Stories Of Resilience, Self-Reliance And Survival In Appalachia

Jan 17, 2020

Here in central Appalachia, we have plenty of high-tech skills, and many of us can connect to orbiting satellites, and therefore people and ideas on the other side of the globe, in milliseconds.

But there are also a lot of isolated pockets throughout Appalachia where a smart phone is rendered pretty dumb.

In place of that though, you can find small farms, beneath star-studded night skies, where people still know how to raise much of their own food. Places where people visit each other’s kitchens and front porches unannounced and are welcomed. This connection to the earth and each other goes back hundreds of thousands of years, and might just give us the tools to survive in the years ahead. 


In this episode of Inside Appalachia, we’ll hear stories of resilience, self-reliance, and survival in the mountains.

In This Episode:

Could We Be Self-Sustaining? 

As part of our occasional series “Wild, Wondering, West Virginia,” Lana Lester of Wyoming County submitted her question to the Inside Appalachia team: “Could West Virginia Be Self-Sustaining?” She said she, “always had the feeling that God Blessed West Virginia with all of our natural resources, and we have everything there in the state to survive.”

So, could we survive on our own? And what would that really look like?

In this episode, we’ll try to find some answers. We travel to a survivalist’s shop, where shopowner Bob Keller says business is up. We talk with economist John Deskins about the realities of cuttting ourselves off from global trade, and why he thinks this would be disastrous. And we’ll talk with a man who moved his family from Brooklyn to rural West Virginia in the 1970s to live off the land. 

What Do You Think? 

Could West Virginia be self-sustaining? What would that look like? What’s your vision? We’d love to keep this conversation going. Send us an email to insideappalachia@wvpublic.org  or tweet us, @InAppalachia.

Heritage Hunting

Larry Spisak shoots a Flintlock rifle. He has been making rifles for over 40 years.
Credit Caitlin Tan / WVPB

West Virginia’s Mountaineer Heritage Hunting season began earlier this month, two weeks after most hunting seasons have closed. It’s the second year since its inception. Our folkways reporter Caitlin Tan spent time with hunters who make, and use, vintage rifles similar to the weapons many of our ancestors used hundreds of years ago.  

The Mountaineer

Muzzleloader rifles are one of the emblematic symbols of the frontier-image of the “mountaineer”. Yes, there are plenty of negative stereotypes that portray mountaineers as backwards, lawless, dirty, ignorant, but many people feel a source of pride in what the mountaineer represents. 

Perhaps that’s one reason West Virginia University’s mascot  —  man or woman  —  dresses in leather buckskin. We’ll take a closer look at the symbol of the Mountaineer, and what it represents to different people.  

Heirloom Seeds

Each “Big Red” Oxheart tomato can weigh up to 2.5 pounds and is known for its meaty texture.
Credit Rachel Greene / For WVPB

In Appalachia, traditions of seed saving make it possible for home gardeners to grow heirloom vegetable varieties that have been around for decades. Traditionally, growing these special seeds meant you had to have connections in the community -- seed saving and seed swaps were how people found new seeds. Today, though, there are organizations like seed libraries and community gardens that help save these seeds from being lost. Rachel Greene, one of our folkways corps reporters, spent some time in Ashe County, North Carolina talking to the people who are helping give old seeds a new life.

Personal Resilience 

Appalachians are resourceful and proud of our ability to make do  —  often with less. But all this talk about the future can be overwhelming, especially if someone is struggling just to keep their head above water on a personal level, pay their bills, and juggle all the day to day responsibilities of family and work. For some insight into how we can find more resilience in our own lives, we’re going to check in with psychologist Carol Dweck. She’s the author of “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.” Jessica Lilly spoke with Dweck about how we as humans think about our own talents and abilities, and how these mindsets can dramatically influence our lives.

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Our theme music is by Matt Jackfert. Other music this week was provided by John R. Miller,  Dinosaur Burps and Spencer Elliot. Glynis Board guest hosts this episode. Roxy Todd is our producer. Eric Douglas is our associate producer.  Our executive producer is Jesse Wright. Kara Lofton helped edit our show this week. Our audio mixer is Patrick Stephens. 

You can find us on Twitter @InAppalachia.