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Crew members Eva Jones and Chris Farley, residents of Mingo County, work the soil. It is compacted, composed of blasted rock, and lacks organic matter. Paul Corbit Brown / YES! Magazine

By Catherine V. Moore

On a surface-mine-turned-farm in Mingo County, West Virginia, former coal miner Wilburn Jude plunks down three objects on the bed of his work truck: a piece of coal, a sponge and a peach. He's been tasked with bringing in items that represent his life's past, present and future. "This is my heritage right here," he said, picking up the coal. Since the time of his Irish immigrant great-grandfathers, all the males in his family have been miners.

"Right now I'm a sponge," he said, pointing to the next object, "learning up here on this job, in school, everywhere, and doing the best I can to change everything around me."

Then he holds up the peach. "And then my future. I'm going to be a piece of fruit. I'm going to be able to put out good things to help other people."

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