Rural America

Monday, Feb 19, 2018, 9:00 am  ·  By Matthew Gritter

Trump on America’s Hungry: Let Them Eat “Harvest Boxes”

The first food stamp (above) was issued on April 20, 1939.   (Image: Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum)

The Trump administration would like to slash what the government spends on food for low-income Americans.

Its latest budget proposal calls for reducing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) outlays by $200 billion over the next decade and replacing about half of the aid delivered through this mainstay of the American safety net with what it’s calling “harvest boxes” of nonperishable items like pasta, canned meat and peanut butter. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue says this new approach would cut costs and give states, which administer the SNAP program, “flexibility.” 

While researching the history of SNAP and other government efforts to help Americans who face economic hardship get enough to eat, I have been struck by how, while the leaders who pioneered the program and its precursors were Democrats, it has long benefited from bipartisan support. Even as other welfare spending was cut, the kind of assistance that used to be called food stamps has persisted.


Thursday, Feb 15, 2018, 6:00 am  ·  By Evaggelos Vallianatos

A New Look at the Wartime History of Pesticides

A mother and child wear gas-masks as they pass a notice saying "Warning. Tear Gas Is Being Discharged."   (Image: Central Press/Getty Images)

When I entered the Office of Pesticide Programs of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1979, I knew practically nothing about pesticides. Though I had taken classes in chemistry in college and had even written my first book about industrialized agriculture, nothing prepared me for the secrets I uncovered during 25 years of work in a bureaucracy designed and brought up to keep secrets.

My colleagues opened my eyes to the secret world of chemical sprays deceptively known as pesticides. They kept answering my questions and, more than that, they started giving me their memos, briefings and scientific papers. They did not see much controversy in the “regulation” of pesticides. Most thought pesticides were necessary for farming.

In fact, EPA economists always defended pesticides, suggesting that without them food prices would go through the roof. Other EPA scientists like biologists, ecologists, chemists and toxicologists monitored those chemicals for ecological and health effects. They had read the pesticide law—The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act—and, some of them, were authors of regulations for their use on farms, lawns, homes, factories and the natural world.

Who was going to object to the killing of “pests” like insects, rodents, fungi, and weeds?

It did not take me long to object to the use of pesticides, however. My knowledge about these chemicals increased rapidly. The writings of my colleagues and the discussions I had with them convinced me pesticides were more than pesticides. They are petrochemical biocides. They kill everything.


Tuesday, Feb 13, 2018, 3:00 pm  ·  By John Ikerd

How Big Ag Is Borrowing Big Tobacco’s Playbook

Hogs in a concentrated animal feeding operation (left) and cigarettes in production.   (Images: /

Questions of “sound science” and “burden of proof” invariably arise from conflicting indictments and defenses of industrial agricultural as either a threat or service to public interests. Defenders invariably insist that any regulation of industrial agriculture should be based on sound science, which places the burden of proof on the public rather than the perpetrator. In the absence of a scientific consensus, the precautionary principle would place the burden of proof on industrial agriculture rather than the public. Not surprisingly, the agricultural agenda of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the architect of industrial agricultural policy, lists its support of “science-based decisions” and opposition to the “precautionary principle” among its public policy priorities.

In a recent column, agricultural journalist Alan Guebert wrote: “For more than 20 years, farm and ranch groups, Congress, and Big Agbiz have used the phrase ‘sound science’ like a sharp shovel to undermine agricultural policy they want to alter or bury. Ask them to define ‘sound science,’ however, and you’ll get no clear explanation. That’s because ‘sound science’ is a political weapon, not a branch of knowledge.”

Another recent column by Washington Post health columnist, Christie Aschwanden, points out, “The sound science tactic exploits a fundamental feature of the scientific process: Science does not produce absolute certainty. Science is a process rather than an answer.” It is not scientifically correct to claim that a given scientific study or collection of studies actually prove anything. Science can only increase or decrease the confidence of scientists regarding the validity of fallacy of something—not provide absolute proof. Still, the defenders of industrial agriculture do not accept even a “scientific consensus” as “sound science.”


Monday, Feb 12, 2018, 12:00 pm  ·  By Alison Stine

My County is Poor and Remote. Fracking Companies Think They Can Abuse It.

Demonstrators in Athens County, Ohio, rally in support of the "Athens Eight"—eight local farmers and business owners who were arrested after blocking frack waste trucks from accessing an injection well site in 2014.   (Image: Appalachia Resist)

My southeastern Ohio town in the Appalachian foothills is a small, rural place where the demolition derby is a hot ticket, Walmart is the biggest store, and people in the surrounding villages must often drive for 30 minutes to grocery shop.

Athens holds the unfortunate distinction of being the poorest county in the state: an area that is both stunning—with rolling hills, rocky cliffs, pastures, and ravines—and inaccessible, far from industry.

It’s here, at the Hazel Ginsburg well in Alexander Township, that fracking companies dump their waste. Trucks ship that sludge of toxic chemicals and undrinkable water across the country and inject it into my county’s forgotten ground.

My step-grandmother, the daughter of a Kentucky miner, used to tell me stories of washing her clothes in polluted red water, downstream from mines. Coal companies exploited employees like her father, paying him in company scrip and keeping him poor and exploiting the land.

That kind of abuse continues. It’s just changed shape. The Ginsburg well has a long history of violations, so many that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources ordered it shut.

It was not.


Thursday, Feb 8, 2018, 12:00 pm  ·  By John Collins

The Community Rights Movement to the New Hampshire House: Let the People Decide What’s Best

(Image: Flickr)

When you combine an economic system that requires constant growth in order to function, with a legal system that mistakes corporations for “people”—you inevitably wind up with a few extremely powerful corporations and a lot of powerless people. Furthermore, when that same system regards nature as property, thus allowing those in control to do whatever they see fit with a given area’s natural resources, long-term ecological health takes a backseat to short-term profits. For decades, communities across the country have been learning this lesson the hard way.

In recent years in New Hampshire, energy development projects and the application of sewage sludge on farmland have sparked resident concerns over contamination of local water supplies. In addition, according to the EPA’s latest Toxics Release Inventory Program ​data, the small state is home to 127 of the 21,600 toxic sites monitored by the agency. Maintaining that a weakening of citizen’s rights at home has left their communities defenseless against ever-worsening corporate abuses, a group of Granite Staters are challenging the legal ​system that in effect grants corporations a license to pollute by denying local governments the right to control what occurs within their jurisdictions.

When citizens determine that the actions of a corporation pose an economic, environmental or public health threat to their community—whether it’s a new pipeline, a factory farm, a facility generating industrial waste, a mining operation etc.—and they try to stop that entity from setting up shop in their town, they’re often surprised to learn that (despite what the Declaration of Independence says about “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”) they are powerless to do anything about it.

This is by design. Over time, one state legislature after another has passed preemption laws—legal doctrines restricting a city, town, or county’s legal authority to regulate its economy or protect its environment—that prioritize corporate interests over those of local communities. In other words, corporations usually get what they want because the law, as it is written, is on their side, not yours.

Instead of fighting each and every corporate assault—on people or on nature—on a case-by-case basis, the community rights movement, a grassroots network of people who’ve had it up to here with corporate power, is working on the local, state and federal levels to address the problem at its source. The National Community Rights Network (NCRN) and its affiliates in states across the country are attempting to end government-sanctioned corporate exploitation by amending state and federal constitutions in order to “codify a community’s inalienable right to self-governance.”


Monday, Feb 5, 2018, 6:00 am  ·  By Thomas Linzey

No More Fairy Tales: Why the United States Needs a Whole New Operating System

"The Fairy Tale" by James Sant.   (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Here’s one final New Year’s resolution: let’s stop lying to each other.

Let’s stop lying about the state of the planet and what it will really take to fix it. Let’s stop lying about who the “founding fathers” were and what kind of constitution they wrote. Let’s stop lying to each other that we can fix everything by electing better people to office.

We live in a bubble of myths. They scramble our brains. They make it difficult for us to see the forest, rather than just individual trees; especially when the most powerful forces within our system whisper those myths incessantly in our ears.

While it’s certainly easier to blame the latest president for our state of affairs, the reality is much more troubling—that we have a system of law and government which poses as a working democracy while guaranteeing the destruction of the planet. In other words, it’s the hardware, not the software. It’s a faulty system.

Here’s what we believe:

  • We believe that the planet is in bad shape, but that we can fix it by recycling, buying electric cars, and taking shorter showers.
  • We believe in the “founding fathers,” the “rule of law,” and our constitution, and that we need to “strengthen” our democracy, which assumes we had one to begin with.

As they say, denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.


Thursday, Feb 1, 2018, 2:00 pm  ·  By Linley Dixon

Why Is the Biodiversity Rule for USDA Organic Certification Not Being Enforced?

According to the National Organic Program, organic practices "foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance and conserve biodiversity."   (Image:

Regardless of whether a farm is certified organic or not, when you step on a real organic farm, you know it. How? Biodiversity. While surprising to many, biodiversity is not an esoteric, incalculable quality. In fact, it is relatively easy to quantify. And by law, certifiers should be doing just that. Biodiversity can be measured in the soil, on the ground, or even in the air.

Lack of enforcement of the requirement to conserve biodiversity on organic farms is among the biggest failures of USDA’s National Organic Program.

The USDA regulations state that organic production “responds to site-specific conditions by integrating cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.”

If there is regulatory language that mandates biodiversity on organic farms, why are there so many certified organic industrial monoculture operations that so clearly violate this requirement?


Tuesday, Jan 30, 2018, 12:00 pm  ·  By Tom Vilsack

Obama’s Secretary of Agriculture Weighs in on the 2018 Farm Bill

Nov. 13, 2015—Then- U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack speaks with Provincial Agriculture Deputy Julio Martinez during a visit to a local farmers market in Havana, Cuba.   (Image: Lydia Barraza / USDA)

Since the turn of the year, Congress and the Trump administration have been haggling over legislative priorities for 2018. Many issues are on the agenda, from health care to infrastructure, but there has been little mention of a key priority: The 2018 farm bill.

This comprehensive food and agriculture legislation is typically enacted every four or five years. When I became U.S. secretary of agriculture in January 2009, I learned quickly that the bill covers much more than farms and farmers. In fact, every farm bill also affects conservation, trade, nutrition, jobs and infrastructure, agricultural research, forestry and energy.

Drafting the farm bill challenges Congress to meet broad needs with limited resources. The new farm bill will be especially constrained by passage of the GOP tax plan, which sharply reduces taxes on the wealthy and large companies, and by concerns about the size of the federal budget deficit. Farm bill proponents will have to work even harder now than in the past to underscore the magnitude and impact of this legislation, and the ways in which it affects everyone living in the United States.


Sunday, Jan 28, 2018, 6:00 am  ·  By Dan Bensonoff

How the Hydroponics Industry Is Undermining Everything the Organic Farming Movement Stands For

Dave Chapman, an organic tomato farmer in East Thetford, Vt, stands with his team of oxen in the early 1980s.   (Image: Long Wind Farm)

Editor’s note: In the 1990s, when the Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) was drafting what it would mean to be “certified organic,” they defined organic agriculture, in part, as “an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity.” In other words, USDA set legal standards for a system of food production that, unlike the ecologically destructive, tremendously profitable industrial model, focused on the long-term health of the land (i.e. soil) and water on which hard-working farmers cultivate food. In theory, at least, the USDA’s “organic seal” would allow consumers to identify the goods produced by those farmers willing to put in the extra work—forgo the use of synthetic inputs, steer clear of genetic engineering, implement crop and grazing rotations etc.—and focus on sustainable growing practices.

Recently, however, hydroponic produce—fruits and vegetables grown in a controlled environment, in nutrient baths and without soil—has been dominating the industry. And the question as to whether or not soilless hydroponics should be “certified organic” has been the subject of fierce debate among organic farmers, food corporations and consumers. Last November at its meeting in Jacksonville, Fla., the NOSB, responding favorably to a massive lobbying effort on the part of industrial agribusiness, voted 8-to-7 to reject an attempt by the sustainable farming movement to prevent hydroponic produce from being certified organic. Many organic farmers insist that the decision is not only wrong but “illegal” under the Organic Food Production Act (OFPA). Below is an interview that explains why this issue is so important to those putting everything on the line to grow food responsibly.

Since 1984, Dave Chapman has been growing organic tomatoes at his Vermont-based Long Wind Farm. Until recently, he was content to keep his nose to the grind stone. But then, a few years ago, he started to notice something different about the organic tomatoes at all the grocery stores he visited: They were almost all hydroponically grown, and almost all were coming from just a few large companies.

Surely, he thought, this must be an oversight, since hydroponics had been banned since 2010. He started petitioning, digging and talking to figure out what this was all about. The hornet’s nest that he’s since dug up has become one of the most controversial issues in the organic industry. With deep integrity, Dave has been leading the charge to “keep the soil in organic” through rallies, presentations and public education.

I caught up with him at the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) Summer Conference to ask him why this issue is such a threat, and why it has become his cause célèbre.


Tuesday, Jan 23, 2018, 12:00 pm  ·  By Nick Siebrasse

Cattle Rancher to Cliven Bundy: You Steal from All of Us and Shouldn’t Be Welcomed in Montana

Cliven Bundy at a speaking engagement in 2014.   (Image: Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons)

The fringe element that wants to steal our shared national heritage—the lands and waters and fish and wildlife owned by us, the American people—is coming to Montana.

On Saturday, January 20, public lands abuser Cliven Bundy spoke at an anti-public lands gathering in Paradise, Mont. A group with ties to the region, The Coalition of Western Property Owners, promoted the event, which they called “Freedom and Property.” Neither is applicable to Mr. Bundy: He wants to divest us of the freedom represented by our public lands, and he’s already been stealing our property by illegally grazing his cattle.

Following the recent dismissal of federal charges, due to a major bungle by the government, Bundy and his followers walked free. (Not to be confused with other armed standoffs spearheaded by the Bundy clan, this round of litigation was in response to the 2014 confrontation on the Bundy’s ranch in Bunkerville, Nev., in which the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) seized some of Bundy’s cattle following his years of refusal to pay federal grazing fees.) Bundy has made no secret of his plans to continue undermining our American system of public lands and ultimately stealing them from you and me. His appearance in Sanders County is an attempt to advance his agenda.

Bundy shared the billing with Montana State Sen. Jennifer Fielder (R), who is also the CEO of a pro-public lands transfer organization called the American Lands Council. Fielder represents Sanders County, where Paradise is located. That an elected Montana lawmaker and head of a group that advocates for the “orderly” transfer of public lands is willing to align herself with a well-known scofflaw like Bundy should concern all of us who care about our public lands—not to mention the numerous benefits, including hunting, fishing and hiking, plus mining, logging and grazing, that these lands provide.