Inside Appalachia: Getting Back to Our Roots


On this episode, we’re learning more about Appalachian roots. Some industries are growing in Appalachia that aren’t really new at all, but new practices are building on traditional crafts. While these  changes develop across Appalachia, we inevitably want to hang onto our identity. Strong roots, after all, are one of the characteristics many of us take pride in.

The War on Coal, pressures from natural gas development, crumbling infrastructure, whatever you want to blame it on – jobs are becoming more and more scarce these days in communities dependent on coal. As a result, some folks are hoping to build and encourage new industries among the hills and hollers. But with change, come challenges, roadblocks and complications. On this show, we’ll hear some of these stories.

Back to our Roots, Ginseng Roots That Is

Folks are reaching back to their roots, literally and figuratively, to make ends meet – just as they have for generations. And there’s some big money there. Especially harvesting ginseng. But can plants like ginseng play a significant role in our economy today? Glynis Board dug into the topic, to find out more.

Regulations Prohibit Ginseng Farmers in W.Va., Experts Say

If when you hear the word “ginseng” you think about a wild plant that grows great in the hills and hollers of Appalachia, you’re right. But forest grown ginseng, which is farmed in the forest, can yield roots as valuable as the wild stuff. Still, in this second report, Glynis Board found out, there are some rules and regulations that might hinder this option in West Virginia.

Forest-Grown Ginseng

forest-grown ginseng

National Parks Look To Lock Out Wild Ginseng Diggers

Across the country it’s illegal to pull ginseng from National Parks. This form of poaching is yet another challenge for those working to develop more sustainable practices for the ginseng industry. So folks in North Carolina have come up with a way to help detect if a root has been poached from illegal land. In this next report, Greta Johnsen of WCQS in Asheville, North Carolina, reports on the fight to prevent poaching.

Bird Files, The Junco

Picture this: You’re out taking a winter walk along a country road and a small flock of dark gray birds flies up in front of you—they utter a few sharp chip notes and you notice that they flash white on the edges of their tails as they flit away in all directions. They are known as Dark-eyed Juncos. And they’re the focus of this segment of Bird Files, by The Allegheny Front.  Listen to the show to hear ornithologist Bob Mulvihill of the National Aviary explain.


Credit Robert S. Mulvihill / The National Aviary
The National Aviary
Dark-eyed Junco

Turf War, Parents vs. Gas Drillers

Fights over playground turf are taking on new meaning at some schools. That’s because Marcellus gas drillers are leasing land nearby, and the plans are earning an F with parents. Gas drillers are putting their wells closer to schools–in some cases less than 1,000 feet. And many school districts have begun leasing their land to drillers. But this doesn’t sit well with some parents–leading to skirmishes. The Allegheny Front‘s Reid Frazier reports.

Crystal Yost with daughters Olivia, four, and Emily, 11. Yost and other parents in her Southwestern Pennsyvlania school district object to a well near her children’s school. Crystal Yost with daughters Olivia, four, and Emily, 11. Yost and other parents in her Southwestern Pennsyvlania school district object to a well near her children’s school. Photo: Reid R. Frazier
Credit Reid Frazier / The Allegheny Front

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What’s in a Name?

This week we’re going to a town in in southern West Virginia that’s also nicknamed the “Dogwood City” and is often called “Home of Champions” in basketball, after claiming several state high school titles before consolidation in 1997. Here’s a hint … host Jessica Lilly was once on the sidelines in uniform, cheering on the team at this town’s school. Listen to the show to hear Wyoming County Circuit Clerk explain how the town of Mullens, W.Va. got its name.


Credit Tom Riser
Mullens, W.Va.

Fresh Roasted Coffee on the Rise

Yes, we do know that coffee doesn’t grow in Appalachia- but more and more people are getting into the craft of freshly roasted coffee- which can even be done on sight now in some coffee shops. Why all the effort? After all, coffee is so popular that many people don’t even care if it’s cheap or low quality; as long as they have that caffeine fix. But as Liz McCormick of West Virginia Public Broadcasting reports, more and more people are searching for that higher quality coffee only found in the specialty shops. You can see a slideshow by clicking here.


Credit Liz McCormick
Two different types of unroasted, green coffee beans.

As Bourbon Booms, Demand For Barrels Is Overflowing

If you make a lot of bourbon whiskey, you could distill a lot of profit. That’s because bourbon sales in the U.S. are booming, up 36 percent in the last five years. But to age your new, pristine product, you need new wooden barrels. As NPR’s Noah Adams reports from Kentucky, these barrels are becoming more precious than the bourbon.


Credit Noah Adams / NPR
“Once we have the toast layer we’ll let the barrel ignite,” says Paul McLaughlin of Kelvin Cooperage in Louisville, Ky.

It Seems Craft Beer in W.Va. has an Important Backer

During his State of the State Address in January, West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin touched on a bill he hopes will incite the growth of an already burgeoning industry in West Virginia, craft brewing. Dave Mistich has more.

W.Va. Town Works to Scare Away “Old Man Winter”

We’ll join in an adopted Appalachian tradition from immigrants that held onto their roots. It seems to be helping to revitalize the community. This show ends in Helvetia, W.Va. where every year the little town tries its best to frighten away “Old Man Winter” at its Fasnacht celebration. Fasnacht takes place every year on the last Saturday before Lent, and this year it took place place on February 14th on Valentine’s Day. Our producer Roxy Todd attended the Fasnacht Festival last year, and she brought back this audio postcard. From the Inside Appalachia archives, here’s the story of a little town called Helvetia.

Cancelling School with Flair

The recent cold snap has kept many of us Appalachians indoors this past week. Many school systems have been closed for the entire week and it’s not surprising to me, that several of the superintendents are delivering the closure message with a personal touch. Here’s one from Keith Butcher, the Nicholas County superintendent in West Virginia.

Music in today’s show was provided by Andy Agnew Jr., the Glenville State Bluegrass Band, and John Wyatt. Our What’s in a Name theme music is by Marteka and William with Johnson Ridge Special from their CD Sounds of a Tradition.

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