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Next Up: Senator Tom Harkin

Saturday, September 8th, 2007

On Monday Iowa Senator Tom Harkin will write a guest post at Rural Populist outlining his priorities for the 2007 Farm Bill. The House passed their version of the Farm Bill in late July. The Senate is expected to take up their version of the bill sometime this fall.

Senator Harkin is the Chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee as well as the co-chair of the Senate Rural Health Caucus.

The Value of Rural

Thursday, September 6th, 2007

By Steph Larsen

In a recent post that was crossposted on Gristmill, there were a few comments that reflected a view of rural areas by folks who I can only assume have chosen not to spend much time in the country. They asked questions like:

“What’s so special about rural communities? Why isn’t it better if half these people just moved to the cities?”

I find myself defending rural communities more frequently lately, even though I’ve never been a permanent resident of one (yet). To my city friends, the statement that I’m spending three weeks in Nebraska is almost always met with raised eyebrows and quizzical looks. While they understand the desire to leave the swamp that is our nation’s capital, most of them are coastal people who haven’t given the Midwest more than a cursory glance as they drive by or fly over on their way to somewhere else.

There are a lot of answers to the question “Why care about rural communities?” One might be that with 55 million Americans living in rural areas, it would be undemocratic to categorically ignore their voices. Another would be equality–we routinely spend tax dollars revitalizing run-down parts of cities, and rural communities deserve similar treatment.

Another person commented:

“Explain to me why is it important to keep these small towns alive? Those who have left the small towns are gainfully employed elsewhere. Note that our food production has not fallen off in tangent with the decline of these rural centers. So, this is not leading to starvation. The future may be one of profitable organic farmers in close proximity to major urban centers, if that is what the market creates, and if the government and everyone else would stop trying to prop up a lifestyle that is an echo of our former agrarian economy.”

While it is certainly the case that our food production has not decreased dramatically because of the decline of diversified agriculture, it is also true that agriculture has gotten more consolidated and unsustainable, adopting many practices that are arguably much worse for the environment than ever before. As an advocate for local organic food, I personally make sure that as much of my food as possible comes from local organic sources, but I speculate that every major urban area does not have the space for profitable local organic farmers to feed all the residents in the nearby city, especially with rampant urban sprawl.

In addition, if even a majority of rural residents suddenly moved to the city, there would be a huge strain on infrastructure and resources, not to mention that a flood of labor would likely not do good things for wages and working conditions. In fact, today’s farm policy is partially a legacy of former Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz, whose “Get big or get out,” “Fencerow to fencerow” style led to an influx of rural residents to urban areas that provided cheap labor for urban manufacturing.

There is one argument, however, that I think we can all relate to regardless of our roots. I want you to picture the place you consider home. Perhaps you are in that place now, and can look around, and feel how good it is to be there. Then, imagine what you would feel or do if someone told you that you couldn’t, or shouldn’t, live there anymore. Approximately 20% of Americans live in small towns and rural areas, and many of them are passionate about protecting their homes and communities. It’s unfair for folks to suggest that rural residents leave the places in which they want to live.

Many of us, whether we realize it or not, have rural roots or depend on rural areas. The idea of allowing rural communities to go to waste would have unintended and unforeseen consequences. I admire that our country still allows for equal opportunity to all our residents, and I hope that these opportunities would not be denied due to geography.

Daily Yonder

Sunday, July 15th, 2007

The Daily Yonder is a new online (blogish-style) newspaper on rural issues. Backed by the Center for Rural Strategies, and actual paid staff, the site is generating original news and commentary on issues of interest to rural communities at pace that makes the site worth checking in on at least a couple of times each week.

You can also drop in on an interesting conversation I started in the comments on one of their regular features. Editor, Bill Bishop, picks up on the comment in a more recent post, and promises to continue to conversation.

I’ve added Daily Yonder to the blogroll on the right.

New Contributor

Sunday, April 15th, 2007

Steph Larsen, a Policy Organizer with the Community Food Security Coalition, is joining Rural Populist as a new contributor. Larsen will write occasional posts on agricultural policy, the current farm bill debate, and whatever else strikes her as thought-provoking.

Rural Roundup

Tuesday, January 2nd, 2007
  • On Dec. 1, 2006 Iowa farms had 17.2 million hogs, the most ever counted in a December inventory and the largest number of hogs on Iowa farms since September 1955.
  • One year after the Sago Mine disaster miners are still working with subpar safety equipment.
  • Proposed legislation in Arizona would tax businesses that located in rural areas at a lower rate.
  • Seeking to close the “information gap” between urban and rural, China will launch an effort to open 200,000 libraries in rural parts of the country by 2010.
  • DTN network has purchased The Progressive Farmer from Time Warner Inc, thus expanding their presence in agriculture and rural media.

    Rural Roundup

    Wednesday, December 27th, 2006
  • Niel Ritchie argues that unregulated VOIP (voice over internet protocol) could be the key to driving commercial providers into the rural broadband internet business.
  • The water wars move east.
  • The FDA is poised to approve meat from cloned animals for human consumption.
  • Montana joins efforts to solidify a Western Primary early in the presidential primary calender.
  • Domestic organic production is exploding. Or is it?

    Rural Roundup

    Sunday, December 10th, 2006
    • Gristmill is running a series on all aspects of biofuels.
      • In a somewhat ironic move the USDA is poised to approve the “organic” label for farmed fish, but not for wild fish.
        • Fruit and vegetable producers in the U.S. don’t get much in the way of agricultural subsidies, but that could change with the next farm bill.
          • In Idaho, State House Democrats walked out of the chambers this week when Republicans refused to give up a key committee assignment to Democrats. Democrats won six additional seats in the State House in the November election.
            • In Florida there may be no such thing as “rural” within 50 years.
              • Giving Thanks to Farmers

                Thursday, November 23rd, 2006

                Happy Thanksgiving. I’ll let NPR do the work for me today (they did a good job).

                Farm Aid is as much a ritual gathering of America’s farming community as it is a fundraiser and a concert.

                At the annual event, corn and pig farmers trade tips and plot lobbying strategies, and college kids listen as Dave Matthews plays a killer set. It’s a story of hard times and new possibilities, of farmers markets, of young people, whose parents were forced off the land, returning to farm again, and the beginning of new food chains.

                Listen to the tribute.

                Rural Roundup

                Tuesday, November 21st, 2006
                • Watch out! Iowa is going to run out of corn. No really. Well, ok, not really. But they might. Really. I could write a book in response to this Sunday, front page Des Moines Register article, so I won’t even start.
                  • I recently discovered the New West site with lots of news (and photographs) from the rural west.
                    • What’s this guy doing raising grapes for wine in Iowa? Doesn’t he know Iowa is going to run out of corn?
                      • Kos fills us in on some numbers: Democrats gained in the Mountain West. Democrats gained in North Dakota. Democrats gained in Alaska.
                        • Rural Roundup

                          Thursday, November 16th, 2006
                          • Wal Mart sells organic. Except it’s not organic.
                            • Twenty-one year old college student runs for state legislature (special election) in rural northwest Iowa.
                              • The Rural School and Community Trust has a new blog about rural schools and rural education policy.
                                • Tom Philpott at GristMill notes that agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland’s stock rose on last week’s news that Democrats will control agriculture policy in Washington. Look for status quo on ag policy.
                                  • In key House races across the country last week, rural voters put Democrats over the top.
                                    • Other Goings On

                                      Tuesday, October 31st, 2006

                                      Continuing the proliferation of third party certification in the natural meat market, Whole Foods plans to launch their own line of “Animal Compassionate” labeled meat. As long as the standards remain meaningful (a serious concern), niche labels provide a way for small producers to break back into the corporate dominated livestock market.

                                      Rural homelessness is on the rise, and new funding sources targeted at ending chronic homelessness flow straight to the big cities.

                                      Rural homelessness has always taken a back seat to the more glaring problems in cities. Most studies estimate homeless people in small towns account for about 9 percent of the 600,000 or so homeless nationwide. But local officials and advocates for the homeless in small towns say that economic distress in recent years, including closing plants, failing farms, rising housing costs and other troubles, has left more people without homes and in greater need of help.

                                      Real numbers are hard to come by because most rural areas, where homeless services often means ad-hoc help from church groups or volunteers, are far behind a parade of cities taking head counts.

                                      Remember Ord, Nebraska? Read this post How Big is Your Town’s Endowment? and then this update from the NYT Philanthropy From the Heart of America. More rural towns and rural school districts should take up the conversation of building endowments to secure their future.

                                      Blog Link Added

                                      Tuesday, July 4th, 2006

                                      I’ve added a link to the Iowa Underground blog. They’ve done a better job than I blogging about agriculture issues over the last month. Check out the post about Smithfield Food and their abuse of fair labor practices, and this post on the Myth of Ag Exports as a solutions to low commodity prices. There are four or five additional posts on the front page that should be of interest to readers of this blog.

                                      Out of Town

                                      Thursday, June 1st, 2006

                                      I am traveling for the next week and a half. I probably won’t blog until I return.

                                      80/55 Rural News Delivery

                                      Friday, May 26th, 2006

                                      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 memsvcs@ruralstrategies.org. Join the 80-55 Coalition at http://www.8055.org/indiv_join.asp

                                      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 www.sprawl-busters.com. “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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                                      Nothing Short of Amazing

                                      Thursday, May 4th, 2006

                                      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.

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