The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed lowering the renewable fuel standard (RFS) for 2014. The change threatens to undo the progress we’ve made in decreasing dependence on foreign oil and slowing the emission of carbon dioxide, says Richard Oswald.
Problems with the website aren’t helping, but the worst impediment to healthcare reform for some may be fear of dealing with the medical system, writes a former healthcare “navigator.” Marina Sáenz Luna explains how rural communities like those in the Rio Grande Valley can lead the way in helping folks get covered and get well.
When it comes to providing quality healthcare, rural communities are a natural antidote to the power of larger, less caring institutions, says Tim Size of the Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative. The status of underdog can be a strength.
Ted Wathen was one-third of a gang of young photographers who traveled the roads of Kentucky in the 1970s, shooting pictures in every county. Now, nearly 40 years later, Wathen examines why travling off the beaten path hits the spot.
Although rural veterans, like their counterparts in metro communities, are likely to own their own houses, a third of younger veterans are burdened by the high cost of housing. Rural veterans who rent are also more likely to be burdened by housing costs. One issue may be a lack of affordable rental housing in rural areas.
Tarkio College was once the economic and cultural engine driving this Missouri community. Alumni and residents now try to maintain and restore the campus, while searching for a new role for the town’s biggest asset.
Tarkio College Alumni AssociationA volunteer repaints the campus bell. Leaders hope restoration and marketing efforts for the campus of the closed college ring in a new era for the facilities.Free to a good home: one gently used, mostly vacant, 20-building college campus on 65 acres in northwest Missouri. Fixer upper.
That’s one way to sum up present conditions at Tarkio College in Tarkio, Missouri. The liberal arts college established in 1883 by the United Presbyterian Church closed in 1992. From 1995 to 2004, the campus housed a private educational/treatment facility for adjudicated, at-risk youth.
Another way to think about Tarkio is my way, as a child of the 1970s Midwest: with the music of Brewer & Shipley and their 1970 album Tarkio. That’s the album that spawned their number one hit single, “One Toke over the Line.” But it’s the title song, with its lyrics about “trouble” while bicycling the Tarkio Road, that country-rocks through my head whenever I hear the name of the town.
Yet for others, the connection to Tarkio is both personal and pragmatic, tied to the economics and future of one small town, one small county and the former college so many both grieve and celebrate.
Ed Salmond, a Tarkio College graduate and local businessman, is one such. He is on the board of the non-profit Heartland Educational Institute, Inc. He was there for the lawsuit against the adjudicated school, which arose to address damages to the facility during that period. Now he wants nothing more than for the school to be in someone else’s hands.
Although mostly long-vacant since its closure more than 20 years ago, Tarkio College is still a lovely and appealing place. A pleasant and snug array of buildings arranged in a neighborhood of stately homes, which, if you don’t look too closely, all seem ready to inhabit tomorrow. The property description details the school’s attributes: “Some of the building uses include a library, dormitories, administrative offices, lecture halls, classrooms and a chapel. There are 64 beds in several dormitories. Room sizes include singles, doubles, triples and apartment-style rooms. The property is served by municipal water and sewer as well as natural gas, electric, telephone and fiber optic lines. An extensive maintenance program has kept the facilities in good condition.”
Courtesy of Linda SmithAlumni come from hundreds of miles away for work weekends to restore the campus. Here volunteers Mike Perry and Wayne Gelston work on pews in Leitch Chapel.
There have been nibbles of interest from at least 10 various trade schools and two-year colleges over the years, but Salmond said those plans have fallen short because of a “perception problem.”
“Everybody loves campus when they look at it. But most students have to have jobs when they are in college,” he said. “Our biggest problem is that there is no employment in our town for their students. The closest place where they can find employment now is in Maryville, 35 miles away.”
There are factories and other employers in Maryville, but representatives of interested colleges think that is too far for their students to drive for work.
“I try to make the comparison to a place like Kansas City, and how far you can expect to drive to get to your job in a place that size. But they can’t get past it,” Salmond said.
“The reality is, as far as I’m concerned, if we had a good prospect, we’d give them the campus. If someone would provide a good business plan and prove to us they have the financial wherewithal, we could make it happen.”
Regional cooperation key to economic renewal in Appalachian Kentucky • Newspaper goes the extra mile in public service • French press looks at rural secession in U.S. • Modern Farmer swallows the “rural subsidy myth” • Rural Kansas confronts higher infant-mortality rate • Rancher relief fund passes $1 million mark.
KETA resident of McCreary County, Kentucky, addresses a job-creation panel at an economic planning summit in Pikeville Monday
SOAR-ing. Eastern Kentuckians need to think beyond “Friday night lights” and county rivalries and work as a region to create a better economy.
That’s one theme emerging from the Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR), an effort backed by U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Fifth) and Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat. The planning effort to boost the region’s flagging economy got underway today with a summit in Pikeville, in the heart of Kentucky’s eastern coalfields. More than 1,600 people attended the summit.
“Our problem is county lines,” said Chuck Flurharty, head of the Rural Policy and Research Institute, which helped organize the summit and will make a report on possible next steps. Fluharty said eastern Kentucky’s economic success is critical to the state’s progress and the nation.
“What you are doing is about the future of the entire state,” he said. “In fact, it’s about the future of America.”
But success will require the region’s small counties to create new ways of working together, rather than competing. Fluharty said that may require local governments and the state to create a larger organization, funded by public money and philanthropy, to take a regional approach to development.
To drive home that point, the morning session at the SOAR summit ended with a presentation from Tony Sertich, head of Minnesota’s Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Fund (IRRRB). The development agency invests in Iron Range businesses and workforce development with funds generated by a tax on ore mined in the region.
The eastern Kentucky economy has taken a beating in recent years, in part because of declines in the coal industry. In the one-year period ending in October 2013, the counties that make up most of Kentucky’s Fifth Congressional District lost more than 6,800 jobs. That’s 3% of the region’s employment.
A Newspaper’s Public Service. The Lexington (Kentucky) Herald-Leader devotes gallons of ink and a passel of pixels to eastern Kentucky economic development. The paper ran a two-day commentary package in advance of the SOAR summit (see above). There are pieces on culture, energy production, workforce development, food, politics, childhood development and other topics. Commentators range from historians, business leaders, artists, manufacturers.
The series is the equivalent of a graduate level course in rural development – with the notable difference that, unlike a business textbook, it’s readable.
Bureau of Labor StatisticsLight red counties lost 200 or fewer jobs; dark red counties lost more than 200. Light blue counties gained up to 200 jobs; dark blue counties gained over 200 jobs Click to make the map interactive and explore statistics for individual counties.
The good news last week was that the nation had added more than 200,000 jobs in November and that the unemployment rate had dropped to 7 percent.
The latest figures for rural counties, however, are not so encouraging. The job recovery continues to be largely an urban event, as the number of people employed in rural America remains lower than it was just a year ago.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics released the latest employment figures for counties just last week. The BLS counts the number of people employed or seeking work in October in all 3,142 U.S. counties.
Using these figures, we can compare job growth in rural and urban America.
In metropolitan counties, there were 175,000 more jobs this October than in October of 2012. In rural counties, however, there were 149,000 fewer jobs this October than a year ago.
The map above shows the jobs added or lost in each rural county from October of last year to October 2013. Red counties lost jobs. Light red counties lost 200 or fewer jobs; dark red counties lost more than 200.
Blue counties gained jobs. Light blue counties gained up to 200 jobs; dark blue counties gained over 200 jobs in the last year.
Click on the map to make it interactive. You can mouse over your county and if you click, you’ll see the exact jobs gained and lost in the last year as well as the current unemployment rate.
An extraordinary set of Library of Congress field recordings from the 1930s and ‘40s captured the depth and breadth of American folk music. Folklorist and musician Stephen Wade revisits the South to tell 13 stories of the artists who helped define American identity while remaining virtually anonymous themselves.
Ora Dell Graham Sonny Milton focused silently on the road ahead. Nestled between us in the cab of his pickup, set in a rusted metal frame held fast by tacks and twine, lay a picture of someone he had always loved. Ora Dell Graham—“Honey”—had been his favorite aunt. The hand-colored photograph, mounted on cardboard and bent from more than a half- century of age, shows her in late adolescence, confidently looking on with a pixie smile. In her family, she had been the voluble one, the extrovert. “She loved to go, she always loved to go.” Milton spoke quietly but emphatically. “She was what you call a night person. She loved to have a ball. She loved to dance. She loved to sing. That was her thing, you know.” The muscles in his jaw flickered, and there was a long pause. “And that’s what killed her.”
“I was playing ball with my friends,” he continued, “when I first got the news.” During the summer of 1952, Ora Dell Graham and three companions headed from her home in Drew, Mississippi, for the nightspots of Clarksdale. Three miles north of town, at the foot of a narrow highway bridge, their car smashed into a brick embankment. “They say her neck was broken. By the time I got there, they had taken her and the other three people in the car away.” Milton and his grandmother buried Ora Dell in the town’s segregated cemetery, marking the spot with a tin badge tied with wire. She was 24 years old. Her grave marker has since disappeared.
Photo via CSIROFarmers have a history of using the latest technology to help them build capacity and grow smarter.
Here around Langdon, being a "modern" farmer has meant different things to different farmers.
Being modern for Grandad meant more steel in his plow. When Dad was a modern farmer, he adopted wheeled farm tractors as replacements for sorrel mules. I can't remember seeing his mules, but I remember when he added power steering to his "M" Farmall.
Shoulders and back made strong (and sore) by scooping corn, pitching hay and hauling hard on the reins got a reprieve. That's when Dad called the family outside so we could see him turn the steering wheel with one finger.
I became “modern” with my own tractor when I got an air-conditioned, sound-insulated cab with a stereo. Then, decades later, satellite radio, Bluetooth, four-wheel-drive, and global position satellite guidance.
Dad turned his steering wheel with one finger. I don't even touch mine.
Something that hasn't changed is long days in the field. In the old days we were out of sight and out of mind, because neither Dad nor I had any idea what was happening with the family at home.
Things have changed again – this time with communications.
First bag phones. Then flip phones opened up. They were perfect for keeping one hand on the steering wheel and both eyes on the row. One simple motion could answer a call or end it. A lot of farmers still have them.
Photo via Sheila Scarborough Flip phones may be old technology, but they started a small revolution in farming by allowing a farmer to open the phone with one hand and while driving the tractor with the other.
Today farmers who want more can have smart phones and tablets. We use them in ways Dad never dreamed possible. Closest thing he had to up-to-date information was an old AM radio he stripped from a junk car and mounted behind the tractor steering wheel. He had to put a bucket over it if it rained, and, turned up loud as it would go, it was still barely audible above the sound of the engine.
A photo by Shaena MallettClaudia the goat grazes in the pasture at Prodigal Farm, October 31, 2013. In the background is one of a handful of empty school busses that the goats use for shelter and a place to climb.
There is a certain sensation I get while visiting an old farm. It is, perhaps, the residual feeling of many years and seasons of stories stored up in the soil and barns and in the air. This particular story is a newer one, about love, goats and finding the way home.
Just to the north of the bustling streets of Durham, North Carolina, the city melts into a landscape of woods, pastures and farmland. Go a few more miles and you’ll find Rougemont. Similar to much of the Piedmont, this community’s history is steeped in tobacco farming. Ninety-seven acres of land on a former tobacco farm is home to Prodigal Farm, owned and run by Kathryn Spann and Dave Krabbe.
A tractor is parked under the 115+ year old tobacco barn.
(Left) There are many signs of the past at Prodigal Farm, including old outbuildings and antique vehicles. (Right) A new building on the farm serves as storage for goat feed.
Driving down the long driveway, you pass the 115-plus-year-old log tobacco barns, the old farmhouse, corn crib, smokehouse and outbuildings, as well as antique trucks and old farm equipment. Kathryn and Dave bought the farm in 2007 and opened the dairy in 2010.
Five years ago at his grandmother’s funeral, Matthew Fluharty reflected on the value of rural culture and what he might do to help promote and enliven it. Today, the “Art of the Rural” project relaunches its online work with a more powerful website and bigger ambitions.
The Art of the Rural began as a blog in 2008 and earlier this fall expanded to a website with multimedia, a story archive and essays on rural arts and culture projects.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This fall the Art of the Rural blog expanded to a full website with online cultural mapping tools, a story archive and reports on its work with partners around the country. We asked founder Matthew Fluharty to answer a few questions about the new site and the purpose of the Art of the Rural, which he describes as a “collaborative organization” whose goal is to “help build the field of the rural arts.”
Why are you relaunching the site?
I am really grateful for the first four years of Art of the Rural, and for the time spent on our former site. That said, a little over a year ago, around the time of the first convening of the Rural Assembly’s Rural Arts and Culture Working Group, it became clear that there was a need for a kind of site that could share a range of media and integrate all those forms more seamlessly.
The new site responds to those needs. Designer Nicole Irene has made a visually unique space, but also one that is uncluttered – and one that can load quickly in rural areas where internet speed may be an issue. As Nicole’s design merged with the visual work of Epicenter (out of Green River, Utah), I was elated. At last, it seems like we have a digital space that can effortlessly put together the rich and varied narratives we see in our communities and fields of interest.
What is the Art of the Rural and how did you get started?
Art of the Rural is a collaborative organization with a mission to help build the field of the rural arts, tell its stories and contribute to the emerging arts and culture movement across rural America. We try to connect our digital work to on-the-ground activities and events, and to keep what we call an “open cycle” in motion between those two kinds of knowledge.
We first began as a blog. The whole practice of Web 2.0 has influenced our design as an organization – we try to be as collaborative, open source and non-hierarchical as possible … and we recognize that that goal will always be a work in progress. That said, those early years of blogging taught me that the “process” was often as important as the “product,” and that lesson still guides our work.