Rural Roundtable: The Best of 2015

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When 2016 hits at the end of the week, you’ll see a recurring column we’re calling the Rural Roundtable in the e-pages of the Yonder. The idea is to team up with the National Rural Assembly to develop a list of folks we can poll with questions about issues large and small. We’ll compile the answers and share them with you.

But like an old saying probably goes, why wait for a good thing? Let’s get going by first looking back. We asked our roundtable what rural-ish media they liked last year. Books, movies, TV shows, podcasts, bathroom stall scribblings, and whatever else they wanted to throw in.

Here’s what they said. (Add your favorites in the comments [register once for Disqus] or via the Daily Yonder Facebook page.)


Lorraine Lewandrowski, Upstate New York, dairy farmer and lawyer. Find Lorraine on Twitter at @NYFarmer.

I’m happy to see a new generation of farm- and land-focused writing talents coming up.  In 2015, Forrest Pritchard’s Growing Tomorrow: A Farm-To-Table Journey in Photos and Recipes presented farmer portraits, recipes and photos in an inviting way. Also, The Shepherd’s Life: A Tale of the Lake District by James Rebanks is a “must read” for anyone interested in a life of loving the land. The Elephant in the Cornfield: The Politics of Agriculture and Climate Change, by long time agricultural reporter Chris Clayton is an insider’s view on climate discussions and agriculture. All three of these books are authored by writers with deep backgrounds in farming and the land.

Interesting conversations about rural arts launched in 2015 on Twitter with the hashtag #RuralAW. Listening in on artists and art lovers speaking on Twitter about rural arts in their communities is an opportunity that I would never have without social media.

In 2015, I noticed new perspectives on farming and farmers coming out of New York City.  Heritage Radio Network, which broadcasts online out of Brooklyn, featured numerous interviews (most are archived) with rural farmers from around the country. I’m also enjoying the agrarian literature reviews out of New York University on Twitter at @AgrarianNYU.  Moderated by John Linstrom, this group of graduate students posts readings and reviews in the first “Farm To Text” effort that I have seen.


Trampoline-coverLora Smith, Kentucky, philanthropist, folklorist, small farmer.

My Best Album Nominee:  Where in Our Woods, Elephant Micah.

Elephant Micah is Joe O’Connell. I think of O’Connell as  a “musician’s musician” in that many of his musical peers sight him as an influence and more mainstream musicians are counted among his fans. That includes Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers who recently put his album on a “Best Of 2015” list.  O’Connell is a folklorist who now calls the Triangle of North Carolina home, but his songwriting and the sonic landscapes he creates on “Where in our Woods” speak to his rural Indiana roots.

My Best Book Nominee:  Trampoline, Robert Gipe.

My Best Podcast Nominee:  SFA’s Gravy Podcast.

Not exclusively about rural but much of the stories come from the rural South. I especially liked this recent one: Delta Jewels.


Billy Altom, Arkansas, disability rights activist and musician. Read Billy’s tweet here: @arwheelbilly.

One of my favorite discoveries was a documentary on Netflix called Muscle Shoals. If you are a classic rock and soul music fan, this is a must see. It is the story of Rick Hall and his Fame Studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Nostalgia at its finest….”Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers, woo hoo hoo, and they been known to pick a song or two….”


Julianne Couch, Iowa, writer. Read Julianne’s feed on Twitter.

I pick StoryCorps’ Military Voices Initiative as a top rural-themed media offering for 2015. While only a portion of its person-to-person recorded interviews involve rural people, there are something like 5 million military veterans who live in rural America. Hearing these short conversations between pairs of loved ones, or friends, or people who served together, helps me understand the people, not just the politics or strategy, of the military. It is also important to me that these oral histories are archived in at the Library of Congress, available as podcast, on the website, and occasionally broadcast on NPR’s Morning Edition.


The 2015 Rural Assembly tops Whitney Kimball Coe's list -- and it's not just because she was the event's coordinator, she says. From left to right: Adam Strong, Mil Duncan, Philan Tree, Doug O’Brien, Megan Gregory, Julie Jent, Dr. C. Nicole Mason (Photo by Shawn Poynter)
The 2015 Rural Assembly tops Whitney Kimball Coe’s list — and it’s not just because she was the event’s coordinator, she says. From left to right: Adam Strong, Mil Duncan, Philan Tree, Doug O’Brien, Megan Gregory, Julie Jent, Dr. C. Nicole Mason (Photo by Shawn Poynter)

Whitney Kimball Coe, East Tennessee, coordinator for the National Rural Assembly

Throughout the year I’ve watched Big Switch Farm in Eastern Kentucky emerge as a cultural and agricultural movement of sorts on social media. Following the Big Switch family on Instagram is both thrill and comfort as you watch Lora Smith and Joe Schroeder and their children carry out the work of the seasons on their organic hemp farm. Every image tells the story of Big Switch: it’s a gathering place for friends and family, a place steeped in Appalachian history and heritage, and an entrepreneurial endeavor in a region that is in the midst of  great economic transition.

Check out this video from The Bitter Southerner:

My favorite experience as a rural advocate this year was participating the 2015 National Rural Assembly, held in Washington, D.C. (Full disclosure: I’m the coordinator of the National Rural Assembly). I don’t think I’m alone among the 200 or so participants in feeling like the 2015 Gathering was special. The Assembly brought together federal officials and Cabinet members, funders, policy makers,and grassroots rural leaders and focused attention on the future of rural communities.   It’s unusual when people from different sectors, geographies, age groups, and experiences can find common cause. The diversity of participants and experiences yielded some incredibly rich content.


Kelley Snowden, East Texas, college educator.

Red Clay
After a rain
Orange mounds
On the side of the road
In the garden
Tiny grains held between
Pushed out of tunnels
Now in perfect repose
Clay made home
Fire ants

I planted mint in clay
Tough roots
Break up the dirt
Leaving the soil
Ready to be blended
I tore out the plants
Careful to get
Every bit
Lest it spread
Clay made home
Purple bearded Irises

Between the green blades
In amongst the corms
Nut grass and
Small orange mounds
A reminder of mint
Tells me I didn’t get it all
I should
On hands and knees
Weed the wayward bed
But I only look
And dream of time
Clay made home
Beneath my fingernails


The Rural Roundtable is a joint production of the Daily Yonder and the National Rural Assembly.



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