Rural America

Friday, Nov 1, 2019, 7:47 pm  ·  By April Simpson

As Local News Outlets Shutter, Rural America Suffers Most

In the United States, 225 counties do not have a locally based newspaper. Nearly half of all counties, 1,528, have only one newspaper, usually a weekly. This graphic uses data from the University of North Carolina Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media’s Database of Newspapers and the U.S. Census Bureau.   (Graphic courtesy of Stateline)

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by Stateline, an initiative of the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Journalism professor Penny Muse Abernathy lives in a news desert. She says there’s little local media coverage of Scotland County, North Carolina, among the poorest in the Tar Heel state. Her television news broadcasts come from neighboring South Carolina. 

As a result, it’s difficult to find local news or information on relevant state issues that she could vote on, Abernathy said.

A vibrant free press, protected from government interference by the First Amendment, can hold the powerful to account and empower readers to make informed decisions on major issues. Newspapers and other local media outlets reflect community values, and when they go under, there is less coverage of the high school sports and community events that bind people together.

Amid the steady decline in local news, some states are considering stepping in to support the Fourth Estate. But critics worry that doing so might undermine the press’s role as a government watchdog.

“There’s this adversarial relationship that exists and needs to exist,” said Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky in Lexington.

News deserts — communities with limited access to credible and comprehensive news — are especially prevalent in rural America. More than 500 of the 1,800 newspapers that have closed or merged since 2004 were in rural communities, according to a 2018 report, “The Expanding News Desert,” written by Abernathy for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media.


Monday, Oct 28, 2019, 2:17 pm  ·  By Kyle Hopkins

Alaska’s Uneven Rural Law Enforcement System Often Leaves Remote Villages With No Cops

Chenega, Alaska, a remote village of less than 100 people, has one village public safety officer, but other, larger Alaska villages have none at all.   (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Editor's Note: This story was originally published by ProPublica, which produced it in partnership with the Anchorage Daily News.

In his first seven months as a village public safety officer (VPSO) in the remote Alaska village of Chenega, Andrew Jonda has enjoyed world-class fishing and gorgeous ocean views.

What he hasn’t done is make a single arrest.

That’s because the community Jonda has been hired with public money to protect is home to only 40 to 60 people. “The crime rate is much lower than other places around the rest of Alaska and the U.S.,” he said.

Which raises a question: When villages 10 times as large go without law enforcement of any kind, why is Chenega one of the last Alaska communities served by a VPSO?

An analysis by the Anchorage Daily News and ProPublica has found that as the number of Alaska VPSOs sharply declined in recent years, the scant remaining officers are increasingly likely to work in communities with fewer than 100 residents. The towns and villages served by VPSOs today have fewer Alaska Natives residents, higher per capita income levels and are more likely to be on the road system than in 2005, our review found.


Thursday, Oct 24, 2019, 6:02 pm  ·  By Lisa Schulte Moore

Transforming Agriculture Should Be at the Forefront of National Discussion

Iowa State University professor Tom Isenhart inspects a strip of native grass that combines with rows of shrubs and trees to form a protective riparian buffer along Bear Creek in Story County, Iowa.   Photo by Lynn Betts, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses bring the state a lot of political attention during presidential election cycles. But in my view, even though some candidates have outlined positions on food and farming, agriculture rarely gets the attention it deserves.

As a scientist at Iowa’s land-grant university, I believe our state is at the forefront of redefining what agriculture could be in the U.S., and addressing environmental and economic challenges associated with the extensive monocultures that dominate our current system. I think these conversations should be at the forefront nationally. After all, everyone needs to eat, so all Americans have a stake in the future of farming.


Saturday, Oct 19, 2019, 12:53 pm  ·  By Jonathan R. Latham

This is Why Gene Editing of Plants and Animals Needs to be Regulated

Gene editing has many potential uses. There's also a lot that can go wrong.   (Image by Ernesto del Aguila III, National Human Genome Research Institute, NIH)

Gene editing of DNA inside living cells has many potential uses — from treating human disease to altering crops and livestock for agriculture — and is often considered the preeminent technological breakthrough of the new millennium. For example, in a move that has been widely criticized, Chinese researcher He Jiankui claims to have edited human babies to resist HIV by altering a gene called CCR5.

For most commercial applications gene editing’s appeal is simplicity and precision: It alters genomes at precise sites, without inserting foreign DNA. This is why, in popular articles, gene editing is often referred to as “tweaking.”

The tweaking narrative, however, is an assumption and not an established fact. And it recently suffered a large dent.


Thursday, Oct 17, 2019, 8:15 am  ·  By Dave Dickey

Trump Gaslights Farmers on Trade War, But They’re Catching On

President Donald Trump displays caps reading "Make our Farmers Great Again" while departing the White House on August 30, 2018.   (Photo by Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

This story was originally published on The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting

The nexus for defining gaslighting comes from Ingrid Bergman's brilliant performance as Paula in George Cukor's 1944 film Gaslight. In the movie Bergman's character witnessed the murder of her aunt as a child. Years later she marries Gregory who, in a twist of fate, returns with her to live in the very house where her aunt was killed. As it turns out Gregory isn't a loving husband, but rather a cold and calculated abuser whose insidious and chilling lies and actions have Paula coming unhinged and doubting her sanity.

Over seven decades later, gaslighting has become a White House weapon of choice in trying to convince individual American farmers all is well while they suffer financially from the POTUS agricultural policy choices. (By the way, as early as February 2017 I cautioned in a blog that farmers needed to be on alert.)

So what is gaslighting? We'll define it as manipulative behavior designed to sow seeds of uncertainty in victims with the objective of gaining power and control. Over time, gaslighting creates self-doubt, which causes the victims to question their reality. The POTUS and his toadies have been gaslighting farmers in general and soybean farmers in particular with his trade war against China.


Friday, Oct 11, 2019, 12:00 pm  ·  By James Dinneen

A Fire Kept Burning: Mohawks In The North Country Work to Revive their Language

A sign greets visitors outside Ganienkeh Territorial Bingo.   Photo by James Dinneen

It was morning on Ganienkeh, a Mohawk community near the Canadian border in Upstate New York, and about ten people had showed up for the daily tobacco burning ceremony. Mostly older folks, 7 a.m., sipping coffee, smoking, and chatting softly. We sat at picnic tables around a fire, surrounded by high pines. The fire was covered by two panels of corrugated metal to protect it from the rain. A man seated next to me explained that the fire had been kept burning continuously for years, too many to remember when it last went out.

Though Ganienkeh Territory is officially only a few hundred acres, the word Ganienkeh—also spelled Kanièn:ke—refers to the much larger pre-colonial Mohawk homeland, “The Land of the Flint.” The contemporary Ganienkeh was established in 1974 to be a home for people who wished to live by traditional Iroquois laws and to live outside the reservation systems of the Canadian and American governments.

That year, a group of Mohawk militants repossessed an abandoned girls’ summer camp near Moss Lake, New York. After the occupation, which lasted more than three years and attracted international attention, the Ganienkeh Mohawks negotiated an unprecedented land swap with New York State in which they would leave Moss Lake in exchange for land further north. Though the land is technically held by a trust, the Ganienkeh Mohawks deny the legality of the 18th century treaty that forms the basis for any land claims by the U.S. government, and consider Ganienkeh to be sovereign territory. Several people described all the legal business to me as mere “paper shuffling.”


Friday, Oct 4, 2019, 4:06 pm  ·  By Christopher Walljasper

Food Production is a Major Cause of Climate Change, but Farmers Can be Part of the Solution

A fire burns in the Amazon area of rural settlement PDS Nova Fronteira, in the city of Novo Progresso, Para state, northern Brazil, on Sept. 3. According to Amazon Watch, many of the fires consuming the rain forest are intentionally set to clear land for cattle pasture and soybean production.   (Photo by Gustavo Basso/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Editor's Note: This story was originally published on The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.

Farming, more than any other industry, might be the best hope for curbing climate change.

The global food production system, which includes agriculture, accounts for more than a third of man-made greenhouse gases, according to an August report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

And while past focus has been on industries such as fossil fuels and transportation, new attention is being put on agriculture’s role in the climate change solution. On Sept. 18, a coalition representing 10,000 farmers and ranchers delivered a letter to Congress supporting the Green New Deal, a congressional resolution to transition the United States to 100 percent clean energy by 2030.

“Farmers and ranchers are on the front lines of the climate crisis. Their livelihoods are put at risk by more intense droughts and storms and flooding, and extreme heat and humidity are endangering the health of farm workers,” said New Mexico Congresswoman Deb Haaland at a press conference announcing the coalition. “It makes all the sense in the world that farmers and ranchers support our Green New Deal resolution.”


Tuesday, Oct 1, 2019, 9:39 am  ·  By Jennifer Hemmingsen

Seeking a Cure: What can be done to stop the rash of rural hospital closures?

The Mayo Clinic Health Systems’ clinic in Arcadia, Wis., is seen on Sept. 19, 2019. The area's hospital closed in 2011. This new clinic was built in 2016 to meet primary health care needs of the area's rural residents.   (Photo by Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Watch)

Small rural Midwest community hospitals, squeezed by financial and regulatory pressures, are scaling back on services, merging with larger hospital systems and searching for other creative ways to survive in the short term, an Institute for Nonprofit News investigation by 12 news organizations in seven states revealed.

Rural health experts said the real challenge in this quiet transformation will be to redesign rural health delivery so that residents do not lose access to high quality, timely care.

“Usually there are two sides to every story, but there are not really in this one,” said Alan Morgan, chief executive officer at the National Rural Health Association. “Everyone realizes we’re at a crisis point.”


Thursday, Sep 19, 2019, 12:51 pm  ·  By John Ikerd

Can the Corporate Takeover of Dairy Farms be Stopped?

This photo shows a confined dairy cattle feeding operation in Yuma, Arizona in October 2011. The increasing corporatization of dairy production has driven many farmers out of business, reducing the number of American dairy farmers by 93% since 1970.   (Photo by Jeff Vanuga, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service/Wikimedia Commons)

We are now seeing a corporate takeover of dairy production, which is the last bastion of full-time, independent family farms in animal agriculture.

In an April 2018 blog post, Farm Aid noted that, since 1970, the number of American dairy farmers has dropped by more than 93%, from more than 640,000 to about 40,000 today.

The post goes on: “In an industry dominated by corporate interests, family farms are constantly at risk of going under. A consistent, severe slump in milk prices in recent years has pushed many dairy farm businesses beyond the point of survival. In the last year, there’s been a 3% drop in the number of dairy farms, with the future of those remaining increasingly uncertain.”

There has been little cause for hope over the year since this Farm Aid blog post and little hope for a significant improvement in prices for at least a year in the future. Considering this stark situation, independent dairy farmers would do well to review how the corporate takeover of other sectors of animal agriculture has come about.


Monday, Sep 16, 2019, 5:12 pm  ·  By Conner Martinez

Private Prisons Are a Dead-End Economic Recovery Model. Just Ask This California Town.

The privately run immigrant detention center in Adelanto, Calif., could shut down as soon as next March. (John Moore/Getty Images)  

Driving into the rural community of Adelanto, Calif., you are greeted by a large sign that reads “Adelanto, The City With Unlimited Possibilities.” Unfortunately, the sign’s statement is incompatible with the environment surrounding it, a seemingly endless desert with sparse housing, almost no community spaces and a massive immigration detention center.

Adelanto’s reality may finally change, however, with a new bill (AB 32) banning private prisons, including immigrant detention centers, passed by the legislature September 11, and now expected to be signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom (D). Though the effects are uncertain, the bill’s passing could mean Adelanto’s detention center closing as early as next March. That would not only put an end to the consistent human rights violations committed inside the facility, but it would also end the city’s long, failed attempt at using detention as a development strategy, providing an example for other rural communities across America who have gone down the same disastrous path.