Monday, May 25, 2015

05/24/2015 at 7:19pm

USDA Economic Research Service Three quarters of female veterans who live in rural areas are aged 64 or younger. Less than half of male veterans who live in rural areas are aged 64 or younger.

An increasing percentage of rural America’s veterans are women, reports the USDA’s Economic Research Service.

From the end of the First Gulf War to the present, the percentage of rural veterans who are female more than doubled, from 3 to 6.3 percent.

Nationally, since the change from a conscription-based military to all-volunteer armed forces, the percentage of women in the service has grown seven fold, from 2 percent in 1973 to more than 14 percent in 2013.

Because the increase in the number of women serving in the armed forces has occurred in more recent years, rural female veterans tend to be younger than male veterans, on a percentage basis.

The ERS reports:

Over 40 percent of rural female veterans served during Gulf Wars I and II (2003-2011), compared with less than 5 percent of rural male veterans, reflecting a more youthful rural female veteran population. In 2013, 55 percent of rural female veterans were under the age of 55 compared to 26 percent of rural male veterans.

05/22/2015 at 7:08am

Lou Murrey Photography Jeff Thomas and his dad, Will, on their farm in Ashe County, North Carolina, in the northwest corner of the state.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Jeff and Bettie Thomas and their son, Will, are some of the western North Carolina farmers featured in the just released Blue Ridge Farm Book. The book, published by Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture of Boone, North Carolina, is part of a larger project designed to help new farmers find mentors and technical support. The Blue Ridge Farm Book, from which this article is reprinted, focuses on the stories and culture of farming in the North Carolina High Country. A complementary website provides more technical information.

“We bought this place, and I’d always wanted a farm. Just as a romantic type thing. Our plan was to come out here and be self-sufficient.” Jeff Thomas explains how he and his wife, Bettie, first came to live on their property, which sits in southwestern Ashe County, skirting the Tennessee line. “I was an Army brat so I was moving every three years or more when I was growing up. So once I moved up here on my own, I never left. I guess I just wanted some roots somewhere. And we just love this community; I mean it’s still a farming community. And we were different than everyone here but they did accept us, which was nice.”

What began as a quest for self-sufficiency grew into a complex, active farming operation, Creeksong Farm. “Originally we just bought the house on a half-acre. This was the original house on the land that the family had divided all up.” Gradually, though, they expanded the farm to 105 acres. “The neighbors would start coming over and talking to us and they’d end up asking if I had any interest in buying more land.” On their expanding acreage, the Thomas’ began selling at the Watauga County Farmers’ Market and experimenting with wholesale outlets. “We did a little bit of tobacco for a couple of years. And then we started doing the bean market. And I think the last year we did the wholesale bean market was the year Will was born.”

Will Thomas, now an adult with a family of his own, participated in the farm from a very young age. “He was always staying home instead of going to day care. I’d put him in my backpack and we’d go out or I’d put him in the garden digging dirt. Just little things that he liked and enjoyed.” As Will grew up, Jeff and Bettie never pressured Will to become a part of the family farm, but that’s exactly what he chose to do. “I can’t imagine being anywhere else,” Will admits. “I grew up doing it and I spent summers home from college here. I think I started out saying that I was coming back here for a year. But after a few months, I realized that this was what I wanted to be doing.”

With Will added to the operation in 2003, Creeksong Farm expanded its reach and production. Now in addition to growing produce, Creeksong Farm activities include grass-fed beef, free-range eggs, and some logging. Their food products are found at the Watauga County Farmers’ Market and through their CSA. With Will involved, production has not only expanded, it’s become carefully monitored. “Will is very business oriented,” Jeff explains, “He’s a really good record keeper. I mean he keeps exact records, knows what each crop makes and all that.” This is helpful for weeding out an ineffective venture, Jeff explains, adding, “So we can dump it if it doesn’t make money.”

05/21/2015 at 10:54am

Potato farmer Jacob Van Den Borne flying a drone he uses to gather information that helps production.

In 1884 Van Gogh depicted the potato farmers of the southern Netherlands turning soil by hand.

Today, things are different. Dutch farmers are still growing potatoes, and there is still open land. But the people in and around the small city of Eersel are creating a new kind of rural – the modern countryside.

Taking me on a tour of this region last month was Kees Rovers, a noted telecommunications entrepreneur and speaker on the impact of the Internet.  Years ago he was a leader in bringing a high speed fiber network to the nearby city of Nuenen (where Van Gogh lived for a while 130 years ago).  Now Rovers is working on bringing fiber networks to the area around Eersel.

Eesel is located in the province of Noord-Brahant, a region that receives an unusually large number of research patents, perhaps partly – but not only – due to the presence of Philips research labs in the city of Eindhoven.

This culture of innovation gets a boost from inventive residents and leaders. Three of these leaders joined us for our tour: Eersel Mayor Anja Thijs-Rademakers, City Manager and Alderman Harrie Timmermans and Alderman Liesbeth Sjouw.

We saw three great examples of the modern countryside.

First, there’s the van der Aa family farm, which has invested in robotics – robots for milking the cows and robots to clear the barn of the manure the cows produce in great quantity.  Think of a bigger, smarter, more necessary version of the Roomba.

Then we visited Vencomatic, which was created by a local entrepreneur but is now a global business, still based in the countryside.  In addition to pioneering animal-friendly technology for the poultry industry, their headquarters won the award as “Europe’s most sustainable commercial building.”

The final stop was at Jacob Van Den Borne’s potato farm in Reusel.  He described his use of four drones, numerous sensors deep in the ground, analytics and scientific experiments to increase quality and production on the land.  He has a two minute video about precision agriculture.

This is the kind of potato farmer that Van Gogh could never have imagined.

05/20/2015 at 4:59pm

The graph shows the percent child poverty is reduced by each federal program for families that are in "deep poverty," defined as people who live at 50 percent or below of the "supplemental poverty measurement."

The federal program most associated with supporting senior citizens is the one that does an outsized job of reducing poverty among rural children, according to a report from the White House.

“Social Security plays a particularly large role in alleviating deep child poverty in rural areas, reducing deep poverty by nearly one-half (nearly double its effect in urban areas),” according to the report, released today by the White House Office of Economic Advisers.

The study says Social Security payments reduce the overall rural child poverty rate by 18.1 percent. In contrast, in urban areas, Social Security reduces the child poverty rate by 10.2 percent.

Previous studies by the Daily Yonder have shown that rural areas receive a larger share of their income from Social Security payments than urban areas do. But Social Security’s impact on children may not be obvious, given that most of us associate Social Security with retirement benefits.

Child-poverty reduction comes mostly through two parts of Social Security that are not related to retirement benefits, the report said. These are the survivor benefit, which goes to children of a deceased parent, and the disability program, which provides payments to the severely disabled. Rural children are more likely to benefit from each of these programs than urban ones.

On the other hand, rural children are less likely than urban ones to live with an older adult who is receiving Social Security retirement benefits, the study said.

The information was included in the White House report focusing on rural children’s poverty.

“Rural and tribal communities face distinct challenges, including limited access to critical services, fewer job prospects, and in some places, relative lack of institutional capacity,” the report says.

This spring the White House launched “Rural Impact,” which the report describes as “an effort to address the challenge of rural child poverty by bringing together federal agencies and public and private resources.”

The report lists the Obama administration’s efforts to support a variety of anti-poverty efforts in education, healthcare, and economic development. Proposals include providing universal pre-K education, expanding access to child care, and improving medical services.

The report also promotes a particular focus of the Obama administration – raising the minimum wage.

05/19/2015 at 3:43pm

Public Knowledge videoRandy MacDonald with the Comptche Volunteer Fire Department in Mendocino County, California, says the technology transition is eroding America's 9-1-1 system. Click for complete video of briefing


If Congress ever had to vote on whether the U.S. should slash its 9-1-1 emergency system to reduce features, decrease reliability, and make it harder for people to use, the result would be obvious.

“No member of Congress would ever take a public position supporting this change,” said Randy MacDonald with the Comptche Volunteer Fire Department in Mendocino County on California's northern coast.

“But this is what is happening to America’s 9-1-1 system.”

MacDonald said changes in technology are creating dangerous weak spots in the nation’s 9-1-1 system, making it harder to use, less reliable, and interfering with critical lifesaving features like enhanced 9-1-1, which provides dispatchers with the caller’s location.

The deficiencies are the result of changes in communications technology, which sees telecommunications companies and consumers moving to cell phones and Internet calling services, instead of traditional copper wire systems that have been around for a century or more.

While these new technologies offer opportunities for new emergency services, they also create gaps that threaten lives, MacDonald said.

For example, part of Mendocino County lost telecommunications last year when a fiber-optic cable broke. Because the line had no back up, a 40-mile section of the county lost some services, MacDonald said. The 45-hour outage killed 911 services and affected firefighters attempting to put out a major wildfire, he said.

For some, the break was life threatening, MacDonald said, quoting a person whose mother had a medical emergency during the outage. This customer lost phone service but still had an Internet connection.

“My mother quit breathing and it took me quite a while to get Skype up and running while continuing mouth-to-mouth and trying to reach a friend to call 9-1-1 for me. It was hell.” The woman recovered.

05/19/2015 at 1:34pm

Last Week Tonight's John Oliver is a professional comedian/speaker-to-power.

Late-night television seems like the last place you’d tackle a complex public policy issue. Aren’t folks ready to fall asleep anyway?

John Oliver, host of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight,” has proven he can keep Americans awake with deep-dive reports on news and politics, even in the midnight hour.

Will his formula for popularizing complex issues like net neutrality work on regulation of the meatpacking industry?

The Grain Inspections, Packers and Stockyard Act (GIPSA) regulations that Oliver covered (at least in part) in his Sunday report are easily as complex as the net neutrality issue. And net-neutrality advocates say Oliver’s broadcast helped move the needle and encourage the Federal Communications Commission to approve a net neutrality rule. So don’t count out meatpacking reformers just because the issue is complex.

There are other similarities between the two issues.

In both cases, major corporations are geared up and fighting against the regulations.  And, on the other side of the issue, there’s a well established network of advocates. It’s obvious to us that in both the net-neutrality and chicken-industry reports, Oliver relied on these advocates to prepare his segments.

Oliver provided the jokes. Policy groups and researchers with deep knowledge of the issue provided the background.

Will the policy straightmen score some points again, with the help of Oliver's comedy?

In raw numbers, we’re certain Oliver’s chicken-industry segment has gotten the issue before a much larger audience than it had before. The news is full of coverage of the show, though we’ve seen absolutely no response from lawmakers to the segment.

Oliver focused his call for advocacy on one very small part of the larger debate. The House Appropriations Committee may vote next month on protecting chicken growers from corporate retaliation if they speak out about problems with their chicken-growing contracts.

We’ll see how that vote goes. Here’s how the vote went last time (a nay vote was against protecting the free-speech rights of chicken growers from corporate retaliation).

Will the next vote be different? If the system works, that depends at least in part on what you think.

--- Tim Marema


Sixty members of the National Farmers Union from 27 states are in Washington, D.C., this week urging members of Congress to support Country of Origin Labeling, or COOL, according to a press release.

The law requires meatpackers to disclose to consumers the nation in which their products were raised and processed. Canada has sued the United States, saying the law has harmed their agricultural economy. A study by Robert Taylor at Auburn University says Canada’s downturn in the meat industry was the result of the 2008 recession, not COOL.

A Farmers Union fact sheet says that congressional efforts to reform COOL are “veiled attempts to gut the law.” One proposal under consideration is to change the country of origin requirement to a “continent of origin,” as in labeling meat produced in Mexico, Canada and the United States with “Made in North America.”

“COOL is clearly one of the most important issues for rural America, and [Farmers Union] members have chosen to travel to Washington to voice their commitment and unwavering support for this popular labeling law,” said Roger Johnson, NFU president.

COOL is currently being litigated before the World Trade Organization.

05/18/2015 at 12:27pm

Video mildly NSFW (language)

Updated to include responses from Perdue Farms and Tyson Foods.

John Oliver doesn’t have a lot of good to say about the House Appropriations Committee.

“Every one of these 51 people is a potential chicken [bleep]-er,” Oliver says in his Sunday night installment of HBO's “Last Week Tonight.” While Oliver is cussing a blue streak, the video shows photos of committee members.

The harangue comes at the end of an 18-minute satirical segment on the commercial chicken industry.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Oliver says at the top of the segment. “You’re thinking this is just going to be another story about how horribly chickens are treated. I know. We do hear about that a lot.”

Instead, Oliver puts the spotlight on how chicken growers get treated. And it’s not a pretty sight, he says, despite the industry's promotional videos that feature successful chicken growers and "jangly guitar music."

“Multiple studies have shown that the people who grow chickens live at or near the poverty line, which sounds insane. How can the people who make the meat we eat the most barely be making a living?”