Friday, December 19, 2014

12/03/2014 at 6:26am

Source: Center for Rural Affairs, based on IRS data Tax-filers who live outside metropolitan areas are more likely to receive an Earned Income Tax Credit. The chart shows the percentage of tax filers who received EITC. It was compiled by the Center for Rural Affairs from 2012 IRS and other federal data. Metropolitan counties are within a metropolitan statistical area (MSA). Small cities or "micropolitan" counties are outside MSAs and have a city of between 10,000 and 49,999 residents. Rural counties are outside MSAs and have no cities larger than 9,999.

A tax credit at the heart of an emerging standoff between Congress and the president is especially important for rural residents, according to a study by a rural advocacy group.

Rural and small-town taxpayers are more likely than metropolitan taxpayers to benefit from the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), according to a report from the Center for Rural Affairs in Lyons, Nebraska.

The credit has become part of a disagreement between Congress and President Obama. Congress is currently working on making permanent some temporary tax breaks for businesses and families. President Obama has said he will veto the measures unless they also permanently extend provisions for the Earned Income Tax Credit.

EITC was created in 1975 and lowers the federal tax burden on low-income families. In the past it has been touted by both Republicans and Democrats for rewarding work, rather than providing welfare payments. The program was expanded in the administrations of both George Bush (1990) and Bill Clinton (1993).

The Center for Rural Affairs looked at Internal Revenue Service data for 2012, the last year for which data was available, the study said.

They found that while only 18.7% of filers in metropolitan areas claimed the Earned Income Tax Credit, 21.4% of rural filers claimed the credit. In “micropolitan” counties (counties that have cities of between 10,000 and 50,000), the rate was also higher, at 21.6%.

12/02/2014 at 10:22am

Photo by Carolyn Van Houten for Al Jazeera America Students at the Vision Education Center in Dillon, S.C.

In the 20 years that poor, rural school districts in South Carolina have been fighting in court to change the state’s funding formulas, those areas have fallen further behind, according to an analysis by McClatchy news service.

Last month the state Supreme Court ruled that South Carolina must overhaul its public education funding to improve standards for poor, rural districts.

The case started 21 years ago. The final ruling affected eight districts.

The McClatchy analysis found that while poverty rates improved in some counties involved in the suit, the poverty gap between those counties and the rest of the state actually widened while the case wound its way through the courts.Seven of the eight counties are “persistently poor,” meaning more than a fifth of the population has lived in poverty for three decades or more.

Students in the affected districts are majority African-American, reports Aljazeera America. The counties lie along the I-95 corridor in the eastern portion of the state, but interior from metro areas such as Myrtle Beach and Charleston.


Another education story, this one from Ohio, claims that rural students have access to fewer AP classes than students in city schools. The Columbus Dispatch has the story:

A first-of-its-kind analysis of high-school courses offered by Ohio districts finds that students living in poorer, more rural areas of the state have access to fewer overall classes, and far fewer high-level courses, than do students living in suburban and urban districts.

The data show that the average rural district has 146 high-school courses, compared with 241 at suburban schools. However, the actual number of courses offered by all districts is smaller because the data list some courses multiple times if they are offered in more than one grade.

This finding may not be news to many readers of the Daily Yonder. Our first story on the topic goes all the way back to 2008 and cites a lack of AP classes as one reason rural students are less likely to enroll in college.


The Housing Assistance Council “Rural Housing Conference” gets underway today in Washington, D.C. Rick Cohen, who will be one of the presenters at the conference, has a preview at Nonprofit Quarterly. 

12/02/2014 at 6:13am

Photo by Rachel Woolworth A truck full of gleaned potatoes in Colorado's San Luis Valley.

After I decided to move to southern Colorado and accept a position as a gleaning/food bank coordinator for the Food Bank Network of the San Luis Valley, family and friends repeatedly asked me one question:

“What in the world is gleaning?”

My family and friends are food conscious and environmentally aware. They are farmers market enthusiasts, community-supported-agriculture supporters, local food devotees. Yet only a few knew what gleaning was. And truth is, before applying for my current position, neither did I.

Gleaning is the collecting of crops from a farmer’s field after he or she has harvested. This could mean going into a field after a harvest machine or agricultural laborers’ speedy work. Or it could even mean harvesting a field that is not economically worth the farmer’s time.

Though gleaning has deep historical and religious roots, today it is primarily practiced by food rescue groups. As food insecurity (and conversely food waste) in the United States remain high, gleaning provides a viable way for food banks to provide produce to clientele while reducing waste.

So, why is this phenomenon not better known? Why is there no place at the table for the term gleaning amid the feast of buzzwords like locavore, food justice, organic, free-range and fair trade that find a way into our headlines and grocery stores?

Gleaning surely deserves such a place setting.

Hunger is a huge problem in the United States. One in six people struggle to maintain a nutritious diet. Within the San Luis Valley, about one in four families use the Food Bank Network.

12/01/2014 at 11:16am

Photo by Toby Talbot/Associated Press Cyber farming has extended to phone applications, like the goCrop app, developed by Heather Darby at the University of Vermont. The software helps farmers with fertilizer application, irrigation and harvesting.

Cyber Monday isn’t only good for shopping. It can be good for reading too.

Like two stories today in the New York Times. One was about climate. And the other was on high-tech farming – cyber-farming.

Obviously climate has been a big deal to farmers ... like ... for always. Here in the Missouri River valley outside of Langdon, the flood of 2011, even the flood of 1993, pointed that out to me. But climate change is about more than flooding and drought. That’s because this year, after a cold and snowy winter, we had 90-plus degree days in the spring followed by 70’s in the summer, all interspersed with freaky frosts and huge storms that didn’t just drop an inch or two of rain at a time, but five.

Here on our weather-challenged farm, we’ve used technology, cyber-farming, for almost 20 years now. We got the first GPS-capable combine in 1997 and did the first site-specific lime application on the home place in 1998. To my knowledge, ours was the first farm in our area to use this technology to apply powdered limestone, which neutralizes solid acidity. And we’ve applied site-specific phosphorous and potassium – mineral nutrients crucial to crop production – and other trace elements for years.

(Site-specific means growing crops on fields according to a plan that maximizes productivity on every acre while minimizing production costs and danger to the environment from over fertilization.)

But as Dad once pointed out to me, most of our bottomland soils are very rich in nutrients, with or without supplemental treatments. Even so, with soil and fertility maps, fertilizers and yield data, much remains a mystery. This year, in spite of late frost, heavy rains, high wind and long dry spells, our plant stands were all good to excellent. Ironically it was gumbo – heavy, black soil not known to be particularly forgiving or rewarding – that seemed to be superior to better soils except where there was too much moisture for too long.

This year we had sudden-death syndrome in soybeans – on the good dirt of all places. Sudden death is unpreventable and untreatable, related to cold, wet soil in June, and doesn’t appear until late in the life cycle of the plant just prior to maturity in August. That appearance probably cost, overall, about 10 bushels per acre in most of our soybean fields. Combine cyber-readings measuring the crop showed it to be a 20- to 25-bushel hit in some spots. At $10 per bushel, cost was upwards of $200 on every acre affected. Wind also played a factor in our soybean yields by laying some plants down flat on the ground, making them difficult to gather.

12/01/2014 at 7:27am

Brady Minow SmithThe Montana field where the wounded deer escaped. “This was not some happy alternate ending to the tale of Bambi's mother.”

My father wounded a deer the other day.

He shot the buck from a hundred yards in the icy slough on the edge of our property. The animal went down hard. My father and his hunting buddy were sure that it was dead or dying. And then the buck tried pulling himself to his feet. His back looked broke. Hooves struck out and slipped. Blood spread on the white ground. In earlier years, my father would have immediately taken another shot to end the terrible scene. But now, my 69-year-old dad wasn't sure he wouldn't just wound the deer again, so he moved quickly on the buck to deliver the killing blow.

Suddenly, the deer was on his feet and gone. Now, this was not some happy alternate ending to the tale of Bambi's mother. The buck did not slip off into the wilderness to wisely nuzzle and warn fawns of orange vests. This was a mortally wounded animal in the Montana cold. My father searched the brush for hours. He wanted to finally give the death he had started. He didn't find the deer. At home, he couldn't stop beating himself up. I told him that he did what he thought was best; that in hunting, split-second decisions can just as easily render regret as venison. He softened and then tore into himself again.

Today, I woke up to a fresh deer heart in the kitchen sink. Early in the morning, my father waited in the brush and saw a huge buck cross through the very clearing he'd shot the other deer. He pulled the trigger and the buck dropped. An instant death.

11/26/2014 at 6:48am

Photo courtesy of Lora Smith The author’s brother in the late 1980s with his father and the results of his first turkey hunt. Hunters in the family in previous generations would go out after Thanksgiving dinner, taking a snack of leftover dressing patties wrapped in wax paper.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Share your favorite Thanksgiving recipes and stories on the Daily Yonder Facebook page.

Last week I had a family recipe for dressing appear in the New York Times. Their interactive feature  “The United States of Thanksgiving” included recipes from all 50 states plus D.C. and Puerto Rico. Our heirloom recipe was, much to my surprise, chosen to represent Kentucky.

I wasn’t the only one surprised, as some readers in Kentucky sounded off about it failing to represent a state rich with culinary diversity.

While I’d never claim that our dressing could speak for all Kentuckians – no one recipe could, a lovely fact –  we’ve been making it for a recorded four generations. It is attributed to my great-grandmother Fannie Meadors Smith. Fannie was born in a tiny community located on the banks of the Cumberland River near Williamsburg, Kentucky, in 1885

My father shared this story about the recipe:

At Thanksgiving time the women would prep huge bowls of the dressing recipe. It’d be ready to last several days, and they’d store it outside on the back porch in the family’s first refrigerator. Papaw Willis and Uncle Junior would leave at daybreak from the back porch and hunt for quail and rabbit on our hill while the women were cooking. I would trail behind them to watch the stray hunting dogs. Afterward, we’d come in, clean up and eat. Then we’d head out to hunt again with leftover dressing as snacks. The dressing was in patty form so it fit in the pockets of our hunting jackets. The women would wrap it in wax paper. They served as nice hand warmers. The Friday, Saturday and Sunday after Thanksgiving, we’d continue hunting, taking the leftover dressing with us and sometimes turkey with fresh biscuits pulled out of the oven that morning.

After Fannie died my grandmother Alma carried on the tradition and taught my mother.  A signature of the dressing is that the cooks press their thumb into the center to serve as an indent for drippings that keep it moist. The fingerprint is the physical touch of a loved one on the meal. The dish now serves to connect the generations of our family across time and to help us remember those no longer with us.

Photo courtesy of Lora Smith Grandmother Alma on her horse, Smokey. Alma learned how to make the dressing from her mother and passed it on to the next generation and beyond.

To adapt the recipe for a national audience, the newspaper made some concessions including cooking the patties in oiled muffin tins for consistency of shape instead of hand patting them. What traditionally would’ve been foraged chestnuts and regional mushrooms like morels were replaced by store-bought varieties. They needed a name and called it “pocket dressing.”

11/25/2014 at 6:40am

A few of the newspapers and websites that ran the Daily Yonder's local reports on food-stamp usage.

The writer of the email was curious.

The editor of the Lincoln County Record in Nevada was delighted to have a local story about food stamp usage.

But why had a national publication like the Daily Yonder written an article just for a Lincoln County, Nevada? What made their county so special, out of the 3,144 in the United States?

It was a fair question.

First, the easy answer: The food-stamp program is news in Lincoln County.

During the Great Recession, the percentage of Lincoln County residents participating in the Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program (SNAP, as it is called) more than doubled. Although the county had a participation rate lower than the Nevada or national averages, the federal program was still providing more than a half-million dollars a year in food aid. In a county of only 5,300 residents, that was a fair amount of money coming into the local economy.

After the congressional dustup about food stamps in the debate over the most recent farm bill, SNAP was certainly something folks were talking about.

But still, why single out one county in Nevada and write a story for that county’s local paper?

The answer was that we hadn’t written just one story. We’d generated thousands of different local stories – complete with local leads, data and charts – for most rural counties in the United States. And we had sent the stories to nearly every editor we could find who served a rural community.

By the end of the email exchange, the editor in the small Nevada county probably didn’t feel quite as special for getting individualized attention from the Daily Yonder’s research and editorial contributors. But the Lincoln County Record still had a story that was news for its community.

Using data to generate stories is nothing new for the Daily Yonder. Bill Bishop, one of our founding editors, started that focus more than seven years ago when he and Julie Ardery launched the Daily Yonder.

Our national stories that look at broad trends in rural America – like the difference in urban and rural unemployment rates – help inform the national debate about the future of rural America.

But a critical piece of the discussion about rural America isn’t occurring in national or regional media, or even in specialized national websites like the Daily Yonder. It’s happening in community newspapers and at small radio stations. And that’s where the Yonder wants to be.

After all, locally focused journalists are the ones who continue to serve the interests of rural residents, while big dailies and television stations have pulled their reporters back to their metropolitan hubs.