Roundup: Cowboy Churches

Cowboy churches • Foodies know best • Lack of transportation hurting rural vets • High schooler honored for documentary • Black market for Native American artifacts • The "Bubba Strategy" • Report on affordable rural housing

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Cowboy churches” are springing up across rural America as alternatives to traditional brick and mortar locales of worship. Over four hundred of these new wave churches can be found from Florida to Alaska and notably attract non-churchgoers. You won’t find a steeple or stained glass windows in these churches, and you won’t find a congregation of only cowboys, either. On Sundays, the crowds are filled with everyone from baristas to accountants looking for a more basic, unconventional gathering place to seek God.

"In a lot of ways, it's what you would call unchurchy. It's a simple way of doing church. It's more about relationship than it is about religion. And I think that's why these churches have been exploding," Pastor Timmons of the Santa Fe Cowboy Church claims.

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Mark your calendars, Yonder readers. In mid-November the New York Times is holding a conference titled “Food For Tomorrow” and for a mere $1,095 (at the now “discounted rate”) you can come learn how to “Farm Better. Eat Better. Feed the World.”

We scanned the list of speakers and it dawned on us that something (or maybe somebodies) were missing. Wait! We know what it is….

Farmers!

The New York Times is putting on a two-day conference on food and farming and we could find only one person among the dozen speakers announced so far who makes money farming, and that’s U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of New Haven, Maine. She has an organic operation that supplies her restaurant and lodge, and she sells a good bit of wool on line. Rep. Pingree is also the only speaker who lives in a rural community.

Instead of farmers at a conference on farming, we have the usual foodie suspects: the ubiquitous Mark Bittman and Michael Pollan, a couple of New York Times reporters, some professors and a celebrity chef.

Bittman, a food writer, is giving the keynote address, telling us “How to Change the Food System and Feed the Nine Billion.” There’s a panel discussion on who will farm (with no full-time farmers) and a group talking “sustainable scale,” with no farmers and nobody who has had to deal directly with food monopolies.

The Yonder has written about this phenomenon before – how urban “foodies” like to gather to talk about the ways farmers and rural communities ought to be — always without farmers or people from rural communities anywhere within a stone’s throw. Read here and here. This is just the latest go ‘round.

The New York Times people tell us they are adding speakers. We’ll let you know if they add anyone who has a working knowledge of the subject. In the meantime, save your pennies. The full-rate registration is $1,395.>

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Limited transportation options are preventing rural veterans from gaining access to  resources and care from the Department of Veterans' Affairs, according to a story by the Associated Press. If a local clinic cannot provide a rural veteran with the appropriate procedure, treatment, or service, the veteran is advised to travel (often large distances) to reach doctor's offices and centers that can. 

Joe Price, a transportation volunteer, drives veterans from New Mexico to El Paso, Texas. "Without transportation," he says, "the veterans wouldn't get treatment. A lot of them aren't really in the shape to even ride that distance, but they don't really have any choice. … It can be very hard."

A quarter of America's 22 million veterans live in rural areas, the majority of whom are enrolled in the VA program. Currently, many of these veterans rely on volunteers to drive them to their appointments.

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Kentucky high school senior Emma Roach-Barrette was asked to screen her project, a documentary on the 1973 Harlan Coal Strike, to members of Congress as part of the National History Day academic program.

Middle and high school students from across the nation gathered in Washington, D.C. for the program to celebrate their successes in historical research. National History Day is an initiative that encourages 6th to 12th grade students to conduct historical research.

According to the National Endowment for the Humanities, a sponsor of National History Day, more than a million students have conducted research and created papers, websites, exhibits, performances, and documentaries this year.

Students whose projects won the state and regional competitions were selected to attend the D.C. event, which provides the students with the opportunity to network with Congressional staff, history professionals, and their peers.

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The black market for Native American artifacts is growing and the government acknowledges that it will be costly to contain, reports Mary Annette Pember in a recent Indian Country Today article.

But cost is not the issue for the native tribes, explains Ramon Riley. “These are holy objects.”

This May, FBI agents seized thousands of Native American artifacts that were illegally traded in Rush County, Indiana. The items included human remains as well as funeral objects looted from federal lands in direct opposition to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

“The unprecedented task we have is trying to make right out of it, how to restore what we can to Native Americans and how to stress the damage that has been done,” said anthropology professor Larry Zimmerman.

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Political strategist Dave “Mudcat” Saunders is the inventor and biggest proponent of the “Bubba Strategy,” which is to make urban politicians get out into the county and try to understand the culture of the people they intend to lead.

“It’s just too easy to say if you go out to the culture you’ll get them. Democrats have to understand the culture,” says Saunders. “They have to understand what people go through.”

Reaching people in the country is more important than ever, according to Saunders, because they are moving at a higher rate to cities in search for jobs, and they’re taking their party affiliations with them.

“There’s too much emphasis paid on geography, on class,” Saunders says. “The pied piper of greed has moved everybody to the big cities. America’s become more concentrated. There are as many rednecks—or let me say it like this, rural-thinking people—on Route 1 in Alexandria as there are in all five coal-producing counties of Virginia.”

The last time the strategy actually won an election was 2006, when Democrat Jim Webb upset George Allen in Virginia for a seat in the U.S. senate. But the fault lies not in the plan, but the execution, says Saunders. “The reason a rural or cultural strategy doesn’t work is because it’s not deployed.”

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The National Rural Housing Coalition has released a report addressing the state of affordable rental housing in rural communities.  The report highlights federal changes that have improved rural housing conditions yet questions how the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will maintain this progress as the federal government further reigns in the budget.

USDA has financed and preserved more than 500,000 units of affordable renting housing over the past 50 years. However, according to the report, such progress may not be sustainable over the long-term.

Bob Rapoza, executive secretary of the National Rural Housing Coalition, states that consistent under-funding and a critical lack of investment may cripple USDA Rural Housing programs in the coming years.

"This housing is especially important for our most vulnerable residents, including the elderly, low-income families, people with disabilities, and farmworkers. Unfortunately, there is a limited commitment on the part of Congress, USDA, and the White House to preserving this valuable asset.”

 

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