Tuesday, June 30, 2015

06/12/2015 at 7:56am

All photos by Megan King Catrina; Anai sitting for a Catrina face painting in celebration of Day of the Dead. Erwin, Tennessee.

According to a 2012 profile by the University of Tennessee, between 2000 and 2010, the Hispanic population of Tennessee increased by 134%. Today, one in eight new migrants to Tennessee is Hispanic, and one in ten births is to a Hispanic child. Photographer Megan King began her series, Hispanic Appalachia, as an effort to highlight the growing population of Hispanic people living and working in Tennessee. King says she hopes the series will “highlight emerging diversity in this historically conservative region.”

De Pesca; Frank fishing on the Nolichucky River in Greeneville, Tennessee.

Daily Yonder: Where did you grow up? Tell us a little bit about your background.
Megan King: I am from Bristol, Tennessee. I grew up at the base of Holston Mountain surrounded by farmland and knobs, playing in creeks, barns, and fields with my brother and cousins. I lived there until I went to college.

Hot-N-Ready Tamales; traditional, homemade tamales. Johnson City, Tennessee.

DY: You now live in Johnson City, Tennessee.  What brought you there? 
MK: I came to East Tennessee State University to study education. I changed plans after taking a photo class and ended up with degrees in Studio Art and Spanish.

Casa; collectable skulls sitting on a table in Anai's room brought back from trips to Mexico, where she lived for years before moving to the U.S. Erwin, Tennessee.

DY: When did you first start taking pictures?
MK: I do not remember specifically, but I went through several film cameras as a kid. My first was a 110 camera, very similar to the Micro Holga. I recently found a photo I made with that camera and my mother says I was 7 when I made it. I continued in phases to make photos growing up, but it was not until college that I started to take it more seriously. 

Cortando; former neighbor, Jose, mowing his backyard. Johnson City, Tennessee.

DY: Tell us about the Hispanic Appalachia project.  How did it begin and what is its aim?
MK: I began Hispanic Appalachia in undergrad as a project I could work on over a long period of time and bring together as a BFA show.  The aim, for the most part, is enlightenment, to show an important side of Appalachia that is often underrepresented.

06/11/2015 at 6:26am

Photo by Charlie Neibergall/AP Wisconsin Governor and presidential candidtate Scott Walker, left, road to an Iowa campaigning event on Harleys with other GOP hopefuls this weekend.

The first ballots for the 2016 presidential election will be cast in a little more than seven months. That means between now and January there will be a rush of candidates, a winnowing of those who fail to raise money or attention, and, if we are lucky, a philosophical and practical debate about the challenges facing the United States.

In an ideal world that discussion would include American Indian and Alaska Native concerns. But that never happens (unless you read between the lines).

So the Democrats — Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, and the newest entrant, Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee (who once was a “liberal” Republican) — campaign on issues ranging from protecting and expanding voting rights to switching the U.S. to the metric system.

And the Republicans? Well, just listing the candidates is kind of like making sure you get all the names right when reporting about a school play. There are so many, you’re bound to miss someone. But here goes (in order of recent polling by Real Clear Politics): Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Dr. Ben Carson, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Donald Trump, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former Penn. Sen. Rick Santorum, Carly Fiorina, South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham, and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. And that’s only the 15 “major” candidates. So in order to make noise in that large a field some of those would-be presidents rode Harley’s across Iowa this weekend, revving up their engines and their rhetoric. Hardly the right atmosphere for a discussion about tribal sovereignty.

06/10/2015 at 7:53am

While chicken farmers battle it out, corporations rake in the spoils.

Another word for tournament is competition.

That’s why it seems odd that our fully integrated monopolistic poultry industry, made up of a few competition-averse multinational corporations, has adopted a tournament system for their contract growers.

And by the way, corporations don’t apply tournament rules to themselves.

Under the tournament system for contract growers, integrator companies – the huge poultry corporations – set a baseline of performance for contractors – the farmers who actually raise the chickens. Contractors whose chickens get bigger faster receive a bonus that is paid for by deductions from other growers pay.

Healthy competition is good. But this isn’t healthy. That’s because the real competition among contractors is for the esteem of the company. That esteem can mean healthier hatchlings, higher quality feed, more advantageous load out times. And that results in higher scoring in the tournament.

Growers are all required to supply land and build and maintain similar buildings and equipment in accordance with integrator policies. Integrators provide birds and feed, determine timetables for deliveries and pick up, mandate upgrades to facilities that growers must pay for, and hold grower meetings to indoctrinate them in company policy. The company decides who has a contract, and it decides if contractors keep their contract. It sets the performance baseline and is the sole decider of how well each grower did. There are no government standards for the way growers are reimbursed and no government oversight to assure fairness.

And growers never see the data used to score them and their peers.

Integrator corporations say there are enough of them for farmers to switch. The government says so too. But nailed to the ground, farms can’t be moved, and integrators for the most part don’t compete in the same regions.

How can a farmer with fixed assets relocate his business?

06/09/2015 at 9:48am

Jean Ritchie's version of "Shady Grove."

Jean Ritchie, the Appalachian traditional singer who died early this month at the age of 92, found new audiences for rural songs in the nation’s largest cities.

Ms. Ritchie’s story is well known and well documented – by her and others. When she sang her Eastern Kentucky family’s traditional songs to friends and acquaintances in the New York City area, she received their rapt attention. They saw something special and asked for more.

We know Ms. Ritchie valued the songs of Appalachia long before she set foot in New York. And it wasn’t news to her that the region’s songs had deep cultural antecedents and historical significance. But seeing the reaction of city audiences to her music must have strengthened her own sense of the cultural treasures her family and others had taught her.

Not every rural person who moves to an urban area receives such a welcome. But many saw new value in the culture of their homeplaces when they ventured forth to be part of new communities. For me, some of that new perspective on the value of my home region of Eastern Kentucky came from gracious people who were genuinely interested in the place where I was raised. Another part of it came from seeing my own family and region’s cultures in a new light when they were suddenly absent. And I’ll admit that some of that perspective came from “stubbing up” when I felt someone was besmirching my place of origin.

06/08/2015 at 9:24pm

Chart via the USDA

If you ask a room full of rural advocates about their most pressing problems, high on the list you’re likely to find concerns about the number of young people who leave home.

Whether it’s by preference or necessity, rural residents who are aged 20-24 have the highest rate of migration from rural areas, according to this chart from the Economic Research Service.

The rural migration patterns are shown in the blue line, the metropolitan ones in green.

The 20s are a time of relocation for many younger people, not just in rural areas but in urban ones as well. But the net change in migration is more pronounced for rural young people.

That’s the negative side.

The positive side is that in their early 30s, there’s big jump in the net migration in rural areas.

A report from the Economic Research Service of USDA theorizes that this jump comes from people who are just starting to settle down, find a spouse, and raise a family.

And one  reason they are returning is because they consider their home counties to be good places to raise kids:

06/07/2015 at 8:49pm

Photo by Ryan Atkins Synchronous fireflies at Elkmont in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Who needs Jurassic World when you have a front-row, camping-chair seat to thousands and thousands of fireflies blinking at the same time, and in real-life 3-D to boot?

Early every June, thousands of bug-a-philes, nature lovers, and RV campers swarm to the Elkmont viewing area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park in East Tennessee at dusk, flashlights and fold-out chairs in hand, to wait for the sun to dim and the show to begin. My wife and I joined the herd for the first time this year, not expecting the show to truly live up to the hype.

The promise seems ridiculous: Clouds of fireflies, or lighting bugs if you’re so inclined, blinking in sync with each other. So if you are a cynic, pessimist, or advanced-level doubter, like me, you will go in with tempered expectations. To paraphrase a quote often paraphrased by a boss of mine, it’s not the disappointment that gets you, it’s the hope.  

The display’s purpose is instantly recognizable to any who’s been in a bar during last call or currently has an active Tinder account. The males flash first, then wait for the females to respond. Two bright derrières winking in the night. A chance to watch all these fireflies peacock their way to the promised land was too much to pass up.

We were lucky enough to snag the last remaining camping spot at the nearby campground, a five-minute walk to the viewing area. We walked over at a few minutes before 9, just before dark, and the flies (which are actually beetles, but this is not a National Geographic article) were still unlit. Loads of non-camping visitors on National Park trollies passed us on the narrow bridge that delineates the viewing area from the camping area. A park ranger gave us what looked like a red prophylactic that fit snugly over the tip of our flashlight with the hope it’d make the light less intrusive to both bug and sightseer. They did not, however, give us a cover for the emergency strobe light than runs the length of our light. I’d like to apologize to the random travelers who may or may not have temporarily blinded or enraged by my itchy trigger thumb. Mea culpa, new friends.

06/05/2015 at 7:46am

Photo courtesy of Keely Kernan A natural gas pipeline under construction in Doddridge County, West Virginia. 

It was on the banks of the Ohio River that I was reunited with former residents of Tyler County, Annie and John Seay. They were staying in an RV park that had become home to over a dozen transient oil and gas workers.

I first met Annie and John at their home in Lima, West Virginia, which was situated up a hollow surrounded by the vast, rolling mountains that encapsulate West Virginia. They moved here from California with the hope of living off the land and retiring in the quiet countryside.

After spending years investing in their property and building their dream home they found themselves doing the unimaginable -- packing up and leaving West Virginia. Their property had been surrounded by dozens of gas wells and the smell of gas lingered in their hollow. There was no end in sight to the natural gas development that was transforming the rural landscape into an industrial zone.

“There is no respect for rural areas and rural areas are the ones getting attacked,” says Annie. After years coping with all the development, the traffic, and the insecurity of the long term consequences associated with living next to dozens of gas wells, they decided it was time to leave. They left their home in August 2014 and moved into an RV. What they hadn’t sold at auction was packed up and placed in a storage facility until the time they found their new home.

As I walked toward their RV, a large barge of coal slowly drifted down the Ohio River. It had been a few months since the last time I saw Annie and John. The weight of what had just happened and the unknown destination ahead of them was still heavy on their minds. However, their hope remained clear -- to find a new home. Ideally, somewhere this could never happen again.

In recent years West Virginia has had some of the highest rates of depopulation in the country. There are many reasons, such as the lack of employment opportunities and the mechanization and decline of the coal industry.