Rural America

Thursday, May 24, 2018, 10:00 am  ·  By David Vail

Before “Silent Spring” Debuted in 1962, Ag Pilots on the Great Plains Questioned Pesticide Safety

In the 1940s, Donald Pratt became known as the “Spray King of the West." Above, crop dusting planes in Pratt’s P-T Air Service fleet.   (Image: Kansas State University, CC BY-ND)

It is easy to frame conservation as a clash between environmentalists and polluters. But this view can greatly oversimplify many complex choices. What does conservation look like when ideas about nature cut across political lines?

In my book, Chemical Lands: Pesticides, Aerial Spraying and Health in North America’s Grasslands since 1945I explore how pilots, scientists and farmers developed practices for “cropdusting” on the Great Plains after World War II. This industry took shape years before Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, a sweeping critique of widespread use of synthetic pesticides, in 1962.

Chemical companies made broad promises about these “miracle” products, with little discussion of risks. But pilots and scientists took a much more cautious approach. Well before a national environmental movement emerged, local producers developed their own ways to study safety and health questions as early as the 1950s. If protecting agricultural health here meant using pesticides to meet production goals, they wanted to understand the risks too.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2018, 12:00 pm  ·  By Jessicah Pierre

A Revived Poor People’s Campaign Calls for a “Revolution of American Values”

In 1968, the first brought thousands of Americans together to fight for fair incomes and living standards. As poverty surges in the United States, the campaign is making a comeback.   (Image: poorpeoplescampaign.org)

(Editor’s Note: On May 17, the United Way’s ALICE Project released a report that finds, despite record low unemployment and stock market highs, 43 percent of Americans are struggling to pay for basic necessities—food, rent and child care. In the United States today, 66 percent of all jobs pay less than $20 per hour and millions of Americans have no retirement plan and no savings.)

Thousands of civil rights advocates, low-wage workers, and religious leaders kicked off massive protests on May 14, launching a 40-day campaign across the nation in an effort to revive Martin Luther King’s Poor People’s Campaign.

The Poor People’s Campaign brings together poor and marginalized people from all backgrounds, places, and religions to stand up for their lives and rights by calling for a “revolution of American values.” They’re taking aim at the evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy and ecological devastation.

The first Poor People’s Campaign in 1968 brought thousands of Americans of all races together to fight for fair incomes and living standards. After King was murdered that same year, the movement slowed down. But with the fights for racial and economic equality as intertwined now as they were 50 years ago, organizers believe that the movement’s vision for America couldn’t come at a better time.

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Thursday, May 17, 2018, 8:00 am  ·  By CELDF

An Informed Public Threatens Those in Power, But Our Public Is No Threat

(Image: The Gryphon)

According to recent polls, only 20 percent of Americans know how many U.S. Senators there are, and only one in seven young Americans could identify either Iraq or Afghanistan on a world map. A majority of Americans were unable to name more than one of the protections guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution.

The same polls show that 20 percent of Americans believe the sun revolves around Earth, and that 30 percent of Americans were unable to answer what year 9/11 took place. Yet, 22 percent of us were able to come up with the name of every member of the Simpson family.

This is, after all, the country in which the Flat Earth International Conference was held in 2017 (make sure to check it out this November in Denver), and featured workshops with names like “NASA and other Space Lies” and “It’s Flat Like God Made It.”

Perhaps less mind-blowing, but equally disturbing and far more hazardous, is our acceptance of “news” that is delivered to us. The meme “fake news” has been making its way around our cosmos over the past couple of years, thanks to a Trump administration that polls really well with the flat-earthers. But the truth is, on many topics, we have “diluted” news. They are summaries of what’s happening in our country, but rarely explain why.

It is at our own peril that we do not understand why what’s happening in our country is happening. Nor do we understand how our system of government and law not only allows the why, but supports it.

When we understand the “why,” we are a dangerous public to those in power. Not knowing the “why” makes us easier to control.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2018, 12:00 pm  ·  By Angela Serratore

The Perils of High Fashion: How the 1918 Migratory Bird Act Treaty Saved Our Feathered Friends

The woman behind the gun.   (Image: Library of Congress)

It’s easy to imagine the glamorous early 20th-century woman who might wear the tiara in front of me. Delicate and adorned with wispy white feathers that wouldn’t come cheap, this aigrette (the French word for egret) would rest atop the head of a rich and fashionable society figure. Such an ornament made of feathers represented the height of contemporary style.

And for many others, the tiara would be a walking symbol of man’s inability to respect the natural world, for as a 1917 Field and Stream story on migratory birds and the devastation fashion wrought upon them notes, each bunch of feathers on an aigrette “probably means that a mother egret has been murdered and her three or four baby herons have been left to starve to death in the nest.”

These birds, and their repurposing as gaudy fashion statements, are the subject of a new exhibit at the New-York Historical Society marking 100 years since the passage of the 1918 Migratory Bird Act Treaty, a piece of legislation that put a swift end to the hunting of birds like egrets (and swans, eagles and hummingbirds). Open through July 15, Feathers: Fashion and the Fight for Wildlife showcases a collection of garments and accessories made with the feathers, beaks, and in some cases, the full bodies of dead birds. Paintings by John James Audubon depict those same birds alive and in-flight, making a case for what activists, governments, and ordinary citizens can do in the face of seemingly inevitable environmental destruction.

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Friday, May 11, 2018, 12:00 pm  ·  By Emeline Posner

An Agricultural Movement for People-to-People Reparations Puts Itself on the Map

The Soul Fire team harvests greens from one of the beds at their farm in Grafton, N.Y., where they operate a CSA and several young farmer immersion programs for people of color.   (Image: Capers Rumph / courtesy of Soul Fire Farm)

On a small plot of land on the outskirts of Chicago, a farm collectively owned by gender-non-conforming immigrants will cultivate produce and a younger generation of food justice activists. That’s the vision that Viviana Moreno, Nadia Sol Ireri Unzueta Carrasco and Jazmín Martinez, organizers and farmers based in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood, are working to turn into reality. 

Catatumbo Collective, as the three call themselves, told Rural America In These Times in an email: “We’re approaching a worker-owned farm through an intersectional and holistic lens that understands that our community’s issues can be addressed in part by sustainable farming and food justice educational programs.” 

Viviana, Ireri and Jazmín have known each other from years of organizing against deportations in Chicago and working in Little Village’s Semillas de Justicia community garden. 

Of Venezuelan and Mexican heritage, the three incorporate their families’ experiences—with land stewardship and NAFTA-driven migration—and the history of campesinos’ and Indigenous peoples’ land struggles into their approach. 

As they got more involved with Chicago’s urban agriculture movement, Ireri found few resources that provided the needed historical or cultural context. “History of the land, history of the exploitation and abuse of people working the land, and the history of resistance and resilience by Indigenous people and people of color,” Ireri says, was lacking. 

They found a resource in Soul Fire Farm, a people-of-color-led farm and educational center based in Grafton, N.Y. Last summer, they all attended Soul Fire’s Black and Latinx Farmer Immersion, a program designed to impart ecologically-restorative farming techniques to people of color and to foster conversation about racism, and racial justice, in the food system. 

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Wednesday, May 9, 2018, 12:00 pm  ·  By Rural America In These Times

Two Conversations About “Sustainable Capitalism” and “The Art of Work”

On the left, agricultural economist, professor and author John Ikerd. On the right, artist and winemaker Maynard James Keenan performing at Coachella.   (Images: johnikerd.com / wikimedia commons)

This week’s hunt for rural stories of interest uncovered two interviews definitely worth sharing. The first, courtesy of the Rural America Roundtable podcast with Todd Plimpton, is a conversation with agricultural economist, professor and author John Ikerd. The second, produced by the hard-rock music magazine Revolver, is a short four part video series with Maynard James Keenan—the enigmatic lead singer of Tool, A Perfect Circle and Pucifer—about his lesser-known winemaking and community-building efforts in the Black Hills of Yavapai County, Ariz. 

Often featured on Rural America In These Times, Ikerd, now in his eighties, was raised on a small dairy farm in southwest Missouri before electricity and indoor plumbing reached that part of the state. He received B.S., M.S. and Ph.D degrees in agricultural economics and worked for a time in corporate agribusiness before going into academia. According to his bio, during the farm crises of the 1980s, Ikerd “experienced first-hand the failures of the policies he had been advocating to farmers.” He then shifted the focus of his work to sustainable agriculture and economic sustainability. “Sustainable Capitalism,” linked to below, explores the economic and cultural disconnect that’s taken place since the industrialization of agriculture in the 1950s, and what it will take to repair the damage. 

Keenan, 53, is the frontman for two of the most successful the hard rock bands in the world. But in 1981, inspired by Bill Murray’s character in Stripes, Keenan joined the U.S. Army so he could go to art school on the G.I. Bill. His first band to make it big, Tool, formed in 1990 and has sold millions of records since. A Perfect Circle formed in 1999 and released their first record in 14 years last month. Despite international fame, Keenan could walk down most streets without getting recognized—even in the pre-internet music industry heydays, he avoided (and often ridicules in his lyrics) Hollywood. In 2004, Keenan founded Caduceus Cellars, a farm and winery in the tiny town of Jerome, Ariz. (Editor's note: even as a longtime Tool fan, I didn't know about Keenan's work in Jerome until I saw him speak at the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies conference a few years back in Phoenix.) “The Art of Work,” streaming below, is about the importance of doing work that matters to us and how doing it the right way can transform a community for the better.  

In short, though Ikerd and Keenan come from radically different backgrounds, they've come to some pretty similar conclusions about the state of our economy and culture.

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Thursday, May 3, 2018, 11:00 am  ·  By Paul Deaton

Farm Crisis: “Without Immediate Government Action, The Days Of The Small Dairy Farm Are Numbered”

Overproduction on factory farms has family dairy farms facing an existential crisis similar to that of the 1980s.   (Image: 11thhourproject.org)

Things are bad when the coop sends the suicide hotline number with the milk payment.

Milk prices are currently about $15 per hundred pounds (cwt) while cost of production at family farms is more than $22 per hundredweight. Like so many segments of agriculture, consolidation is driving down costs and small farmers are going out of business.

The National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC) believes the federal government should do something about it and has written a letter to congress and the USDA.

“The nation’s dairy farmers are again in dire straits, just like we were in the 1980s,” Jim Goodman, Wisconsin dairy farmer and board president of National Family Farm Coalition said in a press release. “Proposed safety nets are totally inadequate and without real long-term market reform, dairy farmers will continue to lose their farms. Consumers who care where their milk comes from and policymakers claiming to care about rural America must support these steps to ensure farmers a fair price. Without immediate government action, the days of the small dairy farm are numbered.”

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Tuesday, May 1, 2018, 8:00 am  ·  By Nico Gendron

From Punk Rock to Ultramarathons, Diverse Economies Are Taking Shape in Coal Country

Stearns Ky.—Athletes from across the country gather for the first annual Yamacraw ultramarathon in 2015. The 10K and 50K routes include the old tram road where coal was once transported.   (Image: @RunYamacraw / runyamacraw.com)

From Kentucky to Ohio, generations of Appalachian people have made their homes amidst rugged and often unforgiving mountain terrain. They’ve fed their families mining the region’s coal to heat homes across America. That was until the late 1990s, when coal production began to plummet with rising demand for natural gas.

Eastern Kentucky was particularly hard hit. Between 2000 and 2015, coal production in the region dropped by 80 percent. In 2009 there were 14,098 residents of eastern Kentucky employed by the mines, according to the Kentucky Department for Energy Development and Independence’s coal report. By 2015 the number had dropped to 5,897.

Stripped of their economy and a way of life, eastern Kentuckians have been pushed to find alternative economies, particularly in tourism. They have created unique attractions spanning punk music, community theater, and ultramarathons to bring in outsiders, and their money.

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Tuesday, Apr 24, 2018, 12:00 pm  ·  By John Ikerd

The Three “Great Separations” that Unravelled Our Connection to Earth and Each Other

A Neanderthal reconstruction.   (Image: ancient-origins.net)

We are confronted today with a multidimensional ecological, social, and economic crisis that is rooted in our growing sense of disconnectedness from each other and from the Earth. In his book, The Great Turning, David Korten referred to this crisis as “the great unraveling.” I believe the great unraveling is rooted in “three great separations.”

People in prehistoric civilizations understood the importance of relationships. They had intimate relationships with the Earth as well as with the other people with whom they shared the planet. They were hunter gatherers. Indigenous peoples relied on each other also for companionship as well as their survival. Many also considered the heavens and Earth as the embodiment of their concept of God. That being said, their relationships with nature and with each other were clearly relationships of physical or material necessity.

The agricultural revolution of some 10,000 to 12,000 years ago brought about a fundamental transformation of human life on Earth. 

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Saturday, Apr 21, 2018, 10:00 am  ·  By Winona LaDuke

The Renaissance of Tribal Hemp

Winona LaDuke on her industrial hemp farm. The farm's 40 acres are located on the White Earth Indian Reservation in northwestern Minnesota.   (Image: winonashemp.com)

This spring, after gathering on the White Earth Indian Reservation in northwestern Minnesota and then in Colorado, tribal “hempsters” are working toward a renaissance of the plant that once clothed much of Europe and North America. Tribal hemp growers from the Meskwaki, Lakota, Menominee, Mandan, Hidatsa, Colville and other Native nations are planting the seeds of a new economy—responding with an innovative and holistic approach to the many challenges Native and non-Native communities face.

These new, young tribal leaders are taking a place at the table of the $700 million U.S. hemp industry—an industry that can literally transform much of the material, food and energy world. As hemp returns as a viable part of food, clothing, housing, medicine and fuel systems, tribal hemp leaders are keen to not only be a part of the industry, but to transform their communities.  

In early April, at the NoCo Hemp Expo in Loveland, Colo., the near limitless potential of hemp was on display. An estimated crowd of 10,000 curious enthusiasts, among them Native people, crowded into the convention center to view hemp in forms you can fuel your car with, eat in chocolate or pesto sauce, slather on as shampoo, and wear. The trade show was not about “bongs” and tie-dye—rather, it featured the latest harvesting and processing equipment, innovations in hemp farming and up-to-date regulatory analysis. 

The industry has certainly arrived in good time.

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