Archive for November, 2005

But We Wired Our House For It…

Wednesday, November 30th, 2005

I am generally supportive of efforts to bring high speed internet to rural areas, but I can’t generate too much sympathy for the couple profiled by the New York Times yesterday.

Daniel and Linda Hawkins expected to lose some amenities when they moved to this small farming town, population 1,759, from a slightly larger city nearby. But they were so sure they would have high-speed Internet access that they had high-capacity wiring installed in every room in the house. […]

But to the couple’s dismay, their new house, complete with a fishing pond in the back, lies in a wireless dead zone […]

Follow the link above to see a picture of the couple’s new “farm” house. Sounds and looks like exurban sprawl to me.

The rest of the story actually touches on some important points regarding federal support to bring broadband to rural areas. I just wish the writer had chosen a different lead-in for the story. I suggest a community like rural Scottsburg, Indiana where city officials undertook their own high speed internet project last year (in an effort to prevent two businesses from leaving town) after their requests for broadband were turned down by commercial interests.

Remnants of Rural Past

Monday, November 28th, 2005

I’ve been running across a number of stories lately about the wasting of traditional rural communities. This one in particular caught my eye — probably because of the striking black and white photos.

Someday they’ll all be gone.

Fleeting glances into the past, they’re reminders of all that we once were and will never be again.

Stately barns and sturdy homesteads were once the hallmarks of our growing country, paying rugged homage to a life measured by the grit on one’s hands.

Now these structures — and that life — are crumbling away. […]


As the farmer goes, so go the house and barn. Buildings fade from the landscape when family farms are sold to large concerns, rendering the old wooden stalwarts as essential as horse-drawn plows.

Some of these bucolic beacons still exist, however, dotting the hills and valleys of our state with their weathered beauty. […]

Tieton Drive

The Dunford barn, on Highway 97 northwest of Ellensburg, also exudes a majestic air, posing in front of the gently rising foothills of the Stuart range.

Still used occasionally for hay, the barn has survived in three different centuries since being built in the late 1800s. […]

Highway 97

All that’s left of the town of 400 is its hollowed-out high school and a pump house.

Technically now a historic ruin, the high school was an architectural showplace when built in 1916. […]

Hanford High School

In Black Rock country around Moxee, a vestige of the Meeboer homestead appears like an aging ancestor of early America. Belying its once functional form, the skeletal remains sit along what’s now Highway 24. […]

Highway 24

As America ages, fewer and fewer of these pioneer structures will remain to remind us of our rustic roots.

With more shingles dropping from roofs each year and boards rotting, the days of grandeur for old barns and homesteads are on the decline.

“People just don’t need these barns so much anymore,” he concludes. “Some are going to rot to the ground pretty soon.”

And with them will go a piece of our pastoral past, an aging whisper in history.

Outsourcing to Rural

Monday, November 28th, 2005

Could rural sourcing help bring jobs to rural communities?

When Robin Viera graduated from East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, in May, she assumed she would have to relocate to a larger city to use her degree in business and systems analysis. But she was reluctant to uproot her husband and 11-year-old stepson, and leave behind their extended families.

Instead, she landed a program-analyst position with Rural Sourcing, an IT company that outsources not to India or Mexico, but rural America. […]

Rural Sourcing claims to provide information technology services at 30 percent to 50 percent below most U.S. consulting firms by tapping into the increasing number of IT professionals in rural America, where overhead and wages are lower than in metropolitan areas. […]

“I believed there is untapped talent in these locations that has been overlooked,” said White, who grew up in Oxford, Arkansas, which had a population of 200 at the time. Many rural American communities have suffered proverbial brain drains, White said. Subsequently, their populations are aging and tax bases are shrinking. When she started Rural Sourcing, her goal was to help reverse these trends. […]

Today Rural Sourcing claims 20 clients, including Mattel and Cardinal Health, $1 million in revenue and 50 full-time employees at five IT centers in Arkansas, North Carolina and Missouri. […] She hopes to employ 100 full-time consultants by the end of next year, and 1,000 within five to seven years.

I’m generally optimistic about the work being done by Rural Sourcing. The project might benefit from some new public policy (local, state and national) that seeks to support the development of networks and infrastructures needed to encourage the spread of rural sourcing to more communities.

At the local level, city councils, mayors and community leaders should look to implement policies that will encourage jobs to be rural-sourced to their communities.

More land grant universities, traditionally charged with teaching agricultural practices, should be encouraged to pursue centers to study the possibilities of rural sourcing in their respective states, and also to follow the lead of the Delta Center for Economic Development at Arkansas State University by helping to develop the infrastructure needed to make rural sourcing a reality.

And finally, it is easy to imagine a host of national policy changes that would encourage more rural sourcing. These range from the mundane (federal appropriations to encourage the practice) to the particularly significant (changes in trade policy–hey, we can hope).

This all comes with the caveat I offered here.

Hunger in the Country

Sunday, November 27th, 2005

In the days leading up to Thanksgiving last week NPR aired a series of in-depth stories on hunger in the United States.

All four stories were excellent (in that awful, terrible kind of way). If you didn’t hear them I draw your attention in particular to the one on hunger in the rural U.S.

Fifteen percent of the rural people surveyed are uncertain about getting enough food. […]

In Smyth County, Va., the Hankins family lives these statistics every day. Their rural home is near the town of Chilhowie, a place of plenty once. Chilhowie is a Cherokee word, meaning “valley of many deer.” Just up the road is Hungry Mother State Park, a place named for a local legend about a mother’s sacrifice for a hungry child.

Wreatha Hankins is a 37-year-old mom with three children and a working husband. She has resorted to extraordinary measures to make sure her family eats, including skipping meals herself, skipping medicine for epilepsy and chronic back pain, doing her own dental work, selling family heirlooms and scouring Smyth County for the cheapest food available. She searches for food bargains at dollar stores, flea markets, roadside stands and the nearly expired meat section at supermarkets.

“We’re the working poor,” Wreatha says. In fact, Robbie Hankins works full-time at a cement plant. Wreatha works part-time as a substitute teacher. Last year, the couple made $22,000. That puts them just below the federal poverty threshold for a family of five. But it’s too much for food stamps. The family does get a monthly, 125-pound box of groceries from a local food pantry. And the children get free lunches at school. Eating otherwise is sometimes a challenge. “It bothers me knowing that I don’t know whether we’re going to have food from one week to the next,” says Robbie.

The “food insecure” in rural places face special challenges. High gas prices make the hunt for cheap or free food expensive. Some rural people, especially the disabled and elderly, don’t have cars, or cars that run reliably. And grocery stores and food pantries are fewer and farther between.

But really you must listen to the story to fully appreciate the challenges. When you listen you’ll learn how, among other tactics to preserve their food budget, Wreatha has resorted to home-spun dentistry using candle wax to repair a damaged tooth.

Listen here. Give here, or to your local food relief agency.

Rural Recruiting

Sunday, November 27th, 2005

U.S. soldiers are still dying in Iraq (80 in November. 96 in October.)

New recruits are still coming disproportionately from rural areas.

This from North Branch, Michigan.

Uncle Sam lures more from rural Michigan: Money, education attract military recruits who see few opportunities in small towns.

Military records show that Michigan’s military recruits come disproportionately from the state’s most rural areas, where young people enlist at a rate double that in the most populous parts of the state. […]

In the state’s 45 most rural counties — those in which at least 60 percent of people live in rural areas — about seven of every 1,000 young people ages 18-24 enlisted last year. In the state’s most populous counties, about four of every 1,000 young adults signed up.

The pattern is similar nationwide. […]

The same study found a correlation nationwide between lower economic status and increased likelihood of enlisting in the armed forces. Neither of these findings are particularly surprising. In a time of military conflict our all volunteer military is drawing more heavily on young people with limited alternatives (or a perception of limited alternatives).

But as Anita Bancs, research director for the National Priorities Project says, “If we’re going to engage in war, we ought to know who the people are who volunteer, who are serving in the armed forces and who put themselves at risk.”

As the national debate over the direction of the war in Iraq escalates, it is doubly important to recognize who is baring the burden of the current policy.

Rural Philanthropy

Friday, November 25th, 2005

From a recent editorial by Thomas Rowley at RUPRI.

According to a May 2004 report by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, foundations in the United States give out some $30 billion a year. Of that, a paltry $100.5 million was committed to rural development. Indeed, only 184 of 65,000 active grant-making foundations in the country gave to rural development. (Just two of those 184—the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Ford Foundation–together were responsible for 42 percent of the money to rural.)

Thanksgiving Travelers Head for Rural Areas

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2005

The AAA reports that “Small towns and rural areas top the list of preferred destinations, with 37 percent of the travel volume,” this Thanksgiving travel season.

Rural Air Service

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2005

Airline services to rural communities threatened in latest round of budget cuts.

Cuts target rural ‘lifeline’
Tiny towns say government-funded air service essential

Air travel is not always convenient. But how about having to drive more than 120 miles, much of it on a two-lane road, just to get to the airport?

That’s what the folks in Brownwood, Texas, have had to put up with since they lost their commercial air service a year ago, and that’s what dozens of other communities across rural America could face if the White House succeeds in slashing the Essential Air Service program. […]

Each year, Congress spends about $100 million on the program, which pays small airlines to fly to rural airports they would otherwise avoid because there aren’t enough passengers to cover the cost.

The Bush administration has repeatedly tried to shrink the program to serve only the most remote communities. […]

Under the White House plan, communities that get subsidized air service would have to kick in to help cover the cost. Cities less than 100 miles from a large or medium hub airport or 75 miles from a small hub could get federal help, but only for ground transportation, such as shuttle buses, to take people to a larger airport. […]

The cost to provide rural air service has quadrupled over the past decade. Several communities reported subsidies per passenger of more than $300 last year. At the same time, ridership has fallen in part because of the emergence of discount airlines that have made the drive to a larger airport financially worthwhile.

However, the service is more than just a convenience for local residents. Out-of-the-way communities depend on the airlines to speed up delivery of mail and supplies - and there’s the economic-development aspect, as well. […]

The arguments for cutting these services sound a lot like the arguments for cutting support for Amtrak. The problem is that both arguments fail to acknowledge an entire set of subsidies that go to airlines, roads, bridges, etc.

Sure rural air service costs taxpayers money, but so do roads, bridges, tunnels, and airlines which serve a large spectrum of our population.

Food and Class Status

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2005

There’s a good post and accompanying discussion in the comments section over at Gristmill where Tom Philpott has written a post about the sustainable food movement’s “class problem.”

Food and class

The sustainable-food movement has a class problem.

Slow Food, for example, is an essential organization, with its declaration of a universal “right to taste” and its mandate to …

“… oppose the standardisation of taste, defend the need for consumer information, protect cultural identities tied to food and gastronomic traditions, safeguard foods and cultivation and processing techniques inherited from tradition and defend domestic and wild animal and vegetable species.”

The group has undeniably done important work internationally toward those goals; yet its U.S. branch tends to throw pricey events accessible only to an economic elite.

The rest is here.

Say What?

Monday, November 21st, 2005

From the Brownfield Ag Network.

Vertical integration protecting against bird flu

Because nearly all commercial poultry production in the United States is company-managed — a system known as vertical integration — production processes are safer and more efficient, said Todd Applegate, Purdue Extension poultry specialist. […]

“The poultry industry is the most vertically integrated of all of our livestock industries,” Applegate said. “As we try to reduce the risk of bird flu in this country, having full control over the entire production process is probably a good thing.” […]

While wild fowl carrying the virus could enter the U.S., it is unlikely those birds could come in contact with chickens and other commercially raised poultry, Applegate said. In vertically integrated companies, poultry are carefully monitored to ensure optimum health and production quality, he said. Biosecurity measures are tight throughout the production process, especially on the parent farms and hatcheries, Applegate said. […]

Ops. He forgot to mention that the reason these operations are so “carefully monitored” and require such “tight biosecurity” is that if a bird flu outbreak did occur within the U.S. poultry industry the extreme confinement of animals will contribute significantly to the challenge of reigning the disease in.

In fact the high level of concentration (just four companies control over 50% of US poultry production) is in part to blame for the emergence of this new strain of bird flu.

Emergence of variant strains of both infectious bursal disease and avian bronchitis viruses add to the problems of selecting appropriate vaccines and programs for administration. It is evident that a high concentration of poultry in close proximity allows dissemination of variants. Within three years of the emergence of the Delaware variants of IBDV, virtually the entire industry east of the Mississippi was affected with these strains. There was evidence that the Delaware IBD viruses are now the predominant serotypes in Central America, requiring adjustment of both parent and broiler vaccination programs.

The Washington Post wrote as early as February of this year that the growing concentration in South East Asia poultry production is contributing to the spread of bird flu.

[With] chickens now packed into farmyards alongside other livestock, international health experts warn that conditions are set for a bird flu pandemic that could kill millions worldwide if the virus developed into a form capable of spreading among humans.

Writing in response to the Post, Applied Anthropologist Robert Nigh wrote the following for the Effect Measure blog.

The picture that is emerging, though, is that the rapid development of the confined poultry industry and associated technological changes and export trade has resulted in the appearance and rapid propagation of new, highly virulent strains of poultry diseases, some of which affect humans. These new strains not only represent a major threat to the future of poultry production but have resulted in serious potential threats to human health with very high costs for society.

The solution to this problem is not more of the same, i.e. more high tech solutions, drugs, “biosecurity ” and ” best practices ” applied to confined poultry operations, but rather to reverse the trend, back up from this dead end, abandon large chicken confinements and return to decentralized production in small flocks widely distributed in the countryside. This also implies that long-distance, ” global ” trade in poultry products would be largely abandoned.

Such conclusions may fall outside of Purdue Extension poultry specialist’s preview, but these conclusions are likely more palatable in the long run than any increased biosecurity measures can ever be.

Mad Cow Disease & Milk

Saturday, November 19th, 2005

I’ve written before about the USDA and FDA’s seeming inability to enforce their own regulations aimed at stemming the spread of mad cow disease.

Now this.

A new study in Canada suggests that the prions that cause mad cow disease can be passed through milk.

New research into prions, the infectious agents that cause mad cow-like diseases, has found them in the mammary glands of some sheep, raising questions about whether milk and milk products from infected animals could transmit the pathogens.

Prion experts were quick to insist the current potential risk to human health is low and may even be nil.

But they suggested the findings are a warning that if prion diseases in livestock aren’t rigorously hunted for and rooted out, milk and products like cheeses and yogurt could be a potential route of transmission of prions to humans.

In humans, prions — highly infectious misfolded proteins — cause the brain wasting variant-Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease or CJD.

The story broke two days ago, but has been carried primarily in the foreign press so far. I can’t find it in any major U.S. papers yet. There is a growing concern over food safety in this country, and I think this could be potentially explosive if picked up by major U.S. media outlets.

Budget Reconciliation

Saturday, November 19th, 2005

My friends in D.C. tell me it could have been worse. From the National Farmers Union.

House Budget Plan Wrong for Rural America

National Farmers Union President Dave Frederickson made the following statement following the U.S. House of Representative’s passage of its budget reconciliation legislation late last night:

“The House’s passage of nearly $4 billion in cuts to programs that benefit rural America is the wrong move at the wrong time. The representatives’ plan will make a bad situation out on the farm even worse.

“These cuts will place a further burden on our farmers and ranchers who are already struggling due to low commodity prices, skyrocketing energy costs, and devastating weather conditions. Now is not the time to cut programs beneficial to our nation’s producers and rural communities.

“The House reconciliation legislation cuts $1.033 billion from the farm safety net for 2006 through 2010. It also makes $734 million in reductions in conservation spending. Farm spending makes up less than 1 percent of the federal budget, yet farmers and ranchers are required to take more than 9 percent of all federal spending reductions. Policymakers are placing a disproportionate share of the burden on rural America while proposing tax cuts for the nation’s wealthy.”

The bill is headed for committee where it will get melded with the Senate’s version from last week.

Judge Supports Small Schools

Wednesday, November 16th, 2005

There has been a movement underfoot in Nebraska to require small elementary schools to merge with larger districts. Yesterday a Judge rulled in favor of plaintiffs seeking to prevent the new law from taking effect.

A state law requiring all elementary-only schools to merge with larger districts was put on hold by a judge Monday, keeping alive hopes that the consolidation law will be overturned by voters next year.

Even if voters don’t repeal the law, at the very least the Legislature will have to rewrite it to set new deadlines, said Sen. Ron Raikes of Lincoln, the chief backer of the law.

“I’m just very disappointed,” Raikes said.

Note that the “chief backer of the law” is a legislator from Lincoln, the second largest city in the state.

If the schools are dissolved as current law requires in June 2006, “a fair opportunity to vote in a meaningful manner will not be available,” Lancaster County District Judge Paul Merritt Jr. ruled.

Merritt’s granting of a temporary injunction means that the law is suspended and the mergers cannot move ahead. Unless his decision is overturned, the schools can remain open at least until voters get a chance in November 2006 to decide whether to throw out the merger law.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll win at the ballot box,” said Mike Nolles, president of Class I’s United, a group that supports the elementary-only schools. […]

This year there are 206 elementary-only schools in Nebraska, many of which are in the most rural parts of the state. Supporters of the schools fought the law, saying they should be able to determine their own fate and not be forced to merge.

Law proponents argue that having K-12 districts statewide will save money and provide a more equitable education to all students.

The Nebraska based Center for Rural Affairs has issued multiple studies that seek to show such claims are untenable.

“Playing Politics”

Sunday, November 13th, 2005

Being on the Iowa State University Campus, Drew Miller is in a good position to have casual conversation about the Leopold Center with folks in-the-know.

I talked to someone close to the Ag College at ISU, who said that Dewitt and Wintersteen are close friends, and that Wintersteen likes to play politics. She’s apparently done it before - when a search committee had decided on a candidate, she overruled them and forced them to ask one of her friends first.

The rest is here.

Have You Written a Letter Yet?

Wednesday, November 9th, 2005

Have you written a letter to Iowa State University Administration yet?

Be a Populist

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