It is hard to look at any environmental issue without it somehow sourcing back to food. Our water, soil, and air are all intricately linked to how we choose to feed ourselves. Today it seems that many have lost connection with their food and communities, and in turn, their understanding of the environment. It used to be that in order to eat we had to interact one on one with the living systems around us; whether hunting and gathering, managing pastures, or cultivating crops we had to understand our micro-environment. Viewed as a less than desirable career, farming is quickly losing hold in the push and pull of our capitalist society. Farmers are some of the greatest citizen scientists, they can tell you about a drought back in 1983…the timing for migration of various species…behavioral habits of pests….the list goes on and on. It seems that if we could approach farming from the environmental standpoint we could recruit more young farmers in rural counties. It is true that farming is seeing a revival, however we are still losing farmland and family farms at an alarming rate.
My passion for agriculture is not new, however since moving to Polk County, NC I have renewed my love for rural agrarian life. The first few months in this county of less than 20,000 people was hard. I was lonely and desperate for shopping centers, densely packed restaurants, and nightlife. I moved to a small duplex down a dirt road managed by a local farmer. It was a month in that I found the wild muscadine vine at the edge of my woods. I harvested seven pounds of grapes and made my first batch of muscadine jam. This simple action changed my whole view of the area. I grew up in the piedmont of North Carolina, however Polk County was vastly different, it’s southern culture more rooted in the Deep South rather than the Appalachian southern culture. As time passed and I became more involved in agricultural outreach my love of Southern Appalachia and farming was revived.
As my passion for the countryside grew, my relationships with local farmers and families also began to flourish. I learned that my “farmer” landlord went to Appalachian State University for chemistry, and has created an edible food forest on his property, grown with all organic methods. I’m still amazed by the people who come out of the woodworks in this small county. I think a lot of times people pass judgment on rural areas, thinking they are less educated, less worldly, less exciting…but what I’ve come to find is that small towns hold a lot of secrets and champions seeking change, and they need environmental interventions and community development just as much as any area.
Until next time…
AmeriCorps Project Conserve
Agricultural Outreach Coordinator
Polk Agricultural Economic Development