Tuesday, June 30, 2015

06/29/2015 at 5:10pm

USDA Economic Research ServiceDarker areas receive more philanthropic grants per capita than lighter areas. Although urban areas receive more funding on average, some notable rural areas stand out in the map: Western North Carolina; parts of New England and Maine;  Colorado; and Oregon.

Whichever way you slice it, rural communities aren’t getting a proportionate share of foundation grants compared to the relative size of the rural population, a new report says.

Researchers found that rural communities, which accounted for 19 percent of U.S. population in 2010, received only about 6 to 7 percent of foundation grants awarded from 2005 to 2010.

The federal study also found that over the same time period, grants from large foundations to organizations based in rural areas came to about $88 per capita. Organizations in metropolitan areas received foundation support at twice that per capita rate, the report said.

 “This suggests an urban focus in foundation grants,” writes John L. Pender in a study conducted for the USDA Economic Research Service.

The study expands on previous work by Nonprofit Quarterly’s Rick Cohen that has tracked philanthropic investment in rural development. The new USDA study examines grants in all types of funding – not just development.

Determining how much foundation money is going into rural work is not an easy proposition, Pender writes. The study used three methods:

  • Measuring the size of grants going to organizations located in rural areas.
  • Adding to those rural-based grants money that went to urban organizations that appear to be doing rural work.
  • And taking random samples of grants to study geographic and programmatic distribution of grant funding.

The primary data for the study was grant reports of the nation’s 1,200 to 1,400 largest foundations, which are tracked by the private Foundation Center.

Each method yielded similar results, and in each case the share of grants going to rural work “is much less than the rural share of the U.S. population,” Pender writes.

U.S. foundations gave approximately $2.2 to $2.5 billion for the benefit of rural areas in 2010, the study says.

Though those dollars are small compared to public investment in rural projects, private philanthropy is an important part of the rural funding mix. Private grants can affect the impact of public programs, Pender writes.

Private philanthropy is also important because of equity, Pender writes.

06/27/2015 at 3:24pm

Photo via Getty Images Rep. Harold Rogers (R-KY) walks with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

Editor's note: This article is part a series of stories by InsideClimate News reporters exploring the future of the coal industry, Coal's Long Goodbye: Dispatches From the War on Carbon.

A massive $3 billion package to help struggling coal communities transition to a new economy is sitting unappropriated in the Republican-led Congress. And lawmakers are saying little—at least publicly—about if and how they ever plan to support it.

As part of the budget proposal released in February, the White House rolled out the POWER+ plan to support towns and communities struggling to cope with the decline in coal production and use. The initiative provides coal country with an influx of cash to reclaim abandoned mines, provide job training to miners, reform health and pension funds and invest in carbon capture technology.

But in the four months since the White House announced the plan, leaders in Congress have not addressed it in any detail.

"What is unusual is that it seems senators and representatives from the area have not shown more interest," said Thom Kay, legislative associate for the Appalachian Voices, an environmental group based in North Carolina. "It's very tough to pass something that's pretty major through the budget by trying to do it last minute."

Long the backbone of Appalachia, coal has been in a steady decline since 2000, with the dwindling supplies of easy-to-access coal, a surge in natural gas production and a slew of environmental regulations.

In recent years, coal mines and coal-burning power plants have shuttered, leaving thousands out of work. Since 2008 coal employment in the countryhas decreased by about 12,000 jobs, a 13 percent decline. At the same time, poverty rates in parts of Appalachia are some of the highest in the country, leading the Appalachian Regional Commission, an economic development agency, to declare almost a tenth of all counties in the area distressed this year.

"Part of the problem we have is we had very little economic diversification. In coal communities it’s been a mono economy of coal and not a lot else," said Chris Porter at Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, a non-profit based in Kentucky. "Having an influx of several billion dollars to really work to build a lot of diverse development strategies would be an enormous boost to take our region into the post coal economy."

06/25/2015 at 8:21pm

All photos by Nic Persinger “Sutton, West Virginia.” This single cross caught my eye one trip home in Sutton, WV while making my series 'few things are certain.' My endless question of the existence of God throughout my life is something that always seems to find its way into my photographs.

Daily Yonder: Where did you grow up? Tell us a little bit about your background. 
Nic Persinger: I grew up in a secluded West Virginia town called Richwood. It is surrounded on all sides by mountains and is right on the edge of the Monongahela National Forest. In many ways, it's a stereotypical Appalachian small town—one stoplight, too many churches for the dwindling population, impoverished—but it's also home to me and it's where most of my family still resides. It's eccentric and full of eccentrics—and there's no place more important to me.

“Papaw.” This is my Papaw. I took this photograph from the backseat of my uncle's 1967 Olds Cutlass Wagon during our week-long road trip to Wisconsin and back. That week was something out of a movie and is a story best told over a glass of bourbon. I sure do miss him.

DY: Where do you live now?
NP: Once I finished high school, I left West Virginia for college at the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington, DC. About 4 years ago I moved to Morgantown, West Virginia with my wife, and I have been here ever since. It's sometimes a little sleepy for our liking but we've grown pretty fond of the area. It's not much like the West Virginia I knew growing up, but it's a happy medium between my upbringing and bigger cities. I can easily drive to DC, and Pittsburgh is just a stone's throw North. But in turn, I can also escape to the woods and hollers in no time at all traveling South.

“Taylor.” I've always been drawn to people and light. This is my friend Taylor outside of our first apartment in Morgantown, WV one fall night a few years ago. I've always enjoyed photographing my close friends throughout our lives—or at least the length of our friendships.

DY: On your website, you write that you document the back roads of the rural south.  Why are you drawn to photographing these places?
NP: My longing for home has always been a part of me ever since I left. I go back and photograph people and places that echo memories, whether mine or others'. Lately I've become kind of strict about only making photographs in West Virginia. I'm not entirely sure why I'm compelled by that, but I like it. I've also noticed that recently, I'm drawn to places worn with use by people but where no one exists any longer. To be honest, I'm not sure I've lived enough to know exactly what pulls me back again and again. It's something I think about daily, but sometimes it's good not knowing the answer.

06/25/2015 at 2:12am

“The Internet is NOT the Answer” by Andrew Keen. c.2015, Atlantic Monthly Press. $25.00 / $31.50 Canada. 288 pages  

Down.

That’s your computer now, and thus your productivity and probably your mood. You can’t get anything done, can’t check Facebook, can’t even surf the web for funny pictures of cats. What did you do with your time before you got a computer?  Good question but, according to Andrew Keen, “The Internet is NOT the Answer.”

Spend a few minutes with just about anybody these days and eventually, the conversation will turn to something someone’s seen online. There’s a reason for that: more than three billion people, world-wide, use the internet. Researchers think that there’ll be 50 billion “smart” devices on the planet within the next five years.

That’s all good, right?  All that connection, enhanced control, communication?  We’ve made our lives better and more efficient.

Or not: while it’s true that online companies have made many a billionaire, that wealth is largely concentrated, Keen says, within a small group of people (mostly men), and near one major city. Those online entities have badly hurt the economy in that area, and they’ve badly hurt the economy in yours.

The reason, he says, is that the internet has killed jobs. Books you bought on Amazon, the lawn mower you got on eBay, the shoes you got from Zappos were all purchased with money you didn’t spend locally with local employers. Pictures posted on Instagram are no longer printed. The message you Facebooked wasn’t mailed.

Furthermore, says Keen, we’ve become unpaid employees of many of these high-tech corporations. Google, for instance, becomes better every time we look something up – but with each click, we do the work that enhances their product, both in function and for investors. We also aren’t compensated for our personal data, which they mine and sell.

06/24/2015 at 2:00am

The population growth in rural counties that depend on tourists and retirees isn’t what it used to be, but it’s still a bright spot compared to other rural population trends, a new analysis by the USDA Economic Research Service shows.

As the Daily Yonder has reported, nonmetropolitan counties overall have lost population for the fourth straight year. But some types of rural counties managed to add population rather than lose it. We’ve already reported on how larger rural counties – ones that have cities of between 10,000 and 50,000 residents – grew in population last year.

The new ERS analysis by John Cromartie looks at other geographic factors in rural population change from 2010 to 2014. He finds that factors that used to contribute to population growth for rural counties aren’t as strong as they used to be.

Urban population size, metro proximity, attractive scenery, and recreation potential have historically contributed to nonmetro population growth. For the time being at least, their influence has weakened. Over the last 4 years, suburban and exurban population growth has contracted considerably—for the first time since World War II—affecting not only outlying metro counties but nonmetro counties adjacent to metro areas as well.

The analysis looks at nonmetropolitan population change by “county type”:

  • “Recreation” counties have lots of exceptional natural amenities like lakes, mountains, and rivers (think Park County, Wyoming, the home of Yellowstone National Park, or of counties along the Upper Great Lakes in parts of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota).
  • “Farming” counties are like they sound – counties where agriculture is the dominant economic force.
  • “Manufacturing” counties, where factories still make up a good portion of the economic activity.
  • And “Other” counties, which don’t match one of the other categories.

The analysis found that recreation counties were the only type of rural county to show any appreciable growth in 2010-2014.

06/22/2015 at 4:18pm

Photo via Reuters Walmart and Sam's Club, pictured here, want to be able to share more information with consumers about how the meat they sell is raised.

“Our customers want to know more about how their food is grown and raised, and where it comes from,”

Kathleen McLaughlin
President of the Walmart Foundation and
senior vice president of Walmart sustainability

Kathleen McLaughlin made this comment last month when Walmart announced new positions on the humane treatment of farm animals and the responsible use of antibiotics in farm animals. Their action joins those of other retailers and restaurants like Whole Foods, McDonalds, and Chipotle in setting standards for the food they sell.

As World War II ended and the economy began to boom, consumers were looking to obtain their food as inexpensively as possible. As a result of increasing per capita income and changes in production systems, consumers were soon spending a smaller portion of their income for food purchases than they once had. The portion of the average family income dedicated to the purchase of food dropped to 10 percent or less.

A decade ago, as consumers became more health conscious, meat animal producers were responding to the changing preference of consumers for leaner pork and beef in the face of strong competition from poultry producers. Restaurants and grocery stores began to focus on marketing Angus beef and the fatty pork of the 1960s became distant memories.

While neither of these consumer concerns has disappeared from the equation, consumer preferences have continued to evolve. Today producers, processors, and retailers are finding themselves being pressured by consumers who want to know how and where their food is produced. The announcement of Walmart and its warehouse retailer, Sam’s Club, is a reflection of the power of that shift in consumer sentiment.

06/21/2015 at 10:29pm

Author Ron Rash.

Ron Rash is a teacher, poet, short story writer and novelist whose family has lived in North Carolina since the 1700’s.  Most of his work is set in this part of Appalachia. While his work is distinctly Appalachian, he’s quick to point out that he and his fellow regional authors aren’t “just” Southern or Appalachian writers.

Rash’s impressive body of work transcends region. His writing has been published in more than 100 magazines and journals and translated into 17 languages, winning numerous awards. He's twice been a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner award for fiction. Two of his novels, Serena and The World Made Straight, have been made into feature films.

In his most recent collection, Something Rich and Strange, his evocative short stories cover time periods from the Civil War to the present.  In this collection, as in most of his work, his characters often find themselves difficult situations, pushed to extreme acts of violence, but just as often demonstrating powerful acts of generosity and empathy. His new novel, Above the Waterfall, will be released this September.

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

Ron Rash: I grew up in Boiling Springs, North Carolina.  That’s in Western North Carolina.  It was a very small town, I think there were a thousand people in it when I was growing up.  It was very rural.

DY: And your family has lived in North Carolina for a very long time.

RR: Yes, since the 1700’s.  My mom’s family, and my dad’s, too.  So we have very deep roots in North Carolina.

DY: And where do you live now?

RR: I’m back and forth between North Carolina and South Carolina.  I work at Western Carolina University, which is in Cullowhee, which is about an hour south of Asheville. It’s a rural area, about 15 miles from the Smoky Mountains National Park.

DY: Do you think the family history you have in the region is what keeps you living in and writing about Appalachia?

RR: Oh, yea. I think it’s the sense of knowing my family has lived in these rural areas for so long. My grandfather on my mother’s side had a farm and I spent a lot of time there.  It was near Boone (North Carolina).  That was very important.  It showed me that life. And one of the sad things is that it’s so hard to make a living that way now. It’s always been hard, but I think it’s even harder now.

DY: The stories in your most recent publication, the short story collection Something Rich and Strange, have been written over the course of 20 years.

RR:  Even longer, I guess.  Probably 35 years.

DY:  How did you go about pulling the stories in the collection together?  They vary in tone, time period, and subject matter, and yet they feel like they fit together.

RR:  In a sense, I wanted those stories to fit together like a quilt.  Patches that, I hope, if the reader reads all the way through will have a sense of the place, and seeing that place over time from pretty much the Civil War on.  I think the connection is the landscape.

DY: Landscape, and the effect of the Appalachian landscape on its people, is such an important part of so much of your writing.  Do you think that effect is truer in Appalachia than in other places?

RR: I’ve seen other writers do that in different places.  I think Annie Proulx really does it well.  She tends to write about Wyoming.  I think there’s something in a rural landscape, because if you’re living in rural area, you’re constantly reminded of that landscape and the natural world.  Writers can certainly write about the landscape within a city and a lot of writers do that well, but I think landscape is really important and it affects the psychology of people.  I think if you go up in the mountains it affects you in a way that’s different from, say, growing up in the Midwest.