Thursday, October 30, 2014

Wednesday Roundup: You Can't Buy a Town

04/04/2012

Bonnie Carlson Ann Arbor Miller/MPR News Bonnie Carlson owns the one grocery in Clinton, Minnesota, a struggling business much appreciated by customers like Nathanael Okeson, 5, who arrived to pick up a birthday cake.

Want to buy a small town? According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Buford, Wyoming (pop. 1) with a trading post, gas station and P.O. (by which the agent likely means a post office building) is on the block for a minimum bid of $100,000.

Pray, Montana (pop. 8) , is listed for $1.4 million . And last year, “a Philippine church, Iglesia ni Cristo, bought the mostly abandoned town of Scenic, South Dakota, for $700,000.’’

Albert, TX,with an old rock schoolhouse that Lyndon Johnson attended for one year, is for sale at $2.5 million.

These listings, undoubtedly appealing, to Big Shots, are hard to fathom. You may be able to buy buildings, even a whole block of them, but feudalism ended awhile ago. No matter how small, a town isn’t property. It’s the residents and former residents – and future residents. A town is its location on the plain or by a creek. It's a history, a local culture. No one person (or corporation) can really own a town.

• Iowa’s Governor Terry Branstad decries what he calls a “smear campaign” against ammonia-treated ground beef filler, politely referred to as lean finely textured beef, also known as “pink slime.” Branstad called the meat filler, which is added to some ground beef products, “healthy and safe."

He has suggested an inquiry on the pink-slime matter (meat hate speech?) to the House ag committee. "If they get by with this, what other food products are they going to attack next?" asked the governor.

• Contracts covering more than 6.5 million acres of Conservation Reserve Program land will expire this year, “the second-largest turnover in its 26-year history,” according to USDA data. The program pays farmers and ranchers to keep lands idle to protect wildlife and the environment.

With today’s high crop values and global food requirements ever rising, the return of these conservation lands to production offers a chance for young farmers who could not otherwise afford cropland to begin farming. But it also threatens the habitat of several bird species, including bald eagles, that have made a comeback since the program began. Tom Polansek of Reuters reports on the shrinking conservation program, both opening opportunities and raising renewed concern for endangered species and the environment.

The USDA is offering a one-time bonus ($150 per acre) for owners who enroll lands that are especially environmentally sensitive lands into the conservation program. Meanwhile, the National Grain and Feed Association is lobbying for cutbacks to the conservation program in the next Farm Bill.

• New York Times columnist Frank Bruni sees the old trope of the wicked city/wholesome country hero reeled out in The Hunger Games. He's startled to find Hollywood, which is typically cast a politically liberal, depicting rural people as noble and embattled.

“Does the usefulness of the city’s clichéd image as a dangerous and decadent place trump any political affiliation, and bring many entertainers oddly in line with the Santorums of the world?” Bruni asks.

Bruni may have forgotten Hollywood’s alternate and more entrenched “clichéd image” of rural places as perverse (Blue Velvet), inane (O Brother Where Art Thou), filthy (Winter’s Bone) and violent (Deliverance).

By the way, calling a heroic, beautiful woman with a bow “a cliché” misses several thousand years of cultural history. She is more of an archetype than a cliché. Think the Greeks’ Artemis and the Romans’ Diana, quivers and all.

• Great feature story from Minnesota Public Radio about Bonnie Carlson’s small town grocery in Clinton, Minnesota. “There's fresh meat, which Carlson cuts herself, plus a case of dairy and a cooler of produce. It doesn't have the variety you'd find at a large supermarket, but if people want something, Carlson will get it. When the town's drug store closed, she added greeting cards. She has the town's only bridal registry. It's the kind of place where the staff knows who's sick, and who's recovering.”

Sales are down and the town’s population is declining but Carlson carries on, an oasis in a officially designated “food desert.”

• Country music star Alan Jackson will perform outside Louisa County High School in Mineral, Virginia (pop. 490) May 20. The school shut down last year after it was badly damaged by an earthquake, a rarity in this region. Jackson will play in the school’s parking lot, and proceeds from his concert will go to building a new school auditorium.