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“This hollow used to produce so much of its food, and people have gotten away from those ways,” says Williams, as she sits in the property’s serene garden, surrounded by edible plants.“Community resiliency is about us being in it together and building something sustainable for generations to come.“I knew the stovepipe had to be higher than the roof to create a draw and pull all of the air out,” she explains.“I’m the builder, I’ve never grown a tomato in my life, you can’t expect me to keep anything alive, but I can fix a window and put in a door, I can put up a stovepipe or dig a hole.” The group is now focusing on making the property as hospitable as possible so other people will be tempted to join them here.To some, this region, where trees outnumber people, might seem like a strange choice for a group of marginalized people looking for community and safety.Residents of Appalachia have a reputation for being wary of outsiders, and much of the region is politically and socially conservative.The group lives in quiet intimacy on the property, telling jokes and engaging in long conversations when they want company, or writing, playing music, gardening, and doing housework in solitude.
Deep in the woods is a dilapidated WWII-era cabin and a dried-up ditch where a small pond used to be.
They’ve made it their mission to remove the invasive plant autumn olive from their property, and they’ve started to forge relationships with their neighbors.
The group has gotten particularly close with one of the women on the Trust’s board, a member of the Catholic Worker Movement (a group of autonomous Catholic communities) who moved to Appalachia several decades ago.
But Williams and the rest of the farm’s residents (whose names have been changed here to protect them from the violence, harassment, and discrimination transgender people regularly face), say Appalachia’s open spaces and sparse population offer an opportunity for LGBTQ people who feel isolated and alone. Last year, when a local artist died, and left the 65-acre property and home he built to the West Virginia Regional Land Trust, the Trust’s board decided to give it to a group of people aiming to create an intentional community.
The Trust launched a call for proposals and asked applicants to submit a one-page description of what they would do with the land.