Rural Renewal Monitor



Supreme Court Lets Health Law Largely Stand, in Victory for Obama

New York Times | By Adam Liptak | June 28, 2012

Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

Supporters of the Affordable Care Act reacted after the decision.

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Thursday upheldPresident Obama’s health care overhaul law, saying its requirement that most Americans obtain insurance or pay a penalty was authorized by Congress’s power to levy taxes. The vote was 5 to 4, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joining the court’s four more liberal members.

The decision was a victory for Mr. Obama and Congressional Democrats, affirming the central legislative achievement of Mr. Obama’s presidency.

“The Affordable Care Act’s requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a tax,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote in the majority opinion. “Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness.”

At the same time, the court rejected the argument that the administration had pressed most vigorously in support of the law, that its individual mandate was justified by Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce. The vote was again 5 to 4, but in this instance Chief Justice Roberts and the court’s four more conservative members were in agreement.

The court also substantially limited the law’s expansion of Medicaid, the joint federal-state program that provides health care to poor and disabled people. Seven justices agreed that Congress had exceeded its constitutional authority by coercing states into participating in the expansion by threatening them with the loss of existing federal payments. Read more about Supreme Court Lets Health Law Largely Stand, in Victory for Obama

On the Farms of France, the Death of a Pixelated Workhorse

The New York Times | By Scott Sayare | June 27, 2012

Ed Alcock for The New York Times
Yves Denais using the Minitel on his dairy farm in the Brittany region of France.

PAIMPONT, France — A faint trail of mud and manure leads from the door of Yves Denais’s barn-floor office, overlooking the pens for his Holstein calves, to a cluttered desk atop which sits a compact beige plastic box that once placed Mr. Denais at the cutting edge of information technology.

The Minitel, the once-revolutionary online service that prefigured the Internet in the early 1980s, allowed the French to search a national phone registry, buy clothing and train tickets, make restaurant reservations, read newspapers or exchange electronic messages more than a decade before similar services existed almost anywhere else in the world. The network is now largely relegated to the realm of nostalgia, though, with its dial-up connection, black-and-white screen and text that scrolls out one pixelated character at a time. Read more about On the Farms of France, the Death of a Pixelated Workhorse

Vilsack Announces USDA Funding For Rural Jobs

USDA loans and grants will improve rural economic development and public transit, and add jobs.

FarmFutures.com | By Staff | June 27, 2012

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Tuesday the selection of 28 recipients in rural communities for loans and grants to spur economic development and create or save jobs.

"The funding will help rural businesses, entrepreneurs and tribal communities obtain the financing they need to grow their businesses and create jobs," Vilsack said.

Loans and grants are provided through the USDA Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant program, the Intermediary Relending Program, and the Rural Business Enterprise Grant program. Read more about Vilsack Announces USDA Funding For Rural Jobs

Tester takes concerns over rural broadband internet access straight to President

Tester told the President that the FCC should “rethink” its plan, saying that encouraging broadband internet investment in rural communities is proven to create jobs.

PoliticalNews.me | June 10, 2012

(BIG SANDY, Mont.) – Senator Jon Tester is taking his fight for rural broadband internet access straight to the President.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently developed a nationwide plan to reform the way resources are allocated and invested in broadband internet infrastructure. The plan could hurt Montana’s small businesses by discouraging broadband investment in rural America.

Tester told the President that the FCC should “rethink” its plan, saying that encouraging broadband internet investment in rural communities is proven to create jobs.

“Access to broadband internet service means access to bigger markets for Montana’s small businesses and new jobs on Main Street,” Tester said. “I encourage you to make sure any national plan doesn’t discriminate against Montana and rural America.” Read more about Tester takes concerns over rural broadband internet access straight to President

A Legal Battle Over Newly Returned Bison

Green Blog from the New York Times | By Leslie Macmillan | May 31, 2012

Bison that were relocated from Yellowstone National Park to the Fort Peck reservation in Montana.Lynn Donaldson for The New York Times

Bison that were relocated from Yellowstone National Park to the Fort Peck reservation in Montana.

The legal battle continues over the fate of a herd of wild bison that are roaming the plains of northern Montana for the first time in more than a century.

In March, 63 bison from Yellowstone National Park were relocated to the Fort Peck reservation in northern Montana by federal, state and tribal officials with help from environmentalists. The animals were received with great fanfare by members of the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes, and witnesses described it as an emotional event. “It’s something I’ll never forget,” said Jonathan Proctor, an official with with the group Defenders of Wildlife, which helped arrange the transfer. “I’ve worked on a lot of issues, prairie dogs to grizzly bears. But never before have I seen an animal that’s so important to people.” Read more about A Legal Battle Over Newly Returned Bison

Embattled U.S. Postal Service gets help from rural America

Chicago Tribune | By Emily Stephenson, Reuters | June 1, 2012

(Lucy Nicholson Reuters, REUTERS / February 14, 2012)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - As the U.S. Postal Service limps along, bleeding billions of dollars every financial quarter, congressional leaders are looking to a group of outspoken rural lawmakers for help with a dramatic restructuring of the agency.

Rural Americans say they regard their local post offices as the centers of their communities. With UPS and FedEx service limited or more expensive in some areas, many rely on the Postal Service to deliver medicines, while families need it to pay bills and small businesses and craftsmen use it to ship goods to customers.

The lawmakers representing these communities have fought bitterly against plans to close more than 3,600 post offices, end Saturday delivery and scale back overnight delivery - moves that have been proposed to get the Postal Service on better financial footing. Read more about Embattled U.S. Postal Service gets help from rural America

Organic farming grows, North Dakota No. 2 in the nation

The Dickinson Press | By Betsey Simon | May 11, 2012

Press Photo by Betsy Simon Organic farmer Patrick Frank preps his air seeder Wednesday before he begins the day working in the fields on his 1,200-acre property north of South Heart. Frank, who lives on his family farm 20 miles northwest of Dickinson, is a fourth-generation farmer and is one of only a few known organic farmers in the Stark County area.

Minus the lack of chemicals on his crops, life at Patrick Frank’s 1,200-acres of organic farmland north of South Heart mirrors that of any other farmer.

“There’s not really a difference in what I do, except that when spring comes instead of just jumping in a sprayer to spray weeds, I work with the equipment to get rid of weeds,” he said. “I also try to do more crop rotation to handle the pest problems. I guess maybe it’s more labor intensive because I’ve got to get out there and work the fields more often, whereas someone who’s not an organic farmer can just go out and put crop in the ground and spray, and they’re done ’til harvest.”

Organic farming is the fastest growing farming segment in a decade.

California leads the nation in organic cropland, followed by North Dakota, Minnesota, Montana and Wisconsin, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The USDA also reported in 2008 that 45 states had certified organic farmland, but organic farming still accounted for less than 1 percent of the nation’s cropland. Read more about Organic farming grows, North Dakota No. 2 in the nation

Rural doctors enjoy the challenges, benefits of small town practice

Chicago Tribune | By Annie Getsinger | May 8, 2012

ARTHUR — Drs. Sherry Williams and Kenneth Brown enjoy practicing medicine in the small community of Arthur. Both family physicians sought out jobs close to home in proximity and mind-set.

Williams, whose clinic is affiliated with Decatur Memorial Hospital, grew up and continues to live in Bethany. Brown, whose clinic is affiliated with St. Mary's Hospital, grew up in Arthur.

"I'm a local girl," Williams said.

Rural health care offers special challenges and rewards, the doctors said. Practicing in Arthur offers the opportunity to care for an array of patients, ranging from city dwellers to the area's Amish community. Read more about Rural doctors enjoy the challenges, benefits of small town practice

U.S. pulls back on closing rural post offices

Reuters | By Lily Kuo | May 9, 2012

Reuters(Reuters) - The U.S. Postal Service said it is abandoning for now its plan to close thousands of post offices in rural locations and will instead keep them operating with shorter opening hours.

The cash-strapped agency faced significant backlash from Congress and communities last summer when it began considering about 3,600 post offices for closure this year.

Instead, now 13,000 post offices with low traffic will shorten their operations to between two and six hours a day.

"We've listened to our customers in rural America and we've heard them loud and clear - they want to keep their post offices open," said Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe. "There's no plan for closings at this point." Read more about U.S. pulls back on closing rural post offices

Amid Rural Decay, Trees Take Root in Silos

The New York Times | By A.G. Sulzberger | April 29, 2012

Steve Hebert for The New York Times

A tree rises inside an empty silo near Lawrence, Kan.

EUDORA, Kan. — The sight is a familiar one along the dusty back roads of the Great Plains: an old roofless silo left to the elements along with decaying barns, chicken coops and stone homesteads.

This is the landscape of rural abandonment that defines a region that has struggled with generations of exodus.

But increasingly there are unexpected signs of rebirth. Many of these decrepit silos, once used to store feed for livestock, now just hollow columns of cinder blocks, have through happenstance transformed into unlikely nurseries for trees.

The empty structures catch seeds, then protect fragile saplings from the prairie winds and reserve a window of sunlight overhead like a target. In time, without tending by human hands, the trees have grown so high that lush canopies of branches now rise from the structures and top them like leafy umbrellas.

Across a region laden with leaning, crumbling reminders of more vibrant days, some residents have found comfort in their unlikely profiles. Read more about Amid Rural Decay, Trees Take Root in Silos

Warren Buffett's son tackles hunger in rural America

CBS News | By Seth Doane | April 19, 2012

(CBS News) DECATUR, Ill. - Billionaire Warren Buffett is well known for his charity work and so is his son Howard. On Thursday, Howard Buffett announced a new partnership to feed the needy with the food processing giant Archer Daniels Midland and Feeding America, a national hunger charity. 

Howard Buffett owns a 3,000-acre farm in Decatur, Illinois. Atop his tractor, he can see America's "bounty." But not far from here, he sees folks with almost nothing.

What Happened in Our History Books?

The Daily Yonder | By Aimee Howley, Karen Eppley, and Marged Howley | April 25, 2012

A study of textbooks over the past 50 years finds that high school students increasingly are being taught that rural America is a deprived and lonely place.

The future of rural, economies, communities, and residents depends in part on what Americans at large think about them. What do they think rural people and rural places are like? And where do they get their ideas about rural people and places?
 
We examined the contents of six widely used high school history books to learn what these books teach their readers across the U.S. about rural life. Our study reveals that over the past 50 years the characterization of rural America has changed.

Earlier books emphasized qualities of individualism and community spirit, stability and adventurousness in rural America, but texts in the past two decades primarily characterize rural as deficient. While both these messages about rural life were present to some degree in the books across all five decades, there has been a decided shift in emphasis. In the more recent texts, rural Americans’ industriousness and contributions to the nation’s democracy are downplayed, supplanted by references to rural ignorance, recklessness and despair. Read more about What Happened in Our History Books?

Shortage of U.S. farmers reaching epidemic proportions: USDA official

Iowa Farmer Today | April 12, 2012

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) —  An epidemic of sorts is sweeping across U.S. farmland, says USDA  Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan.

It has little to do with the usual challenges, like drought, rising fuel and feed prices or crop-eating pests. 

U.S. farmers and ranchers are getting older and there are fewer people standing in line to take their place.

New Mexico has the highest average age of farmers and ranchers of any state at nearly 60 years old, and neighboring Arizona and Texas aren’t far behind. Nationally, the latest agricultural census figures show the fastest growing group of farmers and ranchers are those over age 65.

The USDA is beginning work on its 2012 census, and Merrigan is afraid the average age will be even higher when the data is compiled.

‘If we do not repopulate our working lands, I don’t know where to begin to talk about the woes,’’ she told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “There is a challenge here, a challenge that has a corresponding opportunity.’’ Read more about Shortage of U.S. farmers reaching epidemic proportions: USDA official

New Web Site Dedicated to Living Well and Abundantly in Rural America Launches Today

PR Web | April 10, 2012

RuralRefined.com is a new web site targeted to people who choose to live in smaller towns. Because they live in smaller towns, they miss some of the options in bigger cities. http://RuralRefined.com offers big-city shopping for men, women and children, with discounted stores offering everything from Art and Books to Weddings and Wireless. The site also offers a community conversation forum that currently includes Rural Rants and Raves by town and state, an advice column, and a General Forum and Blog on Small Town Life.

Wenatchee, WA (PRWEB) -- Small town life can have some extraordinary benefits. No traffic. Large homes for less money. Wide open spaces. Friendly. Simple. A wonderful place to raise a family. Consumers in small towns can live a sweet life, but are often without some of the conveniences in larger cities. At http://RuralRefined.com, these smaller town residents can find big city shopping and always at great discounts.

Apparel, shoes, accessories for everyone in the family home and garden solutions, beauty products not often found in smaller towns (http://RuralRefined.com/Shopping) to outdoor and recreation, entertainment, gift options for everyone in your life, and stores for teens, weddings, electronics, travel, books, health and wellness and more. High quality stores hand-selected for their range of products and services. Visitors can sign up for the monthly e-newsletter for a sneak peek on new stores and deals added to the site.

But unique and discounted shopping is not the entire story. RuralRefined.com is also a community forum for those who live in smaller towns. Although Rural Refined is just launching its site, it is starting with Rural Rants and Raves, where people can choose their state and write anonymous rants or raves about things going on in their communities or people and businesses in their town. Read more about New Web Site Dedicated to Living Well and Abundantly in Rural America Launches Today

Restocking rural communities

Eurekalert.org | April 10, 2012

University initiative using funding to help reopen grocery stores, increase benefits to towns

MANHATTAN, Kan. -- A Kansas State University initiative is helping rural communities across the nation restock their town with a disappearing business: grocery stores.

Since 2007, members of the university's Rural Grocery Initiative have studied the struggles of grocery stores in rural communities and have worked with several communities to help those stores stay open or start a new grocery store. The initiative -- part of the university's Center for Engagement and Community Development -- was recently awarded a nearly $409,000 grant from the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative.

To date, the Rural Grocery Initiative has helped establish grocery stores in the Kansas towns of Plains, Morland and Minneola. Burlingame and other towns are in the process of introducing grocery stores back into the community. Read more about Restocking rural communities

Two young farmers breathe new life into retiring farmer's organic farm

Columbia Daily Tribune (Columbia, Missouri) | By Marcia Vanderlip | March 27, 2012

Leslie Touzeau, left, and Liberty Hunter look over seed packets Thursday at The Salad Garden.

Leslie Touzeau, left, and Liberty Hunter look over seed packets Thursday at The Salad Garden.

A couple of years ago, Dan Kuebler was approaching 60 and feeling the effects of 20 years of farming in Ashland on a small farm known as The Salad Garden. Growing organic vegetables involved hands-on planting, cultivating, insect and deer control, and constant weeding, which he calls "the bane of the organic farmer."

In 1990, he decided to begin farming on 1½ acres of the 30 acres of land he bought in 1977. It was situated on a picturesque hill above a pond. The next year, Kuebler began selling his produce at the Columbia Farmers Market and later served on the market's board for nine years. Kuebler tended the plot daily and also worked as a physical therapist three days a week. "I came home from work and worked until dark and beyond. When you are younger, you can do that," he said last Tuesday.

At 61, he says he is ready to retire. Even so, he isn't resting that much. He spent Monday of last week with a chain saw, taking down cedar trees that were shading some of his garden.

Still, since last year, his role on the farm has changed a bit. He still cuts the grass and helps with farm maintenance — such as putting up the new deer fence — but the day-to-day managing, planning, planting and cultivating, as well as the organic certification work, website marketing and the weeding is handled by his partners, Leslie Touzeau, 26, and Liberty Hunter, 24. Last season, the pair became the fresh new faces at The Salad Garden's stall at the Columbia Farmers Market, offering an array of garden goods, from celeriac and plump fennel bulb to salad mix. They enjoyed a plentiful season, though, like a lot of farmers around here, they had to contend with voles, deer and insects. Last week, the pair tended to seedlings, planted seed ahead of the rain and prepared for the first outdoor market of the year, which took place Saturday. Read more about Two young farmers breathe new life into retiring farmer's organic farm

To Cut Costs, Postal Service Turns to Rural Stores

The New York Times | By Ron Nixon | March 22, 2012

Stephen McGee for The New York Times

A village post office at Nixon’s Grocery in Brant, Mich., which lost its post office last year. The Postal Service pays the store to offer basic mail services.

WASHINGTON — The Postal Service, which has proposed closing 3,700 offices, is setting up services inside small grocery stores as it tries to maintain service while trimming billions of dollars in costs.

The agency has been losing $35.7 million a day, and 85 percent of its 32,000 offices do not make enough to cover their expenses. So it is hoping that working with retailers to put stamps and a modicum of mailing services alongside beer and lottery tickets will help put a dent in its growing deficit. 

The Postal Service has long allowed retailers to sell postage. But now it is arranging to provide some basic mailing services in stores in rural areas like Brant, Mich., a town of just over 2,000 about 30 miles southwest of Saginaw.

The post office there closed last year because it did not have a postmaster and another post office was nearby.

Last October, the Postal Service contracted out services to Nixon’s Grocery, a store known primarily for its produce and fresh meats. Although it does not provide the full range of mailing services, residents can mail letters, buy stamps and send packages. There are also 20 post office boxes for rent. Read more about To Cut Costs, Postal Service Turns to Rural Stores

Rural Community Colleges Battle Financial Squeeze

from The Texas Tribune via The New York Times | By Reeve Hamilton | March 17, 2012

SNYDER — The coffers at Western Texas College are about as dry as the windswept West Texas plains that surround it. Reductions in state financing have been a literal drain — last year, the college cut costs by emptying its N.C.A.A. competition-size pool.

“We have a large hole that used to be a swimming pool,” said Mike Dreith, the college’s president. “And we have a beautiful room designed to be a planetarium. It’s a nice, circular storage room now.”

Any more cuts would certainly mean faculty layoffs, said Patricia Claxton, the college’s chief financial officer. “We are already to the bone,” she said.

The remote institution in Snyder, population 11,000, has a shallow bench to begin with: only two people in the town are qualified to teach public speaking at the collegiate level. One teaches at Western Texas, and the other is Mr. Dreith.

In rural West Texas, as with elsewhere in the state,community colleges play a pivotal role in the higher-education landscape, providing academic opportunities for students who are not able or willing to go away to universities. In Snyder, for example, it’s roughly a 100-mile drive to the nearest university. But the institutions also face unique financial challenges that demand creative solutions to keep the doors open and to help sustain the region. Read more about Rural Community Colleges Battle Financial Squeeze

Farmers Face Tough Choice On Ways To Fight New Strains Of Weeds

NPR.org from the blog The Salt | By Dan Charles, illustration by Adam Cole/NPR | March 7, 2012 

Farmers face down the threat of a pesticide-resistant species of amaranth.

OK, so this story is about weeds and weedkillers, neither of which is ever the hero of a story, but stay with me for a second: It's also about plants with superpowers.

Unless you grow cotton, corn or soybeans for a living, it's hard to appreciate just how amazing and wonderful it seemed, 15 years ago, when Roundup-tolerant crops hit the market. I've seen crusty farmers turn giddy just talking about it.

All they had to do was spray the herbicide Roundup over their fields and everything died — except their remarkable new crops, with their laboratory-inserted genes that made them resistant to that weedkiller.

Alas, the giddiness faded. In more and more places across the country, farmers now are struggling to deal with weeds that their favorite weedkiller won't kill anymore. The weeds, too, have evolved Roundup-resistance superpowers.

Now, a hot debate has erupted over what farmers should do next. Should they adopt a new generation of genetically engineered, herbicide-resistant crops? Or turn away from chemical herbicides altogether? (A national summit on this issue is planned for May, in Washington, D.C.) Read more about Farmers Face Tough Choice On Ways To Fight New Strains Of Weeds

Monsanto asks its scientists if global warming is real

MinnPost.com | By Don Shelby | February 28, 2011

 

Stalks of soybean sprouts in the soybean greenhouse at the Monsanto Research fac
REUTERS/Peter Newcomb

Stalks of soybean sprouts in the soybean greenhouse at the Monsanto Research facility in Chesterfield, Mo.

In the world of agriculture, when Monsanto speaks, farmers listen. It is one of the world’s largest agribusinesses, and while it has more than enough detractors, Monsanto does its homework.

Along with the University of Minnesota’s Nobel Prize winner Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution, Monsanto is one reason why food producers have been able to meet the needs of an exploding population, despite warnings that it couldn’t be done. 

So, when the board of directors of Monsanto asked its scientists to figure out whether global warming was real, and whether it would cause problems for farmers, it got its answers. The answer was “Yes” on both counts.

Post office closings may increase rural isolation, economic disparity

The Washington Post | By Cezary Podkul and Emily Stephenson | February 17, 2012 

Postal officials were blunt in December when they stood before 120 residents in Dedham, Iowa, to tell them why their town’s post office has to close. The Internet, officials said, was killing the U.S. Postal Service.

“Well, I have no Internet,” resident Judy Ankenbauer said at the meeting. Like many of Dedham’s 280 residents, Ankenbauer said she still relies on the post office to buy stamps and send letters and packages. 

Dedham is hardly alone in its dependence on the Postal Service. Some of the nation’s poorest communities, many of them with spotty broadband Internet coverage, stand to suffer most if the struggling agency moves ahead with plans to shutter thousands of post offices this year, a Reuters analysis found. Nearly 80 percent of the 3,830 post offices under consideration are in sparsely populated rural areas where poverty rates are higher than the national average.

Moreover, about one-third of the offices slated for closure fall in areas with limited or no wired broadband Internet. Read more about Post office closings may increase rural isolation, economic disparity

Many Jobs May Be Gone With The Wind Energy Credit

NPR | By Richard Harris | February 16, 2012

The wind power industry in this country has grown fast in recent years, but that could come to a screeching halt.

The industry depends on a federal subsidy to keep it competitive with other forms of electricity. It's a tax credit wind farms get for the power they produce. That credit expires at the end of the year, and it's not clear whether Congress will renew it.

The tax credit was initially created to encourage wind energy, since it is a clean and secure source of electricity. But these days the argument is all about jobs.

Tens of thousands of jobs depend on the tax credit, and it's not just the people who build wind farms. In recent years, wind turbine manufacturers have taken root in the United States. Now, 60 percent of those components are manufactured here, according to the American Wind Energy Association. Read more about Many Jobs May Be Gone With The Wind Energy Credit

Budget cuts take away from rural identity

Truman State University Index | By Zach Vicars | February 15, 2012

Elmer, Mo. — located 25 miles southwest of McClain Hall — is on the verge of being wiped off the map.

This tiny hamlet of 80 people recently had their polling place taken away because they couldn't afford to provide handicap-accessible facilities. The town's elderly citizens now have to travel more than 10 miles on winding roads to vote.

To make matters worse, the Elmer Post Office will be one of 3,700 throughout the country to be forcibly shut down this May, according to the United States Postal Service. To suburbanites who dread a trip to the post office, this might not seem like a big deal, but for a small town, the post office is much more than a place to get the mail. The post office is a community center, a gathering place and a connection to the outside world for an isolated community. Read more about Budget cuts take away from rural identity

Eyeing greener acres, new farmers reap growing U.S. aid

Reuters | By Carey Gillam | February 6, 2012

(Reuters) - Dan Pugh wishes he had a bigger tractor and his wife Laura worries about their chickens in the winter weather. But as new farmers putting down roots in rural Missouri, the Pughs are counting on more rewards than regrets in trading their city lives for the country.

A better quality of food and life are among the factors that caused Dan, 47, to leave a career in sales last year and move Laura, 48, and their two young children to 50-acres of rolling pastureland they call Honey Creek Farm.

The Pughs will plant their first crop of organic spinach and lettuces in the next few weeks on ground they tilled behind the barn they converted into a two-bedroom home. They are shopping for sheep and hogs. And though their first hives of bees mysteriously died, Laura is determined to develop a successful honey operation as well.

"The whole food and farming system is so out of whack," Dan Pugh said. "We want better and we can do something to help other people eat better."

For those who remember the American TV series, call it the "Green Acres" effect. Fueled by an economic downturn that has curtailed the upward mobility of many corporate jobs, general dissatisfaction with suburban stresses and growing discontent with what they see as the ills of industrialized agriculture, thousands of families across the United States have left suburban cul de sacs and headed to the countryside - forging a new demographic of family farmer. Read more about Eyeing greener acres, new farmers reap growing U.S. aid

Housing void presents surprising challenges in Pender, Neb.

Pender, Neb. -- population 1,002 -- rides development wave

Sioux City Journal | By Nick Hytrek | January 30, 2012

Journal photo by Nick Hytrek

Pender Community Hospital CEO Richard Thomason in the lobby of the health center's new building, scheduled to open next month. The construction is one of several projects driving growth in the Thurston County, Neb., community.

PENDER, Neb. -- Whenever Pender Public Schools hires a new teacher, the housing search begins.

Finding the new employee a home to rent or buy often takes several phone calls. Superintendent Jason Dolliver said no one's ever cited a lack of housing options as a reason for turning down a job at the school, but "it's just a problem whenever we have someone new."

It's not just Dolliver's problem.

Last fall, Thurston Manufacturing Co. in Thurston, Neb., just five miles north of Pender, created 25 new jobs. Chief Operating Officer Ryan Jensen said 10 positions remain unfilled.

"I'm sure the lack of available housing in Pender has something to do with it," Jensen said.

Pender Community Hospital CEO Richard Thomason has seen the same thing every time he's hired a doctor. He experienced it himself. Read more about Housing void presents surprising challenges in Pender, Neb.

Can The iPad Revolutionize Rural Agriculture?

Fast Company | By Ariel Schwartz | January 30, 3012

The high-tech gadget is finding fans in an unlikely place: rural farms, where it can be used for everything from training to creating a connection between the farmers and customers in the developed world.

The iPad is a luxury toy. It’s also a powerful, adaptable tool. That much has become obvious over the past two years as the device has made its way into classrooms,cockpits, and hospitals.

The iPad’s fairly steep price, however, has kept it firmly entrenched in the developed world. That’s starting to change, as evidenced by efforts from Exprima Media and coffee importer Sustainable Harvest to bring the iPad to coffee co-ops and farmers in East Africa, Mexico, and South America. Read more about Can The iPad Revolutionize Rural Agriculture?

One-Room School Also One-Student School

The New York Times | By Jim Robbins | January 29, 2012

Anne Sherwood for The New York Times

Amber Leetch, 11, returning to the one-room school where she is the only student after recess.

GREENOUGH, Mont. — At a time when many schools are concerned about overcrowded classrooms, the Sunset school in this ranching community has a different problem — keeping its lone student at her desk so it can remain open.

There are other schools in remote rural areas around the West that have only one teacher and one student, but the situation is even starker here. Amber Leetch, age 11, makes up the entire Sunset School District 30.

And while many one-student schools elsewhere in the West are in far-flung, impoverished areas, the Sunset district — whose entire annual budget is about $83,000 — is in a prosperous, ranching corner of the state. One of the reasons there is only one student is that the cost of the scenic landscape here has risen so high that young, aspiring ranchers, the kind who would be likely to have school-age children, cannot afford to buy the land. Read more about One-Room School Also One-Student School

New Jersey Rural Areas Slower to Rebound

New York Times | By Antoinette Martin | January 12, 2012

Jessica Kourkounis for The New York Times

A restored three-bedroom house on Greenwich Street in Alloway, in Salem County, has been on the market for six months and is now priced at $186,000.

For whatever reason, homes sales picked up in New Jersey in the latter part of 2011. A new statewide market report shows contract signings increased in six of the seven months from May through November, compared with 2010.

Also, the inventory of homes for sale shrank every month since May, according to Jeffrey G. Otteau, an analyst, whose Otteau Valuation Group in East Brunswick does monthly reports for the real estate industry; he called the latest news a concrete sign that the market was “stabilizing.”

His December report was the first one in several years to sound a hopeful note. Until the state’s huge foreclosure backlog comes back on the market — and how fast that happens is important — the market may improve sometime this year to the point that prices stop declining and perhaps even modestly start to rise.

But that is the statewide picture. A great division in market fortunes between northern and southern Jersey — and urbanized areas close to Manhattan and more rural regions — became clear during the recent recession and remains stark in the fresh statistics. Mr. Otteau predicted that the gap would shape the timing and pattern of potential recovery, and several agents in the field agreed with him.

“Simply put,” said Dawn Rapa, a Coldwell Banker Elite agent working in rural Salem County, “the only people I’ve seen selling their houses recently are those who absolutely had to — because they were in financial disarray, a job change, divorce or death.” Read more about New Jersey Rural Areas Slower to Rebound

Upsurge in Rural Student Poverty Rates, Diversity, Enrollment

Market Watch | By Robert Mahaffey | January 10, 2012

 

WASHINGTON, Jan. 10, 2012 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ -- Rural School and Community Trust releases Why Rural Matters 2011-12

Nearly one in four American children attend rural schools and enrollment is growing at a faster rate in rural school districts than in all other places combined, according to Why Rural Matters 2011-12 a biennial report by the Rural School and Community Trust. In addition, rural schools show increasing rates of poverty, diversity, and students with special needs. These widespread trends are most evident in the South, Southwest, and parts of Appalachia.

"As the evidence mounts that rural education is becoming a bigger and even more complex part of our national educational landscape, it is becoming impossible to ignore in the quest to improve achievement and narrow achievement gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged groups. The day of closing our eyes and hoping rural education will just go away are ending," said Jerry Johnson, a co-author of Why Rural Matters 2011-12. Read more about Upsurge in Rural Student Poverty Rates, Diversity, Enrollment

Rural villages turn into rich people’s ghettoes

The Financial Times - United Kingdom | By Chris Tighe | January 3, 2012

Efforts to preserve a picture postcard image of the British countryside are turning rural villages into rich people’s ghettoes where poorer people are driven out by spiralling house prices, an expert on rural housing has warned.

Professor Mark Shucksmith of Newcastle University, who has studied rural housing trends for 30 years, says average house prices in rural areas exceed urban areas of England by about 25 per cent. The smaller the village, the higher the price; in these locations houses cost nearly 11 times average household income. Read more about Rural villages turn into rich people’s ghettoes

As Crop Prices Soar, Iowa Farms Add Acreage

New York Times | By A.G. Sulzberger | December 30, 2011

Eric Thayer for The New York Times

Mark and Janet Laddusaw standing at the site of a former golf course. On another part of the land, they are converting the clubhouse into their home.

WHITTEMORE, Iowa — A splash of green on a solid beige horizon, the golf course at the edge of this tiny town promised residents nine modest holes of refuge from corn country. Decades earlier the spot had been farmed, too, but the rocky soil was so poor, the saying went, that you couldn’t raise hell there with a fifth of whiskey.

“The rottenest piece of land there is,” said Mick Elbert, a local car dealer who served on the golf association board. “All it is good for is a golf course. That’s why we built it there.”

But this year, over a chorus of objections, the greens and fairways were plowed under. The course had been losing money, and crop prices had been breaking records, so the new owner did the type of quick calculation that is quietly reshaping the region and determined that it was more valuable as farmland. The first harvest took place this fall.

Across much of the Midwest the sharp increase in farm earnings has driven the price of farmland to previously unimaginable — and, some say, unsustainable — levels. But in the process, to much less fanfare, the financial rewards have also encouraged farmers to put ever more land into production, including parcels that until recently were too small or too poor in quality to warrant a second glance. Read more about As Crop Prices Soar, Iowa Farms Add Acreage

Hospital lures rural doctors with unusual offer

 The Associated Press | By Roxana Hegeman | December 31, 2011

In this Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011 photograph, Dr. Daniel Shuman, a member of the medical staff at Ashland Health Center, leaves the records area in Ashland, Kan. The center draws doctors to rural Kansas by offering paid time for international mission work. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

ASHLAND, Kan. (AP) — The hospital had lost the last doctor in a succession of those who came to the remote Kansas town and left again. A sole physician assistant kept watch over the 24-bed facility and its adjacent nursing home. It was on the verge of closing.

Then officials at the Ashland Health Center, seeking to reverse the drain of talent symptomatic of what happens across rural America, embraced an unorthodox approach to bring doctors back.

All employees, from maintenance people to physicians, get eight paid weeks off each year that they can use to do missionary work in other countries. The idea: people willing to care for the sick and suffering in developing nations might be content to do the same in a town of 855 people, more than two hours away from the nearest Starbucks.

The public hospital began advertising that benefit — which employees can use for other volunteer work or any purpose they choose, not just mission work — in Christian publications and at Catholic-run medical schools. Today, the hospital has a chief medical officer, a medical technologist, a nursing director, a nurse practitioner and other staff drawn by its so-called mission-minded recruiting. It's now looking for nurses, a dentist and a physical therapist. Read more about Hospital lures rural doctors with unusual offer

As Supply Dwindles, Organic Milk Gets Popular

The New York Times | By WIlliam Neuman | December 29, 2011

Peter DaSilva for The New York Times

Tony Azevedo, an organic farmer, says pay for the milk has to increase or supply will remain low.

There is a shortage of organic milk across the country, and it has become so bad in areas like the Southeast that Publix stores from Florida to Tennessee have put up signs in dairy cases anticipating the shopper’s frustrated refrain: “Where’s my organic milk?”

The answer is that there is not enough to go around, and starting next month consumers can expect to see a sharp jump in price as well.

The main reason for the shortage is that the cost of organic grain and hay to feed cows has gone up sharply while the price that farmers receive for their milk has not. That means that farmers feed their cows less, resulting in lower milk production. At the same time, fewer farmers have been converting from conventional dairying to organic.

Through it all, the demand for organic milk has been growing.

“It’s a double whammy to have higher sales than you expect and less milk,” said George L. Siemon, chief executive of Cropp, the farmers co-op that produces Organic Valley milk and much of the milk sold as supermarket store brands. “We’re sweating bullets over it.” Read more about As Supply Dwindles, Organic Milk Gets Popular

Knocked Down by Globalization, Newton, Iowa, Rebuilds

PRI's The World | Jason Margolis | December 28, 2011

Downtown Newton (Photo: Jason Margolis)

Downtown Newton (Photo: Jason Margolis)

On paper, the economics of Iowa look pretty good. It has the seventh lowest unemployment rate in the nation. Corn has been fetching record prices in recent years. Des Moines and the other metropolitan areas are thriving. (In fact, Forbes Magazine recently ranked Des Moines the number one city in America for young professionals.)

But not everywhere in Iowa is prospering. Rural manufacturing towns continue to struggle. Young people have been leaving these small communities in droves since the 1980’s.

Take the case of Netwon in central Iowa, population 15,000. It was the quintessential one-company town – Fred Maytag began building his washing machines here in 1893. It was a good run: company and town prospered together for more than a century.

In the past decade though, the company shifted jobs to southern states and Mexico. By 2007, Maytag, which was acquired by Whirlpool, closed its doors in Iowa for good.

“Definitely that was a demoralizing blow to the town,” said Darrell Sarmento, who directs the Greater Newton Area Chamber of Commerce. “Not just from an economic standpoint, but at one point in its heyday, Newton was the washing machine capital of the world. So that was a lot of the town’s identity.” Read more about Knocked Down by Globalization, Newton, Iowa, Rebuilds

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