Food Heritage/History

The Appalachian Experience Lecture Series

Appalachian Experience

Chicken of the Woods. Photo by Willie Dodson

By Emma Castleberry

The Swannanoa Valley Museum and History Center (SVMHC) has launched The Appalachian Experience, a virtual lecture series exploring key elements of Appalachian culture and ecology. All lectures will be held online on the second Monday evening of each month from 6:30–7:45 p.m. Registrants will receive Zoom links upon registration, which costs $8 per lecture for museum members and $12 per lecture for nonmembers. “This series is intended to be an opportunity for residents to begin to dig deeper into the many cultures, conflicts and lifeways that make up Appalachia’s legacy,” says Saro Lynch-Thomason, events coordinator at SVMHC. “Our hope is that this series helps audience members to understand themselves as Appalachian citizens, and to feel more invested in this region’s communities and environment.”

On May 10, Willie Dodson presents Hunting Edible and Medicinal Mushrooms. Dodson is a mushroom hunter and grower from Southwest Virginia who also works as the Central Appalachian field coordinator for the environmental nonprofit Appalachian Voices.

Ginseng. Photo by Jim Hamilton

On June 14, Dr. Jim Hamilton presents Roots in Appalachia: Ginseng in Western North Carolina. Hamilton works as the county extension director for Watauga County. “Ginseng has been wild-harvested from our southern Appalachian forests for centuries,” says Hamilton. “It actually has created connections between our rural mountain communities and international export economy. I’m hoping I can bring some awareness to one of our more important native forest plants and introduce or enlighten the audience on some of the lesser-known intricacies of American ginseng, including its purported medicinal qualities, history, habitat and ecology, cultural significance, and its economy and trade in our region.”

A major focus of the lecture series will be promoting less-represented narratives and breaking down stereotypes—a factor that can even be traced to ecological topics, as Hamilton will address. “Unfortunately, TV shows like Appalachian Outlaws and Smoky Mountain Money portrayed and exploited ginseng and ginseng hunting as some sort of ‘hillbilly gold rush’ stereotype,” says Hamilton. “Ginseng is part of the much deeper Appalachian cultural experience. Many natives and locals learned how to hunt for and grow ginseng as a skill and tradition passed down from their elders. It still serves as a source of additional income for many families throughout the Appalachian Mountains.”

Topics for the remaining lectures include There’s a Better Home: A Brief History of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” with Leila Weinstein; The 8th of August: Southern Appalachia’s Emancipation Day with Will Isom of Black in Appalachia; Blair Mountain: America’s Largest Labor Uprising with Lynch-Thomason; Appalachian Music in Diaspora with Dr. Travis Stimeling; and The Scots-Irish in Appalachia with Dr. Jane MacMorran.

The series runs through November 8. For more information or to register, visit

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