Thursday, August 21, 2014

08/14/2014 at 3:57pm

Photo via Marion Acres Women carry a basket of chickens during a "Ladies’ Chicken Harvest" at Marion Acres farm.

Modern Farmer, a stylish magazine that blends foodie and ag-related content aimed at a younger audience, stepped in a bit of chicken mess this week with an article about a group of ladies who dressed in pin-up costumes to slaughter chickens.

The event was an annual “Ladies’ Chicken Harvest” day at a Portland, Oregon, area farm that sells (and this may surprise you, based on the farm’s location – please excuse the sarcasm) pasture-raised chickens that have foraged on “green grass, dandelions, clover and bugs.” The idea is to give the farm’s customers a fun introduction to the process of getting a chicken from the pasture to the table, an admirable mission.

Much like a majority of commentators on the article, my first reaction to the piece was negative and fierce.

But why? What about the story, or myself, made me cringe so hard?

Certainly, if I was looking for reasons to dislike the article, there was plenty of fodder in the comments. For starters, many folks expressed a vague discomfort with the scene:

-I can't put my finger on why, but I absolutely hate this for some reason. And yes, I read the article and found it all a bit too twee for my taste.

- Feels a little creepy that they are doing it with a smile on their face.

- Slaughtering chickens is not a hipster photo op. Shame!

08/13/2014 at 10:58am

Photo by Lili Holzer-Glier for The New York Times Men remove rocks from a field at Ro-Jo Farms in Bethany, Connecticut.

An op-ed in the New York Times looks at the challenges, which are considerable, of running a small, family-owned farm and calls for farmers to organize and take charge of their future instead of relying on the whims of "foodies."

The food movement — led by celebrity chefs, advocacy journalists, students and NGOs — is missing, ironically, the perspective of the people doing the actual work of growing food. Their platform has been largely based on how to provide good, healthy food, while it has ignored the core economic inequities and contradictions embedded in our food system…..It’s not the food movement’s fault that we’ve been left behind. It has turned food into one of the defining issues of our generation. But now it’s time for farmers to shape our own agenda.

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Missouri voters narrowly supported a “right to farm” constitutional amendment last week, passing the measure by about 2,500 votes out of the 995,000 that were cast – a margin of about 0.2%.

A rural vote in favor of the amendment led to its passage, the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported.

“The measure was strongly supported in rural counties, many of which approved it by a three-to-one margin,” the paper reported. “Majorities in all of the state's larger counties opposed the amendment, with the City of St. Louis leading the way with a 73.5 percent ‘no’ vote, according to unofficial returns.”

Because the vote was so close, a recount is guaranteed if one side requests it. Any recount will require waiting about three weeks for the vote to be certified.

Proponents of the measure said the amendment will protect farmers from infringement by groups supporting animal rights and opposed to genetically modified crops.

Opponents of the amendment said that the measure will encourage foreign ownership of Missouri farms and that farmers’ rights were already guaranteed under existing legislation.

Both sides said outside interests were a factor in the vote. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch says pro-amendment forces spent more than $1 million on their campaign, including a last-minute ad-buy of $230,000. The paper did not report spending by opponents of the amendment.

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The Los Angeles Times reports on a fracking study that raises concerns over how the practice could affect drinking water.

Energy companies are fracking for oil and gas at far shallower depths than widely believed, sometimes through underground sources of drinking water, according to research released Tuesday by Stanford University scientists.

The study hasn’t found actual contamination, but the shallow depths at which some companies are fracking is troublesome, the study says. 

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Proposed mergers in the cable and satellite-TV business have viewers of the cable channel RFD-TV worried.

“About half of the thousands of letters the FCC has received about Comcast's proposed takeover of Time Warner Cable and AT&T's planned acquisition of DirecTV have come from viewers who want their RFD-TV,” reports FierceCable.Com.

The viewers are worried that a merger between bigger companies will squeeze out a channel that focuses on things they want to watch, like Classic Tractor Feverand All-American Cowgirl Chicks. It's not the sort of programming that draws big audiences in urban and suburban markets, and that's the concern: those markets are where big companies like Comcast and AT&T put their major focus.

"Quite frankly there are no other TV stations out there that carry the programming that RFD carries," Carl Saveley, an attorney from Sparks, Nev., said in a Wall Street Journal story. "If the big city boys decide to drop them, as some have already done, that programming is gone."

08/12/2014 at 12:36pm

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images Courtney Barthelemy leaves her house to attend South Plaquemines High School's graduation in Empire, Louisiana.

Common assumptions about rural brain drain may be incorrect, according to research published in the American Educational Research Journal.

The study, conducted by researchers Robert Petrin, Kai Schafft and Judith Meece, reveals that high-achieving high school students are not necessarily more likely to leave a rural community than students who aren’t as interested in academics. And of those students who do leave, high-achievers are more likely to indicate a desire to return.

This desire to return home is linked to high-achievers’ stronger feelings of community engagement and connection.

Local economic conditions and students’ perceptions of future employment opportunities are the largest factors influencing the decision to stay or leave, the study showed.

The study also found little evidence for the assertion that teachers and school administrators contribute to brain drain by “grooming” their best students to leave. The study showed that these interactions do not have a significant impact on the students’ decisions to stay or leave.

“Stayers” and “Leavers”

The researchers used “educational sorting,” a research technique popularized by Patrick Carr and Patricia Kefalas in Hollowing Out the Middle: Rural Brain Drain and What It Means for Rural America. Each student was placed in a subcategory based on academic achievement and residential aspirations, allowing the researchers to survey and analyze each “type” of student.

The rural high school students were categorized into four groups. “Achievers” and “nonacademics”  designations were made based on academic performance and community involvement. These groups were asked about their residential aspirations after graduation, creating the “stayers” and the “leavers” categories. From these two divisions, four groups were created: “achiever stayers,” “achiever leavers,” “nonacademic stayers” and “nonacademic leavers.”

08/12/2014 at 7:22am

Enroll America West Virginia had the third-highest increase in Medicaid enrollment in the nation as of May 2014, according to Enroll America. States shown in red elected to expand Medicaid. States shown in green did not. Click chart to enlarge it.

You don’t hear much about West Virginia and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or “Obamacare.” But since the law passed, West Virginians for Affordable Health Care and other advocates in the state have been educating the public about its provisions.

West Virginians for Affordable Health Care (WVAHC) is a non-partisan, nonprofit organization located in Charleston, West Virginia. Perry Bryant, the executive director, started the organization in 2005 to address the rising cost of health care and health-care insurance.  When President Obama signed the bill in March 2010, WVAHC was determined to let citizens know the facts about the new law.

For the next several years, WVAHC’s small staff began an educational campaign, developed brochures and reports and made hundreds of presentations on the law state wide to help consumers understand the provisions of the ACA.  WVAHC held town-hall meetings and trained more than 200 people on the provisions of the new law. They brought stakeholders together, built coalitions and traveled the state speaking to health care providers, senior centers, mental health staff, county Chambers of Commerce, state wide conferences and a wide variety of community groups. In April 2012 WVAHC brought many health care advocates together at a large rally to urge the governor to expand Medicaid.

08/11/2014 at 7:16am

Book Review: Mathews, David. The Ecology of Democracy: Ways to Have a Stronger Hand in Shaping Our Future. Dayton, Ohio: Kettering Foundation Press, 2014.

[error processing image tag]David Mathews describes his latest book, The Ecology of Democracy, as a “book of questions.

So it is.

The book, by the president and chief executive officer of the Kettering Foundation, is an enjoyable read. The questions are provocative, addressing potentially successful paths toward enhancing the processes of active citizenship in communities, including rural places.  The book is about, as its subtitle says, Finding Ways to Have a Stronger Hand in Shaping Our Future.

The book title’s reference to “ecology” is curious. According to Mathews, in an informal address to attendees at the foundation’s Deliberative Democracy Exchange (DDNX) in Dayton, Ohio, ecology is an analogy adapted from his experiences as a child along the marshy Gulf Coast – the rich “wetlands” of community life are where political life really begins. In communities, people deal close up with each other, their hopes, their dreams, and their frustrations.

Institutions do most of the work of democracy at the national and international levels. Citizens do the work in the wetlands, “what goes on every day in the political environment, which is both good and bad,” according to Mathews. “Community is what citizens do.”

Unfailing dedication to community building is what makes this book refreshing. Mathews is forever optimistic about citizenship and has dedicated much of his professional life to enhancing democracy at the national and local levels. He recognizes that getting citizens involved is difficult. The questions posed in The Ecology of Democracy point the way toward overcoming that problem.

08/07/2014 at 1:52pm

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images 42nd President Bill Clinton campaigned for U.S. Senate Democratic candidate and Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes this week in Hazard, Kentucky. Clinton last spoke in Hazard in 1999, when he introduced his new market initiative.

America needs to stop focusing its development policies on programs that exclude rural areas, former President Bill Clinton told a crowd in the Eastern Kentucky coalfields on Wednesday.

“I know cities are the most prosperous places, … but it’s wrong to try to build a future for America that leaves rural and small-town America out,” Clinton said.

The former president spoke in Hazard, a town of about 5,500, as part of a campaign event for Democratic Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes. Grimes and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a 30-year Senate veteran, are locked in a close race that has garnered national attention.

Hazard was also the site of a 1999 Clinton speech in support of the then-president’s “new markets” tax-credit initiative – a plan to lure capital investment to rural and hard-hit urban areas. The legislation expired this summer, Clinton said.

Clinton said the 1999 new market initiative was the last time the federal government has done anything of significance to help spur economic development in rural communities. (The Obama administration might disagree with that assessment. Last month, for example, the Obama administration announced a $10 billion private investment fund for rural infrastructure development.)

Current federal policy doesn’t do enough to create opportunity and hope for rural areas, Clinton said. With new communications technology, geography doesn’t have to be an impediment to economic activity, he said.

“New technologies and infrastructure opportunities can create jobs and wealth in any place in the United States,” he said.

He said rural people were ready to take advantage of those new opportunities. “Intelligence is evenly distributed, and the willingness to work is evenly distributed,” he said. “It is wrong to leave any place out and any place behind.”

Clinton shared the stage with families that are part of the United Mine Workers, which has endorsed Grimes.

08/07/2014 at 7:28am

Photographs by Tara Wray "Cat Cheese,” from Come Again When You Can't Stay So Long

Tara Wray’s work ranges from deeply personal documentary filmmaking to photos that display affectionate appreciation of life in rural Vermont.  She began her first film, Manhattan, Kansas, in 2005, when she traveled to rural Kansas to reunite with her mother, with whom she’d had a close but difficult relationship in her childhood.  Since making the film, Wray has moved to Barnard, Vermont (population 1,000), and shifted away from filmmaking toward photography, taking pictures of daily life in her adopted hometown.  She just released a self-published collection of photographs called Come Again When You Can’t Stay So Long as a follow-up to her first film.

Daily Yonder: Tell us a little about your background.

Tara Wray: I grew up in Kansas in a town called Manhattan.  I lived there for the first 20 or so years of my life.  Then I started moving around and didn’t really appreciate it until I left. I went abroad for a while, then I moved to Atlanta for a while, then New York City, and now I live in Barnard, Vermont.

DY: What was it like growing up in Manhattan, Kansas?

TW: It was, and still is a college town with lots of small towns around it that I liked to explore when I was younger.  I made a movie in 2006 called Manhattan, Kansas, and part of it was visiting with my mom who lived in a town that didn’t even have a stop light. It was tiny.  Part of the movie was spending time there and exploring the areas around that.  One of my favorite things to do is get lost on back roads in Kansas where there’s absolutely nothing. I think it’s quite beautiful.

"Those cows got loose from a farm down the road. This was taken at our local ski hill, called Suicide 6. Someone had put a sign in the general store saying that the cows were loose. I saw the sign and then I went looking for the cows. I was following the cows and the farmer as she was leading them back home."

Left: "That is at a local diner here in Vermont called the Locust Creek Diner. It’s wonderful. They make their own maple creemee, which is kind of a soft serve maple ice cream." Right: "Curlers," from Come Again When You Can't Stay So Long

DY: You said earlier you didn’t really appreciate Manhattan until you left.  What didn’t you appreciate that you now do?

TW: I think just the landscape.  People don’t always believe me when I say it’s the most beautiful place on earth.  They think I’m sort of crazy because they’ve maybe only been across the state on I-70, but if you get off the highway and tool around the smaller roads it looks like Italy.  It’s just gorgeous.  The prairies are amazing and I definitely miss that.