Charles Bowman’s hands used to be stained black with coal after work. Now,
they smell like lavender.
He is one of about 85 employees at Appalachian Botanical, a company that cultivates lavender on a former surface mine. Instead of coal, the company produces essential oils and other scented products and is part of a growing effort in West Virginia to reimagine an economy that is not dependent on coal.
Mr. Bowman, 54 years old, said he once made $37.50 an hour as an electrician in an underground mine. Those jobs are mostly gone. Now he makes $11.50 an hour. Despite the pay cut, working on a farm that has doubled its acreage in the past year makes him
“A year ago I heard nothing about lavender. Now it’s everywhere,” he said, standing on a
plateau surrounded by misty ridges. “I think it’s going to get competitive.”
Amid coal’s steady decline, efforts are growing to repurpose former mines and lead the way to diversifying the state’s economy, creating jobs and cleaning up the environment, while helping to revive coalfield communities. Other former surface mines in southern West Virginia are being used by a solar-installation company, a company that uses aquaponics technology to produce lettuce and tilapia, and a third that is building cabins for tourists who visit ATV trails. The infrastructure bill in Congress currently would authorize $11.3 billion to pay for the reclamation of abandoned mine lands, with a significant portion of that heading to West Virginia.
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