UPDATE: Sharing Successes in Forest Farming across Central Appalachia

A project of the Livelihoods Knowledge Exchange Network (LiKEN) 

In May 2020, LiKEN initiated a project to develop educational materials about agroforestry in Central Appalachia. With funding from the National Agroforestry Center of the US Forest Service, this project will not only identify and encourage successful practitioners in our region, but help develop connections between communities, landholders and service providers to help guide new agroforesters, whether that be through linking practitioners with apprentices, identifying land access opportunities, or through the development of compelling narratives of success. Our new LiKENeer, Chris Burney, directs this project, which is part of our emerging Appalachian Mother Forest project.

What exactly is agroforestry? 

Agroforestry is generally described as ecologically sustainable land-use practices that incorporate tree crops with agricultural crops and/or livestock. The USDA defines agroforestry in terms of its five practices and the four I’s. The five main practices of agroforestry are:

  • Forest farming – growing food, herbal, botanical, or decorative crops under a forest canopy;
  • Alley cropping – crops between rows of trees to provide income while the trees mature; 
  • Silvopasture – combining trees and livestock on one piece of land;
  • Riparian buffers – natural or re-established areas along rivers and streams made up of trees, shrubs, and grasses;
  • Windbreaks that shelter crops, animals, buildings, wildlife, and soil from wind, snow, dust, and odors.

These practices can be found in many ancient, traditional, and Indigenous systems which have provided human sustenance for millenia while stewarding land, trees, and biodiversity. So, in some ways, scientific agroforestry is just catching up with past wisdom. Contemporary research shows that the above practices can increase long-term production, while benefiting local ecologies. When looking for agroforestry practices, though they may not be termed as such in everyday language, we look for what are called the ‘four I’s’ of agroforestry; practices that are intentional, intensive, integrated and interactive. 

Case studies and videos for farmers 

To reach diverse audiences, we will produce materials in diverse formats:

  • To inspire farmers who are considering transitioning to agroforestry, this project will produce six case studies of highly successful agroforestry ventures from across Appalachian Virginia, West Virginia, and Ohio. Each case study will describe challenges, costs, and rewards experienced by individuals over the years involved in their transition into forest farming and economic growth.
  • We will also develop videos that can be shared over diverse platforms to attract new farmers, especially youth. Short educational videos will focus on topics that producers identify as most useful for beginners in agroforestry, from land access to planting and sales. 
  • Testimonial videos will document traditional Appalachian practices that reflect rich knowledge about the remarkable biodiversity of this ancient temperate rainforest.  How are growers and producers engaging and fostering non-timber forest products, including understory botanicals, mushrooms, fruit, nut, and syrup producing trees?  What forms of traditional knowledge, tools, and management may be used to encourage pollinators, and harness aspects of distinctively Central Appalachian forest habitats, including streams, soils, and characteristic features such as coves, hollows, and bottomland for the production of crops and game animals?

This project will also reach out to service providers (extension agents, non-profits, etc.) as they help landowners make decisions about the sustainable management of their forests, opportunities for income generation and sustainable livelihoods. We will develop briefing papers about scenarios for multistory forest farming adapted to two economic, ecological, and physiographic subregions that reflect current farming communities across Central Appalachia. 

  • Some scenarios will focus on mid-size farms in highly rural, primarily agricultural communities with stressed, overused soil and watersheds. 
  • Other scenarios will focus on Appalachian cove forests and small landholders in historically coal-dependent areas with pockets of less disturbed land with high biodiversity arising from microclimate, rich cove soil, and abundant waters.
All photos by Chris Burney

Project collaborators  

The project is directed by LiKENeer Chris Burney (who is also completing a PhD in Plant and Soil Sciences at West Virginia University) in collaboration with Dr. Tom Hammett (Sustainable Biomaterials, Virginia Tech), Dr. Mary Hufford (LiKEN Associate Director and visiting professor in Folklore, Ohio State University),  Dr. Betsy Taylor (LiKEN Executive Director), and Dr. James Thompson (Plant and Soil Sciences, West Virginia University).   Ruby Daniels (LiKEN Community Engagement Coordinator), retired school teacher Wilma Steele, retired coal miner Terry Steele, Sprouting Farms, Yew Mountain Center, and Future Generations University are playing key roles in outreach and gathering of feedback from diverse stakeholders and networks.

Contact for more information…

We welcome your suggestions and hope that if you are interested in learning more about this project you may contact Chris Burney, cburney@likenknowledge.org or visit the LiKEN website www.likenknowledge.org   If you are a farmer, you may assist this research by agreeing to an interview and a walking tour of your agroforestry plots  with one of our researchers, or by making and sharing your own photographs and video recordings.

Funding by:

elitefeats World Aids Marathon

USATF Certified Half and Full is a BQ

Sunday, December 6, 2020
Far Rockaway – Rain or Shine

All participants get:
World AIDS Marathon Finisher Medal, Buff 
1st 100 Registrants get a Long Sleeve Tee

10K Run/Walk – 2.5 hr cut off
Half Marathon – 4 hr cut off
Full Marathon – 6 hr cut off

Race instructions regarding the event start will be sent out by the evening before the event.

Please be Mindful as social distancing will be in effect at the start line with staggered and chip-timed starts.

Be Prepared &
 bring a mask or buff. You do not have to run wearing your mask/buff but have it on you at all times.

No formal bag check. elitefeats cannot take responsibility for any personal belongings – Bag Check for Marathoners & Half Marathoners ONLY.

There will be water / Electrolyte support for Marathoners and Half Marathoners – there will be no course water support for the 10k run/walk.

Bathrooms – Public bathrooms located within a few minutes walk from start & finish.

No Spectators – No official bag check


BENEFITS

Proceeds from the event are going to the Richard M. Brodsky Foundation

Turkey Trot

Never Stop Running Foundation is a 501(c)3: Supporting athletic and charitable events as they raise awareness and foster community involvement as well as encouraging and promoting Olympic development for local emerging elite and post collegiate runners.

“The Worst Problem you never heard of”: Heirs’ Property Ownership in Appalachia and the South

A project of the Livelihoods Knowledge Exchange Network (LiKEN) 

Heirs’ property is created when land passes without a will to two or more descendants who become “tenants in common” of the property. This kind of “tangled title” can make families vulnerable. Land speculators can acquire a small share of the property and force a partition sale, often far below fair market value. Extensive research across the Cotton Belt of the U.S. South has found that heirs’ property correlates with low wealth in African American communities. The U.S. Department of Agriculture considers heirs’ property to be the leading cause of African American involuntary land loss. Heirs’ property also seems to be common in other regions with entrenched poverty (Central Appalachia, the colonias in southern Texas, and Native American communities) but only a few scholars have studied the issue in these communities. Heirs’ property has been called “the worst problem you never heard of”. 

In October 2020, LiKEN began a project investigating heirs’ property occurrence and the experiences of heirs’ property owners in selected counties of Alabama, Georgia, and eastern Kentucky. This project is supported by funds from the Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Policy Center at Alcorn State University in Mississippi. In Alabama and Georgia, this project will assess outcomes of the Uniform Partition of heirs’ Property Act (UPHPA) by looking at changes in partition sales since the passing of the act and by talking to local officials, lawyers, and heirs’ property-owning families. In the selected eastern Kentucky counties, the project will estimate the frequency of heirs’ property and speak with heirs’ property owners to gain an understanding of their experiences and perceptions related to heirs’ property. 

How heirs’ property creates household vulnerability

The “clouded title” associated with heirs’ property can result in a variety of issues for landowners. Lack of clear title makes it difficult for an heirs’ property owner to make improvements to their property because they must obtain permission from all the other heirs. Depending on how many heirs there are, a number which can increase rapidly with successive generations, getting a consensus from all owners can be a nearly insurmountable obstacle. Clouded title also eliminates the option of using land and buildings as collateral on loans. In the event of a disaster, clouded title can make it impossible to access relief and resources. 

Another major risk heirs’ property owners face is the possibility of a forced partition sale. If one heir wants to sell the property, a judge may order a partition sale, even if all the owners are not in agreement. Over the past several decades, speculators and developers have taken advantage of this legal practice by buying one owner’s share of an heirs’ property, forcing the sale of the entire property, and buying it, often at a low cost. In the 19th and 20th centuries, coal speculators in Appalachia took advantage of the vulnerability of households with clouded titles. More recently, African American communities in coastal Georgia and South Carolina have lost family lands to developers seeking to profit from the tourism economy of the region. In already socially and economically disadvantaged communities, these challenges further dampen prospects for sustainable well-being and security.

Jeremiah Green on his farm in coastal South Carolina.
(Photo by Cassandra Johnson Gaither, USDA Forest Service)

Policy solutions: a beginning

As an effort to help preserve family wealth and reduce the likelihood of partition sales, the Uniform Partition of Heirs’ Property Act (UPHPA) was drafted in 2010. It has since been passed in 17 states and introduced in six others. In 2012 and 2014, Georgia and Alabama, respectively, passed the UPHPA. The act has not yet been introduced in Kentucky. Virginia enacted the UPHPA in 2020 (the only Central Appalachian state to do so). It was introduced in the West Virginia legislature in 2020.

Left: The historic home belonging to descendants of Willis Johnson, Sr. in Charleston, South Carolina.
Right: Two of Mr. Johnson’s heirs and current owners of the home, Rebecca Campbell (left) and Catherine Braxton (right). Photos by Cassandra Johnson Gaither, USDA Forest Service.

Our work

This project seeks first to evaluate the impact of the UPHPA on both the number and rate of partition sales and on the actors involved in these sales in Georgia and Alabama. The project will assess court-level impressions of how the act has worked  to influence partition by sale versus partition in kind (or other means) in Georgia and Alabama. We will also assess the frequency and impact of heirs’ property in Kentucky – a state that has not adopted the UPHPA. In Kentucky, we hope to communicate our findings on the nature and impact of heirs’ property to catalyze public conversation about the UPHPA.

Project collaborators  

The project is directed by LiKENeer Megan White in collaboration with co-Principal Investigators, Dr. Cassandra Johnson Gaither (Social Scientist, U.S. Forest Service) and Dr. Betsy Taylor (LiKEN Executive Director). This project spans across several communities and requires expertise in multiple areas. The core advisory group, made up of Mary Cromer (Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center), Joe Childers (Childers & Baxter, PLLC), Brady Deaton (Univ of Guelph), Dr. Aaron Guest (Arizona State Univ), and Putnam LaBarre (Oscar P. LaBarre LLC), provide legal and methodological expertise. Advisors on other targeted areas of the project include Marty Newell (Center for Rural Strategies), Dr. Simona Perry (c.a.s.e. Consulting Services), Dr. Karen Rignall (UnivKY), Sarah Stein (Federal Reserve of Atlanta), and Dr. Robert Zabawa (Tuskegee University). We will be working collaboratively with the Appalachian Land Study collective.

Contact for more information…

We welcome your suggestions and hope that if you are interested in learning more about this project you will contact Megan White, mwhite@likenknowledge.org, or visit the LiKEN website www.likenknowledge.org. If you are an heirs’ property owner in any of the counties listed above, you may assist this research by agreeing to an interview with one of our researchers, or by making and sharing your own photographs and video recordings.

Watch for more publications from us!

We will regularly produce educational materials about heirs’ property in general, and our findings in particular — on LiKEN’s new “Popular Education page”.  Please stay tuned for upcoming webinars, issue briefings, research reports, infographics, etc.

Make sure that you are on our mailing list.

This research was supported by funds from the Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Policy Research Center.

References cited

Presser, Lizzie.“Their Family Bought Land One Generation After Slavery”. ProPublica. July 15, 2019 https://features.propublica.org/black-land-loss/heirs-property-rights-why-black-families-lose-land-south/. Accessed Nov. 14, 2020

Johnson Gaither, Cassandra

West Virginia Mine Wars

The West Virginia Mine Wars Museum is now located in the Matewan National bank building. Photo by Chris Burney

article by Bethany Turley and Chris Burney

The Mine Wars Museum opened in its new location at the Matewan National Bank building in Matewan, WV, on Friday, September 4th, 2020. LiKENeer Christopher Burney and Bethani Turley visited the Mine Wars Museum for its opening on Saturday September 5th. The reopening was initially planned for May 16, 2020 to coincide with the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Matewan, but the opening was postponed due to the novel coronavirus. The museum opening coincided with the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) Local 1440 chapter’s Labor Day celebration, held just down the road in Matewan, which included appearances by WV Gubernatorial candidate Ben Salango, and WV Attorney General candidate Sam Petsonk. Many museum visitors on Saturday were donned in UMWA branded t-shirts and facemasks.

The Mine Wars Museum depicts the history of several armed uprisings that occurred between 1900 and 1921 by coal miners in the Southern West Virginia coal fields. Its exhibits are laid out chronologically, starting with exhibits about the everyday life of Southern WV coal miners and their families, including the terrible working conditions they faced in the mines and the oppressive political situation they faced outside of the mines.  The museum then details the events and actors that led to the Matewan Massacre and the Battle of Blair Mountain, the largest armed insurrection in the US after the Civil War.

Garments on display as part of a new exhibit about women’s lives in West Virginia coal camps at the turn of the century.  Photo by Chris Burney 

The new museum location, which is a much larger space than the previous location, has allowed for the museum to go more in depth into topics such as women’s lives at the turn of the century, and contemporary exhibits. One of the contemporary exhibits is about the 2011 march on Blair Mountain, when locals marched over 50 miles to Blair Mountain to protest and prevent strip mining of this historically important site. Another is a revolving exhibit, which currently displays photographs by West Virginia’s Roger May. May’s exhibit includes contemporary photographs of landscapes and locations that were significant during the mine wars. The Mine Wars museum touches on issues of importance to our contemporary moment, including the labor history of unions and mining and race relations in Appalachia. 

The Mine Wars Museum was originally located near Blair Mountain, but it moved to Matewan in 2015 where it was set up in the former the Chambers Hardware and Furniture Store building, but the museum outgrew the small location. The Matewan National Bank building, the museum’s new location, is owned by the UMWA Local 1440. This site includes a window in the museum that overlooks the site of the Matewan Massacre, paying austere homage, including a view of the building with bullet holes from the shootout.  The new space is large, allowing for the museum to expand and to take on new projects. The building features a UMWA community center, a parking lot that can host outdoor events, a space for rotating artist exhibits, a gift shop area, and a space to hold the museum and community archives preserved on site for more in depth scholarship. 

The UMWA community center can hold up to 150 people and is equipped with seating and presentation equipment. The archive has long been a goal for the museum. They currently have in their possession a host of materials, including many personal letters written by various actors who were involved in the miner’s union and in the uprisings. On Saturday board member Wilma Steele discussed some of the materials that will be held in the community archive, such as personal letters from Eric Kerr, who was pivotal in setting up UMWA owned hospitals for miners in southern West Virginia. These items will be stored and digitized in the community archive. 

The museum’s new larger space has allowed for new exhibits which showcase more recent history including the 2011 march to save Blair Mountain from mining. The formation of the WV Mine Wars Museum has its roots in this protest march. Photo by Bethani Turley 
You can visit the Mine Wars Museum at 401 Mate Street, Matewan, WV 25678. The museum is open on Fridays and Saturdays from 11 am. to 6 pm and has a suggested entrance fee of $5 per person. You can also support the museum by becoming a member. Face masks are required, and they are limiting the number of guests to 10 at a time. 

44th Annual Appalachian Studies Virtual Conference, March 11-14, 2021

LIKEN will be co-convening a series of events about the Appalachian Mother Forest at the upcoming virtual meetings of the Appalachian Studies Association. More information can be found here: http://appalachianstudies.org/annualconference/files/2021-call.pdf

The Central Appalachian forest is the world’s oldest and biologically richest temperate zone hardwood system.  For thousands of years this forest has sustained human communities and it continues to do so today. Many of these communities have used these rich native forests as “commons,” meaning, shared sites of harvest, recreation, and community renewal. Because of its unique topography and biodiversity, this forest system provided crucial refugia during past climate shifts, leading some ecologists to call it the ‘mother forest’.  In our current climate crisis, this forest system can again play a crucial role. The Mother Forest Working Group, a collaborative of the University of Kentucky and the Livelihoods Knowledge Exchange Network, invites forest-commons proposals for the 2020 Appalachian Studies Association annual meeting. The meeting’s theme is “Appalachian Understories: Growing Hope and Resilience from Commonwealth to Global Commons,” and forest commoning is a major focus. 

Heirs’ Property Across Race and Place, November 18, 2020

On Wednesday, November 18th, Betsy Taylor will participate in a panel discussion entitled “Heirs’ Property Across Race and Place.” This panel is part of the free webinar “All Land is not Creating Equal: Unleashing Family and Community Wealth through Land Ownership” hosted by the Center for Heirs’ Property Preservation and the Aspen Institute. 

Betsy is participating in this panel as part of LiKEN’s new Heirs’ Property project, which investigates issues faced by heirs’ property owners in Appalachia and the southern Black Belt. Heirs’ property is created when land passes to two or more descendants who become “tenants in common” of the property. Heirs’ property can result in a variety of issues for land owners, including lack of incentive to make property improvements and risk of forced partition sales. The U.S. Department of Agriculture considers heirs’ property to be the “leading cause of Black involuntary land loss.” Cassandra Johnson Gaither (Social Scientist, US Forest Service), the panel’s facilitator has done extensive research on heirs’ property in the south. Johnson Gaither is a co-investigator on LiKEN’s new project on heirs’ property in KY, GA, and AL, along with LiKENeer Megan White (Project Director) and Betsy Taylor (LiKEN Executive Director).

For more information, and for free registration, go to this link

The Rising Voices Impact

It is almost dark. The sky is a dusky blue, and meets the murky waters of Lake Superior at the horizon line. Elongated grey waves approach me, and their foamy resolution echoes sweetly in my ears. The professor guiding my research group bends down to touch the water. He smiles.

“You can drink it,” he says. “It’s that pure.”

I visited Duluth, Minnesota in April 2018, my junior year of high school. The waterfront city was hosting the 6th annual Rising Voices: Climate Resilience through Indigenous and Earth Sciences workshop, and I attended as a research assistant for Livelihoods Knowledge Exchange Network (LiKEN), the co-organizer. Both my father and brother had been involved with Rising Voices, but this was the first year I was actively participating in the workshop, compiling information for the public workshop report. My job was to listen and observe. I spent three attentive days with individuals at the forefront of climate advocacy, and a month later, when I sat down to write the report, I had no shortage of material to expound upon.

When I think of Rising Voices, I am reminded immediately of its warmth. People laughing and hugging, enjoying food and company, sharing stories and wisdom. I have little experience with professional workshops, but from what I do know, the atmosphere of Rising Voices is distinctly welcoming. It gathers together activists, scholars, and scientists, and most importantly, enables a discussion where Indigenous voices are heard and heeded. Indigenous knowledge is the pillar of climate knowledge, and it is fittingly the focus of Rising Voices. The conference takes a widespread and publicized issue–the impending threat of climate change–and presents adaptive solutions through a lens of traditional ecological knowledge. It is truly a revolutionary approach, because it combines both Western and Indigenous knowledge in a single exploratory event.

Rising Voices is an enlightening experience, but its greatest value comes in its wisdom.  I remember Daniel Wildcat, Acting Vice-President for Academics, Haskell Indian Nations University, musing that perhaps “society has developed too much.” To listen to the speakers of Rising Voices is to take a pause from a fast-paced and urban approach to life and science. To listen deeply is to understand that climate resiliency and prosperity comes from honoring the Earth, as indigenous communities have done for centuries. Rising Voices is almost narrative in its nature, because so many of its speakers reflect on their personal connection to the land. Such a personal interest, in turn, prompts strengthened and consistent action.

I touch a finger to the water, and it is frigid. The professor bends down next to me, and takes a handful in his palm. He raises the seeping water to his mouth and drinks. Behind us, other members of the group marvel at the waves and walk slowly along the black rocks. As I watch them quietly delight in the view of Lake Superior, my stomach swells with gratefulness. I realize how grateful I am to be here, along Lake Superior, with people from the Rising Voices workshop, a gathering that cherishes a personal connection to the natural world and encourages a traditional ecological approach as the first combatant to climate change.

I bring the water to my lips, and I drink.

Vera Petrovic
Lawrence High School, Kansas

Working to prevent a downturn in Central Kentucky

KEF is also working with a diverse array of experts and economic development agencies to prevent a downturn in the Central Kentucky economy when the disposal project ends – leaving a significant number of highly trained employees in the region. Read more at: https://www.kyenvironmentalfoundation.org/chemical-weapons/economic-stability-post-demilitarization/  

Progress continues to be made at the Blue Grass Army Depot

Progress continues to be made at the Blue Grass Army Depot in destroying the nation’s last chemical weapons storage site. To date almost 65 tons of chemical warfare agents have been destroyed safely. Efforts will continue with strong engagement of the local community led by KEF’s Director being a member of the Governor’s Commission and Co-chair of the Citizens Advisory Board.  https://www.kyenvironmentalfoundation.org/chemical-weapons/