Investing in your surrounding area

Jerry MolesJERRY MOLES

Blue Ridge Plateau Initiative/Grayson LandCare
Phone: 540-797-9531
Email: jmoles@igc.org

 

 

What do you wish that town managers and mayors knew that they don’t know?
They’re in rural areas, so the investment can’t be in the small town, it has to be in the surrounding countryside. The nice thing about Appalachia, especially with us here, is that we get 40+ inches of rain each year. We’re within 500 miles of half the population of the United States.

We deal with our cities—in our case, city of Galax, city of Hillsville–but also we deal with the entire counties. The two counties and the city of Galax have pledged that their vehicle to economic development is agriculture, so we come in. In fact, the county just gave us nine acres to build a slaughterhouse, so we have farmers already converting over to pasture-raised beef—no hormones, no antibiotics—and it gives them over a dollar more per hanging carcass weight.

By coordinating from towns to rural areas and figuring out ways to work together, a whole bunch of things become possible that would not be possible otherwise. It’s not that they are separate from us, and it would help if they would quit thinking that they are separate from us, because we are all in this together.

If towns felt that looking beyond their town somehow threatened their identity, what would you say to that?
Well, then they don’t have a very good identity. This is the time of identity politics. Find something you’re proud of and stand up for it. LandCare has swept Australia, returning political power to rural people. There are over 6,000 subcatchment groups in Australia. This gives power, but it gives power to every town out there too. They call their counties shires, so the counties and the small towns, the shires work together to make this happen and it’s revitalized rural economies and agriculture.

If a town doesn’t have access to a group like yours, should they look for those organizations who are fighting for land, fighting for water, fighting for environment?
Yes, but you have to educate them too, because too many times, we’re so focused on a single issue or a set of issues that we don’t realize we live in a complex ecosystem. How ecosystems work is all through relationships, and the relationships are based on exchanges of energy, which is food. We make up an imaginary energy, which we call capital, we can command goods and services. All of this has to fit together. We have to look at our amenities and our communities. Does our education educate our children to occupy the changing world? Poor school systems have trouble even keeping up. We look at rural schools, they’re not into computers and programming and all of that.

Finally, we have to look at our surrounding environment and say, ‘how do we keep this healthy?’ It’s asking those questions. It’s having good questions, because if you know the question, you’re halfway to a solution. Those who don’t know good questions are lost.

What area does your group cover?
Well, we operate out of the Blue Ridge Plateau, which is Carroll, Grayson, and Floyd Counties, but we work with farmers all over the area.

If a small town in another area came to you, would you be able to help them understand the model and set one up for themselves?
Oh yeah. In fact, we just had a short visit with the mayor of Northfork, West Virginia, and he’s at wits’ ends, because to pull people in that can engage—see, the huge problem in organizing people, it has to be to their benefit to become engaged. So what do we have to offer to them where it’s a win for them too?

Everyone wants to do democratic things, get a whole bunch of people together and understand the mood of the group. We did this for–I won’t tell you how long, with an Appalachian foodshed project, but we never got our feet on the ground. You have to find someone who knows what they’re doing, and create realistic plans and sell a plan that’s going to help people. They will help you do the plan because you can’t plan it yourself, but you have to be a catalyst with a vision.