Monday, December 31, 2007

There's oil in them thar plains . . .

Some of Western North Dakota's towns are booming these days due to oil exploration, according to this story in the New York Times. Almost 200 new wells have been drilled there in the past year. Towns like Stanley and Killdeer that were previously on the verge of drying up and blowing away (perhaps literally, as well as figuratively, out on those plains) are now seeing population stabilization, even growth. But locals have mixed feelings about the turn of events. John Warburg, pictured above on his farm, says: It seems like God flew over this country, and a dart landed on Granddad’s homestead.” But he also laments the change:
I hope the place won’t change, but it probably will ... I have thought about this a lot. I guess what I hope is that I don’t change.
Ken G. Halvorson, the eight-term county sheriff and coroner is more skeptical, indeed outright negative: “We’re going to get nothing out of this except a headache and a heartache.” The skepticism stems not only from a concern about loss of a way of life and the environment, but also because another nearby city suffered in an earlier "oil boom." In the early 1980s, when oil prices were on the rise, nearby Williston invested $20 million in infrastructure to facilitate the city's growth, which never came. So, the oil's presence has been known for some time, but it's taken the spike in oil prices to renew interest and investment in this onshore exploration. For better or worse, that has put towns like Stanley and Killdeer back on the map.

Small-town National Guard Prepares for Surge


We have perhaps all read enough on the demographic profile of U.S. soldiers dying in Iraq to know that many are young men and women who join the military due to lack of other opportunities, and that a disproportionate number are from rural places. But this story in the National Journal on December 14, 2007 discusses yet another angle on the phenomenon -- the role of the National Guard. Turns out that the National Guard, which is set to increase its numbers in Iraq by about 10,000 in 2008 (over the current 46,000 level, that is), flourishes in small-town America. Generally speaking, according to the report, a state with a lower population density and a lower percentage of minorities will have a higher percentage of its populace serving in the Army National Guard. In North Dakota, for example, 52 of 10,000 persons is serving in the Guard; in California, it is only 4 in 10,000.

Sydney J. Freedberg, Jr., who wrote the story for the National Journal, explains this phenomenon by reference to the nature of small towns: "Since the first colonial militia mustered on the village green, National Guard units have been hometown troops. ... An Army National Guard unit recruits from its local community and may keep the same soldiers together for decades. That those communities keep producing volunteers six years into a global war speaks to the depth of their military traditions." He also points out that the ties among a guard unit's members -- and to its community -- are strongest in small towns, more so than in both more rural areas where people are more spatially dispersed and in "large cities, with their abundance of social an economic alternatives." He quotes David Segal, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland: "Being in the guard is how one earns one's bona fides as a member of the community."

The Iowa caucuses as a spotlight on rural America


Easy as it is to be put off, even numbed, by the constant news stream about the Presidential campaign, I have enjoyed following the news in the run up to the Iowa caucuses because it provides a window into rural America -- or at least into rural Iowa. When, except in days and weeks before the caucuses, do you see datelines like Pella (population 10, 245), Indianola (population 14, 227), Storm Lake (population 9,882), and Denison (population 7,339) in the national media? Noting where the candidates are spending time gives one the impression that rural America actually matters. Of course, this fact is crazy-making for many who decry the disproportionate power of states like Iowa (along with New Hampshire and South Carolina, which also feature significant rural populations and rural associations) to make or break candidates early in the game.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Going green in rural America

An urban article from the NC News & Observer on cities such as Baltimore, Phoenix, and San Francisco that offer incentives for those people who choose green alternatives sparked my interest on what incentives could be offered in rural towns. Baltimore has offered $2,000 grants to home buyers who purchase within the vicinity of work. Berkeley has offered financing to the cost of solar panels.
Incentives are one way to go. I am also interested in comparing city recycling programs and when cities or towns decided to begin recycling. The Nebraska State Recycling Association was founded in 1980. According to one former resident, Omaha, Nebraska began recycling before 1995. Cary, North Carolina began recycling around this time as well. Fresno, California began recycling around 2005, right around the time I moved there. I wonder what accounts for the differences. Some of these towns have transformed into cities since the 1980s and are no longer rural. But I still wonder what determines how successful the green movement will be in cities and towns of varying sizes and rural areas.

I found this link to a blog entitled "Going Green in Rural America."

Extending the backyard

In Colorado and Utah forests, off-roaders are transforming federally owned lands into recreational areas according to a NC News & Observer article entitled "Illegal Off-roaders Stir Dust." This article is along the lines of some of the previous articles discussed regarding rural development and coalitions that address urban recreational visitors.

Apparently, outdoor recreationists flock to lesser-known forests and other public lands where administration of justice is lax, presumably due to the lack of law enforcement in rural locations. The federal government is having trouble adequately enforcing the law due to a lack of "manpower." A deputy state director for the Bureau of Land Management in Salt Lake City said "you'd have to have Patton's army."

Due to increased rural development, more than 28 million homes sit approximately 30 miles or less from federally owned land. According to the article, people now view those lands as "extended backyards." Arguably, ranchers have had this view of these areas for some time, but now ranchers are competing with ATVs and climbers for this "extended backyard space." Perhaps, its not that the urban newcomers or exurbanites are introducing a new "extended backyard view," but rather are using the public lands in a different manner.

Rural teens and technology

In response to Jeff Edwards' post...

In the North Carolina News & Observer today, an AP article entitled "Kids Exploit Suicide to Avoid Exams" described cell phone text messaging in a rural Arkansas town. The town, Augusta, Arkansas, has a population of approximately 2,400.

The article explained that after a former student's suicide, students text messaged, by cell phone, other suicide plans and plans to bring weapons to school. In the 200-student school, officials believed the threats were attempts to avoid semester finals. What prompted me to post this article was the quote from police that "the proliferation of cell phones gave electronic-age wings to small-town gossip." The police captain said that rumors spread in the town "like you just cannot believe because everyone knows everybody. . . ninety percent of people is kinfolks with somebody else..."

The police responded to the threats by scanning students with a hand-held metal detector, but they found only cell phones.

I wonder what the explanations are for the increase in rural teen texting compared to urban teen texting (as referenced in the Texas Texting Blog Post). The News and Observer article seems to suggest that the increase in technology increases the spread of rural teen gossip. What is not addressed in the article, though, is the teen suicide in a school population of 200 and its effect on such a small student population, apart from technology and gossip.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Poor dental health in Kentucky a top-10 story?

This NYTimes story about the consequences of poverty for the dental health of Kentucky residents mentions the rural angle a couple of times. In particular, the reporter notes the drastic shortage of dentists in rural areas, a situation exacerbated by low Medicaid reimbursement rates in the state. Kentucky has the highest percentage of any state whose over-65 population are without their teeth. The story notes, too, the role of factors such as malnutrition, unflouridated well water, wife abuse, preemptive pulling of teeth to avoid the need for unaffordable or unavailable dental care, and even those who crack their healthy teeth to feed an addiction to pain medication. As in another NYT story in 2005, this article notes the role that methamphetamine use plays in Kentucky's dismal dental health statistics.

Perhaps the thing I find most curious about the publication of this story is its attraction among New York Times readers. As I write at mid-day on Christmas day, a day after the story first appeared, it is the second most emailed story on the newspaper's website. It's right up there with "The Minimalist: 101 Simple Appetizers in 20 minutes or less" and "A Threat so Big, Academics Try Collaboration" (about cross-disciplinary efforts to solve the problem of global warming). OK, so maybe it is a slow news day, but I wonder what it is about reports like this that Times readers, a presumably affluent and well-educated set, want to share with friends and family by emailing it. Are we readers surprised that this degree of deprivation still exists in our own fair country? that rural poverty exists, along with the urban poverty that is at least slightly more visible to us. (I must add that the story does not surprise me because it is the story of many of my older relatives and acquaintances in rural Northwest Arkansas; I still regret -- especially on my semi-annual visits to the dentist -- the unflouridated well water of my childhood there). Just as likely, reading about the stark reality of others so much less fortunate than we are makes us especially grateful for our affluence, particularly at this season. Indeed, another of the most emailed stories today arguably makes a similar point. "Anarchists in the Aisles; Stores Provide a Stage" is about so-called "shopdroppers," who seek to draw our attention to "hyper-consumerism."

Monday, December 24, 2007

Rural appeal and Huckabee's ascent


As a native Arkansan (albeit one long out of the state when Huckabee became governor), I have been surprised at Huckabee's ascent in the polls not only in Iowa, but also in states like California. It's made me wonder if part of Huckabee's appeal lies in his rural roots -- or at least what voters perceive to be rural roots.

Huckabee comes across as an earnest, down-home guy from a proverbial Maberry. A recent feature on Huckabee in the NYT Magazine reported that he was born in Hope, Arkansas, a micropolitan area in southern Arkansas made famous because it is also Bill Clinton's birthplace. This story in the NYTimes a few days later noted the frequency of Huckabee comparisons to Jim Nabors. (Incidentally, the earliest online version of this story used the word "rural" in the headline, as in noting Huckabee's appeal in rural Iowa). Many of the places Huckabee has lived and worked in Arkansas (e.g., Pine Bluff and Texarkana) are not thought of by most Arkansans as rural. Huckabee may nevertheless be perceived by the wider electorate as a product of rural America, in part because Arkansas is a largely rural state and in part because of the rural persona in which Huckabee cloaks himself.

So, is there something in our collective nostalgia for our rural past that makes Hucakbee an attractive presidential candidate? Does Huckabee's appeal lie partly in the straight-talking, right-wrong, hard work, Christian-and-family values simplicity associated with rurality? (Perhaps his quasi-rural background also explains his attachment to fences as solutions -- even at the border!) Since long before Huckabee became a Presidential candidate, let alone a viable one, non-Arkansans who know him personally and those who just knew of him told me he could be a contender because he comes across as being so "nice" and "likable." Maybe Huckabee represents an antidote to Rudy Guliani, the ultimate urbanite, sophisticated but hard-edged?

I recall marveling in 1991 and 1992 at Clinton's ascent in the polls. I had then relatively recently moved on (at least in a literal sense) from my small-town Arkansas roots and was living in cosmopolitan London. I thought the British press surely had it wrong as they wrote of the viability of Clinton's candidacy. I was sure Clinton had no hope of getting the Democratic nomination (let alone the presidency) because he would be seen as a rube from the South. The negative stereotypes associated with rurality, I assumed, doomed his candidacy. Happily, I was proved wrong.

As different as I believe Huckabee and Clinton to be in outlook and in their pre-Presidential capacity to grasp complex foreign affairs matters, they nevertheless share more than a home town and stints as governor of Arkansas. Perhaps the viability of each of their candidacies was/is rooted, to some degree, in their rural identities and our own longing, however naive it may be, for a simpler time.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Immigration and Rural America

Since I've been researching and writing these past few months on the topic of immigration and the rural South, I found myself somewhat surprised at this story which appeared in the New York Times this week. The story features Storm Lake, a micropolitan area of about 10,000 in the northwest part Iowa. Rural areas like Storm Lake began experiencing an influx of Latina/os about two decades ago, primarily for employment in the meatpacking industry. As some folks quoted in this story acknowledge, immigration has saved towns like Storm Lake from shriveling up, given the shrinking rural economies and the accompanying population loss that previously plagued them.

Call me naive, but I expected a greater, more consistent appreciation for the economic shot in the arm that immigration has provided to places like Storm Lake. This NYT story, however, indicates considerable resentment, as well as a misplaced sense that the immigrants -- many of them admittedly illegal -- are competing with long-time residents for jobs. In fact, various studies indicate that this is not the case. Rather, most indications are that as immigrants come in to do work that the native population is no longer willing to do, the native population have an opportunity to move up the labor hierarchy. Perhaps if there were a greater understanding of this reality, long-time rural residents and Latina/o newcomers could stop focusing on their differences and begin to see that which could unite them: shared values such as family and hard work.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

"Lars and the Real Girl" and the "Real Rural"

Yesterday I had the pleasure of seeing an excellent film, "Lars and the Real Girl," starring Ryan Gosling. The film is about a young man, Lars, who lives in a rural town somewhere in a northern region populated by the descendants of Nordic families.

He keeps to himself, works in a nondescript job, and drives an old car. One day his life changes when he orders Bianca, a life-sized doll, from the Internet. He manifested a delusion that he was ordering a real girl, a Brazilian missionary in a wheelchair. When she arrives, he starts referring to her as his girlfriend. Much to the shock of everyone in his little town, he takes her to parties, speaks with her as though she is real, and expects his brother and sister-in-law to bathe, clothe, and feed her. The premise is a little strange, but the movie is so touching -- and it reflects some of the best aspects of rural life -- that I would highly recommend it.

The most heartwarming part of the movie is that everyone in town goes to great lengths to welcome Bianca and, underneath it all, to show their love for Lars. They start treating her like a real girl, and in doing so, Lars realizes that he is truly loved. You can read a synopsis and see a trailer of the movie here.

As I watched this film, I couldn't help but think about the way rural themes shaped the story line. The fact that the town rallied around this young man with a mental illness shows the rural value of independence and the preference to "take care of our own." In a suburban or urban setting, I suspect a family member would have been much more likely to take Lars to a hospital or treatment center. But here, Lars's brother and sister-in-law seek the services of the kindly doctor, who is also a psychologist ("You have to be, this far north," one character tells us .) The religiosity of the people -- social life revolved around the church --is also a strong rural theme that unifies this town. And, the informal communication networks (a kind version of a "rumor mill") played an instrumental role when Bianca fell ill.

I was curious about whether others had written about the rural angle of this film, so I did some research and found this article by Utah-based film critic Eric D. Snider. In reviewing the film, he wrote, "You have to take the film as a fable and not as a strictly realistic account of rural America. It's valid to point out that in real life there's no way the entire town would humor Lars -- but only because in real life, 'entire towns' don't do anything. You accept it as a necessary element of the story."

I disagree with Snider's idea that "entire towns" don't do anything. In this tiny town, which may well have had fewer than 100 people, the entire town may have in fact rallied around Lars. We just don't know. We do know that several dozen people from church and work all cared deeply about this young man. It was easy for the community to rally around Lars because he looked like they did -- he is white and of Nordic ancestry. Lars and his family are insiders and rural communities tend to support those who have established themselves in the region.

I refuse to believe that the kindness of the rural residents in the film is part of a larger "fable." A strong sense of community spirit is a uniquely rural value and one that I hope never leaves rural communities. I firmly believe -- and hope -- that somewhere in America, members of rural towns still rush to the assistance of those who are sick and need help.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Grocery stores in poor areas (rural and urban)

I came across these two articles and I thought they complimented each other nicely.

The first discusses the difficulties that people in rural areas have accessing grocery stores. Because grocery stores are often long distances away, people shop at them only occasionally. Locals do much more shopping at convenience stores, which have more junk food, higher prices and less fruits and vegetables. This impacts finances and health. The image of Fannie Charles pushing her shopping cart six miles to the nearest grocery store about once a month seems much more like an urban image to me than a rural one. According to the study the article is based on, 75% of the stores that sell food in Orangeburg County, SC, are convenience stores. So much for the bucolic images of rural farmers living off the land. http://www.newsweek.com/id/76929

At the same time, I found this article about how San Francisco's Bayview neighborhood is finally getting a full service grocery store after a ten year battle. The issues in Bayview are largely the same as above. Bayview has limited grocery stores and lots of fast food options. People need to travel to get to large grocery stores. Here, what is different, is that this is part of the city's plan to improve the neighborhood and neighborhood health. Still, despite city funding, the major chains all said no before this agreement with Tesco, a British chain expanding into the U.S. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/12/12/BUI5TSD7U.DTL

Perhaps the issue isn't really rurality, but poverty. The advantage in the city is that there might be, at times, the political will to solve these kinds of problems. These problems may also be easier to solve without distance playing a part. Certainly, the neighbors in Bayview do not have to push their shopping carts six miles along unpaved paths to get to Safeway, but their healthy, economical choices are still limited. And despite the differences, I suspect the new Fresh & Easy store may find a few patrons pushing shopping carts home.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Umbrellas as a reflection of urban-rural difference

This story in the City section of today's NYT suggests that umbrella use during snow, which is something folks apparently do in the city, is a reflection of the urban-rural divide. The author writes: "It’s the old rural-versus-urban divide, the difference between accepting and finding enjoyment in nature’s arbitrary whims and refusing to find pleasure in this sort of thing." Do you agree?

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Rural Japan graying and shrinking, in parallel to the United States

This article on the cover of today's business section of the New York Times reports on the "Wal-Martization" of Japan -- but without the Wal-Mart. In short, what we call big box stores ("national chains") are helping the urban middle class in Japan, but closing down "rural" downtowns, severly damaging local economies. Just as rural youth in this country migrate to cities for better opportunities, so those in Japan move to Tokyo. Just one consequence is the graying of rural Japan, again a demographic trend that parallels the United States. This is just one of several stories that the New York Times has run in recent months on the woes of rural Japan. Here's one on obstetrics services there, and here's one from last winter on cuts to public services.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Rural road use

This article offers an interesting vignette of the interaction of rural and urban, urban use of the rural, and ways contemporary economic development fails to account for rural impacts. The article discusses the impact of GPS navigation devices on some small communities in the English countryside where the shortest route may not make for the best. The article mentions that the Village of Barrow Gurney, with a population of fewer than one thousand, hosts 15,000 vehicles a day, many commercial trucks following GPS-designed routes. While the village is situated along a road connecting two larger trucking routes, the streets was laid before automobiles became the dominant form of transportation and a designed much more narrowly than many drivers anticipate. As the article points out, this has caused some unintended consequences: hitting fences, smashing car mirrors, and even lifting the roof off of one house. The local community wants off the GPS maps, but the companies in charge won't budge.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

A rural life (as distinct from "The Rural Life")

Effie Lea Shatwell, Lisa Pruitt and Elver Shatwell,
at their home in Vendor, Arkansas, 1995

A rural life ended this week with the death of my maternal grandmother, Effie Lee Shatwell of Vendor, Arkansas. She was 92 and is survived by six children, 18 grandchildren, 36 great-grandchildren, and 10 great-great-grandchildren.

Reflecting on the life of "Grannie Shat" has served as a reminder of so many of the aspects of rural living that have drawn me to think and write about rural people and places. Certainly, her life and times were worlds away from "The Rural Life" depicted by Verlyn Klinkenborg in his popular blog by that name. While Klinkenborg makes a good living as a writer and keeps a farm in Columbia County, New York, as an avocation, my grandmother spent the vast majority of her life actually eking a living out of a subsistence farm in the Ozark mountains of Northwest Arkansas. Born in the community of Red Rock in 1915, she married my grandfather in 1939 and lived out her adult life in nearby Vendor. Both of their families had already lived in the area for several generations. She and my grandfather made their living almost entirely from their hill farm, putting in a full garden every year until my grandmother had a stroke and went to live in a nursing home more than 9 years ago. That year, my grandfather's last, he put in and harvested the garden without her.

Throughout her married life, my grandmother canned and stored all summer to have food to get the family through the winter. Only a few years before her stroke did they stop keeping chickens, pigs, cattle, and a mule to pull the plow. They sold eggs, milk and butter to their neighbors, and supplied them also to their grown children. As the mother of young children, my grandmother took money earned from selling eggs and other produce to buy dry goods to make all the kids' clothes. The fabric was used again and again, as girls' skirts were turned into shirts for the boys, then quilt tops. The food I most associate with my grandmother is a pot of pinto beans with a big ham hock in it for flavor. Second to that, there was the "big mess of squirrel" she'd fry up after my grandfather had gone hunting.

My grandfather worked as a logger in the timber woods and did some work stints in Kansas City when there was no work to be had in Newton County. Only after I moved to California did he tell me of his stint working in a cooperage in Oakland, presumably during the Dust Bowl era. "I hated California," he said, "and I wanted to be back here, so I caught a ride back to Arkansas in the bed of a pickup truck as soon as I could." In their latter years, my grandfather brought in a little extra money from carving miniature wooden plows and making birdhouses to sell at the tourist stops along nearby Scenic Highway 7. My grandmother never worked outside the home, never paid into Social Security, but I have no doubt that she contributed as much to her family's survival as my grandfather did.

Many of the themes of rural living that we have discussed this semester are reflected in my grandmother's life: poverty, hardship, and deprivation (she and my grandfather got indoor plumbing in their home only in 1990; they drew water manually from a well at the corner of the front porch, and you can see part of the wringer style washing machine in the photo above); the informal economy (as noted above); social and spatial isolation (my grandparents came to the county seat, traveling in part on dirt roads, every Saturday to buy feed for the animals and what few foodstuffs they didn't grow); and attachment to place (although no one has lived on the farm for almost a decade, my mother and her siblings have been unwilling to sell it).

And then there's law's relevance to rural lives like those of my grandparents. Or, perhaps I should say complete lack of relevance (except, of course, to the extent that the rule of law permitted them to own their farm and live there in peace). Perhaps law has become more relevant only in their absence. My mom tells me that a meth house is operating down the road from their vacant farm. Now that I think about it, maybe this doesn't represent change in terms of a role for law. Law remains largely irrelevant to their lives (or more precisely, those of their heirs) if law enforcement resources are so strained, or so influenced by local considerations, that the meth house is ignored.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

More on the rural elderly

Carolyn's post about Medicare reminded me of the large percentage of rural dwellers who are elderly, as well as of the particular challenges that spatial isolation and lack of services create for them. The departure from rural areas of young people searching for better economic opportunity means that rural areas are more gray these days than the rest of the country. This demographic trend is further exaggerated when urban folks retire to rural places in search of a quieter pace of life and a lower cost of living.

This piece in last week's New York Times is about a place in rural, coastal Maine that is representative of the phenomenon. The elderly depicted in this story are often living on their Social Security payments (around $600/month for several interviewed), sometimes supplemented by meager state fuel allowances and such. For the most part, they spent their working lives doing menial labor, sometimes seasonal, like blueberry picking. They now have little to show for it, as they struggle to survive on their limited fixed incomes. The isolation associated with rurality, aggravated by the isolation associated with aging is sobering indeed, although some note the considerable benefits associated with a sense of community and family nearby.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Medicare Cuts Have Disproprotionate Impact on Rural Communities

The current discussion regarding health care reform has a tremendous impact on rural America. One of the proposed funding cuts is to seniors’ Medicare benefits for skilled nursing facilities. At least in Kentucky, 55 percent of its nursing homes are located in rural areas, which means that rural areas may be hit particularly hard by any such Medicare cuts.

One article finds, “[S] eniors in rural America would shoulder approximately 25 percent of the total five year, $2.7 billion Medicare cuts -- yet in states with higher rural populations, rural seniors and the skilled nursing facilities that serve them would bear disproportionately greater cuts. In particular, Medicare beneficiaries in rural areas requiring skilled nursing care would suffer significant reductions in daily funding. In addition, the national long term care leaders emphasized, rural facilities would be increasingly forced to choose between the urgent staffing needs that impact quality in the near-term versus refurbishing facilities, upgrading technology, and purchasing new equipment -- which impacts future care quality.”

With less Medicare funding, it would not only hurt the quality of care for seniors, it also has an impact on rural economies which rely on nursing homes for employment. It would have a disproportionately negative impact on rural facilities, which make finding and retaining qualify staff more challenging that it already is.

Often times, nursing facilities may be the largest local employer, and those rural economies depend on such facilities for jobs and economic development. Cuts from Medicare could result in lost jobs, less hiring, and higher unemployment

For more info: http://insurancenewsnet.com/article.asp?n=1&neID=200711291680.2_32a60067db4c4ba8

Rural Protests

Due to the isolation of many rural areas, I was wondering if protests manifest in different forms in rural areas compared to urban. Or if the focus or presentation to the community differs.

It might be necessary to separate those rural protests for the benefit of the local community compared to those rural protests that seek to generate media coverage, or reach a closer urban center. For this posting I will focus on labor and agrarian reform protests

One example I came across was the Mount Olive Pickle boycott in Mount Olive, North Carolina. The Farm Labor Organizing Committee's strategy was to convince consumers to no longer buy Mount Olive pickles as leverage so that the company increased wage and labor conditions. Protests occurred in Mount Olive, NC, a town of population of about 4,000. Additional protests occurred at local grocery stores throughout the state. The 5-year protest eventually gained success in the right-to-work state. Also notable is the claim as the first collective bargaining agreement for H2A guestworker employer in the state.

What is interesting is that one of the protests gathered union members from across the state to speak in the town itself. There was minimal media attention, and although it occurred near the "town center" not many residents came out of their houses or were present, except to attend the protest itself. The point is, these isolated protests must have a purpose of creating unity, or raising morale, rather than "getting the word out." (to some degree).

The Agrarian Reform movement in Nicaragua during the Somoza regime is of particular interest because although protesters resisted in "isolated" areas, by resisting landowners who attempted to regain "unused" land, the movement (and through political negotiations), they received media attention nationally. (And eventually internationally). Some 50,000 families were involved in the protests throughout rural Nicaragua. Maybe it was the mass, albeit isolated, movement that garnered so much attention (not to mention the violence of suppression in the rural areas).

I am not sure what the real answer is to the effects of rural protests and whether isolation decreases effectiveness, but I think it merits examination.

Rural Seat Belt Use and Rumble Strips

Given everything we have read, it is not surprising that rural areas would be resistant to seat belt laws. Nor should it be surprising that seat belts save lives. I am not sure if it is kosher to post a blog about a similar blog, but the blog from the Institute for Rural Journalism has an interesting article on a study about how seat belt laws cut deaths in rural areas. This was put out by the Center for Excellence in Rural Safety. According to the blog, rural areas (defined as those with populations under 5000) account for 57% of automobile-related fatalities. Given the strength of the data on the lives saved, it is really surprising to me that so many states still fail to have primary seat belt laws.

http://irjci.blogspot.com/2007/11/strong-seat-belt-laws-help-prevent.html

This also led me to a study on the use of rumble strips in rural areas. Every time I am back in Wisconsin, the rumble strip is one of those incredibly useful tools that I miss in urban areas. For those who are not familiar, rumble strips are bumps placed on the pavement or grooves cut into the pavement near intersections that remind the distracted driver that they will need to stop soon. This has always seemed to me to an incredibly good idea, and a useful one in other locations, such as urban/suburban intersections where people frequently run red lights or stop signs. The study showed that rumble strips really influence behavior. Maybe this is a case where the urban can take a practical rural tool and use or adapt it to enhance urban safety.

http://www.cts.umn.edu/Research/ProjectDetail.html?id=2003032

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Elected official's transgender status could hardly be unknown in city of 12,000

I found myself looking for a rural angle in this story about a transgender politician in Riverdale, Georgia, population 12,000. Maybe there isn't one, given that Riverdale appears to be exurban or suburban Atlanta, but it seems to me that the lack of anonymity associated with rural areas (and towns/cities of this size) is still at play. Here's what happened: Michelle Bruce is in a run off to hold onto the city council seat to which she was elected in 2003. One of her opponents in the most recent election is suing, alleging that "Michael Bruce" misled voters by identifying herself as female. Michelle Bruce says she has always identified as transgender; "Everybody in my district knows me. Everyone in Riverdale knows me." It's hard to imagine otherwise, in a town that size.


Rural to Urban Migration in India

This article in today's New York Times fascinated me. The article focuses on the Pushpak train, a twenty-four hour train in India that takes people from rural areas to urban centers such as Mumbai. There, they will work in jobs other than farming and hopefully become breadwinners for their families. The passengers pay approximately $6 and board the train with dreams of making it big in the big city.

The most interesting statistic in the whole article is this one: during the next 43 years, 700 million people will leave rural villages in India and move to cities in India. That is, 31 Indians will arrive in an Indian city every minute for the next four decades. A similar "exodus" is predicted to occur in China.

Do these movements signal the end of ruralism as we know it around the world? If it does, I wonder what it means for rural people in the United States and what it means for rural identity globally.

One association I have with the rural is its static nature. I expect and rely upon rural people to retain old traditions and preserve old ways of life. I am counting on rural areas to preserve alternative, idyllic lifestyles that I can adopt in a few years, once I tire of city life. I had fully expected I would take my children and children's children on trips to rural parts of the country and to rural parts of other countries. Now I wonder how possible that will be.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Clotheslines: icon of rural life, object of urban disdain

A recent story on NPR told of the "right to dry" movement in New Hampshire, where a bill has been introduced to give the states' residents the right to dry their clothes on clotheslines. The use of clotheslines has become a matter of dispute, for example, in communities of condominiums, where clotheslines are seen as eyesores.

A clothesline as an eyesore? My own associations with clotheslines are positive. That is partially because I link them with the rural idyll, with pleasant rural landscapes populated by industrious and frugal people. Of course, clotheslines are a good thing in that they save energy (which now matters more in these days of awareness about climate change), and that may ultimately save them -- no matter how ugly urban folks think they are.

Meth in Europe: A rural phenomenon there, too?

We've talked some in class about associations between methamphetamine manufacture and rural places. One reason for this link, we speculated, is that making meth stinks, literally, so that doing so wouldn't be feasible in a city, where nearby neighbors would (again literally) get wind of it. So, it was interesting to see this story in the NYTimes about the burgeoning meth problem in Europe. Only near the end of the story is the word rural mentioned. There the reporter characterizes Jesenik, the reputed center of meth production in the Czech Republic (and all of Europe, for that matter), as "rural" and "isolated." The reporter notes, interestingly, that Jesenik (population 12,000) is not typical of small rural places in that local residents do not have deep roots there; previously ethnically German, that population was expelled after WWII. I am unsure why the journalist notes this fact -- perhaps to suggest that the lack of attachment to place accounts for how such a terrible thing could be happening in a rural locale. Of course, if bad things -- drug use in particular -- aren't supposed to happen in rural locales due to residential and community stability, it's hard to figure out the meth problem in rural America, in communities populated by the same families who have been there for generations. Well, hard to figure out, that is, until you consider the poverty and lack of opportunity that tends to mark such communities.

And on a somewhat related note . . . this in today's NYTimes: "Farmyard Stills Quench a Thirst for Local Spirits." The "farmyard stills" language conjures up a familiar image that I associate with rurality. So does the entrepreneur featured here, who references six generations of moonshine makers in his family. The phenomenon is taking off in the Midwestern states and some others with significant rural populations. Nevertheless, the micro-distillery trend seems largely not to be a rural one, as California is currently the leader in small-scale distilling.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Obama's track record with the rural vote?

Given Sen. Obama's recent surge in Iowa and that state's demographics, this article struck me as a timely analysis of the Senator's strengths and weaknesses courting voters in the rural midwest.

The article suggests that Sen. Obama's claim about his 2004 Senate primary, ""we won the white vote, we won the rural vote, we won the farmer vote" isn't well supported by the election results from that race, though he did well even amoung white districts in Chicago that are historically hostile to black candidates.

If race can't account for his underperformance in downstate Illinois in 2004, perhaps something about rural communities? But then again, he is leading the pack in Iowa...

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Third World Clinic, in the United States?

We've talked a lot in class about rural access to health care. This story, from today's New York Times Magazine, paints a portrait that makes the issue a little more real. The article describes the work of traveling doctors, using tents and sterilized animal stalls to create makeshift clinics in areas like rural Virginia. 47 million people, or 15 percent of population in the United States, live without health insurance. While they may not all be serviced in clinics like those described in the article, the presence of such clinics sheds light on the pressing need for greater access to services in rural areas. Despite these doctors' best intentions, hundreds of patients can be turned away any given weekend, leaving one to wonder where it is that they turn next.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Tourism in Rural Areas

A story I heard recently on NPR got me thinking about the self-preservation efforts of rural communities. In this broadcast, a surfer from New Zealand extolled the virtues of surfing in a remote fishing village in Guatemala. Jed Thynne, the surfer, said that to travel to El Paredon, he must take a bus, a taxi, and a boat. But, he likes it because "there is nobody here." A website about El Paredon surf camp brags about the "exotic black sand beaches" and great waves in a "tranquil fishing village."

The community members hope to attract surfers and others in order to increase their economic livelihoods. The community opened a small surfing camp, complete with "rotting bunk beds," and some of the new jobs include cooking and teaching surf lessons.

The example of El Paredon is certainly an optimistic one for many rural communities. Rural regions can bring work and money into their communities through tourism. Of course, opening a rural community to visitors may be inimical to the tranquility that characterized the rural region in the first place.

Many rural communities are finding ways to attract tourists without compromising their rural identity. In fact, this site, from UC Davis, provides a wonderful variety of resources for those interested in agritourism. Furthemore, agritourism is now part of popular culture, thanks to a recent episode of "The Office," in which Dwight Schrute explains that "agritourism is a lot more than a bed and breakfast. It consists of tourists coming to a farm, showing them around, giving them a bed, giving them breakfast."

While I fully support agritourism and other methods of economic development, I wonder what will become of communities that lack natural resources that are tourist-worthy. El Paredon is fortunate to be located near such great waves, and the fictional Schrute Farms in rural Pennsylvania is located in a lovely wooded setting. But what about other regions that no one wants to visit? How can those residents develop a sustainable livelihood?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Extreme transportation challenges in western Alaska, but is it "rural"?

A story this morning on NPR told of how gasoline prices are "frozen" in the western Alaska community of Bethel because fuel is transported in during warm weather and then doled out over the course of the winter. This is both good and bad for local residents. It is bad because it means gas prices are always high ($5 to $7/gallon) due to the high transportation costs associated with getting gasoline (and other product) to Bethel. It is good because when gas prices are creeping up (or zooming up), prices in Bethel are set, at least until the next season (or until the supply runs out and gas is flown in, the added transportation costs inflating prices even more).

Listening to the story caused me think that Bethel must be a sort of "wide spot in the road" place that happens nevertheless to be a regional center for many surrounding villages. While Bethel is clearly remote, however, its population of 6,262 means it doesn't even qualify as a "rural" place, as that term is defined by the U.S. Census Bureau. Nevertheless, at 340 miles from Anchorage, a commercial hub for 56 surrounding villages in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, it is surely more rural than many places with smaller populations that are within an urban shadow. Material consequences of this rurality include the increased cost of transportation (and other facets of inconvenience associated with spatial isolation), along with the fact that such costs drive up prices for all sorts of goods and services.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Sports reporting that idealizes rural America

Two recent sports stories from the New York Times struck me as interesting in relation to their angle on small town America. The first, about a high school football powerhouse in northern Kansas, appeared on the paper's front page recently. In a way, it's just another story about football madness in the "fly over states," but the reporter also provides demographic and economic context for the town of Smith Center (population 1,931), where the football team just won its 52d consecutive game. While its economy isn't diversified, and its population is shrinking, the school district is actually growing a bit (high school enrollment: 154). Some attribute this modest growth to a new ethanol plan nearby, others to a transcendental meditation center set to open next year. Perhaps my favorite part of the story is the quote from the coach: "What we do around here real well is raise kids." What he says next, though, is rather sad, and also explains, perhaps, the decline in population: “In fact, we do such a good job at it — and I’m talking about the parents and community — that they go away to school and succeed, and then pursue opportunities in the bigger cities."

The second story plays up "rurality" in the context of a story that is less centrally about a rural place than the football story. The story is about Ryan Shay, the 28-year-old elite runner who died in the Olympic marathon trials last weekend in New York City. Ryan grew up in the town of Central Lake, Michigan, population 990, and the reporter begins by focusing on his hometown's response to his death. That is just a poignant jumping off point, however, for a story that is more about the athlete as a person, his extraordinary career, and the circumstances of his death.

I think both stories illustrate, perhaps to differing degrees, nostalgia for our rural past and how rurality still attracts and sells -- even in the context of sports reporting.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Wal-Mart Wages

The American Bar Association Journal had a brief article on the fact that Wal-Mart has begun to balk about billing increases caused in part by high associate salaries at law firms. Wal-Mart is a huge employer in rural areas and is known for its low wage jobs. But for some reason this struck me as a fascinating bit of news. Will this be the Wal-Mart tipping point? Will people begin to take the threats of low wage jobs seriously if Wal-Mart hurts attorney wages?

http://www.abajournal.com/news/wal_mart_refuses_law_firm_fee_hikes_cites_high_associate_salaries/

Monday, November 5, 2007

Crime in a rural university town

The New York Times recently reported the death of Donald Farrell, a 19-yr old university student at Rowan University in rural New Jersey. The article detailing Mr. Farrell's fatal beating, allegedly tied to a robbery, describes the former security most students felt attending a university in a rural, "tranquil" town of 19,000, highlighting how the beating and death has brought a new sense of unease to the community. The details of Mr. Farrell's death are truly shocking as he seemed to be taking precautions against crime: traveling at 9pm in a group, along busy roads in a well lit area to get to a local convenience store. The reactions noted throughout the article note a theme we've spent a lot of time discussing: the perceived security and safety of rural America. It is unfortunate that such phenomenons are often noted only in the face of tragedy. I also can't help but wonder whether if this tragedy fell upon, say, a student at urban Columbia University, it would have received similar media attention.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Chickens in NYC and Oakland ...

I got a kick out of this segment on NPR today. It is about how city folks are, increasingly, keeping chickens in urban locales -- as pets, ready suppliers of eggs, and both. Particularly rich was the quote by one resident of Park Slope, Brooklyn, who commented on his association of chickens with "god-forsaken places in upstate" New York.

So now, in contrast to the exurban phenomenon that takes the city to the country, the country is coming to the city?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Rural Texas Teens Texting

This article struck me for two reasons: it showed significant differences between rural and urban populations and it was based on actual empirical data. The survey of 4,442 Texas high school students showed students at rural high schools were almost twice as likely as students at urban high schools to regularly use a cell phone while driving (48% to 25%) and significantly more likely to text message while driving (33% o 18%). Given those numbers perhaps it's less surprising that 65% of teen drving fatalities in Texas were in rural areas.

The article quotes Russell Henk of the Texas Transportation Institute saying, "At first blush, I would have expected kids in urban environments to be taking part in that activity more. But the more we've thought about it, I think for the typical urban teen driving in San Antonio or on the 610 Loop in Houston, a lot of those things they can't do. It's too congested, too dangerous and they can't take part."

The Texas Transportation Institute website also has a ton of reports on rural transportation in Texas.

Southern California Fires and the Rural

Last week, in the midst of the Southern California fires, I started to draft a blog post about the relationship between fires and rural living. It seems that the fires prompted many Internet users to express their deepest feelings about land use and rurality.

I first began thinking about rurality after viewing last week's New York Times’ readers comments here. At that time, I read a comment by one woman who wrote that the reason the fires had become so out-of-control is that developers had crowded out all wildlife by developing in rural areas. With more development, houses and lives were in danger, which created a bigger risk to health and safety than it would had the area remained undeveloped. I thought her sentiments were isolated, but they were not.

Later I went back to the site and read through many of the 300-plus comments. One gentleman noted that the fires are “a blessing in disguise to stop sprawl,” because people should not be able to build wherever they please. Another wrote that in assigning blame for the fires, she only wanted to “point fingers” at the developers who she said profited greatly by overdeveloping the region.
Many readers had strong ideas about the best use for land. Several expressed the sentiment that “houses should not be built in certain areas." One wrote, "Not everyone can have ocean front property or a majestic mountain view. When push comes to shove…Nature is my odds-on favorite."
These comments are interesting for two reasons. First, they blame people for choosing to follow an idyllic lifestyle in a less-urban part of California. Second, they exclude rural poor people from the discussion through the view that the rural is populated by so-called McMansions.
Returning to the first thought, many of the comments I read were angry and bitter at people for choosing to live in a rural or semi-rural setting. The comments seemed to indicate that the rural residents "deserved" to face the threat of fire because they had assumed the risk of living in a remote location. I appreciate the sentiment that buyers ought to understand the unique risks and challenges of living in a remote or isolated setting.
Many city dwellers have moved to the rural parts of my hometown and complained about certain aspects of rural life that are normal to long-time residents (e.g., noise from crop dusters, mice and squirrels in backyards, etc.). My view is that a certain amount of adjustment is required to live in an isolated area. Nonetheless, the attitude that rural people should be left to "fend for themselves" because they live in rural areas is troubling. Rural people should not be blamed for living where they do. While many choose to build new, million-dollar homes to "get away from it all," many more move to rural places because it can be cheaper.
This brings me to my second point--do these comments indicate an underlying sentiment about who should populate the rural? Is the fact that rural poor people were ignored from the readers' comments? I suspect that it is, because it indicates a broader sentiment about rural life, especially in Southern California. I conducted a search for "rural," and I saw few references using the word. I did find one reference referring to the shacks of "poor Black families" as a contrast to the "small, crowded homes" of Hispanic families in rural areas whose homes had also been destroyed in San Diego County. In fact, that was the only time I saw a reference to rurality and poor people (and race). When I think of rural areas, income level tends to be one of my first associations. Thus, it is interesting that most readers kept rurality as a term out of the blogs, and the few times it was used, they essentially reflected a view that rural residents are wealthy.
Furthermore, there was no discussion of race and the rural (contrast this discussion to, say, Hurricane Katrina, which was largely about race).
Now that a week has passed and coverage of the fires is no longer so constant, I wonder whether future stories and comments will continue to reflect attitudes about what is and is not rural, and who should live there.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Undomesticated animals in exurban Long Island

According to the 2000 census, Southold, NY, on Long Island has a population of 5,465. This town is now facing that classic issue of what to do with farm animals as more suburbanites (exurbanites) move to the area. In 1985, the locals got together to defeat a measure that would have set requirements for the amount of land needed for horses. This month, the town once again rallied to defeat an animal ordinance, this time focused on complaints about peacocks and other animals. The locals see regulation of these animals as a threat to their way of life.  Read this story about it in the New York Times.

I have to wonder if this is just a winning battle in a losing war. House prices in that area more than doubled between 2000 and 2005, while median income rose by only 18%. The NY Times article makes it sound like there will be additional attempts in the future to handle the nuisance issue. I suspect it is only a matter of time before the newcomers have enough clout to cast this as a "quality of life" issue.

Toxic tort in rural America

This article talks about the lung ailments in people who work with the butter flavoring on microwave popcorn. It is not entirely focused on rural areas, but the doctor who helped identify the problem noticed that he had multiple cases in Jasper, MO, with people who worked at the microwave popcorn plant there. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21423866/. While not all the cases are in rural plants, given the way that a single plant can impact an area, it is clear that this tort will have a great impact on Jasper and its surroundings.

Presidential Candidates on Rural America

The Daily Yonder gave a great deal of coverage to yesterday's National Summit on Agriculture and Rural Life and, in particular, a number of Presidential candidates' participation there. Hillary Clinton appeared by live hook-up and her extensive statement on rural issues, including the 2007 farm bill, appears on her campaign website. John Edwards and Barak Obama both appeared at this summit, as did several academics. Obama said that, if elected, he would hold a summit about rural issues -- not in Washington, DC, but in Iowa. You can read both his and Edwards' positions on immigration and unions, among the issues they discussed in relation to rurality, here. Edwards used this opportunity to reach rural voters to take up the cause of rural education, proposing a $15K subsidy for those willing to teach in under-served rural areas. He also, predictably, invoked his rural roots and identity.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Rurality and Women, in the same commentary, but not necessarily in relation to one another

This op ed piece by Verlyn Klinkenborg, who lives in upstate New York and formerly wrote a blog in the NYT called "The Rural Life," makes an interesting point about colleges in rural towns: it's difficult to get the profs. to live there these days. The bulk of the piece, however, is about another really important topic: women, confidence, voice. Everyone should read it for what it says about both, though not necessarily in relation to one another.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

An extreme example of lack of rural economic disversification

This Sacramento Bee story about a "company town" under siege as its owner faces bankruptcy highlights the economic vulnerability of rural places in an age of globalization. The town of Scotia in Humboldt County has a population of 800. The entire town, including all housing is owned by Pacific Lumber Company, which founded it in the late 1800s. Even the local fire department is run by Pacific Lumber, not by public funds. Now Pacific Lumber is essentially trying to sell the town as part of its reorganization plan to emerge from bankruptcy.

Sometimes it is hard to understand how globalization plays a role in changing remote places like Scotia that have been reliant on natural resources and raw materials such as timber. This tale of economic restructuring is almost certainly linked to price pressures that are associated with globalization -- unless, of course, you believe the company's owner, who blames it on the environmentalists.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The largest hog-butchering plant in the world in a town with a population of 70!

This story about recent immigration raids at the Smithfield hog-butchering plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina got me to thinking about why meat-processing plants have moved to rural areas in recent years. I mean, isn't it counter-intuitive (if not outright illogical from a business standpoint) to locate a plant that needs 5,200 employees in a town with a population of 70, in the midst of a county with a population of only 32,000? What was Smithfield thinking? That it could count on cheap local labor? but surely not 5,200 employees worth of cheap local labor? Smithfield must have been expecting to draw the immigrant workforce on which it has largely relied. Now with the immigration crackdown, Smithfield is doing what similar rural employers in low-skill industries do: using buses and vans to bring in workers from communities an hour or more away. How does it attract those employers under the circumstances? by paying twice what those workers can make in service jobs in their own communities. But twice the minimum wage of $5.25 is hardly a living wage.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Rural Distances and Access to Rape Crisis Funding

This class had a previous discussion on law enforcement and crime reporting comparing urban/rural areas.
To follow up on a previous comment, I wanted to introduce previous experience I had in fundraising/networking for a rape crisis network in North Carolina.

I was appointed as a “safety and security chair” for student government while attending UNC-CH. A student government representative most likely appointed me because I am a feminist. This was because nurses at UNC-CH were paying out their own pockets to provide rape victims/survivors who had just undergone rape kit tests with clothing, shelter, etc. Police generally took the clothing as evidence after the rape kit test. (Hence the reason nurses were paying out of pocket/out of charity).

It turns out that there are two ways in which rape victims/survivors can get funding for rape kit tests which in North Carolina costs somewhere between $500.00-$1,000.00. Additionally funding for preventative treatment for pregnancy and STIs are available. Funding comes through the State as well as the University (for students) in the Chapel Hill area. Paying for the actual processing of DNA samples is an area I am unfamiliar with and seems to have generated national controversy, controversy2, especially in 2002.

However, attending the coalition meetings that included, rape crisis activists, counselors, police, and nurses, it became very apparent that “word was not getting out to the rural areas.” Part of the reason being that the laws governing funding for rape kit tests and disease and pregnancy prevention funding was/is not institutionalized. When I say institutionalized, what I mean is that some rape crisis centers are run by non profits, some volunteers, some, as in Detroit, Michigan are run by the police department. This greatly affects the way administrators are able to come into knowledge regarding funding.

In the end, the University had plenty (in the 5 figure digits) of funding given the number of persons who use the funds each year. (Although the numbers we had were twice as high as those shown on the UNC-CH crime report, I was told by coalition members that this was due to a difference in number of people who seek care for rape v. the number of people who actually file a report, go on to through the prosecution process, etc.) .

My role ended up being very simple, to link the funding (that had been sitting in Student Activities Funds for years) to the patients/nurses. Perhaps this is an indication that this type of funding needs to be a part of routine administrative law enforcement and/or hospitalization-of- rape-victims process. And not the responsibility of a 19 year old.

Applying this to the rural, the bureaucracy in my experience seems to create greater barriers for centers trying to figure out how to access state funding. Some of these barriers relate to the greater distances nurses, police, etc. would have to travel in order to have these types of coalition meetings. Some solutions I have seen work in rural communities have been secured blogs and/or teleconferencing, for those communities with funds for the technology.

Maybe in the future there would be ways that law enforcement or health care responders (ambulances) could carry with them these kits or the emergency contraception that (under general health care practitioner advisement) is more effective the sooner it is administered. Having law enforcement and health care workers so equipped seems especially important in rural areas, where rape survivors may live considerable distances from typical health care resources.

(I do acknowledge some problems with this proposal: namely that victims will often go to hospitals prior to reporting to police, greater security/comfort that hospitals/nurses provide than law enforcement officials, etc.)

A rural angle on recent Wisconsin tragedy?

After our discussion in class yesterday about crime and policing in rural America, I was struck by the New York Times coverage of the shooting this past week-end in Crandon, Wisconsin, population 2,000. I noted the "very local" status of the 20-year-old police officer who, while off-duty, shot 7 teenagers, including his former girlfriend, before taking his own life. The story indicates that his strengths (a sometimes helpful sort, voted "Best Cop" by the current high school senior class) and weaknesses (known for a bullying personality) as a law enforcement officer were well known in the community. He was, in short, very much one of them.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Immigration into rural America

Migrant workers comprise a large portion of the unskilled labor force in the U.S.. Although it is widely believed that an unskilled immigrant labor force in rural areas will lead to the lower market prices and greater stability, it appears from the reading that this is a common and dangerous misconception. Indeed, the presence of migrant workers in rural areas enables employers to offer few if any benefits and perpetuates wage stagnation. Such poor treatment of employees is inevitably detrimental to the national labor force overall – (having harrowing ramifications which affect housing, education, health care and community stability). Yet, the reading also suggests that many of these nomadic workers eventually stop drifting and settle down in rural areas. This appears to be the case as evidenced by the statistics regarding the increasing number of Hispanics settling in rural areas. The reading also noted that although these new residents are working for minimum wage, they are upwardly mobile and integrating quite well into white middle class communities.

Thus, in the one instance, migrant workers are depicted as disruptive to community stability, yet the trend is toward a more stable and settled minority workforce. The reading further explains that the presence of minority workers has protected some rural areas from losing the bedrock or foundational elements of community. Indeed many communities lose a large portion of the native workforce to surrounding areas, and the presence of immigrant workers re-stabilizes the populations, permitting the community to keep its churches and its schools open (education is perhaps a subject for a separate entry). This apparent discrepancy is the source of much debate and makes a solution almost impossible. In other words, if racial/religious/cultural discrimination is the primary force behind local opposition to new minority groups, how could one possibly justify the exclusion of the victims of such discrimination with economic or market concerns. Even arguing from the vantage point of labor conditions and wages poses significant obstacles. Regardless of whether there was a valid and non discriminatory reason for the exclusion of migrant works – it would still be perceived as a mere pretense for discrimination. In areas where racial bias is prevalent the community may win an economic battle and make significant progress in pushing employers to improve labor conditions and raise wages however, they will lose an even larger battle. Communities which seek to exclude will inevitably be the most affected by the gradual transformation taking place all across rural America. Indeed, such exclusion will only make worse an already deeply rooted problem.

In light of this dichotomy how can one reconcile the blatant discrimination that many minorities experience with the economic justifications (i.e. increased wages, safer working conditions etc) for exclusion of many migrant workers?

Yet all the dilemmas mentioned above seem to be questions for an ideal world (i.e. one in which an employer would be forced to provide migrant workers benefits associated with a stable and more permanent work force) This issue is difficult to articulate in writing – but just a thought for a later class discussion.

If it is the case that migrant workers are keeping some rural communities afloat, where is the line between exclusion for the betterment of the working conditions and inclusion for the betterment of the community to be drawn?

The oxymoron of "Appalachian Urbanity"

The headline in the print copy of the NYT referred to Asheville, NC as "Appalachian urbanity," which struck me as an oxymoron, especially in light of Ching and Creed's comments about "rustics" and cultural influence. Ching and Creed argue that once urbanites claim rural items (they use the example of a butter churn) as valued, even "art," those items becomes so, while rural residents themselves have little or no equivalent power to dictate what is considered aesthetically pleasing or otherwise in "good taste." Is it urbanites who have "cleaned up" Asheville and made it the attractive place it is known to be? Or was it ever actually culturally Appalachian (as opposed to Appalachian in physical geography)?

Saturday, September 29, 2007

An extreme example of rural frugality?

The town of Fair Haven, Vermont, with a population of about 3K, is not quite rural by U.S. Census Bureau standards, but it nevertheless seems to reflect a value associated with rural America: frugality. According to this NYT story, the town's coffers have a $1 million surplus after more than a decade of "under-spending."

Sen. Craig down, environmentalists up

I couldn't help but think of the introduction to This Soveriegn Land when I came across this article about how the fall of Sen. Craig is creating opportunities for environmentalists. Maybe the grizzly will follow the Snake River Salmon to recovery?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Rural Gangs and Splitville

I start this piece with a Disclaimer: It is extremely difficult to conduct a discussion on rural gangs given the lack of information and the complexity of the issues at stake (race, class, gender, hazing rituals, poverty, education, prisons, urban planning, my own lack of knowledge on urban gangs, prevention/punishment, etc.) Regardless, this is my attempt at a formation of the discussion using one small town in California as a starting point.


Goshen, CA, a US census population of approximately 2,394 (C-SET, a non-profit in Goshen, estimates around 3,000 due to the undocumented immigrant population) makes for a telling case study of rural gang issues.

According to some of the common definitions of "rural," this unincorporated area would not classify as "rural." This is due to its proximity, 6 miles from approximately 100,00 people (Visalia, CA), in a county of 419,000. Additionally, the presence of the CA 99 bisects the small town, which would give less credence to its rural definition. Despite common definitions, people living in Tulare County have frequently referred to the County as having "more cows than people and pews than people." Also noteworthy, residents of Goshen still face many of the challenges that rural areas face such as access to health care, transportation, stores, and schools. However, these "challenges" are also attributable to socio-economic status, given that 28% of individuals fall below the poverty level.

Goshen is one of the many towns that the California Highway system profoundly and systematically changed. Much like the towns described in Sonya Salomon's Newcomers to Old Places. Goshen closely resembles the town of Splitville, also bisected by the highway. Although the presence of a major highway system would seem to alleviate transportation problems that are common to such areas, in a town of such high levels of poverty, it does not.

For the purposes of this discussion, I focus on rural gangs. Given the proximity of the highway, Goshen has become a major "claiming territory" for the Norteño and Sureño gangs. Goshen is not alone, as the U.S. saw a systematic increase of gangs in 41 percent of more cities with populations between 1,000 to 2,500 by 1998.

What I see in Goshen is a large population of Latin@ youth (approximately 3/4 of the population of Goshen identifies as Latin@) who become "easy targets" for gang related activity. However, what I also observed was the intergenerational aspect of gangs in the area. The majority of youth who associated with a gang had parents who were also affiliated with that gang. Often these families lived on small subsistence farms with a small garden and generally goats. Youth would get up around 5am in the morning to do "farming" related activities, and then some would go to school. Perhaps these "farming" activities make them “rural” gangs?

The U.S. Department of Justice has found that poverty is less of an indicator of gangs in rural areas compared to urban areas. Instead, data has shown that economic growth is what "moves gangs into an area" that has not previously seen gang activity. Perhaps the ever expanding city of Visalia, so close to Goshen would explain the gang presence. [In fact annexation has been a hot topic between these two cities, which the local militia is ready to bear arms in case that occurs... stay tuned for that discussion.]

Attitudes from the militia as well as “old timers” (often referred to as “Okies” and Portuguese Americans) reflect outrage towards vandalism and other gang related activity that occurs in Goshen. This supports the Judicial observation that “rural communities respond with greater outrage than urban ones to crimes that occur in their midst, apparently because crime is rare and thus more shocking in rural areas than in metropolitan ones. (Rural Rhetoric 232). However, it is hard for law enforcement and social workers to pinpoint whether gang related activity is occurring from members from within the community as much as it occurs from passersby on the CA 99.

Monday, September 24, 2007

3 issues starting with "Probably those boots"

Reading the Engel article reminded me of one my favorite moments when I lived in Madison in the mid 1990s. This was before September 11, and airport security was much more lax than it is today. At the Dane County Regional Airport, I walked through security and the metal detector went off. The guard didn't even get up. He looked at me, said "Probably those boots" and waived me through. I was wearing steel-toed workboots, and a guard working at a regional airport in a rural state probably had many pairs of workboots set off the metal detector every week. Engel talks about how locals settle disputes out of court when other locals are involved. I also have the anecdotal impression that how people in rural areas choose to enforce laws is based at least partially on whether they believe that the laws have value to the local community. This would mean that federal laws are given the weight the local communities feel they deserve. The idea that I might have been smuggling a weapon on a plane as well as wearing farm boots did not seem to cross the guard's mind at that time. It may have been that it was (at least in his mind) out of the realm of possibility for locals.

During Morning Edition on NPR this morning, they were discussing Dell's announcement that they have created a PC to market specifically in rural China as part of their overall strategy to increase sales in China past their current 10% market share. Lenovo (a Chinese company which includes the former PC division of IBM) has announced their own low cost computer for the rural market that will use a person's TV as a monitor. Back to the anecdotal: when I was last in Wisconsin, the July 4th barbecue (all the brats cooked in beer that you can eat) included a teacher who was excited about the new iMac she had bought, but frustrated because it came without a modem and her area only had dialup access. She found that her old modem was not USB and could not be used with the new machine. As a rural customer, she was frustrated that she would have to pay extra to buy an additional modem just to get lower quality Internet service than everyone at the party. Clearly, the computer industry is not as focused on the needs of rural America as they are on the needs of rural China.

Finally, on the subject of abortion, the great state of Missouri has passed a law that requires locations that perform 5 or more abortions per year to register as ambulatory surgical centers, which requires them to meet a higher set of safety standards. NPR's Morning Edition discussed the impact of this law and the lawsuit to enjoin it. If not enjoined, the law could force the closure of all but one of Missouri's available clinics which perform abortions. One clinic claims that it would cost over a million dollars to bring the clinic into compliance with the new law. For those who are interested in the fair and balanced approach, Operation Rescue has a different take on the new law.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The latest on the tragic tale of Oxycontin in rural America

Oxycontin and other opioid analgesics have been making news in relation to rural America for several years now, and a few states have responded (or attempted to) to the problem. This story from the Daily Yonder summarizes the most recent, devastating statistics on deaths caused by overdoses of Oxycontin (and related drugs) not only in Appalachia, with which the drug has been most closely associated, but also with rural parts of New England and elsewhere in the South.

But why is this happening mostly in rural America? A Maine reporter quoted in the Daily Yonder speculated: “Maine's rural nature and relatively homogenous culture make residents more susceptible to prescription drug addictions.” He concluded that "tight-knit, static communities make it easy for prescription drugs to change hands between friends and relatives.” But he also observed that some places are at greater risk than others, noting in particular a county "positioned along common routes for drug trafficking between New York and the Downeast portion of the state.” I am not sure I am entirely convinced by this speculation, though it rings at least partly true.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The (nearly) lost art of the sheep dog

Here's another story of urban intrusion into the rural -- well, into a formerly rural practice or art. What an irony that an architect and an accountant, who appear to be in the category of those who "have sheep to entertain our dogs," are taking top prizes in an institution like the Mendocino County Fair's sheep dog finals. Only two sheep ranchers (one from Yolo County) actually competed this year. Note also the Mendocino County Native, Dr. Colfax, who says of the competition, “It’s what everyone wants America to look like. It’s an illusion we all collectively embrace.” This piece is also worth reading for the history of sheep ranching in the U.S. in the last century -- which is part of the history of California agriculture.

The Perennial Question: What (or where) is "Rural"?

This discussion of yet another definition of rurality, this one for purposes of the farm bill, touches on one of the issues that has come up in class: wealthy resort areas with small year-round populations that qualify them as "rural" for some purposes. (Be sure to see the list of such communities -- Telluride, CO among them! -- at the end of the piece.) The example highlighted here is Provincetown, Massachusetts, on ritzy Cape Cod, which received a $1.95 million loan from USDA to construct a dock (to ship the peninsula's surplus produce?) and $3 million in grants and loans to build an art gallery. Not exactly what I think of when I contemplate rural America and the challenges facing rural places.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Obama garners more in donations from rural areas than other candidates, blue or red

This analysis from The Daily Yonder shows Barak Obama leading other candidates in contributions from rural counties, with Mitt Romney running a close second.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A different approach to Native American land

The preceding post about the Rumsey Band of the Wintum Indians and their casino development touched on the how some Native American communities are tied to specific land for economic development. In Alaska, most Native communities are organized differently than most in the lower 48. In the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (conveniently summarized in the fact statement in Alaska v. Village of Venetie), the federal government transitioned Native communities from reservations into regional and village corporations in which individuals own shares. The corporations were assigned land and a monetary settlement of $963 million from the federal government and anticipated oil revenues. Different corporations have met with different levels of economic success and some yield healthy dividends to shareholders. One of the effects has been an interesting, albeit complicated, interaction between Native communities and municipal and state government.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

A conflict between differing rural interests, right here in Yolo County

This story tells of the conflict between two rural interest groups: the Rumsey Band of Wintun Indians who own Cache Creek Casino and the long-timers (including agricultural interests) among Capay Valley residents where the casino is situated. As outlined in the article, the former have stepped on the toes of the latter by building and operating the casino, which they are in the process of expanding with a 10-story, 450-room hotel and event/conference center -- all in the midst of some of Yolo County California's best orchards and fields.

Is it fair to say that the Rumsey Band have imposed an urban phenomenon upon their rural neighbors? The reporter refers to the casino's "Las Vegas-like footprint," and even the manager of the casino says, "If I could put this in the middle of San Francisco, I would in a second, but the trust land is here."

More crime in rural America

This story, first published with more detail in the New York Times on Wednesday, 12 September, tells of the kidnapping and torture of a woman in rural West Virginia. I assume that the NYT saw this as worthy of space because of the race angle: the victim is black and her six assailants are white. The earlier version of the story, no longer available on line, told in detail the background of intergenerational poverty and crime associated with two of the suspects, the mother and son Brewster, each of whom has served time for killing another.

Like the story I posted yesterday about vigilante justice in Tennessee, this one reports on a rural "good Samaritan" neighbor who assisted the victim.