Rural America

Friday, Aug 3, 2018, 1:00 pm  ·  By Debbie Weingarten

Tech Shakeups Disrupt Food Stamp Services in Farmers Markets

Daley Center Farmers Market   (image: flickr/Creative Commons/Daniel X. O'Neil)

By July, farmers’ markets across the country are in full swing. But for many farmers’ market managers, the mid-season momentum turned to confusion and scramble on July 9, after The Washington Post reported that a change in government contracts could leave 1,700 farmers’ markets without the ability to accept SNAP dollars from low-income customers.

Nova Dia Group, an Austin-based tech provider, processes up to 40 percent of all farmers’ market SNAP transactions nationwide. But two weeks ago, they announced they would discontinue the service on July 31 (this deadline has since been extended by another month). While Novo Dia has largely received the brunt of everyone’s frustrations these last two weeks, it hardly seems their fault. Instead, the debacle exposes a tangle of federal, state, and private entities and a failure to coordinate government technology in a rapidly evolving landscape.

SNAP customers use Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards just like a credit card. When a customer pays for groceries with an EBT card, the transaction information is sent from the grocery store to the state processing agency, and funds are deducted from the SNAP customer’s account. With the emergence of programs aimed at encouraging SNAP customers to spend their benefits at farmers’ markets, a mobile solution for card processing had to be created. That’s where Nova Dia’s MobileMarket Plus app comes in—it’s currently the only app that works on Apple systems.


Thursday, Aug 2, 2018, 11:00 am  ·  By Christopher Walljasper

Slaughterhouses Offer Rural Communities Employment but Low Wages

Workers in a Hog Slaughter and Processing Plant Use Hooks and Other Tools  

Animal slaughtering and processing operations make up a large portion of the total jobs available in rural America, meaning these jobs are some of the best options for some Americans where steady, full-time work can be scarce.

Slaughterhouses employ a half-a-million workers in more than 7,000 facilities across the U.S., and 38 percent are classified by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as “butchers and other meat, poultry, and fish processing workers.”

These are the people on the floor, taking live animals and turning them into the record amount of meat Americans are expected to consume in 2018. The USDA estimates more than 200 lbs. of read meat and poultry will be consumed per person this year.

While these jobs are available across the country, the largest employers operate facilities with thousands of employees in rural areas, what the BLS refers to as “nonmetropolitan areas.”


Wednesday, Aug 1, 2018, 1:30 pm  ·  By Amanda M. Countryman

No One Wins in a Trade War, Especially not American Farmers

Farmer scouting and inspecting weeds in soybean fields.   (image: Flickr/Creative Commons/United Soybean Board)

The Trump administration plans to give American farmers and ranchers hurt by the current trade war US$12 billion in emergency relief to mitigate the impact of tariffs on their exports. 

While this may lessen the blow of an already struggling agricultural economy in the short run, it is only a Band-Aid. As an agricultural economist, I know that no one really wins in a trade war. As someone who grew up on a cotton and alfalfa farm in rural Arizona, I know firsthand that producers want access to markets – not government handouts. 

If the trade conflict with China continues much longer, it will likely leave lasting scars on the entire agricultural sector as well as the overall U.S. economy.


Wednesday, Jul 25, 2018, 11:00 am  ·  By David Keiser, Gabriel E. Lade and Ivan Rudik

Ozone Levels in National Parks are Now Similar to Cities, Why Does it Matter?

Joshua Tree National Park   (image: Christopher Michel/Flickr/Creative Commons)

“Another glorious day, the air as delicious to the lungs as nectar to the tongue” – John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra (1911)

Most Americans associate U.S. national parks with pristine environments that represent the very best of nature. In the 1916 law that established the National Park Service, Congress directed the new agency to “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” 

But over the past century it has become increasingly hard to protect the parks from impacts of human activities outside their boundaries. In 2015 the National Parks Conservation Association, a national advocacy group, released a blistering report giving many popular parks poor grades for unhealthy air, haze and impacts from climate change. 

In a study just published in Science Advances, we analyzed levels of ozone, the most widely monitored pollutant in parks, and their impact on visits to 33 national parks from 1990 to 2014. The sites we studied included popular parks such as Acadia, the Grand CanyonGreat Smoky MountainsJoshua TreeSequoia and Kings Canyon and Yosemite. We found that while cities once had more “bad air days” with unhealthy ozone levels than national parks, today parks and metro areas have virtually the same number of unhealthy ozone days per year on average. We also found that park visits fall on high ozone days – especially during summer and fall, when peak ozone levels typically occur.


Tuesday, Jul 24, 2018, 11:00 am  ·  By Sacoby Wilson

How Factory Farm Pollution Harms the Quality of Life in Rural Communities

Smoke billows from a building at Horstmeier Farms where deceased hogs are incinerated on Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014 in Callaway County, Missouri. Hog waste fertilizer was being spread on the Horstmeier’s property when a large spill entered a tributary of Miller Creek.   (image: KOMUnews / Flickr / Creative Commons)

As U.S. livestock farming becomes more industrial, it is changing rural life. Many people now live near Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) – large facilities that can house thousands of animals in close quarters. Neighbors have to contend with noxious odors, toxic emissions and swarms of insects, and have had little success in obtaining relief – but this could be changing.

On April 26, Murphy Brown LLC, a division of Smithfield Foods, was required to pay $75,000 in compensatory damages and $50 million in punitive damages in a nuisance lawsuit filed by ten residents of Bladen County, North Carolina over impacts from a nearby hog farm. On June 29, another North Carolina jury awarded $25 million to a couple in Duplin County in a similar lawsuit against Smithfield Foods. Other cases are pending in North Carolina and Iowa.

Smithfield Foods is the largest hog processor and producer in the world, so these verdicts are major victories for people organizing against industrialized animal agriculture. Based on my experience studying environmental health at the community level, I see them as breakthroughs after decades of government failure to protect rural communities from negative impacts of CAFOs.


Wednesday, Jul 18, 2018, 11:00 am  ·  By Justin Perkins

A New Native-Led Strategy for Fighting Keystone XL

A child examines sacred Ponca corn seeds June 10 at the fifth annual planting in Nebraska. (Photo by Alex Matzke)  

NELIGH, NEB.—Ponca tribal activists Casey Camp-Horinek and Larry Wright Jr. sit beside Nebraska farmers Art and Helen Tanderup at a folding table on open farmland. Nearly 100 people, including landowners, candidates for the state Public Service Commission and members of surrounding tribes, have gathered here for the fifth annual planting of sacred Ponca corn.

The Tanderups pass a slip of paper across a table adorned with a painted buffalo robe. Camp-Horinek, councilwoman of the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma, and Wright, tribal chairman of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska, receive the paper. “This day,” Camp-Horinek declares, “the course of the Black Snake has changed.”


Wednesday, Jul 18, 2018, 11:00 am  ·  By John Ikerd

Land Trusts Are a Step Toward a Step Toward a Sustainable Future for Agriculture

(image: John Ikerd)

“The Sustainable Iowa Land Trust or SILT was launched 2015 to help save and protect the best of the family farm – small, diverse, clean farms that feed Iowans.” The SILT website proclaims, “We are dedicated to permanently protecting land to grow healthy food for generations to come.” Farmland trusts, like SILT, are a means of making more farmland available for sustainable production of healthy foods.

Sustainable agricultural easements administered by SILT remove speculative pressures that keep costs of farmland too high to be paid for by sustainable farming. Farmland owned by SILT is made available to farmers through long term leases that allow farmers to benefit from appreciation in the farm business without the economic challenges of land purchase and ownership.  SILT also works through private and public partnerships to facilitate land ownership transfers and land use planning to “permanently protect land to grow healthy food for future generations.”

In its short three-year’s lifespan, SILT has protected 5 farms with more than 400 total acres. This is an impressive start, but a start on what might seem an impossible mission. With the average age of U.S. farmers over 58-years old, something like 92 million acres or 10% of U.S. farmland has changed hands in the past five years.  In the next 20 years, approximately 70% of U.S. farmland is likely to change hands. It’s certainly going to be an uphill battle to make U.S. farmland accessible and affordable to farmers who are committed to the sustainable, regenerative farming systems needed protect the land and grow healthy food for generations to come.


Wednesday, Jul 11, 2018, 12:00 pm  ·  By Leilani Clark

The Transition into a New Life: Church Land into Farmland

(Woody Hibbard/Flickr)

Last summer, young farmer Moses Kashem broke ground on a neglected 1/2-acre of land owned by St. Simon’s Episcopal Church in Miami, Florida. A year later, the lot has been transformed into a diversified vegetable farm, providing crops such as lettuce, heirloom tomatoes, herbs, and eggplant to Whole Foods, several local restaurants, and a 30-member community supported agriculture (CSA) program.

Originally from Bangladesh, Kashem launched his farming career at Florida International University. When a lease on state-owned land didn’t pan out, he turned his attention to an overgrown 4-acre piece of land owned by the church he had attended with his wife, Erin, since 2013. The 28-year-old asked the church’s vestry if he might farm the land.

At first, some of the elders balked, but they eventually agreed to allow Kashem to sign a three-year lease, which he hopes to extend to 10 years. In exchange, he promised the church 15 percent of the farm’s profits along with outreach through farm-to-table dinners and cooking classes. Some of the church members even helped him pay to fence off the land.


Monday, Jul 9, 2018, 11:00 am  ·  By B.A. Morelli

Quality Over Quantity: Shrinking Towns Can Thrive

Bancroft, IA in Kossuth County had a population of 732 according to the 2010 census. Population peaked in 1970 at 1,103 and then experienced a 20.8% decline between 1980s 1,082 residents and the 1990 population of 857.   (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

When Krista Looft first moved to the north-central Iowa town of Bancroft in 2012, she was a little concerned about starting a life here.

She moved with her husband Jaimes, whom she met in a Future Farmers of America scholarship program while each was attending different high schools. They hit it off on a trip to Washington, D.C.

They married young and lived in a tiny apartment in Emmetsburg while Krista studied to be an administrative professional and Jaimes a diesel mechanic at Iowa Lakes Community College. After graduating, Jaimes got a job at Deitering Brothers, one of two farm implement dealers in Bancroft.

Bancroft is a small, and getting smaller, farming community most recently pegged at around 700 people. It’s one of the fastest shrinking of Iowa’s 942 cities. Located about 20 miles south of the Minnesota border on Highway 169, it is the second largest city in Kossuth County after county seat Algona.

Bancroft has no traffic lights and is about an hour from an interstate. The last local school — the parochial grade school, St. John’s — closed about five years ago. The high school closed in 1989.


Thursday, Jul 5, 2018, 5:30 pm  ·  By Holly Ann Stovall

Rural Illinois’ Stake in the Poor People’s Campaign

On the first Monday of the campaign, activists gathered in front of the Illinois Capitol to share stories of their struggles with disability and health care   (Image: Holly Ann Stovall)

I live in a place called Forgottonia. Others call it McDonough County, Illinois. Four hours southwest of Chicago, 3 hours due north of St. Louis. An hour from the mighty Mississippi River. With 23 percent of the population living below the poverty line, we are one of the most impoverished counties in the state and no one seems to care outside of the 30,000 people who live here. Some who live here don’t care either.

To raise awareness of our plight I travelled to the Springfield Capitol, and once to Chicago, every Monday for 40 days, as part of the Illinois Poor People’s Campaign for Moral Revival. We are a movement that challenges systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, and ecological devastation. We took our inspiration, as the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s Poor People’s Campaign approached, from Rev. William Barber of North Carolina and Rev. Liz Theoharris, Co-Director of the Kairos Center. They picked up the campaign where King left off.

We rally and risk arrest to pressure state legislators and the governor to attack poverty. Most of the activists in Springfield came from Chicago, but poverty and its intersecting factors plague rural towns, as well, so I, also, made the 75-mile drive.