.

Duncan’s green miracle.

Pastors Bubba and Duncan still have a long road to hoe before they get their meat processing venture off the ground; it’s a complicated enterprise with lots of moving parts and hurdles to overcome. But they have Heifer’s support, they are stepping out in faith, and they’re not afraid of much– maybe because they’ve seen a lot of bad road.

As Duncan philosophically puts it “As bikers, we’ve always been a brotherhood, always worked hard, always lent a helping hand, and always had each other’s backs. So I figure we’ve been doing God’s work all along.”

Pastor Duncan Overrein, Brother Jeffrey Scott of Heifer & Pastor Bubba Smith talking it out.

Do I hear an amen?

Categories: Agriculture, Animals, Appalachia, Food, Heifer International, Photography, Travel, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

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

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: