Where do megafarms come from? • Student enrollement decreasing in Wisconsin • Helping rural students graduate from college • Campaign contributions and net neutrality • The challenges of rural recycling • Saving the Veterans Affairs rural program • Surface landowners get more right to fight mining companies • And lots more ...
Funny or Die's parody of Chipotle's popular infomercial.
Chipotle restaurants are in the news this week.
First up, “The Scarecrow,” a Chipotle infomercial, takes viewers on an animated tour of scary factory-farms run by megacorporations. The ad has received about 13 million views on Youtube.
It’s also spawned a Funny or Die parody (above) that calls the animation “pure manipulation.”
Chipotle also made headlines this week in Texas when spokesmen said the restaurant will stop getting domestic grass-fed beef and instead import cattle from Australia. That prompted the Texas ag commissioner to question the corporation’s commitment to supporting local economies and reducing its carbon footprint.
“As Texas Agriculture Commissioner, I truly appreciate the past efforts made by Chipotle to support family farms and your company’s dedication to serving locally-grown products,” Todd Staples wrote to Chipotle founder Steve Ells. “However, I am shocked by your recent decision to start serving meat that’s been shipped in from more than 8,000 miles away.”
States with large rural populations are seeking to increase the college graduation rate of rural students.
In 2012, only half of low-income rural high school graduates enrolled in college the following fall.
States like Utah are targeting these students by making it easier for them to gain college credits while they are still in high school. Governor Harry Herbert recently approved a $1.3 million plan to get more rural students enrolled in AP courses.
“It’s about not only about raising standards in terms of what is being taught, it's also about raising awareness,” said Jeff Charbonneau, a high school teacher in Zillah, Washington.
Mexico’s rural landowner groups face an influx of energy development companies after the Mexican Congress loosened restrictions on foreign investment in the energy sector.
Reuters reports on the land-ownership structure that comes out of land reforms from the Mexican revolution a century ago.
The business story points out the difficulties oil companies may have making deals with poor but sometimes powerful landowner organizations. But one oil-company security manager says the foreign firms bring some of the trouble on themselves:
"You can't blame [rural landowners] really," he added. "(Oil services companies) make all these promises, 'Oh yeah, we'll build you a new school, we'll build you a new clinic.' But a lot of the time it doesn't really come to fruition."
A wildfire is spreading across the Navajo Nation along the Arizona-New Mexico border, and so far it has destroyed 13 sheep camps in the Chooshgai Mountains. The Asaayi Lake Fire, which began on June 13, is human-caused and has taken more than 13,000 acres so far. It was only 5% contained as of the middle of the week.
“We’re going to be losing everything and our memories will be gone,” Elvina Yazzie said. “It just hurts because our grandparents built that hogan.” Yazzie saw the fire moving toward their residence while herding family sheep down the mountain.
NPR takes a look at one farm that started as an 80-acre plot but has grown, over many years, into a 16,000 acre father-and-son operation.
The story on farm consolidation says 4% of farms produce two thirds of the nation’s crops.
The decreasing student population in rural Wisconsin is creating setbacks for public school students.
The Ashland, Wisconsin, Daily Press says school districts face consolidation and transportation problems. Educators and lawmakers are seeking solutions through the use of technology and virtual classrooms to help solve the problem.
Lobbyists for Internet providers are throwing money at legislators in hopes of influecing them to vote against net neutrality, reports Ars Technica:
The 28 House members who lobbied the Federal Communications Commission to drop net neutrality this week have received more than twice the amount in campaign contributions from the broadband sector than the average for all House members.
"It's hard to take seriously politicians' claims that they are acting in the public interest when their campaigns are funded by companies seeking huge financial benefits for themselves.," said Dan Newman, president of a research group that reveals money’s influence on politics.
The three “top earners” in the group over the past two years are Greg Walden ($109,250), Eric Cantor ($80,800) , and John Boehner ($75,450).
What do you do when you need to build a coalition for an issue not many people actually support? Well, lobbying firm Broadband for America, which is heavily funded by the National Cable and Telecom Association (a trade group that represents the big telecoms), has come up with a unique idea: Make it up. Vice.com is reporting that many names on firm’s list of supporters never signed up and have no idea why they’re listed.
The Wall Street Journal takes a look at the challenges in running recycling programs in rural areas. Longer distances between homes makes curbside pickup expensive, and it’s hard to get people to drive tens of miles to drop off their sorted materials. The story paints a bleak picture of access to recycling:
Only 36% of West Virginians have access to curbside recycling, compared with 91% in California and 95% in New York state. In 2011, the Charleston region recycled less than 1% of its eligible plastic, including PET, or polyethylene terephthalate, commonly used for water bottles, state reports show. That compares to a 30.8% PET recycling rate nationally in 2012.
Some recycling advocates think rural recycling programs can, and will, be fixed. “Hub-and-spoke” networks, “pay as you throw” programs, and even charging to dump trash while making recycling free are a few solutions different areas are trying out.
Senators from Kansas and Montana, among other states, are launching a bipartisan effort to extend the US Department of Veterans Affairs pilot program to provide quality, timely healthcare to veterans in rural areas. The Access Received Closer to Home (ARCH) program allows veterans in rural areas to obtain health services from community providers if they live an hour or more away from a VA health facility.
The program is set to expire in a few months' time, even after proving largely successful. “For reasons we do not understand, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is choosing — at VHA’s own initiative — to end this successful program despite the more than 90 percent satisfaction rate communicated by veterans,” wrote Senator Jerry Moran in a letter to the VA secretary.
A federal judge has reversed a long-standing procedure in strip-mining disputes, giving surface landowners more rights to block unwanted mining.
The ruling affects cases where surface rights are held by multiple parties. In the past, coal companies only needed permission from one owner to greenlight strip mining, even if other landowners opposed the mining. Bill Estep writes for the Lexington (Kentucky) Herald-Leader:
That position is incorrect, however, U.S. District Judge Amul R. Thapar said in a decision issued Friday.
The federal surface mining law says a coal company has to get consent to mine from all surface owners, Thapar ruled.
Many baby boomers want to move to rural America, says a recent report by Better Homes and Gardens. Of the 49-67 year-olds surveyed in the U.S., almost 40% claim plan to retire in a rural community. But these boomers aren’t planning on kicking back in their rocking chairs just yet – 28% said they never plan on retiring and 46% of those who will retire still plan on working part-time.