SWAN works to preserve the watershed

Karrigan Monk
Black Mountain News
SWAN meets weekly for two hours at the Black Mountain Presbyterian Church house.

A group of Valley residents have come together to create a new group called the Swannanoa Watershed Action Network.

SWAN aims to “mobilize caring people and organizations in the Swannanoa watershed to help catalyze a safe and equitable space for all people in the watershed without shortfalls of the social foundation or without overshooting the ecological ceiling,” according to its website.

Founded in March 2022, Robertson Work said the group came together at the request of Kevin Jones, who contacted Work and a few others to meet for lunch because Jones had an idea.

Jones’ idea was to use the Doughnut economic model to help those in the Swannanoa Watershed.

The Doughnut economic model involves a “social foundation” and an “ecological ceiling,” according to the Doughnut Economics website.  The idea is to create a society where every person’s needs are being met without putting a strain on the environment.

“They want you to find the safe operating space for humans and the planet,” Jones said. “There’s a social undershoot. Places where social problems kind of fall through the floor if you will. The other part is where we have exceeded planetary boundaries for temperature, water, air, those sorts of things. It’s trying to build an economy that doesn’t have to grow forever, that can work to live within the planetary boundaries.”

In order to work toward this goal, the group meets once a week for two hours on Friday's at the Black Mountain Presbyterian Church house.

Around 16 people usually join these meetings, with a total of around 80 on SWAN’s Facebook page.

Work said these meetings begin with a brief meditation before different sub-groups detail what they’ve been working on for the past week. Different groups like Bounty & Soul come in to see if SWAN is able to help them in any way.

After a break, they come back together. At the last meeting, Work said SWAN spent the second hour working on a mural to be put in the Black Mountain Presbyterian Church.

Jones said he has worked to close the racial wealth gap for nearly two decades and said he was moved to create the group because he was seeing a disconnect in people working for the environment and those working for social and economic justice.

“You seldom see folks who are concerned about the environment who work on economic justice,” Jones said. “It’s kind of a bifurcation. … If you care about a place, it’s easier to care about everyone who lives in that place.”

The Swannanoa watershed stretches from Asheville to Black Mountain and up to Mount Mitchell.

Part of the work SWAN does includes river cleanups in the Swannanoa watershed.

Work said SWAN has several projects to help protect the watershed and keep it clean, including several river cleanups.

Jones is currently in the process of raising money for an economic justice marketplace that will help distribute loans to Black farmers who otherwise would have difficulty acquiring loans.

“These are for folks on both sides,” Jones said. “The African American sole proprietors who are unable to get Mountain BizWorks loans or a Wells Fargo loan. … We’re getting the capital that’s needed to the folks that don’t have it.”

Jones said the Agers of Hickory Nut Gap put up the first $25,000 for the fund, and he is grateful to them.

When Jones started SWAN, Work said Jones called it a discovery. Work, who said he has spent his whole life doing community development, said the group will continue to discover new ways to help the watershed.

“We’re still discovering,” Work said. “Every week we’re discovering new things, new ideas, new possibilities, new connections, new partners. … I’m really happy I can meet every week with my neighbors and try to help people in the area.”