Tuesday, April 28, 2015

04/28/2015 at 3:19pm

Source: Appalachian Voices Caption text here

The amount of coal excavated using mountaintop-removal mining in Central Appalachia has declined by more than half since 2008, but mountaintop removal’s impact on humans could actually be getting worse in some areas, a new report from an environmental group says.

The study by Appalachian Voices says that mountaintop removal mining is occurring, on average, closer to human settlements than it was 15 years ago. The study also shows that communities near mountaintop removal mines are losing population faster and have higher poverty rates than similar communities that are not near such mines.

“Communities where surface mine encroachment is increasing suffer higher rates of poverty and are losing population more than twice as fast as nearby rural communities with no mining in the immediate vicinity,” the report said.

That’s true despite a 50% drop in Appalachian coal production since 2008 and a nearly 60% drop in coal mined through mountaintop removal, the report said.

“The risk faced by many communities from encroachment of mountaintop removal mining is growing, not declining,” the report said.

The study used a Google “geospatial analysis tool” to map the spread of mountaintop removal mining from 30 years of satellite images of Central Appalachia. That information was combined with data from the U.S. Board on Geographic Names to determine whether mining had moved closer or farther from human settlements.

Poverty and population figures were pulled from U.S. Census data.

The study created an interactive map that charts the spread of mountaintop removal since 1984. It also created a list of 50 Central Appalachian communities that are “most at risk” from mountaintop removal mining. The list is based on the proportion of nearby land that has been surface mined and the rate at which surface mining increased between 1990 and 2014.

04/28/2015 at 7:05am

Maria at Sego Canyon, her favorite nearby petroglyphs spot.

Name: Maria Sykes
Where I live: Green River, Utah
Why I live here: I visited for a summer rafting trip that turned into five and a half years of living and working here.


Tell us a little bit about yourself- who you are, how you spend your time.
I graduated in 2008 from Auburn University with dual bachelor of architecture and interior architecture degrees. After school, I sought after a community where my skills and passions could be utilized for good. Following a summer visit to the town of Green River (pop. 952 and 50 miles to the next town) in beautiful southeastern Utah, I moved here to co-found Epicenter with colleagues from architecture school. Epicenter is a non-profit organization focused on community and economic development through the arts and design. During my time at Epicenter, I’ve co-led the renovation of a 100-plus year old building using mostly volunteer labor and an inconceivably tight budget; co-founded the Frontier Fellowship which has hosted over fifty artists/designers in four years; and facilitated countless successful arts workshops, small projects, and community events. I continue to co-direct Epicenter and have a contagious passion for working in the rural. Outside of “work,” I enjoy attending Green River High School basketball games, visiting other isolated/rural places (e.g. East Iceland), cooking spicy food, and enjoying the outdoor wonderland of southern Utah.

Tell us more about Green River, Utah.
Amid John Wayne’s West and Edward Abbey’s desert wilderness, Green River is a place where the stars shine bold and close, the land is plentiful, and the red dust, burnt cliffs, and lonely sky lie just beyond the end of its roads. Green River is the only town of consequence and place to ford Green River’s namesake for over 50 miles, and has been a welcomed sight to pioneers, cattlemen, outlaws, and modern travelers alike for hundreds of years.

Outside of tourism, many of the town’s economic booms, like the uranium mines or the missile base, had short lives. As jobs in the mines and missile base disappeared, and the newly built Interstate 70 traversed beyond downtown’s borders, the number of businesses drastically decreased, buildings fell into disrepair, and the town’s population dwindled to its current size of 953 residents.

However, the Interstate and the nearby attractions have resulted in a strong hospitality economy that’s on its way up. People who live in Green River are rural by choice and proud as “heck” of it. (FYI: Utahans say “heck” a lot.)

How did you come to live in Green River? How long do you plan to stay?
Two of my dearest friends from architecture school tricked me! I came out for a weeklong summer vacation and fell in love with this town, the desert, and the river. When I returned to Atlanta (where I was living at the time), I quit my job and immediately planned my return for a summer-long adventure. That summer turned into a year, which eventually turned into another year and so on. I’ve been here for five and a half years now! I just bought a small (and very old) house, so I don’t think I’ll be leaving anytime soon.

In what ways is Green River similar or different to where you grew up or have lived in the past?
The people here are not dissimilar to the folks I grew up around in the rural South. These folks are (and/or their parents were) pioneers and settlers, cattle ranchers (in the desert!), farmers (again, in the desert!), radical entrepreneurs, and boatmen on the roughest rivers in the country. Green River is full of “pull yourself up by your bootstrap” kind of folks with “give the shirt off of your back” hearts. Don’t double-cross them, though, or you’re looking at a lifetime grudge. It reminds me of the South quite a bit, actually. You’ll find people fighting over water rights one day and supporting a church event together the next day.

04/26/2015 at 9:17pm

If I had any doubts that my problematic experience with non-Native police has been anything out of the ordinary, the response to my recent article in the Daily Yonder dispelled that notion.

My article, “Driving While Indian,” recounted my traffic stop just off a northern Wisconsin reservation. It seemed obvious to me that I had been singled out by a non-Native law enforcement officer because of who and where I was.

Editors at Indian Country Today Media Network, where I am a frequent contributor, posted the Yonder piece on their Facebook feed and asked readers if they’d ever been busted for “Driving While Indian.”

More than 250 people shared stories of being harassed by non-Native law enforcement, mostly in border towns or on rural roads near their reservations.

Overwhelmingly, respondents seemed inured to being singled out,  describing it as life as usual for Native people.

Here are a few of the comments:

I've been pulled over six time this year by the local police. I even got a ticket for my headlights. I went to pay it and the lady said. “This is weird they never write a ticket for this.” Yeah confirmation of being discriminated against.

[J]ust happened to us yesterday.

Haven’t we all?

In Oklahoma if you have a tribal license plate you might as well just put a sign on your car that says “Dear cop, please, pull me over, we know you're bored.”

 And my personal favorite to the question of whether a Native had ever felt profiled by police: “Do elephants pee in the woods?!”

The media attention to police violence against African Americans and people of color, and the accompanying surprise and skepticism among some white folks that such things actually happen, remind me a bit of the public response to the Amnesty International Maze of Injustice Report.

04/24/2015 at 11:17am

Photo by Julie Kenney Iowa corn farmers Mark and Julie Kenney and family.

Liz core, an Iowa-born writer for Grist, takes a trip home to meet the farmers behind the massive squares that make up the state’s commodity corn farms.

Really, I did more than just meet them. I chatted about agricultural policy over cinnamon-spice tea; toured a thousand-acre farm in a fourwheeler seated next to a labrador; and played peek-a-boo with shy, barefoot farming boys.

Iowa commodity growers are often demonized for what and how they grow, and monocultures andethanol aren’t exactly healthy for the planet. But all of the farming families I talked to expressed a deep respect for the land and the desire to take good care of it for the next generation. If we want to understand how and why our agriculture system is the way it is, we’d be wise to approach all farmers with an open mind.


When an out-of-state company started buying up thousands of maple-tree-filled acres of Vermont land, some small syrup producers got a little antsy. Not to worry, says Sweet Tree, the buyer of the land, they aren’t looking to break into the syrup industry.

About 15 miles down a pot-holed Route 114, Sweet Tree CFO Michael Argyelan is showing its new processing plant to local and state economic development officials. He starts with a reassuring announcement.

“We’re not gonna sell syrup. We’re gonna use the syrup to make other things, so this way we won’t disrupt the maple market in the state or the United States. So we’re not gonna dump product just to make money, that kind of thing,” Argyelan explains.

But by the time the tour reaches the room with four gigantic steam-powered evaporators (eventually there will be eight, capable of processing over 300,000 gallons of syrup a year), Argyelan eventually drops a tantalizing hint. He says his wife is trying out one of his experiments — a facial scrub made from the gritty maple sand left behind after boiling.


In an attempt to secure food supplies, Bunge Ltd., a Saudi Arabian state-owned investment firm, will buy a controlling share in a Canadian grain handler.

"Canada is a major wheat grower and exporter, and Saudi Arabia relies on imports to meet its growing demand for food," SALIC Chairman Abdullah Al-Rubaian said in a statement, adding G3 would "strengthen grain off-take and export capabilities in Canada".

In a multibillion-dollar search for food security, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf desert states, which rely on imports for 80 to 90 percent of their food needs, have invested heavily in agricultural projects overseas since 2008.

04/24/2015 at 7:25am

Photo by Frank Kilgore

With wildflower season spreading northward along the Appalachian Mountains, the city of St. Paul, Virginia, has reopened the Bluebell Island Trail just in time for hikers to enjoy the blooms that give the trail its name.

The foot path, which runs along the Clinch River in southwest Virginia, was flooded out earlier this year. The Clinch piled tons of uprooted trees and trash on the seven-acre wildlife sanctuary. The debris shut down the most popular segment of the town’s trail system – which contains more than 100 miles. (That’s a tenth of a mile per each resident of St. Paul, population 1,000).

Bluebell Island is home to bluebell flowers, which bloom each April. The park also contains giant sycamore trees, box elder and a small stand of cane, a native bamboo that once thrived along Appalachian river valleys before being nearly eradicated by domestic grazing and burning.

04/23/2015 at 5:03am

Poet Ted Kooser

Ted Kooser’s poetry is a collection moments, simply described but carrying great meaning. He shares small but profound insights about human relationships, how we relate to our past, and what it is to live in America. Poetry critic Ed Hirsch wrote of Kooser "Many of his poems have a distinctly Midwestern feel, which may reflect the poet’s upbringing in Ames, Iowa, and his current home in Lyons, Nebraska." Kooser began writing in his teens, but spent much of his adult life working for an insurance company in Nebraska after leaving the graduate writing program at the University of Nebraska in 1963. He remained in the insurance business for over 30 years, but continued to write poetry in the mornings before he left for work. In 1980, at the age of 41, Kooser published his first book of poetry, Sure Signs. Since then, he has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize and served as Poet Laureate from 2004 to 2006. Kooser’s most recent collection, Splitting an Order, was published in October of last year. Kooser spoke with The Daily Yonder about his curiosity about strangers, his ability to see things that often go unnoticed, and why he likes to stay at home. You can read some of Kooser’s poems on his website.

Daily Yonder: You’ve been publishing poetry for 50 years. How has your poetry changed over time?
Ted Kooser: My earliest poems were imitations of poetry I admired. In my first book I can easily identify, say, the Edwin Arlington Robinson poem, the May Swenson poem, the William Carlos Williams poem, and so on. The influence of other writers is still there in my poems, but there have been so many influences over the years that they can no longer be separated and identified. And over the years I’ve very gradually learned who I am, and how to write out of myself.

DY: On your website, you say that you’ve made it a specialty to look at things in the Nebraska landscape that often go unnoticed. Why do you think it’s important to write about things people might not take the time to see?
TK: Maybe forty years ago I published a poem, “Spring Plowing,” about field mice moving their nests into a fencerow to be safe from the plow, and a woman who had seen the poem wrote to me and said that she would never again pass a freshly plowed field without thinking of those mice, and it came to me at once, “This is my job, to show people new ways of looking at things!” And that’s what I’ve done.

DY: Some of your poetry takes place in cities, but so much of it has a distinctly small town feel. Why are you drawn to writing about small towns?
TK: I’ve written lots of poems about people I’ve observed in cities, but because I like to isolate my subjects, to push all the other people out of the frame and thus put the focus on one or two people, it may seem that my subjects are walking the streets in small towns. I don’t think I could write a poem in which I described a crowd. For me a crowd is a lot of separate poems standing around together. 

DY: The title poem of your 2005 collection Flying at Night reads:

Above us, stars. Beneath us, constellations.
Five billion miles away, a galaxy dies
like a snowflake falling on water. Below us, 
some farmer, feeling the chill of that distant death, 
snaps on his yard light, drawing his sheds and barn
back into the little system of his care.
All night, the cities, like shimmering novas, 
tug with bright streets at lonely lights like his. 

04/22/2015 at 6:57am

Photo by Nate Kauffman Playing fetch at Wisconsin's Kettle Moraine State Forest.

Playing fetch with a Labrador is a little like farming. I throw the ball, he brings it back. That's the way it is with farmers on the land; every spring Mother Nature throws the ball.

I can't help but run after it.

No one really understands all of agriculture in America--including our farmers. Wheat in North Dakota is very different from cotton grown in Texas. Climate, soils, machinery, and markets, all would require re-education to accompany farmer relocation.

We seldom pick up and move to greener pastures.

Farm animals have differences too. But corporations have injected genetic uniformity and huge confinement barns into poultry and hog production so that a reliably experienced West Texas hog confinement operator could be expected to perform equally well in the North Dakota winter ...if his car will start.    

The challenge for big business in agriculture has always been variables--in weather, crops, genetics, markets, and even in society where differences among farmers affect their methods and the way they do things. Consolidation of markets and the companies that buy livestock and poultry from farmers helped transform animal agriculture. That power in markets allows corporations to control the way animals are produced, and it allows them to control the farmers who do the work. (Sometimes it allows them to change consumer habits) Farmers who grow hogs and poultry now make massive investments in facilities, usually financed by loans. The borrower must have a contract or written agreement with one of a handful of livestock reigning corporations, not only to make the banker happy and secure the loan, but to repay it, too.

What's worse, losing a contract can mean losing everything, because farmers who feed corporate hogs or poultry don't actually own the animals or the feed animals consume.

And they have no to an alternative market.

They're contract growers supplying labor and facilities to corporate owners who throw the ball in a game of fetch.

Confined animal feeding operations have corporatized the meat business beyond anything ever seen before. Variables like farm animal inventory that once caused wide fluctuation in prices have been overcome somewhat, but animal health is one area where vagaries of the market persist. Especially when diseases such as poultry virus H5N2, or PEDv in hogs strike unexpectedly.

Genetic diversity and disease resistance can suffer under corporate systems like this. Uniformity for the sake of uniform profits is their natural weakness. Fickle customers play a part, too. That's why higher feed costs leading into 2013 along with diminished exports to China had Smithfield Foods  looking for a partner.

They found one in a Chinese government financed buyout by Shuangui Limited.