Unfortunately, my drive home from a week’s vacation was timed to hit last Sunday’s thunderstorm perfectly. By the time I hit the line between Harlan county and Leslie county, I was being pelted with pea-sized hail and not a small amount of rain. I made it home safely after helping clear a few paths through clusters of fallen trees and doing a little chainsaw work in my own driveway.
Within the last 20 miles or so of my trip home, where the ridges are very steep along the river bottoms and creeks, I noticed just how variable the impacts of violent weather were. Along one stretch, the road would be covered with debris as the wind and driving rains hammered the structures and trees. A hundred yards up the road and around the bend, there would only be a gentle, soaking rain and almost no sign of the turbulence going on in the region. The varied topography of Appalachia creates a complex mosaic of microclimates that experience regional weather differently. This diversity has an enormous impact on what, where, and how crops are grown.
It, combined with the constant availability of water, are the things that interest me most about Appalachia, as a committed farmer looking at opportunities for alternative and sustainable production systems. It would take decades of knowledge being passed down to adequately map out all the different production niches available to a community. As this knowledge is rediscovered, learned and used it would allow our communities to have access to a far wider ranger of agricultural products–including fruit, vegetables, nuts, spices, etc.–than the typical farming communities of the midwest. They certainly have us beat when it comes to the sheer quantity of flat land they have available to them, but having too much flat land has its own limitations.