Monday, March 30, 2015

03/13/2015 at 11:05am

EDITOR’S NOTE: Daily Yonder correspondent Dale Mackey and visual editor Shawn Poynter have been at the YouthBuild Rural Caucus and Conference of Young Leaders this week in Washington, D.C.  Dale produced these videos with photos that Shawn shot.

On the first day of the Rural Caucus, I watched 21 young people shyly greet each other and make tentative small talk.  Over the next two days, they shared stories about themselves and their communities, discussed how they could become rural leaders, and formed bonds that carried through as 93 other mostly urban students joined them as the Caucus concluded and rolled into YouthBuild’s annual Conference of Young Leaders.  Rather than tell their stories for them, I wanted to let them talk about themselves in their own words.  I asked three pairs of these rural ambassadors to interview each other about their lives and their experiences.



Sharell and Corey

During one session, Sharell Harmon, who lives in Elkins, West Virginia, discussed what it was like being one of the few African Americans living in her town.  She looked across the table at Corey Perkins from McArthur, Ohio, who was wearing a hunting cap and heavy jacket.  “Before, if I saw someone wearing a hunting cap and a hunting jacket, I would think we wouldn’t have anything in common.  But once I started talking to people, I realized we had a lot in common,” Sharell said.  Sharell and Corey discuss similar struggles their towns face and what it’s like meeting such a diverse group of people.

03/12/2015 at 11:05pm
Daily Yonder based on data from from JAMA PediatricsThe suicide rate for males aged 10 to 24 years is on the rise in the smallest rural counties (top line, blue). But the rate for the most urban areas (1 million residents and up) is declining (bottom red line). A margin of error could affect individual years (the confidence interval is 95%), but the trend lines are consistent. Also, the vertical axis starts at 10, not zero. This separates the lines for clarity but exaggerates the slope of the lines. Click the chart to enlarge it.
Researchers have known for years that rural residents are more likely to commit suicide than urban residents.

A new study examines this trend for young people aged 10 to 24 years.

Besides confirming that rural areas have higher suicide rates, the new study shows that gap is getting wider.

NPR and The Atlantic have done some good reporting on the study, which was published in the Journal of American Medical Association Pediatrics (though we could have lived without the dystopic art choices those news outlets made).

To this discussion, we’ll add one chart generated from data in the study. (And, obviously, our rather crude graphic art suffers from its own brand of dystopia.)

The various lines represent the suicide rates per 100,000 residents for eight categories of counties, sorted from most rural to the most urban for males, aged 10 to 24.

The blue line at the very top of the graph shows the suicide rate over the past 14 years for counties at the extreme rural end of the continuum (counties with fewer than 2,500 residents living in Census-defined urban areas).

During the period of the study, not only did these very rural counties have a higher suicide rate for 10- to 24-year-old males, the rate increased by nearly a point, from 18.98 per 100,000 residents to 19.93 per 100,000.

Conversely, the red line at the bottom of the graph shows the change in suicide rates for the largest urban areas – metro areas of 1 million residents and up. In those counties, the suicide rate dropped by about a point and a half – from 11.95 in 1996-98 to 10.31 in 2008-2010. Again, those represent suicides per 100,000 residents.

One line that sticks out is that of group 5. It's the purple line with X's that slopes upward in the middle of the chart. That line represents the male suicide rate in counties that have an urban population of 20,000 or more but are not metropolitan and are not adjacent to a metropolitan area. In those counties, the suicide rate climbed 2.5 points, or nearly 19% for the study period. That's the highest increase out of all the different county groupings.

03/11/2015 at 8:53pm

Megan Dodson, left, and sister Rachel Davis, hosts of Sweet Ila Mae's Barn Sale


Names: Rachel Davis and Megan Dodson

Where we live: Quebeck, Tennessee

Why we live here: Quebeck is where we were born and raised and truly where our hearts belong. 


Daily Yonder: Tell us a little bit about yourselves: who you are, how you spend your time. 

Rachel Davis: I am a wife and mommy to a precious little girl, who is my greatest treasure. I am a first grade teacher and host of Sweet Ila Mae's barn sale. I enjoy traveling with my family and practicing yoga. But most of all, I'm happiest spending long, summer days in the garden.

Megan Dodson: I am a wife and mommy to two sweet little girls, a clothing boutique owner, and a host of Sweet Ila Mae's barn sale. I love spending time with my little family in our country home.


DY: Where do you live?

RD: We live at the end of a long dirt road in a little cottage. We are surrounded by farmland, trees, livestock, and open spaces. The kind of place where you go to bed with the sound of crickets chirping and wake up with roosters crowing.

MD: You remember those walks down an old gravel road to your grandparents when you spent your days playing outside by the old oak tree, drinking hot chocolate and coke floats and roasting marshmallows and catching lightening bugs at night? Well, that’s the place I live! I am so grateful to wake up in the home my grandparents built, the house I made so many memories in. I wake up and look at Pa's old fence he built for Granny in the back yard and the farm they worked hard to have all around me.


DY: How did you come to live where you do? How long have you lived there, and how long do you plan to stay?

RD: I have lived at The Mae Place for seven years. My dad inherited the land from his family several years ago. After he retired, he began farming here. He is the most talented man I know. He designed and built the little cottage where we live. There's so much sentiment behind our precious home, I don't plan to ever leave.

MD: Both my grandparents passed away before I graduated high school. A short time after I graduated I moved in and have no plans of leaving. I have lived here for 10 years, but really it’s been my whole life.


The annual Sweet Ila Mae's Barn Sale is held in Quebeck, Tennessee

DY: Why did you choose to live here? What are the benefits?

RD: I have always lived in the country. It really is the only way of life I know. There's something very special about family land that has been passed down for generations.

MD: I feel like I am caring on my grandparents wish. I think they would have wanted one of their four granddaughters to make it their own and fill it full of kids, good cooking and lots of love and laughter.


03/11/2015 at 9:16am

Photo by Richard OswaldA crop insurance agent explains features of the new farm bill to farmers at a meeting in St. Joseph, Missouri, on March 5.New crop corn futures are struggling at $4 per bushel while corn farmers this year will spend more than that just to grow it. At the legally mandated support price of $3.70, this year’s farm bill only guarantees farmers a loss.

As a result, confusion and uncertainty surround the implementation of the new farm bill. One indication of just how much confusion the new law creates is that the Environmental Protection Agency may have as much to do with the agricultural economy this year as the farming legislation.

You might think I’m referring to the EPA’s clean-water initiative, Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS), which had EPA administrator Gina McCarthy visiting farm states last year. But no, the big question for commercial farmers is whether the EPA is going to weaken the renewable fuel standards. Those are the rules that govern how much ethanol must be blended into the nation’s gasoline supply. The EPA has been postponing a decision on the standards for months, and it has corn country fit to be tied.

Ethanol comes mostly from corn. About 5 billion bushels of corn, in fact. That’s more than a third of the estimated 14 billion bushels American farmers produced in 2014. This year, in anticipation of that kind of demand for renewable fuels and other uses, farmers from North Dakota to Florida have expanded production.

If the demand isn’t there and prices drop, that’s when the nation has traditionally looked to price supports in the farm bill to stave off agricultural economic disaster. All that has changed. After spending close to two decades telling farmers that traditional Depression-era price supports are going to be replaced by self reliance and free markets, our new farm bill gives us something resembling the Powerball Lottery. That’s because values of the most basic farm-produced commodities are worth less than it costs farmers to grow them.  And the market-based revenue guarantees in the farm bill do nothing to head off a disaster.

03/10/2015 at 4:10pm
Brian Stansberry/WikiCommonsSign along the railroad tracks at the Tennessee-Kentucky state line in Jellico, Tennessee.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was published by , a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative news organization in Washington, D.C.

In the state where I grew up, Tennessee, thousands of people would in all likelihood be forced back into the ranks of the uninsured. That’s because the cost of coverage would quickly skyrocket for the 230,000 Tennesseans enrolled in a health plan this year through the insurance exchange that’s operating there.   

In Kentucky, where we lived when I worked for Humana Inc., it doesn’t matter what the Supreme Court does. No one there is facing the threat of suddenly finding their coverage unaffordable.

Kentucky is one of the 16 states (and the District of Columbia) that decided to establish and operate its own exchange. Tennessee, on the other hand, is one of the 34 states that defaulted to the federal government to operate its exchange.

The plaintiffs in King v. Burwell argued before the high court last Wednesday that because of the way the Affordable Care Act is worded, the Obama Administration is breaking the law by providing subsidies to people in those 34 states to help them buy health insurance.  Their argument is that the law allows subsidies only for enrollees in an exchange “established by the state.”  If the Court agrees, the subsidies for folks in exchanges operated by the federal government could come to an abrupt end as early as mid-summer.

Kentucky is also one of 29 states to have expanded its Medicaid program under the ACA. That means that folks earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level—about $16,000 for an individual and about $33,000 for a family of four—are now eligible for Medicaid in Kentucky. The federal government pays 100 percent of the cost of the expanded coverage through next year.  After that, the state will begin paying a portion of the cost, up to a maximum of 10 percent. 

But to the south, many poor people remain uninsured because lawmakers in Tennessee have repeatedly refused to expand the state’s Medicaid program, called TennCare. Their first refusal came right after the Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that the federal government couldn’t force the states to expand their Medicaid programs.  Legislators again voted against a Medicaid expansion just last month, even though Republican Gov. Bill Haslam favored it.

03/10/2015 at 1:14am

Photo by Denise Pea What's your cabbage?

Monday, March 9, 2015: A group of young people sit in a conference room in Arlington, Virginia, talking about cabbage. 

Kim Phinney, director of  YouthBuild USA’s Rural and Tribal initiative, stands before the 21 rural ambassadors aged 16-24 and representing nine states, many of whom have travelled outside their cities or across state lines for the first time.  Each has been chosen to represent their local chapter of YouthBuild, a non-profit organization that provides training and leadership opportunities for low-income young people across the United States, at the Rural Caucus.

“Your job as leaders is to listen to and understand the needs and challenges and issues in your communities, but also look for the opportunities,” Phinney says, “So that’s our job today, is to ask, ‘where is the cabbage?’”  Several young people nod in agreement before they break into small groups and present their ideas for how to create more vibrant rural towns.

Where is the cabbage?

Photo by Shawn Poynter Tyson Berrier listens as other participants share photos from their hometowns.

03/08/2015 at 9:27pm

Photo by Robert Kuykendall Native Americans are the ethnic group most likely to be killed by law enforcement, according to a report from the Center of Juvenile and Criminal Justice. 

The officer rapped loudly with a flashlight on the passenger-side window of my car. My 16-year-old, special-needs daughter flung her arms around me like a frightened kitten climbing up my pants leg.

I tried to calm her as I rolled the window down. I could make out no details of the officer because he shined the flashlight in our eyes and the squad car’s flashing lights were blinding.

“What are you doing here? Where are you from? Where are you going? Where are you staying?” the officer demanded in rapid succession.

This was last summer in Northern Wisconsin. My daughter, Rosa, and I had left the reservation late that night after attending a ceremony near the tribal administration offices. After leaving the scant light from a single street light, we entered complete darkness on the narrow country road. That's when, seemingly out of nowhere, a car with blazing headlights began following us closely.

Just after we turned at the crossroads that borders the reservation, we saw a flood of flashing police lights from the vehicle and I pulled over on the shoulder.

Now, I tried to calmly answer the officer’s stream of questions.

“License and proof of insurance,” he asked tersely.

And here is where I almost vomited from fear.

Always trying to be helpful, my daughter, Rosa, who is autistic, opened the glove box for the insurance papers. Reflexively the officer put his hand on his gun as he quickly stepped forward and shined the light toward Rosa and the glove box. She let out a little scream.

Fortunately, that’s when my training in “driving while Indian” kicked in fully. I became extremely calm and deliberate. I used the skills I had learned as a child watching my parents’ tense encounters with law enforcement around the reservation.

The public debate over police violence against unarmed black men has reminded me of the same police treatment of Native men and the palpable lack of public concern. The August 2014 report by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice notes that the racial group most likely to be killed by law enforcement is Native Americans. It’s painful to consider and not much fun to write about, but I must.  Like so many frail humans, I try to ignore pain until it touches me personally.

“Driving while Indian” isn’t a skill I want to know, nor is it something I want to pass along to my children. I would prefer to loll comfortably in racial anonymity here in my home in Southern Ohio, where race is primarily about black and white. I am occasionally mistaken for Latina out here in the suburbs, which sometimes raises a bit of suspicion among my white neighbors. But mostly I have the tremendous luxury of going about my business without fear of racial injustice from law enforcement and the community at large. This may partially be the result of a heavy personal armor that I’ve grown to protect my psyche; I simply choose to ignore incidents that might have hurt or angered me in the past.