Tuesday, September 2, 2014

08/18/2014 at 1:50pm

Photo by Kelly Hertz/Yankton Press & Dakotan The number of volunteer firefighters is declining nationally.

Volunteer firefighters are disappearing in America, according to the New York Times. This could spell trouble for small towns, especially those whose work-age resdients are moving to cities, leaving behind an aging community that relies of the emergency services firefighters provide.

The number of people working as volunteer firefighters has shrunk by 11% since the 1980s while fulltime positions have grown by 50%. The rise of the two-income household, which makes it harder to drop everything and run to an emergency, and the number of on-duty hours spent fundraising (loathed by many firefighters) are thought to be top reasons why fewer folks are volunteering.                

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About 70 residents in Rockport, Maine, will have a public option for faster Internet soon, as the city has installed more than a mile of fiber-optic cable in hopes of luring new businesses to the area and helping the ones already there. 

“The old model of economic development was businesses needed water, sewer and natural gas,” said Rick Bates, Rockport’s town manager. “That model has gone away. We’re hoping we can bring in those new, young entrepreneurs who are all about place first and then connectivity.”

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Food & Water Watch’s senior representative, Brother Dave Andrews, is retiring.

Food & Water WatchBrother Dave Andrews

Andrews served Food & Water Watch for six years as part of the organization’s outreach to the interfaith community and other constituencies. He’s worked in food and water programs for more than 40 years, according to an announcement from the nonprofit that advocates for healthier food and safer water.

“Brother Dave has been a remarkable ambassador for the critical issues that affect billions of people around the world,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “Dave will be sorely missed at Food & Water Watch. We deeply appreciate his legacy—from his years of policy work to all of the relationships he’s built through the years. All of us who have been privileged to work with Dave over the past few years are committed to carrying on his work and upholding his commitment to food justice and sustainable food systems. In recognition of all of his fine work, we are establishing the Dave Andrews Food Policy Fellowship.”

Andrews' previous appointments included serving as executive director of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference.

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The town of Montezuma, Montana, population 65, is suing every one of its voters in an attempt to settle claims of voter fraud in last year’s mayoral and town-board elections. At the heart of the lawsuits are non-resident voters, those who own second homes in Montezuma and cannot legally vote. Suspicions were raised when 12 people ran for mayor, a job that has, at times, been settled by drawing straws.

08/18/2014 at 7:21am

Photo by four4dots Meeting in the middle still requires at least one party to yield.

Driving down the middle of the road is a common practice in rural areas, where back roads are marked mostly by two bare tracks. Meeting requires that passing cars yield by splitting the track.

I remember once a long time ago when passing neighbors crunched bumpers on a gravel road. The law was called to establish liability for the crash.  When a deputy arrived, he surveyed the scene. Determined no one was hurt. No blows were struck.

That was that.

As he got back into his prowl car he told the drivers: “There is no center line on a country road. Figure it out for yourselves.” 

And back to town he went.

When it comes to country roads, farming or neighbors, it’s always better if everyone gives a little. And really, that’s the way it is most of the time. But big-boy politics combined with corporate money always seem to want their half from the middle and both sides.

Right-to-farm amendments are all the craze these days in conservative farm states as Big Ag hogs the road. That’s what happened during the Missouri August primary when Amendment 1 was decided by about 25% of registered state voters. Proponents called it things like “a big thumbs up for agriculture” or “another tool in the toolbox of agriculture.”

Amendment One backers told the world that agriculture in Missouri is under attack by animal welfare groups, nuisance lawsuits where manure spills and odors are courtroom fodder, and environmentalists led by the EPA who want to turn Missouri into a parking lot for environmental laws and regulations that make food and energy production impossible.

08/15/2014 at 2:30pm

Photo via Hank Hardisty Farmers prepare to pluck a recently beheaded chicken in 1950. Compare this to the images in Modern Farmer's photo spread on chicken slaughtering.

Shawn Poynter is not alone in his confusion about this monstrosity of a performance. (It’s a bunch of urban hipster “ladies” from Portland dressing up like fantasy pinup fifties farmwives to kill chickens. Seriously.) Visceral reactions have abounded on the internet, but so far I haven’t read any commentary that gets to the heart of why I think it’s disgusting.

I see a lot of people saying, like Shawn, “I think it’s really gross, but I just can’t decide why.” Perhaps that’s because there’s a lot there to be distracted by. There’s the weird, weird juxtaposition of lipsticked plastic barbiedoll smiles and freshly-dead chickens. Is it the disrespect for chicken life? Well, could be, but that’s kind of a surface absurdity for me.

Then there’s the cartoon-style 1950s gender dynamic. Is it the power imbalance between the male farmers and the helpless “ladies”? For me, that just merits a sigh and an eyeroll—how uncreative of them. Of course, there's the porno feel of the whole thing. Is it the sexualization of, well, all of it? Eh, people like to make porno out of everything, why not this?

No, for me, the problem with this whole thing goes beyond all that. The problem is that these ladies are performing in ruralface. Yes, ruralface.

Thought experiment: imagine them in blackface, performing chicken-slaughter on the old plantation, rather than down on the farm. Right. It’d be gross.

08/15/2014 at 7:05am

Photo by Baron Sekiya for The New York Times A tropical storm recently blocked roads -- and access to voting booths -- on the east side of Hawaii's Big Island.  

A handful of voters on Hawaii’s Big Island could decide the winner in the state’s U.S. Senate primary, calling special attention to the needs of rural communities that normally receive scant political notice, the New York Times reports.

A tropical storm blocked access to two polling places on Election Day earlier this week for residents around Puna, located on the east side of the island of Hawaii. The 7,000 voters affected by the closures will be allowed to vote in special polling today (Friday).

With just 1,600 votes separating incumbent Senator Brian Schatz from challenger Colleen Hanabus in the Democratic primary, it’s possible that these rural voters could determine the winner.

Both candidates descended on Puna earlier this week, helping with storm-relief efforts and making the Senate race look more like a county commissioner’s election.

It’s a big switch for residents in a “hard-to-reach paradise,” reports Ian Lovett.

“It’s awesome — our moment in the sun,” said Elizabeth Robertson, a 60-year-old retiree who had gone to a community center in search of ice after it had sold out in minutes at the local stores. “Maybe it will help bring attention to how hard it is here, and get us a few more bits and pieces of services. A lot of us feel like we’re living in a third-world country, we really do.”

But the sudden focus on Puna has also highlighted the divide in Hawaii between the high-rises of Honolulu and the poorer, rural districts like this one on the outer islands, where residents have long felt neglected by the state’s politicians.

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Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett joined 18 other state politicians this week in calling for an end to the television show “Amish Mafia.”

Corbett signed a statement that called the show a “bigoted portrayal” of the religious sect and shows the Amish of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, as a “crime-ridden culture.”

The Discovery Channel program purports to be a reality show that follows Amish men who “enforce law and order within the community,” the AP reports. But “questions have persisted about its veracity.”

08/14/2014 at 3:57pm

Photo via Marion Acres Women carry a basket of chickens during a "Ladies’ Chicken Harvest" at Marion Acres farm.

Modern Farmer, a stylish magazine that blends foodie and ag-related content aimed at a younger audience, stepped in a bit of chicken mess this week with an article about a group of ladies who dressed in pin-up costumes to slaughter chickens.

The event was an annual “Ladies’ Chicken Harvest” day at a Portland, Oregon, area farm that sells (and this may surprise you, based on the farm’s location – please excuse the sarcasm) pasture-raised chickens that have foraged on “green grass, dandelions, clover and bugs.” The idea is to give the farm’s customers a fun introduction to the process of getting a chicken from the pasture to the table, an admirable mission.

Much like a majority of commentators on the article, my first reaction to the piece was negative and fierce.

But why? What about the story, or myself, made me cringe so hard?

Certainly, if I was looking for reasons to dislike the article, there was plenty of fodder in the comments. For starters, many folks expressed a vague discomfort with the scene:

-I can't put my finger on why, but I absolutely hate this for some reason. And yes, I read the article and found it all a bit too twee for my taste.

- Feels a little creepy that they are doing it with a smile on their face.

- Slaughtering chickens is not a hipster photo op. Shame!

08/13/2014 at 10:58am

Photo by Lili Holzer-Glier for The New York Times Men remove rocks from a field at Ro-Jo Farms in Bethany, Connecticut.

An op-ed in the New York Times looks at the challenges, which are considerable, of running a small, family-owned farm and calls for farmers to organize and take charge of their future instead of relying on the whims of "foodies."

The food movement — led by celebrity chefs, advocacy journalists, students and NGOs — is missing, ironically, the perspective of the people doing the actual work of growing food. Their platform has been largely based on how to provide good, healthy food, while it has ignored the core economic inequities and contradictions embedded in our food system…..It’s not the food movement’s fault that we’ve been left behind. It has turned food into one of the defining issues of our generation. But now it’s time for farmers to shape our own agenda.

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Missouri voters narrowly supported a “right to farm” constitutional amendment last week, passing the measure by about 2,500 votes out of the 995,000 that were cast – a margin of about 0.2%.

A rural vote in favor of the amendment led to its passage, the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported.

“The measure was strongly supported in rural counties, many of which approved it by a three-to-one margin,” the paper reported. “Majorities in all of the state's larger counties opposed the amendment, with the City of St. Louis leading the way with a 73.5 percent ‘no’ vote, according to unofficial returns.”

Because the vote was so close, a recount is guaranteed if one side requests it. Any recount will require waiting about three weeks for the vote to be certified.

Proponents of the measure said the amendment will protect farmers from infringement by groups supporting animal rights and opposed to genetically modified crops.

Opponents of the amendment said that the measure will encourage foreign ownership of Missouri farms and that farmers’ rights were already guaranteed under existing legislation.

Both sides said outside interests were a factor in the vote. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch says pro-amendment forces spent more than $1 million on their campaign, including a last-minute ad-buy of $230,000. The paper did not report spending by opponents of the amendment.

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The Los Angeles Times reports on a fracking study that raises concerns over how the practice could affect drinking water.

Energy companies are fracking for oil and gas at far shallower depths than widely believed, sometimes through underground sources of drinking water, according to research released Tuesday by Stanford University scientists.

The study hasn’t found actual contamination, but the shallow depths at which some companies are fracking is troublesome, the study says. 

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Proposed mergers in the cable and satellite-TV business have viewers of the cable channel RFD-TV worried.

“About half of the thousands of letters the FCC has received about Comcast's proposed takeover of Time Warner Cable and AT&T's planned acquisition of DirecTV have come from viewers who want their RFD-TV,” reports FierceCable.Com.

The viewers are worried that a merger between bigger companies will squeeze out a channel that focuses on things they want to watch, like Classic Tractor Feverand All-American Cowgirl Chicks. It's not the sort of programming that draws big audiences in urban and suburban markets, and that's the concern: those markets are where big companies like Comcast and AT&T put their major focus.

"Quite frankly there are no other TV stations out there that carry the programming that RFD carries," Carl Saveley, an attorney from Sparks, Nev., said in a Wall Street Journal story. "If the big city boys decide to drop them, as some have already done, that programming is gone."

08/12/2014 at 12:36pm

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images Courtney Barthelemy leaves her house to attend South Plaquemines High School's graduation in Empire, Louisiana.

Common assumptions about rural brain drain may be incorrect, according to research published in the American Educational Research Journal.

The study, conducted by researchers Robert Petrin, Kai Schafft and Judith Meece, reveals that high-achieving high school students are not necessarily more likely to leave a rural community than students who aren’t as interested in academics. And of those students who do leave, high-achievers are more likely to indicate a desire to return.

This desire to return home is linked to high-achievers’ stronger feelings of community engagement and connection.

Local economic conditions and students’ perceptions of future employment opportunities are the largest factors influencing the decision to stay or leave, the study showed.

The study also found little evidence for the assertion that teachers and school administrators contribute to brain drain by “grooming” their best students to leave. The study showed that these interactions do not have a significant impact on the students’ decisions to stay or leave.

“Stayers” and “Leavers”

The researchers used “educational sorting,” a research technique popularized by Patrick Carr and Patricia Kefalas in Hollowing Out the Middle: Rural Brain Drain and What It Means for Rural America. Each student was placed in a subcategory based on academic achievement and residential aspirations, allowing the researchers to survey and analyze each “type” of student.

The rural high school students were categorized into four groups. “Achievers” and “nonacademics”  designations were made based on academic performance and community involvement. These groups were asked about their residential aspirations after graduation, creating the “stayers” and the “leavers” categories. From these two divisions, four groups were created: “achiever stayers,” “achiever leavers,” “nonacademic stayers” and “nonacademic leavers.”