Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A dearth of lawyers in rural Japan

A story in today's NYT comments on the concentration of Japanese lawyers (50%) in Tokyo -- and their accompanying shortage in rural Japan. The dateline is Yakumo, a small city of almost 20,000 within a legal district of about 50,000. Journalist Norimitsu Onishi reports that it is not unusual for cities five times that size to have not a single lawyer.

When a lawyer arrived in Yakumo pursuant to a national campaign to increase the number of lawyers in the hinterland, residents were slow to notice him. Here's an excerpt about the town's new lawyer, Katsumune Hirai:
He was perplexed that, so far, few had come to him for advice on handling debts, the biggest source of work for lawyers right now. “Tokyo’s economy is doing well these days,” said Mr. Hirai, a baby-faced 33-year-old who has been practicing law for four years. "* * * The economy’s very weak in the countryside, so we see a great number of consultations nationwide about debts, especially from people with highly urgent matters.”
So far, Mr. Hirai mostly deals with land disputes, and he speculates that before he set up his office here, these clients would have sought counsel in a larger city or "resigned themselves to their fate." The story echoes questions I have earlier raised here: what happens in rural places where lawyers are unavailable? Do people resolve disputes on their own? take matters into their own hands, as through self help?

The story also reports on Japan's goal, as reflected in the new lawyer's presence in Yakumo. The report indicates that increasing the number of lawyers is part of wider judicial reforms. Other measures have included the founding of 74 law schools in the past four years. The current system, purusant to which only 3 % of those who take the national bar exam pass it, will be abolished in 2011.

The Japanese government had expected the country to have 3,000 new lawyers by 2010, but the bar pass rate has not been as high as it anticipated so that goal will likely be unmet.

Another (related) question that occurs to me is what, exactly, Japan is trying to accomplish by making lawyers more accessible throughout the nation. More litigation or less? Presumably it does not wish to foment conflict. The story reports that the clients who came to see the new lawyer on a recent day were embarrassed at doing so. Mr Hirai indicates that his goal of dispelling such shame is why he established his office in such a prominent place in the town:
After all, this is a small town * * * Because I’m right in front of the train station, everybody will know if a person came to this office. If I’d settled instead in a more secluded part of town, people might think that this is a shady business after all, and that I’m a bad guy.
But is this embarrassment about consulting a lawyer a Japanese thing? or is it about being rural and priding themselves on being able to sort out such conflicts on their own, as research indicates is the case in the U.S.? Does informal order exist in these rural places--an informal order the Japanese government hopes to replace by making legal advice more accessible? Or is providing the lawyers about assisting residents in relatively remote areas to navigate their conflicts with larger institutions, such as creditors, with whom informal resolution is not viable?

Rurality Then and Now, Here and There (Part V): "End of the World" or Rural Gentrification?

Not all housing developments or subdivisions in rural areas raise land prices significantly. In some cases, the developers don’t add a great deal of value – in terms of roads and other infrastructure – and so the cost per acre does not rise dramatically. In many cases, of course, farmers or other long-time land owners of large parcels simply don’t have the know-how or desire to subdivide their land and sell it off in lots, so they sell to a developer who takes care of these tasks while, of course, seeking a profit. Some of the developments we’ve seen in Amador, El Dorado, and Amador Counties are of this type. They may be more affordable, but they offer few amenities. In fact, I would put them in the “end of the world” instead the “rural gentrification” category, even though they are in “developments.”


I am not sure how to categorize the land involved in my first encounter with a rural subdivision: rural gentrification or end of the world? It was in my own beloved Newton County (AR). On the one hand, it was just a couple of miles from Jasper, the county seat. But, it was in one of the least densely populated counties in Arkansas, at least 80 miles from what was then becoming the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers MSA. It had electricity, but no water system at the time.


It happened like this: About 15 years ago, my grandfather sold to a land developer the several-hundred-acre chunk of the Pruitt family homestead that he had inherited a decade or two earlier. I had already been away from Newton County for some years and was living a very urban life in Europe. I remember saying to my folks then: “What do you mean land developer?” and “What do you mean they’re turning it into subdivision?” There weren’t any subdivisions in the entire county, as far as I knew, except the so-called Nance Addition, next to the school buildings in Jasper, the county seat. It had about a dozen houses, on lots that were perhaps a half acre or smaller.


In part, I was having trouble envisioning what we called the old sawmill place, the area where we had cut our firewood when I was a kid, as anything else. I also could not imagine who would buy these properties. People in Newton County generally didn’t have money to buy property, I realized. Most lived on land passed down to them by their parents, sometimes in the same homes in which they’d been raised or a new house built on another corner of the family’s property. When my folks told me that out-of-state newcomers would buy these lots, I was incredulous. Who would want to move to Newton County? This wasn’t, after all, Bella Vista or Hot Springs Village, with their golf courses and lakes and other amenities.


But the developers must have known their market. They bought the land and divided it into lots of 10 acres or more. They made a few improvements, adding some roads to the old logging road that had been there previously, but all remained gravel. They put a sign that said “Little Buffalo River Estates” at the main entrance into the “subdivision.” They planned a flower garden for that entrance, but it never materialized.


Sure enough, newcomers bought a lot of the property. So did one relatively affluent "local" family (who had moved to Newton County many years before and who ran a local motel and canoe rental service). Most buyers still have not, a decade on, done anything with their properties. I guess they see the purchases more as an investment, or aren’t yet ready to retire. Last time I was there, one retired couple from out of state had just finished constructing a very nice home and had moved in.


A few buyers defaulted on their loans, which had been carried by the land developer. The land developer was ready to move on to another project and just wanted to wrap up his Newton County venture. That permitted me to buy a couple of those “lots” – including the old sawmill site – at a better price.


At the time of my purchase, I was interested to find that a few covenants and restrictions had been imposed on the lots. Among them: no junk cars were allowed on the property. I was amused – and pleased. When my father – who dealt in heavy equipment and junk in his later years – subsequently used my land as a repository for some junk buses, I noted this restriction to him. He responded that the restriction was on junk cars, not junk buses. Such hair splitting led me to think that he might have had the makings of a lawyer, though he had neither the opportunity nor the temperament.


I also wondered if my father thought that was a winning legal argument. I realize now that he probably didn’t. More likely, he was counting on the fact that the restriction was irrelevant as a practical matter. No one was ever going to seek to enforce it.


And there, once again, is the effective absence of law, public or private, in rural places . . . or will that change with a burgeoning group of newcomers/out-of-staters?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Rural-urban difference, cocaine, and the guerrilla war in Colombia

Simon Romero's front-page story in Sunday's NYT presents an example of the difference rurality can make to crime fighting, although that is not really the story's focus. Instead, its focus is on how Colombian coca cultivation, pushed farther and farther into remote areas, continues to fund a guerrilla war there, killing many rural residents. Meanwhile, that war no longer plays out in Colombian cities. Here are some excerpts from "Cocaine Sustains War in Rural Colombia," which features the town of El Rosario, a remote municipality:

A decade ago, coca was a rare crop in the area, farmers in El Rosario said. Then, eradication efforts under Plan Colombia, the $5 billion counterinsurgency and antinarcotics effort financed by the United States, forced the migration of coca cultivation here from other parts of the country.

To them, the eradication effort has simply pushed the coca — and the groups that feed off it — into ever-more isolated parts of the country. Now that coca has become their livelihood, too, the farmers are determined to hold on to it.

While the article discusses coca eradication efforts, mostly through aerial spraying, it only hints at the challenges that rurality poses to protecting rural Colombians from the warring factions.

The Bridges of Craighead County

The Cache River and Bayou DeView Bridges, both spanning the Cache River in northeast Arkansas, are up for grabs. Indeed, they're free! These 80-something-year-old bridges, attached to place names that reflect the French colonial period in Arkansas, are in Craighead County, near the town of Cash, population 294. The bridges, which have retained their structural integrity, are being replaced in the name of progress. New free-standing spans will accommodate the road's widening to four lanes.

Because the bridges are eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, federal law requires that the state find a way to move and maintain them. Besides the bargain-basement price tag, the state has offered up to $100K per bridge to defray moving expenses. Nearby Jonesboro, home of Arkansas State University, has expressed interest in one for a green-space project, and a Girl Scout camp may take the other.

Here's part of Steve Barnes' story in the NYT. (Cache River Bridge photo by James Bayard for Jonesboro Sun).

To the unschooled eye, the cement and steel assemblages that serve State Highway 226 appear strictly utilitarian, utterly unremarkable, even ugly. But to architecture buffs, they are minor marvels.

The rarer jewel is the Cache River Bridge, a 180-foot camelback pony truss bridge west of Cash, which records indicate is the last of its kind in Arkansas. Its counterpart, the Bayou DeView, east of town, is a 192-foot Parker pony truss, one of 16 in the state still standing.

Frances McSwain, director of the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, waxes lyrical about the bridges, calling them "fun little bridges" with "a lot more to give." Cash farmers gathered at Vicki’s Store were rather less impressed. Journalist Barnes reports that they were far more concerned about "the rising prices of seed, fertilizer and, above all, diesel fuel, which have combined to double their production costs."

I admit to feeling more sentimental about these bridges than the farmers at Vicki's Store. Although I'm from NW Arkansas, across the state from Cash and these bridges, structures like these are the stuff of my childhood. I agree with McSwain: fun little bridges, indeed.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

My Rural Travelogue (Part IV): Klamath, California

Klamath, California was our destination on the day we drove from southern Oregon into northern California. We had picked Klamath because of its prime location for seeing the state and national redwood parks. They were magnificent, and I was pleased to see the boost they bring the local economy. Indeed, a number of the tourists we met were from Europe. Of course, travel to the States is so inexpensive for them now, and they are drawn to this well-known if out-of-the-way corner of California.


After the clean air and other delights of the Oregon coast, our initial re-entry to California wasn't so pleasant. First, there was road work just over the state line, then the signs for Pelican Bay State Prison (a reminder of how California’s prison industrial complex has colonized several rural communities), and finally an enormous mushroom of smoke visible over the mountain just south of Crescent City. It was from the California fires then raging inland, and by the time we got to Klamath, the air was noxious, dark, and heavy with particulate matter. Nevertheless, we endured the dreadful air for a short time to enjoy some young whales frolicking and feeding just where the Klamath River flows into the Pacific (photo top; note the ominous skies at 4pm).


The town of Klamath was a sobering experience in ways unrelated to the fires. Our first attempt to find our motel led us into the town’s only residential neighborhood, with several dozen inexpensive homes, probably built in the ‘80s or so, but in terrible disrepair, cars and clutter strewn across yards. Incongruously interspersed among these were a few houses that, while structurally similar, were neat as the proverbial pen with rock-work trim and colorful flower gardens. I wondered who lived in the latter, being so houseproud in a place where there's plenty to discourage it.


Prominent in tiny Klamath, population 651, are the place’s associations with the Yurok tribe, the largest in California. They occupy land on either side of the Klamath River for about 40 miles. Wikipedia says that 80% of Yurok live in poverty and that 70% are without electricity or telephone service, but the most imposing building in Klamath is the tribal headquarters (photo above right). The tribal police have a separate facility, up by the residential area. The primary business in town is a large convenience store and gas station that is apparently owned by the tribe, the Yurok Travel Center.


We stayed in a delightful, impeccably-run motel called Ravenwood. The owners have done a terrific job of renovating and beautifying an old motor lodge. Blooming plants are everywhere, along with a charming gazebo and swings. One reward for their efforts has been great reviews on TripAdvisor, which is how we selected them. We enjoyed one of their great little vacation rental apartments with a full kitchen and a separate sitting area.


While Klamath had this great place to stay, the dining options were not so salubrious. We didn’t wander up to the Yurok Travel Center, though a sign there indicated that it housed a Subway franchise. Across from Ravenwood was an establishment I would call a “pool hall.” A prominently posted sign announced that no one under the age of 21 could enter, although a variety of fried foods were available for purchase at its take-away window. Next to it was the Klamath River café, which had a good range of sandwich and burger fare, along with pie and ice cream. The market next door was closed; indeed, the café was the only functioning business in the little “shopping center” there.


One of the first things I had noticed as we entered town was a small sign at the main junction that said “Tent Revival.” Klamath being so small, the tent wasn’t hard to find, and next to it the old school bus that probably carries the evangelist from town to town (photo above left). I don’t think I’ve ever seen a tent revival outside the South, and I wondered how many folks they were attracting each evening, and what had led the evangelist to this town in particular.


In short Klamath presented one of the most apparent displays of California poverty that I have seen, although we saw others as we traveled south through Del Norte (population 27,000), Humboldt (pop. 126,000), and Mendocino (pop. 86,000) counties. Except for the tourist spots, these places represent forgotten California, albeit that which is geographically the true "northern California." No, the state doesn’t stop at the Bay Area, which is often referred to as northern California. There’s a whole ‘nother third in land area, though it surely represents less than a twentieth in population. Except the gentrified resort parts, mostly on the coast and mostly in Sonoma and Mendocino Counties, the region remains largely ignored, largely rural, and largely economically depressed.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

"If you've seen one rural place, you've seen one rural place"

That's a familiar adage to those who study rurality, and the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire took it at least somewhat seriously when they undertook the study they've just published: Place Matters: Challenges and Opportunities in Four Rural Americas. Authors Lawrence C. Hamilton, Leslie R. Hamilton, Cynthia M. Duncan and Chris R. Colocousis looked at four types of rural communities: (1) amenity-rich rural America (think rural resorts and rural gentrification); (2) declining, resource-dependent rural America (communities dependent on agriculture and mining); (3) chronically poor rural America (think Appalachia, the Mississippi Delta); and (4) amenity/decline rural America (think the Pacific Northwest and New England).

The report is based on the findings of a 2007 survey of almost 8,000 residents of 19 counties in 9 states. A lot of topics are covered, including educational opportunity, marriage, outmigration, the natural environment, and the use of public assistance. The authors offer different recommendations for the four different categories of rural places, but they suggest these "policy ideas" for all rural places:
  • a need for advanced telecommunications technology
  • access to affordable healthcare
  • effective educational facilities and staff for children and adults
  • more accessible and efficient public transportation
  • affordable housing
  • jobs that offer living wages
The study notes (quoting Drabenstott & Sheaff 2002) that "Rural America has a tendency to look backward at what it has lost, rather than looking forward at what it might gain." They appropriately call for attention to ongoing changes (and indicate the intent to do a follow-up study in many of the communities in two years) to best inform our policy-making about rural places.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Yet another way to grow (or at least salvage) a rural economy (that is also a rural lifestyle) . . .

The second installment in the New York Times "Going Down the Road" series appears today. This piece by Kirk Johnson focuses on the great state of Wyoming, in particular its northern tier. The story features both a look at some current rural lifestyles near Sheridan, the dateline, and a reminder of an interesting moment in history when a movement initiated in Sheridan would have created a new state called Absaroka, part northern Wyoming, part southern Montana, part western South Dakota.

There's rich imagery of both the land and the people in Johnson's writing:
“The grass culture — people who make a living from growing grass, or from the animals that eat the grass — that was Absaroka,” said Ken Kerns, a 76-year-old rancher who has lived most of his life on the Double Rafter Ranch, which his family staked out in the 1880s about 45 minutes from Sheridan, Absaroka’s fleeting capital. 
Ranch families like the Kernses — conservative, self-sufficient and wanting mostly to be left alone — were demographic anchors of the Absarokan movement. And the never-ending battle to sustain ranching as a way of life in turn created the character of Swickard-like curve-ball creativity, Mr. Kerns said — that if one thing does not work, you try another.
For the Kernses, keeping the ranch alive has meant bringing in paying guests for week-long cattle drives. In short, the cattle themselves no longer paid the bills.

Johnson further links the story's two threads and provides more details about the Writer's Project in the Wyoming context, as with this sentence:
Agriculture and its discontents set off the first sparks in the Absaroka movement, starting in South Dakota around 1935 where farmers and ranchers chafed that the New Deal of President Franklin D. Roosevelt was leaving them out.
Read the entire story and note the many rural themes that run throughout it, among them self-sufficiency, resourcefulness, independence, spatial isolation, and attachment to place.

Something else that would stimulate rural economies

I note that T. Boone Pickens, in his advocacy of renewable energy sources that will wean us from our dependence on oil, is also touting how this would benefit rural economies. I suppose he is thinking about the locations of wind farms and such.

I saw another rural perspective on how we should respond to our energy crisis the other day on Fox News (it was blaring in the Toyota dealer's waiting room where I was captive while my 2001 Prius (!!!) was being serviced). Many folks (at the least the ones Fox interviewed) living in remote parts of Alaska--near ANWAR-- advocate drilling there. Learning the circumstances of their lives was sobering (milk at $6 gallon, for example), and I can imagine their economic desperation, but I'm with Pickens on this one. We need a medium-to-long-term solution to our energy crisis, and wouldn't it be great if that solution served rural America in ways other than lower prices at the pump.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Preserving a Western lifestyle, while stimulating rural economies

A story this morning on NPR's Day to Day program featured a strategy for rural development being used in New Mexico: providing funds to enhance the tradition of rodeos there, including in small towns, because of the boost it brings to their economies. One person interviewed calls rodeo a Western way of life for youth, akin to soccer in other parts of the country.

Hear the full story here. This is the lede from the website:
Three years ago New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson formed the New Mexico Rodeo Council in an attempt to boost his state's economy. The effort is beginning to pay off. This week, the state hosts the National High school rodeo finals, billed the "world's largest rodeo."
That "world's largest rodeo" is being held this week in Farmington, N.M., in the Four Corners region. Farmington is micropolitan, with a population of about 38,000.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

"Where Research and Tourism Collide" -- in Rural Colorado and elsewhere

See the NYT story under that headline, which is about Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Gothic, Colorado here. The sub-head is "Tourism Creates a Speed Bump for Remote Laboratories' Field Sites."

Gothic isn't even a Census Designated Place on the Census Bureau website, and nearby Crested Butte is a rural resort with a population of just 1,529. Author Michelle Nijhuis describes the latter has having evolved from a place where you couldn't buy a T-shirt or a coffee mug in the 1960s, "reborn as a skiing and mountain-biking mecca today [with] rows of boutique shops and easy mountain access."

Here's a quote from the story that summarizes the rub not only between science and tourism, but also between wildlife and entertainment, between old and new and -- in a sense-- between rural and urban.

Founded in 1928 on the site of an abandoned silver-mining town, the independent lab attracts students and scientists from around the world. Working beside a 12,625-foot peak reminiscent of a Gothic cathedral, researchers have gathered decades of data on stream insects, salamanders, marmots and the flowering schedules of alpine plants.

“The whole lab works in one way or another on essentially long-term experiments,” said Paul Ehrlich of Stanford University, who has studied butterfly populations in and around the laboratory since 1960. Global warming has sharpened scientific interest in these unusually long data sets, which reveal climate-induced changes that cannot be seen in shorter studies.

But the tourism in Crested Butte, which can bring as many as 750 vehicles a day through the laboratory, creates problems for the researchers and that which they are studying. Birds are more likely to abandon their nests; unleashed dogs trounce field experiments, and road dust is so thick it impedes wildlife observation. Long-studied creatures are sometimes killed by speeding vehicles.

The story also gives other examples of where such interests collide: Mt. Palmer in Antarctica and the Desert Laboratory near Tuscon. In the latter, it is another urban interest, suburban and exurban growth, that is decimating the natural laboratory.

I've written some about whether rural resorts, more common in the West than elsewhere, are truly rural or not. I've also lamented some consequences of this urban use of the rural, but this story presents a new twist. In spite of my suggestion above about research interests being synonymous with the rural, I realize that it's not quite as simple as that. In this instance, though, rural interests seem more closely aligned with those of the laboratory than with wealthy urban folks seeking a faux-rural playground.

This just doesn't seem natural, but I guess that depends on how you define "natural"

So, we've been reading and hearing a lot lately about eating locally, and some of the newest concepts and business models associated with the phenomenon were the topic of a New York Times story today. The story is by Kim Severson, and it reports on manifestations of the locavore trend such as having a vegetable garden planted and tended in one's own yard -- by someone else; owning a share in a cow; and ordering from a caterer's "100-mile-menu." It's the most emailed story on the NYT website right now, more than 24 hours after it was first posted.

Here's how the story ends:

The author Barbara Kingsolver, whose book “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” was a best seller last year, did not have the lazy locavore in mind when she wrote about the implications of making her family spend a year eating local. But she celebrates the trend.

“As a person of rural origin who has lived much of my life in rural places,” she said, “I can’t tell you how joyful it makes me to hear that it’s trendy for people in Manhattan to own a part of a cow.”

I'm a big fan of Kingsolver's and I'm all for good food and for being environmentally conscious, but I don't know that I can say news of these endeavors brings me joy. I guess I'm inherently suspect of -- and at least a little put off by --anything that strikes me as faux rural, which these as-long-as-you-don't-get-your-hands-dirty food trends surely do. Does it make you a farmer if you pay someone to grow a plot of vegetables on your land? I don't think so. Does it permit you to claim virtue by association with agrarian myths? Perhaps. Is it a good thing IF it reduces your carbon foot-print? Absolutely.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Regulating "the general slovenliness of rural America"

While the satirical Obama cartoon got all the attention in this week's New Yorker, author Elizabeth Kolbert explored of the history lawns in America in the issue, as well as the accompanying regulation that enabled what was apparently a rapid shift in ornamental horticulture. While in the neighborhood in which I grew up the HOA was the reliable enforcer of all things lawn, the article discusses widely adopted "weed laws": municipal ordinances regulating the type and care required for front yards. Instead of being vaguely-worded upkeep laws, these ordinances are often fairly specific.

A recent case in Sacramento illustrates how: Anne Hartridge, apparently a fairly crunchy East Sacramentan, let her lawn die to do her part in the regional water shortage. She got a citation in the mail shortly after. Sacramento's municpal code requires front yards be landscaped and irrigated (and during which hours they may be irrigated). While Hartridge avoided a fine, it seems unclear whether her mulching compromise will suffice long-term. Others have been less fortunate: Kolbert noted that a seventy-year old woman in Utah was briefly incarcerated for her brown lawn.

The connection to the rural might have escaped me without Kolbert's discussion of the origin of the lawn phenomena. Apparently much of it went back to some mid-nineteenth century writings of Andrew Jackson Downing, a widely published horticulturalist. He was apparently quite concerned by "the general slovenliness of rural America, where pigs and poultry were allowed to roam free, 'bare and bald' houses were thrown up, and trees were planted haphazardly, if at all." (quoted by Kolbert). As Kolbert charted the evolution of the perception of the lawn from a luxurious distinction to everyman communitarian project, I found myself wondering to what degree the lawn has been about people's impressions, thoughts, and feelings about rural places and people.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A no-tuition, no-frills college -- and best of all, it is serving Appalachia

Tamar Lewin has a story about Berea College, in Berea, Kentucky, in today's NYT. The school charges no tuition, relying largely on its huge endowment to do so. Partly as a consequence, admission is highly competitive. Only 1 in 22 applicants is admitted, and its yield among those admitted exceeds that of Harvard. Some quotes from Lewin's story follow:

Actually, what buys that education is Berea’s $1.1 billion endowment, which puts the college among the nation’s wealthiest. But unlike most well-endowed colleges, Berea has no football team, coed dorms, hot tubs or climbing walls. Instead, it has a no-frills budget, with food from the college farm, handmade furniture from the college crafts workshops, and 10-hour-a-week campus jobs for every student.

Berea’s approach provides an unusual perspective on the growing debate over whether the wealthiest universities are doing enough for the public good to warrant their tax exemption, or simply hoarding money to serve an elite few. As many elite universities scramble to recruit more low-income students, Berea’s no-tuition model has attracted increasing attention.

Lewin calls the college a "haven" for lower-income students who don't have the clothes and consumer goods to fit in elsewhere. More than 75% of Berea students receive Pell grants.

Lewin's story also discusses at some length why other prestigious private schools (such as Amherst College) have rejected the Berea model in favor of continuing to grow their endowments, even as they have modestly increased the number of students from needy families and as some have moved from a loan-based financial aid model to a grant-based one. Berea's operating budget is less than half that of Amherst, while Berea has about 100 more students than the elite New England college.

The college is located in Berea, Kentucky, which, with a population of 9,851, is not rural by Census Bureau standards but is non-metro by the OMB definition. The college's website touts its diversity and features many faces of color. Here's some info from the institution's website, which indicates a self-consciously Appalachian focus:

Berea College is distinctive among institutions of higher learning. Founded in 1855 as the first interracial and coeducational college in the South, Berea charges no tuition and admits only academically promising students, primarily from Appalachia, who have limited economic resources.

***

Berea's primary service region is the Southern Appalachian region, but students come from all states in the U.S. and in a typical year, from more than 60 other countries representing a rich diversity of colors, cultures, and faiths. About one in three students represents an ethnic minority.

Berea continues to build upon a distinctive history of 150 years of learning, labor and service, and find new ways to apply our mission (the Great Commitments) to contemporary times by promoting kinship among all people, serving communities in Appalachia and beyond and living sustainably to conserve limited natural resources.

One of the website's revolving slogans: "You're worth more than the tuition you can afford." Another is, "Grow your potential, not your debt." (Photo also from college website's homepage). How refreshing! A genuine effort to spread the wealth to a population so often overlooked by both public and private decisionmakers in this country.

Comment: As of4:30 EST on the day of publication, this was the most emailed story on the NYT website. I wonder if it is making the movers and shakers of the world, who tend not be from or in Appalachia, think critically about how prestigious universities are using their endowments.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Two more stories suggesting the (possible) rural character of Central Park

I've scoffed before at the idea of Manhattan's Central Park as rural, but two recent stories in the NYT have called attention to the park's "wilderness" and "wildlife," if not necessarily its rurality.

One is headlined, "In an Urban Wilderness: Tracking the Hoots of Night," and it is accompanied by a photo of folks looking for moths at night in Central Park.

The other, "Behind the dam, one fierce holdout," is about the relocation of a snapping turtle and other wildlife by Central Park Conservancy workers earlier this week. Here's an excerpt:

The mission was billed as a “fish rescue,” but it was a big old snapping turtle that stole the show on Wednesday — as 24-inch, 30-pound reptiles tend to do, especially if they look more like inhabitants of “Jurassic Park” than Central Park.

The rescue was necessary because the Central Park Conservancy is undertaking an ambitious restoration of the lake, the largest of the park’s naturalistic water bodies (leaving aside the reservoir).

The goal is to renew the lake “in a manner that recalls its picturesque origins while recognizing its increasing significance as wildlife habitat,” the conservancy said.
Wildlife habitat, huh? Well, that is certainly one aspect of rurality.

Friday, July 18, 2008

More changes in the food chain, and to rural economies, thanks in part to ethanol

A story with a dateline of Leland, Mississippi, population 5,502, appeared in today's New York Times. Journalist David Streitfeld reports that catfish farming has become unprofitable due to the high cost of the fish food, which is part corn, part soybean, and the low cost of imported catfish. John Dillard, who helped pioneer catfish farming in the 1960s, declares the business "dead."

See a slide show here. A caption on one photo in the series states that raising catfish has been an economic mainstay on the Mississippi Delta. The land previously used for artificial, shallow ponds for raising catfish will be used to grow corn, which is now much more profitable. The story further discusses the economic impact of catfish farming -- and its demise -- in the rural South, which Streitfeld characterizes as a "hard-luck, poverty-plagued region."

One of the most playful aspects of the piece touches briefly on catfish as culture. I like this quote:

Catfish started out as a local delicacy, widely celebrated in the lore of the Deep South. Mark Twain saluted it in “Life on the Mississippi.” A character in Eudora Welty’s story “The Wide Net” says after stuffing himself, “There ain’t a thing better.”

N.B. This has been one of the most emailed stories on the NYT website for most of the day; I wonder what about it attracts the attention of NYT readers, who are currently emailing the story about southern New England escapes, see the post below, at an even higher rate.

N.B. Another 24 hours on, it is 10:15 pm PST, and this story is no longer on the top-10 emailed list. The story about "134 miles of Yankee charm" is, however. Nevertheless, that piece is two steps below another travel story: "Seizing the day in Tel Aviv." Perhaps the popularity of these stories has more to do with the demographic of NYTimes readers. Many live in New York and might get to travel to the lovely spots featured in the Escapes section; the economy of rural Mississippi is of human interest, but not of any direct, short-term utility.

Travel writing to fuel the myth of the rural idyll

This, about rural southern New England, is from today's NYT "Escapes" section. The story, by Maura J. Casey, is headlined "134 miles of Yankee Charm" and purports to identify largely undiscovered rural gems of the region, in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and southern Massachusetts. She writes:
When you’re primed for a taste of today’s countryside, leave Sturbridge on Route 131, veer right onto Route 169, and drive out where fast-food restaurants are nonexistent but horse farms and general stores are commonplace.
It all sounds so genteel, so civilized, doesn't it -- quite different to most of our associations with rural places in Appalachia and the mountain West, for example. As with those places, though, experiencing a rural locale merely as a tourist provides a uni-dimensional perspective on rural living, and that perspective is very often an idealized one. Certainly, the rural New England experience suggested by Casey's story and the accompanying photos do and are.

Here's a link to the article's accompanying multi-media feature.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Ag without rural?

See this image of what may be the future of the rural-urban interface? Is it possible that about the only way in which rural America matters now -- for food production-- might be eliminated?

The New York Times headline is "County, the City Version: Farms in the Sky Gain New Interest," and the story is by Bina Venkataraman. The image you'll find there is titled "The Living Tower" and is by SOA Architects. Don't miss the multi-media link here.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Timothy Egan on Obama and the fly-over (a/k/a rural) states

This, by guest columnist Timothy Egan, is one of the most-emailed items in the New York Times right now. The dateline is Missoula, Montana, and Egan begins by conveying a conversation he had there with a member of Sportsmen for Obama. Here's an excerpt from the column:
Why are there sportsmen for Obama? Or for that matter, nearly a dozen paid Obama staffers in Montana, a state that Democrats have won only twice in the last 50 years? Surely, its three electoral votes are not the draw.

Recent polls show Obama ahead or nearly tied in Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota, the northern tier of the Democratic presidential desert. Talking to people under the Big Sky, you get the sense that three things are in play in the landscape of altered political expectations.

Read the entire column to find out what's on Egan's list of three factors that are making a difference for Obama in places like Montana.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Speaking of travel in the rural Pacific NW, don't miss this

William Yardley is retracing in the New York Times the routes of travel guides from the 1930s. The guides were written under the auspices of the Federal Writers Project, a WPA project during the Great Depression. In short, they were written in large part to give the writers, among them Zora Neale Hurstonk, Eudora Welty, and Saul Bellow.

Yardley's headline, "Places Captured in Time, but Not Frozen There," reminds us that, in spite of rurality's strong associations with stasis and tradition, rural places change, too. Among the places featured is Winthrop, Washington, which was where "the hard surfacing ends" when the Washington guide was written. But the place evolved quickly once a paved road over Washington Pass was completed in 1972. Yardley writes, quoting initially from the early travel guide.
“On weekdays and special occasions, these trading centers take on the appearance of pioneer towns, with hitching rails, haphazard sidewalks and crude plumbing,” the Washington State guide said of Winthrop and other towns in the Methow Valley. It went on to describe “riders on horseback, buckboards and buggies, and men with tanned faces and alert eyes in chaps and spurs, or blue jeans and Stetsons.”

Seven decades later, Winthrop is just a quick trip across the North Cascades Highway — an escape for Seattleites seeking the dry light, a reprieve from the gray and wet they know best. Car-roof racks carry mountain bikes, kayaks or cross-country skis, depending on the time of year. Twenty-somethings slouch in for espresso. Middle-aged couples browse bookstores.

“The sun shines over here,” said Dave Sandoz, the building official for Winthrop and its neighbor Twisp. “That’s the big thing. That makes people happy.”

And I guess that is one thing that hasn't changed on the the Eastern side of the Cascades.

Monday, July 14, 2008

My Rural Travelogue (Part III): Oregon

Oregon is a rural state by many measures and definitions, and we experienced two of its rural regions during our recent vacation. The first was in south central Oregon, around Crater Lake, in the Cascades and down the Umpqua River Valley to I-5 at Roseburg. The second was down the Oregon coast, from Lincoln City south to the California border.

As I suggested in my last post, the area around Crater Lake is remarkably undeveloped. We drove to the park via Klamath Falls, a small city of about 20,000, passing through very few small towns. One small town en route was Fort Klamath, where I stopped at the U.S. Post office to dispatch some postcards. There we saw a few motels and campgrounds, presumably to accommodate Crater Lake’s overflow visitors. On the whole, there’s very little commercial activity there, and it’s not even a CDP on the U.S. Census Bureau’s website.


North of Crater Lake Park, we opted to drive down Hwy 138, also known as the Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway. (Bend, in the high desert, is about 120 miles northeast of the Park). Highway 138 winds through mostly federal lands, primarily Umpqua National Forest, but it is also dotted with Oregon State Parks, and we stopped at several as we descended to I-5. The first was at Watson Falls which, at 274 feet, is the fourth highest in Oregon (bottom photo). A well-constructed trail leads almost all the way to the top (less than a mile), and features several nice vista points along the way. Once at the top, you get a similar experience to that at Vernal Falls in Yosemite – a lot of spray! Farther along Hwy 138, we stopped at Fall River Falls, an 85-foot tiered waterfall, and lastly at Deadline Falls, which is hardly a falls at all but where salmon can sometimes be seen jumping up stream.


Down this 80 mile stretch of Hwy 138, we saw extremely little commercial development. There were just three towns. Glide, the self-proclaimed gateway to Crater Lake, was by far the largest, with a population of 1,690 and offering a few motels, diners, and markets. This gorgeous area made it easy to see that Oregon is, indeed, a largely rural state – and we never even ventured farther east, into the much less sparsely populated regions.


The Oregon coast, by contrast, is quite developed. Ok, it is not developed in the way the coast of Hawai’i is developed, but apart from the areas kept au naturel by the Oregon state park system, there’s a pretty steady stream of hotels and motels lining the coast, at least in the central part of the state. Farther south, the coast is a bit more rugged, the development more limited to towns like Port Orford (photo top), Gold Beach (where the Rogue River meets the Pacific), and Brookings. All the way down 101, we enjoyed the steady stream of bridges over the rivers flowing into the Pacific; their art deco motifs made me think they must have been built in the same era, perhaps the 1930s.


Several of Oregon’s small coastal communities are micropolitan, but most are considerably smaller. Those in the former category include Coos Bay at about 15,000 and Newport at just under 10,000. Bandon and Brookings are smaller, with populations of 2,800 and 5,500 respectively.


As we drove through the stream of smallish cities and towns along the coast, we noticed very few chain enterprises. The grocery stores were independents or members of small, local chains. We didn’t see a Home Depot or Lowe's until we got into California, at Crescent City. Instead, a number of small, independent lumber yards and building supply stores are suppling these areas. About the only chain establishment that we saw regularly in small towns along the coast was Dairy Queen, which seems to be the fast-food hold out in towns too small or ill-located (i.e., not on an interstate highway) for McDonald’s to go.


We also saw indications that rural Oregonians defy the rural alignment with Hillary -- either that, or they've already made their peace with Obama being the nominee. (Of course, Obama carried Oregon in the primary, and he attracted a lot of rural voters then; he is also leading McCain in the polls now). In short, we saw several Obama signs --mostly the really large ones-- during our travels, but only two smallish ones for Ron Paul. We didn't see any McCain signs in the parts of rural Oregon we traveled, but maybe we just overlooked them.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Shame of Postville, Iowa

That is the headline for an editorial in tomorrow's New York Times about the unfair treatment of the hundreds of undocumented migrants arrested in the Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid of Agriprocessors in Postville, Iowa in May. I wrote about the raid in Postville, which has a population of 2,273, just after it happened.

The editorial draws from an essay written by Dr. Erik Camayd-Freixas, a professor and Spanish-language interpreter who witnessed the court proceedings in which the workers were brought into court, 10-by-10, to face criminal charges following the raid.

Here's an excerpt from the Times piece, with quotes from Camayd-Freixas' essay:
He said the court-appointed lawyers had little time in the raids’ hectic aftermath to meet with the workers, many of whom ended up waiving their rights and seemed not to understand the complicated charges against them.

Dr. Camayd-Freixas’s essay describes “the saddest procession I have ever witnessed, which the public would never see” — because cameras were forbidden.

“Driven single-file in groups of 10, shackled at the wrists, waist and ankles, chains dragging as they shuffled through, the slaughterhouse workers were brought in for arraignment, sat and listened through headsets to the interpreted initial appearance, before marching out again to be bused to different county jails, only to make room for the next row of 10.”

He wrote that they had waived their rights in hopes of being quickly deported, “since they had families to support back home.” He said that they did not understand the charges they faced, adding, “and, frankly, neither could I.”

No mention is made of the venue in the New York Times editorial, but the essay indicates that it was an outpost of the federal district court in Iowa. That is, for purposes of the first appearances of those detained in the raid, the federal district court had set up operations in the National Cattle Congress in Waterloo, about 75 miles from Postville.

The essay also provides more information about the court-appointed lawyers. According to Camayd-Freixas, all were criminal lawyers, but not immigration lawyers. The implication is that there is little overlap between the two fields of expertise, at least not in Iowa. (While Iowa has had a significant immigrant population for a couple of decades, but I don't know what this means about the availability of expert assistance with immigration laws throughout the state).

Reading this editorial and the essay that inspired it got me to thinking about how "justice" is meted out in rural locales versus urban ones, including the availability of expert legal services for "have-nots" such as the undocumented workers in Postville. As I read more about the Postville raid and the subsequent legal processing of those arrested, I found myself wanting to know more about how this initial appearance system -- which the editorial suggests was novel--came to be used in Iowa. Could it have been stopped with more expert legal assistance for the accused? Can the apparent harm done be reversed through some sort of appeals? Can it be prevented in the future? Would it have happened in California or Arizona, where perhaps more court-appointed lawyers are familiar with immigration laws?

This reminded me of another story about legal systems possibly running amok in out-of-the-way places, where they may be less accountable to the public. The ACLU apparently stepped in earlier this month to represent some of those arrested at the recent Rainbow Family gathering in western Wyoming. Does it take "big-city" lawyers (in this case the ACLU's Cheyenne office) to fight injustice, in this case allegedly carried out at the hands of both forest service and local officers on US Forest Service lands?

And what difference does it make that, in both of these instances, the alleged injustice was at the hands of federal authorities, not truly (or at least not entirely) local ones?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Obama sees America, but very little of the mid-South and rural places generally

The New York Times today reports on Obama's travels, on all of the new places he's seeing and marveling at. It also features an interactive map showing where he's been. While the photo accompanying the story shows him in Butte, Montana, (photo top by Jae C. Hong for the AP), a rural place by many measures, the places noted in the story, including in quotes from Obama, are mostly urban -- like New Orleans and Pittsburgh. In fairness, he also speaks glowingly of Texas, which features both rural and urban in the extreme. However, in the photo slide show accompanying the story, all of the rural places visited are in Iowa and New Hampshire -- where all of the candidates blanketed all of those states. One photo (other than those from NH and Iowa) struck me as looking like a rural place (outside Iowa and NH)-- the one from Brownsville, Texas. With a population of almost 140,000, however, Brownsville is urban by virtually any measure.

A quick glance at the map charting Obama's travels shows not a single visit to Arkansas (perhaps that is the Hillary factor and will change before the general election) or Oklahoma. He's been nowhere in Louisiana except New Orleans, in only one spot in Kansas (Lawrence, perhaps?), and only in urban Missouri. He's not spent much time in Alabama or Mississippi, and then only in more populous places. His visits to Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky also have been only to cities. Ditto regarding lots of other states outside the South that have significant rural populations. For example, he hasn't visited North Dakota except apparently Fargo (though I heard on NPR yesterday that he is spending money on television advertising there) or Nebraska except (I gather from the map) Omaha. In Utah, he has only be in Salt Lake City, in Idaho, only Boise, in Washington, only Seattle, and in New York only greater New York City. I could go on.

In short, Obama is still missing out on most of rural America. So, he may be getting an eyeful that is new to him, but there is a great deal about how rural Americans -- about 20% of the populace -- live and work that he's not seeing. While I understand any campaign's draw to the economies of scale represented by visiting cities, Obama and his team should remedy this oversight (or neglect?). He should do this not only for strategic reasons -- to appear interested in rural people and concerns and therefore to have a better chance of garnering the rural vote -- but also so that Obama's education about the country he wishes to govern will be a little more complete.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The latest in living and eating locally, a new form of rural-urban cooperation

Here's the New York Times story under the headline, "Shoppers Buy Slices of Farms," dateline Campton Township, Illinois. Featured is Erehwon Farms, about 35 miles from Chicago. Shareholders in the farm have open access to the land and are guaranteed a percentage of the season's harvest. While they are not required to work the fields, many do.

Here's an excerpt from Susan Saulny's story:

Part of a loose but growing network mostly mobilized on the Internet, Erehwon is participating in what is known as community-supported agriculture. About 150 people have bought shares in Erehwon — in essence, hiring personal farmers and turning the old notion of sharecropping on its head.

* * *

“I think people are becoming more local-minded, and this fits right into that,” said Nichole D. Nazelrod, program coordinator at the Fulton Center for Sustainable Living at Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pa., a national clearinghouse for community-supported farms. “People are seeing ways to come together and work together to make this successful.”

While fewer than a hundred such farms were in operation two decades ago, they now number about 1,500 nationwide. These farms seem a constructive and non-exploitative way in which rural and urban are coming together.

Postscript: As of Thursday morning, July 10, this story had a new headline, "Cutting Out the Middlemen, Shoppers Buy Slices of Farms," and was among the top-10 most emailed stories in the NYT.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

My Rural Travelogue (Part II): Lassen National Park, California

Since I moved out West almost a decade ago and started visiting National Parks, I've noticed that the areas around them often remain remarkably undeveloped, in spite of the number of visitors who pass through to reach the parks. This also seems unusual because accommodation in many parks is so limited; you’d think some reasonably nice lodging would be available to accommodate the overflow, as well as off-season traffic. This is true, for example, at Capitol Reef in Utah and Death Valley in Southern California. (Moab, Utah, which is very close to Arches and not so far from Canyonlands, is an exception, but the development there is also fueled by other outdoor pursuits, like mountain biking.) I guess that such tourism infrastructure isn’t economically feasible in these remote, not-quite-resort places – otherwise, someone would have taken up the opportunity.

This lack of development was certainly evident when we visited Lassen Volcanic National Park a few days ago. Leaving our home in Sacramento, we headed north on I-5 through the ag-oriented Great Valley, through Yolo, Colusa, Glenn and Tehama Counties before leaving the freeway at Red Bluff and heading about 40 miles up Highway 36 toward Mineral, population 143, near the southwest entrance of the park. We ascended a winding road and enjoyed many changes in the terrain and vegetation en route to Mineral. (As with our journey back to I-5 on Hwy 44, we encountered a remarkable amount of truck traffic -- could it be serving communities like Quincy and Chester -- or the prison-industrial complex at Susanville?)

We had called the Lassen Mineral Lodge at about 6pm to let them know that we wouldn’t arrive until around 8. They warned us that everything would be closed so be sure to eat before we got there. It turned out that “everything” in Mineral is a 3-building complex (top photo) of general store, motel/lodge, and restaurant, apparently all owned by the same family. (OK, I am exaggerating a bit; we also saw a coin laundry a quarter of a mile away, and a competing gas station across the street that was for sale, but you get the idea).

When we called, the folks at the lodge said they’d leave room 49 open for us if they were already gone for the night. Room 49, at one end of a strip of about ten lined up motor lodge fashion, was spartan, but clean. Stenciled images of bears, elk and evergreen trees made a decorative border around the white walls. The room's only amenity was a checker board; no TV (no problem!). About half the rooms were occupied on that final night in June. I suppose they were all, like us, en route to Lassen.


As we’d been told the night before, “everything” opened at 8 am, and we were finally able to get some coffee and picnic supplies at the general store.


We were soon off to the park, the least visited according to a story in Sunset magazine’s July issue. It’s a fantastic park, though. Our pre-schooler came along (reluctantly) for the 2.5 mile round trip hike to Bumpass Hell, which features mud pots, fumaroles and other geothermic activity. It’s like a diminutive, really tiny Yellowstone. We also enjoyed Summit Lake and the interpretive trail at the so-called Devastated Area, that which was hit by the lava flow from the 1915 eruption.


Leaving the park at the northwest exit, we descended on a remarkably straight, evergreen-lined Hwy 44 toward Shingletown. While you don’t see many houses along the road, you do see lots of roads, all well marked with signs naming them, winding back into the forest. Sometimes we caught glimpses of what seemed to be a housing development through the dense curtain of trees. While the Census Bureau shows Shingletown, a Census Designated Place, with a population of 2,222, that must count folks outside its apparent commercial district – like those living down these roads off Hwy 44.


Our destination that night was a very different style of rural accommodation, Weston House, a bed and breakfast. (lower right photo). As far as I could tell, there were no other accommodations in the area – the closest might have been in Redding, about 40 miles away. Of course, Weston House could also be easily missed since it’s not on the main drag of Hwy 44; it is a coupla’ miles outside town on Shingletown Ridge Road. We’d initially found it on the internet.


Weston House might be called posh or faux rural, though it isn’t actually that posh and it’s not trying to be rural. But it is in a rural locale, and it does take nice advantage of its stunning views over the valley below, where a cinder cone looms and where one occasionally catches a glimpse of a wild mustang in a nearby preserve. Plus, the establishment is posh as rural goes; it’s posh in comparison to, say, the Mineral Lodge. Perhaps, then, it isn’t surprising that it isn’t run by a “local.” The owner is a woman who moved up to Northern California a few decades ago from Monterey. The rooms and suites, some in separate buildings but all overlooking the valley, are nicely decorated and have amenities such as fireplaces, TVs, refrigerators, microwaves -- and lavender soap. The owner serves a great gourmet breakfast with lots of whole grains and fruit. She even ground some coffee beans so I could make my own early morning brew in our upstairs suite.


So, in terms of tourism infrastructure, Weston House offered quite a contrast to what we saw ‘round Shingletown and the greater Lassen National Park region, including what we experienced in Mineral. To be clear, both were enjoyable – just very different.

Next we were on to Crater Lake National Park in south central Oregon where, again, the dearth of commercial activity in a 50-mile radius of the park was striking.