Roundup: Appalachian Food, Iowa Politics

Eating your way across Central Appalachia • Why millennials are avoiding small towns • Two programs for a post-coal economy • The subprime mortgage crises hit rural hard • Missouri's "Right to Farm" win • Voting to remove tax cap on Nevada's mining industry

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Melanie Kaplan, writing for the Wall Street Journal, takes a multistate road trip through Appalachia to explore its cuisine, with the help of the Appalachian Regional Commission's new “Bon Appalachia” map. You may not want to read the rest of the story on an empty stomach.

“In Boone, N.C., a hippy-outdoorsy town, we imbibed at Appalachian Brewing Company and dined at Hob Nob Farm Café, a five-year-old restaurant with a surprising number of vegan options—like a tamale with local kale, portobellos, sweet potatoes and vegan crème fraîche. I opted for the real-cheese, local-vegetable lasagna; Travis succumbed to the bacon-wrapped meatloaf.”

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Iowa’s close Senate race could be decided by voters in a handful of rural counties. But the lessons from Iowa may not apply to the rest of the nation, says NBC’s Dante Chinni

Chinni looks at counties that flipped from Republican to Democratic between the 2004 and 2012 presidential elections: Allamakee, Benton, Bremer, Cedar, Louisa, Marshall, Union and Woodbury.

Generally speaking, Rural Middle America is not good territory for Democrats. In 2012 they gave their vote to Republican to Mitt Romney by 12 percentage points.

But Iowa is different – or at least it was different in 2012. Romney only eked out a 1-point win in the 79 Rural Middle America counties in Iowa. Instead, the counties were battlegrounds in the state.

And there is reason to believe that will be the case again this November because their story doesn't match that of other rural places.

The economy has rebounded better in rural Iowa than in other rural areas. And that might add a little bump to Democratic candidate Bruce Braley instead of Republican Jony Ernst, Chinni says. Braley and Ernst are vying to fill the seat vacated by Democrat Tom Harkin.

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At the Washington Post, Philip Bump looks at Iowa through a different lens. The increasing urbanization of the state means a long-term shift  favoring Democrats, Bump says.

And Bump refers to yet another take on the rural-urban political dynamic in Iowa, Michael Barbaro's story in the New York Times earlier this week.

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Last year’s bone-chilling winter and higher-than-normal propane prices have combined to increase demand for firewood in Minnesota, the state’s public radio network reports.

"Usually we cut 500 cords. We've done that already this year," said logger Duane White, who works the woods in north-central Minnesota near Akeley. "We have 500 more waiting to be cut that we've already sold."

Firewood prices are rising a bit in response – up $5 a cord to $85 for lower-grade firewood, White said.F

"Most of the time people want seasoned hardwood," White said. "This year they're taking birch, pine, whatever I'm cutting."

Suppliers in the urban Twin Cities area are having a hard time keeping up with demand, reports John Enger of Minnesota Public Radio.

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Beau Dure writes in the online publication Ozy that small towns need to do a better job of marketing themselves to millenials to combat rural outmigration:

“Small towns will have to hustle to recruit and retain millennials, experts say. The American Planning Association urges local planners to mimic the appeal of city centers by creating “density.” That means keeping the walkable neighborhoods and traditional town centers that millennials say is key to making a community a desirable place to live.

Interestingly Dure's own story says it's not necessarily the walkable urban centers that are attracting population growth; it's the sprawling suburbs.

Digging a little deeper into rural population loss (and, yes, some gain) could have provided a more revealing look at U.S. migration patterns. Here's a place to look, for starters.

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Nonprofit Quarterly has an overview of two programs looking to navigate the region past the coal economy. Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) in Kentucky and soon, in West Virginia, Southern Coalfields Organizing and Revitalizing the Economy (SCORE).

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An Associated Press story out of Ohio confirms that rural areas were hit hard during the subprime mortgage crisis, as also reported in a Daily Yonder story last week.

A story based on data from USDA and Middlebury College in Vermont showed the following:

Many rural residents jumped to get subprime loans at initial affordable terms during the mid-2000s, only to have fortunes disappear as housing boom turned to bust. Signs of the aftermath:

Empty homes.Between 2007 and 2009, vacancy rates more than doubled in rural counties in which at least 40 percent of housing loans were subprime; in 2009, the average housing vacancy was 25 percent. That increase was higher than for both metropolitan areas and rural counties as whole.

Disappearing residents. While the U.S. population grew from 2007 to 2009, rural counties with the highest rates of subprime lending at 40 percent or more lost 1.5 percent of their residents, compared with a 0.75 percent loss for rural counties overall.

Weak housing recovery. Houses in rural counties with high levels of subprime lending were slower to rebound in value, with the rates of increase lagging overall rural counties by one-fifth from 2007 to 2009.

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The leadership of the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund (R-CALF) claims to have knowledge of unlawful lobbying efforts by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and is asking USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to reconsider plans for another beef checkoff program. R-CALF says the NCBA's receipt of current checkoff funds should preclude them from lobbying.

“Really, what it’s doing is showing how brazen NCBA and its affiliates are in their lobbying even though that’s unlawful,” said R-CALF CEO Bill Bullard.

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Earth Island Journal, an environmental news publication, quotes Daily Yonder columnist Richard Oswald in its coverage of Missouri’s Amendment One. The “right to farm” amendment won by a hair earlier this year.

Amendment 1 opponents worry that the vaguely worded law will give industrial agriculture the upper hand when it comes to farming policy and regulation in the state, easing the way for large-scale farms to dominate Missouri’s landscape. They are also particularly concerned that the measure will be used to challenge existing and future animal welfare regulations and environmental measures, including confinement conditions for hogs and poultry, limitations on puppy farms, pollution controls, and potential GMO labeling laws. The amendment, they say, will hurt smaller-scale family farms.

The right to farm amendment may be used to challenge animal welfare regulations.

“What I expect is that this sort of greases the shoot for corporate agriculture in Missouri,” says Richard Oswald, President of the Missouri Farmers Union. “It’s not going to be a dramatic change, it’s just going to more of the same, with more and more takeover of what used to be things that independent family farmers did.” Oswald believes it will also “nullify those family farmer friendly statutes that we already had on the books that did help protect agriculture,” and will ease the ongoing “takeover of the

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The mining industry is huge in Nevada, shipping out around $9 billion of gold in 2012. In that same year, the industry paid $236 million in taxes. Some people think that’s not enough and are pushing to amend the constitution to remove the 5% cap for mining taxes. Others feel for the mine onwers, as the price of gold has plummeted of late, causing a measurable economic impact in Elko County and beyond.

“Residents of Nevada’s largest cities will likely cast the deciding votes on this question, despite the fact that the tables have turned on mines and the rural counties that depend on them. Gold plummeted from around $1,900 in 2011 to $1,200 an ounce last year, resulting in billion-dollar losses and sharp drops in stock value for major mining companies like Barrick and Newmont.”

 

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