Begonias on the Sesquicentennial

By: Joe Gorman
Location: West Virginia


A hundred and fifty years can seem like a long time. But today, on West Virginia’s sesquicentennial, I met a young farmer who moved away to Seattle for 25 years to study horticulture and surround herself with plants, a full sixth of the state’s history. She returned to the sight of progress in local foods, and started working as a grower for KISRA (the Kanawha Institute for Social Research & Action, Inc., which launched the Growing Jobs Project, a farm-to-table program for the unemployed this spring). KISRA’s mix of skills, routine, community and learning are powerful elements that are also found in the Build-it-Up! West Virginia program. We shared our thoughts on everything from the multitude of projects launching, to how hard it is to buy fresh produce with food stamps, to propagation of begonias before her next customer walked up to the farm stand.

Thanks to the anniversary, West Virginia also graced the cover of the New York Times today, with an op-documentary from the maker of “Hollow,” a film about shrinking McDowell County. Few have painted the state’s far southern counties in a positive light (another recent documentary, Oxyana, which covers oxycontin abuse, sparked outrage from residents of Oceana), but new projects are springing up everywhere. Mount View high school, perched atop a McDowell County strip mine, boasts a solar array on the roof, and 18 folks from the high school joined Build-it-Up on Saturday for an event at the newly-build community garden down the road.

West Virginia is a lot of things. She has fought more than her share of stereotypes, embodies a lot of contradictions, can be hard to talk about without stumbling to find the right words. To many, the state’s birthday brings back memories of booming towns that will never look the same again. For me, it’s a day of looking forward, to a breed of prosperity that looks less like a boss and an outbound coal train and a little bit more like propagating begonias.

200047_984417468022_1182459_nAuthor: Joe Gorman is a program leader with Build it Up! West Virginia, and is also a member of Grand Aspirations’ Program Support Team.

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