Creating a Culture of Value
Learning from COVID-19
By Ashley Hostetter
Future Generations Graduate School
AmeriCorps of West Virginia
Our entire way of living has been altered due to the health pandemic of COVID-19. The life that we have all become accustomed to seems to have lost its potential for sustainability. Since 2012, when what most of us know as “Obama’s War on Coal”, many changes have taken place throughout the entire Appalachian area. Although, the demise of the coal industry has left a great deal of financial constraint on our local residents, there is also a lot that we can learn to create sustainable successes right at home.
Now that we have faced a world-wide health crisis, we can be assured that our communities have the ability to adapt to whatever changes come our way. I have spent the majority of my life in the Southern West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky area. Throughout my service with AmeriCorps and my studies at Future Generations Graduate school, I have had the ability to become truly invested in my community.
This has given me a greater understanding of how plans made for our communities have failed. When the aggressive assault on the coal industry began, it seemed the major coal players were forced to close overnight leaving the livelihoods of state residents in a vulnerable position. The evidence that shows why coal mining is not a sustainable plan for the Appalachian region include the following components:
increased chronic illness,
decrease in life expectancy,
fatal and dipilitating injuries,
destroyed ecosystems, and
loss of animal species.
The increase in chronic illness was the major driver for going after the coal mining industry, because it accounts for 75% of the nation’s aggegate healthcare spending- or an estimated $5,300 per person each year (Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development, 2019). There is a direct link between dust from mountain top removal and lung cancer. There are also correlations between heart disease, respiratory disease, pulmonary disease, and birth defects (Appalachian Voices, 2020).
It is evident that the coal industry will never again be what it once was. We have seen an increase of jobs since the Trump Administration, but this is only temporary as natural resources become scarce and clean energy sources advance through technical innovations. The work that I have completed throughout the last couple of years proves that creating a culture of care with a people-centered focus is a sustainable way of life that communities members are already adapting to.
Donnie Pritchard of West Viringia is a high school student and Life Scout that sees great value in creating sustainable livelihoods. He has earned 31 badges and is on the path to becoming an Eagle Scout. Donnie was introduced to beekeeping by local beekeeper Carl Artrip with Bee Happy Farm in Fort Gay, WV.
Upon learning about how important bees are to our environment, Donnie became fascinated and learned to become a beekeeper. Through community engagement and a lot of You Tube Videos he was able to learn everything about how to become successful in beekeeping. Now he has two hives (over 100,000 bees) that he maintains and cares for on his own. He collects honey from them and even sells some in his community, which has allowed him to start his own bank account. Donnie stated that the health pandemic has halted his plans to promote bee education to school-aged children, but he will continue with these plans as schools and organizations re-open.
With the coal mining jobs becoming scarce, young communities members are starting to participate in more environmentally friendly work. My research has shown that Honey bees aren’t the solution to abadoned coal mining sites, however once the damaged sites are built back to a vegetative state bees can help nurture the growth of the land. During my interview with Donnie Pritchard he stated, “No Bees, No Food”. Four simple words that are packed with so much truth. Coal mining destroyed a lot of ecosystems leaving them in a non-vegetative state. Eagle Scout Donnie is a prime example of how past mistakes can be used to inspire community successes.
Adapting to unforeseen social and economic change seems to be a strong point for Appalachian region. Since COVID-19 brought even more uncertainty into our lives, the importance of ecosystems and community livelihoods have became a mainstream topic. We have all been forced to slow down and take a look at the true essentials in our lives. Families are spending more time at home and learning to change habits like planting gardens and connecting with small businesses instead of relying on local supermarkets. Coal mining was not a sustainable plan for our future, but we are changing to a culture of value that is people-focused. This is a promising plan that will lead us to sustainable livelihoods that will be grown upon for generations to come.
To learn more about the effects of coal mining please visit the following link:
To learn more about Ashley’s community work please visit the following link:
To learn more about environmental effects on mental health please visit the following link:
About the Author: Ashley Hostetter is Kentucky resident and a graduate of Lawrence County High School. She has earned an Associate’s of Arts Degree in Business Administration, and Associate’s of Science Degree in Business, a Beacholor’s of Arts Degree in Business Administration, a Master’s Degree in Human Services with a focus in Community Development, and currently a doctorate student pursuing a PsyD in Clininal Psychology. She is a mother of four and hopes to one day open mental health clinics for children in impoverished areas.