Saturday, February 28, 2015

02/27/2015 at 12:14pm

Photo by KOMUNEWS Former Missouri state senator Wes Shoemeyer speaks against Amendment 1 at a Missouri’s Food for America event in Columbia, Missouri.

“Right-to-farm” initiatives are in the news this week. In Indiana, the state Senate turned down a proposal that would have put right-to-farm language into the state’s constitution. The measure’s sponsor, Senator Brent Steele (R), said it would have protected farmers and ranchers from interference with their “way of life.”

Kim Ferraro of the Hoosier Environmental Council the measure didn’t protect farmers from anything. Rather, the constitutional amendment would have protected a handful of industrial agricultural operations.

In Missouri, opponents of a right-to-farm amendment that passed narrowly in November argued before the state Supreme Court that the amendment should be voided because it contains misleading language. The Missourian reports:

Anthony DeWitt, the attorney arguing against the farming amendment, said Amendment 1's summary told half-truths. The summary purported to protect all Missouri citizens, but it only covers farmers and ranchers — a murky distinction, as the courts haven't defined what makes someone a farmer or rancher. Not all citizens are farmers, he said, nor are all farmers Missouri citizens, as foreign corporations can claim protection under Amendment 1

The state’s solicitor general, who is defending the amendment on the state’s behalf, said the court did not have jurisdiction over the matter. He said that state law allowed the courts to review constitutional amendment language for two weeks in June and that the court couldn’t consider the amendment language after the fact.

Disclosure: One of the plaintiff’s in the Missouri lawsuit opposing the right-to-farm amendment is Richard Oswald, president of the Missouri Farmers Union and a columnist for the Daily Yonder.


According to the annual White House budget proposal, the default rate for Broadband Treasury Rate Loans is 116%. How does a default rate climb above 100%? The answer is neither “magic” nor reassuring. Politico takes a deeper look.

The explanation I eventually got from the Obama administration was not that damning. But it wasn’t exactly comforting, either. The crazy number was apparently produced by flawed execution of a flawed model of a flawed program. In reality, the Agriculture Department expects to recover about 80 cents of every dollar it lends to telecoms to extend high-speed Internet to underserved rural areas. Administration officials couldn’t pinpoint the actual default rate, but it’s much lower than 116%. They say the main culprits for that wrong number were a radically overbroad definition of “default,” as well as some inappropriate double-counting.

Basically, it’s complicated, which is true of all federal credit programs—which is a problem with federal credit programs.


A recently released study by the Medical College of Georgia finds that teenage girls in rural areas are more likely than teen boys to have undiagnosed asthma and depression, according to a story by Medical Daily.

“There’s a lot of speculation about why females are more likely to be undiagnosed [for asthma],” Dr. Jeana Bush, an Allergy and Immunology Fellow at Medical College of Georgia and the lead author of the study, said in the press release. “Maybe it’s because boys are more likely to get a sports physical for athletics and they catch it then. Or maybe it’s because girls attribute asthma symptoms to something else, like anxiety. That needs further study.”

02/26/2015 at 3:52pm

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler, center, holds hands with FCC Commissioners Mignon Clyburn, left, and Jessica Rosenworcel at the beginning of today's FCC meeting in Washington, DC.The three voted in favor of exerting FCC authority to address state laws proscribing public networks. They also voted in favor of open-Internet rules.

For years, we’ve heard rural leaders discuss the need for broadband as a critical part of economic development, healthcare, and education. Because we interact mostly with folks who are concerned about rural issues, there’s a temptation to think that metropolitan America has the broadband-access problem all figured out.

But we know better. And we got a timely reminder from the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Tom Wheeler, in Thursday’s FCC meeting (February 26).

That meeting will get headlines mostly for the FCC's 3-2 vote in favor of open-Internet rules, also known as net neutrality. But let's not overlook the FCC's other 3-2 decision Thursday -- the one siding with publicly owned broadband networks and against state laws limiting such networks.

To illustrate why he was voting in favor of a petition from two publicly owned broadband networks, Wheeler cited real-life examples of people who were harmed by state laws restricting community networks. In three of the four cases Wheeler cited, the victims, if you will, weren’t from “deep rural” communities far from the city lights. They were communities on the very doorstep – in the front hall, even – of large metropolitan areas.

Wheeler’s examples show that broadband access isn’t an urban or rural issue. It’s an American issue. And rural advocates who are working to improve access in small towns and the countryside should have plenty of allies in places that are “officially” metropolitan.

Take Wheeler’s first example, Holly Springs, North Carolina, a city of about 25,000 in Wake County. Most of Wake County is not what you’d call rural. It’s part of the Raleigh metropolitan area of more than 1 million residents. In any rural/urban data analysis you see in the Daily Yonder, Holly Springs would be considered urban or metropolitan.

But the city suffered an economic setback that might sound familiar to lots of rural leaders. Chairman Wheeler said the city lost a healthcare business because the company needed better Internet access to do its job. Do you need more evidence of the link between broadband and the economy? Ask Jeff Wilson, Holly Springs’ information technology director, about the cost of being stuck in the Internet’s slow lane.

02/26/2015 at 10:43am

Photo by Shawn Poynter Howard Kirkpatrick shovels snow off the walkway to his home in Reidsville, North Carolina.

The poet Wallace Stevens wrote about something he called the “Mind of Winter.” But for an agrarian like me, winter begins at the feet.

Numb feet serve as a natural governor of my Protestant work ethic and my tendency to “overdo it,” as my father (a farmer-overdoer if ever there was one) always said. He also said, “You don’t need to shoot yourself in the foot to know that it hurts,” another one-size-fits-all, podiatrical metaphor perfectly apt for overzealousness on the farm and off it.

When I was a child there was no Weather Channel. We never thought to name winter storms sexily, like breezy rogues or cold jezebels. Instead of arriving at our door sporting chilling names like Octavia, Hektor, and Pandora, our storms came bearing more homely monikers: Looks Real Bad, or my grandpa’s favorite, Damn It All to Hell.

Back then no glad-handing, good Sam of a citified, certified weatherman had to tell us to stay home when the weather soured. Staying home was precisely what the spade-work of planting and sewing and digging out entailed. In ordinary weather the prospect of going to town positively underwhelmed. The thought of going there when the North winds howled and a Hektor or a Wolf or a Gorgon had us by the shorthairs had us doubly nonplussed.

I appreciate now all the subtle ways winter brought us together back then. It brought my father and grandfather down from the Olympian heights of their John Deere cabs to do something plain and plebian like shovel snow with women and children.

02/25/2015 at 7:50pm

While the overall rural population has been in decline for the last three years, the African American population has grown in much of rural America over the same period, according to the USDA Economic Research Service.

The chart above tells the story.

It shows the population growth (or decline) by percentage for the overall population (the black column) and for the African American population (the orange column). And it breaks that population change out into different types of metropolitan and rural counties so we can see the geographic trends.

Notice how the orange column outpaces the black column in every case.

The most interesting change occurred in rural counties that are adjacent to metropolitan areas. Traditionally, these counties have been growing at a fast clip, as metropolitan areas expand into surrounding countryside.

But the recession and the housing mortgage crisis slowed that growth, so much so that these formerly booming counties lost population from 2010 to 2013. The drop was slight (0.1 percent).

Even here, while the overall population declined, the African American population increased by 0.8 percent.

02/25/2015 at 6:48am

Photo via Front Porch Forum A block party for the Five Sisters neighborhood in Burlington, Vermont, which was Front Porch Forum's launch neighborhood.

At a time when rural folks are using social media to connect with people around the globe, Vermont’s digital Front Porch Forum has a different goal: to help residents communicate with the neighbor down the road.

Front Porch Forum, a hyper-local social-media platform, is operating in 200 towns in Vermont, says founder Michael Wood-Lewis of Burlington. About a third of the residents in each of these communities are using the system, he said.

The forum serves as a place for people to share information, plan neighborhood gatherings, promote local businesses and connect with their neighbors.  But Wood-Lewis says there’s another benefit.

“There’s a somewhat hidden effect that turns out to be the most powerful: over time, people start to feel different about their community.  They start to feel more connected to their neighborhoods and in the loop about what’s going on.”

Front Porch Forum differs from other social media like Facebook or Twitter:

  • It’s focused on one locality – users only interact with others in their individual towns and communities.
  • It’s simple – messages are delivered in plain text emails.
  • And it’s transparent –participants are identified by their full names and the streets they live on.

Those features make it uniquely relevant to each community, Wood-Lewis says. The system fosters civility and is accessible to everyone, from neighborhood teenagers to senior citizens, he said.

The seeds for Front Porch Forum were planted back in 2000, before the phrase “social media” entered our daily lexicon. Michael and Valerie Wood-Lewis decided they wanted to make connections with their neighbors in their new home of Burlington, Vermont.  Michael created a simple email list, which allowed neighbors to share information about missing pets, block parties and items they wanted to sell or give away.  Each evening for six years, he would compile the five or six emails he received that day and send them in an email to subscribers. Nearly everyone in their 500-person community eventually joined. 

02/24/2015 at 6:01am

Hope Schwartz-Leeper and Zak Fagiano

Name: Hope Schwartz-Leeper and Zak Fagiano

Where we live: Orleans, Massachusetts.

Why we live here: We own a small business but love the beautiful beaches all year round.


Orleans, Massachusetts, lies on the southern end of Massachusetts’ Cape Cod National Seashore, the famous summer tourist destination. Though technically in the Barnstable Town metro area, Orleans is in the less densely populated eastern part of the county. And when summer crowds dwindle, the locality takes on a decidedly more rural feel and pace of life, according to year-round residents Hope Schwartz-Leeper and Zak Fagiano. The couple runs a small sea-salt company in Orleans. Hope and Zak tell the Yonder why they chose Orleans as home and what they like about winter on the Cape.




Daily Yonder: Tell us a little bit about yourself- who you are, how you spend your time.

Hope and Zak: We met in college our freshman year and have been together ever since.  We both love spending time at the beach or cuddled up at home with our pets.  Hope runs our business, Wellfleet Sea Salt Company, and Zak works a full-time job in addition to helping with the business.


DY: Where do you live?  Paint us a picture.

H&Z: We live on Cape Cod, which is famous for its summer tourism.  When you’re on the Cape, you’re never far from the beach and fresh seafood is always at your fingertips.   Every town is full of quaint little beach shacks and the atmosphere is generally pretty laid-back.  Summertime is always super busy with visitors, but winter is just as beautiful in its own way.


DY: How did you come to live where you do?  How long have you lived there, and how long do you plan to stay?

H&Z: As a kid, I (Hope) came to Wellfleet almost every summer with my family.  Now, Zak and I run a small business here that we started in college, so we relocated from just outside New York City to a town called Orleans on Cape Cod and we love it!  We’ve lived here since May of 2013.  We see ourselves staying here for the foreseeable future.


DY: In what ways is the place you live now similar or different to where you grew up or have lived in the past?

H&Z: Cape Cod is very seasonal, which is a huge change from where we’ve both come from.  Summer is all about the tourism, and the entire Cape region is packed to the brim with people looking to enjoy everything it has to offer.  But in the winter, nearly everything closes down.  It’s starting to become a more year-round place for the people who live here, but it’s been an adjustment coming here from your average towns that are more or less the same all year.

02/23/2015 at 7:00am

 A Canadian cow has been diagnosed with BSE, raising fears that the contagion still exists despite measures to eliminate it. Labeling meat by its country of origin helps contain the spread of disease, the author says.Livestock born and reared over generations on the same farm seldom become ill. That's because of natural immunity passed from mothers to their offspring, and because a major contributor to sickness in animals is stress caused by relocating them to new surroundings and different feed, especially during weaning. Also, many times illness is introduced by commingling animals from several different herds together under those conditions. 

It's sort of like a room full of public school kindergarteners during flu season.

One exception to that in ruminant livestock is the cattle disease, or epizootic (called that because it may be transmitted to humans) known as bovine spongy encephalopathy or BSE. You may have heard it referred to by another name, Mad Cow Disease. A similar disease called Scrapie is found in sheep, and one known as Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in deer populations.

BSE first came into the news in the 1980s when it was identified in cattle in the United Kingdom. That discovery led to massive culling of several million head and a change in feed rules that had previously allowed the feeding of animal offal.

(Offal is the ground and cooked remains of livestock not utilized for human food. In the past it was a valuable source of protein for farm animals. But new rules that allowed it to be cooked at lower temperatures may have contributed to the spread of BSE.)

Since then about 177 British citizens have been identified to have died from BSE's human variant known as Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease. Authorities feel it's possible many more fatalities due to CJD have never been identified, or have been attributed to other causes. 

It is feared those people were infected by consuming meat containing BSE agents.

Now, BSE has again been diagnosed in a Canadian cow born two years after measures meant to control BSE were put into effect in Canada. That means whatever causes BSE may still be present in Canadian herds.