All Land is not Creating Equal:Unleashing Family and Community Wealth through Land Ownership

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:

“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

Preventing the Preposterous: Kinder-Morgan Pipeline Unpurposed

By Craig Williams

In February 2015, Kinder- Morgan, Inc., one of the nation’s largest energy infrastructure companies, proposed the re-purposing of 964 miles of their 70+ year old 24 inch pipeline from transporting Natural Gas (NG) to transporting Natural Gas Liquids (NGL). One needn’t be a genius to realize it would take more pressure to move a liquid through the pipeline than to move a gas. But, that was just the beginning of our concerns. 

Upon digging a little deeper, it became apparent that there were many additional risks associated with this proposal, such as leaks, explosions, water and land contamination and the like. The pipeline company also wanted to reverse the flow from South to North using this antiquated line, so fracking materials destined for export could be moved to the Gulf from PA and OH. People began to question the potential risks associated with this proposal.

It didn’t take long for them to recognize this was a plan that prioritized profit over people and to begin organizing against it. Efforts were initiated to bring citizens, organizations, governments, and institutions out in opposition to this plan in an organized fashion. Legal strategies were developed as an additional tool to protect communities along the route. The Kentucky Environmental Foundation (KEF), a project under LiKEN, worked with local, city, and county governments, academic institutions, and economic development organizations to educate, and to urge vocal opposition to the proposal. 

Over the course of the following three and a half years, KEF was able to get more than fifteen of these types of entities to not only vocally come out in their respective communities, but, also, to send letters directly to the Kinder-Morgan President and CEO urging them to cease and desist. All were copied to the appropriate Congressional officials, as well as the federal agencies responsible for issuing permits to begin the project. Two counties went so far as to pass their own ordinances requiring conditional permits be issued by them prior to the project moving forward. (See joint Press Release for a list of entities who made public statements against the pipeline re-purposing). 

Meanwhile, grassroots efforts to educate the general public were vigorously undertaken to provide the underpinning needed to increase the political pressure objectives. In addition, legal actions were taken to challenge the pro-project decrees issued by the federal agencies along the way. These efforts were bolstered by presentations by scientists and documentation of problems associated with similar proposals. This multifaceted approach eventually tipped the scales in favor of communities. On October 2, 2018 Kinder-Morgan filed a request to vacate the certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity previously issued, that would have allowed the project to proceed. KEF and LiKEN are proud of the role they played in achieving this victory on behalf of the public’s health and safety and the protection of our collective environment. 

“Stories of Place Project: Martin County, Kentucky leads the Way”

By Mary Hufford, Director of Stories of Place

The Stories of Place, Martin County team, photographed during a field trip to Appalshop in Whitesburg.  Photo by Willa Johnson.

Nina McCoy, Ricki Draper, and Mickey McCoy reviewing a map of Martin County that is
used during Stories of Place meetings with students. Map courtesy of Aaron Guest.
Photo by Mary Hufford.

“Working with youth to gather and present the stories of elders, Stories of Place engages multiple generations in the discovery and renewal of places that matter most to Central Appalachian communities”

In August 2018, with the support of a Whiting Fellowship awarded to Karen Rignall (faculty member  with the Community and Leadership Development program of the University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environment), LiKEN launched its Stories of Place program at Sheldon Clark High School, in Inez, Kentucky. As director of LiKEN’s Stories of Place Program, I have been working with Karen Rignall, project coordinator in Martin County, Ricki Draper, a fellow with the Highlander Institute, and Sheldon Clark faculty members Allison Leip (English) and Christin Roberson (Science). Our community adviser is Nina McCoy, who formerly taught biology at Sheldon Clark High School.  Twenty high school sophomores gather each week for Stories of Place meetings. They are developing the skills needed to conduct documentary interviews with elders in the community. They are also learning GIS mapping skills, and in the spring they will meet with Willa Johnson, of Appalshop’s Appalachian Media Institute, for training in editing and producing podcasts.

Stories of Place students locating their homes and special places on a map of Martin
County during the first meeting. Photo by Allison Leip.

Thinking of Stories of Place as applied narrative ecology, we approach “place” as an ecosystem  that depends on the stories we tell for its ongoing renewal. What are the environmental and social conditions that sustain storytelling in our communities? And how does storytelling nurture environment and society together?  Working with youth to gather and present the stories of elders, Stories of Place engages multiple generations in the discovery and renewal of places that matter most to Central Appalachian communities. Our curriculum introduces students to the unique legacies of the mixed mesophytic forests of the region, as they identify and explore landscapes and histories shaped by more than a century of coal and timber extraction.  Through discussions of the work of Appalachian writers and filmmakers, students learn to tell the stories of their communities. On the way they meet with and learn about key figures and institutions in the region’s cultural history, including a field trip to Appalshop in Whitesburg in October, and an upcoming visit from Gurney Norman, who grew up in the coalfields of southwestern Virginia and eastern Kentucky, and who from 2009 – 2010 was Kentucky’s poet laureate.

Talking with community partners in Kentucky, West Virginia, and Virginia, as well as with members of Indigenous communities in the Western U.S., we hear a persistent refrain: Distracted by technologies of the digital age, we pay less attention to our local surroundings, and to the communications between young people and elders that strengthen communities of land and people. Stories of place uses digital technology to address both rifts, and to engage youth and elders in planning for the future of their communities.

Poster at the entrance to Sheldon Park High School advertising Stories of Place. Twenty
sophomores signed up. Photo by Mary Hufford.

Central Appalachian Folk and Traditional Arts Spring Summit

CAFTA advisors, field team members, and LiKENeers assembled for a
group photo on a windy day, closing out the first of three Summits at Eupepsia
Wellness Center, in Bland VA: from left: Cassie Patterson, Eric Lassiter, Jordan
Lovejoy, Ellesa Clay High, Sophia Enriquez, Crystal Good, Katie Hoffman, Robert
Colby, Christina Benedetti, Nicole Musgrave, Danille Christensen, Jess Porter,
Melissa Biliter, Travis Stimeling, Tammy Clemons, Mary Hufford, Doris Fields, Drew
Carter, Betsy Taylor, and Michael Gallimore.

At the end of April 2019, LiKEN joined the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation (MAAF) in
launching the Central Appalachian Folk and Traditional Arts (CAFTA) survey. Under contract with MAAF, LiKEN is directing a fifteen month survey of 112 Central Appalachian Counties in Virginia, Ohio, and West Virginia. Identifying folk and traditional arts, practitioners, as well as existing forms of support for them within the region, the survey will inform the development of a new multi-state program designed to promote the understanding, recognition, and practice of diverse forms of folk and traditional arts in Central Appalachia, including those of newly arrived and emerging communities as well as those that are well-established. Advisers and fieldworkers convened for two days at the Eupepsia Wellness Center in Bland Virginia for the first of three summits, to share information and ideas for research that is now underway.
For more information on the project, please contact:
Jess Porter, Program Officer, jess@midatlanticarts.org 
Mary Hufford, CAFTA Fieldwork Director, LiKEN, mhufford@caftaplanning.org.

Project Overview Map created by Melissa Biliter.

CAFTA fieldworkers Nicole Musgrave, Michael Gallimore, and Jordan Lovejoy,
developing work plans for researching their counties.  Photo by Betsy Taylor.

LiKENeers Mary Hufford and Melissa Biliter, leading discussion of methods for
fieldworkers’ preliminary surveys of their counties. Photo by Betsy Taylor.

Energy Transitions & the First West: The Complex Histories of Appalachia’s Emerging Futures.

On May 1, 2019 LiKEN’s Executive Director, Betsy Taylor was invited to speak at the National Academy of Sciences.  The forum was organized by the Academy’s Geographical Sciences Committee, to explore the “Effects of Energy Transition on Opportunities in Rural America”.

In this thirty minute presentation she summarizes some of the legacy impacts of fossil fuel extraction in the region. At the same time, she shares the many assets of Appalachia that have the potential to improve livelihoods and provide new public revenues in a regenerative economy.  While many focus on the problems in Appalachia’s past, Dr. Taylor brings to light the potential in Appalachia’s future.

Appalachia can provide vital assets to the nation in the 21st century.

CLIMATE STRESSORS,
21ST C. NORTH AMERICA

  • Water scarcity (drought, contaminants, etc.)
  • Extreme weather events, flooding
  •  Greenhouse gases accumulated from 2 centuries of carbon energy systems
  • Climate migration (non-human & human)
  • Phasing out of long supply chains
  • Decentralized, distributed energy systems

APPALACHIAN ECOLOGICAL ASSETS

  • High rainfall region
  • Carbon sink potential
  • Propinquity to major population centers of the east coast
  • Climate refugia
  • Mega-biodiversity, buffering capacity, resilience
  • Moderate capacity for renewable energy A

Welcoming Remarks: 00:23
Julia Haggerty, Montana State University: 10:35
Betsy Taylor, LiKEN: 47:34
Dustin Mulvaney, San Jose State University: 1:31:02
Questions for the Panel: 2:17:23


PDF of Betsy’s Presentation