Join the Network

The Center for Rural Affairs is gunning for 10,000 names on their Strengthening Rural America Petition. You can read the document here and sign up here.

When rural young people are denied the opportunity to build homes, businesses, lives and careers, rural America contributes fewer taxes, fewer jobs and less productivity to America. To contribute to the nation’s prosperity, Rural America must share in it.

When community is weakened, the bonds that make us strong are weakened. In strong communities we are more likely to help each other. To uplift rural values, we must lift up rural communities.

The WalMarting of the American economy – the destruction of family farms and small business – is shrinking the rural middle class. People denied a stake in the American dream, are less likely to take responsibility for sustaining it.

Don’t think of this as just another internet petition (what good do all those online petitions do anyway, right). By signing this petition you are joining the Center for Rural Affairs in their new “National Rural Action Network” campaign. The goal of the new network is to organize rural people to effectively pressure lawmakers to develop policies that work for the rural United States.

I joined the network. Will you?

80/55 Rural News Delivery

Once a week the Center for Rural Strategies compiles an email of rural related news stories for the 80/55 Coalition email list. This week’s email is coppied below, and you can sign up to recieve the updates yourself by following the directions in the posting.

Rural News Delivery – May 24, 2006

We’re pleased to offer you this compilation of articles that appeared in the national media this week on the subject of rural.

The information from these weekly updates is to be used for educational purposes only. Recipients may not repurpose the contents without permission from the source. Please note that links to newspapers may require registration. Thank you!

If you would like to receive the full copy of an article, please email your request to Shawn Poynter at Join the 80-55 Coalition at

Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY), May 20, 2006
5 dead in E. Ky. coal mine explosion
by Mark Pitsch and James R. Carroll

Five miners were killed early Saturday when an explosion about 5,000 feet underground ripped through an Eastern Kentucky coal mine. One miner was rescued. The explosion at the Darby Mine No. 1 in Harlan County occurred near an area that was sealed to prevent the escape of combustible methane, which escapes when coal is mined. The accident was the deadliest in a Kentucky mine since 10 miners were killed in a 1989 explosion at a mine near Wheatcroft. That tragedy led to tougher federal rules governing the ventilation of coal mines. According to MSHA, the mine where Saturday’s explosion occurred, owned by Kentucky Darby LLC, has had 265 citations and orders and $27,651 in penalties since April 2001. Read the story.

Lowell Sun (Lowell, MA), May 23, 2006
Little guy vs. the ‘Big Box’
by Matt Murphy

The imagined new Billerica Mall, with Home Depot as the main attraction, has drawn the ire of scores of Billerica, Massachusetts, residents. But as the neighborhood opposition group Billerica First prepares to mount a challenge against the home-improvement mega-retailer, leaders are hardly swimming in unexplored waters. From the coast of Maine to the desert in Arizona, citizen activists have risen up to keep out so-called “big box” retail chains. “I think these big corporations are trashing small-town America,” said Al Norman, who runs the website “They’re destroying the feel and character of many of these communities.” Read the story.

New York Times (New York, NY), May 21, 2006
For many West Virginians, leaving is first step home
by Ian Urbina

For West Virginians, the tension between the economic push to leave and the emotional pull to return plays a central role in the state’s cultural identity. Ranked behind South Dakota as having the second smallest population growth of any state, West Virginia has struggled to hold on to residents since the early 1950’s, when layoffs in the coal industry sent people elsewhere looking for work. “They say that brown-haired people cross the border going one way and white-haired people cross it the other,” said Bob Henry Baber, the mayor of Richwood, WV. “But the truth is that most West Virginians of all ages come back continually because they don’t feel right anywhere else.” Read the story.

Concord Monitor (Concord, NH), May 21, 2006
Rural areas facing EMT shortage
by Jenny Michael

Busy lifestyles, an exodus of young people from small towns, and burnout are problems that threaten the existence of rural volunteer ambulance squads. In the past year, three ambulance services have shuttered in North Dakota, a state where about 90 percent of EMTs are volunteers. About one-third of the state’s 141 ambulance services are at risk of the same fate. EMTs and officials worry the shortage could hurt the quality of health care, forcing people to wait longer before an ambulance arrives. Read the story.

Chillicothe News (Chillicothe, MO), May 18, 2006
Small-town symphony thrives in Missouri musical Mecca
by Alan Scher Zagier

They come from Chillicothe, Carrollton, Trenton and other central Missouri towns better known for their hog farms and meat packing plants than as a fertile spawning ground for musical virtuosos. Doctors, lawyers, teachers, housewives, retirees or third-shift workers, they share a singular bond: a commitment to orchestral and symphonic performance that has made Marshall, with just over 12,000 residents, a classical musical Mecca. Read the story.

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School Buildings for Sale

Aside from the fact that the school had to close in the first place, I love this story.

Speaking from the unique new home of his electronic business TAB Funkenwerks, [Oliver Archut] tells his story in a deep European accent: “On CNN I saw a documentary that the heartland of the United States is bleeding out. The schools are empty, the hospitals are empty. And they pretty much said that they were giving it away. That’s when I told my wife, find me a school.”

So with a few keystrokes, Oliver’s wife and business partner Gwen went to the place to people go when they’re looking to get a deal on something totally random.

“I just threw in school on e-Bay and there it was,” says perky Gwen from her office. “I was shocked. I had to speak with people three times before I actually believed the price they had said.”

The price for the 30-thousand square foot former school: 25 grand. Too good to pass up. So the Archuts packed up their shop in Seattle, headed east, and didn’t stop until they were in Gaylord, Kansas.

“There was no way you’re going to find a 30-thousand square foot anything in Seattle for 25 thousand dollars,” Gwen says. “That’s a minimum three million dollar investment.”

So they bought the school and relocated their business from Seattle, Washington (Population 600,000) to Gaylord, Kansas (Population 145). They say that they have everything that they need in Gaylord: high speed internet, UPS service, potential employees, and a very low cost of doing business.

Gwen and Oliver aren’t the only ones buying old rural schools for new business ventures. There’s others too.

And now for the best part. Have a business idea? You too can buy an old rural school on ebay. There is about half a dozen for sale right now. Gaylord, Kansas set a trend though because schools are bringing more than $25,000 these days.

American Dreamer

I’m not blogging because I am reading this book.

H.A. Wallace was, of course, a native Iowan, former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Vice President and third party presidential candidate (among other things).

The book is 600 pages long. It might take me a few days.

Rural Bus Rides

A school consolidation in works in Arkansas is threatening to leave some students with round trip bus rides totaling three hours each day. A parent group has filed a lawsuit claiming that excessive time on a bus violates students’ right to equal educational opportunities under the state constitution.

And now for the urban hegemony quote of the week:

Doug Eaton, director of public school facilities and transportation for Arkansas, said relocation is one option for rural residents concerned about lengthy bus rides.

“If they don’t like to ride the bus, move closer to the school,” Eaton said in a telephone interview.

Chris Heller, attorney for the Paron patrons, responded that the state Supreme Court has ruled that residence should not play a role in whether a student receives an adequate education.

“A statement like (Eaton’s) is similar to saying if kids in poor Delta school districts don’t like the education they’re getting, they ought to move to Little Rock,” Heller said….

The lawsuit against the state Board of Education… claims long bus rides hurt academic performance.

Eaton said that claim could be extended to the point of arguing whether a Ford or Chevrolet bus is better for children.

“I think anybody would be extremely, extremely hard pressed to be able to draw a parallel between a child’s inability to read and write and how long they’ve sat on a bus,” Eaton said.

However, Rod McKnight of the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services cited numerous studies that suggest a correlation between long bus rides and student achievement, though he said even those conclusions have conditions.

In Nebraska rural school proponents are also fighting legislation that would force more rural school consolidations, and thus increase bus ride lengths for students there.

A Poem and A Photograph

A poem by U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser from Flying at Night.

Abandoned Farmhouse

He was a big man, says the size of his shoes
on a pile of broken dishes by the house;
a tall man too, says the length of the bed
in an upstairs room; and a good, God-fearing man,
says the Bible with a broken back
on the floor below the window, dusty with sun;
but not a man for farming, say the fields
cluttered with boulders and the leaky barn.

A women lived with him, says the bedroom wall
papered with lilacs and the kitchen shelves
covered with oilcloth, and they had a child,
says the sandbox made from a tractor tire.
Money was scarce, say the jars of plum preserves
and canned tomatoes sealed in the cellar hole.
And the winters cold, say the narrow country road.

Something went wrong, says the empty house
in the weed-choked yard. Stones in the fields
say he was not a farmer; the still-sealed jars
in the cellar say she left in a nervous haste.
And the child? Its toys are strewn in the yard
like branches after a storm–a rubber cow,
a rusty tractor with a broken plow,
a doll in overalls. Something went very wrong, they say.

A picture from Gone: Photographs of Abandonment on the High Plains by Steve Fitch.

A kitchen in an abandoned farm house near Regent, western North Dakota.

Minimal Rural Tax Cut

Stolen from the IRJCI (Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues) Blog.

Most rural families will receive less than $50 annually in a tax bill slated to be signed today by President Bush, according to a press release from the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy.

The Tax Increase Prevention and Reconciliation Act of 2005 (H.R. 4297) is projected to provide a total of $70 billion in tax cuts to America’s taxpayers. “Based upon an analysis by the Tax Policy Center, the primary beneficiaries of the legislation are higher income households and those who invest in the stock market. Median household income is twenty-five percent lower for non-metro families than for metro families (USDA Economic Research Service) and fewer rural residents than urban residents participate in a retirement plan (Bureau of Labor Statistics, March 2005),” states the release.

According to the Tax Policy Center, the annual average savings include:
$0 for income less than $10,000
$3 for $10,000-20,000
$10 for $20,000-30,000
$17 for $30,000-40,000
$47 for $40,000-50,000
$112 for $50,000-75,000
$406 for $75,000-100,000
$1,395 for $100,000-200,000
$4,527 for $200,000-500,000
$5,656 for $500,000-1,000,000
and $42,766 for more than $1 million.

There are lots of other interesting news items at IRJCI as usual.

California Rural Hospitals

Nearly all of the rural hospitals in California are facing the risk of being closed by the state if they cannot meet new seismic building codes. The new codes are intended to make sure hospitals are still standing and operational after a major earthquake. The state has not provided funding or a funding mechanism to help small and nonprofit hospitals implement the changes.

The cost of upgrading all California hospitals to meet the new seismic codes likely exceeds $50 billion.

Septic Tanks Baffle Urbanites

I have to shake my head at the increasing number of stories about urban dwellers who move to the country only to complain that the water pressure isn’t high enough, they can’t get high speed internet or any one of a number of other things.

This story from over the weekend takes the cake though.

Septic tanks can baffle some
City dwellers new to the country often unfamiliar with maintenance of rural systems

When Candice Quinn Kelly and her husband bought a house in the farmlands of Charles County, Md., they loved the rural feel and the big, open yard — especially the small patch of miraculously lush grass in the middle. To Kelly, raised in Baltimore, that odd strip of bright green turf was like having her own little piece of the golf fairway at Pebble Beach.

Then it started getting soggy, which was curious. But they chalked it up to low ground. It wasn’t until their toilets stopped flushing one day that they recognized the flourishing greenery for what it was: a spongy marsh of human waste.

A local agricultural extension agent goes on to say that some people don’t even realize that their new homes have septic tanks.

Rural School Funding

The Department of the Interior is backing off of their earlier plan to sell off pieces of national forest land to provide funding for rural schools in former logging communities. The payments are the result of federal legislation designed to offset declines in local tax bases in the wake of new federal forest policies in the 1990s that restricted logging on federal land.

The Department will look for other funding sources.

USDA: “War in Iraq is Going Great.”

Maybe I should make a new category for “unbelievable.” From today’s Washington Post.

Career appointees at the Department of Agriculture were stunned last week to receive e-mailed instructions that include Bush administration “talking points” — saying things such as “President Bush has a clear strategy for victory in Iraq” — in every speech they give for the department.

Unfortunately, this is apparently not a joke.

The e-mail, sent to about 60 undersecretaries, assistant secretaries and other political appointees, was also sent to “a few people to whom it should not have gone,” said the department’s communications director, Terri Teuber . The career people, we are assured, are not being asked to spread the great news on Iraq in their talks to food stamp recipients, disadvantaged farmers, enviros or other folks.

So we know about this because they admittedly and accidentally sent their email to some career appointees who presumably leaked the email and associated documents. Notice however, there is no denial of the more basic point that political appointees at the USDA are being asked to incorporate talking points about Iraq into their speeches.

Good thing the White House attached (pdf) some suggestions on how they might do this.

The e-mail provided language “being used by Secretary [Michael O.] Johanns and deputy secretary [Charles F.] Conner in all of their remarks and is being sent to you for inclusion in your speeches.”

Another attachment “contains specific examples of [Global War on Terror] messages within agriculture speeches. Please use these message points as often as possible.”

Suggestion include.

“Several topics I’d like to talk about today — Farm Bill, trade with Japan, WTO, avian flu . . . but before I do, let me touch on a subject people always ask about . . . progress in Iraq.”

Or this

“I’d like to take a moment to talk about a nation that is just now beginning to rebuild its own agricultural production.”

“Iraq is part to the ‘fertile crescent’ of Mesopotamia,. It is there, in around 8,500 to 8,000 B.C., that mankind first domesticated wheat, there that agriculture was born. In recent years, however, the birthplace of farming has been in trouble. But revitalization is underway. President Bush has a clear strategy . . .”

Glad to see we’ve got our priorities straight at the USDA. While we are at it maybe we can just roll the upcoming farm bill into the next Iraq appropriations bill. Oh wait, we’re already doing that too.

Hat tip to IowaUnderground.

Rural Health Professional Shortage

Nearly the entire state of North Dakota is a “health professional shortage area.”


In prior years Canadian and other foreign doctors in the country on J1 visas have helped to fill the void in rural areas. J1 visa applicants are required to work in underserved areas, but the number of applicants for J1 visas is falling.

A hospital administrator in rural North Dakota says towns like his are getting left out in the cold as a result.

“We used to have 150 applicants,” Urvand said.

The hospital has had a physician vacancy for nearly a half year, with only a handful of applications. […]

Since 1994, the J1 visa program has cut the number of physician vacancies by half, while at any given time, there are still 20 vacancies statewide.

The same is true in Tioga. It made a couple of offers to physicians, but in both cases, the offer was turned down because the physician’s spouse didn’t want to make the move. […]

Since 1994, the J1 visa program has cut the number of physician vacancies by half, while at any given time, there are still 20 vacancies statewide.

The problem with spouse comfort is common, but so is cultural comfort.

Tioga Medical Center administrator Randall Peterson said he’s found that’s part of the reason some foreign physicians don’t want to come to small rural communities. […]

Yet another factor is a separate visa program, called H1B, which does not require rural service.

In effect, one visa program undercuts the other.

It’ll get worse. By 2020, the physician shortage will reach 200,000, with small towns feeling the hardest pinch. […]

Prior to September 11, 2001, the USDA administered a program to recruit physicians to practice in rural areas on J1 visas, and they were successful in bringing at least 3,000 doctors to underserved rural areas during the 1990s. The USDA terminated its program in early 2002.

The department of Health and Human Services has since reinstituted a much more limited program that is not expected to be able to keep up with demand in underserved areas.

State GMO Bills

In Vermont the Governor is set to veto a bill that would allow farmers to sue manufacturers of genetically modified seeds for damages if their crops are contaminated by the GMOs. The Governor says that he is worried that the bill would discourage seed companies from selling their seeds in the state. The biotech industry opposes the bill, but says that they would continue to sell seed in the state if the bill became law.

At least the state legislature in Vermont sent this bill to the Governor’s desk and not the premeption bill that is being sent to a number of other Governor’s desks.

Arizona Board of Regents

Recent legislation in Arizona will require that two State Board of Regents members be from counties other than the state’s two major population centers of Pima (Tucson) and Maricopa (Phoenix) counties.

Rural Arizona residents will be guaranteed representation on the state Board of Regents two years from now.

Without comment, Gov. Janet Napolitano signed legislation Thursday to require that when the terms of two board members end in 2008 they will be replaced by people who do not live in either Pima or Maricopa counties.

Together Pima and Maricopa County represent about 75% of the state’s population. All ten of the current regents are from either Pima or Maricopa County, so the enactment of the legislation is not merely symbolic.

Exurban Sprawl

A new report (pdf) out of Colorado documents an agricultural land loss rate of 690 acres per day! Colorado is ranked third in the nation, behind Texas and New Mexico, for overall agricultural land lost in the past five years.

A major cause of the land loss is ranchette-style development of houses on lots between two and 40 acres. And now developers in the state are planning a mammoth, private road project to ease the congestion caused by the exurban sprawl.

Farming Magazine

I’ve added a new periodical to my already too-long reading list. My first issue of Farming Magazine arrived recently. I was sold at the subtitle, “People, Land and Community.” The rest of the magazine hasn’t let me down yet either. Unfortunately, the magazine’s website doesn’t do it justice. You can subscribe there though.

Nothing Short of Amazing

I just upgraded from WordPress 1.5 to WordPress 2.0.2 and changed my layout files. The fact that you can read this is nothing short of amazing given the number of files involved. I’m pleasantly surprised that it seems to have gone off without a hitch. I’ll be tweaking some design things for a couple of days.

(Youth) Renewing the Countryside

I’m on the advisory committee for this forthcoming book. Here’s the press release & call for stories.

For Immediate Release

Beth Munnich, Renewing the Countryside
(612) 871-1541,

A Younger Face for Rural America

Contribute your stories, images to book showcasing role of young people in rural revitalization

Minneapolis, MN—As rural populations decline, community leaders across the country find themselves concerned about how to hold on to young residents—and attract young families to rural places. But young people are, in fact, making lives for themselves in rural America—launching new businesses, keeping family farms in production, starting new farms, and becoming involved in their local communities. Moreover, young people in both rural and urban areas are engaging in rural development by participating in farm-to-school programs, community gardens, and exchange programs that give young people a taste of rural lifestyles. Forward-thinking communities are finding new and innovative ways to engage the next generation in building a better future for their original and adopted hometowns.

Consider contributing your story or photo to Youth Renewing the Countryside, a book in progress that will capture the best stories of hope and youth-led renewal in rural America. The book will be produced by young writers and photographers who tell the success stories of young adults crafting rural livelihoods that support themselves, their families, and their communities, and of youth programs that build social capital while strengthening local food systems. The book will form the basis for a national public education campaign about the role of young people in sustaining and revitalizing rural communities.

Renewing the Countryside, a Minneapolis-based non-profit organization, in partnership with the USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, is now seeking stories and story ideas, as well as young writers and photographers to be part of the Youth Renewing the Countryside production team this summer. A national committee composed of representatives from farming, youth development, and entrepreneurship networks, along with writers and photographers, will select the stories to be included in the publication and the writers and photographers who will create it. Selected contributors will be paired with professional writers and photographers who will act as mentors throughout the process. Renewing the Countryside will provide modest compensation to writers and photographers for their work.

Details are below the fold. Continue reading “(Youth) Renewing the Countryside”