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Overcoming Barriers to Unemployment with Reclaimed Coal Mine Land

It’s hard to believe that the Appalachian Botanical Co.’s purple fields were once a surface coal mine. Here in Ashford, West Virginia, coal used to be the primary source of employment.


When the coal industry collapsed, our community’s primary source of income went with it. The coal mines that remained were hit especially hard by the COVID pandemic, leaving over 6,000 Appalachian coal miners without a job.

 

Robert Galbraith/Reuters

For a lot of people, the pandemic has made finding a job even more difficult. People with preexisting barriers to employment such as lack of education are left with even fewer opportunities. Ever since we started our farm operation in Spring 2019, Appalachian Botanical Co has tried to create jobs for anyone ready and willing to work hard with us.

 

What are Barriers to Employment?

Barriers to employment are not new, post-COVID problems; they have existed for decades. They are an extremely heavy burden for folks who are turning over a new leaf and doing the best they can with the cards they were dealt. Common barriers to employment include physical and intellectual disability, substance use disorder, prior incarceration, limited English proficiency, illiteracy, and/or lack of a high school diploma. It’s easy to see how any of these barriers could get in the way of finding reliable and good-paying work, but there are less obvious barriers that can make job hunting particularly burdensome. Job seekers may be parents and guardians with young children, including children with special needs  (such as disability or health condition), or may otherwise be limited by a lack of reliable transportation or a driver’s license), a lack of formal work experience, poor interviewing or social skills, and low confidence and self-esteem. Many of these barriers are inextricably linked to poverty, which carries its own social stigma. 

Physical disabilities like blindness, cancer, or epilepsy, as well as mental health issues like depression or OCD, may become a barrier to employment, as they can hinder not only job interviewing and training, but also focus, stamina, and the ability to communicate and work with others once the job is secured. All of this to say that barriers to employment are everywhere and can affect anybody — yet, sad to say, there are too few jobs that are suited to helping individuals overcome them.

We founded Appalachian Botanical Co. because we saw Ashford’s abandoned coal mine land as much more than just rocky soil. We saw it like we see our community: eminently worthy of a second chance and new life.

 

ABCo’s “Team Lavender”

Our hiring philosophy is to offer reliable, and good-paying jobs to people who want to learn new skills and work in a small team environment. Our applications are open to anyone of any background, no previous farming experience required. Our only requirements are that you can pass a drug test, are over the age of 18, and have an eagerness to learn. We offer on-the-job training for propagating, cultivating, and harvesting lavender. Additionally, we pay above the minimum wage because we recognize the value of the work our employees perform.

Our approach to helping individuals overcome their barriers to employment is flexible and can bend to meet their needs. We often work with outside organizations to provide needed support services that help our workers keep these jobs. Internally, we’ve often provided a few support services of our own such as transportation, meals, and clothing. Since we started in 2018, we’ve welcomed people in recovery, recent high school graduates (or people who didn’t finish high school), and formerly incarcerated individuals to our lavender farm. As we expand our farm, we will be expanding our workforce even more.

 

Get to Know Our Team

We’re excited to share the stories of Team Lavender! So excited, that we create social media posts almost every week that highlight individual team members. Check us out on Instagram or Facebook to meet Jerry, a father of four, professional welder, and recent addition to the team renovating our Foster building. Or Chad, our communications manager, who is the photographer and storyteller behind all of our headshots and videos! Get to know our founder, Jocelyn Sheppard, or some of the regulars around the farm, like our mechanic, social media coordinator, and chief technical officer.

If you’re looking for a job here in Ashford, please reach outThis video gives a good example of what we’re up to on our farm! We are not currently hiring but will soon be hiring for the Spring 2021 harvest. We’d love to get to know you! Sharing our story on your personal social media also helps us and anybody on your friends list who might be looking for a new opportunity. Lastly, you can own one of our lavender botanical products to get a look, whif, or taste of the work that is put in on our lavender farm. By working with other local businesses, such as a distillery and apiary, we’ve created an entire line of home, body, and aromatherapy products using our locally grown, hand-harvested lavender. 

Getting our community back to work is something we are committed to. Just as lavender was a perfect fit for the soil left from coal mines, we think we are the perfect fit for people in our region who are in need of a second chance!

 

MEET THE AUTHOR  /  ELIZA TALVOLA

 

 

MEET THE AUTHOR /  ELIZA TALVOLA is a writer from Pittsburgh, PA who considers herself to be a conscious consumer and traveler, slow fashion advocate, and devoted foodie. She is a firm believer in creative reuse and putting people over profits, and is a long time lavender enthusiast. Her favorite product: Lavender Hand Sanitizer Spray

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