In the Black: A Memoir of Coal Mining

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I discovered Gary Bentley’s serialized memoir, In the Black, through the podcast of Inside Appalachia. It’s a deeply moving, often shocking memoir of his work in a deep coal mine in Kentucky. There are few real-life accounts that offer this type of insight into the daily lives of miners. We can only hope that Bentley gets a book deal from the blog–this is the type of account that should be required reading for all Appalachian studies students.

The Latest & Greatest in Ethnography: Evicted by Matthew Desmond

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From today’s Book World in The Washington Post

Thank you, Matthew Desmond.

Thank you for writing about destitution in America with astonishing specificity yet without voyeurism or judgment. Thank you for showing it is possible to compose spare, beautiful prose about a complicated policy problem. Thank you for giving flesh and life to our squabbles over inequality, so easily consigned to quintiles and zero-sum percentages. Thank you for proving that the struggle to keep a roof over one’s head is a cause, not just a characteristic, of poverty.

It has been a long time since a book has struck me like Desmond’s “Evicted,”not since Drew Gilpin Faust’s “This Republic of Suffering,” which showed how Americans dealt with their Civil War dead. I suspect the resonance is not coincidental. Desmond, a sociologist at Harvard University, writes about another kind of mass death: The demise of opportunity and of hope that occurs when individuals are forced to leave their homes.

“Losing a home sends families to shelters, abandoned houses, and the street,” Desmond writes. “It invites depression and illness, compels families to move into degrading housing in dangerous neighborhoods, uproots communities, and harms children. Eviction reveals people’s vulnerability and desperation, as well as their ingenuity and guts.”

Read the rest of this review here.

Arlington Community Gardens

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Last weekend I began fieldwork for the Summer 2016 Field School. I’m back along the Columbia Pike, this time studying community gardens along Four Mile Run and Douglas Park.

The project stretches me in new and exciting ways. I’m an avid “urban farmer”–I cleared the azaleas alongside my house to create three 8X10 garden beds. The azaleas were beautiful, but they had the best sun on our otherwise wooded lot. The community gardens are county-owned properties that are leased to residents who don’t have space or availability to grow fruits and vegetables near their own homes. But I’ve never considered the impact of community gardens on food security and sustainability from an academic perspective. I plan to spend spring break reading up on the academic literature on community gardens.

The growing season for hearty spring and root vegetables begins on March 1 in Northern Virginia, so gardeners got together for a recipe and seed swap on February 27. I was shocked by the number of people who showed up–nearly forty people in all. The chief gardener, Maraea Harris, reviewed rules for the gardens and important dates. I also met nearly 20 gardeners who are interested in participating in the project. That’s a fantastic number of people to have on board so early in the process.

I’ll be talking to gardeners and visiting the garden plots periodically between now and the official start of the field school in mid-May. I’m extremely pleased to be offering the field school again this year and to be back in Arlington County for the project.

The Field School 2016

Today I begin the first field visit to prepare for the 2016 Field School for Cultural Documentation. I’ll be working with Community Gardens in Arlington County.

I grew up on a farm, so the idea of a kitchen garden makes sense to me. I tore out landscaping around my house to exploit the only sunny spot on our largely wooded property to ensure we have fresh tomatoes and beans each season. The community garden is a small-scale urban farm. In Arlington, the county government provides about 4 acres of land to allow residents (mainly those who live in apartments and condos) to grow their own food.

January will be a fallow time, but I’m excited to see to garden spaces and how the parcels are managed in the off-season.

This blog will become much more active now that I’m back in the field.