Roundup: Let Freedom Rock

House plan says school nutrition demo should  be rural only • Wyoming rejects national science standards • Justice Department approves large flour-mill merger • Maryland legislation hopes to help rural residents • County in Washington votes to prohibit growing GMO crops • Small-town banks in Kansas looking for urban customers •  Obama creates new national monument in New Mexico • New Jersey really is a garden state



For the past 16 years, Ray Sorensen has painted a tribute to the military on a 12-foot-tall boulder, the "Freedom Rock," that sits beside the highway in Menlo, Iowa. He started this year's mural in early May, after having had the giant rock sandblasted to make way for the new work. Sorensen is also working on "The Freedom Rock Tour," in which he will paint a mural in each of Iowa's 99 counties, providing them with an instant tourist attraction. “…I have three goals with The Freedom Rock Tour, and that is to honor America’s Veterans, promote Iowa tourism and provide for my family.”


House Republicans propose to block urban students from participating in a demonstration nutrition program that provides meals to low-income kids when school cafeterias are closed during the summer. The provision is part of the GOP plan for funding agriculture and food-safety programs. 

Politico reports:

In a surprising twist, the bill language specifies that only rural areas are to benefit in the future from funding requested by the administration this year to continue a modest summer demonstration program to help children from low-income households — both urban and rural — during those months when school meals are not available.

Since 2010, the program has operated from an initial appropriation of $85 million, and the goal has been to test alternative approaches to distribute aid when schools are not in session. The White House asked for an additional $30 million to continue the effort, but the House bill provides $27 million for what’s described as an entirely new pilot program focused on rural areas only.

Democrats were surprised to see urban children were excluded. And the GOP had some trouble explaining the history itself. But a spokeswoman confirmed that the intent of the bill is a pilot project in “rural areas” only.


Wyoming is the first state to reject new national science standards. Objections to the Next Generation Science Standards, which have already been adopted in 11 states, stem from the way it teaches about climate change. The curriculum argues that humans have an impact on climate change. The message may be unpopular in oil- and gas-rich states.


The Department of Justice has approved a merger of the nation’s first and third largest flour millers.

The merger will combine the flour-milling operations of ConAgra, CHS and Cargill into a new entity called Ardent Mills. Ardent will have 44 mills and more than $4 billion in sales, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports.

The Justice Department required the firms to sell four mills because of anti-trust concerns. Food & Water Watch, a nonprofit that opposed the merger, said the divestment was “meager” and that the new milling concern would have “stranglehold over most wheat farmers from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River,” the Star-Tribune reported.


Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has signed legislation that proponents hope will address disparities in rural parts of the state. The law adds 10 years to the life of the Rural Maryland Prosperity Investment Fund, “increases the capacity of the five regional rural councils and expands programming to include health care,” The Star Democrat reports. About a quarter of the state’s population lives in its 18 rural counties.


Pickens County Medical Center in Carrollton, Alabama, has laid off 14 workers and furloughed 13 more in a cost-saving measure necessitated by reductions in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements, reports the Tuscaloosa ABC TV affiliate. Part of the financial difficulties stem from Alabama’s decision not to expand Medicaid, as allowed under the federal Affordable Care Act. Twenty-one states have not expanded Medicaid, and three more are still considering their options as of March 2014.


Voters in Jackson County, Washington, have approved a ban on growing genetically engineered crops. The measure requires people to “’harvest, destroy or remove all genetically engineered plants’ within 12 months of the enactment of the ordinance,” reports Reuters.

Neighboring Josephine County enacted a similar ballot initiative, but that measure will face a challenge under a state law banning such county-level ordinances. The Jackson County measure was already in process before that law went into effect.


Rural banks in Kansas are expanding into metropolitan areas as a growth strategy, the FDIC reports.

The Kansas City Business Journal reports:

Thanks to a strong and robust agricultural economy, rural banks are typically strong. But it appears they aren't willing to rely on that strength forever, and are already establishing branches in metropolitan areas to spark growth. At the end of 2000, the study showed that 9.3 percent of community banks in depopulating rural areas operated branches in metropolitan areas. By year end of 2007, that rose to 17.5 percent. The trend is a big reason why the Kansas City metropolitan area had 135 different bank brands as of June 30, 2013.


President Obama approved the creation of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument this week. The 500,000-acre tract near Las Cruces, New Mexico, is a treasure trove of historical areas and artifacts, including petroglyphs from three Native tribes, a petrified forest and even some graffiti by Billy the Kid.

"This designation is a long time coming, and we are excited that Doña Ana County is finally going to be able to reap the economic benefits of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument,” said Carrie Hamblen, executive director of the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce.


The Garden State lives up to its nickname, according to the newly released results of the 2012 Census of Agriculture. New Jersey isn’t usually the first state that comes to mind when you think about agriculture, but the ag business, especially floriculture, seems to be thriving. According to the USDA, since the last census was released five years ago:

Square footage for nursery stock crops in New Jersey more than doubled from 7.8 million square feet to 16 million.  And greenhouse tomatoes went from 162,000 square feet to 275,000.