Rural America

Friday, Apr 28, 2017, 1:30 pm  ·  By Jim Hightower

Hey Corporate Media, Quit Talking S#&* About the U.S. Postal Service

A post office in Westfall, Ore. The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is one of the few government agencies explicitly authorized by the United States Constitution.   (Photo: pelhamplus.com)

Journalism, which is supposed to help make sense of our turbulent world, can't seem to make sense of itself. In addition to “news” (which involves reporting on stuff that's real) we're now getting "fake news" (stuff that's completely made up). But wait—the barons of corporate news are adding to today's tumultuous state of journalism by putting out feeds of “BS news” (stuff they know is untrue but reported as fact, because it advances their political agenda).

For example, the mighty Washington Post (owned by Jeff Bezos) keeps publishing a load of BS to denigrate our U.S. Post Office. The paper's latest pot shot was in an alarmist editorial declaring, “The U.S. Postal Service continues to hemorrhage red ink.” Embracing their owner's anti-government ideology, the editors grumped that postal unions have made our mail service outmoded and insolvent, running up “a net loss of $5.6 billion last year.”

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Thursday, Apr 27, 2017, 5:00 am  ·  By John E. Peck

The View from a Wisconsin Farm: NAFTA Should be Repealed and Replaced

Wildweed Holsteins and Jerseys in Randolph, Wisc., has 60 cows and supplies Grassland Dairy Products Inc. with nearly 4,000 pounds of milk.   (Photo: Mara Budde / madison.com)

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) must be replaced with a transparent trade agreement that ensures three things: farmers receive fair prices for their production; consumers are guaranteed the right to know the content and origin of their food; and strong environmental protections are put in place to protect the sustainability of rural communities.

Though NAFTA has increased trade between Canada, Mexico and the United States, farm profit margins did not increase. Multi-national grain traders made huge profits dumping subsidized U.S. corn on Mexico, crushing much of Mexico’s farm economy to the point that Mexican Catholic Bishops said that NAFTA was leading to the “cultural death” of their nation. Trade agreements should promote fair trade that supports farmers of all countries, not just the financial interests of multi-national agribusiness corporations.

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Tuesday, Apr 25, 2017, 2:44 pm  ·  By Rural America In These Times

Winona LaDuke at Union Theological Seminary: Watch it Live

(Photo: Denkmal Films)

On Wednesday, April 26 at 6:30 p.m. (EST), Winona LaDuke—a rural development economist, author and Native activist working on issues of sustainable development and food systems—will give the seventh annual Judith Davidson Moyers Women of Spirit Lecture at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Rural America In These Times will livestream the event below.

The author of six books, including Recovering the Sacred, LaDuke is widely recognized for her work on environmental and human rights issues, as well as her international advocacy for indigenous peoples. She lives and works on the White Earth reservation in northern Minnesota, where she is the founder of the White Earth Land Recovery Project, a reservation-based non-profit.

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Friday, Apr 21, 2017, 10:00 pm  ·  By John Collins

American Cows are Eating Skittles and Other Reasons Why the 2018 Farm Bill is Important

(Image: Google Images / Rural America In These Times)

In January, a flatbed pickup truck filled with only red Skittles® crashed on a highway near Beaver Dam, Wis. This prompted the Mars Corporation to issue a statement explaining that the theoretically strawberry flavored candies had been rejected at the factory for lacking an “S” (for Skittle® not strawberry) and were en route to becoming cattle feed. Headlines of the spectacle briefly captured public attention. Then, cursory inquiries revealed the practice is not uncommon.

Snopes, the world’s urban legend fact checker, verified the story’s authenticity and traced the candy-to-farm phenomenon back to 2012—a time when federally subsidized demand for ethanol (and a bad drought in the Midwest) had caused the cost of a bushel of corn to double. Searching for more affordable alternatives, some cattle farm operators discovered that the high fructose corn syrup found in imperfect candy could pad feed, sustain livestock and save big bucks. 

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Wednesday, Apr 19, 2017, 6:30 am  ·  By Steven Conn

Peas in a Pod: The “Inner City” and 21st Century Rural America

(Image: Travel Studies / USDA ERS)

It wasn’t that long ago that we talked about the “inner city”—those pockets of urban America where poverty seemed intractable and social cohesion disappeared—as tangles of pathologies. The story went approximately like this:

Deindustrialization meant the contraction and collapse of the economy in urban neighborhoods like North Philadelphia and South Chicago. Which, in turn, led to a massive loss of jobs, particularly among those least able to deal with the economic dislocation. A whole host of social problems followed once the paychecks stopped coming: people lost their homes or could no longer pay the rent; other community institutions which depended on those people with the paychecks died too—grocery stores, banks, hardware stores, movie theaters and more; families themselves struggled and many fell apart; drugs became an appealing alternative for those who couldn’t see much of a future for themselves. Those who had the resources and the ambition to get out did. Those who had neither stayed.

Today, rural America has become the new inner-city. It isn’t a perfect analogy, of course, but let me play it out a bit because the comparison might help us think about whether anything can be done about these new inner cities.

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Monday, Apr 17, 2017, 5:00 am  ·  By Rural America In These Times

A New Book Reminds the Next Generation of Farmers that “Farming Has Always Been A Political Act”

Compiled and released by the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, Letters to a Young Farmer: On Food, Farming, and Our Future is a collection of letters and essays to future farmers.   (Photo: foodtank.com)

The United States is in an agricultural bind. Farmers are retiring at alarming rates, profits are down, and starting a new small farm takes guts and money. The next generation faces mounting debt and a lack of affordable farmland, but also inherits a growing public weariness of dominant production models that rely on ecological shortsightedness to keep bad food cheap.

With or without the infrastructure in place, there is demand for healthy food that doesn't require a war on nature to produce. New farmers are rising to the challenge, but they need all the support they can get.

The Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, in Terrytown, N.Y., is a non-profit organization working to promote sustainable, community-based food production. This includes operating a farm, CSA, restaurant and educational resource center that’s open to the public. Last month, the Center released Letters to a Young Farmer—an anthology of essays and letters by influential farmers, writers, and leaders in the sustainable food movement. Writing to inspire the next generation of farmers, contributors include Barbara Kingsolver, Bill McKibben, Michael Pollan, Dan Barber, Temple Grandin, Wendell Berry, Rick Bayless, Marion Nestle and 24 others.

In the following interview Danielle Nierenberg, the president of Food Tank and an expert on food issues, speaks with Stone Barns Center CEO Jill Isenbarger about the book and why it’s important:

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Wednesday, Apr 12, 2017, 6:27 pm  ·  By Mark Trahant

Some Tribal Economies Depend on Resource Extraction, But These Days that Doesn’t Translate into Jobs

According to the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC), Indian lands hold an estimated 30 percent of the nation’s coal reserves west of the Mississippi and 20 percent of known oil and gas reserves in the United States. But, especially in the case of coal, even if fewer environmental regulations revive the industry, automation has significantly decreased the need for jobs.   (Photo and Infographic: Honor the Earth / FiveThirtyEight)

A couple of years ago a tribal leader showed me an abandoned lumber mill near the village of Tyonek, Ala. The company promised jobs and, for a couple of decades, there were jobs. But after the resource was consumed, the mill closed, the company disappeared, and the shell of the enterprise remains today.

This same story could be told in tribal communities across North America. Sometimes the resource was timber. Other times gas and oil. Or coal.

The lucky communities were left with a small toxic dump site. More often there was major cleanup work required after (plus a few more jobs). In the worst case scenario, a Superfund site was left behind requiring government supervision and an even greater restoration effort. But all along, and in each case, the accompanying idea was that jobs would be a part of the deal. There would be construction jobs to build the mine, pipeline or processing plant. Then there would be truck driving jobs moving materials, a few executive jobs (especially in public and community relations) and, of course, the eventual supervision of the cleanup (especially if the tribal government had its own environmental protection agency).

That was the deal. But it’s one that is no longer true. Now the resource is extracted, pipelines are built, and toxic waste is left behind—and the promised jobs are limited to the initial construction jobs.

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Tuesday, Apr 11, 2017, 7:00 am  ·  By Karen Eppley

Are Charter Schools the Solution to Rural School Closings?

Transportation is one of the many difficulties facing small rural schools.   (Photo: Mark Goebel / Flickr / Creative Commons)

The recent appointment of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education has brought rural schools into the national conversation in ways never seen before. At her confirmation hearing, DeVos said that guns might have a place in schools in order to protect from “potential grizzlies” in places like Wapiti, Wyo.

While the comments about grizzly bears and guns were well-publicized, there was considerably less talk about how DeVos’ pro-charter school agenda could play out in rural communities like Wapiti.

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Saturday, Apr 8, 2017, 5:00 am  ·  By Terry J. Allen

Undocumented in Vermont: The Hidden Life of a Migrant Farmworker​

Carlos, an undocumented worker in Vermont, feeds cows on a dairy farm.   (Photo: Terry J. Allen)

“Hey, come on in,” I told Carlos. Silhouetted by summer sun, he stood at the front door of my Vermont house.

“No,” he said pointing to his work boots, heavy with mud and manure. “But can you help me?” Carlos was one of the estimated one to 2,000 undocumented, mostly Mexican migrants employed on the state’s dairy farms. The actual number, like most of the workers who entered the country illegally, is hidden. 

Carlos (not his real name) had come to Vermont after a year working construction in Texas, where even gringo bosses speak some Spanish, and where he could blend into the large Latino diaspora and its familiar culture. Vermont is an alien world, with dark winters and light people. When the dairy workers venture off their isolated farms, they stand out and apart. But in an unparceable blend of Yankee pragmatism and ordinary decency, many Vermonters, including police and officials, quietly welcome and often protect them. The farm hands form an essential part of the economy, and truth be told, offer relief from a monotonously white population that tends tolerant and leans smug. 

I met Carlos several years back when, as part of an informal volunteer network, I’d occasionally ferry migrants to medical appointments or to supermarkets, where they buy the kind of calorie-rich junk and processed food that horrifies kale-munching locals. I helped fill out forms enabling them to wire money to family in Mexico, lending my name and return address, and wondering what the IRS would make of my sending thousands of dollars to small towns in Tabasco and Chiapas.

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Wednesday, Apr 5, 2017, 11:25 am  ·  By John Collins

USDA Authorizes Emergency Grazing on Protected Lands After Fires Burn Millions of Acres in 3 States

A rancher in Kansas uses a front end loader to move the carcasses of cattle killed in recent wildfires.   (Screen Shot: New York Times Video / Nick Oxford)

Massive wildfires that began on March 6 have scorched millions of acres across Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Entire towns were evacuated, homes and farms were lost, and seven people died. Along the Texas panhandle, 340,000 acres burned, making it the third-biggest blaze in Texas history. The fire that raged along Kansas’ southern border with Oklahoma was the state's largest ever.

Fueled by extremely dry conditions, high winds and low humidity, the fast-moving flames killed thousands of cattle and livestock. Some ranchers have reported the loss of entire herds; others are only beginning to assess the scope of the damage. In total, nearly 1.6 million acres of American pastureland has been charred black. For many, the aftermath is surreal. 

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