Mountain People - Appalachian Expedition Part 1
As the sun warms your tent, you get out of your sleeping bag and begin to prepare for the day. First things first: you build a fire. As soon as the fire is strong, you put on water for tea and oatmeal. You and your teammates gather around to eat breakfast and plan for the day.
Today you'll learn more about the people who once lived on Blair Mountain. In addition to biological diversity, you suspect there is quite a bit of cultural history worth protecting here.
Thinking back to the homes you passed on your drive to Blair Mountain, you start to wonder what it's like to live in a mountainous region. Many people who live in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia are related to the early European settlers. Their ancestors came from Germany, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, France, England, Switzerland, and Norway and tried to pioneer a life for themselves on the rugged slopes of mountains like Blair.
How they survived depended on the time of year. They grew crops in the summer, hunted and trapped animals in the fall and winter, and kept livestock year-round. They also gathered plants and wood from mountain forests. Although most of these products were consumed by the collectors and their families, some were also sold or traded at local markets. The first two products that were brought to the market were wild ginseng and animal furs.
Depending on when they arrived, these pioneers settled on different parts of the mountain slope. The Germans arrived early enough to claim land on the fertile valley floor where they could maintain large, productive farms. Those who arrived later, like the Scots-Irish, were forced to settle farther up the mountain with small farmsteads. A journey from valley to summit on these mountains sure is a journey through cultures, you think.
This heritage is represented in the lifestyle of Southern Appalachian mountain people today. You recall passing by several log homes on your way through the mountains. This building style was brought to the region by the Norwegians. For a long time, new settlers to the region adopted the same style. As communication and transportation improved in the mountains, log cabins began to be looked down upon. That explains the siding over the log home you passed yesterday. Somebody must have been trying to hide the log cabin underneath! Today, wood-framed houses dot the mountain landscape.
There was something else you noticed on your drive through the mountain towns to Blair. Almost every home had a huge garden in the backyard where heaps of vegetables, like tomatoes, beans, and potatoes, were being grown. In keeping with tradition, many Appalachian people grow most of their own food. By freezing or canning some of the garden produce, they are able to eat their own vegetables year-round. Many of these same mountain people hunt deer, bear, wild turkey, squirrel, and rabbit to add protein to their diets.
They still collect products from mountain forests, too. You recall that one mountain town you drove through that was holding their annual Ramp Festival. Ramps are wild onions that grow in mountain forests. They are collected in the spring, and some towns organize entire festivals around their harvest. This festival sported roasted ramps, ramp mousse, and lots of music. That's another thing these mountain people inherited from their ancestors-music from many different cultures.
This makes you think about the food you eat at home. Do you live in an agricultural area? What food is growing on the agricultural land surrounding your home? What does the word "gardening" mean to you? Do members of your family or community supplement their diets with food they have grown? What type of food plants do you or they grow?