Sustaining Healthy Appalachian Communities
Friday, November 16th, 2012
Editor’s Note: Wendy Johnston is a sixth generation West Virginian from Mercer County and the granddaughter and great granddaughter of coal miners. Her post is the second in a series of guest blogs coinciding with our “No More Excuses” campaign on iLoveMountains.org, where we ask impacted Appalachians why President Obama should make ending mountaintop removal a priority in his second term. We’re happy to feature her story here.
“Oh the West Virginia hills how majestic and how grand, with their summits bathed in glory like our Prince Emmanuel’s land. Is it any wonder then that my heart with rapture fills, as I stand once more with loved ones on those West Virginia hills?”
That is a verse from the state song of West Virginia. As a child I can remember feeling so proud every time I sang this song. As a college student living away from my family this song made me feel closer to the hills that seemed so very far away, and as a young mother just moving home after a long absence I could not wait to teach my children the song that would be their state song. Little did I know that one day the words to this song may not be true, that our majestic mountain summits would someday be destroyed and that even our loved ones gone on before us would have their resting places disturbed.
Mountaintop removal has put in jeopardy more than just those mountain summits though. This form of mining has destroyed entire communities, poisoned water systems, polluted our air and caused one of the largest health emergencies in our nation’s history.
I live on a 168-acre farm in southern West Virginia, I look at beautiful mountains every day, it would be easy to pretend that mountaintop removal does not exist. I cannot see the destruction of the mountains and I cannot hear the blasting that many fellow Appalachians live with daily, but I can feel this very real and horrendous disaster in my heart and if I drive just a short distance from my home I can see and hear it as well.
I have chosen not to ignore this terrible thing that has come to our mountains. I have chosen to bring attention to this crime against the people of Appalachia, a crime against the earth and a crime against the future of clean water in America. I spend a significant amount of time educating others about the ill-effects of mountaintop removal. I have visited classrooms in our local schools and have addressed service groups who come to Appalachia from other states. My parents, my children and my husband are all involved in some way in our movement to end the blasting of mountains and communities. Making Appalachia a healthy and prosperous region is very important to me. I volunteer with several organizations that are active in this movement and hope that my work has helped to educate others.
As we enter a new era in the history of the United States I want to implore our President to visit Appalachia on more than just a campaign stop. Come and visit with people who live in the community of Twilight, W.Va., which is barely hanging on to its very existence. I implore him to visit the town of Appalachia, Va., where mountaintop removal has destroyed the mountains all around the town and people breathe poisoned air from the daily blasting of the mountains above them. I beg him to visit McDowell County, W.Va., where the largest amount of coal has been removed over the last 100 years of any county in state, but where the people are among the poorest in the nation. I implore him to visit Prenter Hollow, W.Va., a where there is a huge percentage of citizens dealing with cancer and many more whom have already passed away. The health concerns in Appalachia must be addressed by our state and national leaders. We must demand this as citizens of the Appalachian region.
But as citizens of the Appalachian region, we must also set our own example of how to build sustainable and healthy environments. If our state governments will not help us prepare for a greener and safer future then we must move ahead on our own. On our farm in southern West Virginia, my family raises a large portion of our own food and we also operate a vegetable CSA, providing vegetables for between 15 and 20 families each week. We raise beef cattle and sheep on a mostly grass fed diet and sell the meat from our farm. We are also involved in many other sustainable ventures, my husband repairs farm equipment and works as an auctioneer, my daughter and I operate an antique booth and sell collectible items online. In my state and in many other parts of Appalachia folks are planning ahead for a future not dependent on fossil fuels and the mono-economy created by the coal industry, and they are doing so without the help of their elected officials.
Appalachians provided for themselves for many years before the coal industry invaded their mountain communities and will be able to do so again. Our plea is this: please quit pitting neighbor against neighbor in a fabricated war against a finite resource, support our sustainable business ventures, invest in the future of our children so that they can stay in healthy Appalachian communities instead of moving away and address the results of health studies that show that the people living near mountaintop removal sites are some of the sickest in the nation.
We must move forward to provide clean air, clean water and healthy communities for everyone in our great nation.