Tuesday, September 16, 2014

09/04/2014 at 7:09am

Photo via Tahoe Forest Health System Magazine Dr. Christopher Skaff works at the rural Tahoe Forest Hospital in Truckee, California.

The numerous far-flung health care providers and community organizations that make up California's rural health landscape may soon once again have a single, integrated association working to bring a cohesive voice to all.

After closing last year with insufficient funding and soaring debt, the California State Rural Health Association is slowly becoming active again. A website was launched last month, a 13-member board has been established and the group is planning a conference by the end of the year.

"We're alive," said board member Mario Gutierrez, "We stuck together over this past year, throughout debts and our lease obligation and everything else, and I feel we have proven our credibility." He hopes the association will have a director and office by next year.

CSRHA was forced to close its Sacramento office and lay off staff last year after nearly two decades of service in California. Grants, donations and member fees could not keep the organization afloat, and it was no longer able to afford staff. CSRHA also faced considerable debt in the form of unpaid rent, which required legal assistance and lease negotiation.

The trade association, formed in the 1990s as an informal gathering of regional groups, officially incorporated in 1995. It didn't start having real issues with funding until about 2009, members say. That led to operational disagreements between board and staff members for the next several years, and the board had to cancel staff contracts, lay off the executive director and conduct an investigation into how it could survive.

"It kind of took some of us by surprise," board member Will Ross said. "It looked like we were taking in money from grants, but that didn't begin to address our lease agreement and payroll and office expenses. It just wasn't enough."

The association voted to disband in 2013, but was still able to hold its 13th annual conference thanks to a donation from a former staff member. At the time, CSRHA still had $60,000 in unpaid rent to grapple with and much of the past year was devoted to negotiating lease terms and settling the debt.

After disbanding, several board members set out to secure funding and were able to get grants from the California Wellness Foundation, the National Rural Health Association, and a few private donors to get the organization solvent by July.

"The short version is we had a near-fiscal-death experience," Ross said. "We persevered and negotiated and volunteered and received a few very generous donations, and now we're here."

09/03/2014 at 7:10am

Photo via the Missouri's Food for America Facebook pageChelsea Davis of Nature Fresh Farm in Millersburg, Missouri, holds up a sign opposing Amendment One.

It's official. The recount is on.

09/01/2014 at 10:11pm

via USDA Economic Research Service  

Rural and metro counties traveled the same path to reach the bottom of the employment bust after the last recession.

But early in the economic recovery, those paths diverged – with nonmetro counties showing few signs of job growth while metro’s prospects have improved at a much faster pace.

A new study from the USDA Economic Research Service finds that nonmetro counties started shedding jobs even before the recession officially started in December 2007. And, while the nation as a whole has finally clawed its way back to pre-recession job numbers, nonmetro counties have seen virtually no growth in jobs in the last three years.

The chart above tells the story. The green line represents the number of jobs in nonmetro counties (or the “employment index”); the blue line is metro jobs.

The two lines roughly parallel each other through the bottom of the employment cycle and into the early months of jobs recovery.

But from there, the lines diverge, with metro employment increasing and nonemtro employment remaining flat. “As a result, the gap between the metro and nonmetro employment indices has grown rapidly in the past three years,” the report states.

08/29/2014 at 11:15am

Via ProPublica ProPublica's interactive news feature includes timelines of the changing shape of the Louisiana coastline.

ProPublica has an excellent project that looks at the water levels in southern Louisiana. The state has lost 2,000 miles of coast in only 80 years. By 2100, "everything outside the protective levees — most of Southeast Louisiana — [will] be underwater." The impact on coastal communities is already pronounced. Lloyd “Wimpy” Serigne describes his village in the Louisiana wetlands:

“Right here in Delacroix, when you come down the road, the only land you have is right where the houses are, and the road. That’s it,” he said. “The land’s not there, the woods are not there, and the local people — they only have about five local people after Katrina that came back.”

That world fell apart because the delta that sustained it was dying. ... 

Delacroix residents say after the [oil industry] canals were dug, the wetlands that once nourished them fell apart, allowing storm surges to roll across their community and carry away even more of their marshes. Meanwhile, the physical barrier of the wetlands had been breached by bridges and asphalt roads, bringing modern-day New Orleans closer.

In the space of 50 years that destruction removed not only acres of productive wetlands, but erased entire cultures from southeast Louisiana.

“For me, it’s hard to believe how quick it all went,” Serigne said.

“You tell these young people what was here, and they look at you like you’re crazy or something. They can’t imagine, because they never saw it,” he said.

“In 20, 30 years I don’t see this land being here. I think it will be all gone.”


New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman seems to have a bit of a double standard when it comes to telling other folks what they should put in their bodies.

The man who regularly harps on his readers for things like drinking milk or eating foods that aren’t pure enough by his standards says drinking alcohol is a “private matter.” In his embarrassingly confessional column, Bittman says his alcohol consumption is so private, in fact, he can’t even tell his doctor the truth about it. He's afraid his doctor will scold him for over-indulging.

Yikes. This is worse than we thought. Apparently Bittman goes to a physician who doesn’t read the New York Times.

08/29/2014 at 7:11am

Photo by Shawn Poynter Bennie Massey, right, in maroon shirt, dances with attendees of the Kentuckians for the Commonwealth's "Appalachia's Bright Future" conference in the Eastern Kentucky Social Club in Lynch, Kentucky.

This weekend, two residents of the small town of Lynch, Kentucky, will travel to the other side of the country to help celebrate connections back home.

The Eastern Kentucky Social Club holds its annual reunion on Labor Day weekend. This year, the event is in Burbank, California, 2,300 miles from Lynch, where the headquarters of the club is housed in the town’s former black high school.

But covering a lot of miles is nothing new for members of the club. In fact, that’s the whole point of the group, which formed in Cleveland around 1970 as a reunion of people who had moved away from Lynch.

For nearly 45 years, the Eastern Kentucky Social Club has provided a connection among Lynch residents and thousands of African Americans from Eastern Kentucky who have migrated to other places. The story of the social club is a prominent thread in the history and fabric of Lynch.

Lynch was established in 1917 in Harlan County by U.S. Coal and Coke Company, which built schools, churches, hospitals and houses. At its peak in Lynch, U.S. Coal and Coke employed 4,000 people and owned 1,000 structures housing people of 38 ethnic backgrounds. By 1945, Lynch and the nearby coal town of Benham had a combined population of nearly 10,000 people, according to the 2004 book African American Miners and Migrants: The Eastern Kentucky Social Club by Thomas E. Wagner and Phillip J. Obermiller.

Today, Lynch has about 750 people and is still one of the most racially and ethnically diverse communities in eastern Kentucky. The town is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and many of Lynch’s original structures remain.

After mining’s peak in the 1940s, people began to leave Lynch to find work in cities to the north: Indianapolis, Detroit, Cleveland. But for many, Lynch would always be home.

In 1969, two men were having a drink in a Cleveland bar and started talking about pulling together a reunion of people they grew up with in Lynch. In 1970, the first reunion was held in Cleveland.

08/28/2014 at 7:40am

Courtesy of Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy Joan Kopacek and John Gleneau participate in the first Rural Climate Dialogue, held this June in Morris, Minnesota.

A first-of-its-kind community dialogue in rural Minnesota shows that residents with diverse political viewpoints can reach consensus on climate-change policy when the conversation addresses the unique needs of rural areas.

The success of this first Rural Climate Dialogue underscores the importance of honest, frank discussion about climate change in rural America.

Fifteen community members of Morris, Minnesota, a town of about 5,000 people in the west-central part of Minnesota, participated in the dialogue in June. The event was an intense, three-day, deliberative forum to discuss risks posed by climate change and to develop a shared, community-based response to changing weather patterns and extreme weather events.

The community members were randomly selected but demographically representative of the entire Morris population. Participants had access to resources and experts in a wide variety of subjects, including agriculture, energy and climatology. Surveys of the town’s energy use and costs were compiled by local high school students as a way of involving youth in the discussion and making the dialogue relevant to the broader community.

At the end of the three days, the participants produced their own independent recommendations on how the Morris area should respond to climate change. The top concerns were:

  • How low-income households would deal with the rising energy and food costs.
  • How extreme weather would affect agriculture, which is the community’s economic foundation.
  • How to make more community members aware of climate impacts.
  • And how to address those impacts in ways that serve the community’s best interests.

Courtesy of Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy High school students helped compile information that was used in the community dialogue. At the same time, the community members pinpointed local opportunities to strengthen the agricultural economy. These included promoting increased diversity of crop rotations, using water more efficiently and helping the Morris area residents increase their awareness of climate change and identify ways to be resilient to its impacts.

The community members, despite holding diverse political opinions on climate change, emerged from the dialogue with consensus that the community had to take steps to address climate change.

Given unbiased information and the space to formulate their own conclusions, it appears that rural residents want climate action just as much as their urban counterparts, if only a different type of climate action.

08/27/2014 at 12:21pm

Photo by Gerry Broome/AP An Appalachian Voices employee checks the Dan River in Danville, Virginia, for coal ash in a February, 2014 incident. That spill led to recently enacted changes in state law.

There's lots of news from North Carolina regarding coal ash:

First, the state environmental agency is fining Duke Energy for contaminating groundwater around a retired power plant near Wilmington. Leeching from unlined coal-ash pits has been occurring for years, reports the Associated Press:

A letter sent to Duke [Power] says monitoring wells near dumps showed readings exceeding state groundwater standards for boron, thallium, selenium, iron, manganese and other chemicals. Thallium is a highly toxic poison.

In a separate incident in February, a Duke Energy coal-ash spill polluted 70 miles of the Dan River on the North Carolina-Virginia border. That led to passage, earlier this month, of a new law to help regulate coal-ash and clean up toxic waste generated by coal-fired power plants.

Gov. Pat McCrory (R) says he will likely sign the legislation, even though he says it unconstitutionally sets up a commission where a majority of members are appointed by the Legislature. The governor, not a legislatively appointed commission, should oversee enforcement of the coal-ash rules, McCrory said

McCrory retired from Duke Energy in 2008 after working for the utility for 29 years. “The electricity company's executives have remained generous in supporting his political campaigns,” reports Michael Biesecker of the Associated press.