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Photo: Katlin Kazmi

Welcome back,

As Appalachians, we are actively aware of our roots, like those of an old Hickory deep beneath the surface. It’s as if the simple act of being born in Appalachia instills a connectedness to our planet. And while coal often seems to flaunt the first place ribbon in Appalachian notoriety, agriculture definitely takes the red. The agricultural industry not only provides jobs for many in the region, but it also precipitates a variety of pastimes. 

In Appalachia, we are brought up with the fauna and flora of our region. Stringing beans is just as much a part of summer as catching lightning bugs and playing in the creek. We pickle our cucumbers, preserve our blackberries, and freeze our corn because we always have. Mohsin and I are currently fermenting spicy peppers for hot sauce and a crock of cabbage is sitting patiently in our fireplace room. Just last week, we enjoyed the pops of seals on 150 quarts of canned tomatoes.

Kimchi. Photo: Katlin Kazmi

My great-grandparents spoke of these skills as necessities — to can was to be able to survive winter. I crave the punch of canned vinegar, and Sunday tomato gravy only tastes right with garden-canned Bonny Bests. Our family still uses Castlewood Cannery each year in Russell County, one of only 11 community canneries still in operation in Virginia, and there are several other active canneries nestled in the Appalachian Mountains just waiting for Ball jars and summer hauls. The steam and stainless remind us of a world almost forgotten but still somehow very intact. Appalachia will persevere with the help of many of these age-old practices. 

Perhaps we also preserve because it strengthens our sense of community and family and digs our roots just a bit deeper into the Appalachian earth. We are brought together through the act of working as a team. Canning is labor-intensive, and for many of us, “quality time” and “acts of service” are our natural Appalachian love languages. What better way to show this than getting together with loved ones, consolidating produce and splitting up the various tasks until the job is done? Each person takes away their share of the bounty, as well as a cherished memory. Each year, we press apples to make cider with a group of close friends. It is one of our most favorite days of the year!

Mohsin and Katlin Kazmi. Photo: Katlin Kazmi
Apples bushels. Photo: Katlin Kazmi
Agriculture, of course, involves more than just produce and preservation. Deni Peterson, owner of Blue Door Garden, grows and sells flowers in Abingdon, Virginia. She is passionate about locally-grown flowers because she works in an industry that relies on a supply that’s largely shipped into the country from around the world. Deni is pushing back against those industry practices by making arrangements for a variety of events from locally-sourced blooms and also sells her flowers at the Abingdon Farmers Market. Two miles away, Virginia Highlands Community College (VHCC) supports and maintains a large greenhouse. Each year, they have plant sales for garden crops and houseplants.

While there are large scale producers in my Southwest Virginia community – like the 20,000 acre Stuart Land and Cattle Company, which is incorporating sustainable practices – smaller farms here are working diligently to provide meat for area residents as well. During the course of the coronavirus pandemic, grocery store beef prices skyrocketed, but for local farmers like my dad, the Friday cattle market prices plummeted. Farmers were better off holding their cattle than selling to avoid losing money. Store inventory grew scarce at times as feedlots had to close due to the virus’ spread. While these facts point to obvious larger problems in the U.S. beef industry, it sparked an opportunity for locals to sell more of their products (and it also piqued the curiosity from other areas of the nation). Folks in Southwest Virginia hardly blinked an eye before they had their cattle at a local processing plant and began selling beef and sausage to neighbors and friends. 
Watercress florals. Photo: Katlin Kazmi
Mohsin with a chicken. Photo: Katlin Kazmi

Whether it is Hawthorn, heifers or heirlooms, this region flourishes and ignites with agriculture.

All of these partnerships and trades are intricately woven together. Without the continuous overlap of skills and camaraderie, I believe our area may have been forgotten over time — overshadowed by greed and extraction of resources. But we have survived together using the expertise and competencies from the ancestors buried in these hills. We cannot forget that to remain we must hold on to these traditions as we learn and grow at the same time.

Since our focus this week was on agriculture and its impact in Southwest Virginia, I want to leave you with a recipe that is very near and dear to our hearts. It may come just in time for the last of that garden okra coming out of your ears! We recorded a segment about this dish for Birthplace of Country Music’s Farm and Fun Time. Feel free to check it out here.

See you back here next week!

Katlin

Bhindi. Photo: Katlin Kazmi
Recipe: Katlin Kazmi
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