Monday, May 25, 2015

05/09/2015 at 8:37am


Last night just as I was putting supper on the table, I was rifling through the refrigerator and an extra large, brand new tub of butter fell off the shelf and right on my toes.  I yelped and hopped around, holding my breath as not to release the real feelings I had inside that may not be suitable for the young ears waiting at our table.  My husband kindly took over setting the table and getting the food on plates while I recovered.

Our 4-year-old then took his cue to say the prayer and he went through his usual routine, only this time he added at the end, “and please help whatever is wrong with Mommy!”

We got a laugh out of his sincere yet blanket covering prayer for his mama. But I’ve thought about that sweet prayer a lot this week as Mother’s Day approaches.  Isn’t that what we all want?  Whatever is wrong with mom just needs to be fixed.  We need our moms, and we need them never to be sick, hurting, or upset.

I remember the times when I was younger and I would wake up to find my dad in the kitchen, rummaging around for breakfast items.  I knew if he was fixing breakfast, it meant something must be wrong with Mom.  And sure enough, he’d tell me that she had some sort of bug that would keep her away from us for a day or so. 

During those times it felt like our world was tipped on its axis. The air turned a little bit stale, the new prime time TV show didn’t have the same appeal, and the laundry seemed to explode in the hampers.

05/07/2015 at 8:57pm

Photo by Joanna PoeTown center of Centerville, Iowa.

It’s a cliché to say life is a journey. That makes it the easiest way to describe our existence in time and places across the firmament.

The journey, or whatever else you want to call it, is also about choices made, or choices you weren't able to make.

Recently I learned a lesson, or perhaps a few lessons—another cliché—from a journey to interview for a position with the University of Nebraska's Rural Futures Institute (RFI). I didn't get the job.

So, the first lesson: I don’t like rejection, but I really am not upset about being denied the choice to pick up and move on to a new challenge. I do regret that I will not have a chance to add my ideas to a relatively new organization that is operating with the full support of the University of Nebraska system, including the Institute for Agriculture and Natural Resources, the Medical Center, and the other campuses.

RFI is one of the places to be where rural is concerned. Director Chuck Schroeder and his team are already up and running. They will do great things in the future, offering alternatives for rural Nebraskans who want to make positive changes in their communities and regions. The University of Nebraska is now the leader among Land Grant universities in rural community and economic development.

A job interview gives you a chance to evaluate where you've been, where you are, and where you want to go. I am just past my 10th anniversary at the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs at Western Illinois University. It has been a great ride with a sincere and dedicated group of people. My health and state budget willing, I am happy to stay here for a few more years. My recent search on the side road of interviewing for a new job has reminded me that I am in a good place, with loads of unfinished work.

05/06/2015 at 9:37pm

Photo by the Durango Herald Diners enjoyed Mekka J's bakery in tiny Redmesa, Colorado, for less than a year before the establishment closed.

The number of businesses in rural America dropped in the past decade, raising questions about possible directions for nonmetropolitan economies in the future, a study published today in the Daily Yonder shows.

The study by Roberto Gallardo, Ph.D., reveals that most types of rural counties lost businesses of all sizes from 2000 to 2013. The declines were greatest in “micro businesses.” These are establishments that have one to four employees.

Because these very small establishments account for a bigger share of businesses in rural areas than in metropolitan ones, the trend is troubling, Gallardo said.

Read Roberto Gallardo's study on rural business trends in the Daily Yonder.

Rural areas that buck the downward trend in business establishments will likely be ones that build on assets such as broadband, rural America’s tendency toward greater social cohesion and natural amenities, Gallardo said.

Gallardo grouped U.S. counties into nine categories using the Economic Research Service’s Rural Urban Continuum Codes. The codes give researchers a more nuanced view of how counties with different population sizes and proximity to larger cities are performing, he said.

While the number of business establishments grew in metropolitan counties from 2000 to 2013, the number of businesses dropped for five out of six categories of nonmetropolitan counties. The single exception was counties that are not adjacent to a metropolitan area and have an urban population of 20,000 or greater. (See the chart at the top of this article.)

Some findings in the study gave Gallardo more optimism about rural America’s economic potential.

These included social factors like the existence of more gathering places in rural areas.  Gallardo found that as the size of counties decreased, the number of “third-places” establishments increased on a per capita basis. Third-place establishments are spots where people gather – such as churches, restaurants, food stores or barber shops.

05/06/2015 at 9:32pm

Source: US Census Bureau – County Business Patterns; USDA RUCC Figure 1. Percent change in business establishments by county type, 2000-2013

Rural business establishment trends are worrisome, but potential solutions are available.

Make no mistake. The backbone of the U.S. economy includes entrepreneurs, micro businesses (1-4 employees), and small businesses (5-19 employees). Studies have found that if entrepreneurship – and subsequently micro and small businesses – shrink, job creation and productivity are affected in a negative way.

What are the trends regarding micro businesses and small businesses in urban and rural counties? Is the number of micro businesses and small businesses increasing? Is it declining?

Read a summary of this jobs study in the Daily Yonder.

To take a closer look at how business establishments are doing across different types of counties, we used two datasets. Data about the number of establishments was obtained from the US Census County Business Patterns (CBP) while the USDA Rural-Urban Continuum Code (RUCC) typology was used to group counties into different categories.

A huge advantage of the RUCC is that not only can counties be grouped into the typical metropolitan, micropolitan and “noncore” categories, but each one of these can be further categorized into three additional categories. These nine categories in total provide a more detailed understanding of the dynamics taking place.

To isolate the economic impact of a nearby metropolitan areas and see what was happening in counties least likely to be affected by metropolitan counties, we adjusted the typical grouping of the RUCC counties. We grouped types 4, 6, and 8 (which are nonmetropolitan counties adjacent to a metropolitan areas) and called these “suburban.” And we  grouped county types 5,7 and 9 (which are nonmetropolitan counties that are not adjacent to a metropolitan area) and called these “rural” for the purposes of this study.

Figure 1 at the top of the page does not paint a hopeful picture for nonmetropolitan counties regarding micro businesses, small businesses, and the total number of business establishments (which also includes business establishments with more than 20 employees). Two of the three “rural” categories (on the right side of the chart) posted declines in micro business (blue bar), small business (red bar), and total (green bar) establishments between 2000 and 2013, as did all three of the “suburban” categories (the center bars in the chart). However, counties with an urban population of 20,000 or more not adjacent to metro areas experienced increases.

05/06/2015 at 9:27pm

Photo via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Missouri voters probably didn't have this crop in mind when they approved the right-to-farm amendment.

Back when the Missouri Legislature put the right to farm on a ballot, it looked like just more of the same, catering to big business and foreign investment at the expense of family farmers. So I and some others opposed it.

“It’s ill defined” we said. “It threatens local control, puts rural communities at risk, places interpretation in the hands of courts and invites all kinds of abuse”.

The other side said we needed the measure because without the right to farm enshrined in Missouri’s Constitution, someday we might all have to toe the mark on Washington DC.’.s excessive demands.

Now it looks as though the state Constitution has gone to pot. Literally.

That’s because when a marijuana farmer in Cole County, Missouri, was busted while allegedly pursuing her right to farm, defense council cited among other things, recently passed Section 35 of our state constitution.

In an editorial, the Columbia (Missouri) News Tribune said that this is what you get when legislators are too lazy to legislate. That’s a pretty good point, especially when the amendment itself wasn’t really authored in Missouri, but outside the state by a conservative group known as the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Is it possible the General Assembly could have inhaled by mistake?

There are all kinds of ways to interpret Missouri’s right to farm. For instance, I love my lawn. For a farmer, there’s nothing more important than farmstead appearance. Keeping a nice looking front yard is part of that. It’s hard, too, what with all the dandelions and sod web worms out there infringing on my right. 

Maybe we need a law?

But growing that kind of grass is nothing compared to the kind folks smoke. It seems to be a real and legitimate science according to legalized cannabis growers in Colorado.

Now let me say at this point that I get high raising corn and soybeans. The science of growing those crops is no less challenging than something like, say, the less than flawless turf in front of my house. But that science pales in comparison to the consumer-driven farming practices of marijuana production.

Makes me dizzy just thinking about it.

05/05/2015 at 12:15pm

Photo via the Washington Post Oil jacks outside Watford, North Dakota.

Parts of rural western North Dakota are facing an increasingly rare problem: They don’t have enough U.S. Postal employees to meet demand. The Washington Post reports on how the oil boom is also a snail mail boom.

The once-sleepy state now represents one of the biggest challenges for Megan Brennan, who started as postmaster general in February. With more letters and packages to deliver and long lines at local post offices that are inadequate to meet a population that has grown 7.6 percent in five years, the Postal Service has rarely met national standards for mail delivery, according to a new report by Inspector General David Williams.

The operational challenges — including a jump in package deliveries of 165 percent over the past four years — also have resulted in massive overtime for mail carriers and poorly equipped, space-short mail processing plants, investigators found.

The mail is not the only challenge to providing basic services facing North Dakota, even as the price of crude oil has declined since fall and eliminated thousands of oil-related jobs. The federal government has hundreds of jobs it can’t fill and an exodus of workers once they’re in the jobs, because the oil boom has dramatically pushed up the cost of living and salaries haven’t kept pace.


Registration is now open for the 2015 National Rural Assembly. This year the event is being held in Washington, D.C., a few blocks from Capital Hill. Here’s what the organizers have in mind for the meeting:

What will we accomplish together? We'll return to our foundational principles as set forth in the Rural Compact, and we'll expand our priorities and recommendations to build a more inclusive and integrated advocacy agenda. The final day of the conference will include a Congressional briefing and visits with members of Congress and Congressional staff on Capitol Hill. Young leaders will also have the opportunity to participate in a full-day strategic planning and action session.

05/04/2015 at 10:10pm

Map via Measure of America This map by Measure of America shows their "well-being index" by congressional district. Lighter areas score lower on the index, which is derived from indicators of income, education and health.

Disparity in America can be worlds apart – or right down the road, according to a new report that ranks congressional districts by their “well being.”

The congressional district whose residents have the highest well being, according to the report, is California’s 18th, an affluent and prosperous region just south of San Francisco that includes high-end cities like Palo Alto and Los Gatos, along with the southern fringe of San Jose.

To reach the nation’s lowest ranked congressional district, just drive over the coastal range to the northern end of the San Joaquin Valley. There, in California’s 21st congressional district, life expectancies are five years shorter than in the 18th district. Median earnings are less than half. And the high school graduation rate is one sixth that of the more affluent congressional district.

One difference between the two districts is the size of their rural populations. In the upscale 18th, less than 5 percent of residents are classified as rural by the U.S. Census. In the tough-times 21st, about 15 percent of residents are rural.

A good portion of those rural residents in the 21st district are low-paid workers who pick crops on San Joaquin farmlands, said Sarah Burd-Sharps, an author of the report Geographies of Opportunity, produced by Measure of America.

The study takes data on residents’ health, education and economic status and computes a well-being index, which is used to rank 436 congressional districts (the report includes the District of Columbia, which has a nonvoting delegate in the House of Representatives).

While rurality is one of the conditions that affects well being, it’s not an especially strong factor, Burd-Sharps told the Daily Yonder. Other factors like education levels explain more of the variance in the well-being report.