The hemp whitepaper released by the Kentucky and West Virginia Hemp Growers Cooperative Associations, along with research collaboration with Kentucky-based Patriot Bioenergy Corporation, points to the validity of hemp as a feedstock for energy and chemical applications. The whitepaper presents the scholarly evidence showing investment in Applied Sustainability (i.e., sustainability science) is needed to begin the deployment of hemp-based projects. The broad applicability of hemp serves as both an economic diversifier in rural central Appalachia and as a biomass feedstock that will unleash energy and chemical development akin to the technological revolutions of the 1970s, 80s, and 90s in Silicon Valley. This of course is an extremely important step to complete the equation and…
Diversify the Economy
But wait a minute!? A biomass (r)evolution spurred by so called endangered hillbillies who are talking about “graphene nanosheets” seems to go against the grain of what some seek to characterize as helpless coal communities or victims of exploitation. Could there be contemporary stereotypes lingering within the modern ideal of sustainability? Only time will tell but until then let’s see who the contenders are in this Innovation Feud.
On the Hatfield side we have the West Virginia Hemp Growers Cooperative Association:
Steve Kominar, executive director of Mingo County Redevelopment Authority, stated that this “healthy competition is important because it seeks to develop the bedrock of economic development built from our region’s strengths, entrepreneurship in the energy sector.” Kominar and his team are developing several innovative approaches to integrated energy which will include a pilot site for growing hemp on mine scared lands over 2014. MCRA board member Terry Sammons expressed his overwhelming support of this pilot project:
"Our region can continue in the future to be a dominant force in the energy sector by embracing all forms of energy. Sustainable energy must play a key role in the integrated energy mix, and I believe our region has the visionary leadership to accomplish this objective. By doing so, not only will we develop a sustainable economy, but also enhance the ability of our citizens to live here and work here."
On the McCoy side we have the Kentucky Hemp Growers Cooperative Association:
Echoing the spirit of being proactive, the president of KHGCA, David Hadland, suggested that “both sides meet on the Paul Dillon Bridge” linking the two states (Pike and Mingo county). Here, Hadland continued, competitors “can take the first steps toward transcending the reactive stereotypes that have devastated the region for more than a century. The feud's energy will be redirected toward creating a sustainable economy beginning in the heart of Hatfield and McCoy country.”
Jessie Salyer, a coal operator through-and-through is also jumping on the Renewable Energy band wagon. Salyer said that “local business development is what makes sense to me and if it comes from renewable energy, all the better. Coal and renewable energy are not mutually exclusive.”
The overall intent of the Innovation Feud is to unleash the entrepreneurial potential in the region that not only develops renewable and alternative energy, but grafts these emerging industries into the bedrock industry of the region—fossil fuels. As innovators and early adopters, the goal is to fully develop the potential of biomass in central Appalachia, which includes the full use of post-mining land that has been reclaimed and is sorely underutilized. It includes incorporating educational and vocational skills training from secondary and post-secondary education, and supplying a displaced coal-mining workforce with job retraining that provides them opportunities in a new and more diversified local economy.
As it stands right now, it is too early to tell how the transition will go but a few things are certain regarding the required ingredients. Among all these is one of the most important: American’s must begin to think about Appalachia in a completely different manner. In this spirit we leave you with a quote from Ronald Eller’s book, Uneven Ground (this link is a must read):
“For more than a century, Appalachia has provided a challenge to modern conceptions of the American dream. It has appeared as a place of cultural backwardness in a nation of progressive values, a region of poverty in an affluent society, and a rural landscape in an increasingly urban nation.”
“We know Appalachia exists because we need it to exist in order to define what we are not. It is the ‘other America’ because the very idea of Appalachia convinces us of the righteousness of our lives. The notion of Appalachia as a separate place, a region set off from mainstream culture and history, has allowed us to distance ourselves from the uncomfortable dilemmas that the story of Appalachia raises about our own lives and about the larger society."
Note: This article was coauthored by Roger Ford and Eric Mathis