Tuesday, March 31, 2015

03/31/2015 at 7:57am

Tyler Vacha and family.

Name: Tyler Vacha

Where I live: Lyons, Nebraska

Why I live here: After spending time in the big city, my wife and I decided we wanted our kids to grow up in a small community, Lyons is 40 minutes from my hometown, and where my great employer, the Center for Rural Affairs, is located.

 

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Daily Yonder: Tell us who you are, and how you spend your time.
Tyler Vacha: I grew up on a farm three miles from Howells, Nebraska. We custom fed up to 900 head of hogs, had a herd of fifteen mostly registered angus cattle, and had chickens, both laying hens and broilers. Growing up I was very active in 4-H and FFA. After college, I moved to Des Moines, Iowa to work for Farm Safety for Just Kids, and experience the big city life along with many of my collegiate friends. I met my wife, Melissa there. We have two boys together, a 2 year old and a 5 month old, who take up most of our time. When I do have free time, I enjoy golfing, hunting, fishing, singing, reading and woodworking.

 

DY: Where do you live now?
TV: I live in a picturesque town, called Lyons, in Nebraska. Like most small towns it has a historic, brick main street, filled with classic storefronts from a by-gone era, that leave you wondering about how many and what kind of businesses the buildings have housed, and how magnificent those buildings must have looked in their prime. Trees line the streets, and even in the dead of winter, you often hear the voices of children running around outside, safe within the confines of our town.

Standing tall and full of pride, in the center of town is the quintessential rural water tower, which hosts our school colors and announces our presence to travelers on highway 77. The train tracks still run through town, and six times a day, announced by a whistle trains rumble through.

A walker’s dream, the entire town is flat, not a hill to be seen. You can easily travel by foot from anywhere in the town to our city park which features small fishing ponds, a dilapidated fountain, a plethora of children’s playground equipment and our brand new swimming pool, which will be filled for the first time this summer.

 

DY: How did you come to live in Lyons, Nebraska?
TV: My family and I moved from Des Moines, Iowa to Lyons about six months ago, to be closer to my job here at the Center for Rural Affairs, which I had been commuting to for about a year. My wife and I are both in our early 30’s. We’ve built a new house here in town, and plan to be here well into our golden years.

03/30/2015 at 7:32am

Ron and Rylie Melancon do some administrative work on a rainy day for their family-owned livestock business, MG Farms. The farm used Facebook to market its livestock sale in the region.

It’s good to have friends. It’s nice to be liked.

But for businesses, the name of the social-media game is to turn “likes” into clicks and clicks into customer sales. That’s especially true for rural businesses that are seeking to expand their customer base beyond a limited local market.

A Mississippi Extension Service program called “Mississippi Bricks to Clicks” is helping small businesses and community groups use applications like Facebook to raise brand awareness and create customers, both in the community and beyond.

Rural broadband access, though still lower than urban access, is improving. Another important challenge is for for local businesses and community groups to leverage their use of broadband to bring in new dollars.

The first step is creating an online brand through a website, blog or social media platform like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or some combination. The crucial second step is to connect with potential customers and engage with them to increase the likelihood of sales. On Facebook, when a potential customer wants to learn more about a business or community page, she simply clicks on a “like” button for that page. Now she becomes a fan of the page and will receive updated information when it is posted.

But often the gap between creating an online presence and creating sales can be significant, especially for a small business owner who has limited time to learn how to use online tools. Simply put, it takes more than “liking” a Facebook business page to create sales. It takes engagement with potential customers, too. Time to learn is costly for small business owners, but so is not using these online tools. If rural business owners and their communities cannot take advantage of using these types of online tools, then the economic value of having access to broadband in rural America may go largely unrealized..

Reaching Rural Places
In Mississippi, the Extension Service used some of its funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (also known as the stimulus package) to establish the entrepreneurship program called Mississippi Bricks to Clicks (B2C).

The B2C program is for all types of businesses – agriculture, retail, nonprofits, faith-based organizations, universities and colleges and others. The program has been developed and implemented in Mississippi for the past two years. Through hands-on learning, we’ve been teaching entrepreneurs and communities how to use Facebook to market businesses and events with a goal of increasing revenues.

03/27/2015 at 12:12pm

Photo by Robb Kendrick/NG/Alamy A coal seam is blasted at a mine in Wyoming.

From the “We Knew It Was Bad But Not This Bad” department, the coal industry in America may be entering a death spiral. A new report by the Carbon Tracker Initiative claims the U.S. coal industry has lost 76% of its value in the last five years (emphasis mine as my head exploded). Peabody Energy, whom we know from the John Prine song and also being the world’s largest private coal company, lost 80% of its share price over the same time span. The report blames cheap and accessible shale gas and regulations for the steep decline. Not everyone is convinced that coal is dead, though.

… Chiza Vitta, a credit analyst from Standard and Poor’s, said he did not believe coal was in a terminal decline, although its share of the US electricity market would diminish somewhat in the coming years.

Vitta said the drop in share prices noted by Carbon Tracker was due to a complex series of factors, including a cyclical dip in metallurgical coal demand. He said despite the slowdown “coal will continue to be an integral part of the energy portfolio. It’s going to get a little smaller so the share price is going to fall. But there is always going to be a place for coal.”

--- Shawn Poynter

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Here’s a little more on the JAMA Pediatrics study that found higher suicide rates among young adults living in rural areas between 1996 and 2010. The rural rate by 2010 had was almost double that of urban centers. Many reasons were given as possible reasons: Isolation, unemployment, mental health problems untreated due to doctor shortages. One stat that really jumps out, though, is the number of suicides committed with a gun.

More than half of the youths who killed themselves in this time period did so with a firearm, and gun suicides (though generally on the decline) were particularly common in rural areas—nearly three times more common. This may be because gun ownership is higher in rural regions. According to2014 Pew data, 51 percent of people in rural areas kept a gun at home, compared to 25 percent in urban areas, and 36 percent in the suburbs.

“Suicide is in many ways the oft-ignored part of gun tragedy in America, the part that few talk about, especially those who resist any efforts to decrease access to guns,” writes Frederick Rivara, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington, in an editorial accompanying the study. He points out that 86 percent of suicide attempts using guns end in death, compared to 2 percent of attempts using drugs.

“Rural residents often grow up with guns, have guns in their homes and there’s just a general culture of guns in rural areas,” [lead author of the study Cynthia] Fontanella says. Even so, she says, suicide rates by all methods were higher in the country than in the city.

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The U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill this week that provides funding for rural schools and counties.

The measure, which was attached to the unrelated Medicare Access Act, will provide two years of funding for the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act. One year of the funding would be retroactive.

03/26/2015 at 9:07pm

Photo by Shawn Poynter Kids of all kinds play together on a Boys and Girls Club basketball court in Washington, North Carolina.

EDITOR’S NOTE: As the NCAA men’s tournament continues this week, we’re dusting off an old column by Dee Davis, publisher of the Daily Yonder. This essay originally ran on the Center for Rural Strategies website in 2002, five years before we began publishing the Yonder. Unlike Dee’s knees, we think the piece holds up pretty well.

Donald was 6’ 6”, a big 6’ 6” at that, with large hands, an open-mouth menacing look, acne scarred and a baseball cap mostly worn backwards, not that the rest of us were that damn handsome. Donald had some handicaps. Nobody said anything about it. Who would? Still you just noticed even if you were trying not to.

Donald would ride down with Otis in an old pick up truck along with this wiry high school kid who smoked cigarettes between games, and sometimes Otis’ little boy who would play in the dirt down at the other end of the court. Otis was a cockfighter back then. Guys would ask him about his chickens. Later when he got baptized he gave up on the roosters. I mainly remember Otis in spring, in suffocating summer heat, and in fall playing in work pants and a long sleeve shirt. He was spidery, and tricky in the post, but very sincere in other ways. When my friend Robert moved to town, Otis asked him, “Hey man, what’s your name?”

He answered, “Just call me Rob.”

Otis said, “Rob? I’ll never remember that. I’ll call you Red.”

I assumed that Otis and Donald were family, the way Otis looked after him, but I didn’t ask. My approach to basketball is to block out extraneous information. Think about the wrong thing, personal things, and you’ll get beat. I for one never asked about the chickens.

When it was in the paper that Donald had been run over by a truck, I was stunned. I had lost all contact years ago when he quit showing up to play. But just the week or so before it happened I was in the car heading out to Craft’s Colley to feed cats of friends who were out of town, and there he was sitting on a guard rail next to a bicycle. He waved. I didn’t realize it was him until I got past. He looked as though perhaps he had been going through a rough patch. His neck and chest were garlanded with what looked like a homemade necklace, maybe fashioned out of pop cans. And he looked smaller, much smaller, worn down someway. Still it was him, cap on backwards.

After the story came out in the paper, I found out almost everybody knew who he was because he spent his days riding his bike back and forth between Craft’s Colley and the WalMart. People said he was quick to wave and hard to miss. Those who had never even spoken to him were, just the same, hammered to learn of his death. He had a smile.

03/26/2015 at 6:56am

Headwaters Economics The chart traces the impact of various federal county-payment programs. As revenue sharing (shown in green) dropped, Congress created other programs designed to compensate counties for the decreased tax base created by public lands. Payment in Lieu of Taxes is shown in blue. Secure Rural Schools is shown in brown. Click to expand the chart.

Rural counties may get some good news this week if Congress reauthorizes funding for the Secure Rural Schools program. But in less than a year’s time, these counties will be right back where they started, arguing for their fair share of federal funding.
 
It’s time for Congress to create a more predictable and fair system for compensating counties that contain large amounts of federal land.
 
Federal public lands are exempt from local taxation, placing a hardship on rural communities that rely on property taxes to fund local services. As compensation, Congress has made payments under two programs: Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) and agency-based revenue sharing payments (for example, payments via the U.S. Forest Service based on federal timber sales in a given county). In 2000, Congress passed the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act to help make up for anemic revenue-sharing payments from the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.
 
“County payments” have been around for a century. But today counties find themselves stuck in a cycle of seeking congressional approval for payments every year. Besides initially dropping Secure Rural Schools funding for 2014, Congress only approved one year of funding for PILT.
 
This short-term fix approach—where Congress debates whether or not extend SRS or funds PILT for a single year —  should end. 
 
Since 2001 PILT has been the cornerstone of compensation payments for non-taxable federal land. This year, PILT will provide $422 million, while revenue sharing payments will provide $60 million. PILT’s full funding amount will rise to $522 next year. 
 
PILT’s heightened importance is increasing traction for to reauthorize and reform the program. But to work well, the system needs updates.  
 
03/25/2015 at 6:52am

All photos by Antone Dolezal. "False Lights" from the series "Devil’s Promenade."

Daily Yonder: Where did you grow up? Tell us a little bit about your background.

Antone Dolezal: I grew up on the northeastern region of Oklahoma, near where the plains and the Ozark hills meet.

 

DY: Where do you live now?

AD: Santa Fe, NM.

 

DY: When did you start taking pictures?

AD: My father had a darkroom and taught me how to print and develop film when I was 11 or 12. It wasn’t until college that I discovered photography as a means to construct visual narratives and became a serious image-maker. 

 "Spook Light Road" from the series "Devil’s Promenade."

"Further Down the Road" from the series "Devil’s Promenade."

 

DY: We’re featuring photos from two series, Devil’s Promenade and Ghost Town.  How did these series begin, and what’s the unifying theme in each of them?

AD: Ghost Town was the first series I completed after college. The images here are of abandoned homes and towns in Oklahoma that were hit hardest by the Dust Bowl. It is really a survey of the decay that has taken place over the past five or six decades in the No Man’s Land region of the state. It is a place rich with forgotten ghosts and left behind memories. My intent with Ghost Town was to evoke the current state of the region, while also telling a story that was from my own experience of exploring this landscape.

Devil’s Promenade is a collaborative project with Lara Shipley that is a narrative based body of work relating to mythology in the rural Ozarks. It is a project that blends regional folklore and local history with present day photographs of Ozark people, the land and interpretive images based on the mysterious phenomenon of the Spook Light – a floating orb found on a wooded road in the Ozark backwoods.

The Light was first documented in the 1880s and has since grown into a local tourist attraction. Because no one has been able to determine what causes the phenomenon, people continue to have a desire to see it. They want to go out into the pitch-black woods at night and experience fear and the unexplained. And so for us the Spook Light became this great metaphor for searching and desire in the Ozarks.

"Sleepless Days" from the series "Devil’s Promenade."

 

DY: How do you classify your photography?  Is it photojournalistic?  Fine art? Some combination of both?

AD: My projects are a mixture of documentary photography and interpretive images based upon regional stories I’ve read or have been told by locals. So there is a blending of styles and approaches that go into constructing these narratives.

With every new project I make a conscious effort to break my own rules and notions of what a photograph should be. There is a conscious attempt to always make better portraits or landscapes and if I have an image in my head that needs to be made I experiment with new techniques to make those pictures happen… and of course then a whole lot of editing to make it appear cohesive!

03/24/2015 at 2:14pm

Photo by Wade Payne A worker at a Hunt Brothers Pizza franchise in Andersonville, Tennessee, serves a pizza.

Pizza joints are everywhere in a city. Pizza Hut, Domino’s, Papa John’s, and local places seem to be more plentiful than Starbucks. But get out into the country and your options are limited. Hunt Brothers Pizza’s business model is to fill these service area gaps with peperoni and hot cheese. Going where stand-alone food joints couldn’t make it, Hunt Brothers is setting up shop where people already go: Service stations and convenience stores. There are now around 7,200 Hunt Brothers locations. The beauty of the model is the easy set up for business owners, reports the AP.

In a typical Hunt Brothers arrangement, [convenience store owner Roy] Bruce said he paid about $10,000 for his oven, freezer, display case and other equipment and now just pays the Nashville, Tenn.-based company for the pizza ingredients. Hunt Brothers doesn't charge franchise fees or require a contract.

The privately owned company fine-tuned this approach starting in the early 1990s when four brothers who'd worked separately in the restaurant industry joined forces to sell pizzas to convenience stores. Hunt Brothers had 750 locations by 1994, said Keith Solsvig, its vice president for marketing.

"Convenience stores in rural areas were the hub," Solsvig said. "A lot of people coming and going. And a lot of these smaller towns, they didn't really have a lot of other restaurants or other places to eat."

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Robert Crumb, famous collector of records and drawer of dirty pictures, claims that America lost “authentic rural music” in the early 1930s as the jazz age shifted to swing. The interview, published by the Red Bull Music Academy, focuses on vernacular music and shows off Crumb’s encyclopedic knowledge of turn-of-the-century rural music.

With jazz and other pop forms it takes a sharp nosedive in the early 1930s. When it goes from the “jazz age” to the swing era – Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, they get those smoother sounding “sophisticated” sounds. Everyone was supposed to sound sophisticated as an alternative to sounding naïve and country. “Country” was such a term of contempt. It sounds like you’re a hick from the sticks. You’re supposed to be embarrassed by that. It was the death of real, authentic rural music. Truly a cultural disaster.

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The USDA announced plans to create a Rural Child Poverty Nutrition Center to take on hunger in rural America. The center, which will be based at the University of Kentucky, will give grants to organizations working on rural hunger and nutrition. The USDA estimates that around 85% of counties in persistent poverty are rural.

“The center will make it possible for children in rural areas to access much-needed nutrition assistance and help close the large food insecurity gap between urban and rural communities,” [U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom] Vilsack said.