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100 Days, 100 Voices

‘This is still a wealthy region’ says McDowell farmer

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Everybody that sits down and blesses a table and enjoys a meal has somebody like myself and countless other small farmers around the world to thank for that.

Sylvester “Sky” Edwards: My true passion has always been growing my own food. Being part of the Mormon faith, we’re admonished to have three years of food supply. The best way to do that and the best way to be safe about the food is know where it comes from, know who grew it and know what you have. That’s always been the key for me. People don’t know how to eat healthy, because they don’t raise stuff. They just buy whatever is available. They don’t know how to do this because there’s nobody here teaching them how to do it.

Everybody here looks at wealth in the form of gas, timber and coal — but they’re asleep at the wheel when it comes to looking at the natural wealth that has always been here and will always be here. These mountains right now are coming into maple syrup season, after that it will be spring mushrooms, after that it’ll be berries and nuts and honey. All these things you can do at different times of the year, so these mountains offer crops continuously. That little sideline business could turn into a full-fledged, small business year-round. It depends on how far you want to take it. Nobody goes up and fertilizes these trees, prunes these trees or anything. You can tap them every year until they die, and these trees live to be two or three hundred years old.

One of the great things we have is a salad mixture with no lettuce because lettuce is really low on nutritional value. We use things like Dinosaur Kale, Red Russian Kale and Blue Vates Kale. We use Arugula and Mustard and all these greens in there. They all bring a different taste and texture to that salad. So now, just a little vinegar or just a drab of something instead of saturating your salad in vinegar and oil or a salad dressing. You want to enjoy the taste of all these different types of greens. Then it feels like your meal instead of just eating a precursor to the meal.

We have a mushroom called the King Bolete. We have Chanterelles here, Oyster mushrooms, Hen-of-the-Wood, Morels — we have an abundance! We have probably thirteen or fourteen hundred mushroom species. Most people don’t even know whether they are edible or not.

We also have some of the best honey runs across the country. All the big poplar trees that bloom, that’s tulip poplar honey. We have locust, an abundance of locust blooms. Then we have honeysuckle, we have poison sumac, poison oak, and poison ivy. They make great honey. And then we have pawpaws. We have all these things that grow here, that produce flowers, that produce nectar, not to mention all the wildflowers and all the rhododendrons that grow in this state. So these mountains are great for beekeeping. Wild ginseng brings the most favorable price, all the way to China, and most of the places they get it from is right here in Appalachia, unless it’s cultivated someplace else. But most people who are here don’t see these things and don’t know how they fit in the world market. Crops grown in Appalachia can’t be got anywhere else, but Appalachia. They have a true market value, I don’t care where they are sold.

Armed with the right tools, how to identify the mushrooms, how to tap trees, how to make the syrup — once they get this information then they can do as much or as little as they want. Their entire destiny from that point lies in their hands. How many people would love to have a job where you are your own boss? You can work as many hours as you want. You don’t have to worry about being sued for overtime or anything else.  What you do is a direct result of how much money you make. Nowhere will I ever tell you it’s easy. I will say that it takes a tremendous amount of work. But along with that tremendous amount of work it brings a wealth of knowledge.

As a person who goes to the grocery store to buy a meal, most people never consider the person that grew that food. I don’t care who you are. I don’t care how much money you make, what your station in life is, everybody that sits down and blesses a table and enjoys a meal has somebody like myself and countless other small farmers around the world to thank for that. The days when you don’t want to be out here, this is where you’ll find us. When it’s 100 degrees, this is where you find us. West Virginia needs to own what we do. This is still a wealthy region to live in. We just have to do our work and go out, harvest it, find appropriate markets, and then work from there.

“We don’t want another non-profit. We want people making profits,” Edwards said, “We want dollars made in McDowell County to bounce around McDowell and the region.”

Sylvester “Sky” Edwards, 67, grew up on the Eastern Band Cherokee Reservation in the Great Smoky Mountains. Edwards spent most of his adult working as a stonemason in Ohio, Wyoming, Colorado, Montana and Washington. In 2014, going against the migration tide, he and his family moved back into the region, picking McDowell County, West Virginia as home. Edwards is one of the founding members of the Southeast Educational & Economic Development Hub, (SEEDH), a newly formed for-profit business focusing on agriculture related businesses and the aggregation of agricultural products in order to create viable markets.

McDowell County has lost more than 44 percent of its population since 1990 and is known for its struggles with a failing coal industry and generational poverty. Edwards established Creekside Farm, one of the first organic produce farms in Kimball. Together with farmer Jason Tartt, the two created McDowell County Farms, a co-op providing affordable local produce and working with organizations to educate youth about good health and alternative work. “Kids here do have options, we’re just not telling them,” said Edwards.

Last year Sylvester Edwards grew a variety of salad greens and corn in this field. He hopes to buy the abandoned church nearby and has tapped the maple trees to make syrup.


In ‘100 Days, 100 Voices’ Nancy Andrews presents photographs depicting the diversity of voices across Appalachia. These portraits strive to show the varied faces, passions, issues and opinions from around the region. These interviews have been edited for brevity and clarity. If you have an idea for ‘100 Days, 100 Voices’ please contact Nancy Andrews on Twitter @NancyAndrews or email at nancy.andrews [at] mail.wvu.edu.

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'Islam in Appalachia'

“Appalachian American Arab Muslim” Malak Khader

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“To be an Appalachian American Arab Muslim … that’s a big title. I feel like I’m wearing so many hats at the same time.” Malak Khader of Huntington, West Virginia finds herself constantly fighting stereotypes about her religion and her home state. She started a multiethnic Girl Scout Troop at the Muslim Association of Huntington mosque. “The Girl Scout values align with Islamic values. It teaches you to build your character, it teaches you community service, it teaches you to educate people and be educated yourself.”

Malak’s full interview is part of our 360° video series Muslim in Appalachia. This series enables viewers to step into the worlds of Appalachian Muslims to experience what it means to navigate Muslim and Appalachian identity while challenging stereotypes of both.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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100 Days, 100 Voices

‘He’s a Mini Version of my Dad’

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Jakari Tinsley, age 2, lives in Lynch, Kentucky. His favorite word is "No." Photo by Nancy Andrews

“I hope he becomes a God-serving young man, that he loves everybody as God loves us.”

Jakari’s favorite food is chicken nuggets. His favorite word is “No.” He likes to play basketball with his mini-basketball hoop and watch “Blaze and the Monster Machines” and “PAW Patrol.”

At age 2, and living in Lynch, Kentucky, Jakari Tinsley has his life in front of him. “I hope he grows up and goes to college and gets an education. Whatever he wants to do I will follow him and support him,” his mother said.

Jakari is wearing his grandfather’s hat. “He thinks he’s a mini version of my dad,” said Jakari’s mom, Marisha Tinsley. “Whatever dad does, he has to do too.”

“I hope he becomes a God-serving young man, that he loves everybody as God loves us,” his grandfather Terry Tinsley said, “that he get in a profession that helps others, like a doctor or lawyer.”

Lynch was founded in 1917 as a U.S. Steel mining operation. At its peak it was home to more than 10,000 people, but now in 2017 less than 700 live within its borders.


In ‘100 Days, 100 Voices’ Nancy Andrews presents photographs depicting the diversity of voices across Appalachia. These interviews have been edited for brevity and clarity. Contact Nancy Andrews at nancy@nancyandrews.com. She’s on Twitter @NancyAndrews and on Instagram @NancyAndrews

 

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100 Days, 100 Voices

‘We’re People – We’re Just Wired a Little Different.’

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The weekend of July 29, 2017 brought the first gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer festival to Wheeling, West Virginia with several hundred attending the Ohio Valley Pride. We talked to some of the attendees about why they came to the event:

“Today, I was around people like me. I could be me.” – Andrea Potter

“We’re here to celebrate,” Katreina Kilgore explained her support of her daughter Andrea Potter. “We’re here to celebrate that she didn’t hold back, that she is going to be herself.”

The family lives in Moundsville, West Virginia.  “We struggle,” she said of the entire family’s acceptance, “that’s why I think I am so proud of her.”

Melinda Tober, left, of Windsor Heights, West Virginia came to Pride with Kael Thomas, and Chelsea Camcho of Virginia Beach, Virginia.

“No body wants to live in the closet and I think that they shouldn’t have to.” – Melinda Tober

“I’ve been out and proud since 2010,” said Tober. “It’s always looked down upon — so hush, hush, “ she said, explaining that she believes the event such as this help to increase awareness and reduce hate crimes.

Hailee Parker, lives in Williamstown, West Virginia and grew up in Wheeling. She came to the event with her sister, Brittin Orum who lives in Wheeling. Parker performs as “Donte Dickles”.

“We’re people – we’re just wired a little different.” – Hailee Parker

“To be part of it. To walk around the streets in drag and part of the first pride – to just be home for the first time in a long time, “ Parker said. “This is my home. We both grew up here… I feel we have come very far. There are still nicks in the road, and it’s not the end of us fighting for equality… It upsetting to meet a person who is not supportive. All you can do is hold your head high and just leave it at that – with respect… Be yourself, love yourself. Hold your head high and forget what other people think of you.”

Miranda Thompson with daughter Ava Thompson, Terri Laquaglia, with daughter Regan Laquaglia and Maddie Crum attended the first Ohio Valley Pride together.

“Some people don’t understand that we all have to be equal so the world can be at peace.” – Regan Laquaglia

“We care about people and we know that no matter what that person thinks about us – underneath all their hatefulness there could be a good person. ” – Ava Thompson.

Landen Menough, of Martin’s Ferry, Ohio (stage name Miss Rilee Rae Michaels) was emcee of the event.

“If you leave here with one thing today, leave knowing that you are all family to me. You pick your own family and your family are the ones that accept you to no bounds of the earth.”— Landen Menough’s message to the crowd.

Andrew Vargo has lived in Wheeling, West Virginia all his life.

“There’s strength in numbers. We share love and companionship. We might not all get along, but we all share the same view of our rights… I see a ton of smiles, people from all sorts of places.” — Andrew Vargo

Jordan Sewell, aka “Xenus”, performs for the crowd at Heritage Port. 

“It takes guts to come out here in public in drag.” – Jordan Sewell

“Worrying about how to live day to day, being who you are and how you should show who you are — it’s hard,” explained Sewell. Today, “ it feels amazing, a feeling of completeness… I feel like I am now, a little bit – no, a lot more comfortable being who I want to be rather than what others want me to be. It takes guts to come out here in public in drag. Just doing it for the first time – walking out in pubic – outside,” was new. “Never outside, behind closed doors, yes.”

Jordan Sewell, with his mother, Rauslynn Platt as she films the performances. They live in Bridgeport, Ohio.

“I am not gonna hide I was heartbroken, but he’s my son – and my daughter. I’ll support whatever he wants to do in life. He seems so free. He’s so happy and that’s what I want to him to be, happy.” – Rauslynn Platt, Sewell’s mother


In ‘100 Days, 100 Voices’ Nancy Andrews presents photographs depicting the diversity of voices across Appalachia. These portraits strive to show the varied faces, passions, issues and opinions from around the region. These interviews have been edited for brevity and clarity. Contact Nancy Andrews at nancy@nancyandrews.com. She’s on Twitter @NancyAndrews and on Instagram @NancyAndrews

Editor’s Note: This article has been revised to correctly reflect that Jordan Sewell lives in Bridgeport, Ohio.

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