Wednesday, July 29, 2015

07/20/2015 at 7:00am

Photo by Kim Break Rachel Reynolds Luster (left) says she will post this photograph of her family as part of the #NotmyOzarks campaign. She said she hopes other people will create similar images and share them through social media as part of the campaign.

Today (July 20), near the small community of Zinc, Arkansas, the Ku Klux Klan begins a training camp for participants ages 16 and up with the goal of creating “a mighty army” to achieve what it calls “racial redemption” and protect whites from what they claim is “racial genocide.”

The camp, located outside Harrison, Arkansas, is in the heart of the Ozarks, near where I grew up. And it’s far too close to where I live now in Missouri.

The Klan will claim their message of racial hatred represents white America, white Christian families in particular, and that their actions are for our protection.

We all know these claims are lies and delusions. Today, we’re launching a campaign to say so. Because recent events remind us that it is not acceptable to remain silent in the presence of hate.

There is a long cultural history of silence in the face of prejudice in rural places. While there are people who have made the stand against hate, far too often people find it easier to refrain from public conversations about race and other matters of social justice. Some rural communities have fewer numbers of people of color. While the individuals who reside in these communities find racism and white supremacy immoral, they will not speak out. It becomes easy to believe that it is not our problem. I am here to tell you that it is. It is all of our problem. It’s a northern, southern, western and eastern problem. It’s a rural and it’s an urban problem. It is a white, black, and everything in between and beyond problem. It is an American problem. We can no longer be complicit in silence. We must speak out, because it is right and necessary.

In rural places we have real struggles and real assets. Those assets are often folded into the stereotypes that tell our story. Outsiders characterize us as backward, ignorant, or bigoted. We should acknowledge that this, in part, is due to the KKK and other supremacist groups like them. We should acknowledge that we have allowed their tactics of fear, intimidation, hate, and violence to, in part, define how others view us and, more importantly, how we view ourselves and our communities. It’s time to reclaim our own stories and let the haters know that they will not define us and the places we love.

People around the South are coming together in response to the Klan’s “training camp” by building a regional coalition to stand against hate and silence and to reclaim our identity. Today we are launching the #NotmyOzarks campaign.  #NotmyOzarks will offer people the chance to define their community or region for themselves, pairing positive imagery and messages that offer a counter-narrative to the Klan’s message of hate and violence. We’re asking people to photograph themselves with a message that incorporates the hashtag #NotmyOzarks or a localized version and share them via our Twitter , Instagram and Facebook accounts.

We invite you to join us in spreading a core message: It is up to each of us to break through the silence, join with others bravely speaking out in their local communities, and build long-term campaigns for change.

07/17/2015 at 7:05am

EDITOR’S NOTE: This week the Interior Department proposed a new rule for stream protection to reduce the impact of coal mining on surface and groundwater. The proposed rule would protect about 6,500 miles of streams from mining damage, according to a press release.  The mining industry said the proposal was unnecessary and would “destroy coal-mining communities.”

Photo via Appalachian Voices Many people blame part of the poor water quality in Eastern Kentucky on deposit runoff from strip mines, even reclaimed sites like this one.

A lot has happened in the 50 years since Lyndon Johnson brought national attention to rural poverty in Eastern Kentucky. But some things haven't changed.

Folks still don’t drink the water.

Around the same time Johnson was visiting Appalachia, a small migration was taking place into the headwaters of the Amazon Basin in Ecuador.  Farmers from the coastal region heard there was good land just beneath the Andes highlands along the Napo River. With very little on hand, a small collection of families picked up and moved to what would eventually become the community of Los Rios.  Now, 50 years later, roads and electricity are developing faster than at any other time in the Ecuadoran region’s history.  New schools in the area have access to the internet.  Where evenings used to be dark, electricity is the norm.

Families there though, like in Eastern Kentucky, still worry about the water.

During a recent excursion, a few of us with Kentucky Environmental Foundation, a non-profit organization that tackles environmental health issues across our state, had the opportunity to visit the Red Bird Mission in Clay County, Kentucky.  The mission, established in 1921, serves a tremendously rural population. Local families rely on the mission's medical and dental clinics, child care facility and educational programs because other services are almost an hour away. When asked what help the community felt was really needed, a common answer came up.  People wanted help getting safe water. Now, after two years of planning and a partnership with the University of Tennessee, the surrounding community has access to a new water kiosk, the community’s first connection to public water.  Folks can pull up, pop a quarter into the pump, and fill enough water containers to get them through the week. 

If you ask families why they don't drink the water, most in eastern Kentucky will say they don’t feel it’s safe. Some contamination comes from poor septic systems near wells. Another issue no one wants to talk about out loud is that the coal industry may also be a source of the contamination. Cracked water tables can leak acid mine drainage, sulfur, methane and various heavy metals into aquifers previously deemed clean.  Speaking up to protect your health, though, can have larger social ramifications. You just don’t question the coal industry.

07/16/2015 at 8:11am

Photo by Eric Byler Belhaven, North Carolina, Mayor Adam O’Neal speaks to walkers just outside town on Day 1 of The Walk for rural healthcare. Advocates who sought changes in rural healthcare policy walked 283 miles from Belhaven to Washinton, D.C.

Rural hospital leaders are quick to blame Medicaid, Medicare, and federal regulations for their financial crisis. But the biggest reason so many rural hospitals are in danger of closing is because they don’t have enough patients. And under the current system of government reimbursements, patient stays are what pay the bills.

Since these hospital admissions are the primary mechanism through which hospitals get paid by Medicare and Medicaid, the lack of patients is creating big economic problems. That threatens all the other critical services hospitals provide that aren’t about inpatient care: emergency rooms, ambulance service, telemedicine, and skilled nursing.

A bill now before the Senate would help rural hospitals continue to provide these critical services without having to base billings just on inpatient stays.

How We Got Here

Small rural hospitals have been facing money troubles for a long time.  In 1984 Congress changed the way Medicare paid hospitals.  Instead of paying whatever hospitals claimed for taking care of Medicare patients, the agency began paying what it judged was reasonable for a particular illness.

That change was hard on a lot of hospitals, but the larger ones were able to live with it.  For bigger hospitals, the length of patient stays averaged out. And, to the extent that Medicare was systematically underpaying, hospitals raised their charges to private insurance companies to make up the difference. 

For very small hospitals, most of which were rural, that coping strategy didn't work as well. Medicare patients made up a larger percentage of their business. There weren’t enough patients for the law of averages to smooth out their losses on an occasional “bad case.” And there frequently weren’t enough privately insured patients to cover Medicare (and Medicaid) underpayment.

07/15/2015 at 7:25am


When we moved from Austin to La Grange, Texas, a town of about 5,000, I was struck very quickly by how often and how clearly a line falls between things male and female. I had become so accustomed to Austin’s androgyny that hearing the word “ladies” made me snicker – then wince, once I realized people were saying it without a drop of irony.

After we’d been in town about a month, I was standing outdoors in line at the local chicken take-out and saw a new acquaintance. As I tried to engage him in conversation, he turned away, pointing and nudging me toward a pickup, where his wife sat waiting, smiling, shaking her head. What is it about small towns? Is there something about rural life that inclines it to be more sex-segregated than city life?

My husband and I recently traveled to Austria. We visited Vienna, as well as Austria’s second largest city, Graz (both fairly androgynous).  But we’d scheduled the whole trip to see a rural-only custom. In the Lungau region of the Central Alps, two towns still celebrate the feast days of their patron saints with a stunning parade of floral towers, called prangstangen. Should have known – it was a parade of manhood, too.

The tapered armatures reach some 18 feet high and are wound with garlands of local wildflowers and greenery. It takes residents weeks to make and bind the floral decorations, all strictly patterned into geometrical designs and sacred lettering (IHS – the Latinized insignia for “Jesus”).  And of course it takes a major balancing act and serious muscle to lift them. The full size prangstangen weigh 80 kilos – 170 lbs.

Photo by Bill Bishop In the village of Zederhaus, the prangstangen are brought to town June 23, the night before the church honors John the Baptist. A young man hoists and carries each 170 pound pole to the church doorway, where he’s greeted by the parish priest. It takes a team to turn the giant towers sideways and carry them into the church.

The Lungau’s valleys look something like Eastern Kentucky hollers, except the mountains are steeper, with even higher, snow-patched peaks in the distance.  The rivers run fast and clear, and cold. The village of Zederhaus, one of our destinations, celebrates the feast day of St. John the Baptist June 24, and Muhr, on the other side of the mountain, honors Sts. Peter and Paul June 29. Origins of the flower tower tradition are vague. Some sources say the parades began “in the Middle Ages”; others claim the custom goes back 300 years. Let’s just say “long ago” a scourge of insects devastated all local vegetation, a horror for isolated mountain people who survived not on ski tourism but farming.  The only plants that withstood the plague were the “Sunnawendlan” – field daisies. In homage to God and as a plea for protection from future disasters, the villagers made pillars of these daisies and presented them at the church as sacred offerings. The creation and procession of floral towers has gone on, and the locusts, or whatever those historic pests were, have never returned.

07/14/2015 at 6:20am

USDA Economic Research ServiceHigh-poverty counties were prevalent in the South but varied widely across the United States.

The rural child poverty rate grew by more than a third during the past decade, according to a new report from the USDA Economic Research Service.

One in four rural children lived in poverty in 2009-2013, according to the 2013 American Community Survey. That’s up from one in five rural children in 1999.

During the same period, the metropolitan child-poverty rate grew at a slightly lower rate of 31 percent. About one in every five metropolitan residents under the age of 18 lives in poverty, the report said.

The increase in the rural child-poverty rate was not consistent across the country, however. Some counties got hit a lot harder than others.

“The problem of high and rising rural child poverty has been widespread but not pandemic across rural areas,” writes ERS Senior Economist David McGranahan in the analysis released this week in the ERS magazine, Amber Waves.

The percentage of poor children was greatest in counties that depended on manufacturing jobs, compared to other counties where agriculture, mining, or recreation dominated the economy.

In rural manufacturing counties, child poverty climbed by 45 percent from 1999 to 2009-2013. During the same period, roughly one in four rural manufacturing jobs disappeared, according to the report.

In contrast, agriculture-dependent rural counties saw an increase of about 6 percent in child poverty. Child poverty increased by about 5 percent in rural counties that depend heavily on the recreation industry.

In mining counties -- which include the oil and gas industries that boomed during the period of the study -- child poverty also grew by about 5 percent.

And counties that don’t fall into one of the other economic categories saw a child-poverty increase of 22 percent.

07/12/2015 at 7:06pm

All photos by Shaena Mallett The Nolan family.


Shaena Mallett is a photographer and filmmaker based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Four years ago she started shooting a film about the Nolan familly and their small dairy farm in Southeast Ohio, Laurel Valley Creamery. Last week she launched a Kickstarter campaign and quickly reached her initial goal to pay for editing the film.  We talked to her about making the documentary and why she thinks its message is important.


Daily Yonder: Describe the movie for us.

Shaena Mallett : [It’s] a documentary film that I've been working on for four years and it's a really intimate look at one family and their experience surviving as a family farm in a rural food desert. 

It revolves around the characters. One of the main characters is the father of the family [Nick]. I describe him as a farmer/philosopher. He is just a very wise, well-spoken character who will go about his day very quietly, milking the cows and working out in the field and then just sit and look off into the distance and then just drop deep wisdom about farming and life and legacy. He's just a really philosophical character. The other main character, Celeste, is the mother of the family. She is really down to earth, very soulful, hard working person and just a really wonderful mother and cheese maker. 

They're a multi-generational family farm. And Nick grew up on the farm. It was his grandfather's. His grandfather bought it in 1947. Nick grew up right next door to the farm on the end of a dead-end dirt road and dreamt of a life far away and the great world out there. He eventually got into working as an engineer in a food manufacturing plant and worked in corporate food for many years, throughout all of his 20s, and he ended up moving away to Florida. He was the person who helped work on the machines that made Totinos pizza rolls and convenient frozen entrées. He was still working in food, but as far away from the family farm style of producing food as you can get. 

A scene from Laurel Valley Creamery, a family dairy farm featured in the documentary "Farmsteaders."

His grandfather died in a farming accident and Nick, over the coming years, had a major transition and ended up taking over the family farm. He was laid-off from his job, so he took his severance package and invested it all in a herd of dairy cows and decided to go back to what he knew and what he did in childhood. They invested in cows and decided that's what they were going to do. Everyone told them not to do it. The people buying the milk told them not to do it, grandma told them not to do it, the people who sold them the cows told them not to do it. ... But they did it anyway. They worked for several years just selling milk and trying to bring in all of their income from selling milk and just couldn't make it, which is a really common story for a lot of small-scale dairy farms in the U.S. right now.

Now they take all the milk they produce and 100% of the milk goes into making farmstead cheese. "Farmstead" meaning all the milk comes from the farm and all the milk goes into the cheese and it's all made right on the farm. They've been doing that since 2010 and they finally are starting to rise up out of the initial costs of starting that. They're finally starting see the light of day financially by making cheese. 


DY: Why do you think they went against all that advice and start buying cows? 

SM: That's a question a lot of people ask a lot of dairy farmers these days, because it really seems like an impossible struggle to make it in small-scale dairy. I've heard several reasons from the Nolans. One of them, I think, taps into legacy. It's what Nick grew up doing, it's what he grew up loving, and really knowing, and I think it helps Nick feel very connected to his family, connected to his grandfather, who was one of the closest people in his life, by continuing on that family tradition. I also know that Nick really likes working with the animals. …There's just something about working in a very reciprocal relationship with animals. Opposed to making all the income, let's say, selling meat (Ed. Note: They do sell some meat). But something like that, the relationship with the animal has a finite end, and you're raising animals to slaughter and that's the end of the story. Whereas, for milk, the way that they raise the cows, they raise most of the cows from calf. The cows are on the farm from the day they're born till they day they die and they have many years of working together. They really get to know the animal and it's much more of a symbiotic relationship. I think there's something about that that's really appealing to the Nolins and to some other sustainable dairy famers.

07/10/2015 at 5:55am

Photo courtesy Rick Kochenower, Oklahoma Panhandle Research and Extension Center A dust storm approaches Cimarron County in the Oklahoma Panhandle on January 12, 2014. Drought, plus the deterioration of the Prairie States Shelterbelt, created in the 1930s, are contributing to the storms, which have been compared to the Dust Bowl.

Franklin D. Roosevelt was a tree hugger.

After his father, James, died in December, 1900, the future president began to manage his Hyde Park, New York, family estate with conservation in mind. To counter soil erosion, he planted thousands of trees each year.

Later, as president, FDR used conservation projects as a job-creation tool against the Great Depression. His ambitious plan for forest shelterbelts—windbreaks using trees and shrubs across the Great Plains to reduce soil wind erosion, retain moisture, and improve farming—offers a backstory about a gift that is widely forgotten and being destroyed.

When FDR came to office in 1933, the Great Plains and other regions were already smarting from droughts in 1929 and the early 1930s; the Dust Bowl began in earnest in 1934. The environmental disaster was triggered by policies and markets that promoted massive, unsustainable agricultural expansion in dry lands. Weak farm markets, coupled with the droughts, had caused a crisis for President Herbert Hoover as he tried to mitigate the growing Depression that started in 1929.

FDR began discussing what would become the Plains Shelterbelt Project within weeks of taking office in March, 1933. The idea grew from his experience and federal research that dated to about the 1890s. Passage of the Clarke-McNary Act in 1924 enshrined shelterbelts in forest policy.

Shelterbelts were used the U.S. during the early 1800s and were common in Canada and Russia. According to Agriculture Secretary Arthur M. Hyde’s report to Hoover in 1933, the department cooperated with 37 states and two territories in producing and distributing trees to farm owners for reforestation of farm woodlands and for windbreak and shelterbelt planting.

Roosevelt’s documents show he initially was deeply involved in planning his proposal, along with his secretary of Agriculture, Henry A. Wallace. In a March 1935 letter to Senator Duncan U. Fletcher (D-Florida), FDR notes that shelterbelts were a “subject near to my heart,” and outlines the complicated steps of the plan: