Monday, May 25, 2015

05/17/2015 at 7:39pm

All photos by Chris Jackson Left: Leroy Rigman in front of his farm house on Mitchell Mt. Rd., near Upper Tract, West Virginia, Pendleton County, on Saturday, April 26, 2014. His home is over 100 years old and was inherited when his father died in 1976. Right: Bob North walks with his two grandchildren, Clara, 6, and Samuel, 8, North on a rock fence as the Fahnestock House Barn is off in the distance at Renfrew Farm Museum in Waynesboro, Pa.


Daily Yonder: Where did you grow up? Tell me a little about your background.

Chris Jackson: I was born and raised in Saint Albans, West Virginia. It is a small town outside of Charleston in Kanawha County. My father worked as a manager for Walker Machinery, which for the most part dealt with supplying trucks, repairs and other large equipment to the coal industry. My mother, when not at home with my brother and I, worked as a secretary for several firms. I graduated high school in 2001 and took some time off to figure out what the hell I wanted to do. Eventually, I enrolled at a small local college as a business major, switched to biology then transferred to West Virginia University in the journalism school.

Bill Grantham, a seventh-generation farmer at Tudor Hall Farm in Middleway, W.Va., in Jefferson County, at his farm.


DY: When and how did you start taking photographs?

CJ: A lot of people will tell you a story of how they were first introduced to photography by a family member giving them some crappy polaroid or their uncle had an old SLR. For me none of that happened. Photography was born to me out of necessity. I first got into making photographs by wanting to document my friends riding BMX. From this came the need to get out of college and find something that didn’t suck to do for a living. I got on at the school’s newspaper as a photojournalist and that is where I started to develop my love for documentary photography.

Jason Sheets, owner of Sheets Welding & Machine Co. in Hagerstown, Maryland, in his garage in May 2014. Sheets was working on 1958 Harley-Davidson Panhand engine for the 2014 Born-Free Motorcycle Show in California.

05/15/2015 at 12:32pm

Photo via The Atlantic

The Atlantic looks at a group effort in Pottawattamie County, Iowa, to reverse the standard industrial farming model, where both money and product tend to leave the area. The goal is to keep more money in local communities.

The first seeds of this effort were planted around 2005 and 2006 when a handful of longtime farmers formed a group to think through the future of farming in southwest Iowa. Denise O'Brien, owner of Rolling Acres Farm, was among them. (She grows fruits and vegetables on her farm, with 10 acres currently in production.) "We brought everyone together to talk about how much money was going out of our area," she remembers. "What if that money stayed?"

Part of the strategy to keep money in-state was to shift the type of farming that southwest Iowans engaged in from large industrialized farms to smaller operations that grew food that local people could eat. From this initial series of meetings was born the Southwest Iowa Food and Farm Initiative. The group has grown to a roster of more than 50 farmers, O'Brien says, with a smattering of local food-policy councils.

Known as SWIFFI, the group does both education and outreach. It has helped traditional farmers develop their business savvy through workshops and coaching. The nonprofit has set up local farmers' markets and CSAs ("community-supported agriculture" networks) throughout its corner of the state to connect residents to local farmers. For a while, it even identified and mentored aspiring farmers, and trained roughly 50 young people in farming with the hope that they'd remain in rural Iowa.


The Guardian has a fairly depressing piece on landlording trailer parks for fun and profit. Spoiler: It’s mostly about the profit, often at the expense of the mostly poor, mostly rural residents. The story describes a mobile home buying boot camp in Orlando, where attendees learn the ins and outs of park ownership.


A new joint study says the United States needs to pay more attention to rural immigrant populations. Immigrants are helping some rural areas buck the trend of population loss. But rural areas don't always have the services that are critical for helping immigrants succeed and improve local economies. 

Citing traditional immigration gateways like New York City, San Diego, Miami and Chicago, the sociologists observe in an essay published online at Scholars Strategy Network: Population growth in the 2000s is occurring “in many parts of rural America from Alabama to Nebraska [where] growing numbers of Hispanics provide a demographic lifeline to dying small towns.”

But too many rural communities are not prepared – or inclined – to offer critical support services to non-English-speaking, undocumented mothers, the authors say.

Scholars and policymakers have ignored immigrant poverty outside metropolitan areas, the authors tell Strategy Network readers: “Addressing the very real needs of these communities and their burgeoning numbers of poor Hispanic residents is vital for America’s future.”

05/15/2015 at 6:55am

CT Senate Democrats Proponents of a federal GMO labeling law say it would standardize requirements. Opponents say it would take away local control and put consumers in the dark.

Laws requiring the labeling of foods produced from genetically modified crops have been adopted by Vermont and Connecticut and a referendum in Oregon was narrowly defeated. The regulations for the Vermont law have now been released. At present, the Vermont legislation is being challenged in court.

At its February meeting the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) came out in favor of national regulation of GMOs rather than a patchwork of state laws that may impose different sets of requirements on producers and processors of GMO crops. In its February 10, 2015 Policy Statements, NASDA says it should “coordinate and lead work with EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), FDA (Food and Drug Administration), and USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), to prevent an inconsistent patchwork of county/municipal regulations/ordinances that would prohibit, restrict or otherwise regulate plant and/or animal biotechnology.” Such a policy would preempt local and state laws and regulation with federal legislation and regulation.

In addition, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has said that “It’s not going to work to have 50 different state standards.” He believes that such labels would suggest that the foods produced with GMOs are in some way unsafe.

Representative Mike Pompeo of Kansas has introduced The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 (SAFLA). According to Pompeo, the legislation “would establish a federal labeling standard for foods with genetically modified ingredients, giving sole authority to the Food and Drug Administration to require mandatory labeling on such foods if they are ever found to be unsafe or materially different from foods produced without GM ingredients

As he writes, “Under SAFLA, the FDA will conduct a safety review of all new plant varieties used for genetically engineered food before those foods are introduced into commerce. This will ensure that consumers are getting scientific, accurate, and relevant information by allowing the FDA to specify special labeling if it believes it is necessary to protect health and safety. In order to provide even greater transparency, my legislation includes a provision to allow those who wish to label their products as GMO-free to do so through a USDA-accredited certification process.”

05/14/2015 at 6:58am

Author Liberty Hyde Bailey

Rarely does the rural world encounter the likes of Liberty Hyde Bailey, Cornell University’s “Man for All Seasons” who graced us with his presence in the first part of the 20th century.

During the Progressive Era, Bailey stood out as an advocate for rural areas as chair of Theodore Roosevelt’s Country Life Commission. He is noted for his work as a horticulturist, botanist and co-founder of the American Society for Horticultural Science. As if these legacies were not enough, Bailey became an enduring pillar of the ongoing conservation-environmental-sustainability struggle because of his reverence for the Earth.

Bailey was named dean of Cornell’s College of Agriculture in 1903. He was largely responsible for legislation to establish the State College of Agriculture at Ithaca in 1904. He retired in 1913 at age 55, part of his goal of spending 25 years gaining an education, 25 years working in his profession, and 25 years just doing what he wanted to do.

Perhaps his first accomplishment after retirement was publication of The Holy Earth, which is not only a reaction to environmental despoliation caused by industrialization, but a continuation of his early conservation writings — The Nature-Study Idea, 1903, and The Outlook to Nature, 1905.

A century after its publication, The Holy Earth remains an affirmation of Bailey’s deeply held belief that human use of the earth is conditioned on a divinely inspired stewardship that not only considers future generations of people, but denies humans an inalienable right to intentionally harm our fellow creatures. His thinking underpinned what Norwegian philosopher Arne Næss would call “deep ecology” in the early 1970s.

As a conservationist, Bailey (March 15, 1858 – December 25, 1954) struggles with the deepest division of the conservation movement: use versus preservation. As a highly educated scientist, he understands the biology of life, its evolution on Earth, and the place of humans in the middle of the schema, not at the top. As a progressive agriculturalist who is highly critical of practices that abuse the Earth, he is an impassioned believer in the ability of humans, especially farmers, to progress into new ways of farming that work with the land, not against it. As a deeply religious person, he believes that humans, created by God, can become far more caring and perfect in their dealings with the land and its creatures.

05/13/2015 at 4:56am

Figure 1. Broadband-related funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Broadband Technology Opportunity Program (BTOP) portion.

The “digital divide” - the gap in household broadband adoption between rural and urban areas – is an important topic fur rural America.  We have written before that the gap has actually widened over time for the rural elderly and poor.  We have also shown that high broadband adoption rates are associated with economic growth in rural counties.  But, what policies should be put in place to help address this gap? 

The current federal policy prescription is to subsidize infrastructure (i.e., provide fiber / cable lines or wireless service to underserved areas).  In fact, of the $7.2 billion made available for broadband funding during the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), over 90% was focused on providing infrastructure.  Other programs, like Community Connect grants through USDA, also focus almost explicitly on infrastructure. 

However, our new study suggests that although this “supply-side” focus is still important, significantly more attention (and funding) should be given to encouraging broadband adoption in rural areas – particularly in places that already have existing infrastructure.   

We first used Current Population Survey (CPS) data to document that the urban-rural broadband adoption gap was 13 percentage points in 2003 versus 12 percentage points in 2011. In other words, the gap remained almost unchanged even though there was a significant increase in household broadband adoption rates in both urban and rural households between 2003 and 2011.

Figure 2. Household broadband adoption rates by metro / non-metro status, 2003 and 2011. The gap between metropolitan and rural areas changed little over the eight-year period.

The population survey also asked why residents didn't use broadband. Interestingly, “No need” was the #1 response for rural households in both years (with rates over 40%), whereas “not available” represented less than 5% of the responses in 2011.  Note also that the “no need” response has increased over time while the “not available” response has decreased.  This gives some preliminary evidence that it is the demand for broadband (and not supply) that is driving the gap.  However, the National Broadband Map also tells us that rural areas have lower levels of infrastructure available to them – and this may still be contributing to the gap. 

Figure 3. Primary reason for non-adoption of broadband in non-metropolitan households. "No need" was the most frequently cited reason for not using broadband.

05/11/2015 at 10:41pm

Photo via Magnum Guy Carawan and others singing 'We Shall Overcome' at Virginia State University in 1960.

I first met Guy Carawan in the parking lot of Gabe’s Motor Inn in Owensboro, Kentucky. It was 1967; the state and the coal industry were holding a meeting to congratulate themselves on how well Kentucky’s new strip mine law was working.

Around 250 mountain people had made the 300-mile trip from eastern Kentucky to say that strip mining was destroying their land and their homes, but they hadn’t been let into the meeting. Guy was sitting in the middle of the crowd playing his banjo and singing. As I recall, the song was “Stripping on the mountain, flooding in the valley,” and everyone was singing along.

That was pretty typical for Guy. A superlative musician, he could and did give concerts and make records, generally with his wife Candie. But he was more at home singing on a picket line or in a civil rights rally or in someone’s living room, usually someone who lived in a community that was being exploited and was fighting back. Guy had a way of finding such people and of connecting them with others.

If you know one thing about Guy Carawan, it is probably that he was the person who brought “We Shall Overcome” to the Civil Rights Movement and to the world. He didn’t write the song, but he was a critical link in the chain—learning the song, making a few important changes, and teaching it to people.

He lived his life being a critical link in a lot of chains, connecting people to songs, songs to people, people to people, across the Deep South in the Civil Rights Movement and later in the Appalachian coalfields.

He not only sang with people, he recorded them on a bulky Ampex reel-to-reel machine which he lugged to a lot of improbable places. The recordings you may have heard of hundreds of people singing at civil rights rallies were probably Guy’s, as are our recordings of ballad singer May Justus, storytelling moonshiner Hamper McBee, coal miner George Tucker, and the folks at Moving Star Hall in John’s Island, South Carolina, who inspired Guy’s iconic song “Ain’t You Got a Right to the Tree of Life.”

So Guy’s trip to Owensboro was part of a life’s work. Much of that work involved meeting people and connecting them to each other. He invited me to stay with him and Candie where they lived on Marrowbone Creek in Pike County, and a few days later I was sharing a bed with baby Evan and meeting Edith and Jake Easterling, Jink Ray and others who were fighting for justice in their coalfield home.

Guy brought a lot of “outsiders” like me into communities where we could listen and learn. He also brought a lot of people from small, usually rural, communities into a wider circle where they could act as teachers. I have a prized memory of Head Start teachers in the little mountain town of Dungannon, Virginia, delightedly learning Georgia Sea Island children’s games from Bessie Jones. It was part of a tour Guy had set up, another link in a chain. As Sparky Rucker put it, “Guy was a mentor, the sort of mentor who would lead you to other mentors.”

05/10/2015 at 7:24pm

Photo by Karen Fasimpaur The International Seed Library Forum in Tucson, Arizona.

Last week, Tucson was the site of the first International Seed Library Forum, co-sponsored by the Pima County Public Library, the University of Arizona, Native Seeds/SEARCH, Edible Baja, and the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona.

This four-day event brought together experts and practitioners to look at improving access to local seed resources. Attendees included seed librarians from across the country, as well as participants from nine different countries. Themes in the conference included promising practices for seed libraries, food justice, cultural seed stories, educational opportunities, seed policy, and plans. The conference also included a seed swap, a screening of the film “Seeds of Time,” a tamalada celebration of maize diversity, and a field trip to the Native Seeds/SEARCH conservation center.

An important and broad-reaching topic of discussion was climate change and the role agricultural diversity and seed saving play in a world in which the climate is changing rapidly. Cary Fowler, agricultural pioneer and former executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, spoke about this, saying "My big concern is about climate change…Agricultural crops are going to exist in historically unprecedented combinations of circumstances." While in the past, we adapted the circumstances for crops we wanted to grow, through things like irrigation and pesticides, in the future, we will have to adapt the plants themselves, which can only happen through diversity. This will depend on having diverse varieties available. This diversity might come from seed banks, like the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway that Fowler started, as well as from small local seed libraries like those being celebrated at this event. Fowler urged us all to consider conserving heirloom varieties and work on developing tomorrow's heirlooms.