Roundup: Rural Philanthropy

The lack of rural philantrhopy • Blandin Foundation's blog • Big meat racket • Drinking black eyed peas • Top 10 small towns, revisited • Increasing rural homelesseness funding • Kansas' Rural Opportunity Zones • Alaskans have highest suicide rates • More Planned Parenthoods closing in Iowa

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If you’re interested in philanthropy in rural America, here’s a must read article from Rick Cohen in Nonprofit Quarterly.

Chuck Fluharty of the Rural Policy Research Institute and Doug O’Brien, deputy undersecretary of USDA’s Rural Development, talk about private and public investment in rural areas.  

Fluharty had straightforwardly decried “the amazing underinvestment of philanthropic support in rural America” and underscored the deep cuts that had been made year after year in O’Brien’s rural development programs, but O’Brien was there to present a somewhat more positive message.

O’Brien mentioned USDA programs such as StrikeForce, aimed at better partnering with community-based groups in persistent poverty counties; the President’s Promise Zones program, where USDA is a lead partner with HUD to pick as many as 20 areas by the end of the Obama administration, with five or six being rural, for helping the federal government interact better with communities; and the new provision in the Farm Bill, Section 6025, to enable the USDA to “prefer projects” such as financing for hospitals or water systems that are part of strategic economic development plans, with evidence of that to include support from nonprofits and foundations.

That’s all well and good, but the bottom line is still that Rural Development’s funding in terms of grants has been repeatedly slashed over the years, and the programs that O’Brien identified, such as Promise Zones, do not come with money. It isn’t an answer to say that money cures all problems, much less that money should be thrown at all problems, but if you want to see what an administration really believes in, look at its budget. The shrinking rural development budget and the programs that don’t have any connected dollars suggest a troubling vision for rural going forward.

Cohen also addresses the need for national foundations to play a larger role in rural development.  “There is a lot of philanthropic wealth, much of it derived from rural areas, that flows through national foundations barely touching rural America,” Cohen writes.

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For those interested in rural issues, the Blandin Foundation blog is one to watch.

Recent posts look at the Center on Small Towns Symposium, held last week at the University of Minnesota Morris.

This year’s annual gathering of rural advocates and “rural dwellers,” as the blog puts it, focused on the rural narrative and how to change it.

Why change the rural narrative? Well, let presenter Ben Winchester, a researcher for the University of Minnesota Extension Service, tell you. Here’s how the Blandin blog reported it:

Rural is dying. This is the dominant narrative of rural today. Doom and gloom and more doom.

What we aren’t hearing is the rest of the story. Yes, young adults are leaving after they graduate high school, but they’re coming back. Schools are consolidating but it’s nowhere near the rate it was 25 years ago. Total jobs in Greater Minnesota have stayed pretty constant for the last decade. Rural is not dying. Rural is thriving.

Unfortunately, we don’t hear this. The positive part of rural is lodged in a negative narrative, said Ben Winchester at last week’s Center for Small Towns Symposium. What we’re reading in the headlines isn’t giving us the whole truth. And really, that’s not the problem. The problem is that we’re buying into it.

Rural America is perpetuating the dominant discourse that frames problems as the norm and success as the exception. Winchester says this has got to change.

The post gives some practical advice on how people who care about rural America can change the narrative. It’s more than worth your time to take a look. (Then let us know how the Daily Yonder can help follow that advice.)

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The meat aisle at your local grocery store only appears to offer a lot of selection. Behind the rows of neatly stacked steaks, roasts and ground beef are a handful of companies who control 75% of the market, reports Roberto A. Ferdman at the Washington Post. The story is based on Christopher Leonard’s book The Meat Racket.

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If life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. If life gives you black eyed peas, you make…..vodka? That was the solution for a Trey Nickels, who, frustrated by drought and run ragged by keeping up with equipment repairs, sold his farm and started a distillery that turns legumes into hooch.

“It’s a clean, no-burn vodka with a subtle nut flavor to green tea on the end,” Nickels said. “It’s going to lend itself to mixed drinks.”

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Seems like every few months we tell you about a different “best small towns” list. Well, here we are again. This time, CNN breaks down their top-10 best small towns in the U.S.

I’ve only been to one of the 10. It may be time to pack some bags, hop in the car, and hit the road.

— Shawn Poynter

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The House of Representatives has voted for an amendment to the 2015 appropriations bill that will increase funding to rural homeless assistance grants

"(D.C.), this Congress spends a lot of money to alleviate the pain of poverty, of homelessness and hunger. But a mjaority of that money is focused on urban centers," said Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.), who proposed the amendment. "But so often, the rural parts of America are forgotten."

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Kansas is touting its Rural Opportunity Zone initiative via three large signs hanging above turnpike overpasses.

 “Let Kansas pay your student loans,” reads one sign, advertising the initiative’s paying up to $15,000 of student loans to a qualified applicant who moves from another state to one of the counties in the opportunity zone.

Along with debt forgiveness, folks interesting in rural Kansas life may also be eligible for five years with no state income tax.

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Alaskan natives in rural villages are four times more likely to commit suicide than the rest of the country, according to a study by the American Journal of Public Health.

While there’s no consensus on the cause for the high rate, researchers believe  income, marriage rates and language barriers play a big part. Matthew Berman, economics professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage, wrote the report:
 

“Suicide rates are higher in communities where there are households who don’t speak anything but English living alongside where nobody speaks English well. You have a communication barrier there. And communities that look similar but everybody in the community can speak a native language as well as English the presence of households who could not speak English well was actually beneficial.”

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Two more small town Planned Parenthood centers, in Red Oak and Creston, Iowa, are closing due to what the agency calls a “shifting need for services.” The closure of the centers, which used a video-conferencing system to give patients access to the morning-after pill, puts a higher travel burden on women in these areas. The agency, which denies the closures have anything to do with anti-abortion protestors, has closed nine similar centers in the last two years. 

 

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