The Rural Blog Archive: November 2006

Issues, trends, events, ideas and journalism from the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues


Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2006

Coal mogul fails to achieve goal of GOP legislature in West Virginia

Massey Energy Co. Chief Executive Don Blankenship spent millions on West Virginia legislative races, vowing to do "whatever it takes" to gain a Republican majority in the Senate and House of Delegates. Turns out no amount of money could make that happen.

"Voters on Tuesday kept Democrats in charge of West Virginia’s Legislature, largely ignoring a coal executive’s multimillion-dollar campaign to sweep Republicans into office. At least 31 House Democrats targeted by [Blankenship] survived their races, while 27 of the GOP challengers he aided fell short," reports The Associated Press.

Blankenship spent $6 million during the past three years to support Republican candidates and he called the effort "And For the Sake of the Kids." Blankenship argued that Democrats did not represent the average West Virginian, notes AP. Massey Energy is the largest coal producer in the state and Blankenship has played a controversial role in the coal industry. (Read more)

The Rural Blog reported on Blankenship's efforts in its Monday edition. Click here for that archived item.

Monday, Nov. 6, 2006

Coal executive spending big to gain Republican majority in West Virginia

After vowing to do "whatever it takes" to gain a Republican majority in the West Virginia legislature, Massey Energy Co. chief Don Blankenship has spent millions on political advertising, reports Lawrence Messina of The Associated Press. The executive has contributed $6 million to political causes in the past three years and he has stepped up his efforts for the election season. Massey Energy is the largest coal producer in the state and Blankenship has played a controversial role in the coal industry, reports Ian Urbina of The New York Times. (Read more)

Blankenship distributed $100,000 among 60 candidates running for the state Senate and House of Delegates. For some of those candidates, the money makes up half to three-fourths of their total funds. Blankenship has spent even more on his own advertising. "As of Thursday, Blankenship had poured $2.03 million into his independent campaign that attacks 40 incumbent lawmakers while urging voters to support 41 GOP candidates," writes Messina. He spent an average of $50,845 on each Democrat targeted and
$72,636 for each of 28 House districts. Almost half the funds were spent between Oct. 25 and last Thursday. (Read more)

The Rural Blog ran a story on Oct. 23 which described the controversy behind Blankenship's position in the coal industry and his political influence. To read the archived article, click here.

Thursday, Nov. 30, 2006

Rural school superintendents show power in battle against school choice

Powerful foes are entering the battle over whether parents should have more school choice, with rural school superintendents coming out against initiatives that would create more private education options.

"Private school choice — whether it comes in the form of vouchers, tax credits, or some other policy option — is becoming less of a Republican-vs.-Democrat issue, in which party affiliation tends to determine the level of state support for the issue, some experts say. Instead, they explain, school choice is increasingly becoming a rural vs. urban issue, with geography mattering more than political leaning," writes Michele McNeil of Education Week.

Republicans generally support school choice, but their strength of support varies, and many Democrats and teachers' unions oppose the idea. Now, rural superintendents are influencing enough legislators to prevent private school choice bills from passing. “The states where we have strong Republican dominance and yet we’ve come up empty have a common denominator: a very strong influence by rural school superintendents,” Clint Bolick, the president of the Alliance for School Choice, told McNeil.

Efforts are meeting opposition in Texas, Missouri and South Carolina, and Bolick's group is now starting to focus on spreading a positive portrayal of school choice in rural communities. "Advocates are working to convince rural residents that their tax dollars are supporting a system of general education, and that failing urban schools cost all taxpayers in the state. School choice proponents say they also need to reach out to rural Republican legislators, who are often influenced by their local superintendents," writes McNeil.

Those who oppose school choice bring traditional values and practical cost reasons to the table. "In many rural communities, the school district is a major employer. Many residents went to the same schools themselves and believe their districts excel. What’s more, in a rural community, the next school may be a very long bus ride away, meaning school choice faces big logistical hurdles," writes McNeil. (Read more)

Meth lab seizures drop in U.S., but workplace use rises in the East

Seizures of methamphetamine laboratories are down 30 percent across the U.S. and there is a 12.4 percent drop in people testing positive for the drug at work, but meth use is up on the east coast, according to a report released to coincide with today's National Methamphetamine Awareness Day.

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy reports that "monthly methamphetamine laboratory incidents have significantly decreased since reaching a high of 2,049 in March of 2004. In 2004, there were about 17,750 meth lab incidents, compared to approximately 12,500 incidents in 2005 — a drop of more than 30 percent." The press release said the drug-test figure compared the first five months of 2006 to the same period one year earlier.

"The number of workplace employees who tested positive for meth dipped dramatically in several Midwest and Western states where the drug so far has provided the largest punch, including Missouri, Iowa and New Mexico," reports The Associated Press. "But it surged along the East Coast, including in Connecticut and Maine, and by a whopping 115 percent increase in the District of Columbia." (Read more)

To read the government report titled "Pushing Back Against Meth: A Progress Report on the Fight Against Methamphetamine in the United States," click here. For information on efforts to combat meth use, visit www.MethResources.gov. Also, for more information on today's awareness events, click here.

Officers at risk for violence in rural California, meth a major factor

Police and game wardens in rural California are at risk for violence, owing largely to the drug trade. "In the past decade, the number of law enforcement officers assaulted in small towns and rural counties has jumped 38 percent, rising from 7,855 to 10,852, FBI crime statistics show. Last year, one of every five law enforcement officers assaulted was on duty in a rural area. And three out of 10 officers murdered in the last decade were slain far from city streets," writes M.S. Enkoji of the Sacramento Bee.

"The potential dangers haunt any cop assigned to patrol vast regions of the state's open space, usually alone and often as long as an hour from the nearest backup," writes Enkoji. "Drugs, particularly the rise in the manufacture and trafficking of methamphetamine, drive rural violence, according to police and criminal justice experts. Population growth is another factor."

Game wardens do more than just check hunting and fishing licenses."Enforcing the state's Fish and Game Code entails everything from busting poachers in the harbors of Los Angeles County to slogging through marijuana crops in mountainous hideaways. The last warden to get shot was on a marijuana eradication operation in 2005 in the Santa Clara County mountains." (Read more)

Higher-skill jobs being outsourced to rural U.S. by foreign companies

International companies are outsourcing jobs to the rural United States because of employees with relatively low wages, work ethic and flexible schedules. It is not unusual for companies to create jobs like call centers in smaller towns, but now higher-level jobs are being sent to rural areas, particularly from foreign businesses, said Harold Sirkin of Boston Consulting, reports Tim Huber of the Associated Press.

Williams Lea, a British outsourcing firm, created an office in Wheeling, W.Va. (pop. 31,419), that processes legal documents for Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, a law firm with 900 lawyers worldwide, reports Huber. Dave Pennino, the firm’s director of marketing, said that clients are dubious until they see that Wheeling has people, decent schools and access to Pittsburgh. He said that they are enthusiastic once they grasp the idea and the company hopes to attract clients by keeping sensitive information in the country. In a little over a year the Wheeling office has employed 37 people and the company hopes to eventually increase its staff to 120.

Service jobs in Ohio County, where Wheeling is located, grew at a rate of only 0.3 percent from 2001 through last year, a rate less than half that of the rest of the state, according to data from West Virginia University. "The county has struggled with a declining population, dropping from more than 50,000 in April 1990 to a bit more than 45,000 by July 2005," writes Huber. "Unemployment has dropped in recent years from 5.4 percent in 2003 to 4.8 percent last year. Yet the area faces a somewhat uncertain future, along with much of the state. The state’s manufacturing sector has lost 3,300 jobs over the past three years and losses in the steel and chemical industries are expected to continue." (Read more)

Set-asides to preserve private land offsetting urban development

Attempts to preserve farms, ranches and forests from industrial and residential development are saving about as much space each year as is lost to sprawl, according to a report released today.

The National Land Trust Census, conducted every five years, shows that the "conservation of private land from 2000 to 2005 averaged 2.6 million acres a year — about half the size of New Jersey, according to the Land Trust Alliance, which represents 1,200 of the USA's 1,667 local, state and national land trusts. This means additional land protected each year exceeds the 2.2 million acres that the Agriculture Department has estimated is converted annually to 'developed land,'" writes Patrick O'Driscoll of USA Today.

"The biggest acreage is in conservation easements, legal pacts between landowners and trusts or government agencies that permanently limit the land's use. The land census says easements have risen 148 percent since the last count. An easement preserves open space permanently as scenic landscape, watershed or wildlife habitat from other development. The landowner, often a rancher or farmer, receives a tax credit in exchange and can continue to graze livestock or grow crops on the property," reports O'Driscoll. (Read more)

For a state-by-state breakdown of total acres conserved from 2000 to 2005 and the number of land trusts during that period, click here. The six-state Southwest region showed the biggest increase in acres conserved, going from fewer than 800,000 to almost two million. States in that region include Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah. To read the report, click here.

Rural family staves off urban sprawl, turns down $10 million for farm

Butler County, Ohio, is like many once-rural areas in the U.S. where a nearby urban area (in this case, Cincinnati) expanded over the years and farms became scattered. However, developers are finding that $10 million is not enough to convince one farming family in the county's West Chester Township to sell its past and pave the way for an urban future.

"At 90 years old, Bill Honerlaw has never been on a bus, a train or a plane. He hasn't set foot in a grocery store in 20 years. He calls computers 'the worst thing that ever happened.' Honerlaw is set in his ways, which might explain why he's holding on to 113 acres of farmland that first came into his family more than 80 years ago. His two nephews aren't parting with their 145 acres just across the road, either. Never mind that their land is in the middle of growing suburbia, surrounded on all sides by residential developments," writes Amy Saunders of The Cincinnati Enquirer.

The eldest Honerlaw views the urban sprawl coming forth from Cincinnati as "a damn mess" with clogged roads, carbon-copy shopping centers and houses built within a few feet of each other. "As Butler County sprawls with more housing, offices, hotels and shopping malls, Honerlaw and his family are a rare breed. They're holding onto some of the region's largest, most coveted tracts of undeveloped land," writes Saunders. "In the grand scheme of things, it really doesn't matter to the Honerlaws that their spread with horses, cows and fields of corn, soybeans, wheat and hay could someday make them rich."

Bill's nephews, Steve and Jeff Honerlaw, "say their children have learned responsibility through farm work. The kids feed livestock after school, participate in 4-H and help farm and harvest the crops," writes Saunders. Says Steve: "We love the area, and our kids love it. So what do you do with a pile of money? It doesn't matter what they offer. We're not interested in selling." (Read more)

Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2006

Telecom to boost rural broadband in Indiana, after legislative battles

Verizon plans to provide 70,000 customers in 69 southern Indiana communities with high-speed Internet, in a state that recently rejected a telecom-backed bill to make it difficult for governments to offer broadband. Similar battles are being played out in other states.

Broadband through digital subscriber lines "will be offered to nearly all Verizon-served markets south of Interstate 70 that do not already have DSL, as well as northern Indiana areas west of Valparaiso and west of South Bend and Elkhart," reports The Associated Press. "Verizon also plans to offer its new fiber-based video service -- FiOS TV -- to residents in Fort Wayne and New Haven starting next year."

An Indiana law approved earlier this year permits companies to provide cable-like TV services without seeking approval from cities. "Under previous Indiana law, cable companies had to negotiate agreements with communities to provide services," AP reports. "Those in the cable TV industry and some consumer advocates opposed changing that, saying the local agreements often required that companies serve rural or low-income areas, not just wealthier suburban ones. Proponents of the new deregulation law said it would spur competition and investment and allow underserved areas to enjoy the benefits of high-speed Internet access." (Read more)

Earlier this year, the Indiana legislature passed an extensive telecom bill without original language that would have prevented cities from offering broadband Internet service. Small cities such as Sellersburg, just north of Louisville, have gone into the broadband business because Verizon and other companies would not.

Rural interests, net-neutrality advocates oppose Michigan legislation

A proposed law in Michigan would let telephone companies offer television service without asking cities and counties for approval, and opponents worry that it would undermine national efforts to require Internet service providers to offer equal access to all Internet sites, the concept known as "net neutrality."

"Supporters of the bill say easing for phone companies' entry to offer TV services will increase competition, leading to lower prices and greater access to high-speed Internet service because customers will be able to package all their digital communications--television, phone, and the Internet," writes Tom Siebert of Online Media Daily. "But opponents . . . argue that the current Michigan bill would allow telecoms to choose where to build out their lines, potentially serving lucrative population centers and leaving poorer or more rural areas without broadband access." (Read more) The House bill is pending in the Senate.

"Backers say streamlining the outdated system would stimulate competition in Michigan, where all but about 50 communities have just one cable provider," reports David Eggert of The Associated Press. "Local communities oppose the legislation because of fears it would let providers cherry-pick wealthier customers and ignore seniors and low-income and rural residents." (Read more)

A few tobacco auctions survive despite end of program; burley exported

Kentucky's tobacco auctions are barely surviving in a climate where electronic sales are taking off and there is no longer a federal program of quotas and price supports.

Many growers began selling leaf directly to cigarette companies even before the program's repeal, which was expected to spell the end of the auction system. "But not all burley growers got contracts and some who have them grow more leaf than a cigarette-maker might want in a year," writes Jim Jordan of the Lexington Herald-Leader. "So auctions have taken place in Danville, Harrodsburg, Mount Sterling and now Lexington -- wherever enough burley can be assembled to lure buyers." (Herald-Leader photo inside Big Burley Warehouse in Lexington)

Much of the tobacco being sold at such auctions will wind up overseas in China and Japan, and will typically bring a lower price due to high shipping costs, said Scott Althauser, the Burley Tobacco Growers Cooperative Association's vice president for leaf. "Unlike years past, yesterday's auction had no auctioneer's chant. Bidding was done with hand-held computers," writes Jordan. (Read more)

Native American women get high-tech breast screenings in Dakotas

Native American women in North and South Dakota got breast screenings without leaving their rural reservations, thanks to telemedicine from the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The use of digital mammography instead of films, and adding satellite capability, allowed the women to get immediate reactions from radiologists. "From March to July 2006, a mobile mammography unit owned by Indian Health Service visited seven American Indian reservations in North Dakota and South Dakota and performed 515 digital mammograms," says Newswise, a research-reporting service. "The average time between sending the films and obtaining a report for these women was 50 minutes."

"Only about 10 percent of Native American women over age 40 get a yearly mammogram. In many cases, women live on rural reservations where they must drive as far as 100 miles to have a mammogram. After the test, it can take up to a week before a woman receives the results. If additional tests are needed, it is often difficult to arrange for that follow up." (Read more)

Cattle crime increases in North Dakota, spurs call for tougher laws

Cattle grazers in North Dakota are calling for tougher livestock laws to crack down on everything from animals being stolen to forged documents in sales transactions.

Many cattle grazers are starting to feel the effects of crime in their pocketbooks, as the loss of even one steer via theft or fraud can cost them about $800. It is time to update the state's laws so they address today's criminals, Darryl Howard, chief brand inspector for the North Dakota Stockmen's Association, told Blake Nicholson of The Associated Press. "Presenting fake bills of sale, unlawful proof of ownership, unlawful branding ... these days, we don't deal with rustling so much in the old sense of the word as we do with fraud. Just about all of the laws that we specifically deal with, the penalties are 1940s, 1950s, and we're to the point where we need to jump ahead at least 50 years."

The association voted this month to seek tougher laws and it will present detailed proposals to lawmakers. Many of the cattle grazers see tougher laws as the answer and cite the effectiveness of recent cold medicine restrictions on reducing the number of methamphetamine labs in the state, reports Nicholson. (Read more)

Tuscaloosa paper stops presses to cover Tide football coach's firing

There is no bigger story in Alabama than the leading state university's head football coach getting fired, especially in the town where the university is based, so The Tuscaloosa News (circulation 33,858) stopped its presses to catch up with news that Coach Mike Shula was out of a job with the Crimson Tide.

In a column headlined "Stop the presses!" Executive Editor Doug Ray writes, "We did, with more than 20,000 copies of Monday’s edition printed and 6,000 of them already on their way to readers. Drivers who were headed to Greene, Fayette and Pickens counties turned their trucks around and came back to The Tuscaloosa News as we replated the press with a new headline: 'Shula fired' in 180-point type.

"Here is how the story broke: Mike Raita, a sports reporter on ABC 33/40, broke into a telecast after midnight to say he had learned that Mike Shula had been fired . . . Dwayne Fatherree, editor of our Internet sites, was watching and called David Wasson, our executive sports editor, at home. Wasson saw the same announcement rebroadcast and called Cecil Hurt, sports editor and lead UA sports columnist. Within 10 minutes, Hurt was able to independently verify the information with his sources." (Read more)

Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2006

Exurbs are growing fast, but many lack jobs, requiring long commutes

Exurbs, or communities on the urban fringe, are growing at a rapid pace across America, and many people put up with commutes of an hour or longer to follow a rural lifestyle at home, according to a new study.

Using a definition of exurbs as communities that have "at least 20 percent of their workers commuting to jobs in an urbanized area, exhibit low housing density, and have relatively high population growth," the study by the Brookings Institution analyzed data from 1990 to 2005 in the 88 metro areas with 500,000 or more population. "As of 2000, approximately 10.8 million people live in the exurbs of large metropolitan areas. This represents roughly 6 percent of the population of these large metro areas. These exurban areas grew more than twice as fast as their respective metropolitan areas overall, by 31 percent in the 1990s alone," according to the study. Exurbs can be inside or outside a metro area's official boundaries.

The Louisville metropolitan area has 13 exurban counties, the most of any metro area. Marcus Green of The Courier-Journal focuses on the approximately one-fourth of residents in those counties who start their commute before 6 a.m., and on the nature of the counties -- many still dependent on agriculture, with only spotty development. Many "lack the large employers that would significantly boost local taxes and create jobs. Even when workers want to find work closer to home, they discover that their counties often lack similar employment opportunities," writes Green. (Read more)

Other cities with many exurb counties are Atlanta, Richmond and Washington, all with 11. The metro areas with the most exurban population are Poughkeepsie-Newburgh-Middletown, N.Y., 32 percent; Little Rock, Ark., 24 percent; Grand Rapids, Mich., 23 percent; and Greenville, S.C.. and Madison, Wis., with 22 percent. Next come Birmingham, Ala., and Knoxville, Tenn., with 21 percent. The study shows that "the South and Midwest are more exurbanized than the West and Northeast" and that "South Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Maryland have the largest proportions of their residents living in exurbs," from 9.5 to 7.5 percent. Texas has an exurban population of 6 percent, but the largest actual number of exurbanites -- almost 1.25 million. Click here to download the study.

The Tennessean first reported on the study Sunday, painting a picture of exurbs around Nashville (19 percent exurban) being strained by the influx of people. "Planners said that while moving to the exurbs can be less expensive for home and land buyers, it can be more expensive for local governments," Lee Ann O'Neal wrote. "Providing schools, roads, fire, police and other services for the growing areas can be costly because the homes are spread out over larger areas than homes in urban neighborhoods." (Read more)

Folks who moved to rural areas find downsides, want more services

Americans are moving to rural areas in increasing numbers to replace the hustle and bustle of metro life with the quiet and relaxing evenings of country life. However, now some are finding that they miss city services, so trouble is brewing.

Contra Costa County, California, is a prime example of a predominantly rural area located rather close to cities, but the 162,000 people living in the county's unincorporated areas are starting to complain about crumbling roadways, no public parks, nearby refineries and potential safety issues for kids wanting to ride bicycles or play basketball in the street, reports Danielle Samaniego of the Contra Costa Times. Is rural life not all that these residents suspected, or were they simply mistaken in thinking they would enjoy it?

While some residents are complaining about the lack of city features, others enjoy the freedom to park their boats and other items right in their frontyard. "With other neighborhoods . . . everything is so manicured, with sidewalks and everything, and here you don't have that and people like that," said Sharon Muhlenkort, a resident of an unincorporated neighborhood outside of Walnut Creek, Calif., told Samaniego. "It's a real rural feeling ... there's still horses within a stone's throw around here."

Some cities are even encountering opposition in their attempts to annex rural, unincorporated communities. "Residents of Sandmound Slough near Oakley launched a successful campaign against annexation of their neighborhood and neighboring Dutch Slough into the city. In their plight, residents said they valued their independence and settled in the remote Delta area for the rural atmosphere and autonomy from local government," writes Samaniego. (Read more)

Community journalism: Reporter helps build a house, writes about it

A reporter for The Coalfield Progress in Norton, Va., helped build a Habitat for Humanity house, then wrote a story that gave a first-hand account of a program designed to improve the community. It's an example of how community journalists can play two roles, volunteer and reporter.

"During the few hours I volunteered I could already see the house becoming a home," Shortt wrote. "When I arrived walls were barren but by the time I left many walls were receiving the final coat of primer and some were being covered by a final coat of paint." (Read more) To read Shortt's story on the home's dedication, click here. (Coalfield Progress photo: Homeowner Tami Adams, right rear, and children.)

In an e-mail, Shortt told The Rural Blog that she saw herself as a volunteer first. "In fact, by the time I was reporting my hands were solid white from primer and my hair had nice amounts of white paint streaked through it. I love volunteering and I love my job -- it just so happens that I had the chance to combine the two," she wrote. "My editor wrote the original article about the Habitat house being built and the need for volunteers. The second I read his article I knew I wanted to help. . . . I told my editors I would be helping to paint the house and asked if they would like me to write a first-person account on my experience."

Mine-safety advocates want better dust control to reduce black lung

Mine-safety advocates are battling with the growing coal industry in an effort to limit miners' exposure to coal dust and in turn reduce the amount of black lung disease hotspots.

"Coal is a component of the country's future energy plan, with more than 100 coal-burning power plants now in the permit stages or under construction. With modern technology and a shift toward strip mines, many miners and doctors thought black lung disease might vanish," writes Kari Lydersen of The Washington Post. Recent studies confirm the disease's ongoing persistence especially in Appalachia, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is calling for more dust control.

"Bruce Watzman, vice president of safety and health for the National Mining Association, a national trade group, said the industry plans to use personal dust monitors -- devices each miner wears to immediately log dust levels -- once research is complete and the devices are commercially available. He said that development and testing of the devices, which will cost about $7,000 each, has taken 'longer than anyone expected,'" writes Lydersen, adding that the group opposes lowering the legal dust limit.

Miners' advocates say that in addition to the industry needing stricter limits, relying on companies to self report dust control efforts is not adequate. Although recent surveys show a 3 percent overall rate of black lung disease, compared with 10 percent or more in the 1960s, the fact that coal production is on the rise in smaller, nonunion mines poses concerns for both people in the industry and the black lung clinics operating across the country, reports Lydersen. (Read more)

Energy demand leads to innovative ways to make biodiesel in Virginia

"Useful research percolates through university energy labs, but the real biofuel revolution is brewing in Virginia's rural garages and the kitchen sinks, experts say," reports The News Leader in Staunton, Va.

Two men at the forefront of Virginia's energy revolution are Christopher Bachmann, a professor at James Madison University's Department of Integrated Science and Technology, and Gerald Spraker, a beef farmer, who is one of the state's more innovative farmers. Spraker is planning to use "The Dr. Pepper Method" to produce biodiesel, which uses a 2-liter bottle, vegetable oil, lye and an alcohol catalyst — usually methanol or ethanol — to isolate the glycerin. The farmer hopes to create "a reactor that could handle about 50 gallons of waste oil per day from a nearby fish-fry restaurant," writes Joel Banner Baird.

Such processes require a bit of finesse and the occasional trial and error, cautions Bachmann, who adds that sometimes people might wind up making soap instead. "The lye crystals don't dissolve right away; you've to mix them in thoroughly. Some people rush through it. But if you have chunks — even at the molecular level — you'll be making soap," Bachmann told Baird. While the whole process sounds rather scientific, this new innovation in biodiesel production actually uses equipment discarded from other industries.

"Bachmann's colleagues scrounge stainless steel barrels and connecting pipe from industrial auctions. They tinker with decades-old centrifuges. They collaborate with farmers who are willing to give it a try, even at the risk of setbacks and failure. Spraker wants to give it a shot. After all, he installed solar hot water heaters on his home back in 1983. He envisions amber waves of canola plants thriving in highway median strips — fodder for diesel engines," writes Baird. (Read more)

Coverage of congressional races didn't measure up to advertising time

Voters in seven major television markets in the Midwest got more political information from advertising than from news coverage in the month before the midterm congressional elections -- and horse-race and strategic reporting was three times as heavy as reporting on policy issues, a study has found.

Newscasts in Cleveland, Columbus, Chicago, Detroit, Madison, Milwaukee and Minneapolis-St. Paul "aired almost 4 1/2 minutes of paid political ads during a 30-minute broadcast, while only offering 1 minute 43 seconds of election news coverage," writes Zachary Goldfarb of The Washington Post.

The study was conducted the Midwest News Index, a project of the University of Wisconsin, with funding from the Joyce Foundation, "a leading philanthropy in the area of political and government reform," says the MNI press release. "Local broadcasters failed in their responsibility to provide an adequate amount of substantive election coverage, which might have helped counterbalance the waves of negative ads," said Larry Hansen, president of the foundation. To read the release, click here.

"News stories, on average, lasted 76 seconds, shorter than the 89 seconds recorded in a similar study in 2002," the Post reported. "About two in five election stories aired during the final week of the campaign. While much of the attention was focused on the horse race for Congress, one in four election stories in the Midwest looked at the state's gubernatorial race." (Read more)

The Midwest News Index also regularly surveys TV broadcasts from the state capitals of Lansing, Mich., and Springfield, Ill., but those more rural markets were not included in the October survey.

Monday, Nov. 27, 2006

Rural immigrants boost economies, but differences pose challenges

Rural immigrants can help floundering rural economies but may sometimes be too much for a small town to handle, according to a report by the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire, titled "Building Knowledge for Rural America’s Families and Communities in the 21st Century."

"A comparison of recent immigrants in rural areas suggests that, compared to their more urban counterparts, they are more likely to be Hispanic (and Mexican-origin in particular), more likely to be married, less well educated but still skilled, more likely to be employed but also more likely to be underemployed, more likely to be poor but less likely to receive food stamps when they are poor, and more likely to be homeowners," writes the author, Leif Jensen of Pennsylvania State University.

Rural America is graying, and new immigrants may replenish the work force because they are more likely than natives to be adults of working age. About 12 percent of rural natives 65 or older, while only 3.2 percent of rural immigrants since 1990 are over 65. However, immigrants are at a disadvantage in education. About half of rural immigrant adults have not completed high school. Providing adequate education for immigrant children may be difficult in rural areas because of small budgets and lack of personnel for programs such as English as a second language.

"Although less well educated,immigrant workers may bring a pool of human capital that can contribute to the revitalization of rural economies," writes Jensen. Sixty-five percent of rural immigrants are employed, but many are under-employed and may be among the working poor. Rural immigrants are more likely to be living in poverty than rural immigrants or natives, especially those who are newly arrived.

"Communities need resources, and need to be rewarded for being proactive in being as accommodatingas possible," writes Jensen. "Local, state and federal policies and programs also need to be better informed by solid research on the causes, nature and consequences (both positive and negative, short- and long-term) of immigration to rural areas." To read the full report, click here.

States' restrictions on cold medicines drive meth labs south to Mexico

New state laws restricting acces to cold medicines and other chemicals used to make methamphetamine have sent meth labs into Mexico. "Authorities now estimate that 80 percent of the methamphetamine on U.S. streets is controlled by Mexican drug traffickers, with most of the supply smuggled in from Mexico. Methamphetamine seizures at the U.S.-Mexico border jumped 50 percent from 2003 through 2005, from 4,030 to 6,063 pounds," writes Richard Marosi of the Los Angeles Times.

Rural areas in the United States have long struggled with meth. "The rural fringes of California metropolitan areas . . . which once were centers of methamphetamine production, remain important distribution hubs," writes Marosi "But the number of 'superlab' discoveries in California has dropped from 125 in 2003 to 12 through mid-October this year, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Nationwide, the numbers have dropped from 130 to 19 during the same period."

Now meth is now a growing problem for rural Mexico. There have been outbreaks of addiction and drug-related crimes and violence. Aside from social consequences, fumes from the labs pollute the air and labs have caught fire. Remote agricultural lands are difficult for authorities to patrol and neighbors may not recognize the signs of a meth lab. "The number of labs discovered by Mexican authorities nearly tripled from 2002 to 2005, from 13 to 37, and methamphetamine seizures more than doubled, to 2,169 pounds, during the same period," writes Marosi. "U.S. authorities believe the numbers are a fraction of actual activity, as signs of an extensive production infrastructure have surfaced in the last year or so. Among those signs: Mexico's importation of cold medicines jumped suddenly in recent years, from 92,000 tons in 2002 to 150,000 tons in 2005." (Read more)

Farmland values rising; there's a story in what's happening in your area

The price of agricultural land is on the rise in the U.S., especially in states like Kentucky, thanks to low interest rates, a stable economy and a growing demand for farmland for nonagricultural uses, reports Laura Skillman of the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.

"Figures released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture this fall show Kentucky’s farmland gained in value by 10 percent between 2005 and 2006," writes Skillman. "This is the largest percentage increase since 1980 and the largest dollar increase ever. The average price, according to the report, was $2,750 per acre in Kentucky and $1,900 per acre nationally."

Rental rates between landowners and farmers have increased more slowly because they are not as fluid as land values, Richard Trimble, a UK extension agricultural economist, told Skillman. USDA reports that Kentucky agricultural land is renting for about $78 per acre this year, up from $73 in 2005. Trimble predicts that farmland values will continue to rise in 2007. (Read more)

This is an easy story for rural media to localize, by talking with the local property-valuation office. The state and national data reported by Skillman can help put local data in context.

U.S. and German farmers rely on creativity, illegal immigrants for survival

U.S. farmers found on a recent trip to Germany that they have some things in common with German farmers, including the need for more creativity to stay afloat and a dependence on illegal immigrants.

Johnna Miller, director of media development for the American Farm Bureau Federation, writes about the trip in The Prairie Star of Great Falls, Mont., a newspaper for farmers and ranchers in Montana and Wyoming. She discusses creative approaches being taken in the U.S. and compares those with Germany.

"These days, it can take creativity for farmers to keep their operations profitable," writes Miller. "Roadside stands, pick-your-own operations and farmers' markets seem to be sprouting up all over, helping producers eke out more dollars. . . . The average farm operation in Germany is less than 100 acres (the average U.S. farm is more than four times bigger), so it is easy to understand why innovation would be important. One farmer on the tour uses a robotic milker for his 60-cow herd. The cows decide when they're ready to be milked, walk into a mechanical stall and little robotic arms go to work, cleaning the udder, attaching the milking nozzles, pumping the milk and offering the cow a little treat."

Miller writes that hundreds of small German farms are part of an agri-tourism network. "Guests can help milk the cows or feed the calves, goats and domesticated deer. Weekly barbecues, horseback riding and nearby hiking trails throughout fairytale countryside bring families back year after year."

While getting creative can keep farming operations afloat in both countries, they both depend on foreign workers. U.S. farmers want Congress to allow such workers to remain. "Germany has similar problems. A new rule there calls for 10 percent of all seasonal workers to be Germans. That has been tough for farmers to follow, even though the nation's unemployment rate is approaching 12 percent," writes Miller. "So whether they are near Hamburg, Germany, or Hamburg, Arkansas, it appears farmers need to come up with a creative approach to help lawmakers understand their labor dilemma." (Read more)

Study hopes to better define Trail of Tears, a historic set of rural routes

Mention the Trail of Tears to young people and you may get a bewildered look. A study recently approved by Congress aims to change that by providing a clearer picture of what happened 168 years ago, and could encourage tourism in the many rural areas along the forced-march routes.

"The study called for by Congress would better define the routes taken by more than 15,000 members of the Cherokee, Creek and other tribes who were forced from their homes in 1838 to make way for white settlement. Untold hundreds and perhaps thousands of American Indians died during the removal to Indian Territory in what is now Oklahoma," reports Bill Poovey of The Associated Press.

Aside from the Congressional study, other related projects in the works include an education and research center and a possible movie. The education and research center is slated for "a bluff at the junction of the Tennessee and Hiwassee rivers in East Tennessee, where the Blythe Ferry once operated and thousands of Cherokees and Creeks were taken by force to begin the journey," notes Poovey.

The National Park Service supervises the historic trail and one of its pamphlets elaborates on what occurred in 1838: "Families were separated -- the elderly and ill forced out at gunpoint -- people given only moments to collect cherished possessions. White looters followed, ransacking homes as Cherokees were led away." The Trail of Tears Association offers further details and links to extensive maps.

"Research was limited when Congress created the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail in 1987 in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Tennessee. . . . There were no routes recognized in North Carolina or Georgia, even though up to three-quarters of the Cherokees likely started from those states. The official trail markers also leave out two major arteries in Arkansas and water routes in eastern Tennessee," Poovey reports. (Read more)

Eight states look at commercial spaceports; New Mexico farthest along

"Eight states, including Texas, Wisconsin and Utah, are considering commercial spaceports, with some hoping for a slice of the rapidly emerging space-tourism industry. But space observers say that New Mexico -- whose poverty rate trails only Louisiana and Mississippi -- has the most government support and private interest." writes Nicholas Riccardi of The Los Angeles Times.

Bill McCamley, a county commissioner in Las Cruces, "hopes to jump-start the economy in his hometown of 82,000 by campaigning for a state-funded spaceport to send millionaire tourists into orbit," Riccardi reports. "He has big hopes for Spaceport America, currently little more than an expanse of desert, a concrete launch pad and two temporary mission-control trailers. He's one of dozens of believers who envision paparazzi and space enthusiasts staying at local hotels and mingling with engineers and scientists who would transform this swath of mobile homes and chile farms into a high-tech hub."

At the earliest, construction on the spaceport would begin late next year because local residents still have to weigh in a proposed tax to help fund the project. The state legislature has approved $100 million to help finance the project, which carries an estimated price tag of $225 million. McCamley and other supporters keep citing the transformation that occurred 50 years ago in Huntsville, Ala., which went from being a poor rural area to the home of the Marshall Space Flight Center, reports Riccardi. "A recent study commissioned by the state found that a fully operational spaceport could create 5,000 jobs."

The port's first rocket "launched seven hours late, corkscrewed and crashed back to Earth. Boosters argued that occasional setbacks are normal in the space race," Riccardi reports, quoting Lonnie Sumpter, executive director of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority: "That's why there's a term for this in the aerospace industry. Test flight." (Read more)

Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2006 (Last scheduled update until Monday, Nov. 27)

N.Y. to upgrade rural courts; non-lawyer judges sit, as in many states

New York’s top judicial officials released a plan Tuesday that demands changes in the state's 300-year-old system of town and village courts, like those in the town of Colchester, right, where court is in the garage. The plan calls for more training and monitoring of justices and transcriptions of court proceedings. (Photo by James Estrin, The New York Times)

Critics of the current system say the state has "two types of justice: a modern and professional one for the cities and a second, rudimentary and sometimes abusive one for suburban and rural areas," writes William Glaberson of The New York Times. "The State Assembly is to begin a broad examination of the justice court system at a hearing next month. That hearing is to tackle several of the most serious concerns, like the fact that three quarters of the town and village justices are not lawyers."

"The justice courts are a sprawling system of more than 1,200 courts that are often the first — and frequently the only — stop in the state legal system for people in the 57 counties outside New York City. Dating from colonial times, the courts occupy something of a time warp, with often poorly trained justices, sometimes convening in town firehouses or highway department garages — or their own kitchens — and dispensing a form of justice unlike any other in the state."

"The courts usually handle landlord-tenant cases, small civil cases, traffic infractions and misdemeanors. Yet these courts have considerable powers to jail people, evict tenants and set bail in cases as serious as murder and rape. They handle 2 million cases a year and collect $210 million in fees and fines," reports Glaberson. Judicial officials are requesting that the state Legislature put $10 million in next year's budget to make the reform plan a reality. (Read more)

About 20 other states have similar rural and small-town courts with non-lawyer judges, though their number has declined in recent decades. Courts with non-lawyer judges are usually municipal courts, magistrate courts or justice courts, after the venerable term "justice of the peace." For state-by-state information, click here for the judicial-selection section of the American Judicature Society's Web site.

Legendary rural paper Grit changes to show new ways of country life

"Ever since the electric light bulb was invented, a monthly newspaper called Grit has been the source of helpful hints and happy stories for rural Americans. 'Grit' is a reference both to the sometimes-grueling life on farms and in small towns, and to the resilience and resourcefulness of the people who live there. Now, Grit is modernizing its look and the way it portrays country living," writes Ted Landphair of the Voice of America, a multimedia service that broadcasts in 44 languages.

The paper began in rural Williamsport, Pa., and recently moved to Topeka, Kan., but it never stopped dishing out the latest down-home advice on everything from indoor plumbing to tasty holiday treats. A less gritty face emerged two months ago when the publication adopted a glossy format and deemed itself the keeper of a new lifestyle called "rural chic," reports Landphair.

"More than 80 percent of tractors sold in the United States this year will be under 50 horsepower," Grit publisher Bryan Welch told Landphair. "That means the vast majority of husbandry of the land in non-urban America is being conducted on smaller parcels of property by people who are doing it as a form of recreation, a form of art, as a lifestyle choice." The publisher says Grit is aiming its efforts toward that audience "to stimulate them and entertain them and give them cool things that they can do on their property."

Rural America's new residents are "not dirt farmers, mill workers, or small-town clerks at the feed store, scraping out a living," writes Landphair. "The publishers kept the name Grit in part because, they say, it still takes plenty of determination to leave the urban cultural centers, coffee shops, big libraries and sports teams for the chance to raise chickens and gather your own breakfast eggs, walk your dog without a leash, get to know your neighbors, and awaken each country morning to a mockingbird's call." (Read more)

Farm families should prepare for transitions; rural media should help

Widows and other survivors often face uncertainty when deciding a farm's future after an owner dies, and careful planning and communication with Cooperative Extension Service agents can help them deal with it. This is a story for all rural media, which can localize it by contacting a local extension agent.

“Men die younger than women so typically what happens is the wife is left to manage the farm,” says Suzanne Badenhop, family-resource management specialist with the University of Kentucky . “Some may know what to do, some may not.” In Kentucky, women own 10 percent of farms. “Preparing for this inevitable time can not only ease the stress involved but can also give the next generation the peace of mind in knowing what will become of the farm,” writes Laura Skillman of the UK College of Agriculture.

Questions to consider include: "Who will manage the farm? Are you going to farm it or rent it to someone else to farm? Do you want to sell it? If you sell, what are the tax consequences? Are there other heirs that could force you to sell? Does a child plan to take over the farm? Many of these questions can be answered before someone is left to make these decisions on his own. Farmers can turn to attorneys, accountants, financial planners and Extension personnel," writes Skillman.

"Talking to these professionals can help ensure that heirs who remain on the farm and off-farm heirs are treated fairly without being forced to sell. Some options can include taking a life insurance policy to provide an inheritance for off-farm heirs while deeding the land to the one who remains on the farm. Gifting of the land in increments can also be an option that can be discussed with professionals. Additionally, these professionals can help farmers understand and reduce possible tax implications of transitioning the farm."

People who inherit farms and wish to continue using the land for agriculture purposes should contact the local Farm Service Agency, which handles a variety of federal farm programs, and local extension agents.

Rural Nebraska hopes to retain college students with ethanol classes

Several Nebraska colleges are collaborating with the state's ethanol industry to develop a curriculum for interested students in hopes that the state's rural areas can retain them following school.

Todd Sneller, administrator of the Nebraska Ethanol Board, told Peter Shinn of the Brownfield Network that the effort will help both the ethanol plants and the rural areas where many of them are located. "It's become fairly evident that with the rapid expansion of ethanol plants we're going to be needing those skill-sets out in the communities in which plants are located," Sneller said. "In many cases, those plants are located in very small communities."

Nebraska’s ethanol industry employs about 1,000 people, but that number could triple by 2015, reports Shinn. No Nebraska college has a program specifically for ethanol. Northeast Community College in Norfolk is spearheading this effort, which is banking on a $2 million National Science Foundation grant. If that grant is awarded, the Nebraska Ethanol Board will match it, reports Brownfield.

"According to Sneller, the challenge of building home-grown education to provide qualified employees for the ethanol industry is a regional problem. He said the Nebraska Ethanol Board has been working on the issue for the past two years with nearby officials of the nearby states of Iowa, Minnesota and North Dakota," writes Shinn. (Read more)

'Act of God' released genetically modified rice in Mo., Ark., Bayer claims

A company that genetically engineered rice is blaming farmers and an "act of God" for the country's rice supply being contaminated this past summer by the inadvertent release of the unapproved crop variety.

Bayer CropScience of Research Triangle Park, N.C., laid that blame in response to a lawsuit filed by hundreds of farmers in Arkansas and Missouri who claim they will lose millions of dollars from the contamination, reports Rick Weiss of The Washington Post. The company says farmers' careless acts led to the contamination, but an attorney representing some of the farmers said they had no reason to cause any contamination from the variety known as LL601.

"The U.S. Department of Agriculture is investigating how the variety escaped from test plots into farmers' fields, where it was quietly amplified for years until its discovery," writes Weiss. "The day the contamination was announced in August, Bayer asked the government to approve the variety. A decision is still pending. Meanwhile, lawsuits have been filed on behalf of about 300 rice farmers." (Read more)

Wal-Mart defends drug plan from criticism by Community Pharmacists

Wal-Mart's two-month-old generic drug program is not offering all of the cost savings the company claims, and relatively few people are trying the program, according to a survey of 600 Florida consumers released Tuesday by the National Community Pharmacists Association.

While Wal-Mart is offering generic drugs for $4 per prescription in 38 states, only 5 percent of the consumers surveyed said they have taken advantage of the program; 60 percent said it does not offer all the cost savings advertised; 18 percent said their prescription was not covered, and others said the $4 fee was not cheaper than their current prescription costs, according to a NCPA press release.

Wal-Mart spokesperson Kevin Gardner told John L. Moore of The Morning News in Springdale, Ark., near Wal-Mart headquarters, that the claims are unwarranted. “The drugs on this list represent 25 percent of prescriptions Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club fill nationwide,” Gardner said. “We’ve been clear from the beginning, the drugs in the program aren’t an exhaustive list of generic drugs offered.” (Read more)

MTV seeks high-school newspaper to cast as 'The Paper' in reality show

MTV is casting a new reality show that looks to chronicle the adventures of aspiring journalists at a high-school newspaper. It has put out a call for volunteers; we think rural high schools should take note and volunteer if interested, because production companies may tend to favor urban and suburban locales.

"MTV News & Docs is casting for a new pilot called 'The Paper,' which chronicles the inner workings and outside lives of a high school newspaper staff. They are looking for 'an interesting, probing, inquisitive high school newspaper staff to share their lives with us ... and a proud, dedicated school that's willing to open up their doors to our producers,'" according to the California Newspaper Publishers Association.

Any high-school newspaper wanting to make a pitch should call casting director Claresa Mandola at 212-654-7345 or write her at claresa.mandola@mtvstaff.com. (Read more)

Here's a Thanksgiving prayer for farmers, other workers and the hungry

The Kentucky Resources Council sent out a Thanksgiving greeting with the following prayer of thanks and hope from Marian Wright Edelman's book "Guide My Feet." It's suitable for dinner tomorrow.

God, we thank you for this food
for the hands that planted it
for the hands that tended it
for the hands that harvested it
for the hands that prepared it
for the hands that provided it
and for the hands that served it.
And we pray for those without enough food
in your world and in our land of plenty.

Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2006

Recommended reading, watching for Thanksgiving: 'Everlasting Stream'

Walt Harrington had never shot a rabbit until he began spending Thanksgiving with his in-laws in Southern Kentucky, where his wife's family tradition calls for the men to hunt rabbits while the women prepare the holiday meal. "A high-profile Washington Post reporter with a taste for manicures and expensive suits, he felt silly in his borrowed hunting gear, not quite knowing how to hold the shotgun [father-in-law] Alex had given him as a gift. And he worried about whether he would get along with Alex's hunting buddies Bobby, Lewis and Carl -- three rough-edged, African American, country men who seemed to have nothing in common with the white city slicker. Little did he know that over the next two decades, these four 'good ol' country guys' would change not only his opinions about hunting, but his feelings about the things that mattered to him most," says a press release from Kentucky Educational Television, which brings Harrington's book to TV this week.

The book is The Everlasting Stream: A True Story of Rabbits, Guns, Friendship, and Family, published by Atlantic Monthly Press. Former President Bush wrote in a blurb for it, "This beautifully written book captures the meaning of life. It is a book about the wonders of hunting, but it is much more. It is a book about life’s true values. In the process of pointing out the joys of hunting with his Kentucky friends, none of whom are rich with money, all of whom are rich with humor and grass-roots values, Walt Harrington makes the reader understand the importance of family." Publishers Weekly said of the book, "This does for hunting what A River Runs Through It did for fly-fishing."

The KET release says, "Walt came to appreciate the value of old-fashioned friendship and masculinity, the complexities of guilt and responsibility, and the enduring magic of a memorable moment." The moment that provided the name for the book and TV show came in Lawson's Bottom near Bakerton, as the hunting party gathered around what the locals called "an everlasting stream" springing from a hillside and flowing toward the nearby Cumberland River. Harrington had an epiphany in which he saw the stream as metaphor, commingling the essential experiences of life -- past, present and future, he said in an interview with Glasgow native Bill Goodman on KET's "One to One" show that aired Sunday.

"We cleaned the rabbits in the spring, and as was often the case when we were all done, someone would have a bottle of whiskey and we would share swigs from the bottle of whiskey, and the men all stood around the bed of the truck . . . with the little stream tinkling there next to us, and I was standing back, and for whatever reason it was a kind of perfect moment," Harrington recalled. Later, he said, "As they laughed and they joked, they seemed to be in the moment, yet they were telling stories that went back decades. Then they would be back in the moment, and there was no separation between the past and the present, and I would even say the future. It was all of a single piece. For whatever reason, standing back and watching that, I experienced the sense of it, and I literally realized 'There's something more going on here than I have appreciated.' And it was not at that moment that I set out to understand it, but it was at that moment that I literally realized that I should be thoughtful and careful about what was going on in front of me, and I should be watchful of the more profound meaning of it all," far beyond his initial image of the four Kentuckians as "country characters from Central Casting." To watch the interview, click here.

The Everlasting Stream airs on KET2 at 3 and 10 p.m. tomorrow, and on KET1 at 9 p.m. Thanksgiving night. It premiered Sunday at Barren County High School in Glasgow, and the hunting party was there, reports Cassandra Groce of the Glasgow Daily Times, who also took the photo at left. From left are Lewis Stockton, Bobby Elliott, Carl Martin, Harrington and father-in-law Alexander Elliott. The book's first chapter is on Harrington's Web site.

Harrington wrote Crossings: A White Man's Journey Into Black America, which won the Gustavus Myers Center Award for study of human rights in the U.S.; American Profiles: Somebodies and Nobodies Who Matter; At the Heart of It: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Lives; and Intimate Journalism: The Art and Craft of Reporting Everyday Life, for journalists who want to write literary journalism about ordinary folks. He heads the journalism department at the University of Illinois.

Deer-hunting season spells big bucks for West Virginia's rural areas

The kickoff of gun season for bucks excited deer hunters on Monday in West Virginia, but it also spelled the start of a multi-million dollar economic boost for the state's rural and urban areas that try to cater to the sport in every way possible.

The two-week season produces a $233 million economic impact every year for the Mountain State, Hoy Murphy, public information officer with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, told Fred Pace of The Register-Herald in Beckley. More hunters than ever before could visit roadside diners, gas stations, supply shops and hotels along the state's rural routes, since the DNR is noticing an increase in deer hunting across ages and genders.

Murphy told Pace that the season is especially vital to the state's many rural communities. “A large amount of their annual incomes comes from this hunting season,” he said. “Many rural businesses are depending on it, but no matter what business you’re in, you benefit by deer hunting season in West Virginia.” (Read more)

New map shows rural population losses, often mitigated by immigration

Four midwest states are blanketed with rural population loss in a new Economic Research Service report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that provides a snapshot of trends during the last five years.

The report's centerpiece is a color-coded map of trends outside metropolitan areas, showing that Kansas leads in terms of population loss in the midwest U.S. from 2000-2005. The three other states covered almost entirely in red (representing losses) are Nebraska and the Dakotas. Nevada housed the most rural population growth during the time period monitored by the research service. Since the same midwest states seeing losses also netted the heaviest portion of farm program payments, that begs the question about whether such programs are actually boosting rural areas.

"The map also sheds some light on why the immigration debate is extremely important to rural America. Midwestern counties that experienced population growth during that same time frame, usually did so as a result of international migration, which accounted for between 18 to 28 percent of total non-metro population growth for the West, South, and Northeast. The rest, originated from metro areas, as more people moved to small-town places," according to the USDA report.

Conn. writer hears Kentuckian Berry's preaching on power of small farms

"With Connecticut losing its farmland at a frightening rate -- more than 7,000 acres a year by one estimate -- we would be well advised to connect with Wendell Berry. For the last 40 years, Kentucky farmer and writer Berry has been a tireless advocate not only for small farms, but also for the cultural and community ties that they engender," writes William Major for the Hartford Courant.

"Perhaps no writer has done as much to defend the twin ideals of stewardship and responsibility for the environment. No other American thinker in recent memory has grappled with the place of agriculture in a world more disposed toward industrialism and the unreflective dogma of unlimited growth. In the early 1960s, Berry left the literary life of New York City to return to his boyhood home in Henry County, Ky., to farm, write and think about the complex relationship between people and the land."

Berry defines his life and work mindset as "a practice, a set of attitudes, a loyalty, and a passion ... a way of thought based on land." His writings promote the idea of local, land-based economies where rural residents take charge and gain empowerment through their work, notes Major, a professor of English at the University of Hartford.

"What would such an economy look like?" asks Major. "It must be made up of small farms and consumers who buy their meat and produce close to home from people they know and with whom they can converse. It is also a system made up of small industry and other enterprises that work within the natural limits and carrying capacities of the land, one that fosters a sense of independence for workers and families. In short, Berry's is an argument for a humane economy, one that might enrich and enliven communities rather than tear them apart." (Read more)

Land, new technology needed for nation's 2025 renewable-energy goal

Here's a future Wendell Berry doesn't welcome, because it smacks of industrial agriculture: Farmers are one key to ensuring the success of the nation's push for 25 percent renewable energy use by 2025, and despite concerns like Berry's, many of them are welcoming anything that promises a boost to farming.

"As many as 100 million acres of cropland and pastures would have to be dedicated to cultivating biomass fuels like switchgrass to support a national goal of 25 percent renewable energy use by 2025, a University of Tennessee study says. Moreover, new commercial technologies will be needed to turn switchgrass, wheat, rice and forest products into ethanol fuel, now principally made from corn, and their byproducts into feedstock for power generation," reports Duncan Mansfield of The Associated Press.

"But the rewards could be great. The study projects $700 billion in new economic activity, including: a $180 billion growth in net farm income over the next 20 years; creation of 5.1 million jobs to support renewable energy enterprises; and government savings of more than $15 billion in crop subsidies," continues Mansfield. "The report, released last week, concludes that not only could U.S. farmers, ranchers and foresters produce 25 percent of the nation's energy needs, but they could do it while still meeting the nation's demand for food, feed and fiber." (Read more) To read the study, click here.

An article by Alan Scher Zagier of The AP describes how wind energy is helping Midwest farmers who once relied on hogs or soybeans to make a living. “There’s not a lot of money in rural America," said Frank Schieber, a Missouri farmer. "We’re not going to get another factory. It’s a shot in the arm." Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa even require that local utilities devote a percentage of their "portfolio to renewable energy sources such as wind or solar power," notes Zagier. (Read more)

Justice Department schedules national Meth Awareness Day Nov. 30

A series of activities are planned to educate college students and others about the dangers methamphetamine poses to users and communities on Nov. 30, as part of the U.S. Department of Justice's National Methamphetamine Awareness Day.

Justice Department officials, including U.S. attorneys and Drug Enforcement Administration agents, are set to host an array of activities throughout the country, with help from local and state agencies. The special day comes on the heels of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which reported the average age for first-time meth users being 18.9 years in 2002, 20.4 years in 2003, and 22.1 years in 2004.

The department’s meth awareness Web site includes more information on activities and an educational presentation called “Meth 101." The site includes links to local U.S. Attorney’s Offices and DEA Field Offices that are willing to help groups plan local events for Nov. 30. The Web site also includes a section on “meth mouth” that describes the drug's long-term effects on teeth and gums.

Monday, Nov. 20, 2006

'Macaca' sees a friendlier side to the mountains of southwest Virginia

A racially insensitive comment by U.S. Sen. George Allen about a volunteer who was videotaping him for challenger James Webb probably cost him his seat and his party the majority in the Senate. At Breaks Interstate Park on the Kentucky line, Allen addressed S.R. Sidarth, right, a 20-year-old of Indian descent, as "macaca or whatever his name is" then said "welcome to America and the real world of Virginia."

"Allen's actions that day stood out because they were not representative of how I was treated while traveling around the state," Sidarth wrote in The Washington Post. "Everywhere I went, though I was identifiably working on behalf of Allen's opponent, people treated me with dignity, respect and kindness. I cannot recall one event where food was served and I was not invited to join in the meal. In southwest Virginia, hospitality toward me was at a high point. The night before the incident in Breaks, I stayed at the home of Jewel Jones, Webb's aunt, in Gate City on the Tennessee border. I was treated like family even though I was a guest for only half a day, and I received a grand tour of the area where Webb's ancestors have lived for more than a century. The following day, at the picnic in Breaks, even after Allen's comments highlighted my outsider status, I was not allowed to depart without eating, because as one woman put it, 'Political differences are set aside at the dinner table.' In the same spirit, I was given accurate directions to Allen's next event, held in Bluefield the following morning."

"I am proud to be a second-generation Indian American and a practicing Hindu. My parents were born and raised in India and immigrated here more than 25 years ago; I have known no home other than Northern Virginia," Sidarth wrote. "The larger question that this experience brings up is: How far has society progressed on the issues of race and openness? . . . By 2050, according to most projections, the United States will be a minority-majority nation. But the fact that Allen believed I was an immigrant, when in fact I am a native Virginian, underlines the problems our society still faces." (Read more)

Tennessee court to decide whether dimension stone is a 'mineral'

For decades, many landowners in Appalachia and other rural areas have struggled with the fact that they don't own the coal, oil, natural gas and minerals on their properties. Now, a Tennessee court will decide whether a lease for all the minerals on tract includes stone cut for construction and ornamentation.

“Demand for the rocks has surged across the country as stone has become more popular in houses, commercial buildings and landscaping,” writes Bill Poovey of The Associated Press. Landowners “say if the mineral rights owners are allowed to take the rocks, their scenic bluffs and mountain land covered with hardwoods and evergreens will be ruined by blasting and bulldozers. . . . It’s a legal fight that could have implications for many landowners who don’t own the mineral rights in their land.”

Tennessee produces relatively little coal, so it has not seen major conflicts between surface owners and mineral owners like those in Kentucky. But the southeastern quadrant of Tennessee's Cumberland Plateau (white and gray on the map) has much Crab Orchard Sandstone, a sturdy but easily cut rock that is a favorite for building construction, especially in scenic locales. (The stone is named for, and is primarily quarried at, the hamlet of Crab Orchard, just east of Crossville.) Poovey reports that about 35 states produce “dimension stone,” the term used to distinguish the material from crushed rock, and that production “rose about 19 percent between 2001 and 2005, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.” The leading producer is Indiana, known for its fine-grained Bedford Limestone.

The Tennessee dispute has prompted activists to organize. Tracy McDaniel of Dunlap, whose family bought 66 acres on Fredonia Mountain in Sequatchie County north of Chattanooga decade ago, “predicted that a court ruling that a rock is a mineral means a life-altering change for her family, a change from solitude to 'dynamite and dozers and heavy equipment',” Poovey writes, quoting McDaniel: “People have told us, 'You’ve got a lot of money in rock.' That’s not what we bought it for.” (Read more)

Kentucky miners return to work quickly despite drug-related suspensions

A new Kentucky law designed to create safer conditions in coal mines is resulting in some suspensions, but the state is allowing miners who fail or refuse drug tests to return to work with few questions asked.

The law that went into effect July 12 mandates that miners who test positive for drugs, or who refuse to take a drug test, be suspended unless they enter an employee-assistance program or win an appeal for reinstatement. As of last week, 123 miners had been suspended for failed or refused tests, and 53 of the 66 who appealed won their reinstatements. Many of those reinstated tested positive for cocaine, marijuana or a narcotic painkiller not prescribed to them, reports R.G. Dunlop of The Courier-Journal.

"But state officials are permitting miners to return to work without first investigating to determine whether they have criminal records related to drugs or alcohol, or showed signs of substance abuse at previous jobs," Dunlop writes for the Louisville newspaper. "And following reinstatement, miners do not have to undergo random drug testing. Instead, they're told to submit to testing at a time and place of their choosing. Experts say background checks are important to disclose histories of drug abuse, and that evaluations and random testing are essential to keep substance abusers out of the mines."

State officials told the the Kentucky Mining Board on Thursday that the Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet lacks the time and funds "to fully investigate miners' backgrounds, and that miners might find burdensome the expense of submitting to a substance-abuse evaluation," writes Dunlop. "Long recognized as a problem in the coal industry, miners' drug abuse was brought into focus by a June 2003 fatal explosion in Floyd County. Investigators found marijuana at the mine, and tests on the miner who died disclosed the presence of hydrocodone, a powerful painkiller." (Read more)

Mountaintop-removal foe finds friendly forums at colleges, universities

Dave Cooper, 47, travels across the eastern United States, spreading opposition to mountaintop removal with the Mountaintop Removal Road Show. The Lexington, Ky., resident is on a 12-state tour, including a number of college campuses. While he once met with student environmental groups, he now speaks in the classroom as well. Cooper tells students about hazards to people and the environment such as explosives, valley fills, blackwater spills and floods, reports Tim Thornton of the Roanoke Times.

Last year, Cooper invited Pauline Canterberry and Mary Miller to speak to a class with him. "The two elderly women brought bags of coal dust that had settled on their porch and stories about a mine and processing plant devaluing their home and degrading their lives," writes Thornton. "This time Cooper brought Eric Blevins, a recent graduate of Middle Tennessee State University, who helped convince students to impose a fee on themselves so the university could buy electricity from renewable sources."

"There’s apparently no similar push to bring pro-mining forces into college classrooms," writes Thornton. "The Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research, which is working on clean coal technology, is based at Virginia Tech. The Powell River Project, which explores ways to reuse land that’s been surface-mined, has roots at Tech, too. Both groups have educational programs, but they are aimed at elementary or high school students." (Read more)

Click here for a calendar of the Mountaintop Removal Road Show.

Midwestern wineries turning a higher profit than traditional crops

Wineries are thriving in the Midwest and upper South, reaping profits that are high above those from crops like corn and soybeans. According to agricultural economists, "the American public is becoming more wine-friendly and is increasingly fond of all things local. Nationally, wine sales grew by 5 percent last year, to a retail value of $26 billion, according to the Wine Institute, an advocacy group for the industry," writes Susan Saulny of The New York Times.

Wineries in the Midwest are attracting tourists and turning a profit. "Some are even producing quality wine, sommeliers say, made possible by French-American grape hybrids that are bred to thrive in cold climates," writes Saulny. "They have been so successful that more corn, soybean and tobacco farmers are clearing fields and planting grapes. In Iowa alone, a new winery has been licensed every two weeks for the past year, officials say. Now, more than 700 acres are devoted to grapes (compared with 15 in 2000) and there are close to 70 commercial wineries."

“We’re not getting enough value out of corn and beans. But these grapes, there’s a tremendous market emerging. On one acre of ground, if we net $40 with corn or beans we’ve done good. With grapes, you could net upwards of $1,500 an acre. For us, growing grapes, it’s the holy grail of high-value crops,” Corey Goodhue, a young farmer from an area near Des Moines, told The Times. (Read more)

For a source on wineries in every state, click here.

DirecTV gave satellite viewers no notice of Rather program's premiere

Dan Rather, whose descriptions of close races on election nights reminded us of his upbringing in rural East Texas, returned to television Wednesday night, but many rural folks who use the DirecTV satellite service were probably unaware of it.

"Very suspiciously, the DirecTV satellite guide for that night's viewing did not list Rather's program at 8, when it aired," writes Tom Shales, TV critic of The Washington Post. "Instead, the grid said 'Title Not Available,' which very rarely happens. DirecTV is now controlled by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., so it's hardly being paranoid to wonder if this 'mistake' weren't made on purpose."

Shales recalls, "Years and years ago, when pugnacious personality Jack Paar attacked the Hearst Newspapers on 'The Tonight Show,' Hearst retaliated by running the word 'Commercials' in TV listings where 'Tonight Show' or 'Jack Paar' should have been. Perhaps TV hasn't changed as much as one would think -- or as much as it should have."

Shales writes that "Dan Rather Reports," on the HDNet channel, "contained some solid and absorbing journalism [but] the program lacked structure and cohesion and seemed chronically under-produced. Having Rather report all the stories himself, with no other journalists in sight, amounted to overexposure, and there were 'cutaway' (reaction) shots of Rather in which he looked, justifiably, exhausted. Still, it was good to see him on TV again -- if you could find him." (Read more)

Friday, Nov. 17, 2006

Clear Channel to sell small stations; more community-oriented radio?

Clear Channel Communications, the largest owner of broadcast stations in the U.S., agreed yesterday to be bought for $26.7 billion, including $8 billion in debt, and said it would sell 448 radio stations outside the nation's largest 100 markets -- a move that critics of mega-media companies said could restore the community-oriented nature of radio stations in less-populated areas.

"Our sincere hope is that by selling off over 400 radio stations in smaller markets, this will offer an opportunity for those stations to be revitalized as thriving, local entities," Michael Bracy, policy director for the Future of Music Coalition, a watchdog group related to music, law and technology issues, told the Poughkeepsie Journal in New York.

Gary Chetkof owns WDST (100.1 FM) in Woodstock, N.Y. (pop. 6,241), and could become a local media mogul if he bought the other two Clear Channel stations for sale in the area, reports John Barry of the Journal. Chetkof said Clear Channel’s sales "go to show that the Wal-Mart model of one corporate entity owning thousands of radio stations and trying to run smaller market radio stations as effectively and efficient as the people who live here and are connected to the community, it just doesn't work." (Read more)

In Kentucky, Clear Channel will sell all three stations in the state capital of Frankfort (pop. 28,000) and the rural town of Somerset (pop. 12,000). “Whether the stations will be sold as a group, by market or individually is unclear. The Frankfort and Somerset stations were spared layoffs,” write Beth Musgrave And Sarah Vos of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Dave Colvin, general manager of three stations to be sold in Frankfort, told the Herald-Leader he thinks their broadcasts will be the same. "We're very much a community-based radio station here," Colvin said. "As far as we're concerned, it's business as normal." (Read more)

The firm owns 1,150 radio stations and 42 television stations. “Clear Channel expressed confidence that it would find eager buyers. ‘These radio stations and the TV division are all excellent performers, and we are confident we'll find a buyer who wants to grow with them, Clear Channel said Thursday in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing,” writes Shira Ovide of Dow Jones’ MarketWatch. (Read more)

Wal-Mart's $4 drug plan comes to 11 more states, some largely rural

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. announced yesterday that it will expand its $4 generic prescription program to 11 more states, for a total of 38. The company said 502 stores will join the program in Idaho, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah, Washington and West Virginia. The plan started in Florida in September and was slated to come to other states in January 2007, but it was expanded early due to demand, said a Wal-Mart release.

Several primarily rural states are now on the list. “West Virginia’s population is one of the oldest in the nation, with a median age of 38.9. The Census Bureau projects that by 2025, one in four West Virginians will be 65 or older, an increase from roughly one in six in 2000,” writes Andrew Clevenger of the Charleston Gazette. “There’s lots of elderly people on fixed incomes, and a lot of times it’s a choice between buying medication or buying food,” Ted Bennett, a pharmacy manager at a West Virginia Wal-Mart told the Gazette. (Read more)

“Critics, including union-led groups and the National Community Pharmacists Association, which represents non-chain pharmacies, have called the discounts a publicity stunt that covers only a fraction of the 8,700 generic prescription drugs approved by federal officials,” writes Marcus Kabel of the Associated Press. Richard Stevens, executive director of the West Virginia Pharmacists’ Association, told the Gazette that the $4 program is a publicity stunt, especially meant to draw in holiday shoppers. He said that shoppers should check other stores because Wal-Mart is not the only one offering discount drugs. Fruth Pharmacy, based in Point Pleasant, W.Va., (pop. 4,637) is offering 125 generic drugs for $4, as well, reports Morgan Kelly of the Gazette. (Read more)

“Reaction from Wal-Mart's chain rivals has been mix ed. After the earlier expansions, No. 2 discounter Target Corp. matched the discounts state-by-state,” Kabel writes. “Meijer also announced it would fill prescriptions for eight generic oral antibiotics for free. Other chains including Walgreen Co. said they would not change prices that they contend are already competitive.” (Read more)

Northern Illinois group works to keep rural control over ground water

Farmers and environmental activists in rural northern Illinois are working to form what they call the Kishwaukee Valley Water Authority to protect their water supply from encroaching development. “If approved by rural voters in an April referendum, the new authority would control how much water is pulled from the underground aquifers in currently unincorporated areas of the three rapidly growing counties on Chicago's suburban frontier,” reports Jeff Long of the Chicago Tribune.

Five years ago, a report by a planning agency in the Chicago area predicted that a dozen townships in the area would have water shortages by 2020. “No Illinois statute or county ordinance regulates how much water is taken from the ground,” writes Long. “Rural residents have no say when a neighboring community, or a water utility, or a new industry taps into their supply.”

"The rural areas are recognizing that their water is going to be sought after. People in rural areas are saying, `What say do I have in how much water they take?'" Robert Perbohner, a member of the board of directors of Alliance for Land, Agriculture and Water, a group pushing to create the authority.

“Once the authority is established, developers or others seeking to build projects that would be high users of water --for example, an industrial park or a rural subdivision with more than four homes--would be required to get a permit before drilling,” writes Long. “Agricultural uses are exempt under state law, and other current users would not need a permit unless they wanted to draw more water, Perbohner said.” (Read more)

Rural Oklahoma hospitals struggle with Medicaid, uninsured patients

"Rural hospitals are struggling to survive in Oklahoma because of low state Medicaid reimbursement and a high percentage of patients who are uninsured, Patti Davis, executive vice president of the Oklahoma Hospital Association, said Friday," writes Kim Archer of Tulsa World.

85 percent of rural residents are on Medicare or Medicaid and about 700,000 Oklahomans are uninsured. "Truthfully, when the state doesn't provide its share of Medicaid dollars, the cost of care gets shifted to those who pay, like insurance companies or people with the ability to pay for care," Davis told the World.

"According to a recent survey of 77 Oklahoma hospitals, a record $515 million in uncompensated health care was provided by state hospitals in 2005, a $79 million increase from 2002," writes Archer. "The survey was conducted by the Center for Health Policy Research at the University of Oklahoma College of Public Health in Tulsa for the Oklahoma Hospital Association." However, the situation has improved in the last two years, said Davis. Since 2004, an increased tobacco tax has contributed to Medicaid funds, and hospitals have been the prime beneficiary. (Read more)

Ethanol and biofuel plants may be a boon for rural Texas economies

New biofuel plants in Texas are bringing economic opportunities to rural residents through new jobs and more demand for crops. A typical ethanol plant creates 30 to 60 jobs, which may not mean much to a city like Houston, but for places like Gonzales (pop. 7,202) and Poteet (pop. 3,305), it can make a major impact, reports William Pack of the San Antonio Express-News.

Ethanol plants and other biofuel facilities are attracted to rural areas by cheaper development costs and access to the agricultural markets that sell the crops they use to produce fuel and buy their byproducts. "A Texas A&M University study said an 80-million-gallon ethanol plant could produce 1,400 associated jobs over time," writes Pack. "The overall economic boost provided by that size of a plant could reach $400 million, including $41 million in increased household income annually once the plant begins operation."

The Farmers Co-op of El Campo voted to partner with a 5 million-gallon biodiesel plant between Houston and Victoria. The plant will increase demand for cottonseed and soybean oil in the area, and also will fight high diesel-fuel costs, Jimmy Roppolo, the co-op's general manager, told the Express-News. Panda Ethanol chose rural locations for its refineries because of a proximity to cattle. "Those refineries will produce fuel from corn and sorghum, but the steam needed to pull the starch out of those products will be generated by gasifying as much as 1 billion pounds of cattle manure at each plant," writes Pack.

"Texas already has 13 biodiesel plants operating capable of manufacturing almost 100 million gallons of the fuel, the National Biodiesel Board reports," writes Pack. "That makes Texas one of the top two states in productive capacity, said board spokeswoman Jenna Higgins." Eight other sites are currently being considered for plants. Robert Wood, assistant commissioner for rural economic development at the Texas Department of Agriculture, said the number of biofuel plants may double within five years if the price of crude oil stays high and concern with energy security grows. (Read more)

'Fast-track' program will give funds to businesses in rural Utah

The Workforce Services and Community and Economic Development Interim Committee unanimously passed a bill Wednesday that will create a "fast-track" program to assist companies operating in rural Utah, reports Brice Wallace of the Deseret Morning News in Salt Lake City.

“Jason Perry, executive director of the Governor's Office of Economic Development, said the bill allows ‘some meaningful and significant and quick action for us to take for businesses in rural Utah to access some funds from the Industrial Assistance Fund,’”writes Wallace. “Current law allows up to half of the fund to be used for businesses in ‘economically disadvantaged’ rural areas. The new bill would allot 20 percent of the IAF for businesses in counties with at least 30,000 residents and with a median household income of less than $60,000.”

“Applying businesses must have been operating at least two years and have at least two employees,” writes Wallace. “They could receive through the fund administrator between $1,000 and $1,500 per new job, depending on how much above the county median wage the new jobs pay. The minimum would be 110 percent of the median. A company also could apply for up to $50,000 for ‘economic development opportunities’ to develop a rural Utah business.” (Read more)

Thursday, Nov. 16, 2006

Miners love coal boom, but not unions that advocate retirement benefits

A changing economy fueled by a big demand for energy is breathing new life into coal mining, and workers are earning $20 an hour plus benefits. But they are making those wages without unions that once dominated the industry and won for their members retirement plans with health insurance -- something not offered by non-union employers, reports Dale Russakoff of The Washington Post.

"As the industry withered east of the Mississippi River, so did the United Mine Workers of America -- from 167,000 active members in 1980 to 16,000 today. The shift is profound in Southern Illinois, where being a miner used to begin with pledging allegiance to the UMWA for leading miners into the middle class," Russakoff writes from Coulterville, Ill., population 1,230, halfway between Carbondale and St. Louis.

An attempted resurgence by the UMWA, with an organizing campaign aimed in large part at St. Louis-based Peabody Energy, is encountering a brick wall that separates young workers excited over big bucks and veterans focused on pensions and health care. "It is the same generational divide that defines the national debate over Social Security, but it is starker here because there is no one in the middle," writes Russakoff. "The miners here come not only from different generations but different worlds. Those in their 50s mostly began mining as union men from union families, following grandfathers, fathers and uncles." Those just starting out with corporations such as Peabody are finding high pay and a commitment to safety -- Peabody won the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration's top award for safety two of the last three years.

Coal's new life can be attributed to a "soaring U.S. demand for electricity, half of which currently comes from coal," writes Russakoff. "The Bush administration is promoting coal as a 'freedom fuel' -- in contrast to foreign oil -- and utilities are on a coal binge, with 154 new coal-fired plants on the drawing board. New plants must have scrubbers that remove sulfur before it reaches the atmosphere, so high-sulfur coal is back in the game." The coal in the Eastern Interior Basin, when includes Illinois, is high in sulfur.

While there is an increased demand for coal and an influx of new workers, veterans with companies like Peabody are crying foul because they say that big companies are no longer willing to dish out the dough for health insurance for miners when they retire. "It's out of balance between the corporate world and the workers, and we have to make a stand," Bobby Townsend, 46, a pro-union Peabody miner, told Russakoff. "We work ourselves to the bone and . . . look 70 when we're 50. We spend our life making these people millions of dollars; we ought to at least have pension and medical." (Read more)

USDA report says 'food insecurity' down; food banks say 'hunger' is up

Twelve percent of Americans -- 35 million -- could not put food on their tables for part of last year and includes 12 million children, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report on "food security," the term it is now using in place of "hunger."

USDA's estimate that 35 million people reported such struggles "is an 8 percent decrease in food insecurity over the previous year. However, demands for food assistance remain high. America’s Second Harvest, The Nation’s Food Bank Network -- distributed record levels of food over the last year, and Food Stamp Program participation is increasing," according to a Second Harvest press release.

The release continues, "Hunger in America 2006, the largest, most comprehensive study ever conducted on domestic hunger reported an 8 percent increase in the number of people that the America’s Second Harvest Network serves." The study was done for Second Harvest. "Additionally, more than 40 percent of the clients served report having to choose between paying for utilities or heating fuel and food; 35 percent said they had to choose between paying for rent or a mortgage and food; 32 percent report having to choose between paying for medical bills and food." (Read the release)

One change in this year's USDA report is the replacement of the word "hunger" with various levels of "food security." There are ongoing debates about both that choice in words and the accuracy of the report. "That 35 million people in this wealthy nation feel insecure about their next meal can be hard to believe, even in the highest circles. In 1999, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, then running for president, said he thought the annual USDA report -- which consistently finds his home state one of the hungriest in the nation -- was fabricated," writes Elizabeth Williamson of The Washington Post. (Read more)

Click here for the USDA report, and here for a breakdown of factors that created state-to-state differences.

FFA discovers new life with urban teenagers, different ethnic groups

A lack of family farms is not preventing teenagers from joining the National FFA Organization, once known as the Future Farmers of America -- and the big surprise is an influx of members from urban locales.

"A new face has emerged on this old-fashioned tradition," writes Monica Davey of The New York Times. "More FFA members now come from towns, suburbs and city neighborhoods . . . than from rural farm regions, FFA officials say. The largest chapter in the country? At W. B. Saul High School of Agricultural Sciences in Philadelphia. Mainly, the FFA, created to build pride among young farmers-to-be, is drawing students who say they do not in the least wish to become farmers, but rather food industry scientists, seed bioengineers, florists, landscapers and renewable-fuels engineers."

Is the changing face of FFA a reflection of an evolution in agriculture and related fields? Many of the students at a national convention in Indianapolis did not even associate FFA with farming. Rather than planning to milk cows, many are hoping to study economics in college and eventually work in the food industry, reports Davey. FFA boasted its highest membership in 1977 at 509,735; it dipped to fewer than 383,000 in 1992 but rebounded to more than 495,000 this year.

A more visible change in FFA is its racial makeup. "Although the FFA has always accepted blacks, some Southern states did not include them until 1965 (before then they had a separate organization), said Bill Stagg, a spokesman for FFA, and the organization did not allow girls national membership until four years after that. The group remains about 81 percent white, but Hispanic members are now estimated at 12 percent, blacks 4 percent. Girls now account for 38 percent of the members," writes Davey. (Read more)

Program urges ex-southwest Virginians to come back to new jobs

In the coalfield of southwest Virginia, fighting to recover from economic decline, there are now high-tech job opportunities, but not enough people to fill them. Local officials have started a "Return to Roots" program to persuade people who moved away from the region to come home, see how the area has changed, and resettle there, reports Jeff Lester of the Coalfield Progress.

"Needed job skills include software development and information technology management, laboratory technicians, project managers, electrical and industrial engineers, nurses, physical therapists, physicians and pharmacists," writes Lester. "Along with employment opportunities, regional quality of life is going through a transformation. New housing opportunities are growing, and recreational and cultural outlets are on the increase."

The program is supported by a grant from the Virginia Tobacco Commission, which spends part of the state's share from the national tobacco settlement. Its Web site "offers a database where job seekers can post resumes and employers can list job postings, along with general information on changes in southwest Virginia’s employment profile. It also highlights higher-education opportunities, regional attractions, lists of high-school reunions, continuing-education programs, feature stories and more. Also, this month, Return to Roots will begin a direct mail campaign, sending postcards to as many of the 15,000 outmigrants as can be found," Lester reports. (Read more)

Retrofitting diesel school buses may help keep Minnesota's air clean

The air in Minnesota is cleaner than many places and Project Green Fleet of Clean Air Minnesota aims to keep it that way by retrofitting diesel school buses. “Using money from private sources such as foundations, Project Green Fleet is designed to reduce toxic emissions from buses before Minnesota's air quality fails to meet federal standards,” writes Lyn Jerde of Sun Newspapers, a community newspaper group serving the suburbs and exurbs of the Twin Cities.

Areas that are within federal standards for air quality are not likely to get any federal funding to lessen air pollution, but Minnesota must address these environmental issues before they become a problem, said William Droessler, program director of Clean Air Minnesota, reports Jerde. (Read more)

More than half of the state’s pollution is generated by vehicles, according to Project Green Fleet. Children who ride school buses every day are at special risk, say studies that show the air inside of buses might have up to five times more pollution. “By installing diesel retrofit equipment on school buses, we can reduce certain outdoor air pollutants generated from the bus by 40 to 90 percent and dramatically reduce the level of pollution inside the bus,” Project Green Fleet says on its Web site.

Bill Meyer dies; won awards for editorials, ran three Kansas newspapers

Weekly newspaper owner Bill Meyer died Tuesday in Wichita, Kan., from a head injury suffered during a recent fall. The 81-year-old led Hoch Publishing Co. and visited his three papers on a nearly daily basis.

He joined the Marion County Record in 1948 and become editor and publisher in 1967. He "won a string of awards, including the Eugene Cervi Award from the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors. The fall edition of the group's Grassroots Editor magazine ran an article by Meyer urging newspapers to make editorial endorsements: "Newspaper editors are in a better position to evaluate candidates than the average person who bases opinion on television commercials or coffee-shop rumors."

Meyer was well past retirement age in the late 1990s when he learned that a chain was considering buying the Marion County Record. Instead, he bought the paper and later two others, the Peabody Gazette-Bulletin and the Hillsboro Star-Journal," reports The Associated Press. (Read more) All three of Meyer's newspapers ran the same lead story on Meyer's death this week. To learn more about the funeral services and memorial funds established with the Meyer Family Trust Fund in care of the Kansas Newspaper Foundation or St. Luke Hospital in Marion, click here.

Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2006

Mountain Eagle says taking of its election-eve edition was a theft of rights

The Mountain Eagle, the nationally known weekly newspaper in Whitesburg, Ky., came out a day early last week to give its readers last-minute election news and one last round of advertising from candidates. But soon after the paper was distributed, it disappeared from news racks, either bought or stolen. The paper's countered by posting election-related articles online, marking the Eagle's first appearance in cyberspace.

"The community consensus, as we hear it, is that every copy of the Eagle that could be found was taken off newsstands to keep voters from reading information that refuted false statements circulated on radio, television and in other publications against Letcher County Judge-Executive Carroll Smith," Eagle Publisher Tom Gish said in an editorial this week. Most Eagle readers get their copies on the newsstands, and the mailed copies arrived in boxes on Election Day, presumably after many voters had been to the polls.

Smith, a progressive Republican, lost to Democratic Magistrate Jim Ward by 347 votes out of 8,039 cast, or 4.3 percentage points. The paper's lead story, headlined "Smith, others answer attacks in radio, TV ads," reported records refuting claims by Smith's foes that he was lax in seeking money for water and sewer lines in the mountainous county, and that a prosecutor had discredited Ward's claim that Smith's "billing practices" were being investigated. A sidebar gave Smith's reply to a Ward ad on another issue.

Gish called the thefts "an effort . . . to put The Mountain Eagle out of business. Take the paper away from the people who read it each week and the paper will die a quick, short death." He said 4,000 of the paper's 7,000 circulation is through single-copy sales. When readers discovered that the election-day issue had disappeared from groceries, convenience stores and other outlets, "Large numbers of readers came to the Eagle office to buy copies of the paper, but we had only a few left for sale. But we did hear countless descriptions of events from angry citizens who had been denied their God-given and American Constitution-guaranteed right to liberty and the freedom to read, to gain information, to think for themselves."

Then, like any good rural publisher, Gish turned to the business side, to the rights of the advertisers who make the paper possible: "That issue of the Eagle contained a number of advertisements from automobile dealers, furniture stores, groceries and other merchants who wanted to reach the thousands of Letcher Countians who read the Eagle each week. . . . The right of those merchants to benefit from that advertising was stolen. And you, dear readers, might have missed a rare buy on a good car."

The Eagle found itself at odds with a major advertiser, Abingdon, Va.-based Food City, which first told the paper that it had removed its news racks for clearning, then said it put the copies on a nearby counter because a customer complained about "caustic information" on the front page. The Eagle's story on the controversy quoted a reader as saying another store kept the papers in a lpocked room until the day after the election, and said "a publication in Cromona, Ky.," the competing Letcher County Community News-Press, "reported the Democrat Party was responsible for the plan to get the papers off the stands."

Gish's editorial concluded, "We think it will all trace back to a handful of very powerful interests who want to control every single thing in the county, no disagreements, no opposition, no hints of dissent to be tolerated — the old way of doing things — fire the coal miner who wants a union, don't re-hire the teacher who disagrees, take away the food stamps, the free medications, the welfare checks of anyone who dares express a thought of his own. Shoot and kill the famed Canadian television producer who shows a casual interest in Letcher County problems, burn down The Mountain Eagle, make The Mountain Eagle disappear from the newsstands." The newspaper's office was firebombed in 1974, and a city policeman was convicted of arranging the arson. "We are troubled now by the effort to take the paper from the hands of its readers. But we are determined to continue doing what we do: Give you readers the facts on the things that happen in the county and sometimes elsewhere. We don't have the time, the reporting staff, to report it all, but we do what we do with good intentions, determination, and a lot of love for the mountains and mountain people. And, yes, let's hope no one person, no organization, can keep you from this week's paper and another 100 years of The Mountain Eagle."

Gish and his wife, Pat, will mark 50 years of Eagle ownership on Jan. 1. The newspaper will mark its centennial about 10 weeks later. Tom Gish appears at right, speaking at the October 2005 announcement of the establishment of the Tom and Pat Gish Award, presented by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues for courage, tenacity and integrity in rural journalism.

Video 'news' producers say no TV stations in report violated FCC rules

A report issued Tuesday called out television stations that aired corporate-sponsored video news releases without identifying the sources, but the association that represents producers of the footage said TV stations are not violating any Federal Communication Commission rules.

The Center for Media and Democracy report cited 46 stations and is a follow up to a report issued in April that cited 77 stations and led to a FCC investigation. "The National Association of Broadcast Communicators, a group formed by VNR producers, released a statement yesterday disputing CMD's findings," writes Tom Siebert of Media Daily News. "It stated that none of the cases violated any FCC rules as they apply to sponsorship identification: controversial issues of public importance; political matters; matters in which stations receive payment or other consideration in exchange for broadcast."

"The FCC decision could ultimately hinge on whether the commissioners consider global warming a matter of public importance. One recent claim by the CMD pertains to a VNR ridiculing global-warming claims that was produced by a PR lobbying firm that has ExxonMobil as a client. In the conference call, FCC Commissioner Michael Copps noted that more than 80 percent of the stations alleged to have used VNRs are owned by major media conglomerates." (Read more) For the latest report on VNR use, click here.

Michigan hunters urged to watch out for meth dumps during deer season

As Michigan's 15-day firearm deer season starts today, drug-enforcement officials are urging hunters to notice any containers with chemicals found in the woods as signs of possible methamphetamine dumps.

"A typical methamphetamine dumpsite could include items like gas additives, brake cleaners, fuel tanks, starting fluid cans, coffee filters filled with sludge, plastic bottles with hoses coming out or mason jars. There also could be ephedrine or pseudo-ephedrine blister packs dumped in the vicinity. ... Meth manufacturers prefer rural locations to dump their waste so it's harder for authorities to trace their activity," writes Matt Whetstone of the Cadillac News, circulation 10,175. (In the hand-shaped state of Michigan, Cadillac is about where your wedding ring would be.)

During this year's hunting season, police have found three meth dumps in northern Michigan, and the chemicals found are dangerous when combined, reports Whetstone. The two most common signs of a meth dump are a strong chemical odor and the presence of cans or drums. (Read more)

Clinic in fast-growing rural county shows how federal program works

A rural health clinic in Benzonia, Mich., is bubbling with success, thanks to an old-school approach in which "patients still track mud into the waiting rooms, and those who are sick can see a doctor on the same day they call one," writes Keith Schneider of The New York Times.

“We wanted this clinic to be a model for how to care for people in a rural setting,” Dr. Rick Nielsen of the Crystal Lake Health Center told Schneider. Benzie County is home to about 18,000 residents, making it the state's second fastest-growing county, and it is emblematic of other rural counties across the country where family incomes are increasing and poverty rates declining. However, many rural counties house struggling hospitals, and they might learn from the approach taken at Crystal Lake.

"In many ways, the clinic embodies what Congress envisioned when it passed the Rural Health Clinic Services Act of 1977," writes Schneider. "The legislation was intended to improve health care in places where doctors were scarce, and to promote a new model of delivery that used nurse practitioners, physician assistants and other primary care specialists. The principal financial incentive was a special payment system that enabled federally qualified rural health clinics to receive extra Medicare and Medicaid payments."

Half of Crystal Lake's revenue comes from Medicaid and Medicare patients, who "rarely wait more than 10 minutes to see a doctor," writes Schneider. "Waiting rooms in all four clinics look like living rooms, to make patients feel comfortable." (Read more) So, where's Benzie County on the Michigan hand? Tip of the pinky.

Mail survey says many rural Nebraskans don't see immigration as positive

A mailed survey of of rural Nebraskans indicates that most do not view the state's Latino influx as a positive trend, and more than two-thirds are against new Spanish-speaking immigrants receiving important information in their native language, according to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Latinos and other minorities now comprise the majority of the population in some Nebraska communities, and many long-time residents are struggling with that change, UNL sociologist Miguel Carranza told Robert Pore of The Grand Island Independent. "For many of our rural communities, the question is not will they change, but in what direction will they change," Carranza said. "Most communities have not looked at the question of 'How can we view immigrants as an asset?'"

The survey found that 87 percent of respondents want the government to tighten the borders to prevent illegal immigration, 77 percent businesses punished for employing undocumented workers and 72 percent want undocumented immigrants deported. "Survey respondents did show concern about increased public expenses that immigrant families bring to the state, such as changes needed to accommodate non-English speaking students in public schools," writes Pore. (Read more)

Surveys were mailed in March to 6,200 households in 84 rural counties and to almost 700 randomly selected households with Latino surnames. The results come from 2,482 responses and are compiled in the report titled "Perceptions of Latin American Immigration Among Rural Nebraskans." (Read more)

Iowa study uses wood chips to filter nitrate, clean up water pollution

Two northeast Iowa farms are home to a project that aims to remove nitrate before it enters the region's water supply, and the results may impact efforts to cut water pollution across the U.S.

At one farm in Buchanan County, water from about 100 acres flows through a trench where wood chips act as a nitrate filter before the water flows into a nearby creek. The creek flows into rivers that take it all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, where nitrate pollution is a problem. A similar biofilter drains 50 acres on a farm near Dougherty, and together the two projects comprise a water-quality study by two local watershed associations, reports Matthew Wilde of The Waterloo Cedar-Falls Courier.

"While nitrate -- which comes from nitrogen forms of fertilizers, natural organic material in soils, rainfall and other sources -- is good for plants, it's not necessarily good for humans and the environment. At high levels, it can be dangerous. Local drainage experts and farmers say biofilters have been effective in removing nitrate and improving water quality in other parts of the country. They want to see if the system will work here," writes Wilde.

"Officials realize the projects are so small they won't make noticeable difference --- given the Lime Creek Watershed, for example, drains about 33,000 acres --- but if the biofilters work and others are installed as a result, water quality can be improved on a grand scale," reports Wilde. "The study at each northeast Iowa location will also determine a biofilter's life expectancy and how, if any, impact it will have on crop production. That part could take more than 10 years." (Read more)

Words make a difference in reporting of same-sex marriage debate

A new essay in the Society of Professional Journalists' “Diversity Toolbox” brings to light the importance of picking your words carefully when covering the country's ongoing same-sex marriage debate.

"When writing or reporting on this issue, many journalists and news organizations have adopted the phrase 'gay marriage.' But what does that communicate? Does it really address the issues being debated? Does it accurately describe what is at stake for everyone?" asks the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association. "The phrase 'gay marriage' implies that voters or legislators are deciding on a new set of legal and social benefits for same-sex couples. That’s not quite true. Legislators generally have debated whether to extend to same-sex couples the same rights as those already enjoyed by opposite-sex couples that have been granted a marriage license under state laws. In other words, the individuals for whom the rights are available might be changing, but the legal construction of the institution is not.

"And what about this word, 'gay'? This has become the standard modifier for same-sex issues like 'gay adoption' and 'gay families.' On its own, however, 'gay' generally refers to gay men. So the phrase 'gay marriage' excludes a lot of people," at least in the view of the association.

The essay suggests using phrases such as “marriage for same-sex people” or “same-sex marriage,” because the phrases encompass “both male and female couples and more accurately describes how the law might be changed. Try it out and see how the meaning of your sentences becomes more concrete.” (Read more)

Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2006

Meth users end up losing jobs; Minnesota hopes to encourage treatment

Methamphetamine addicts often attempt to continue their jobs, hiding their problem from employers and co-workers, but eventually absences and poor work performances costs both the employer and the employees.

"Minnesota employers may have more problems than most. Along with growing availability, a lot of it from Mexico, the drug tends to show up in rural areas and in small companies -- its energy especially tempting in jobs with long hours of repetitive work such as manufacturing, construction and food services, experts say. Meth use appears steady or even lower recently across the nation, studies show. But those studies show that the addiction rate among meth users has doubled since 2002, which means fewer are able to confine themselves to occasional, recreational use," writes H.J. Cummins of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

"Many Minnesota employers say they don't see much of the drug, although treatment professionals say that may be because meth addiction so incapacitates people they quickly quit their jobs," continues Cummins. "Drugs at work are expected to be on the agenda during the next legislative session." Some legislators hope to convince businesses that helping abusers find treatment makes more sense than just firing them and finding a quick replacement.

Many states have drug-free workplace laws where employers get lower workers compensation or health insurance premiums by meeting requirements, said Sherry Green at the National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws in Washington, D.C. "Those include: a written drug policy, some form of drug testing, employee assistance and drug education programs, and supervisor training. In Minnesota, Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, plans to introduce similar legislation in the upcoming session," writes Cummins. (Read more)

Rural residents who can afford it increasingly get broadband via satellite

Rural Americans who can afford it are getting broadband Internet service from satellite providers such as WildBlue Communications, and all homeowners need is a 26-inch dish outside and a modem inside, The New York Times reports in a situation piece about a subject often mentioned in The Rural Blog.

"WildBlue and its chief rivals — Hughes Network Systems, which markets under the name HughesNet, and Spacenet, which sells the StarBand service — are filling one of the biggest gaps in the country’s digital infrastructure," Ken Belson writes. "Roughly 15 million households cannot get broadband from their phone or cable provider because the companies have been slow to expand their high-speed networks in areas where there are not enough customers to generate what they regard as an adequate profit.".

However, there are some drawbacks to this satellite solution, namely the fact that WildBlue’s cheapest service costs $50 a month. That figure is about twice what Verizon charges for broadband service, and the dishes actually cost several hundred dollars. Aside from this method being costly, inclement weather such as heavy rain often interrupts the broadband service, Belson reports.

"But alternative technologies, like wide-area wireless services and access over power lines, are still in their infancy. And demand for broadband in rural areas is as strong if not stronger than in suburbs and cities. Broadband is essential to distance-learning programs, health clinics that communicate with bigger hospitals and farmers who rely on the latest market and weather data. Second-home owners and resorts are potential customers, too," writes Belson. (Read more)

46 stations used video news releases, latest report says; FCC looks at 8

Forty-six television stations used video news releases -- promotional segments modeled to look like news reports -- without informing viewers of the truth behind who produced the footage, according to a report released today by the The Center for Media and Democracy.

"In April of this year, the organization's original report led the FCC to launch an investigation into 77 stations. The new report shows that VNRs continue -- and that eight of the stations under investigation continue to air them without disclosing their origins to viewers. Ten television stations named in this study had previously been cited in the April 'Fake TV News' report for undisclosed VNR broadcasts," including news channel NY1 and WPIX-11 in New York City, WDAF-4 in Kansas City, and WSYX-6 in Columbus, Ohio, reports Tom Siebert of Media Daily News.

"Examples include promoting lobbyists' efforts on WTOK in Meridian, Miss., which aired a segment called 'Global Warming: Hot Air?' The VNR, which ridiculed claims that increased hurricane activity is related to global warming, was funded by the public-relations and lobbying firm DCI Group, which has ExxonMobil as a client," Siebert reports. (Read more)

The official release of the report, "Still Not the News," is scheduled via a telephone press conference at 2 p.m. today. The conference will include FCC Commissioners Jonathan S. Adelstein and Michael J. Copps; Diane Farsetta and Daniel Price of the Center for Media and Democracy; and Timothy Karr and Craig Aaron of Free Press, which says it is a "nonpartisan organization working to increase informed public participation in crucial media policy debates, and to generate policies that will produce a more competitive and public interest-oriented media system with a strong nonprofit and noncommercial sector." To join the press conference, call call 973-582-2770 and enter conference code #8109530.

Data coming on hospital-acquired infections in Pa.; how about your state?

Hospital-acquired infections are a growing problem across the U.S., and a report slated for release today examines how many infections occurred in Pennsylvania and how many people died from them. "This is an opportunity for you to ask why other states do not require the level of disclosure Pennsylvania does," writes Al Tompkins of The Poynter Institute.

Already called a "groundbreaking report" by Consumers Union, the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council opted to become the first state or federal agency to compile hospital-specific data on infections reported by the facilities. The report will be released during a 1 p.m. press conference in Harrisburg, Pa., and then later today online.

Consumers Union plans to help journalists locate people nationwide who contracted infections during hospital stays. For tips on how to investigate this subject, see Al's Morning Meeting.

Lack of health insurance plagues nation's aging farm population

Many of the nation's farming families are dealing with a problem that doesn't involve droughts or urban development -- the rising cost of health insurance.

"While health care costs for all families have soared in recent years, the effect on self-employed businesses where owners don't share insurance costs with an employer has been even greater. And for farmers, many of whom are older than 50, have existing health problems and work in a hazardous business, costs are reaching a critical point, officials say," writes Jill Callison of The Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Several studies show this is a problem that knows no state boundaries: A 1990s University of Minnesota study of health insurance coverage of farm families found they bought less insurance coverage than urban families and paid more of their income for coverage; a study earlier this decade in Wisconsin found almost one in five dairy farmers there had no insurance; and a 2005 study by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation reported that 45 percent of farm workers lack health insurance.

"Farmers often face other obstacles in obtaining health insurance including age and occupational danger. The average age of farmers in South Dakota and Minnesota is 53, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department. In Iowa and Nebraska, the average age is slightly higher at 54. Nationally, most farmers are between the ages of 45 and 64," writes Callison. (Read more)

As development consumes farms, some farmers feed beast with sod

America's farmland once relied on such staples as dairy cattle, corn and soybeans, but now giant lawns full of turf are paying off for farmers who provide instant grass for nearby developments. "As turf farming has grown more profitable, though, a sod paradox has set in: The industry is fed by the same suburban development that seeks to consume it," writes Nick Miroff of The Washington Post.

"In Virginia, the number of acres of sod under cultivation has skyrocketed in recent years, from 4,800 in 1998 to 7,500 in 2004, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Maryland's sodscape is similar, with about 7,000 acres dedicated to turf grass production. A survey of the state's turf operations is underway because no one is sure how much the industry has grown."

In addition to feeding the industry that preservationists fight, farmers face challenges in growing sod. Once grass is cut, it lasts fewer than 24 hours. "Then there's the weather, that fickle scourge of every farmer. Sod farming requires massive amounts of water, especially in summer, and growers need access to streams and rivers or deep wells to irrigate during droughts. Local environmental groups say that heavy water use and fertilizer runoff are concerns associated with sod just as with many other crops," writes Miroff.

While the nation's housing boom fed this new sod craze, the slowing market for new homes could eventually lead to cutbacks in some of the nation's leading sod producers, reports Miroff. (Read more) The top five sod-producing states in 2002 included Florida (67,370 acres), Texas (38,341), Alabama (25,805), Georgia (24,653) and Oklahoma (17,846), according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Click here to access that data. Scroll to Table 38 -- Nursery, Greenhouse, Floriculture, Mushrooms, Sod, and Vegetable Seeds Grown for Sale: 2002 and 1997.

Tobacco keeps losing clout, as push for smoking ban grows in Charlotte

First it happened the largest city in Kentucky (Louisville), and now it may happen in the largest in North Carolina (Charlotte). The continuing decline of tobacco's clout is being illustrated by a push for smoking bans that extend beyond restrictions in state buildings.

Smoke-Free Mecklenburg [County] is a North Carolina group that hopes the Charlotte City Council offers support during a Nov. 27 meeting for the group's effort to get the state government to provide more local power to counties hoping to strengthen smoking restrictions. The group advocates for smoke-free bars and restaurants countywide, but the state's 1993 law only restricts but does not ban smoking in state buildings, reports Greg Lacour of The Charlotte Observer.

"Smoke-Free Mecklenburg wants the county added to the list of exceptions to the law, which includes schools, hospitals, libraries and arenas," writes Lacour. "If the bill passes, the county -- and, possibly, its cities and towns -- could adopt their own ordinances banning smoking in all workplaces, even bars and restaurants. Private companies, including bars and restaurants, can ban smoking indoors but are not compelled to."

The push in Mecklenburg County gained steam after a U.S. surgeon general's report in June said that even minimal exposure to secondhand smoke pose health problems. State Health Director Leah Devlin eventually called for a smoking ban in all workplaces, and Smoke-Free Mecklenburg announced in July "the results of an independent poll of county registered voters, which showed that more than 80 percent of respondents favored" local bans, writes Lacour. (Read more)

Rural papers net distinguished reporting awards in Pacific Northwest

Rural dailies in the Pacific Northwest cover everything from methamphetamine addiction to locals dying in Iraq, and those efforts brought several papers C.B. Blethen Memorial Awards for Distinguished Newspaper Reporting.

"Frank Blethen, publisher of The Seattle Times, presented this year's awards at the annual meeting of the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association. It marked the 30th year the awards have been given in memory of the man who published The Seattle Times," reports The Associated Press.

Among papers with a circulation of under 50,000, reporter Peter Zuckerman and the staff of the Post Register in Idaho Falls won for the investigation called "Scouts' Honor," a series about the Boy Scouts program in eastern Idaho and its decade-long problem with child molesters. (Read more)

Other winners among newspapers with under 50,000 circulation included: The Chronicle in Centralia, staff, for Distinguished Deadline Reporting with "Iraq ambush kills Centralian"; the Post Register in Idaho Falls, Idaho, Nicole Stricker, for Distinguished Feature Writing with "Of meth and motherhood"; The Daily News of Longview; Tony Lystra, for Distinguished Enterprise Writing with "Living in the Highlands" (click here to read); and the Yakima Herald-Republic, Philip Ferolito, for Distinguished Coverage of Diversity with "Native Sons." Many of the articles were not online or the newspapers charge fees for access.

Monday, Nov. 13, 2006

Low operating costs make heartland lucrative for technology centers

"The big East and West Coast cities may be losing their luster when it comes to building and operating data centers. The place to be is the heartland, where labor, land, and power costs are lower and the risks of terrorist attack or natural disaster are smaller," writes Darrell Dunn of InformationWeek.

The 10 best cities for data centers based on lowest annual costs are: Sioux Falls, S.D., $9.7 million; San Antonio, Texas, $10.3 million; Ames, Iowa, $10.4 million; Tulsa, Okla., $10.5 million; Des Moines, Iowa, $10.5 million; Omaha, Neb., $10.5 million; Colorado Springs, Colo., $10.7 million, Albuquerque, N.M., $10.8 million; Denton, Texas, $10.9 million; and Champaign, Ill., $11.1 million. The figures are part of a study conducted by consulting firm The Boyd Co. for clients in the financial services industry.

"The ranking is based on factors such as land and power costs, telecom infrastructure, and a local workforce with data security skills," writes Dunn. A key illustration of what is luring companies to areas with rural workforces is the difference between operating in New York City and Sioux Falls. Taking into account land, power and salary costs, a 125,000-square-foot facility with 75 workers would have an annual operating cost of $14.1 million in New York, 45 percent more than in Sioux Falls. (Read more)

States starting to drop codes like '10-4,' use English to deter confusion

Rural and urban emergency service departments use numerical codes like "10-4" to communicate basic information, but sometimes departments adapt the codes in their own way -- and in the new age of homeland security, some states are starting to drop the old nomenclature. That could mean rural law-enforcement agencies, often less suited to change, could be forced to change their ways of talking.

"Eager to avoid such mix-ups, Virginia's government has become one of the first in the nation to try to eliminate traditional cop talk. For months, officials in Richmond have worked with police and firefighters to come up with a substitute for 10 codes, finally deciding on a statewide 'common language protocol.' In other words, English," writes Mary Beth Sheridan of The Washington Post.

"The 10-code system started catching on in the 1920s, when police radios had only one channel. Officers needed to bark out information succinctly to avoid tying up the system. But over time, a Babel of codes developed. The jumble wasn't such a problem when police were on different radio systems, or were not as tuned in to the potential for apocalyptic disasters. But five years ago, as law enforcement agencies rushed to the Pentagon, they found that sometimes they were speaking in different tongues."

Not all state police troopers are excited about the change, but many acknowledge that problems exist with departments associating different meanings with the same code. Virginia's decision to get rid of the codes is just one example of the myriad challenges facing the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in its effort to create a national emergency response system, reports Sheridan. (Read more)

Editorial: Urban newspapers creating contention in Farm Bill debate

Urban newspapers are creating negative images of agricultural subsidies, says Paul Hollis of the Southeast Farm Press. He cites an editorial in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that said, "American farm policy is straightforward and twofold: Taxpayers pick up the tab when farmers get financial help they need; taxpayers pick up the tab when farmers get financial help they don't need."

"Such a blistering attack would be expected from one of the New York or Washington, D.C., newspapers," writes Hollis. "But you'd wish for better from the capital city of Georgia- the nation's leading producer of peanuts and one of the top cotton-producing states, not to mention the millions contributed to the state's coffers from other crops."

The AJC editorial says, "With billions of their dollars at stake annually, American taxpayers owe it to themselves to demand a better deal in the next national farm bill. But they'd better hurry; agricultural interests have already staked out their claims on the 2007 farm bill, which will be written next year and will set policy on crop subsidies, conservation, food stamps and other assistance programs for five years or more."

"The Atlanta newspaper column ends with the following warning: 'If taxpayers don't make their voices heard in the farm bill debate, they'll pay a heavy price for that silence,'" writes Hollis. "Simply substitute the word 'farmers' for 'taxpayers,' and you couldn't have a better piece of advice." To read Hollis' piece, click here.

Mine where 2 died had poor maps, other issues; state inspection lacking

An independent review commissioned by West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin found many safety problems at Massey Energy's Aracoma Alma No. 1 mine, where two miners died in a conveyor belt fire last January. J. Davitt McAteer, special adviser to Manchin on mine safety, issued a 63-page report Friday in which he "notes poor inspections by state and federal officials, and even worse safety practices by Massey Energy," writes Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette.

McAteer said maps were inaccurate and out of date, contributing to the deaths of miners Don Bragg and Ellery Elvis Hatfield, reports Ward. He said the miners could have been saved if the fire-hose and sprinkler system had been working properly. McAteer's report described many previous accidents that took place at the Aracoma Mine since it opened.

In November 2004, the mine was flooded when miners broke through a wall into an old mine filled with water, reports Ward. Maps showed the old mine to be 700 feet away. Rich Kline, a Mine Health and Safety Administration assistant district manager, cited the Aracoma Mine for having a dangerous buildup of overhanging ice at its entrance. Richard Boggess, a state inspector at the mine, told investigators that the Alma No. 1 mine was at the top of his list for safety problems, McAteer’s report said.

However, McAteer"noted that the state mine safety agency is woefully under-funded and understaffed, an issue that the Manchin administration has yet to deal with," writes Ward. "On the federal level, the MHSA is conducting an 'internal review' to determine what failures by its personnel played a role in the Aracoma tragedy. McAteer noted that no such reviews are done on the state level, and recommended that such a system should be created." (Read more)

The Rural Blog ran a story about the official accident report on Friday, Nov. 3. To read, click here.

Kansas farmers boost cotton production by half; corn, milo acres up too

"Wheat may be the main crop Kansas farmers are known for, but cotton is slowly becoming king. The Kansas Agriculture Statistics Service estimates Kansas producers will reap 115,000 acres of cotton this year, up more than 50 percent from 2005," reports The Associated Press.

The jump in cotton production can be attributed to the crop's profit potential and its ability to survive summers where droughts wipe out many other crops. However, cotton is not the only crop gaining in popularity. As ethanol continues to prosper as a popular alternative fuel, Kansas farmers are increasing the number of acres they use for corn and milo, notes AP. (Read more)

A recent U.S. Department of Agriculture report showed a one-month rise in cotton production in Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. Click here for that report.

Cincinnati-area ministry sets services to fit journalists' work schedules

70x7 Evangelistic Ministry of Highland Heights, Ky., and Franklin Chapel in New Richmond, Ohio, are collaborating to create special services for people working in the media. Rev. Gregg Anderson, president of 70x7 and pastor of Franklin Chapel, is a former radio and TV news and sports reporter. In 1988 he was working for WKRC Radio in Cincinnati, when he covered a church-bus crash at Carrollton, Ky., that killed 24 children and three adults. Moved by the event, he decided to switch professions.

"The historical church and international ministry will start having these special services for reporters, announcers and staffers at radio and television stations and newspapers who cannot attend a service as they work on when most religious services are held. The day of these special media worship services would be Sunday afternoon, Monday morning, afternoon or evening, or Thursday evening or Friday evening," said a release. To visit the 70x7 Ministry's web site, click here.

Sunday special, Nov. 12, 2006

Rural vote helped Democrats regain control of the House, polls show

Democrats running for Congressional candidates won much more support from rural voters than in the last t mid-term election, in 2002, according to polls reported by National Public Radio.

"Network television exit polls show that the war in Iraq and the economy overshadowed the values issues that made rural voters overwhelmingly Republican," Howard Berkes reported. "Four years ago, Republican congressional candidates dominated rural areas by 12 percentage points. But on Tuesday, Democrats came within three points, winning enough rural votes, to take 18 Republican House districts, with significant rural populations." Berkes reported from Southern Indiana, where Democrats gauned two seats.

"They recruited candidates who could be viable in rural America," Brian Mann, author of a recent book on rural politics, Welcome to the Homeland, told Berkes. "They found people who rural conservatives could at least look at. And in cases where other factors kicked in like scandals or the unpopularity of the Iraq war, that meant that Democrats at least had a chance." (Read more)

Berkes and Mann were among the fellows at a conference on rural issues programmed by the Institute for Rural Journalism & Community Issues last year at the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism at the University of Maryland. To read reports from the conference, click here.

Democrats win larger slice of religious vote, even white evangelicals'

In last week's election, "Democrats recaptured the Catholic vote they had lost two years ago. They sliced the GOP's advantage among weekly churchgoers to 12 percentage points, down from 18 points in 2004 congressional races, The Washington Post reports. "Democrats even siphoned off a portion of the Republican Party's most loyal base, white evangelical Protestants." Exit polls showed that 70 percent of white evangelicals voted for Republican congressional candidates and 28 percent for Democrats. In 2004 House races, the split was 74 percent to 25 percent for Democrats.

"Religious liberals contended that a concerted effort by Democrats since 2004 to appeal to people of faith had worked minor wonders, if not electoral miracles, in races across the country," the Post's Alan Cooperman wrote. "Religious conservatives disagreed, arguing that the Republican Party lost religious voters rather than the Democrats winning them. . . . Evangelical leaders blamed corruption and big spending by Congress." -- rather than the party's positions on social issues such as same-sex marriage."

Evangelicals are "fed up with the Republican leadership, particularly in the House," the Rev. Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention's public policy unit, told Cooperman. "They're disgusted that Republicans came to Washington and failed to behave any better than Democrats once they got their snouts in the trough." John Green, senior fellow at the nonpartisan Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, said that in light ot pre-election polls, "The amazing thing was that the Democratic swing wasn't bigger." (Read more)

Farm Credit, seeking wider powers, makes more political contributions

"The Farm Credit banking system has ramped up its campaign spending ahead of a possible battle in Congress to expand its lending authority in agribusiness and housing," Philip Brasher of the Des Moines Register's Washington Bureau reported the day before the election.

"The Farm Credit Council’s political action committee had contributed more than $826,000 to congressional candidates through the middle of October, a 50 percent increase over the PAC’s giving during the 2006 campaign and nearly double its 2002 spending," Brasher found.

The council has "recommended several legal changes that would require congressional action, possibly through the next farm bill, which Congress is due to write in 2007," Brasher notes. "One change would allow Farm Credit’s banking associations . . . to invest in ethanol plants and other agribusinesses regardless of whether they are controlled by farmers. Another change would allow Farm Credit banks to make home loans in communities of up to 25,000 in population." The population limit is now 2,500.

“Rural America and agriculture has changed significantly since the last time the Farm Credit Act was updated” in 1971, said Doug Stark, president and chief executive of Farm Credit Services of America.

"Commercial banks view the quasi-governmental Farm Credit System as unfair competition and oppose the proposals," Brasher writes. "The system’s banks can make loans as much as 4 percent below commercial rates," according to the American Bankers Association -- which has contributed nearly $2 million to congressional candidates this year, up from $1.8 million in 2004. (Read more)

New York Times profiles Sen.-elect Jon Tester, a Montana farmer

Sen.-elect Jon Tester, D-Mont., "will most likely be the only person in the world’s most exclusive club who knows how to butcher a cow or grease a combine," reports Tim Egan of The New York Times.

"The senator-elect from Montana truly is your grandfather’s Democrat — a pro-gun, anti-big-business prairie pragmatist whose life is defined by the treeless patch of hard Montana dirt that has been in the family since 1916," writes Egan, the Western rural correspondent for the Times. "It is a place with 105-degree summer days and winter chills of 30 below zero, where his grandparents are buried, where his two children learned to grow crops in a dry land entirely dependent on rainfall, and where, he says, he earned barely $20,000 a year farming over the last decade."

A longtime friend of Tester's, Steve Doherty, told Egan that Congress has done little to improve the lives of people living in the dying towns across rural America:“When Jon talks about the cafe that’s trying to hold on, the hardware store that just closed, the third generation that can’t make a living on the farm, he is living that life.” (Read more)

Sen.-elect Webb says he will try to help his native southwest Virginia

Roots and votes mean something to James Webb, who narrowly defeated Republican Sen. George Allen in a race that was key to giving Democrats control of the Senate. Webb may "try to steer federal dollars into southwest Virginia, where his ancestors settled," The Washington Post reports. "Speaking to coal miners last weekend in Grundy, Webb said, 'You have given your loyalty, and you will have my loyalty, and I will work to bring fairness back to the economic system.'"

Grundy is the seat of Buchanan County, which Webb won by 12 percentage points, 4 better than John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election. Adjoining Dickenson County gave him an 11-point margin, 9 better than Kerry's. The next county south, Wise, went Republican, but by 11 points less than in 2004, and the independent city of Norton flipped from Republican to Democrat. To see how Webb substantially reduced the Republican edge in each county and city, click here for a New York Times interactive map.

Webb, a former Republican and Navy secretary under Ronald Reagan, wrote Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America, which opens in his ancestral home near Gate City. Tim Craig and Michael Shear of the Post write, "A Vietnam War hero, Webb can also be expected to take the lead on veterans issues. He will be representing a state that has among the highest percentage of veterans in the nation. He said he immediately wants to introduce bills to give tax breaks to soldiers and educational assistance to veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, similar to the World War II-era GI Bill." (Read more)

Friday, Nov. 10, 2006

Disproportionate number of soldiers who die are from rural areas

“Examination of deaths based on hometowns in Department of Defense records shows soldiers from rural areas are dying at a higher rate than soldiers from big cities and suburbs,” William O’Hare and Bill Bishop write for the Carsey Institute, the rural center at the University of New Hampshire.

Rural areas have a higher rate of enlistment than other areas, possibly because of fewer economic opportunities, report O’Hare and Bishop. Rural industries such as timber, farming and manufacturing are employing fewer people nowadays. Young people in rural areas have difficulties getting employment. Out of employed young adults (18-24) in rural areas only 24 percent have full-time employment, compared to 29 percent in cities and suburbs.

“For decades, rural communities have lamented the loss of young people to urban areas where education and employment opportunities seem brighter,” write O’Hare and Bishop. Those who remain often have little education and don’t anticipate finding a better job elsewhere. Joining the military provides opportunities for rural youth. This report could make a good rural angle story for Veteran's Day. To read it, click here.

Net neutrality may have a chance after all, with Democrats in control

With Democrats in control of the House and Senate, the door has been reopened to network neutrality -- preventing discrimination among Internet providers "in the carriage and treatment of Internet traffic based on the source, destination or ownership of such traffic,” report Declan McCullagh and Anne Broache of CNET News.com.

Democrats have traditionally shown greater support for net neutrality, backing an amendment in May that a Republican-controlled Senate committee failed to approve on an 11-11 tie. “Network neutrality is one of the clearest examples of a partisan rift,” write McCullagh and Broache. “In the Senate, all the Republican committee members but one voted against extensive broadband regulations. These regulations are backed by Internet companies such as Google and eBay, but are opposed by telecommunications and hardware providers.” (Read more)

SavetheInternet.com, a website advocating Net neutrality, has a tool to search for senators’ stances on the issue. A story on Democratic control’s possible effect on net neutrality appeared in the Oct. 25 edition of The Rural Blog. Click here to read it.

Penn State resource will help rural communities be Internet-savvy

Connecting Rural Communities is an Internet resource designed to teach rural Pennsylvania communities about communication technology and help them integrate Internet into their local systems, said a release from Penn State University:

“William Shuffstall, community and economic development extension educator, said the project is part of an initiative by the Penn State-based Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development to train educators to help economically-stressed communities increase the adoption and use of broadband services and other technology tools. ... Extension educators in participating rural communities receive in-depth training in such topics as 'Introduction to Digital Development Framework' and 'Connecting Your Community,' which they draw upon to teach residents and community leaders,” said the release.

“Digital technology is impacting every segment of our society," Shuffstall said. "Communities that lack affordable broadband services and individuals and organizations that are unable to use these tools will be left behind.” To read the release, click here.

In Arizona, preservation of land in state trust defeated by rural voters

A ballot proposition to preserve 600,000 acres in state trust lands in Arizona was rejected, mainly by rural voters. “Home builders and farmers opposed the proposition, saying throughout the campaign that Prop. 106 went too far and wouldn't generate adequate money in the sale of state trust lands because it designated too much land for conservation and created a commission to oversee the process. Proceeds from the land sales help fund state schools,” writes Christia Gibbons of The Business Journal in Phoenix.

“While the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona and the Arizona Farm Bureau Federation put forth a competing proposition, members of both groups said their real goal was to defeat Prop. 106,” writes Gibbons. “The association/bureau's proposal, Prop. 105, earmarked 43,000 acres for conservation and kept land department and legislative oversight of the process. That measure was resoundingly defeated. ... The state trust land was set aside by Congress when Arizona became a state to ensure financial support for education, among other things.” (Read more)

Alabama approves property-tax minimum to support public schools

“Alabama voters approved a proposed constitutional amendment Tuesday that requires 30 city and county school systems to have at least 10 mills of property taxes dedicated to public schools, a level of support already provided by the other 101 systems,” reports The Associated Press. Most of the affected counties and school systems are rural.

“The 10-mill minimum would start with the tax year beginning Oct. 1, 2007, and would raise about $23 million annually, according to the Legislative Fiscal Office,” AP reports. “Each mill raises the property tax by $10 a year on a house valued at $100,000.”

Organizations of teachers, administrators and school boards backed the bill and there was no major opposition. School officials were wary that a ballot labeled “property tax” would dissuade voters. “So they campaigned chiefly in the 101 school districts that already have at least 10 mills for public schools, pointing out the amendment would make school taxes more equitable and voting "yes" would not raise their taxes,” says AP. (Read more)

Rural dailies gain circulation; does broadband hurt urban newspapers?

“Big national and regional dailies may be taking circulation hits because of competition from the Internet, but local papers appear to be weathering the storm, judging by the latest newspaper FAS-FAX report from the Audit Bureau of Circulations. In fact, some small-town dailies are seeing increases in weekday circulation,” writes Erik Sass of Media Post Publications.

Increases were small and more prominent in small-town dailies further away from cities, reports Sass. Small newspapers close to urban areas fared worse, possibly because of the prevalence of high-speed Internet in those areas. Rural residents spend less time online because of their slower connections. “If they’re spending less time online, then print has less competition from the Internet,” Ken Doctor, a newspaper analyst with Outsell Inc.. told Media Post.

Small-town papers are faring best in Sun Belt states, where rural population has grown due to migration from urban areas. Local papers still struggle in economically depressed areas like upstate New York, with population decline or little growth. "Clearly, simply being local isn't enough to protect small-town newspapers," writes Sass. "Their continued health requires an alignment of larger geographic factors and demographic trends."

Thursday, Nov. 9, 2006

Property-rights measures pass in 10 states; zoning threatened in Arizona

Property owners in 10 states approved ballot measures Tuesday to prevent local governments from using eminent domain to take their land for development. One, in Arizona, also will allow property owners to claim damages for government decisions such as zoning. Similar measures failed in three states.

Stateline.org reports that land-use referenda passed in Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, North Dakota, Louisiana, Michigan, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and New Hampshire. The largely rural-related issue of land use gained steam this year in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s July 2005 ruling that allowed a local government to seize homes for development and the resulting tax revenue boost.

Sixty-five percent of Arizona residents supported that state's property rights measure. "The proposition was billed as an eminent-domain measure but went much further by allowing property owners to make claims that their land had lost value and demand compensation," writes Monica Alonzo-Dunsmoor of The Arizona Republic. "Critics say that this initiative will chill local leaders' ability to make decisions about land uses. They say the measure opens up municipalities and other agencies to lawsuits for any zoning decisions or regulations that affects how property owners can use their land. Supporters say that the underlying philosophy is that an individual home or business owner should never be required to give up any property without receiving fair payment." (Read more)

Similar measures failed to pass in Washington, California and Idaho. Fifty-eight percent of Washington voters said "no". The issue "pitted the building industry and Farm Bureau against environmental groups and a group of wealthy benefactors including Bill Gates, Harriet Bullitt, James Roush and Douglas Walker. The opposition ran its campaign on the premise that the initiative was extreme in nature, would play into the hands of developers, and would end up costing taxpayers," writes Amy Rolph of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "The premise of Initiative 933 was simple: If a regulation kept a landowner from using property fully, government would have to compensate the landowner for the loss or waive the restriction all together." (Read more)

The Associated Press reported on the issue in several states including New Hampshire, Idaho, Michigan, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Nevada, California and North Dakota.

Ohio's rural vote falls, helping Democrats, but governor has rural roots

Rural voter turnout in Ohio was low on Tuesday, and those who did vote favored Democrats more than rural folks in 2004, contributing to wins for Ted Strickland (at left, eating a porkburger) for governor and Sherrod Brown for the U.S. Senate, unseating Republican Mike DeWine. "Only one in seven of the state's voters on Tuesday were from rural areas -- a dramatic drop from one in four two years ago, according to polls of 2,500 voters conducted for AP and television networks by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International," writes John Sewer of The Associated Press.

"While Strickland campaigned frequently in Cleveland and Ohio's other major metropolitan areas, he never overlooked the ruby-red counties, where Republicans far outnumber members of his own party," Mark Naymikof the Plain Dealer in Cleveland. Strickland was running against strong social conservative Ken Blackwell, but won support in conservative counties through his rural roots, ads on Christian radio stations and pro-gun position. He has represented 12 southeastern, rural counties in Congress.

Brown split the rural vote with Republican Mike DeWine in spite of his suburban background. "Worries about job losses and the economy were a big factor," writes Sewer. "In the Senate race, voters in all areas of the state said the economy influenced their vote more than the war or terrorism." Brown opposed trade deals that have hurt jobs in Ohio's poorer areas. "He won nearly every county in the southeast, which has a higher unemployment rate than much of the state," writes Naymikof. (Read more)

"This year's smaller turnout in rural areas also signifies a shift of power back to voters in Ohio's suburbs and cities. Suburban residents accounted for about six in 10 votes cast, and three in 10 came from big-city voters. The results among rural voters illustrate just how important it is for both parties to identify their voters and bring them to the polls," writes Sewer. (Read more)

Rural areas need people for emergency response teams; do more with less

"Rural communities often find themselves doing more with less. This imbalance is perhaps no more evident than during a natural disaster. However, a new approach -- the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program -- shows promise, not only for disaster response, but also as a tool for building community capacity," write Courtney Flint and Mark Brennan in Rural Realities, a quarterly journal of the Rural Sociological Society. (Article is not yet available online.)

The article explores how bringing people together on a response team can actually produce a more overall spirit of cooperation in a rural community. CERTs build capacity, or "the ability of a diversity of people, formal organizations, and informal groups to work together in tackling the important challenges affecting their communities," write Flint and Brennan. It all starts with volunteers who must undergo training.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency funds the program with grants, but many communities struggle to get volunteers. "What if they gave a disaster-preparedness fair and nobody came? That nearly was the case with the Dallas Community Emergency Response Team's recent event at the Dallas Fire Station, but CERT members were prepared for the small number of residents who showed up," writes Geoff Parks for the Statesman Journal in Salem, Ore. Officials say without a natural disaster like Hurricane Katrina making headlines, people seem less interested in the program. (Read more)

To learn more about the CERT program and where teams currently exist, click here.

Agriculture hazard planning is a must to respond to bioterrorism

Rural areas must be protected from outbreaks and bioterrorism that could affect the farm industry, writes Shawn Hutchinson, assistant professor of geography at Kansas State University, in Directions magazine. The food supply must be safe, inexpensive and profitable at the same time, but we are constantly under threat, he says. To combat this, planning must be undertaken that would organize a response to any infection and map areas of quarantine and disposal.

The U.S. imported 27 million metric tons of agricultural products in 2005 and less than 5 percent was inspected. "Despite this low inspection rate, the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection agency seized a daily average of over 1,100 prohibited agricultural products at ports of entry in FY 2005, including 147 agricultural pests," writes Hutchinson. The impact of pests and disease costs the agricultural industry around $3 billion a year.

Hutchinson proposes an emergency response cycle, which can be "applied equally to natural events, technological failures and biological agents." People must be prepared for the hazard, have a plan for emergency response, must be able to clean after the situation, assess the situation and then use findings to create better preparedness.

"We must take these hard lessons learned in the aftermath of intentional attacks on urban centers and apply them equally, and urgently, to the area of agricultural biosecurity," writes Hutchinson. "As noted by Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) in 2001, our nation’s crops and livestock are at very high risk. It is time for the U.S. to make an appropriate investment in food safety and security." (Read more)

Appalachian apples: Modern Johnny Appleseeds preserve old varieties

Apples are no longer a major industry in Appalachia, and orchards are dying out, but some people are working to recover old strains and reintroduce them into the marketplace, reports Hannah Morgan of The Coalfield Progress in Norton, Va.

"Many orchard facilities and trees are still in place in the area, but just aren’t being worked, according to local extension agents. Many see the unreliable industry, with declining profit margins, as too much of a gamble to make a living by these days. Extension agents say it is also a difficult industry to get into, unless the land and necessary equipment is already family owned." Newly planted apple trees would take at least seven years before they could bear the kind of fruit that could be sold.

In Virginia, classes are taught to graft apple trees to keep them from becoming hybridized in pollination. Some apples are grown organically, although controlling insects and fungus can be difficult because of humidity. Harold Jerrell, a county extension agent, thinks it is important to to propagate apples that were grown “around the time of our great-grandparents.”

"A North Carolina resident is also working to preserve the history of apples in the area. According to Tom Brown of Clemmons, N.C., many species once bred by apple growers are disappearing as quickly as the dying industry. Brown collects and documents these apples, and in the past eight years of his work, he has found over 600 different varieties of apples in southern Appalachia," Morgan writes. Brown travels the region talking to farmers and older rural residents to find and identity forgotten varieties. (Read more)

Where's the money? Rural Maine lacks funding for broadband Internet

Maine lacks high-speed Internet service for homes and businesses throughout the state, and a lack of funding ranked as the most popular reason given for that at "A Broadband Symposium: Connecting Maine’s Future" on Wednesday in Bangor.

Several local leaders talked about the frustration over rural areas being left out of the broadband push, reports Anne Ravana of the Bangor Daily News. The lack of high-quality connections severely hampers economic development in rural areas, said Old Town City Manager Peggy Daigle. "We don’t have a level playing field across the state," Daigle said. "People should be able to make a living where they choose to live, not choose to live where they can make a living."

"Kurt Adams, chair of the state Public Utilities Commission, said legislators are uncertain about the role of government in solving the problem of broadband’s cost and availability. Gov. John Baldacci’s Connect Maine initiative, which aims to supply 90 percent of communities with broadband access by 2010 and 100 percent ... with wireless service by 2008, has no funding," writes Ravana. (Read more)

Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2006

Democrats, on verge of Senate control, can thank rural voters

If Democrats regain control of the U.S. Senate, one reason will be better appeals to rural voters. That was a reason they regained control of the House, and it paid off for their Senate winner in Missouri, a state with demographics and a voting history that closely reflect those of the nation. It also was a key element of the Democratic campaign in Montana, where challenger Jon Tester, right, led Republican Sen. Conrad Burns by 3,128 votes with almost 100 percent of precincts reporting and at least one recount under way. Democrats could regain the Senate with a Tester victory.

In Missouri, Republican Sen. Jim Talent lost to Democrat Claire McCaskill, "who narrowly lost a race for governor in 2004 because of weak support in rural areas, traveled in an recreational vehicle through small towns, reminding voters that she was 'a daughter of rural Missouri,' born in Rolla, Mo., and raised, for part of her childhood, near her family’s feed mill," writes Susan Saulny of The New York Times. (Read more)

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch cited McCaskill's rural efforts: "Credit for McCaskill’s victory goes in part to her success in garnering more votes from Republican-rich rural turf. For example, in southwest Missouri’s Greene County, which includes Springfield, she captured more than 40 percent of the vote — a strong performance for a Democrat in such solid Republican country. McCaskill had campaigned for months in rural communities, in an attempt to chip away at the traditional Republican edge that has been dooming many Democratic statewide candidates in recent elections," writes Deirdre Shesgreen.

An election recap from the News-Leader in Springfield ran the headline "McCaskill's rural strategy works in Greene County." Tracy Swartz reports, "After her loss in 2004, McCaskill vowed to spend more time in southwest Missouri. She made dozens of trips to the area, including a last-minute campaign stop Tuesday afternoon at Delaware Elementary School in Springfield." (Read more)

The Missouri race first gained national notoriety when Republican radio commentator Rush Limbaugh, a native of Cape Girardeau, Mo., criticized an ad McCaskill ran last month featuring actor Michael J. Fox, who offered an endorsement because of her pro-stem cell research stance. "The Missouri race also was seen by some as a reflection of the nation’s political leanings. That’s based on Missouri’s unmatched record of voting with the presidential victor in all but one election since 1900," reports Shesgreen. (Read more)


'Nut nappers' use technology to steal almonds, walnuts from farms

A new rural crime is emerging, with thieves trespassing on farms and taking almonds and walnuts to make money on the black market -- thanks to a rising demand and prices for the goods.

The promise of big money inspires "nut nappers to cut holes in fences, sneak into distribution centers and drive off with truckloads of nuts. California farmers have reason to be vigilant: Growers here produce about 80 percent of the world's almonds and 99 percent of the walnuts grown domestically," The Associated Press reports. "Last month, a Fresno County task force that tackles rural crimes recovered 44,000 pounds of processed almonds taken from a distribution center. The recovery was a rare break in a series of thefts that have cost California farmers at least $1.5 million in stolen almonds this year, according to the Agricultural Crime Technology Information and Operations Network."

Farmers are taking various steps to combat the thefts including installing security cameras and hiring guards to patrol their fields. "The recent nut heists appear to be well organized and sophisticated. The criminals use computers to track shipments and seem to be aware that fall is the time when demand and prices are high and supply is still low before the remaining harvest," reports AP. (Read more)

Rural North Carolina county loses only hospital; marks trend in rural U.S.

A rural North Carolina county is losing its only hospital in favor of an urgent care center, which will not keep patients overnight and will only stabilize people before transferring them to a hospital.

Frye Regional Medical Center of Hickory announced the closing of Alexander County's hospital Monday and said it will move emergency care to a nearby doctors' office, reports Hannah Mitchell of The Charlotte Observer. An urgent care center will open eventually at the Taylorsville Family Care Center, but this marks the end of a 24-hour medical facility that opened in the rural county 56 years ago. (Read more)

An editorial in the Hickory Daily Record called this decision a sign of the times: "Many communities are losing local hospitals. In spite of the transition from in-patient care to outpatient services, hospitals are expensive to operate. Duplicating many of the services at large hospitals is a strain on any budget. Urgent care is a viable alternative. Emergency clinics are not hospitals, but they have proved their worth in many communities." (Read more) For the paper's story about the closing, click here.

Oklahoma considers incentives to combat rural veterinarian shortage

Oklahoma lawmakers are searching for ways to combat a rural veterinarian shortage by considering whether to repay students loans for those willing to work in rural areas and whether to provide low-interest loans to help them start large-animal practices.

"The decline could be the result of more women applying and enrolling in vet schools. Women tend to prefer living and working in urban areas with small animals. Combine that fact with the average $70,000 in debt that most students graduate with...and local vets say its easy to see why there has been a steady decline in numbers. Large-animal vets earn about $50,000 after a few years of experience, and their loans can loom for years," reports Andrea Kurys of KTEN in Denison, Tex. (Read more)

"These large-animal veterinarians are needed to maintain healthy food-supply animals so all Oklahomans can have safe milk, wheat, and meat to eat," state Rep. Don Armes, who is leading a legislative study, told The Associated Press. Nine of of Oklahoma State University's 24 male vet graduates and four of its 43 women accepted jobs working with large animals and that is indicative of a national trend, according to industry officials. (Read more)

Ex-principal wins student journalism award for defending Ind. paper

Former principal David Clark of Columbus North High School in Indiana is one winner of this year's 2006 Courage in Student Journalism Awards presented by the Newseum, the Student Press Law Center and the National Scholastic Press Association.

"The Courage in Student Journalism Awards are presented each year to student journalists and a faculty administrator who have demonstrated exceptional determination and support for student press freedom, despite resistance or difficult circumstances," according to a Newseum press release. "Clark will receive a $5,000 award in the adviser category."

"During his three-year tenure as principal of Columbus North High School, David Clark was an enthusiastic advocate of the school's student publication, The Triangle. The staff alerted him to an upcoming story on the inherent dangers of oral sex and the casual attitude of youth toward the act. Although he expressed his discomfort with the issue and questioned the students' motives, he agreed to stand behind their decision to publish the controversial piece. . . . Letters from parents requested his termination and senior school board members turned against him. But Clark continued to speak out on behalf of The Triangle staff and the quality of their work." (Read release)

Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2006

Adjusting for cost of living might lower rural poverty rate, cut assistance

Rural areas have consistently posted higher poverty rates than urban locales in U.S. Census reports, but proposed new accounting for geographic differences in the cost of living would reverse that picture and affect how much assistance goes to rural residents.

"The National Academy of Sciences has recommended several changes in how the federal government measures poverty. [We] examined one of these recommendations — adjusting for geographic differences in the cost of living — and found that such an adjustment would change the geographic distribution of poverty. Currently, the official federal poverty thresholds assume that the cost of living is the same over the entire U.S.," writes Dean Jolliffe in Amber Waves, a publication of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service.

"Following the official definition of poverty, 11.1 percent of the metro population was poor in 2001. For non-metro areas, the poverty rate was 14.2 percent — about 28 percent higher. Once the poverty thresholds are adjusted using the cost-of-living index, this ranking reverses. The adjusted non-metro poverty rate drops to 10.5 percent, and the adjusted metro rate increases to 12.0 percent. Where the official poverty rate indicates that the incidence of poverty is 28 percent higher in non-metro areas, the poverty rate that is adjusted for cost-of-living differences suggests . . . poverty is 12 percent lower in non-metro areas."

"The adjustments would reduce the non-metro poverty population in 2001 (and increase the metro poverty population) by 1.9 million people. Given the large number of federal assistance programs that tie eligibility criteria to poverty, adjusting the official definition of poverty to incorporate cost-of-living differences could have important implications for the distribution of federal funds. In particular, one would expect to see more funds targeted to people living in metro areas and fewer funds targeted to non-metro areas," Jolliffe concludes. (Read more)

School-bus injuries occur more often than prior estimates, study says

School-bus related injuries total about 17,000 annually in the U.S., according to a new study, and that information might worry rural parents especially, since their kids spend the most time on school buses.

The study released by the Center for Injury Research and Policy (CIRP) at Columbus Children’s Hospital reports that from 2001 to 2003, an estimated 51,100 school bus-related injuries occurred. “Importantly, our study demonstrates that these injuries are far more common than previously thought. Our results indicate that they are more than three times more common than earlier estimates," said CIRP Director Gary Smith, one of the study’s authors and a faculty member of The Ohio State University College of Medicine. Click here for the study.

"The highest proportion of injuries occurred during the months of September and October," reports Newswise, a research-reporting service. "Children 10-to 14-years-old suffered the most injuries compared with all other age groups. Traffic-related crashes, where the child was injured as a passenger on a school bus as a result of a collision between the bus and another motor vehicle, topped the list of causes and accounted for 42 percent of the total injuries. The next highest proportion of injuries (24 percent) occurred to children as they got on or off the school bus." (Read more)

"In a 2002 report to Congress, the traffic administration recommended against lap-only belts in school buses, saying they could be risky, especially for small children, by restraining them high on the abdomen, potentially causing internal injuries in a crash," reports The Associated Press. "Five states — California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey and New York — and some districts have some kind of safety belt requirements for school buses, according to the National Coalition for School Bus Safety, a nonprofit advocacy group." (Read more)

If Republicans retain Senate control, they may have rural states to thank

Rural states might just manage to keep Republicans in control of the Senate, because that party's candidates tend to fare better in low-population states, writes Brian Mann of North Country Public Radio on his Welcome to the Homeland blog.

"If Republicans hold their Senate majority on Tuesday, they will likely do so despite the fact that tens of millions more Americans now prefer -- and elect -- Democratic Senators. As I noted in a New York Times op-ed last week, Democrats in the Senate already represent roughly 4.5 million more Americans than their Republican colleagues. Yet because of the Senate's rural tilt, Republicans -- who fare much better in low-population rural states -- still enjoy a remarkable 11-seat advantage," he opines.

"In an email this week to the National Journal, Republican pollster Steve Lombardo predicts that the GOP will maintain their Senate majority, by a 51-to-49 seat margin. Lombardo calculates that Republicans will pull out victories in three of the most heavily rural battleground states -- Montana, Tennessee, and Virginia," continues Mann. "If he is correct -- or if a similar outcome occurs -- Republicans will control America's most powerful legislative body, despite the fact that they represent some 33.5 million fewer citizens than the Democrats."

"Democratic Senators will represent roughly 156.5 million people. Republican Senators will represent roughly 123.0 million people. This astonishing gap -- more than ten percent of the entire U.S. population -- would raise serious questions about the GOP's credibility as a 'majority' party. Such a development would also continue to raise pressure on Democrats to find ways of winning and holding Senate seats in rural America," Mann concludes. (Read more)

Religious watchdog wants investigation into churches' political actions

A religious watchdog group, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, wants the Internal Revenue Service to investigate four churches for alleged involvement in partisan politics.

Two complaints involve Democrats and two involve Republicans. The complaints were encouraged by an IRS announcement earlier this year about a crackdown on non-profit groups breaking laws by intervening in partisan campaigns. “Unfortunately, some churches allow candidate endorsements from the pulpit, distribute biased voter guides and host partisan rallies,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, in a press release. “Such blatant electioneering by tax-exempt churches flouts federal law and threatens the integrity of religion.”

The four complaints include: Bethel AME Church in Cambridge, Md., which hosted a rally for Democratic candidates that sought votes; Sioux City Baptist Church in Sioux City, Iowa, which made available biased “voter guides” produced by the Iowa Christian Alliance to favor Republicans; Mount Emmon Baptist Church in Clinton, Md., where the pastor attacked a Republican senatorial candidate from the pulpit the Democratic candidate sat in the front row; Lakeview Assembly of God in Hot Springs, Ark., for hosting a speech by a Republican candidate.

"In addition to the four complaints filed today, Americans United has sought investigations into four other examples of church electioneering this year," according to the group's press release. (Read the release)

Rural Virginia county may mandate recycling in government offices

Wise County, Virginia, recently started an environmental court to punish those who litter, and now the rural county is considering a mandatory recycling policy for all its offices.

"During a Thursday night board of supervisors workshop session, county recycling coordinator Greg Cross presented a resolution that would require all county offices, including all departments housed within the courthouse, the health department and the department of social services, to recycle every shred of paper they produce. The 'Zero Paper Waste' resolution includes requirements for separate paper recycling bins at each desk, more emphasis on electronic data storage and transmission of documents in digital format," writes Jodi Deal of The Coalfield Progress in Norton.

The county accumulates 1,050 gallons of trash per day, and this measure could cut that output by 80 percent, reports Deal. County supervisors are slated to consider the draft policy Thursday. If approved, the mandatory policy would include all recyclables by the end of 2007. (Read more) It seems that The Coalfield Progress subtly promotes an environmental ethic with its pictures of the Wise County landscape; today it has a great photo of the upper Powell Valley, one of the more scenic spots outside a park in the Eastern U.S.

Rural Kentucky couple traveled the globe competing on 'Amazing Race'

An Eastern Kentucky couple exited CBS's "The Amazing Race" Sunday night as the sixth-place finishers, but one might say the ride is just beginning for these participants with big pride in the Bluegrass State.

David and Mary Conley hail from Stone, near the state's eastern tip, where they are not used to the television interviews currently keeping them in New York City. Since the show is pre-recorded, the couple actually spent the last few months at home -- where shopping in Wal-Mart now takes two hours because of autograph-seekers. Above all, the Conleys said the show "made them appreciate what they have at home with their kids, ages 6, 7 and 10," writes Jamie Gumbrecht of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

The couple's home state also got publicized during their run on the show "I am a Wildcat fan for life," David, who wore UK gear throughout the race, told Gumbrecht. "There's no place like Kentucky. We've told everybody that. We've been to China, Mongolia, India, Vietnam, but until you get out of your home state, your comfort zone, you never really think about people. When you meet them and see them, people is people." (Read more)

The Appalachian News-Express in Pikeville, Ky., ran a short article on the couple in today's edition. "On Sunday, their cheers and support for the Stone globetrotters came to an end as David and Mary Conley were eliminated from the race in Madagascar," writes Leigh Ann Wells. (Read more)

Monday, Nov. 6, 2006

The Mountain Eagle's election edition sells out, but for the wrong reason

Most of the newsstand copies of The Mountain Eagle, the weekly newspaper in Whitesburg, Ky., were bought up today by political opponents of the county official who was the subject of the lead story, headlined "Smith, others answer attacks in radio, TV ads," Eagle employees said. Allies of the paper countered by posting election-related articles online, marking the paper's first appearance in cyberspace.

The story reported records that refuted assertions by opponents of Letcher County Judge-Executive Carroll Smith, a progressive Republican, that Smith had not tried hard enough to get funding for water and sewer lines in the mountainous county on the Virginia border. The story also reported that the county attorney discrediting a claim by Democratic nominee Jim Ward that Smith's "billing practices" were under investigation. And a sidebar gave Smith's reply to a Ward ad claiming that he had refused to partcipate in a discount prescription program that could be made available to county residents.

The newspaper normally publishes on Tuesday, but every four years it comes out a day early "to pick up a few advertising dollars and to stay relevant," Eagle Editor Ben Gish said in an interview. Subscribers to the paper will get their copies in the mail tomorrow, but thousands of readers get their copies from news racks.

For the first time, some will get part of the paper online. The Center for Rural Strategies, a Whitesburg-based advocacy group, has posted the Eagle's election stories on its RuralReality.org Web site. And announcers on WMMT, the FM radio station operatd by the media cooperative Appalshop, are reading selections of the paper on the air.

The Kentucky secretary of state's office confirmed for the Lexington Herald-Leader that it had received a complaint about the episode. The paper's PolWatchers blog noted that in addition to the race for judge-executive, Letcher County is home to another nasty race involving some of the same players, between Republican state Rep. Howard Cornett and Democrat Leslie Combs. The blog has links to stories about those races. Also, the Kentucky Democratic blog BluegrassReport.org has postings on the matter.

47 percent of rural voters persuadable; GOP ramps up telemarketing

Forty-seven percent of rural voters say they haven't made up their minds or are persuadable in their choices for Congress, outpacing other population groups in a new Associated Press poll, and a Republican telemarketing effort is breaking new ground technologically. With Election Day tomorrow, it still is not too late for you to do a story about this tactic if it's being used in your area.

"Common Sense Ohio was formed in July to run issue advertisements in the governor’s race there, and it became involved in the Senate races in Maryland, Missouri, Montana, Ohio and Tennessee, and in the abortion referendum in South Dakota," writes Christopher Drew of The New York Times.

"An automated voice at the other end of the telephone line asks whether you believe that judges who 'push homosexual marriage and create new rights like abortion and sodomy' should be controlled. If your reply is 'yes,' the voice lets you know that the Democratic candidate in the Senate race in Montana, Jon Tester, is not your man." The Ohio-based effort is being led by current and former Procter & Gamble managers.

"The organizers of the political telephone calls say they have reached hundreds of thousands of homes in five states over the last several weeks in a push to win votes for Republicans. Democrats say the calls present a distorted picture. The Ohio-based conservatives behind the new campaign . . . say the automated system can reach vast numbers of people at a fraction of the cost of traditional volunteer phone banks and is the most ambitious political use of the telemarketing technology ever undertaken," reports Drew. (Read more)


Heated battle to come over Farm Bill, says N.H. agriculture commissioner

The development of the 2007 Farm Bill will likely be one of the most heated battles over U.S. agricultural policy, predicts Commissioner Stephen Taylor in Weekly Market Bulletin, a newsletter of the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture, Markets & Food. Three-fourths of agricultural subsides go to oilseed, cotton, grain and peanut farmers, an agricultural committees are dominated by lawmakers from the Midwest and Great Plains, said Taylor.

"Advocating for major change will be consumer and environmental groups, the Bush Administration, farmers who get little or no subsidies and business interests that want to cut subsidies as a means of gaining better
international trade arrangements," writes Taylor. "Looking to preserve the status quo will be the various commodity organizations representing producers who benefit currently from generous subsidy programs and other entrenched farm interests, such as the American Farm Bureau and Congressional delegations from Midwestern and Plains states where payments from USDA account for up to three quarters of net farm income." (Read more)

People with mental illnesses get new lives via rural-living programs

Rural-living programs for people with mental illnesses are taking hold across the country, and residents are both learning new skills and regaining a sense of community involvement by living full time on farms.

"Six such farms have been up and running in this country, according to Virgil Stucker, who has worked for many of them and now heads CooperRiis in North Carolina. Others are in Massachusetts, Vermont, Michigan, Ohio and Virginia, he said," reports Jackie Jadrnak of The Associated Press. "Not much research has been done to show how or if these 'healing communities' are more or less effective than other approaches to working with people with mental illnesses."

One community is currently under construction in Albuquerque, N.M., and area residents involved in the project are working with the government in the hopes that Medicaid and state funds can support the residents. Many of these farm programs host 35 to 40 people with serious mental illnesses, but without records of violence, notes AP. (Read more) For more information about the New Mexico effort, click here.

In fast-growing Nevada, selling the family ranch may be hard to pass up

Family-owned ranches are dwindling in Nevada, as development rages in the fastest-growing state in the nation. "Nevada’s agricultural land, with cattle ranching taking up the largest share, declined to 6.3 million acres in 2005 from just under 10 million 20 years ago," writes Randal Archibold of The New York Times.

Ranchers may get conservation easements that provide them with funds for a percentage of the market value of the land, as long as they do not sell it for development. However, the funds may only be a fraction of what a ranch owner could get from selling outright. "Laura Crane, a Nature Conservancy representative in Carson City, said a developer had offered one family in the nearby Dayton Valley nearly $30 million for 530 choice acres," writes Archibold. “These families are not so well off that they can walk away from that money just because they want to see the ranch protected,” Crane told The Times.

In Douglas County, Nev., ranch and farm lands have declined 7 percent in the last 10 years, according to the county assessor’s office, reports Archibold. The population jumped 70 percent in the past 15 years to 47,017 because of the county's scenery and proximity to Reno and Lake Tahoe. (We've been there and can see why.) In spite of opposition from developers, the county passed an initiative to limit development to 280 new houses per year. Its long-term goal is to limit growth to 3.5 percent a year and it is encouraging building close to areas that have already been developed. (Read more)

No-till farming cuts expenses, erosion as No. 1 planting method in Illinois

No-till farming is now the method of choice for Illinois farmers instead of conventional planting and cultivation. The shift, a first since Illinois began tracking no-till farming a dozen years ago, may stem largely from farmers' need to cut costs.

The Illinois Department of Agriculture reports that with 33.1 percent of farmers use no-till, compared to 31.2 percent going for conventional plow-and-plant and the remaining third using conservation tillage methods. Illinois farmers used the no-till technique to plant 36 percent of the small grains and 17 percent of this year's corn crop, according to the survey.

"Analysts say the boost in no-till is the reason topsoil losses have been cut to near nothing, ensuring that fertile soil stays where it belongs instead of becoming silt to clog streams, lakes and rivers," writes Mike Lyons of The Daily Journal in Kankakee, Ill. "No-till cuts erosion by leaving soil undisturbed and protected by a the residue of the previous crop."

"No-till also helps boost the farmers' bottom line by reducing costs," reports Lyons. "Over the years, critics of no-till have objected to an increased use of herbicides, which was the case in earlier years." Now no-till proponents claim that why they use chemicals on more acres than ever before, they are applying more precision to cut down on the overall amount of chemicals used. (Read more)

Reality cattle call: New TV show will help farmers find spouses

A much-discussed reality show is finally holding casting calls for farmers seeking to participate on "The Farmer Wants a Wife," a take-off on the ratings powerhouse of the same name in Europe.

The show will debut next fall on one of the major networks and producers are focusing on four areas to find their bachelor farmers. "The Des Moines metro is one of only four cities in the search. About 30 farmers auditioned Oct. 29 in Lubbock, Texas -- a lower-than-expected turnout, but farmers there were busy with the local cotton harvest. The show also visited Lincoln, Neb., on Friday and heads to Springfield, Mo., Nov. 10," writes Kyle Munson of The Des Moines Register.

Once the show picks a farmer, producers scan the country for possible wives. The program represents a growing trend of farmers finding wives through non-traditional means such as the Internet, which is in response to a much larger trend of single rural residents. "Rural singles are a growing demographic group. The percentage of never-married Iowans outside incorporated towns grew from 14.6 percent to 19.3 percent during the 1990s, according to the U.S. Census. Nearly 75 percent of those over 25 in rural Iowa are men," writes Munson. (Read more)

Anyone wishing to attend the remaining casting call in Missouri should be single, live or work on a farm, and at least 21 years old. For more show details, call 818-755-1273 or e-mail farmercasting@gmail.com. The Rural Blog first reported on this show Dec. 7, 2005. Click here for the archived item.

Sunday special, Nov. 5, 2006

False, misleading ads more prevalent than ever; still time to blow whistle

"The mid-term elections of 2006 brought an unprecedented barrage of advertising containing much that is false or misleading," writes Brooks Jackson, director of FactCheck.org, a nonpartisan service that blows the whistle on politicians' false and misleading commercials. Since many of these ads are still running, and many voters remain undecicded, we're offering you some examples from Jackson, a former political reporter for CNN and The Wall Street Journal. If one of these ads or similar ones are running in your area, it's not too late to give voters the facts.

"We found examples of disregard for facts and honesty – on both sides – that would get a reporter fired in a heartbeat from any decent news organization," Jackson writes. "Candidates, parties and independent groups have faked quotes, twisted words, misrepresented votes and positions, and engaged in rank fear-mongering and outright fabrication. . . . In addition to a general disregard for factual accuracy, we also found systematic attempts to mislead voters about some of the most important issues of the day. Republicans repeatedly mischaracterized Democratic positions on dealing with terrorism. Democrats continued to claim that the Medicare drug benefit is somehow bad for seniors when in fact it saves them hundreds of dollars per year on average." Click here for the full article; here are pertinent examples, as written by Jackson:

Republican Sen. Jim Talent of Missouri ran ads attributing unflattering words about his opponent to the Kansas City Star. The truth is the words were those of partisans and critics, whom the Star was quoting along with others as part of their balanced coverage. [Click here to read the article on this ad.] In Florida, a Democratic ad accused Republican Rep. Clay Shaw of profiting from a "drug deal" by buying and selling a pharmaceutical company's stock while voting for the Medicare prescription drug benefit. The truth is the company in question was not among those that could have benefited. [Click here to read the article.]

Demonizing illegals: Numerous Republican ads claimed Democrats wanted to "give Social Security benefits to illegal immigrants." But nobody's proposing paying a dollar of benefits to anyone while they are illegal. The ads mischaracterize Democratic support for current law, which allows immigrants to get credit for the Social Security taxes they paid while working illegally, but only if and when they become legal or gain citizenship and then become eligible to receive benefits. (Read more)

False security: A Democratic-leaning group ran false ads accusing a few Republican senators of voting to deny modern body armor for troops in Iraq. In fact, the amendment cited by the ad didn't mention body armor, and passing it wouldn't have allowed the Pentagon to acquire a single additional armored vest: It already was buying as many as the economy could produce. (Read more) A Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee ad repeated this false claim. (Read more) Republicans raised similar false body-armor claims against Democrats. (Read more) Republican ads also have said that Democrats are against eavesdropping on terrorists, which isn't true. It's the lack of judicial oversight they object to. (Read more)

Scaring seniors: Both sides made false or twisted claims about the government's largest benefit programs, Social Security and Medicare. Several Republican ads claimed Democratic House candidates would "cut benefits for seniors" and "raise Social Security taxes " on workers, when all they had said was that they endorsed the AARP's approach to addressing Social Security's enormous deficit by making "modest adjustments in future benefits" and getting "additional contributions from higher-income workers." None were proposing cuts in current benefit levels. (Read more) Democrats repeatedly accused Republicans of voting to "raid the Social Security trust fund," based on their support for federal budgets that were in deficit. That's nonsense. Deficits don't affect Social Security benefits by one penny, and have no effect on the IOU's that build up in the trust fund. (Read more)

FactCheck.org is a service of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.

Bush swept rural vote in 2004, but the pattern had several exceptions

Exit polls estimated that President Bush won 62 percent of the rural vote in the 2004 presidential election, but "A closer look at this rural–urban pattern finds many exceptions . . . highlighting the wide variety of places that compose rural as well as urban America," reports the Carsey Institute.

"The character and politics of many rural places in the South, for example, are unlike those found elsewhere in the country. Similarly, unique rural places exist throughout the Northeast, Midwest, and West, each so unlike the others that the idea that there is one 'rural America' breaks down," Lawrence Hamilton writes for the University of New Hampshire institute. "There are, in fact, several quite different rural Americas. . . . These patterns are better explained by looking at demographic factors, such as ethnic composition and educational levels, than simply by where people live."

Some of the rural areas that voted for Kerry were the poorest of the poor -- Central Appalachia, Indian reservations, the Black Belt of the Deep South, and the lower Mississippi and Rio Grande valleys. In rural counties in the Northeast, almost as many voters chose Kerry as chose Bush. Click here for the full report.

Friday, Nov. 3, 2006

Community-supported agriculture catching on; more than 1,000 groups

"In an arrangement that feels charmingly old-fashioned, more people are paying an up-front fee to farmers to pick up a basket of locally grown produce, from kale to lemon grass, each week. You never know what you'll get, but you can count on whatever is in season," writes Emily Steel of The Arizona Republic.

"Some buy it to help local farmers, others want to feel like part of a community, and some think it's safer to know who grew their food," Steel writes. "Some just want to bite into a piece of fruit that hasn't made a trans-Atlantic voyage to their table. More than 1,000 such community-supported agriculture groups, or CSAs, operate across the country, according to Local Harvest, a California-based group. That's up from 50 in 1990."

Most consumers think farmers' markets are the only source for local produce, Gary Nabhan, director of the Northern Arizona University Center for Sustainable Environments and author of Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Food, told the Republic. "Surveys done indicate that people would buy more local food if it were available to them," he said. (Read more)

Big Oil edges in on biofuel tax credit for animal waste, Farm Bureau says

Farm Bureau and other agricultural groups fear that oil companies may take advantage of a tax credit meant to support the development of techniques for creating biofuel from animal waste. “The 2005 Energy Policy Act created a $1-per-gallon credit to spur development of thermal depolymerization, a new technology that uses heat, pressure, and water to turn animal wastes into boiler fuel,” writes Martin Ross of the Illinois Farm Bureau’s Farm Week.

“However, some petroleum refiners have lobbied the U.S. Treasury Department to interpret credit eligibility to include conventional refinery operations,” writes Ross. “The American Farm Bureau Federation argued such a move would be ‘counterproductive to the original intent of the tax credit.’”

“Darryl Brinkmann, Illinois Farm Bureau director and National Biodiesel Board chairman, is concerned refiners could buy large volumes of oil and fats to add to petroleum merely to capture the tax credit, potentially squeezing supplies and boosting feedstock prices for plants that produce only biofuels,” writes Ross. “That could threaten the economic survival of smaller plants, he warned.” (Read more)

Power company talks wind farms in Indiana after legislation proposed

Indiana-Michigan Power will be holding a meeting next week to recruit landowners open to the possibility of wind farms. The utility would install meteorological towers on their land to collect wind data and if a spot met requirements, the land would be leased for installation of wind turbines. More than 10,000 megawatts of wind energy is currently produced in the United States, but none comes from Indiana, reports Seth Slabaugh of the Muncie Star-Press.

Another electric utility, Orion Energy, plans to install 135 wind turbines in the state. “According to Orion Energy, wind power is inexpensive, fast to install (typically less than six months from the start of construction), clean, renewable, popular and compatible with other land uses,” writes Slabaugh. “The vast majority of wind farm acreage remains available for other uses, such as farming, hunting and recreation.”

I-M officials say their plans are not related to a meeting of the legislature's Regulatory Flexibility Committee five weeks ago in which wind energy proponents suggested that electric companies be required to generate 10 percent of their energy from wind and other renewable sources by 2017. However, more than 20 states have passed this kind of legislation. “I&M favors production tax credits to encourage wind energy development rather than mandating the production of a certain percentage of electricity from renewable sources before they are affordable and reliable,” writes Slabaugh. (Read more)

In Wisconsin, Rural Energy Zones may develop fuel alternatives

“State Rep. Scott Suder and Sen. Dave Zien say they are teaming up to sponsor legislation next year which will promote the production and use of alternative energy sources throughout rural Wisconsin. The two northern Wisconsin Republicans say their bill will create three 'Rural Energy Zones' which will use tax credits to promote research, development, production and use of alternative energy fuels, such as bio-diesel, ethanol, solar, wind and hybrid fuels,” reports Wisconsin Ag Connection.

The Suder-Zien Rural Energy Production Act will pay $5 Million in tax credits for each zone and other businesses involved in developing alternative fuels will receive individual credits. “Suder and Zien say their legislation will encourage public-private partnerships and will include tax credits for small businesses including LLC's, cooperatives, municipalities, or groups of individuals such as farmers who work together to create alternative fuels,” WAC reports. (Read more)

Ventilation, fire-control problems led to mine deaths in West Virginia

The state report on the January deaths of two miners at Massey Energy’s Aracoma Alma No. 1 Mine in West Virginia was released yesterday. The report says the fire was caused by friction due to misalignment on the conveyor belt. Miners attempted to extinguish the fire but were unsuccessful. The fire hose did not fit the valve and the water supply line was empty, so neither the valve nor the sprinkler system could be used.

The West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training issued 168 notices of violations, seven of which were considered to contribute to the incident. The Aracoma Coal Co., a Massey subsidiary, says it has checked and repaired all of its conveyor belts and fire valves, installed an improved sprinkler system and reviewed its evacuation plan with its employees.

Miners Donald Bragg and Ellery Elvis Hatfield became lost among the smoke and died from asphyxiation. It was found that the ventilation system was channeling air in the wrong direction and that the system was missing controls. There was no carbon monoxide detection device present in the section of the mine where the fire took place. To read the full report, click here.

Gov. Joe Manchin said state inspections prior to the fire “did not fully and accurately capture the safety conditions present at this particular mine.” Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette wrote, " It was not immediately clear if Manchin was referring to the fact that state inspectors did not perform required annual electrical inspections at Aracoma in 2004 and 2005, or to other oversights not previously made public by the state." (Read more) Massey spokesman Jeff Gillenwater said in a prepared statement, “It appears that deficiencies were not fully recognized by mine personnel or by state or federal inspectors.”

Western railroad project could help agriculture, coal, cut subsidies

Expansion of the Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern Railroad would create more competition and lower shipping rates, increasing profits for farmers, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “Benefits from the DM&E Rail Expansion” says subsidy payments to growers of corn and other crops could be reduced by $240 million a year, reports Carson Walker of the Associated Press.

“If the estimated $6 billion expansion project goes through, the DM&E would become only the seventh large-scale Class 1 railroad in the country,” writes Walker. “The plan is to upgrade its 600-mile line through Minnesota, South Dakota and Wyoming and add 260 miles of new track to Wyoming's Powder River Basin so it can transport clean-burning coal to power plants to the east, using several dozen trains a day. Transporting corn-based ethanol and other agricultural products also is part of the plan.”

“Tim Walz, a Democrat from Mankato, Minn., who is challenging Republican 1st District Rep. Gil Gutknecht, said he agrees increased rail competition helps agriculture,” writes Walker. “But politics could have influenced the favorable USDA report, farm payments are already declining because of value-added agriculture and the Office of Management and Budget criticized the expansion, he said.” (Read more)

Publisher who brought offset printing and Toyota to Kentucky dies

Carroll F. Knicely, former editor, publisher and owner of the Glasgow (Ky.) Daily Times, died Thursday morning at the age of 77. As state secretary of commerce, "He was instrumental in bringing the Toyota plant to Georgetown, which meant 3,500 jobs and a $1.1 billion investment" in the mid-1980s, the Times reported.

A native of Staunton, Va., "he came to Glasgow in 1957 as president, editor and publisher of the Times in partnership with his former boss at the Waynesboro News-Virginian, Louis Spillman. In 1958, Knicely led the effort to convert to offset printing, the first daily newspaper east of the Mississippi to do so, and only the third daily newspaper in the country to print on a rotary web offset press," the Times said.

Knicely bought the paper in 1963 and a weekly competitior in 1967. He sold the operation to Donrey Media Group of Fort Smith, Ark., in 1986. It is now owned by Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. He owned interests in several other newspapers in Kentucky and Tennessee, and "was fearless in his pursuit of improvements of the community, often taking unpopular stands on controversial issues and butting heads with community leaders," said the Times obituary, by Editor Emeritus Joel Wilson. (Read more)

Knicely was president and most valuable member of the Kentucky Press Association, which named the Times the best newspaper in its class in 1967. He maintained an almost 50-year record of perfect attendance at the Glasgow Rotary Club by visiting other clubs while traveling.

Knicely is survived by his wife, the former Evelyn Furr of Dayton, Va.; two sons, three daughters, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Funeral services will be 2 p.m. Monday at Glasgow Baptist Church. Visitation will be from 3-8 p.m. Sunday and 8-11 a.m. Monday at A.F. Crow & Son Funeral Home in Glasgow, and after noon Monday at the church. Alternate expressions of sympathy may be made to the College Heights Foundation at Western Kentucky University.

Thursday, Nov. 2, 2006

Rural and small-town voters may hold balance of power on Election Day

Political candidates are targeting rural voters with only five days until the midterm election, and "In dozens of close contests this fall, the outcome will be determined largely by one often-overlooked minority group: the mostly white and mostly conservative voters who live in America’s small towns," rural radio journalist and author Brian Mann says in an op-ed piece in The New York Times today.

"Residents of rural areas make up only a fifth of the country’s population. That’s a little less than African-Americans and Hispanics combined. But unlike voters in those minority groups, small-town whites are often kingmakers in national politics," Mann writes."If rural America embraces Republicans with the same fervor it did two years ago, Democrats will almost certainly be denied a majority in the Senate and may fall short in the House." But he says a recent bipartisan poll indicates that will not happen.

The poll, conducted Oct. 22-24 for the Center for Rural Strategies, found that rural voters in moved from a four-point advantage for Republicans in September to a four-point advantage for Democrats in five states with hot Senate races, and from evenly divided in 41 contested House races to a 13-point advantage for Democrats. Worse yet for Republicans, a growing number of Democrats have awakened to the fact that small towns matter," Mann writes.

"In part, the electoral importance of small towns reflects a profound rural bias hardwired into our political system. The Constitution grants two Senate seats to each state regardless of its population. As a consequence, a majority of senators are elected by voters in 26 sparsely settled states that together contain less than 18 percent of the country’s population. . . . Low-population states like Alaska, Kansas and Wyoming have voted as a conservative bloc, favoring Republican candidates by overwhelming margins."

Mann concludes, "If Democrats succeed in increasing their rural vote, they could decisively sweep Republicans from power. But as the Center for Rural Strategies has pointed out, most of these races will be decided by razor-thin margins. And the Republicans are working feverishly to mollify and re-energize their rural base with talk about same-sex marriage, abortion, gun rights, public Christianity, terrorism and immigration — all issues that play brilliantly in small towns." (Read more)

Mann, of North Country Public Radio in New York state, is the author of Welcome to the Homeland: A Journey to the Rural Heart of America’s Conservative Revolution. He attended a national conference on rural issues programmed by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues for the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism at the University of Maryland in June 2005.

More on the rural vote: Meanwhile, the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire released two studies today that explore how rural voters shape elections. For "Rural Voting in the 2004 Election," click here, and for "Values and Religion in Rural America," click here.

First-time voters from Appalachia get a chance to air their opinions

Rural voters may hold more power than ever before in this year's election, and the Appalachian Media Institute is giving voices to first-time voters who want to express the needs of people living in those areas.

"Our part-time local officials can’t solve our larger problems. Now that I am a swing voter I hope Congress will pay more attention to our problems here," says AMI youth producer Autumn Campbell, a resident of mountainous Letcher County, Kentucky, who works for Youth Radio, a national program. National Public Radio featured her commentary during the Nov. 1 edition of its program "Day to Day."

Raising the minimum wage is one issue highlighted by Campbell. "We tried to do something about this locally. Community members and county officials tried to get the minimum wage raised by more than two dollars an hour. Even so, we lost. That has me thinking about my vote," she continues. "Until I registered to vote, I always thought local officials took care of everything. I never thought once about who represented me in Congress, or in state government. It seemed to me, Letcher County, like many rural places, was invisible to these higher elected officials. The only time this part of the country gets attention is when we have devastating mine disasters.

"This is more than politics to me. My dad has rock lung. That’s like having cement in your lungs, and it comes from being a coal miner. Whoever is responsible for enforcing these mine and safety laws doesn’t realize the impact they have on family life. Those of us with miners in the family learn to cherish every moment we have with them because we know they might not come home. We need the representatives in Washington to help keep our miners safe. Our part-time local officials can’t solve our larger problems," Campbell concludes. Click here to read a transcript or listen to the commentary.

With proper planning, immigration can help rural economies, study says

Immigrants can have a big, positive impact on a rural economies, according to a study that will be released later this month by the Carsey Institute for Families and Communities. "Many have correctly argued that immigrants burden local services, especially schools. But another way of looking at the 'burden' is as an investment. Reopening shuttered schools, closed in waves of district consolidations, and recruiting new teachers can reinvigorate a slumping economy," write Leif Jensen, author of the report and professor at Pennsylvania State University, and Cynthia Mildred "Mil" Duncan, director of the Carsey Institute, in a commentary for The Philadelphia Inquirer.

From 1990 to 2000, Hispanics made up more than one-fourth of rural population growth, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Immigrants can help balance out rural diaspora and occupy jobs in manufacturing, agriculture and meatpacking. "Rural immigrants are more likely to be Hispanic (and Mexican, in particular), they are less educated, and they are poorer, write Jensen and Duncan. "However, they are also less likely to receive food stamps, more likely to be married, more likely to be working, and more likely to own their home - all indications of a stable, and contributing, population."

"Rural localities bearing the brunt of immigrant settlement patterns need relief in the form of grants or special budget allocations from state and federal coffers," write Jensen and Duncan. "Above all, local control and planning must remain front and center. Critical to this planning is the voice of all residents, not just the community elite, but new and old residents, business owners and workers, new immigrants and native-born. The long-term fiscal impact of immigrants on rural areas will depend on the economic fortunes of their children, the second generation." (Read more)

Latinos flood Minnesota's rural schools, but lag behind in achievement

Latino enrollment is rising in Minnesota's rural schools, but increasing numbers of those students are falling behind their classmates and are more likely to drop out, according to a statewide study enrollment study.

“What’s that going to mean in the future?” asks Jack Geller, president of the St. Peter, Minn.-based Center for Rural Policy & Development, which conducted the study along with the Chicano Latino Affairs Council, told Tim Krohn of the Mankato Free Press. “Are 20 or 25 percent of the workforce in an area going to have unskilled workers? That’s the scary part. If we can’t find a way to help these students achieve greater academic success, the repercussions for the communities will be immense."

"The report, titled 'Latino Students in our Public Schools: A Closer Look,' examines the Latino student population in 35 Minnesota public school districts where Latinos comprise at least 10 percent of the student population," writes Krohn. "The study documents the rapid rise in enrollment of Latino students in Minnesota’s public schools, increasing in numbers from 30,605 in the 2001-2002 school year to 42,393 in the 2005-2006 school year, an increase of more than 38 percent during a time period when overall enrollments in Minnesota declined by approximately 3 percent. Consequently, Latino students went from comprising 3.7 percent of all enrolled students in 2001 to 5.3 percent in 2005." (Read more)

The Center for Rural Policy & Development is the state's only nonprofit, nonpartisan rural policy research center. The Chicano Latino Affairs Council is an agency that advises lawmakers on Latino public affairs and other issues important to Minnesota’s Latino community. To view the report, click here.

Herbivore Heaven: Deer, moose, elk keep folks busy in N.Y., Minn., Wyo.

As cold weather arrives and trees become barren, hunters are going into the woods to find the next prize for their walls and meat for their freezer. But this hunting season is producing an array of challenges, such as finding accessible lands, dodging creatures on the roads, or, in Wyoming, picking which animal to shoot.

Deer fest : With hunting season under way in Minnesota, those looking for deer are renting land in response to a problem with access. "Increasingly, deer hunters are finding themselves caught in a squeeze over land access. Large paper companies are selling or leasing thousands of acres across northeastern Minnesota. Other privately owned land is being sold for rural real estate development. And some hunters are finding road access to hunting lands gated or blocked with earthen berms by state or federal agencies," writes Sam Cook of the Duluth News Tribune, source of this photo. (Read more)

On the road: In rural New York, moose are not waiting to be found on someone's property, but are instead running right out in the middle of roads. "Like wolves and cougars, moose were hunted out of New York more than a century ago. But the big herbivores are back, having wandered into New York’s northern forests from Canada and New England over the past 30 years. State conservation officials say the Adirondacks are on the verge of a moose boom, just like those in New Hampshire and Vermont, evidenced in part by a recent spate of collisions with cars," reports The Associated Press. (Read more)

So many choices: The National Elk Refuge in Wyoming gives hunters with disabilities a chance to participate in the winter season, and there are sure to be plenty of elk on hand for the festivities. "For hundreds of sportsmen, disabled or not, hunting on the nearly 25,000-acre elk refuge is a tradition that extends back decades. This year, more than 5,000 elk will migrate down from their summer range to the hayfields as winter rolls into Jackson. Alongside those elk, about 1,100 bison, several wolf packs, coyotes, ravens and thousands of tourists will jockey for alfalfa pellets, gut piles and photos," writes Cory Hatch of the Jackson Hole News & Guide. (Read more)

Air pollution from TVA's coal plants prompts lawsuit by North Carolina

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper filed a public-nuisance suit, a common-law practice typically used among neighbors, against the Tennessee Valley Authority for the air pollution created but its coal-fired plants. The pollution comes from plants in Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama. The Environmental Protection Agency denied North Carolina's petition to cut the plants' emissions in accordance to the Clean Air Act, so Cooper took an alternative route, reports Elizabeth Shogren of National Public Radio.

"We know that air pollution from the Tennessee Valley Authority is making people sick. It's causing haze across our mountains, it's killing our trees, it's polluting our waters. We want it to stop. We've asked them nicely. We've tried to work with them. They've not responded," Cooper told NPR. "Litigation is the last resort." Studies show that tens of thousands of people who live downwind of coal-fired power plants may die early because of lung and heart problems. Cooper said federal rules are working fast enough.

Bill Baxter of TVA's board of directors said the federal utility can't be considered a public nuisance because there are numerous sources of pollution. "Under that theory, he ought to sue every automobile owner in his own state, every owner of a lawn tractor and everyone who has a power plant in North Carolina," he told NPR. "But you know that's not good politics. Baxter said that TVA has done more to cut pollution than power plants in North Carolina, spending $4.4 billion to reduce its emission by 80 percent.

"Despite all these efforts, TVA remains one of the largest emitters of air pollution in the country," writes Shogren. "Only one-third of the electricity it produces from coal is from power plants that have installed scrubbers, the best technology for reducing sulfur dioxide emissions." (Read more)

Report on Massey mine disaster coming today; Blankenship objects

A state report on the fire that killed two miners in West Virginia at Massey Energy’s Aracoma Alma No. 1 Mine in January is set to be released this afternoon. Ron Wooten, director of the West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training said the agency plans to have it posted on its Web site by about 2 p.m. today, reports Ken Ward Jr. of the The Charleston Gazette.

On Wednesday, officials canceled a state mine-safety board meeting after Massey CEO Don Blankenship alleged that the report was being issued sooner “in a clear attempt to use state government power to defame me and to influence Tuesday’s election.” West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin III said the meeting should not be held because the notice was not published at least five days in advance, as law requires. He said the schedule of the release was not politically motivated.

On Jan. 19, Donald Bragg and Ellery Hatfield died after a fire occurred on a conveyor belt inside the Aracoma Mine. "Aracoma miners have told investigators that Bragg and Hatfield were lost when their crew hit smoke in their primary escape tunnel, and had to find another route out of the mine, according to interview transcripts," writes Ward. "Miners also told investigators that the primary escape tunnel filled with smoke because block walls that were supposed to separate it from the conveyor belt had been removed, according to the transcripts."

"Davitt McAteer, Manchin’s special mine safety investigator, has not yet completed his independent review of the Aracoma fire," writes Ward. "Federal prosecutors are also continuing a criminal investigation, U.S. Attorney Chuck Miller said Wednesday. In West Virginia, 23 coal miners have died on the job this year, the most since 1981. (Read more)

California-based Copley Press may sell seven dailies in Ohio, Illinois

Copley Press may sell its seven daily newspapers in Ohio and Illinois. The seven papers on the auction block are the Journal Star in Peoria, Ill. (68,089); The State Journal-Register in Springfield, Ill. (circulation 55,334), The Register-Mail in Galesburg, Ill. (14,743); The Courier in Lincoln, Ill. (circulation 6,100); The Repository in Canton, Ohio (65,598); The Times-Reporter in New Philadelphia, Ohio (23,328); and The Independent in Massillon, Ohio (12,863).

A company statement said the possible moves are a part of an effort to keep its flagship, headquarters-town paper, the San Diego Union-Tribune, "an independent, locally owned newspaper for many years into the future.' To read a brief Associated Press story, click here.

Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2006

The more rural a place, the more likely it is to produce military recruits

A disproportionate number of U.S. military recruits still hail from rural areas, according to a report published by The Heritage Foundation, updating its findings from a similar study in 2003.

"Wartime recruits come more from rural areas, particularly from the South. However, many states outside of the South, such as Alaska and Montana, continue to have strong proportional representation. Areas classified as entirely urban are strongly underrepresented compared to areas with increased rural concentrations, all of which were overrepresented," writes Tim Kane, director of the Center for International Trade and Economics at The Heritage Foundation.

The study ranked ZIP Code tabulation areas -- groups of postal-delivery zones -- by their rurality. Generally, the more rural a place, the more likely it was to produce military recruits. Areas that are entirely rural account for 7.55 percent of the U.S population, but in 2005 generated 11.8 percent of the recruits. That ratio of 1.56 was slightly higher than the 1.51 found in 2004, and a bit less than the 1.58 in 2003. Areas that are entirely urban had 39.1 percent of the population and 27.3 percent of the 2005 recruits.

The report also compared states. "In 2004 and 2005, 29 states were overrepresented among military recruits in comparison to the general population. The top five states with the highest proportional enlistment ratios for 2004 and 2005 are Montana, Texas, Wyoming, Alaska and Oklahoma," he writes. (Read more)

California referendum next week may chase sex offenders into rural areas

Many rural Californians are worried they might soon see a jump in sex offenders taking up residence in their small communities, where police departments are limited in size and treatment facilities are scarce.

On Election Day, voters will consider Proposition 83, the so-called Jessica's Law initiative, which would "prohibit paroled sex offenders from living in many urban areas, leading to a potential exodus of offenders to less populated regions," reports Don Thompson of The Associated Press.

The measure would require registered sex offenders to live at least 2,000 feet away from a school or park, and expansion from the current 1,320 feet and one that could make it impossible for them to live in an urban area, notes AP. "I wouldn't see that as a good deal for rural areas," said Jason Evans, who lives north of Gilroy, about 30 miles southeast of San Jose, and has two children. "The services are already stretched. It's a constant, ongoing battle."

If passed next Tuesday, the measure would force about 5,500 parolees to relocate immediately, according to a draft analysis by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation's Division of Adult Parole Operations. That possibility worries rural resident Jeff Ramsour, who moved 90 miles east from San Jose to Gustine four years ago. "You don't want them around schools, but you don't want them in rural areas either," he told Thompson. "Rural areas have children, too." (Read more)

Tri-state Platte River agreement to protect farmland draws criticism

Colorado and Nebraska's governors have signed on to the tri-state Platte River Cooperative Agreement that aims to protect farmers from federal action and preserve agricultural land. Wyoming's governor is expected to sign the deal soon.

"The plan is designed to help guide Platte River Basin entities in complying with the Endangered Species Act while retaining their access to federal water, land or funding. The goal is to improve the Platte River and protect habitat for the whooping crane, piping plover, interior least tern and pallid sturgeon. It will cost about $317 million, with $157 million coming from the Interior Department and the rest from the three states in cash, land and water. Federal dollars have not yet received final approval," writes Nate Jenkins of the Lincoln Journal Star in Nebraska, where the North and South Platte rivers join and flow into the Missouri River south of Omaha.

“We have a rare opportunity to work with water users and the environmental community to achieve federal objectives for the Endangered Species Act while respecting the need to preserve each of our states’ agricultural economies,” Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman wrote in a letter to the Interior Department. Part of the agreement calls for acquiring land for wildlife habitat, and some groundwater irrigators see that as an attack on rural communities, reports Jenkins. (Read more)

New casino in rural Indiana town provides students with story material

Students in Carol Polsgrove's Public Affairs Reporting class at Indiana University in Bloomington are churning out the results of the semester's centerpiece project -- reports on the changes in West Baden and French Lick as those small towns prepared for yesterday's opening of a new casino and renovated hotels.

In one story, graduate student Joice Biazoto captures the mix of fears and hopes that accompany such a development. Judy Gray, executive director of the Orange County Economic Development Partnership, sums up a conversation that should occur in any rural area. "Lots of people in rural communities don’t want change,” she told Biazoto. “But change occurs whether you want it or not. The challenge is to direct the change to be the way you want it to be.” (Read more)

In another story, graduate student Benjamin Weller describes how economic development serves as an attraction for rural residents seeking jobs: "Some come from nearby, from towns like Spencer and Paoli. Others drive nearly two hours to work each morning and home again each night. Some bring their families in campers, and others live out of their vehicles. They are painters, plumbers, electricians and journeymen — skilled practitioners of their trade — and for many, French Lick, Ind., is truly a journey." (Read more)

To view brief excerpts from all the students' stories, with links to the complete text, click here. Polsgrove is the newest academic partner of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. Earlier, her students did stories on local elections in Southern Indiana, as reported here Oct. 16. Click here for the item.

In rural Iowa, divorced women suffer more illnesses than married ones

Rural woman who get divorced risk losing some of their good health, first mentally and later on physically, according to a 10-year study of divorced and married women conducted by the the Institute for Social and Behavioral Research at Iowa State University.

"All 416 women interviewed were the mothers of adolescent children when the study began. Among them, 102 women were recently divorced. During the years immediately after divorce — from 1991 to 1994 — the divorced women reported 7 percent higher levels of psychological distress than married women. They did not report any differences in physical illness at that time. A decade later, however, the divorced women reported 37 percent more physical illness," reports The Associated Press. (Read more)

The study, titled “The Short-Term and Decade-Long Effects of Divorce on Women’s Midlife Health,” said the physical illnesses might be due to stresses that come with divorce, including loss of income and job layoffs or demotions. Rural women may encounter poor job options, few support systems, and inadequate health care. Click here for more on the study.

Rural Virginia county confronts litter with monthly environmental court

Virginia's first anti-litter court returned four convictions during its first session last Thursday in Wise County, and the rural area hopes to preserve its natural beauty with the monthly hearings.

County litter and recycling coordinator Greg Cross said that while the state's first regularly-held environmental court cannot stop littering altogether, it can least serve as a deterrent for some, writes Bonnie Shortt of The Coalfield Progress in Norton. Other Virginia counties are expressing interest in the concept, and the City of Norton plans to bring its litter cases to Wise County, Cross said.

Environmental court will be the “start of some great things for this county and region and state,” Cross told Shortt. Wise County is on the Kentucky border. (Read more)

Permission to reprint items from The Rural Blog is hereby granted, on the condition that clear credit is given to the original source of the material. If the blog provides information for a story, please ket us know by sending an e-mail to al.cross@uky.edu.

The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues helps non-metropolitan media define the public agenda in their communities, through strong reporting and commentary on local issues and on broader issues that have local impact. Its initial focus area is Central Appalachia, but as an arm of the University of Kentucky it has a statewide mission, and it has national scope. It has academic collaborators at Appalachian State University, East Tennessee State University, Eastern Kentucky University, Georgia College and State University, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Marshall University, Middle Tennessee State University, Ohio University, Southeast Missouri State University, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, Washington and Lee University, and West Virginia University. It is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the University of Kentucky, with additional financial support from the Ford Foundation. To get notices of daily Rural Blog postings and other Institute news, click here.



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University of Kentucky
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