Carol Judy, Community Land Trust Founder, Environmental Activist; Clear Fork Valley, Tennessee, Campbell & Claiborne Counties:
“Clear Fork Valley encompasses two states and four counties; Campbell and Claiborne in Tennessee, and Bell and Whitley in Kentucky. The first ten years of my life, I lived in Florida, the next eight more or less, I lived in Plains, Georgia, moved back to Florida, married a boy from the hills, and came home to Tennessee.
We managed to make it about seven and a half years living in and out of the mountains, and I just decided I didn’t know how to make the relationship work, so I walked the path of divorce. [I] had my two kids, moved back to the mountains per se, until my children wanted to come back home, and get to know their daddy. My daughter was twelve, thirteen at the time, and my son was younger, and I was ready to come back home myself, because the mountains called.
One of my granddaddies was from the Big Sandy up in Appalachia. I would imagine, if I looked hard enough, I could discover varied kinds of traditional roots here. On my paternal grandfather’s side, the family name was Brown, the other name was Rose. You can find your roots, if you need to.
(What makes this place special?) Freedom. Fulfillment. Connections. (Sighs) Interesting things. Knowledge. Good people. An ecosystem that lets me learn with it, and the potential for helping others to discover better balance. There’s a lot of healing that has to be done, and you heal best if you’re able to look at what’s going on.
Oh, I’m a Jane of all trades, and a master of none of ‘em. (Laughs) I have twenty-five years in the food service; waitressing, hosting, bartending, doing that kind of people work. I dig roots, and used to sell roots, until I got to recognizing that the injustices far outweighed the money I was gaining, so I took it a different track. I drew Welfare, and taught myself that’s not a handout, a gift. Everybody needs to feel like they have earned that money, so I worked within my community helping to create a community land trust, establishing some educational systems [and] generally wreaking havoc in some people’s lives, to tell you the truth.
It’s a community land trust, and one of the first that was formed in our country. Every state has different laws about land trusts, and community land trusts, in particular. This one is designed along, like the Jewish masad, so the land is owned communally. Individual developments on the land, like your house and all, belong to the individual and you have a lifetime lease on your homestead acre.
We bought every acre of land we’ve ever acquired. The first seventeen was a gift from a failed not-for-profit. That was someone in the community who thought establishing a Danish folk school was a fine idea. It is, and was a fine idea, but it needed more support than the community could give it.
Probably close to five hundred [live there] by now. It’s an interesting mix. The land trust was conceived to enable people to build a home their way. Having acquired the land previously in my community of place, there had been forty-some odd acres of land acquired by another group of citizens. They did the very traditional one of laying out lots, and selling the lot, and let people build the houses, and they kept the house and land ownership directly tied.
With [our] land trust, one of the reasons we did it was because in cash poor communities, when push comes to shove, you sell whatever you’ve got to make sure some kind of critical need is met, albeit, healthcare, death in the family, what have you. The land trust was a way of collectively owning it, and maintaining it together. I guess the scariest thing about it, if people really stop and think about it, is it takes land off the public market. So, is my community land trust a form of public trust?
I lived on it, worked on it, worked for it, but I don’t live on the land trust at this time. I have a history of being a founder, and I still consider it part of my life. The goals of the land trust are to be able to let people be engaged in living a rural culture type of life. Housing is such a critical necessity that we get slam bagged by the more immediate need, and lose sight of that longer-term goal.
I did a lot, built houses very innovatively with programs, tried to bring in the typical mortgage financing to meet the state mandate. We don’t even meet the critical needs. We’ve built to these standards, and now we don’t even have the kind of income that would let people have the mortgage financing required.
What I’ve learned from [this is] I’m a place based educator. We got so caught up in the housing we step back from how to sustain our housing longer term. Knowing that we were managing and making do, and taking advantage of programs to secure some good, solid foundational kind of housing and different ways of training [but] programs lack enough manpower to keep that multi-facet development scheme going.
I continue to focus on young people, and the woods, and started helping create the Clear Fork Community Institute [CCI}, which is a separate 501c3, but owns a ninety-nine year lease on land from the land trust. How sweet is that?
CCI [is about] lifting the live/learn lessons of our community up and out, and try to make ‘em visible so that we can better define where we want our community to go.
There’s what some people would call some subsistence farming. People do raise beef, and go to take some produce or some livestock to market up in Corbin. There’s a butcher that lives up the valley, he’ll butcher what you raise and package it for you. Gardens are kind of there, hayfields. We can sustain ourselves in some levels, but I guess the biggest thing we contribute to a larger marketplace is we’re the cash poor folks that have an economy built around our poverty from our perception.
It’s a food stamps, Welfare, crippling economy, because it lets you kind of sustain or meet some basics, but not even really that, so you are always trying…so your energy’s burnt up trying to manage, and maintain, and scrap, and make do.
For rural people, if you stop and think about it, we’ve never had all our income in one way. People defined it as farming and it sounds like one income, but farming is multi layers of incomes. And quality of life has to be addressed as part of it, so how farming has been presented and people’s experience of it, is sometimes not defined by personal knowledge.
Carol Judy’s answer [to the regional economy]; is people struggle to have hope, but they haven’t given up. We know that we don’t have any problems that are any worse than anybody else, so commonality of our issues can lead us to work together toward better solutions. Being able to anticipate things, being able to name things, should help make that happen.
No rural community should have a single source of income industry, no monoculture. Urban areas sort of need monocultures, or microcosms of monocultures, of types. People have a strong faith, so they figure God is on their side. And who’s to say?
I figure myself, personally, that about a hundred years ago, these mountains looked around and said, ‘Oops, you know these humans keep on this path, they might not be around to tickle our ribs, and scratch our bellies, and wade in our waters,’ And they said, ‘Well, we might want to give ‘em a chance.’ So they sent people forth from different kinds of living arenas having been impacted from a top down kind of economy, and said, ‘Well, you know, let’s send ‘em out, because as the earth, we know that the solution lies in the coming together of those who are resolving it.’
Education for me is an arena that lets me help cross-connect classes and cultures, and let ‘em put some sweat equity into each other so that the investment in each other is carried forth throughout their lifetime. We all need air and water, and these mountains, according to the World Health Organization statistics, produce eighty percent of the world’s living, tasteful, drinkable waters. In the United States, that translates into an ecosystem service, which I’m not real happy with, but I can live with it. But, I also know that they produce a hundred percent of it for me, ‘cause I live in these mountains, as do many others.
Cities turn taps on, and make use of a resource that our mountains create, and there’s a total disconnect from that knowledge.
If you look hard enough, you’ll find an essence of Appalachia culture in any resilient community. Ours is probably unique in the fact that people think that we have been isolated from the world. I believe it is the opposite, that the world has been isolated from us.
We certainly understand the impacts of culture ‘cause we have all the same stuff, exposure to it, that everybody else does. But who has exposure to us? Appalachian culture, for me, is based in feeling, being able to connect generationally to the land around you; to know that those of your bloodline are buried in them hills and have become part of the earth again. Even if it’s not your bloodline, it’s your human kinship.
To feel that connected and to see, to understand how to respect the earth in its capacities, is something we need. We used to know much better than we know today. The out-migration dropped my community of place from thirty thousand to three in about twelve to fifteen years. That’s a great loss. That’s a super great loss. They come home on weekends, but they no longer have the capacity to live there.
We stereotype lots of things, and sometimes it’s in satire. It’s a way of communicating and getting some emotions caught up in something. I have to watch it myself, because I know where I live and all these young folks that come in. Higher education was always a problem to me because it was educating you so you had to leave. The assumption was you had to go, and education was a way.
What about using education to help let you stay? I think that stereotypes are a tool that sometimes is implemented, and that the ripples of those implementations, we’re still feeling ‘em. They don’t quit. The ability to understand, to challenge your own stereotypes, should begin to give you a good bullsh*t indicator for others.
I consider myself a mountain woman. We live along the ridges and in the hollers. I’m sitting here talking to you, but I bet you a nickel, if you had time, you could find thousands of us. You just got to have time to get in the hollers, or find some who are venturing out.
I like to go in the woods and dig roots. I like to learn. The young people I’ve met over the past ten years, working with Mountain Justice people, young people who helped amplify our voice, got the attention of a society. They had to take it serious. It was their sons and daughters, and grandkids, who were saying, ‘Look, you know there’s a problem here. Sor-rrrry, we gotta do something.’ Their young people saying it is different than the children of the ridges and hollers, it seems, and there again, some of that is because of stereotyping.
It’s also part of the colonialism of thinking that because people have some paper education, they know better. But paper education has to be tempered with hands-on knowledge. The hands-on knowledge of understanding what it was you were reading about [and] the ability to have a connection to it. Having spent time with it, having done something with it, looked at it, and explored it from fourteen different aspects.
I keep battling for trainings and mechanisms that get our kids into each other communities so they have reasons to care for each other, and find hope.
Anything that continues to interrupt these mountains’ abilities to be healthy heart and lungs, creators of water, and producers of air, and cleaning, and contributing that to all populations, not just people [is devastating].
I see that we’re going to need some plague controls, vectors, understanding of what it means to take care of people who are so addicted they cannot function without some kind of support structure. Are we going to let ours starve? It’s not our nature. How do we implement community gardens, because I think working with the earth helps heal. [We need to help] ourselves become food sufficient and be very conscious of understanding how this kind of work improves long-term air and water quality.
The woods has three layers, and the woods around me are mountain forest woods. A tree with a thirty-inch diameter is probably going to cycle a thousand gallons of water a day through its system. That’s a lot of water. It pulls that water up through the soil, filtering that water, and removing things from the soil at the same time. But, that tree pulls eighty percent of its mass from the air. Now that’s magic. (You can hear the smile in her voice.)
That tree’s leaves is reaching in that sky, and pulling some elements out of that sky that are too small for us to perceive, and turning it into itself. Trees are a way of the mountain forest being like a cold-blooded creature. It can control its own body temperature with trees. You cut the trees, your body temperature is going to rise, your water’s gonna go sink, way, way down deep, and you’re gonna lose that exchange of things. When you got the trees, you also got a mid-story, an under-story, and the fourth floor.
My familiarity with the forest floor is that it’s a skin layer on the body of the mountain and the bones are the rocks and stuff, and the flesh, just like all the dirt, and the things of that nature. I don’t really have good words for it, but it cohabits with itself. The seasons and the cycles are part of it, so the timeline, timespan, and attention of a mountain is different than a human being’s.
That’s why they could send people forth, and have a little patience. A hundred years ain’t much to ‘em, but it’s a lot to us. If the earth has got enough sense to send people forth to come back with multi kinds of knowledge to be part of the solution of beginning the regenerative healing that’s needed, then who am I to question that?
The role I play is finding folks who seem to have an interest or knowledge [and] are willing to do something. Sometimes they succeed, and sometimes they don’t, but people don’t seem to give up too much. We’re part of them [the mountains] and they like us. Whatever creation stories you believe in, people have always been part of the story, but not all of the story.”