Thursday, April 24, 2014

04/23/2014 at 12:48am

County Health Rankings and RoadmapsThe map highlights the healthiest and least healthy counties as ranked in each state. Suburbs in metro areas of a million or more residents tended to rank best in the study. Nonmetro counties (including noncore and micropolitan counties) tended to rank worst. Click the map for an expanded view.

The nation’s most rural areas rank dead last in a majority of the measurements used to evaluate the health status of U.S. counties, researchers say.

The findings are part of a study sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that ranks counties by a broad set of health and well-being indicators.

“Noncore” counties, which are located outside metro areas and have no towns of 10,000 residents or more, were last in 18 of 34 measurements used in the study. That’s the worst record of any group of counties when they are sorted by urban-rural status.

The geographic area with the next highest number of last-place rankings was major urban counties (big cities of a million residents and up), with 10. But those counties offset their low marks by ranking first in 14 other categories. 

In contrast, noncore counties ranked best in only two categories. They had less violent crime and fewer housing problems.

The counties with the overall best health rankings were located in “suburban metro” areas, which the study defined as counties located outside large cities.

The rankings’ methodology takes into account the availability of medical resources such as physicians and dentists. It also weighs economic, social and environmental factors such as poverty rates, access to exercise facilities, education levels and unemployment.

 “The one [health criterion] people don’t think of is poverty,” said study director Bridget B. Catlin with the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.  “They think of poor inner city communities, and there’s not enough recognition of the role of poverty in affecting the health of people in rural areas.”

Wayne Myers, M.D., a rural health advocate and former director of the federal Office of Rural Health Policy, agreed.

“I don’t think we understand too much about how the day-to-day stress of living takes a toll on the bodies of poor people,” he said. “The stress runs up blood pressure, it makes blood sugars higher. It does take a toll on health.”

04/21/2014 at 11:55am

Map of Henry's Farm by Hiroko K. Brockman

Sometimes, a name fits the person.

Consider Terra Brockman, founder of The Land Connection and author of The Seasons on Henry’s Farm (Agate Surrey, 2010).

Terra is Latin for land or earth. The surname Brockman, in an old English rendering, means person who lives by the brook.

In this case, name is destiny.

Terra recently visited Western Illinois University to take part in an Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs’ all-day Sustainability Brownbagger, dubbed the Environmental Summit Lite.

A day spent with Terra reveals a person who is passionate about the land and the people on it. She is adept at weaving personal and family experiences into the wider, related realms of farmers and farming, rural communities, and local and global sustainability.

Her family is truly “earthtrepreneurial,” dedicated to sustainable business enterprises. Five generations of family members have lived on their Mackinaw Valley farmland in central Illinois. Their care for the land and surrounding community is deeply embedded in the three generations of family now engaged in agriculture.

A placard used by Henry's Farm.

Terra’s brother, Henry, the subject of her book, runs a broadly diversified “all organic ... all the time” farm. The family farm markets directly to residents of Evanston, Iillinois, in Chicagoland on weekends and is a community-supported-agriculture (subscription farming) business for residents of the Bloomington-Peoria area. The farm supplies 85% of the family’s food needs.

As Terra notes, Henry’s annual income mainly depends on 26 weekends of direct sales to consumers. The farm is a profitable venture that serves 2,500 customers a week. It provides about 755 varieties of 100-or-so different types of produce. The diversity of varieties allows Henry to spread his risk. For example, a variety of early broccoli might not do well because of weather, but a later variety might be bountiful.

04/21/2014 at 10:45am

Photo by Travis Dove for the New York Times A man collects water for cooking on a hillside in Welch, West Virginia.

How many generations of politicians and press can blame Appalachia's economic and social problems on the decline of the coal industry – and imply that coal’s “resurrection” will improve the situation?

The New York Times’ 50th anniversary look at President Johnson’s Appalachia poverty tour features a profile of McDowell County, West Virginia. McDowell is in rough shape by just about any economic or social measure you’d like to use: population decline, family income, dependence on government relief programs like food stamps.

The culprit? Well, a 1964 TV report on Appalachian poverty that’s embedded in the Times’ story blames poverty on “the lack of industrialization and losses in the coal mining industry.”

Fifty years later, the Times story puts a new twist on the story, but it’s still the same old theme:

…Residents also identify a more insidious cause of the current social unraveling: the disappearance of the only good jobs they ever knew, in coal mining. The county was always poor. Yet family breakup did not become a calamity until the 1990s, after southern West Virginia lost its major mines in the downturn of the American steel industry.

One byproduct of blaming the economic collapse of Appalachia on the decline of coal is the implication that reviving coal will revive the region. To what? The good old days, when LBJ picked Appalachia to personify poverty in America?

- Tim Marema


An onion by any other name may taste as sweet, but only if it’s picked at the right time. At least according to Georgia’s agricultural commissioner, Gary Black. Black has drafted a rule, since stricken down by a judge, that would fine farmers up to $5,000 per box of Vidalia onions harvested and shipped before a certain date, claiming early-picked onions lose the sweetness that sets them apart. Farmers, who tend to know a thing or two about harvesting, aren’t super excited about someone telling them when to pull their crops from the ground. Black, however, is enforcing the rule while the state appeals the judge’s ruling.

04/20/2014 at 6:31pm

Las Vegas Review-Journal, John Locher/AP Photo The media saw plenty of news in photo opportunities with Cliven Bundy along with flags and armed supporters. His case is similar to that of the Dann sisters, whom most of us have never heard of.  A curious story has been playing out in Nevada for over 30 years. The Bureau of Land Management has been rounding up cattle grazing on public lands, selling them at auction and punishing the owners with millions of dollars in fees and trespassing fines.

This is not the story of recent frontier hero Cliven Bundy. It is the story of Carrie and Mary Dann, two members of the Shoshone Indian tribe. The Dann sisters have violated the same laws as Bundy, and the Bureau of Land Management has reacted with unsettling aggression, at one point arriving “heavily armed and fortified with helicopters.” And even though their battle with BLM stretches further back than Bundy’s, it has received little national press coverage. They have received approximately zero support from armed militia groups.

This is a shame, because their legal claim to the public land on which their cattle graze is far more legitimate than Bundy’s. The land in question is traditional Western Shoshone land, and their supporters argue that the Shoshone tribe never legally ceded these rangelands to the federal government.

This raises the question: Why, in all of the posturing and equivocating induced by the stand at Bundy Ranch, has there been no mention of the Dann sisters?

The answer might rest in an article by the National Review’s Kevin Williamson. Aside from comparing the freedom-fighting Bundy to nonviolent civil rights activist Mohandas Gandhi, Williamson locates Bundy’s motive along a spectrum of classic American dichotomies: libertarianism vs. collectivism, East Coast intellectualism vs. West Coast individualism. He writes: “Mr. Bundy is tapping into a longstanding tendency in the American West to view the federal government as a creature of the Eastern establishment, with political and economic interests that are inimical to those of the West and its people.”

04/18/2014 at 12:45pm

Photo by Alex Lee/Reuters China's coal usage has historically made for some super smoggy days.

Andrew Revkin, in a New York Times Op-Ed, explores a Greenpeace report on the end of China’s coal boom. China’s coal usage dropped significantly in 2012 and looks to be holding there.


The “Medicaid gap” is part of the financial woes of a southern Mississippi hospital and nursing home that laid off 17 staff and cut hours for other workers this month.

“All of the rural hospitals throughout the nation are facing challenges and in particularly in Mississippi,” said Steve Vaughan, administrator of the Pearl River County Hospital and Nursing Home in Poplarville.

Mississippi did not expand Medicaid to serve a greater portion of low-income residents. As a result, the hospital has not been able to expand its base of paying patients.

04/18/2014 at 5:29am

A few of the front pages that editors of weekly newspapers emailed to the Newseum on Thursday. More than 130 newspapers submitted copies, leading to the reversal of the museum's policy of featuring only dailies (or former dailies) in its display of front pages. The images are from the Twitter feed, #frontpageblitz.

No statues were toppled and no public squares were occupied, but yesterday there was a revolution of a sort, this one staged by rural weekly newspaper editors from across the U.S.

The powers-that-be confronted by a band of mom-and-pop newspapers were holed up in the Newseum, the richly funded museum of the news industry in Washington, D.C. Every day, the Newseum collects pictures of front pages from over 900 newspapers around the country and the world. All of the papers in the display are metropolitan dailies, however. There were no rural weeklies

Until yesterday.

A few weeks ago, some weekly publishers and editors began to wonder why the Newseum didn’t include rural weeklies in its “Today’s Front Pages” exhibit. They began talking to each other through an Internet listserv set up by Al Cross at the University of Kentucky’s Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.

The Newseum wasn’t exactly welcoming weeklies, so the rural journalists — members of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors — decided to make a point.

The editors all agreed to send their front pages to the Newseum on a single day. Yesterday.

“We are doing this because the Newseum has a terrible record on the topic of community journalism,” Chad Stebbins, executive director of the ISWNE, told Cross’ Rural Blog. The action even had a name, the Front Page Blitz and a Twitter address #frontpageblitz.

The initial reaction from the Newseum was barely polite. “We are not taking weekly publications at this time, however, I will hold on to your information in case our mandate ever changes,” wrote the Newseum’s Frank Mitchell at 8:31 A.M. (East Coast time), just 10 minutes after Missy Layfield, editor of the Island Sand Paper in Fort Myers, Florida, emailed her front page to Washington, D.C.

That didn’t stop others, who continued to sling their front pages against the walls of the Newseum.

And the editors wrote. Here is the note Reed Anfinson, publisher of the Swift County Monitor-News in Benson, Minnesota, attached to his front page:

For 10 years I served on the National Newspaper Association board of directors and was its president in 2011-12. Each year when we would come to Washington, DC, for our annual Government Affairs Conference, I would browse the newspapers on display along the sidewalk in front of the Newseum – one of many who would pause to view what was going on in the world and nation that day. It was a stop I always made after spending a day with my US Senators and Representative on The Hill talking about issues important to newspapers.

 However, it was always a disappointment to see how little, if any, focus there was on community journalism outside the major metropolitan cities. It was also discouraging to see how little credit was given to the role community newspapers play in this country’s history inside among the Newseum’s many displays.

 We would hope that the Newseum would reconsider this slight to community newspapers , and the historical and invaluable role we play in this nation’s Democracy.

04/17/2014 at 5:39am

The Mountain Eagle In this photo from the late 1960s, Pat Gish, left, folds papers with her daughter Sarah. Husband Tom and son Ben are in the background. The photo ran in the Mountain Eagle this week, along with a story about Pat.  

In the mid-1970’s I was making $78 a week as one of the editors of a literary magazine, Mountain Review. A filmmaker named Allida Herrick offered me half of her second job, driving the Mountain Eagle, Whitesburg’s weekly paper, to the printer. That was another 40 bucks every other Wednesday. Groceries and/or beer.

The Mountain Eagle was famous. It had already won the John Peter Zenger Award for Freedom of the Press. The New York Times had won for the Pentagon Papers, the Washington Post for Watergate, and the Eagle next for pluck. The downtown office had been burned to the ground by cops after reports on police abuse and local corruption. The paper then moved up to what was once a hardware store on Tunnel Hill, the quarters made even tighter by stacks of newspapers and months of Congressional Records that shaped a makeshift anteroom.

That’s where I sat, because it was rare that the paper was put to bed by the time it was supposed to hit the road. I loved that waiting part. Tom and Pat Gish would preside over the last-minute business of finishing the make-up, getting stories and ads to fit. And I would read through those Congressional Records and crack wise trying to get a grin out of the more taciturn Tom at his desk or acknowledgement from Pat, who was the impresario giving directions and making last minute changes. She had both a knowing smile and a winning laugh. That I strived for. Then with a nod toward fatalism, she would entrust me and the camera-ready proof sheets to their weathered station wagon. Each time she told me in detail about the shortcut past Pyramid and David that saved 15 minutes to Prestonsburg. And each time I flew passing overloaded coal trucks on nearly straight stretches, switching back and forth between the two cassettes in the front seat, the Eagles “On the Border” and Dicky Betts “Highway Call.” That was good work.