Roundup: Cooking with Tin Foil

An affordable solar oven • FCC developing a system for processing rural broadband funds. • Massachusetts lawmakers in a hard spot over gun control • Harvesting farm data • Newspaper warns against farm protection constitutional amendment • Rural housing activity down from last year • Mistaking sheep for cows • BBC lacking in rural news department • Oil spill in Kansas • Hating on the country folks • Farmers and beatniks, living as one?

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Having grown up on New Mexico’s Navajo Nation, teen Raquel Redshirt is familiar with the problems of living below the poverty line and being miles from the nearest store. Many of her neighbors have no electricity, so cooking is a challenge. Looking to find a solution, she started doing research about solar ovens. Commercial ovens use costly materials, so Redshirt started making her own solar ovens out of a cheap, readily-available material: Aluminum foil.

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The Federal Communications Commission plans to vote at its July meeting on a process for awarding funds under a new stream of support for rural broadband projects.

The FCC released its preliminary agenda for its July 11 meeting last week.

Back in February, the commission voted to set aside some of the surplus of the Connect America Fund to support work by rural broadband providers that hadn’t been previously eligible for the support. The money will pay for pilot projects to help the FCC learn what approaches work best for expanding broadband service in rural areas.

At its July meeting, the FCC will vote on a process for reviewing the competitive proposals from broadband groups.

More than 1,000 organizations and individuals responded to a February request from the FCC to gauge interest in a new grant program for rural broadband deployment. An FCC officer called the response from the field “astounding.”

Also at the July 11 meeting, the tentative agenda says the FCC will vote on a proposal to change the E-Rate program, which subsidizes school systems for Internet access.

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Legislators from rural districts in Massachusetts are in a difficult place when it comes to the state’s newly proposed gun violence bill. The leadership is clearly pushing them to support the bill, but their rural constituents are pushing back.

"This is a classic case of leadership's desires clashing with district-based realities," said Matt Barron, a Democratic political consultant with MLB Research Associates in Chesterfield. "Rural gun owners like me are tired of being scape-goated for the problems of urban violence. There are no murders in Chesterfield, there are no drive-by shootings in the Hilltowns."

Legislators also know that supporting the bill now will lead to more opponents in their 2016 election.

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Farmers are resisting big companies that want free access to farmers’ data about planting and harvests. But a Reuters article says the deck is still stacked in favor of companies like Monsanto’s Climate Corp. and John Deere that dominate the ag data market.

Deere modified its user agreement in response to pressure from farmers about how the corporation would use data it collects from farmers, the article reports.  “But in a separate document Deere provides to customers, the company's data services and subscriptions policy, Deere declares it is free to use all the data it collects, however it sees fit, so long as it strips away personally identifiable information,” Reuters reports.

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The Kansas City Star editorial board says Missouri citizens should vote "no" on a constitutional amendment to protect farming:

Amendment 1 is a concerted effort to shield factory farms and concentrated agricultural feeding operations from regulations to protect livestock, consumers and the environment. Voters should say “no” to this unnecessary and potentially harmful proposal.

For more on the proposed amendment, see Richard Oswald’s “Letter from Langdon” from last week.

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Rural housing activity in the Department of Agriculture is down from 2013 levels, reports the Housing Assistance Council.

Through May 2014 USDA rural housing program obligations totaled $11.8 billion. That’s $2.9 billion less than the same period last year. The obligations include loans, loan guarantees and grants.

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A sheep is a sheep and a cow is a cow, right?

Well, not exactly.

The Chicago Tribune online edition uses milk sheep to illustrate a story about chefs supporting a ban on antibiotics in meat. That’s right, the story is about meat, not milk.

It’s easy for media to make this kind of mistake these days. Images are everywhere – drag and drop. But the error is also a product of metro newsrooms being out of touch with rural industries and issues.

We don’t know what we don’t know.

The Daily Yonder is certainly susceptible to this kind of error, too, as we search for images to illustrate stories about rural places and issues. I corrected a cutline in Donna Kallner’s Wednesday article because it probably was taken outside her home county, not within it, as the cutline said initially. We thought we had it right, based on the information that was online with the photo we chose. But when it comes to accuracy about Donna’s home county, I’ll trust her information over mine. Every time.

Sometimes media professionals make these errors intentionally, however. The most egregious example is with Chick Fil A’s cow campaign. You know, the cute cows with the signs that say “Eat more chicken”?

Well, those black-and-white cows are dairy cattle – Holsteins.  They are in little danger of being eaten. But Chick Fil A’s ad agency apparently thinks Holsteins are cuter than Herefords or Angus.

Maybe they are right about the cute factor. We’re sure they’ve got research and focus groups to back up their decision.

But the fact that the error persists – for years – underscores how out of touch American consumers are with rural realities.

Don’t the rest of us realize how silly Chick Fil A looks using the wrong breed of cattle?

Or is a cow just a cow?

— Tim Marema

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Great Britain’s premiere broadcaster doesn’t cover enough rural news, an independent review says:

The BBC's coverage of rural affairs is, on the whole, impartial with a broad and comprehensive range of voices. But there is a deficit in UK-wide coverage of rural issues in England, an independent review commissioned by the BBC Trust has found.

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A pipeline spill in Olpe, Kansas, this week is causing significant disruption in the area. A “black oily matter” coated crops, trees, and other vegetation. All the affected foliage has begun to die, which is beginning to cause problems for farmers, especially those with soybeans.  Panhandle Eastern Pipeline is responsible for the spill, but they have started cleaning up their mess, nor have other  agencies. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment is giving the company until Monday to clean it up before they become involved.

“This stuff is noxious,” said Gary Brown, land owner. “The grass is dead, the leaves are dying and we don’t know what was in this stuff. No one has told us.”

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Will the redneck, hillbilly stereotype of rural America ever die? It certainly hasn’t yet. After a Luke Bryan concert in Pittsburgh last week, social media exploded with derogatory comments about the “white trash” attendees who racked up 154 calls to the police, 100 medical calls, and numerous arrests.

“Country-folk seem to be the last group of people one can openly stereotype and disparage without fear of social reprisal. From growing up in the Pennsylvania countryside, I can testify that not every rural American chews tobacco, drinks Budweiser, drives a pick-up truck or hates Barack Obama. People come with all manner of differences, hold radically divergent views and have experienced radically different things.” Ryan Hrobak

 

— Abby Gay Patience

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Grist has a great piece by Darby Minow Smith about the importance of foodies and mid-sized farmers learning to communicate with one another. Also, the dangers of over romanticizing your agricultural roots through Hank Sr. songs.

In order to save mid-sized farms for the sake of the food movement and the people who own them, we’ll need to learn how talk to each other first. To urban foodies: Rural life is more nuanced and intelligent than you might perceive. To the farmers: There’s a generation of folks who are interested and educated about food — and they’re willing to pay more for a greener effort and more stable farming system.

 

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