Sunday, December 21, 2014

12/19/2014 at 7:15am

Photo by Jackie Mader Piedmont, Alabama, gives a laptop computer to every student, has built a city-wide wireless network, and has added online classes..

The Atlantic reports on the efforts of a small Alabama town to climb out of poverty by giving their students access to technology.

Piedmont had relatively strong academic scores before its technology boom, but disparities still existed among student groups. In the 2010-11 school year, only 31 percent of Piedmont’s third-grade students living in poverty received the highest-possible score on the state reading exam, compared to nearly 78 percent of non-poverty students. On the state’s fifth-grade math exam that year, only 36 percent of black students scored the highest achievement level, compared to 61 percent of white students.

The district’s new personalized learning approach hopes to target both kids who perform below their grade level and those who do and might be bored, [Jerry Snow, principal of Piedmont Middle School] said.

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New York became the first state in the nation to ban natural gas fracking. Governor Andrew Cuomo's administration announced the ban Wednesday, to cheers from environmentalists. There were also cheers in Pennsylvania, where industry supporters say the New York ban will be good for Pennsylvania business. 

Cuomo cited health concerns in his decision to stop fracking, which some have seen as part of economic renewal for rural areas while others have called the practice destructive.

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Susan Crawford debunks three myths about broadband connectivity in the United States in her “Backchannel” essay.

Her first myth is especially relevant to rural residents – that everyone who really wants broadband access has it.

Wrong, Crawford says. While it’s true that there’s a lot of wire running past American homes, not as many households are subscribing to broadband.

Why don’t people tap into broadband? Expense is the most-cited reason, Crawford says. "We pay a lot more than people in other countries do, for service that is worse."

12/18/2014 at 6:49am

As Russell got older, his health went downhill. That’s probably why he was a little grouchy. Since he lived just across the road, I was an easy listening post for all that ailed him.

“I don’t think much of that new co-op manager -- Bill Whats-His-Name. I don’t even know why they hired him,” Russ said as I tightened a bolt on my planter.

That didn’t make sense. Everyone liked Bill. Well, everyone but Russ. Bill was jolly and happy and hard working to a fault. Our farmer owned co-op had been financially challenged for years. It looked like Bill might turn it around.

“Do you know what that guy said to me this morning?” Russ asked. I was all ears. “I gave him my check for this month’s bill and he had the nerve to tell me ‘Have a nice day.’ Can you believe that guy?”

Russ had his opinion. It wasn’t exactly the right one by my measure, but it reflected the way he felt. So I gave the manager an “E plus” for effort. He was doing the best he could with what he had to work with.

Before long, Bill moved on, and eventually the co-op closed.

Maybe Russell made a good point. But if he was wrong, he had plenty of company. When it comes to being misinformed, only Italy is worse than America at getting their facts straight, a survey found.

Backing that up, a recent study by the Brookings Institute points out that most Americans get their news from sources reflecting their own political ideology rather than unbiased reporting sources. That’s one reason why Americans are so poorly informed. They choose the news that conforms to their own belief rather than relying on unbiased reporting and an open mind.

Like my grouchy neighbor, some Americans see themselves victims of murky circumstance, concluding there’s no such thing as a good day.

It’s getting so opinions on food are formed the same way.

12/17/2014 at 6:51am

All photos by Jeremy Lange A square dance in the barn that had been Lange's grandfather's workshop for decades.

 

Daily Yonder: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Jeremy Lange: I grew up in Durham, North Carolina, about a mile or two from where I live now.  I lived in North Carolina until I was 19, then moved to Boston for a couple of years, came back to North Carolina, went to Georgia for a little while, came back to North Carolina, moved to Richmond, Virginia, spent three years going to Virginia Commonwealth University where I got a BFA in photo and film, then me and my now wife moved to Oaxaca, Mexico for six months, then from there we moved to New York for about three years, and ended up back here in Durham in 2007.

 

All photos by Jeremy Lange A square dance in the barn that had been Lange's grandfather's workshop for decades.

 

DY:  Wow, you’ve moved around a lot.  When did you start taking pictures?

JL: One of my parents gave me a camera when I was 12 and I shot a fair amount until I was 15 or so and then sort of stopped for a long time.  After high school I built houses for six or seven years and eventually wanted to do something else. I figured I’d give photography a shot. I started taking pictures during my last year of construction and was using a community center darkroom. Then I got into school and quit my job and moved up there for their photo program. 

 

Swimming in Lake Fairlee in Post Mills, Vermont.

 

DY: Tell us about the work that you do now.

JL: I do a fair amount of editorial work for mostly magazines, and sometimes newspapers.  It’s almost entirely people-based portraits and reportage.  And I try to work on a personal project of some sort at all times.

 

Balloons on the side of the road near West End, North Carolina.

 

DY: Can you give us some examples?

I shot a project in my grandmother’s barn last summer, which used to be my grandfather’s woodshop in East Thetford, Vermont. It’s an old dance hall that they turned into a woodshop and a space for my granddad to work.  Last summer, they turned it back into a dance hall and held the first dance that’s been there 50-something years.

12/16/2014 at 6:38am

The map shows the estimated payments that counties received from the Secure Rural Schools program in FY 2013, according to USDA. Red counties received more in raw dollars than blue counties. The spending bill Congress just passed contains no funding for the program. Click on the map for an interactive version.

The trillion dollar spending package that Congress passed Saturday night doesn’t include funding for rural schools that have struggled to make up shortfalls because of declines in the timber industry.

The Secure Rural Schools program provided about $270 million to 729 counties this year, according to a press release from the National Association of Counties. But funds for the program aren’t included in the new spending package that Congress just negotiated.

Secure Rural Schools was launched in 2000, primarily to help schools defray the loss of public revenue that came from the struggling timber industry. Funds may also be used for road maintenance. Because the program primarily serves areas that had timbering, it skews toward helping rural counties.

(The map above shows the 2013 projected funding for the program. Red and dark red areas received the most funding in raw dollars. You can see how the payments tend to be higher in Western U.S., where timber harvests were generally greater. Click on any colored county to see the amount of SRS funding that county was projected to receive in 2013.)

Counties that relied on income from the Secure Rural Schools program are scrambling, according to press reports.

“It's really important money.  Losing it is very disheartening,” said Supervisor Liz Archuleta of Coconino County, Arizona, according to the Arizona Republic. While Coconino is in the Flagstaff metro area, the massive county (second largest in land area in the lower 48 states) has significant rural areas.

A western Montana county commissioner went further, in comments published by Montana Public Radio last week before the cuts were approved.

12/15/2014 at 7:15am

Cornucopia InstituteA family-farm advocacy group claims that large-scale chicken farms like this one in Michigan are passing themselves as organic.

In today’s unhealthy, unfair and broken corporate controlled industrial food system, more and more people want to know where their food comes from and how it’s produced. The biggest food companies on the planet are well aware of this fact and the shift towards local.

Farm to table and the new local food movement is being hijacked by Big Food. The world’s biggest food companies, including meat packers, processors and food distributors are carefully strategizing and planning on new ways to capture this growing market, intending to kill all possibilities of rebuilding healthy, locally based food systems that serve farmers, eaters, the environment, and livable communities. Small producers, lured by the siren call, are losing everything they have – including federal grant money from USDA and other sources, believing the opportunity to connect to their local communities is real.

Since Ronald Reagan was president, antitrust law enforcement has been abandoned in favor of a globalized, no-rules food system. “It takes big companies to do business globally,” responded Ag Secretary Dan Glickman, when I asked him in 1999 why he didn’t enforce the Packers and Stockyards antitrust law. Captured government agencies refusing to enforce existing antitrust laws, failed litigation and legislative fixes have given Big Food the green light to continue their plundering and pillaging of the world’s farms and farmers.

Further concentrating the supply and distribution channels is crucial for Big Food to fully capture the global food system. It feels like a return to the time of the American Revolution when we rebelled against the abusive control of the British Empire and their East India Company partner.

Local producers are being pushed out of the new federally supported Farm to School programs by meat from big packers able to externalize costs, allowing them to sell below true costs of production. Some non-farmer owned further-processors of mostly commodity meat, struggling to survive in the predatory marketplace, are reprocessing and relabeling beef from these big meat packers including low grade imported meat, and stealing school lunch business from legitimate local producers. Schools, under budgetary pressures, are easily shifted away from higher cost, locally produced sources into these cheaper alternatives, which can now once again, without labeling, include additives like Pink Slime. Fake brands like JBS’s pleasant sounding Aspen Ridge or one of the infamous Koch Brother’s Seven X Ranch claim to be all the things consumers want, including locally sourced in the Colorado market.

12/12/2014 at 11:24am

Photo by the Associated Press Kentucky Senate candidate Allison Lundergan Grimes tried to run to the right of Mitch McConnell on coal. It didn't work. A Politico piece looks at the politics of coal in the Bluegrass State.  

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With $1.1 trillion in spending in the House version of federal appropriations for the coming year, there’s plenty love or hate, all around.

The Yonder will look at some of the possible funding implications for various rural programs next week. For now, here are a few of the bill’s ag-related items that have more to do with regulation than spending. These come courtesy of a letter from the National Farmers Union (NFU) and the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) to congressional leaders.

First, there’s language in the bill that affects Country of Origin Labeling, or COOL. COOL, a law that has been on the books for years, requires meat packers to label their products with clear information about the source of the meat – the country of origin. The spending bill contains a proviso that might make it easier to weaken the COOL law or reconsider it altogether.

The letter from NFU and USCA says the legislation would interfere with international review occurring at the World Trade Organization about how to handle COOL. A meat-packing group, on the other hand, says the changes in COOL are needed to avoid hurting U.S. international competitiveness.

Another provision of the legislation would block the Ag Department from starting a second beef check-off program that would compete with the program now run by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. The letter from the farmers union and cattlemen’s association accuses the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association of lobbying Congress to circumvent the normal process for reviewing the success of the current check-off program.

And, finally, the bill would weaken the authority of the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyard Administration (GIPSA) to fight fraud, deception and anti-competitive practices in the meatpacking industry, according to the letter.

“We strongly object to the use of the appropriations process as a mechanism to limit the secretary’s authority to uphold the COOL law, to respond to the dire need for reform of the beef checkoff, and to address anti-competitive market concerns,” the letter says

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More agricultural areas are suffering from what some are calling the "buy and dry" problem. Cities in the southwest U.S., dried out from drought and an increasing population, buy water rights from upstream farmers, who then don’t have enough water to irrigate and grow their crops, which puts them out of business. There are ways to reduce the issues that come with “buy and dry,” though, according to the Environmental Defense Fund's Jennifer Pitt:

"Ambitious urban water conservation programs and more investment in agricultural efficiency and infrastructure to reduce water use can have a huge impact. Water banks and markets that pay irrigators a fair price, while avoiding permanent fallowing practices, should also be part of a portfolio of solutions to Western water woes.”

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NPR says the way we view women farmers, who are an under-reported and under-appreciated segment of the agricultural community, is changing for the better. 

"Women have always worked in agriculture, historically. I think a key issue is whether or not it's counted," says Julie Zimmerman, a rural sociologist at the University of Kentucky who studies how women's roles on the farm have changed over time.

"If you see working on your farm as being part of your role, as the spouse or the wife as helping out, then you might not even recognize it as being 'working on the farm,' even if you're doing it all the time," Zimmerman says.

12/12/2014 at 6:59am

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics  Clic