Tuesday, May 5, 2015

04/16/2015 at 8:04am

Photo by Pierre Gonnord A miner in Asturias, Spain.

In Europe, as in America, one could argue, coal is in a slow and agonizing decline. The number of Spanish mines has fallen by three quarters in the past 25 years, 160 to 40 now, and the loss of workers is even worse. Now, due to a recent European Union agreement, mining subsidies, which used to support the industry, will end by 2018.

French photographer Pierre Gonnord has been documenting these miners for the past six years.

The men look as if they have been standing too close to a bomb detonation. Their faces are caked in toxic dust and dried sweat, the whiteness of their eyes accentuated by coal eyeliner. Their expressions combine pride, melancholy and bewilderment. In their poses and demeanors, taken together with Gonnord’s palette — dominated by olives, blacks and grays — the photographs recall Diego de Silva y Velázquez’s dreamy, disconcertingly lifelike oil portraits. But Velázquez painted members of Madrid’s royal court. The miners, upon reaching Madrid, were welcomed by riot police, rubber bullets and tear gas.


A Minnesota House Energy and Economic Development bill aims to spur satellite and wireless Internet growth and claims that wiring small communities is too expensive. Critics say the bill could hurt rural broadband expansion in the state. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington), sees it as a way forward.

“The migration of technology is toward wireless and satellite deployments, and you can get far more coverage at a lower price by using wireless instead of fixed fiber,” Garofalo said. “We’ll see where the technology takes us, but it’s pretty clear that around the world even high density areas are using wireless because the infrastructure costs are so much cheaper.”

The governor’s office and rural advocates see it differently.

“In its first year alone, [the rural interest lobbying group Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities] has partnered with private providers and local governments to expand broadband access to thousands of households, 150 businesses, and 83 libraries, town halls, schools, and other community institutions in greater Minnesota,” Lt. Gov. Tina Smith said. “Access to high-speed, affordable broadband Internet is not just nice; it is necessary.”

Dayton and the DFL-controlled Legislature committed $20 million to rural broadband in the current budget cycle. A task force recommended $200 million to fund the initiative.


Working from the thesis that mid-size farms allow small communities to thrive, raising incomes and lowering unemployment, Grist.com has started a series called Farm Size Matters that looks at farm sizes in America and why it’s important.

So, why does farm size matter? As the total number of farms goes down, the number of big farms is going up — and this shift hurts rural America. According to an analysis by Food and Water Watch: “Communities with more medium- and smaller-sized farms have more shared prosperity, including higher incomes, lower unemployment, and lower income inequality, than communities with larger farms tied to often-distant agribusinesses.”

04/14/2015 at 9:40pm

All Photos by Ryan Dorgan Branding cattle Monday, May 5, 2014, at the Eagle Ridge Ranch outside Casper, Wyoming.

Daily Yonder: Where did you grow up? Tell us a little bit about your background.
Ryan Dorgan: I was born in South Bend, Ind., and grew up in a little town northeast of there called Granger, which is a stone's throw from the Michigan state line. It was a farming town back in the day, but has slowly been bought up and sold off to developers. I had a nice suburban childhood - we were far enough out in the county to enjoy quiet nights but close enough that the city eventually made its way back to us. My parents now have apartments and a shopping center practically in their backyard where the forests and fields I used to run around in as a kid once were. There's still a little patch of woods behind our house that I appreciate even more now when I visit home, though it's tougher to see as many stars these days.

Gunnar Gordon, 4. White River Junction, Vtermont.

DY: When did you first start taking pictures?
RD: I spent my first few years at Indiana University switching majors and having absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but one day, a package showed up on my doorstep. My grandma had sent me my late grandpa's old Olympus OM-2n 35mm camera and I took my first intro photo class the spring semester of my sophomore year. I took mom's advice and got a job at the school newspaper that following summer and started studies in the School of Journalism my senior year. It was a late start, but it came at the right time.

Chris teaches Xavier to shoot. Natrona County, Wyoming.

DY: You now live in Casper, Wyoming.  What brought you there?
RD: The American West has been this romanticized fascination of mine which all started with a family road trip when I was 10 years old. I remember seeing the Front Range coming into Denver for the first time on our way up into Leadville, and it was everything I'd ever wanted having grown up outside South Bend where the landscape experience was completely man-made and controlled. I spent my first 18 years in this totally strange and uninspiring environment that was a mix of endless cornfields, endless strip malls and endless cookie-cutter residential developments. What that little patch of forest behind my parents' house was to me as a kid, the West is to me as an adult. It was a place to escape from the rush and to be alone and to think and to explore, and that's what I've enjoyed since moving to Casper a little more than a year ago for this newspaper job. When my former photojournalism professor Jim Kelly emailed me to tell me about the job opening here, I looked up Casper, saw there was a mountain 10 minutes south of town, and had my mind made up immediately. That was all I really needed to know. So I can't thank Jim and my editor Alan Rogers enough for taking a chance on me and giving me this opportunity to live and work in a part of the world that finally feels like home after 15 years of dreaming about it.

04/14/2015 at 4:16am

Source: Bill Bishop based on Bureau of Labor Statistics data Click the map to explore county-level jobs data.

For most of the last year, the number of jobs in rural America kept increasing.

That trend turned around in January, however. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that rural counties lost over 330,000 jobs between January 2014 and January of this year.

Rural counties had been showing steady economic improvement over the last year or more. All of our year-to-year reports for 2014 showed rural counties making job gains.

For example, from February 2013 to February 2014, rural counties gained 140,000 jobs. (Comparing the same month from two different years takes out any seasonal impact that may be affecting job growth.)

From October 2013 to October 2014, those counties had a gain of 428,000 jobs.

November 2013 to 2014 showed similar gains.

When we checked again in January, however, the year-to-year gains in jobs had stopped. And job losses had begun.

Rural counties had 331,000 fewer jobs this January than in January of 2014.

Metropolitan counties, meanwhile, gained more than 3.1 million jobs.

The map above shows job losses and gains by county between January 2015 and January 2014.

Urban counties that gained jobs are in blue. Urban counties that lost jobs are colored orange.

Rural counties that gained jobs are green. Rural counties that lost jobs between January 2014 and January this year are red.

Click on the map to make it interactive. Then, if you click on a county, you can get all the relevant employment information, including the number of jobs now, the number of jobs lost or gained and the unemployment rate for January 2015.

04/13/2015 at 7:11am

Photo courtesy of Rachel Reynolds Luster Rachel Reynolds Luster, working in the one-room Myrtle Library in Myrtle, Missouri.

Name: Rachel Reynolds Luster
Where I Live: Couch, Missouri
Why I Live Here: I live here because I care about this place, and it cares about me.


Daily Yonder: Tell us a little bit about yourself- who you are, how you spend your time.
Rachel Reynolds Luster: I’m a folklorist, librarian, fiddler and community organizer living in the Missouri Ozarks. A lot of my time is devoted to organizing food producers and artisans in my home county. I also run a one-room rural library and play music every chance I get. I live with my family on a small farm and a good deal of time is spent there too, puttering in the garden or doing other projects.

DY: Tell us about where you live in the Ozarks.
RRL: I live in Couch, Missouri, a small, unincorporated village in Oregon County. We are in the Ozark Mountains right on the Arkansas/Missouri line. I like to call it the MOzarks. The county is geographically large and sparsely populated with a large chunk of the land being held in National Forest. Our land here is a karst topography, built on a thin layer of dirt over a series of caves. Our farm is between two watersheds, the Spring River and the Eleven Point. It’s beautiful here. The land and water is virtually unpolluted and, while it’s difficult to scratch out a good living in all this clay, it’s a worthwhile venture, one that folks have been devoted to doing for generations.

DY: How did you come to live where you do?  How long have you lived there, and how long do you plan to stay?
RRL: I grew up in the Arkansas Ozarks, so this cultural landscape and way of life is familiar. I had taken a job in a neighboring county working for a local arts council doing folklife work, part of which was to do field work in five counties, including Oregon County. My soon-to-be husband had just taken a position across the line in Arkansas as the Director of the Arkansas Folklife Program. I had to be in West Plains twice a week for meetings, and he had to be in Jonesboro once a week for meetings. The rest of our work was pretty much done on the road or out of the house.  Given that mathematical equation, Couch was pretty much the middle for us. We started looking. We had called about a little white farmhouse we’d seen on a flyer in the window of a shop in town. The agent said she couldn’t show it to us till Monday, but we asked for directions anyway. We went for a drive. It had just rained, and there’s this special Oregon County lighting that happens after a rain. It’s beautiful. It makes everything look like a painting of Tuscany. When we got to the place, the sky had opened up and there was a rainbow shining down on this little farmhouse. It was pretty much meant to be. We’ve been here going on 10 years. I have a lot invested in this community, and the community has invested a lot in me and my ideas. I have to say, I’ve never been in a place that felt more like home, and that was BEFORE my mom moved down the road. I can see living here for the rest of my days.

04/10/2015 at 11:44am

Photo by Alana Semuels Downtown Whitesburg, Kentucky.

The Atlantic reports on the growing trend of young people moving back to Appalachia in an effort to revive their hometowns. The writer, Alana Semuels, leads off with her visit to Whitesburg, Kentucky (home of the Center for Rural Strategies, publisher of the Daily Yonder).

But in the last few years, in places across eastern Kentucky and especially in Whitesburg, young people have started returning. A record store co-op recently opened in town and holds events with musicians. A new tattoo parlor—started by a local man who returned from living in Louisville—draws people from across state lines and even other countries. When the city voted to allow restaurants to serve alcohol in 2007, two new bars opened. Three years ago, voters decided to let stores sell alcohol too. Last fall, the city council narrowly approved a permit for a moonshine distillery that's going to open in a historical building in Whitesburg's downtown.

 “I knew I wanted to be in Whitesburg,” John Haywood, who owns the tattoo parlor, told me in his colorful basement shop decorated with his own artwork on the walls, which he opened four years ago. “There was what was to me a real grassroots movement here, still very early in its infancy, of just a lot of individual people trying to make stuff happen.”


The Washington Post tells a similar tale, but about small county in southwest Virginia. Pulaski County is seeing a relative influx of entrepreneurs creating businesses and renovating old buildings in the process. New business-wise, the county has been on a roll lately: A stamping and welding company, a farmers market, and a restored mercantile that is home to a restaurant, bakery, and bike shop. As with anywhere, though, there are still things the area is missing.

But Mayor Jeff Worrell is aware of the needs. Nothing is more embarrassing for a mayor courting new industries than sending visitors several miles up the road so they can stay in a proper hotel. Everywhere he goes, he gets an earful: Pulaski needs more restaurants. Pulaski needs more stores. “My answer is always the same,” he says. “We need people.”


Even though California is in the fourth year of its historic draught, the state still provides over half of the nation’s produce. Some experts are worried about the solutions farmers have come up with to find water for their farms.

But the way that California farmers have pulled off that feat is a case study in the unwise use of natural resources, many experts say. Farmers are drilling wells at a feverish pace and pumping billions of gallons of water from the ground, depleting a resource that was critically endangered even before the drought… began.

In some places, water tables have dropped 50 feet or more in just a few years. With less underground water to buoy it, the land surface is sinking as much as a foot a year in spots, causing roads to buckle and bridges to crack. Shallow wells have run dry, depriving several poor communities of water.

Scientists say some of the underground water-storing formations so critical to California’s future — typically, saturated layers of sand or clay — are being permanently damaged by the excess pumping, and will never again store as much water as farmers are pulling out.

04/10/2015 at 10:25am

A word of warning.

My philosophy of life can be narrowed down to six words: “I don’t look at road kill.”

I know — it’s not much of a stand to take.

It makes me sound like a darn fool.

And the preacher won’t mention it at my funeral.

But it’s a big deal in our household, because my lovely wife is a road kill watcher.

We’ll be driving along the highway and she will scream, “Ewww, did you see that?”

I immediately hit the brakes, thinking an 18-wheeler is barreling toward us.

 “Wha-wha-what?” I respond.

 “Didn’t you see that dead cat?” she will ask. “It was flat as a pancake, oozing all over the highway.”

04/09/2015 at 6:47am

Photo courtesy of Karen Fasimpaur A machine digs a trench for a 500-foot-long line to connect the author's home to the telephone network. The line also carries an Internet connection via DSL -- a service not many of the authori's neighbors have access to.

When I moved from Los Angeles to a very rural homesite on the Arizona-New Mexico border, I knew I’d be making some trade-offs, especially as it related to telecommunications. In LA, I was accustomed to high bandwidth and instant access to services, which was important to my work in educational technology and online community building.

Where I was moving, I knew that there was no cellular service for about 50 miles and wasn’t sure what kind of Internet service I’d have available. I knew that most pieces of land in my area had only dial-up or satellite Internet available. While I wasn’t sure that would be feasible for my work, I took a leap of faith and hoped things would work out.

Imagine my delight when the property I fell in love with just happened to be one of the few that had digital subscriber line (DSL) as an option. This type of service delivers Internet over conventional phone lines, and its availability has to do with how far you are from a central switching location. 

So the first step was to get a copper phone line run from the closest phone box, which was out on the dirt road about 500 feet from our homesite, to the house. While running electrical power lines to the house proved cost prohibitive and resulted in opting for solar instead, the phone lines were much easier.

I learned that there are federal standards that classify telephones as a Title II service and assign carriers of last resort, which are required to provide telephone service to any customer that requests it. (Unfortunately, over 20 states have deregulated telephone service, removing requirements for common carriers Title II regulation. This has resulted in public safety and equity challenges in these states, especially for rural areas.

Our local telephone and Internet provider is a small cooperative, which provides services to about 7,000 rural and remote customers in southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico. I’d had no prior experience with rural co-ops (or any rural business models, for that matter), and over time, I have found myself both loving and hating the quirks of the service provided.

The first experience of getting a trench dug and line laid was great. It was ridiculously cheap and very easy to achieve. That was the first step. Other tasks like getting my company’s toll free 800 number moved from our old location in L.A. to our new home or getting call forwarding to work proved to be much more difficult. In many cases, I wondered if I was the only person trying to run a business from here.

The quality of our Internet service is….well, uneven. I hesitate to complain, because I feel lucky to have DSL, which is much better than dial-up or satellite, however, it is NOT “blazing fast” or what is classified as “high speed broadband,” regardless of how it is advertised.

The FCC’s recently updated definition of  “broadband” as 25 megabits per second (Mbps) for downloads and up to 3 Mbps for uploads. They also say that 55 million Americans, including over half of rural people, lack access to this. I am one of those people.