Sunday, November 23, 2014

11/14/2014 at 8:24am

Photo by Katy Crookston Locked gates only offer the illusion of privacy and safety.

I was settling down for my Sunday afternoon nap when someone started pounding on my front door. It was not a friendly knock, and the face at the door, a big rough looking fellow, didn’t seem primed for pleasantries.

“Are you the Jamison feller owns land on Pressley Creek?”

“Yes,” I said. I live down in Webster now, but I still have the house and farm ON A MOUNTAINSIDE??? in Speedwell. I’ve been trying to sell it for several years.

“Well, why’d you lock the damn gate?”

Now here I was a bit confused. There is a gate to the gravel road that goes up to my place, but it has never been closed let alone locked. The gate is there primarily at the behest of my insurance agent, who thinks my practice of letting people wander across my land to the adjoining Forest Service land leaves me open to litigation. The gate is my concession to a litigious society and is supposed to let people know they are wandering onto private property.

I have a thing about fences and locked gates. My grandfather may have put it best when he said that a gate and a fence were for keeping animals in or out, and anything else was either pride or foolishness. Here in the mountains, we tend to laugh at the folks who move in and immediately put up a gate to their road. Don’t they understand that a locked gate only raises folks’ curiosity – what has he got up there that’s so special?

After a few minutes of back and forth, it turned out that Andy, the fellow at the door, had bought a small parcel that adjoins my land and is accessed from my road. He encountered the locked gate and just assumed I did it. I assured him that wasn’t the case and that I would find out what was going on from my real estate agent. We parted on a friendly note after a conversation that included our common interest in logging; he’s in the business, and I grew up with loggers and have done a bit myself on the mountain.

11/12/2014 at 3:31pm

National Association of Counties, based on federal dataThe top recipients of federal "payments in lieu of taxes" are in dark blue. The program helps counties that contain federal land, which is not part of the ordinary property tax system. Click the map for an interactive version, via the NACo website.

It’s been five months since county governments saw any payments from the federal government for the local services they provide in areas with lots of public, untaxed federal land.

Members of the National Association of Counties (NACo) are gearing up to keep “payment in lieu of taxes” on the agenda as Congress enters its busy budget season. The program’s funding expired with the last budget year on September 30, and the last payment counties received was in June.

The payment program, known by the acronym PILT, provides federal money to counties that contain federal lands.

NACo describes the payment program's purpose this way:

Despite not being able to collect property taxes on federal lands, county governments still provide essential services to their residents and visitors to public lands, including solid waste disposal, law enforcement, road and bridge upkeep and emergency medical services. Without PILT funding, counties and property owners would be burdened with funding vital public services related to federal public lands beyond the means of the local tax base.

“For the 62 percent of America’s counties with federal public lands, the most pressing [congressional] priority is full funding for the payment-in-lieu-of-taxes program,” said said NACo Executive Director Matthew D. Chase in a press release.  “Without swift congressional action, local property owners and their counties could face devastating budget shortfalls or dramatic tax increases to support mandated county services.”

The map above shows U.S. counties that received payments under the federal program in 2014. Darker blue counties receive higher payments. (County-level data is available through NACo's mapping tool.) Funding is especially high in geographically large Western counties, where there are large tracts of land controlled by the federal Bureau of Land Management. But the outlines of National Forests and other public holdings – even military installations – are discernible in Eastern and Midwestern counties, as well.

More than 1,850 counties in 49 states, plus U.S. territories, receive the payments, according to NACo. 

11/12/2014 at 6:10am

All photos by Daniel Acker Farmer Alan Madison plants seed corn in Buda, Illinois.


Daniel Acker lived and worked in New York City for 10 years before he decided to move to rural Illinois, along with his wife and their two children.  Four years after the move, Acker talks to the Daily Yonder about farmers, photography and why he likes living in a small town.

Daily Yonder:  How did you start taking pictures?

Daniel Acker: I took an entry-level photography class in my junior year of high school and really enjoyed it.  I was set to graduate early, and would only have had to attend high school for half of my senior year.  So I told my guidance counselor that after I graduated I was going to take some classes at the community college because they had a photo program. She told me there was a new state program where you could actually go to community college the whole year, and it would count for high school, and the state would pay for it, books and everything.  So I ended up doing that. And then I became good friends with the head of the department and head facilities manager, and they became mentors to me and I learned a lot.  I ended up being there two more years and then I went to Rochester Institute of Technology, where I got my BFA in photojournalism. I graduated in 2000 and then I moved to New York and started working at Bloomberg News.  I worked there for 10 years, until 2010.

Left: The withered leaves of corn plants lay in the dirt in a field damaged by extreme heat and drought conditions in Carmi, Illinois. Right: Twenty-one-day-old pigs stand in a trailer prior to transport to a nearby weaning-to-market barn at Lehmann Brothers Farms LLC in Strawn, Illinois.


DY: How did you end up in Tiskilwa, Illinois?

DA: Both my wife and I worked in New York City.  We like it, but we just decided that we didn’t want to raise our children there. We wanted to get out of the city but I didn’t want to move to the suburbs -- it was either city or country.  My wife felt the same way. She’s from the area where we live now, so given her roots here in the country, we decided to make a go of it here, and we’ve been here in Tiskilwa for four years.


DY: What was it like moving from New York City to rural Illinois?

DA: It was interesting.  I had a good job in New York.  There aren’t a lot of staff photography positions at national news agencies in the United States, and I had one of those jobs, and I willfully left.  It was a lifestyle decision.  The transition really wasn’t all that difficult for me, personally.  I was ready for a change.  We did a lot of family vacations around the Midwest growing up, and there was lot of farmland on the side of the interstate from that route and I just remember as a kid looking out the window and just wondering “Who lives there?”  I really admired the landscape—the farms and the barns and all the scenery of rural America was always of interest to me, even as a child. There was just something intriguing about it.  So we had the chance to buy a house for the first time, which was something that wasn’t attainable for us in the city. We have two daughters. One started kindergarten last week.  This is a good spot to raise a family. …

11/11/2014 at 1:31pm

Photo by Kate Medley Fratesi’s Service Station, near Leland, Mississippi, is home to a wicked fried oyster po' boy.

At least one half of the Daily Yonder editorial team has eaten a top-three-lifetime po’ boy at a tiny gas station near Leland, Mississippi. That gas station is Fratesi Brothers Grocery, and it’s part of a beautiful Bitter Southerner article on gas station cuisine in the Delta.

“Most gas stations don’t hang deer heads on the wall. I guess you could say we do things a little differently around here,” [Mark] Fratesi says. Farmers drop in at lunchtime for fried-olive po’ boys and housemade gumbo, then circle back around 5 p.m., when the seating area transforms into the “East Leland Country Club,” featuring a bounty of Budweiser and tall tales.

--- Shawn Poynter


The New Yorker has a 5,900-word profile on Modern Farmer magazine and its founder and editor, Ann Marie Gardner. Gardner calls her publication a “farming magazine for media professionals” and “an international life-style brand.” That explains some of the merchandise we've seen advertised in Modern Farmer, such as the $37 leather jump rope and $295 casserole dish.


The split between urban and rural America in formal education levels, percentage of elderly population and cultural differences is deep and partly responsible for the uneven economic recovery, according to a story from NBC News. The video is packed with familiar news-reporting-from-rural-America imagery: Empty buildings on Main Street, locked gates, feral street dogs, cobwebs on doors. Yes, there are literally cobwebs in the video report. But the message is actually pretty good. “[Politicians] need to get out of Washington and come listen to the people in small, rural towns,” says on Georgia resident in the story.

11/10/2014 at 4:59pm

USDA Economic Research Service using data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, March SupplementsThe red bars show the number of rural veterans has declined from early 1990s while yellow line shows the rural veterans population is growing older as a group.

As the nation celebrates Veterans Day on November 11, federal data show that the number of rural veterans is decreasing and growing older.

But rural veterans still represent a disproportionate share of the overall veteran population.

This chart compiled by the USDA Economic Research shows two different sets of data. The red bars show the number of veterans who live in rural counties over the past 20 years. The values for the red bars are on the left axis of the chart.

The general pattern is one of decline, as veterans of eras like World War II, Korea and Vietnam have aged. But the number of rural veterans stabilized somewhat in recent years, as a new wave of veterans emerged from the wars in the Gulf region and Afghanistan.

Simultaneously, the percentage of veterans who were 65 years old and older has steadily increased. That’s the yellow line. The values for that line represent percent of rural veterans, and it’s on the right axis of the chart.

11/10/2014 at 10:31am

Photo by Jesse Short Bull Indigenous people gather at a get out the vote in front of South Dakota’s state capital on October 13.

There are two things you need to know about the Native American vote in 2014. First, the election is not over because ballots are still be counted in Alaska; and, second, elections in Indian Country are about the long-haul. One election is important. But not nearly as critical as the years and decades to come.

Let’s start in Alaska. 

“Three words swing the balance of this election cycle for Alaska: Rural, Early, and Absentee,” according to a joint news release from the First Alaskans Institute, Get Out The Native Vote, and the ANCSA Regional Association.

This week as many as 50,000 ballots will be counted, nearly one out of all five cast.

Currently Republican challenger Dan Sullivan leads by some 8,000 votes over incumbent Senator Mark Begich. And independents Bill Walker and Byron Mallott maintain a slim lead over incumbent Republican Gov. Sean Parnell.

But all that changes this week. And, as the joint release so nicely said: “The election isn’t over until ‘rural Alaska sings,’ a sentiment shared by an Alaska Native voter on Facebook yesterday. This simple truth is one that all Alaskans must remember, embrace as another unique and cool facet of Alaskan life, and celebrate as a part of our diverse and inclusive society, especially by those running for office.”

Across the country I have been impressed with those doing the hard work of registering and turning out Native voters. “What we know for sure is that this year’s effort resulted in more attention, excitement and turnout for rural, Alaska Native voters, in absentee-in-person voting as well as other voting methods. To what extent, we will not know until every single vote is counted,” said the news release.

And that’s it. The long haul. This election, in fact, any single election, is just one more step forward toward full participation and voice. Then what’s better than voice? When we sing.

Western Native Voice is one of those organizations that knows how to sing. “Organizers rose early to make calls reminding people to cast their vote. They offered citizens voting assistance and rides to the polls. They gave out information on Legislative Referendum 126, urging citizens to reject it since LR 126 would make it harder for Montanans to cast their votes. Most of all, organizers reminded their neighbors to vote and keep strong the long tradition of the Native American vote in this state,” according to Western Native Voice’s post-election news release.

11/10/2014 at 6:11am

For an interactive map based on this data compiled by the ERS, click here. The map shows the number and percentage of creative-class and arts workers in each U.S. county.

Nonmetro counties that had a greater proportion of “creative class” workers tended to do better economically after the recession than other nonmetro counties, a new report says.

But they didn’t perform as well as metro areas overall – creative-class or otherwise –  according to the report from the USDA Economic Research Service.

The study also found that a strong performer in rural economics in the 1990s – creative-class, nonmetro counties with lots of natural amenities like national parks, forests and similar areas – did worse than the rest of nonmetro America in recovering from the Great Recession.

Creative-class counties are ones that have a large proportion of creative workers, such as engineers, architects, scientists, artists and others. The theory linking these kinds of workers with economic success is that people who perform such jobs are thought to be especially well suited to helping communities respond to economic change and opportunity.

ERS regional economist Tim Wojan, author of the study and previous work on the topic, points out that the creative-class economic theory was developed first to describe urban communities, not rural ones. The latest findings in Wojan’s research indicate that the creative class’ economic impact seems to behave differently in rural areas than it does in more populous regions.

The study compared the top 25% of counties with the highest share of creative-class employment to the rest of American counties. There are 785 creative-class counties nationally, including both urban and rural areas (a few were dropped from the study because of sampling-error issues). About half of metro counties were categorized as creative class (568 total), while only about 11% (217 total) of nonmetro counties were.