Monday, April 24, 2017

Nurse practitioners join fight against opioid addictions by gaining ability to prescribe anti-addiction medication

Rural America is struggling with an opioid epidemic. Since 1999, opioid overdoses cause four times more deaths in America. In 2015, nearly 13,000 people died from heroin overdoses which were 20,6% more than in 2014. Although all states have experienced increases in opioid overdoses, states with large rural populations, like Kentucky, West Virginia, Alaska, and Oklahoma, have experienced disproportionately high increases. Various blog posts have recently discussed this issue (here, here, here, and here).

Unfortunately, there is a shortage of doctors in rural areas to treat this problem. In rural areas, the patient-to-primary care physician ratio is 39.8 physicians per 100,000 people. In urban areas, the ratio is 53.3 per 100,000 people. This shortage will only worsen after the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services made procedural changes to the temporary visas for skilled workers (H-1B visas) because rural areas depend heavily on foreign doctors. 

However, nurse practitioners may help to solve the shortage of doctors in rural areas. In 2012, 127,000 nurse practitioners provided patient care in the United States. Nurse practitioners are registered nurses who have also completed Master's degrees or other higher level nursing degrees. It takes much less time to become a nurse practitioner rather than a physician with an M.D. On average it takes six years of education and training to become a nurse practitioner and eleven to twelve years for a physician to complete their education and residency. Like physicians, nurse practitioners can hold hospital privileges, write prescriptions, specialize in certain practice ares. 

There are already significantly more nurse practitioners practicing in rural areas than physicians. There are 85.3 registered nurses per 10,000 rural residents compared to 13.1 physicians and surgeons per 10,000 rural residents. However, in many states, nurse practitioners cannot prescribe life-saving medication to opioid addicts.

This month two federal agencies gave over 700 nurse practitioners the ability to write prescriptions for buprenorphine to create broader access to the anti-addiction medication. In the United States, a federal licenses is required to prescribe buprenorphine. Buprenorphine is one of three anti-addiction medications approved by the FDA. It is a highly effective addiction treatment because it prevents withdrawal system and lessens cravings. The Comprehensive Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act passed in 2016 allows nurse practitioners and physician assistants to obtain federal licenses to prescribe buprenorphine. To obtain the license nurse practitioners must complete a 24-hour training and may only prescribe it to 30 patients a year. (Qualifying physicians may currently prescribe it to 275 patients a year).

Currently 28 states restrict nurse practioners' scope of practice by only letting them prescibe buprenorphine if they are working in collaboration with a doctor who has a federal license to prescribe it. However, 21.2 million people live in rural counties with no physician with a waiver for office-based physicians to prescribe buprenorphine. Of the total counties in the United States with no physician able to prescribe buprenorphine, 82.1% were in rural areas. In addition, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Wyoming explicitly prohibit Nurse Practitioners from prescribing buprenorphine even if they are working with a licensed physician. 

Credit: Huffington Post

Some states recognize the potential positive impacts allowing nurse practitioenrs to prescribe buprenorphine. Oregon is currently updating its laws to allow nurse practitioners to prescribe buprenorphine for addiction. Currently nurse practitioners can prescribe Schedule III drugs like buprenorphine for pain management, but not for addiction treatment. In 2016, West Virgina changed its laws to allow nurse practitioners to prescribe all prescription drugs except Schedule II drugs (i.e., Percocet,  Vicadin, and OxyContin) without doctor supervision. West Virginia has a large rural population, a shortage of medical professionals, and the most overdose deaths in the country.

Hopefully, more states will follow Oregon and West Virginia's example and change their laws to allow nurse practitioners to prescribe buprenorphine. With the physician shortage and rise of opioid overdoses, rural areas can benefit from more medical professions having the ability to prescribe buprenorphine to treat addiction.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Child Abuse Prevention (Part IV): shortage of foster parents in rural areas

As discussed in Part I and Part II, and Part III of this series, child abuse affects all communities, but the state's involvement can affect rural communities differently than urban ones.

A shortage of foster parents
Unfortunately, federal laws (such as the Fostering Connections to Success and Adoptions Act, Child and Family Services Improvement Act, etc.) do not address the fact that rural communities may have different needs than more urban communities. Rural areas are in desperate need for more foster and adoptive parents. All foster parents must be licensed and approved, and must receive background checks and TB tests. Because all these processes need to be done and training usually spans over several days, (maybe weeks) it is difficult for state workers to travel to a rural area to recruit and train just one or two prospective parents at a time. This leaves it to rural prospective foster parents to step up and drive outside their communities, sometimes several times, to become approved as foster parents. For them to even to do that, they must first be aware of the opportunity to become foster parents, and state agencies are unable to recruit in rural communities. Some states have laws or funds established to address these challenges, but not all.

Rurality can create challenges for rural foster parents
This dynamic can create especially demanding circumstances for foster parents who are located in rural areas, or who are caring for a child who came from a rural or remote area. These volunteer caregivers are then often asked to drive many hours and miles in order to help transport the child to family visits, court hearings, or doctor's appointments. Consider all the challenges that many rural families face: lack of connection with larger systems, lack of services, and a general lack of accessibility. Day-to-day caregiving activities may become more onerous. For example, one long-time foster parent living in rural Wisconsin said that the biggest issue was finding a dentist. A social worker will always have to report to the dependency court about the child's health, which usually includes mandatory dental visits. Foster children are often covered under Medicaid, and it can be extremely challenging to find a dentist that will take Medicaid within a reasonable distance of the rural community where the child lives, so foster parents, or even social workers can end up driving hours to bring a child to see a dentist or other care provider.

Children are impacted the most 
The foster parent scarcity heavily impacts children in foster care. One child welfare worker reported that in the absence of enough high-quality foster placements in rural areas, (and in desperation) a worker might place the child in a 'marginal' home that is available, possibly sacrificing things like consistent supervision or cleanliness. Additionally, while many other areas have "receiving homes" or emergency placements, many rural areas do not. (a 'receiving home' is a safe place where children who have just been removed from their families can stay until the social worker finds a more stable, sometimes long term foster placement. In many places places, such as San Francisco, this 'home' is staffed with people who are trained in crisis counseling for children.)

The shortage of foster homes in rural communities also means that children who are removed from their homes are much more likely to be moved out of their communities and into different ones. Children who are already facing trauma and fear that comes with being removed from their homes will be in a new place with a new school, likely far away from friends and relatives.

Kinship care
In recent years, policy has moved toward supporting kinship care: placing a child in the home of a relative caregiver in order to utilize the organic support systems that exist within families and minimize the trauma to a child by placing him or her in the care of a known caregiver. Federal law has kept up with this trend by enacting a law that requires "relative notification." Within 30 days after the removal of a child, the social worker must conduct "due diligence" by identifying and notifying as many relatives as possible that the child has entered into foster care. The hope is that a relative may want to offer a home to the child (or offer a permanent safe loving relationship in a different capacity).

This "due diligence" could be more difficult in rural communities if a  social worker is unable to access family members over the phone, but it feels like a hopeful concept. Certainly, it comes with its own complications; mainly the lack of anonymity in rural areas. Depending on the type of abuse, a relative in the same community might not be able to protect a child from an abuser. Social workers might have less control and oversight in a community that tightly functions on its own if a child is placed in a nearby home and a social worker is stationed  somewhere else. Overall, increasing stability and familiarity where possible and minimizing the trauma of moving could make a big difference to a child. Though a commitment to kinship care may not relieve some of the challenges of the foster parent shortage and rural isolation, it might broaden the net of safe families for children to stay in while caregivers work toward reunification.

Child Abuse Prevention (Part III) Reunification services in rural areas

Previous posts in this series (here and here) discussed some of the impacts that rurality has on the child abuse reporting and response systems. This installment will explore challenges that arise when families who live in rural areas attempt to reunify with their children who have been removed from their home and placed in foster care. I argue that rural parents involved in the foster care system face distinct barriers that make it especially challenging to comply with court orders and successfully reunify with their children.

When the CPS determines that a child is in danger if he or she remains in the home, a social worker will remove the child from the home and place him or her in another family's home temporarily.  Meanwhile, the child's parents or caregivers are charged with addressing the underlying problems that initially created the harm to the child. A Child Welfare Worker creates a reunification plan that includes action steps that the parents must complete in order to have their child returned to their care. Reunification plans can include many different case-specific action steps, which may include: rehabilitation, anger management and parenting classes, or sometimes even a requirement that one parent move away from and stop contacting an abusive spouse. Generally, if the child is in foster care, the case plan will also outline a visitation schedule so that the child can maintain his or her relationship with the parents while in foster care. If the caregiver completes the reunification plan within the time allotted by the social worker, a dependency court must find that the danger to the child has subsided,  and then the child will be allowed to return home. If the case plan has not been completed, it may be up to the courts to decide whether to grant the caregivers more time to complete the case plan, taking into account arguments from parents, CPS, and child's counsel. State law controls the time periods that parents have to complete their case plans, and time limits usually vary with the child's age (see eg: CA. Welf & Inst. Code 361.5)

While the foster care system impacts many many families in both rural and urban areas, rural families may face more difficulties completing their mandated case plans. In September 2015, there were 427,910 children in foster care. 55% of these children stayed in foster care for over one year. In rural communities, it may take rural parents more time than their urban counterparts to comply with case plans because they have to travel to access the services that they are required participate in part of their case plans. Sometimes, a specific program that has been mandated in a family's case plan is almost impossible to access for rural residents. Even judicial officers in rural places have reported that it is difficult to find educational and training programs to further train those on the bench.

Sometimes, the very nature of rural life is held against parents in dependency court. Judges (sometimes outsiders to the communities that come into their courtrooms) are tasked with discerning what placement or lifestyle decisions would be "in the best interest of the child."   Judges have scolded parents for living in an area that is isolated from services, expressing the concern that children may be isolated and not get the help or support they need.  In some courtrooms, a stereotype exists that urban children are more involved in school events and receive a higher quality education.

All this is to say: rural parents and caregivers who find themselves involved in the foster care system face significant barriers to reunification. Is the case plan system with mandatory participation in social services a one-size-fits-most approach that doesn't quite fit some rural communities?

Learning rural

An article recently came across my screen about a new college class called "Dolly Parton's America." My initial reaction was a pang of jealously. Why couldn't I have taken this course in college? Could I have double majored in Dolly and Beyonce studies? After I got over these dreams, I started to read a bit more about the course and what it was all about.

"HIST 307: Dolly Parton's America: From Sevierville to the World" is an honors history course at the University of Tennessee Knoxville taught by Lynn Sacco. (Interestingly, Sacco is a former attorney turned academic with an academic focus on the history of incest in America.) According to the course description, the class seeks to answer the question: "How did a poor, young Appalachian woman become one of the most influential popular artists of the 20th century, not only in Tennessee but in the world?" To do this, the class will focus on "histories of popular culture," including movies, radio programs, tv shows, and Dolly's autobiography. Sacco said she was inspired to come up with the course "after hearing students express ambivalence about being from East Tennessee" and "wanted to give them a picture that coming from East Tennessee doesn't mean you don't have a bright future."

East Tennessee is culturally and geographically considered part of Appalachia, which many consider the face of rural, white poverty in America. (For a beautiful collection of Appalachian documentary photography, check out Looking at Appalachia.) For example, over a quarter of the people living in Johnson county, the easternmost county in Tennessee, are living below the poverty rate. In Dolly Parton's hometown, Sevierville, Tennessee, around 25% of the residents also live below the poverty line. According the census data, there are 16,490 people residing in the city and the racial makeup is 88.9% white.

Students will watch "TV shows like The Beverly Hillbillies and movies like Coal Miner's Daughter, to examine how Appalachian people have been portrayed in pop culture and what can be learned from it." This approach seems familiar. It sounds a bit like our own course, Law and Rural Livelihoods, where we often incorporate movie clips to illustrate aspects of "rural life" and learn about rural people. This concept of showing rural life isn't unique to classrooms. When Assemblyman Brian Dahle presented to our class, his answer to explaining rural problems to urban politicians was to invite them to visit his district and show them how life works out there. It seems to be an effective way to expose urban populations to the realities of rural life.

Putting this all into the context of America's current political landscape, perhaps showing rural is our best hope to come to terms with the "Trump voters" and begin to understand the reality many Americans face. A New York Times op-ed published after the election asked, "Who are these rural, red-county people who brought Mr. Trump into power?" Perhaps this is academia's call for more rural studies and courses like "Dolly Parton's America" and "Law and Rural Livelihoods" are the answer to moving towards a more understanding or less-fragmented American identity. At the very least, maybe the more movies, radio shows, and new stories we have covering rural life will show the current situation in rural America to a broader audience and hopefully foster some sort of empathy or understanding.

Friday, April 21, 2017

School choice policy unlikely to supplement education for rural schools

School choice initiatives will harm rural schools disproportionately despite what Michael McShane claims to the contrary. In a recent article for the U.S. News and Review,  McShane maintains that concerns over new Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos's penchant for school choice are embellished and exaggerated.

McShane proposes that School Choice is not only a solution for some parts of the country but "offer[s] a great deal to rural communities." Specifically, he says, this initiative will increase course access by granting funding flexibility to students and allowing them to take courses from outside providers.

His suggestion is dismissive of a handful of uniquely rural impediments, chief amongst the challenges are access to internet and school recruiting abilities. Indeed, he seems more concerned talking about his travels and efforts to avoid tornadoes than addressing the infrastructure issues that are apparent with his thesis.

Rural schools' access to internet

McShane's main proposal is that School Choice allows students to take a handful of courses from outside providers.
These courses might be offered by a university, a for-profit provider, a nearby community college or technical school or even another school district. Maybe a small rural district wants to make the investment to hire a Mandarin teacher and can generate revenue by sharing his or her class in an online course marketplace for surrounding districts. This could be virtual instruction, or it could be an in-person class at the local carpenters’ union apprenticeship center.
Sidestepping the absurdity of why a rural school district would hire a Mandarin teacher when they struggle to maintain a full staff to teach traditional subjects like math and english, this proposal is narrow minded. Virtual instruction requires internet access and a computer, stepping stones that rural schools largely struggle with for economic and supply reasons. The cost to build rural schools is high for being far from requisite building and infrastructure resources. Economically, service providers cannot justify implementing the far-reaching infrastructure within their own business models and economies of scale.

Even where internet may be provided at the school, complete lack of home internet access or restricted home internet access is predominant. Where schools are able to teach students computer skills or provide a unique course in the classroom via internet, it is nearly impossible for students to complete their homework online.

Major efforts to reverse this challenge and the accompanying harm to students were stalled in February. New Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pal stopped federal subsidies promised to a handful of low-income home internet accessibility projects. The federal Lifeline Program seeks to bridge the digital divide, making information and technology available to low-income people. It is no secret that rural areas experience higher rates of poverty. This move will disproportionately harm rural students who not only do not have access to internet but also do not have facilities to use it temporarily, such at county libraries, internet cafes, and coffee shops offering Wi-Fi. Despite Pai repeatedly saying closing the digital divide is one of his main policy agendas, this regressive move was allegedly to preserve administrative procedures.

At a state level, the California Assembly has maintained a commitment to closing the digital divide since 2007. The California Advanced Services Fund was established to provide grants to telephone corporations spearheading programs that address the divide. This program will sunset in 2020 despite 57 percent of rural households lacking reliable broadband service. At least one new assemblymember, Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, is determined to ensure the program continues in the state. Indeed, she has proposed a constitutional amendment that would give local government the flexibility in funding critical infrastructure, including broadband.

Rural school recruiting

McShane suggests that rural schools can hire a unique teacher and then market their curriculum as an an online course. The main issue with having such a program is that rural schools struggle to retain such high-quality teachers for reasons such as: funding issues, limited teacher supple, lack of rigorous training and certification options, and geographic isolation.

Applicants for such a position are not likely to be local community members. Rural schools lack the material advantages of wealthier districts to attract teachers: high-achieving students, more modern school buildings, and more professional development. Younger teachers that could make a long-term commitment to a rural school eschew the isolation of being far from large cities. Further, it is difficult for potential teachers to see the benefits of rural teaching like small class sizes, greater curriculum development autonomy, and sincere relationships with parents in the smaller community, over the pitfalls.

Essentially, even if rural areas did not lack internet connectivity in their schools and in their homes, it is nearly inconceivable that they would be able to find a mandarin teacher for such a program.


Homeschool opportunities 

McShane briefly suggests that a homeschool-private school hybrid, accessible in the School Choice policy, should be especially attractive to rural communities. This is only available to certain people and a detriment of the community overall.  Choice of homeschooling is limited to parents who do not need to work, meaning usually well-educated, middle class parents. As a result, families who have more time and resources are not putting their energies into the local rural public schools. This exacerbates class divisions educationally and economically.

McShane is ill informed about the particular struggles of rural schools making his short article problematic and an over-simplified, if not wrong, advocation for School Choice. His largest flaw is to over-idealize rural spaces. He is not the first person nor will he be the last, but deeper research and support is required before his claims may be supported. 

Attachment to place and nonmetropolitan labor markets

One of the characteristics of rurality that surfaced early on as sometimes legally relevant on in my study of rural livelihoods is attachment to place.  That is, a strong presumption seems to exist among rural sociologists and perhaps others that rural residents--especially multi-generation rural residents--are more attached to their rural hometowns/areas than is the case with urban dwellers.  The words "homestead" and "home place" have this rural connotation.  Indeed, I have speculated elsewhere regarding whether the (apparent) attachment is to the place more broadly speaking--to the community--or more to the land itself. I note that the attachment to place label/tag on this blog has been used 89 times in the near decade-long life of Legal Ruralism.  Usually, I (or my students blogging with me) use the label to describe the phenomenon when they observe it in their hometowns or read about it, though journalists themselves rarely use the term.

One context in which the phenomenon often arises regards labor markets--the question frequently being asked:  If rural employment opportunities are so poor, why don't rural residents just move to where the jobs are?  The same might be said about poor rural infrastructure, schools and healthcare for example--if these are inferior, why don't rural folks "move to town"?

Against that backdrop, I was surprised to see NPR's "Indivisible" program treat attachment to place sympathetically in its episode this week, titled "How Do We Get America Back to Work?"  Here's the blurb describing the program:
When GM idled its plant in Janesville, Wisconsin in 2008, the town became emblematic of a crisis facing many communities in middle America. When traditional manufacturing leaves – for whatever reason – economies are turned upside down, the collective identity changes, and very often depression sets in. While it may seem outdated to some that a community will identify with a corporation, that's just what happened for decades. Losing the plant left many in Janesville searching for a future. This week, President Trump signed an executive order to bring jobs back to towns like Janesville, but the question is — is it too little too late? On this episode of Indivisible, host Kerri Miller talks with Amy Goldstein, author of "Janesville, An American Story," and Linda Tirado, author of "Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America," about the realities of the company town and what the future holds.
Among those featured in the episode was a man Amy Goldstein followed for her book about the closure of a General Motors plant in Janesville, Wisconsin, population 65,000, so not exactly rural.  Once the Janesville GM plant closed, he and several other Janesville men decided to commute to another GM plant in Indiana, driving there on Monday morning to work the second shift and staying through Friday night, when they returned home to their families in Janesville.  One particularly poignant segment was where Goldstein described the men coming back into Janesville on a Friday night and dropping off the worker who lived in the southernmost part of the city.  Then the men would vary the journey they took to the northern part of town where other workers lived; they did this because they enjoyed seeing the different parts of town, the streets of Janesville, generally empty in the wee hours.  It seemed to prompt them to wax nostalgic about how great Janesville was, their upbringing there.  I suppose it also helped justify the decision they had made to leave their children there to benefit from a Janesville upbringing.

Another person who was interviewed or called in to the program talked of moving from his smallish city in Florida out of state for a job, only to mourn the sense of being known that he had enjoyed in his hometown.  In short, the anonymity he experienced in the place to which he moved left him grieving the connectedness he had enjoyed in the place where he grew up.    

I highly recommend this episode of Indivisible and, indeed, the entire series.  It's the best forum I've found for neutrally, non-judgmentally exploring the issues that are dividing our nation in the age of Trump.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

California rurality: what the Central Valley has to offer

Just this week in our seminar course on Rural Livelihoods, we had Camille Pannu (profiled here) in to speak about things like environmental justice and access to water, specifically in the Central Valley. In the context of the discussion, Fresno and its surrounding farm communities (where I was born and raised and attended college) necessarily received some of our attention.

Especially timely because of this recent exposé in the NY Times, this discussion of California's central region reinvigorated my interest in thinking about rurality in a state full of big cities, home to the largest population bases in the United States. I know first hand that when traveling out of the state, saying you are from "California" invokes images of beaches, the Golden Gate, and progressive politics. Say you are from Fresno, however, and people will scratch their heads and say "where's that again?" or will say "oh, farming, huh?" While farming is absolutely an integral and everyday part of life in Fresno (see discussion in these previous posts), the NY Times article sums up Fresno's appeal thus:

Fresnans talk about their city’s lively arts scene, fine state university and easygoing vibe. The city is situated in the middle of the state, allowing residents to get into the Sierra Nevada in under two hours and to the Pacific in under three.

And then there is affordability.

The survey, by the financial website GoBankingRates, found that you could live comfortably in Fresno on income of roughly $44,500 a year, putting the city on par with Albuquerque and Detroit.  

Arts and university are not two things that, at least in my personal experience, spring to mind immediately for the people who are vaguely unfamiliar with Fresno and its surrounding communities. While I would certainly agree that the politics in Fresno diverge greatly from those of much of the rest of California, I also think that can be one of the hallmarks of rurality. Texas is an example perhaps of the logical inverse: its large cities are decidedly urbanized and liberal, despite the vast majority of the state being made up of smaller ruralities who vote overwhelmingly conservative.  This dichotomy, especially present in an area like the Central Valley, is to me a fascinating exploration in our preconceived notions of rurality. Is Fresno rural? According to these definitions collected by USDA, the answer is largely no. Does that, and should that, change the fact that many who live in Fresno and surrounding areas consider themselves denizens of the rural lifestyle? Is self-identification a valid tool for identifying rural status?

In addition, one of the things I always found interesting about living in Fresno is the refrain that it is so "centrally located." As addressed by the NY Times article, this really means residents of the Central Valley can drive a few hours either direction and be in a main city or a national park. One of the things we've discussed often this semester is rurality meaning less access to services and measurements of distance between the community in question and the "next closest" place of note. Living in Fresno embodies this notion; your proximity to other places is one of the biggest benefits of  living there.

The idea of affordability also reflects an identity of rurality to me. One of the largest differences raised when considering a place like Fresno compared to a place like San Francisco is the cost of living. Many people cite cost of living as a reason for moving rural, and that certainly seems to be the case for Fresno as well. This raises an interesting inherent contradiction--the more people that move to a place like Fresno because of its touted affordability, the further it gets from a pure "rural" definition based on population size. It seems to be a crux of the issue of Fresno's rurality to ask whether we should take into account the sentiments of those that reside there. Philosophically and politically, Fresno can at times be more reminiscent of the conservative midwest than of a bustling, progressive California city. Its prominence as an agricultural superpower tends to reinforce the self-identification of many that live there; it is a self-identification of looking out for yourself and your neighbors, resisting government intrusion, and driving several hours to get to "the big city." The fact that Fresno itself is the fifth biggest city in California does not appear to matter much to those that call it home.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Rural-urban divide meaningful in Turkish referendum, too

I've spent a lot of time documenting the rural-urban divide in politics--from Brexit to Poland--and all around the United States.  (On the latter, read more here, here, here, here, here and here, with several of these posts written by students in my Law and Rural Livelihoods course).  In each instance, rural voters are by and large opting for the more regressive position, the more authoritarian candidate.

Now, coverage of last week-end's Turkish referendum suggests that the pattern has held up in that country, too.  Here's the salient part of Patrick Kingsley's story for the New York Times:
[T]he referendum reflected a country sharply divided, with voters in the major cities tending to oppose the changes while those in rural areas, who usually are more religious and conservative, voting in favor of them.
Being religious and conservative are certainly associations with rural America, too, and they arguably played role in the 2016 election that put Trump in the White House.  In due course, I hope we'll hear more analysis of the rural-urban divide in contemporary Turkish politics.  

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Rivers in the news, in need of protection, and linking rural with urban

Rivers are not quintessentially rural "things," but a number of recent prominent stories about rivers and their well-being (or lack thereof) have prompted this post.  After all, rivers are one ways in which rural and urban places are connected, and that seems especially important right now, as rural advocates increasingly seek to convince the world--well, especially urbanites--that rural and urban are indelibly linked and reliant on each other.  (See this 2008 piece from The Daily Yonder, which seems startlingly more relevant now than it did then, if only because of the surprising outcome of Election 2016).

The first story that caught my eye was this one out of New Zealand last month, about the parliamentary vote there to designate two guardians of the Whanganui River.  The two will represent the 90-mile river in all legal matters concerning it.  Colin Dwyer for NPR reports that the legislation is a "monumental victory for the local Māori people,  who view the river as 'an indivisible and living whole,' according to Gerrard Albert, lead negotiator for the Whanganui tribe. " The act of parliament also includes $80 million in financial redress and $30 million toward improving the river's health.  Adrian Rurawhe, a Māori member of Parliament, told the New Zealand Herald regarding this culmination of 140 years of legal wrangling:
It's not that we've changed our worldview, but people are catching up to seeing things the way that we see them.
Dwyer quotes Clay Finlayson, New Zealand's Minister for Treaty of Whanganui Negotiations:   
I know the initial inclination of some people will say it's pretty strange to give a natural resource a legal personality.  But it's no stranger than family trusts, or companies or incorporated societies.
Other recent river stories in the United States have been about Tennessee rivers threatened by coal ash and the Colorado River in Arizona.

The latter story, dateline Yuma, Arizona, includes this lede:
The Rev. Victor Venalonzo opened his New Testament to the Book of Revelation on a recent Sunday and offered the men and women assembled at Iglesia Betania for a weekly Bible study a fresh look at its apocalyptic message.
Journalist Fernanda Santos quotes Venalonzo regarding that message as it relates to the Colorado River:
We’re failing as stewards of God’s creation, but these changes we’re seeing, that’s not God punishing us — we’re destroying ourselves.  
The shift in Venalonzo's focus--from topics more directly affecting his congregants such as poverty  and employer exploitation--has come in part because "development, drought, overuse and a drier, warming climate threaten the Colorado River, the source of the water they drink and use to irrigate the fields where they work."  The Colorado, of course, famously flows through--indeed, formed--the Grand Canyon, but it loses steam before flowing into Los Angeles.

And here's an excerpt about the Tennessee story, which is about coal ash pollution and which implicates rivers throughout the Southeast:
Coal ash gets far less attention than toxic and greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, but it has created environmental and health problems — every major river in the Southeast has at least one coal ash pond — and continuing legal troubles and large cleanup costs for the authority and other utilities.
A caption for a photo featured with that story says:
The Gallatin Fossil Plant, a coal-burning power plant run by the Tennessee Valley Authority in Gallatin, Tenn. Coal ash from the plant has been seeping into groundwater and the river, two recent lawsuits say, possibly threatening drinking water for a million people.
The rivers mentioned elsewhere in the story are the Cumberland, Emory and Tennessee.

In addition to these two stories, this blog and the daily news feature many others about rivers.  There are, of course, the years of publicity linking the Flint River to the Flint water and lead poisoning crisis, such as this one. And then there are my numerous posts about the well-being of the Buffalo National River, near my own hometown. Here is but one of those posts, and I published this op-ed on the matter--comparing it to the Flint crisis--about a year ago.

Plus, I have been reading the editorials that won Art Cullen of the Storm Lake Times a Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing, and you know what:  the hub of the dispute discussed in most of the editorials is BigAg's pollution of the Raccoon River in northwest Iowa--and who should pay for clean up and monitoring.

All of this has me thinking about the ways we might use shared concern about rivers and their well-being to achieve rural-urban coalitions.  I hope others will brainstorm with me, as finding such common ground--identifying the inter-reliance of rural and urban--seems especially important these days.   

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Chobani and Clif Bar have micropolitan south central Idaho humming

I visited Idaho's Magic Valley in 2011 on a field trip with the Rural Sociological Society's (RSS) Annual Meeting in Boise, so it was with particular interest that I read Kirk Johnson's story about Twin Falls in the New York Times this week.  Johnson reported a few days ago--in a front-page story--under the headline, "What Decline? A Rural Hub Thrives in Idaho."  In a related story, Johnson offered a more personal reminiscence of his path to report this feature on Twin Falls, from the vantage point of his own upbringing in Utah, not far to the south.

Sadly, I never got a blog post written about my RSS field trip to the Magic Valley, memorable though it was.  I did, however, upload a few of my photos for this post in the run up the RSS Annual Meeting the following year.  One of the reasons I never got a blog post written is that what I saw and heard was so controversial.  Among other things, the "family" dairy we visited (family owned, but an industrial-sized operation)--across the river from Twin Falls in Jerome--was using immigrant labor in a way that seemed, well, exploitative.  The owner of the dairy talked about "her Mexicans" and how the dairy needed them in order to keep U.S. dairy products affordable, to prevent China from becoming the source of all of our nation's milk.  The owner also told us that local white workers were unreliable but that the occasional refugee resettled to the area worked out, too; she referred in particular to a Burmese refugee working at the dairy who had proved himself hard working, reliable and competent.  Mostly, however, she lauded "her" Latinx workers as critical to her business's sustainability.  After that visit to the dairy, our group went into Twin Falls where we had lunch at a "Mexican" restaurant and where a local priest talked to us about immigration and refugee resettlement into the region.  We were also made aware of the Idaho dairy industry's push for immigration reform, especially from many in this region whose economic livelihoods were reliant on immigrant labor.  (See a related, recent story here, about Wisconsin dairies).

Johnson's story is providing an update on what has happened since I visited nearly six years ago--and the news is good.  In recent years Chobani Yogurt (2013) and Clif Bar (2015) have established manufacturing facilities in Twin Falls.  These economic splashes are among factors that have the nine-country area in south-central Idaho booming.  Both pay workers$15/hour, more than twice the state's minimum wage of $7.25.  In short, with this story Johnson is offering a contrary narrative to the dominant rural narrative--so often featured on this blog--of decline, population loss, sagging economies.  (See just one example here).

Johnson puts Twin Falls' growth in national perspective: Between 2000 and 2015, the population of Twin Falls County increased by 25%, twice as fast as the national rate.
Twin Falls, population 47,000, is a place where rows of hay and feed corn brush right up against the edge of town, but it’s also the biggest community for a hundred miles in any direction, which makes it a shopping hub. Five new hotels have opened since the end of the recession, and more than 80,000 people a day drive in to work or shop.
This is consistent with what I wrote in this recent post--about the efficiency of regional services and retail consolidation, even (or especially) amidst a largely rural region with numerous smallish towns. Indeed, Johnson writes,
In its heady growth spurt, Twin Falls is sucking the oxygen from some smaller, struggling communities farther out in the country as retailers and restaurants cluster in the center.
Johnson also speculates about the "why"--why Twin Falls is growing while many nonmetropolitan places are not (though he notes that northern Idaho and Bend, Oregon are other communities in the "rural" West that are similarly booming, for different reasons):
What went right in southern Idaho started and ended with the rich volcanic soil. With irrigation, the black dirt was splendid for growing crops, from potatoes to alfalfa, that in turn fed the dairy cows that grew up in what became known as the Magic Valley.
Idaho, Johnson reports, is the 4th largest milk producing state in the nation, following California, Wisconsin and New York.  Further 75% of that milk production is within 75 miles of Twin Falls.  That's what drew Chobani, which each day purchases up to 60 tanker trucks of milk (8000 gallons each) from area dairies.

But Johnson also gives "culture" its due in regard to Twin Falls' ascendancy:
[A]bove all else, city leaders, business owners and residents say, it’s a practical place, where the old small-town values of hardball competition shape political life. If an idea gets in the way of economic growth, it should be discarded.
He quotes the Twin Falls City Manager, Travis P. Rothweiler:
Economic development is a blood sport, and I mean that in every single way you can think of it.
And this brings me to Johnson's more personal reflections, given his familiarity with the region:
I was not prepared for Zumba classes and personal trainers at the Clif Bar company gym in Twin Falls, in the still new building the company opened last fall. It was not just jobs and economics that were changing, I immediately saw, but culture. Companies like Clif Bar, based in California and steeped in the outdoor identity of biking and health, and Chobani ... were also changing the nature of a job for their Twin Falls employees, and for workers at other companies that were being forced, through competition, to up their pay and benefits.
* * *
In reporting there on the ground, I then also saw that the old frozen-in-place southern Idaho was defrosting fast, with strains and stresses along the way.
Both of these stories are well worth reading in their entirety.  

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Rural children and guns (Part V): Hunting as a sport

"Those guns were initially designed for killing but we've turned them into a recreational sport here in the United States." - Boo Boo, the son of the owner of Lock N Load gun store

"Hunting is something that lives in my soul." - from "Who We Are"

The Rural (and American) Tradition of Hunting

Hunting is often considered to be a rural activity, or at least an activity with roots in the rural. For many rural individuals, they grew up in a community and with a family that had a long tradition of hunting. While hunting was historically primarily a male activity, which served as a male bonding experience and was often considered to be a rite of passage, in modern times more and more women are getting involved in this activity (while I personally do not want to go hunting I am always happy when my fellow ladies start breaking gender stereotypes). One writer even compared the rural hunting tradition to religion as both are often inherited, both have a community of shared values, these values are reinforced by community and family activities, and both have expectations of behavioral conformity. Additionally, even President Obama stated that he had a "profound respect" for America's hunting tradition.

Rural Children and Hunting for Sport

While there are obviously some individuals, both adults and children, who hunt to eat (as seen in my last post), there are also those who hunt as a form of recreation. Hunters and sport shooters have said that shooting is a good way to spend family time outdoors, allows children to lead less sedentary lifestyles, and helps to teach children responsibility and safety in gun handling. While some states do not have a minimum age to hunt big game, most states do have some sort of age requirement for young hunters, especially when they are unsupervised. Additionally, most states require a hunter education course and/or firearms safety instruction before children may legally hunt. However, there appears to be a worry in the hunting community that not enough young hunters are "replenishing [the] aging ranks" and therefore, there are a truly impressive amount of lists available across the internet about how to get children interested in hunting and there are many stores out there about parents attempting to get their children interested in hunting or sport shooting.

JD Williams, a father, a US army veteran and a triple amputee, discussed how being able to spend quality time with his four-year-old daughter and teach her everything about hunting was one of the purposes he found in life after suffering his injuries. In keeping with the family's tradition of hunting, JD stated that the first "William's life skill" was the learn how to shoot. Indeed, at one point in the documentary he even said that his daughter was "going to learn how to shoot whether she like[d] it or not." However, toward the end of the film, he acknowledged that he made a mistake pushing her to hunt before she was ready and decided that if his daughter did not want to go hunting, he was not going to make her do so.

In one of the more unique stories I read about children hunting, nine-year-old Gia would go "Zombie hunting" with her dad (which involved them going into the woods and shooting at targets hung on tree trunks depicting zombies) and used her Barbie dolls as target practice. Her father, who she lived with in rural Texas, taught Gia about the four rules of gun safety by the age of five. To those who question whether children should use guns, Gia's father stated "Tough shit. That's what we do." Her father also shared "an expression [from] Texas: 'If you know how many guns you've got, you haven't got enough.'"

What many of these stories I read or saw have in common is the importance that parents often place on teaching their children how to take care of themselves and how to safely use a firearm. Indeed, for many parents who enjoy hunting and shooting, taking their children hunting is "the most rewarding opportunit[y] in the field." They remember their child's first kill and what guns their children used. Hunting and shooting is a way for these parents to spend quality time with their children while "educat[ing] them on natural resources." Indeed, Wide Open Spaces "10 Reasons to Teach Children to Hunt" has "Bonding time," "Making a tradition," and "Teaching conservation" as the top three reasons to take children hunting.

However, there are also instances in which parents acknowledge and accept that their children are not interested in hunting or shooting. Multiple parents have stated that hunting is not for all children and that if its not for them, then there are other activities parents can engage in with their children to spend time with them.

I think by this time, any person reading my series of blog posts knows that I will not be purchasing a gun nor will I be going hunting anytime soon. I also doubt I will ever teach any of my children how to handle a gun (given that I currently have no children though, all of this is incredibly hypothetical as my posts have likely made clear I know little about guns and even less about child rearing). However, I also readily acknowledge that these statements are based on the fact that I will probably always live in a city or suburb and I would personally rather read Harry Potter with my children than go hunting. What I do wonder about though is what will happen if I ever have a child who is interested in hunting and shooting. Will I try to be supportive of their potential passion or will I not allow them to pick up a firearm while they are in my house? While currently I believe the later is more likely, I guess only time will tell.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Bussing and broadband: Bringing internet to rural students

I spend more time on the internet than I'd ever care to admit, and I can think of only a few things I do that do not, at some point, involve a Google search. I used the internet to write reports and complete homework assignments as a child, to submit college applications, to spend hours clicking through Westlaw, and here I am now, writing this blog--on the internet. I, sadly, cannot imagine how I would have done many of these things without access to reliable internet. Yet, for many places in rural America, access to reliable internet, or any access at all, is not a current reality. This post aims to briefly touch on a few of the private programs and public proposals to bring broadband access to rural communities.

One Example of Rural Internet Access
In Letcher County, Kentucky, one woman commented that her college-age son doesn't come home often because he can't complete his school assignments at home without reliable internet. The closest reliable Wi-Fi is a 25-minute drive to the nearest McDonald's. Another resident described their internet as like "being trapped on an island with a bad two-way radio." Letcher County ranks in the bottom 10% of the nation's broadband infrastructure, with broadband access for only 1% of the county's land area.

Public Efforts
Letcher county is one of many rural communities that are developing proposals for the Department of Agriculture's Rural Utility Service program. Unfortunately, RUS is one of the programs that the new administration may be eliminating.

In March, House Energy and Commerce Committee Democrats offered five bills intended to bring broadband services to rural areas. One bill would require the FCC to improve the way they collect data on mobile coverage in rural areas, one would give credits for broadband access to displaced workers, one would to allow low-income students to use their parents' subsided internet service, and another would require the FCC to expand broadband access to tribal lands. Representative Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ) highlighted the importance of expanding access to the internet: "Broadband offers more opportunities for more people--whether it's getting a better education, applying for new jobs, or training for a new career."

Private Efforts
A number of private companies have also started to expand services in rural and remote areas. One program I found particularly interesting was Wi-Fi enabled busses for students in rural areas.

In Berkeley County, South Carolina, some students spend over two hours a day on a bus to and from school due to the size of the sprawling, rural school district. Last month, Google introduced 28 Wi-Fi-equipped school buses and 1,700 Chromebooks for the 2,000 students in Berkeley County. Now, the two-hour bus commute is a time that students can use the Chromebooks to get online and complete assignments or catch up on school work. The idea mirrors the Silicon Valley phenomenon of tech companies providing Wi-Fi-enabled busses for employees commuting from San Fransisco so that employees can use the commuting hours to work instead of sit in traffic.

Google refers to the school bus program as a "Rolling Study Hall" that hopes to "bridge the digital divide" in the school district by acting as "an extended classroom" and addressing "the needs of students that don't have WiFi or Internet access in their home." Google is also looking for ways to expand the use of the high-tech busses. When they aren't shuttling students, they might go to places such as community centers of fellowships halls so that other members of the community can take advantage of the internet access.

Berkeley County is not the first, and probably not the last, school district to have the "Rolling Study Hall" program. The first program was in the Appalachian foothills in Caldwell County, North Carolina. Google also has data centers in both of these counties, and hopes to expand the program to other rural locations soon.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Humboldt County is at a crossroads as locals anxiously anticipate the activation of Prop. 64

In November's election, California voters overwhelmingly opted to approve Proposition 64, signing the Adult Use of Marijuana Act into California law. The law allows the sale and cultivation of recreational marijuana. It also lays the groundwork for a sophisticated regulatory structure to collect taxes, grant licenses to cannabis businesses, and protect the environment. Drug reform advocates hailed the measure as a step in the right direction. However, in Humboldt County, one of the longest running cannabis cultivation areas in the country and part of the famed "Emerald Triangle," many growers and other stakeholders in the illegal industry were opposed. Humboldt originally became a nexus of cannabis cultivation precisely because of its remoteness and isolation from the bustle of the larger cities to the south. Long term growers in the area are now worried that the ruralness that protected them from law enforcement and allowed them to develop a culture of impunity will work against them in competing against growers able to produce cannabis close to consumers. Many small family operations are worried their business model will collapse with the addition of licensure, regulatory compliance, and competition from corporate interests. The clock is ticking toward January 2018, when the law goes into effect. What will become of Humboldt's biggest industry, and with it, the fortune of the county?

The answer is not simple: County government is working full-speed to set up the regulatory structure necessary to administer the newly-legal industry, but the high-stakes process is very contentious, and the repercussions of any given move are hard to foresee. A coalition of long-term growers in the area recently threatened the county with litigation over the re-opening of a pre-existing grow permit application period, arguing that it was contrary to the plain meaning of the (very new) statute. The litigation is the latest round in the conflict between legacy growers (those with pre-existing medically sanctioned farms) and new growers.

Cannabis regulation and the headaches it engenders place a heavy burden on county officials. Humboldt County received 2,337 applications for 2017's medical marijuana business permits alone- this includes grows, dispensaries, processing facilities, and testing labs. These applications go through a relatively well-refined process that was created after Proposition 215 legalized medical marijuana in 1996. The process for granting recreational-use licenses goes through three separate state-level agencies, and is brand new. Among those expressing concern about the difficulty of setting up a regulatory structure for a high-stakes new industry is State Senator Mike McGuire, who foresees enormous difficulty in implementing these regulations consistently and predictably in such a short time.

For Humboldt growers who are already worried about their future in an industry they fear may be dominated by out-of-town venture capitalists, the difficulty of complying with a complex set of untested regulations compounds their fears. A regulatory scheme shifts risk to the smaller pool of 'outlaw' growers who can't or won't comply. Outsiders are sanguine about the prospect:
“Candidly, the future for many current growers isn’t bright,” said Joe Rogoway, a Santa Rosa attorney specializing in cannabis issues. “The new marketplace requires a degree of capitalization and sophistication that inevitably will leave people behind. It’s capitalism. There will be winners and losers.”
The question is: Will Humboldt County lose? On the one hand, there is little incentive for business-savvy investors to make their play to enter the industry in the area, now that the remoteness of the area is no longer an asset in avoiding law enforcement. Shipping cannabis products from Humboldt is likely to be expensive and difficult compared to situating a cannabis business more centrally in the state. The much-vaunted excellence of the area's climate for cultivation is largely puffery, as cannabis is a robust weed that has been heavily altered through selective breeding to be tolerant to a wide range of climates, and is often cultivated indoors. Many local growers are (understandably) unequipped to become experts in this complex web of regulatory compliance. The transaction costs of the industry are about to skyrocket. With widespread cultivation and the application of sophisticated economies of scale, the Humboldt cash crop may see the bottom fall out, squeezing out local farmers.

On the other hand, the culture of Humboldt is tolerant of widespread marijuana cultivation. Local government is responsive to growers as stakeholders in county governance. Growers are a large local constituency who wield serious clout, and have significant institutional knowledge. A core of committed long term locals appear willing to get compliant. The county is also levying a local cultivation tax on growers, expected to yield approximately $7.3 million to be kept solely for county services. Provided the industry can survive the likely price effects of legalization, local services could be seriously bolstered by taxation. It does seem likely that a reduced cohort of the savviest local growers could weather the storm and ultimately thrive in the legal market.

Perhaps effects like the revenue expected to be collected by new taxes are the best reason to be optimistic. Humboldt County, despite its reliance on marijuana, is not populated solely by marijuana growers. The deleterious effects of illegal grows have taken a long toll on Humboldt. Migrant workers on illegal grows have been abused and exploited. Predatory growers, emboldened by a climate of outlaw impunity, sexually abuse their seasonal workers. Watersheds that comprise the runs of endangered steelhead salmon are drained and polluted. At the same time, the porous boundary between the illegal industry and the drug culture has produced a mental health crisis in the county that underfunded local services are struggling to keep up with.

Prop. 64 includes new protections for workers and for the environment. New streams of both local and state taxes are earmarked for improving drug rehabilitation services and other vital services. Bringing a wholly unregulated industry into the daylight is the move Humboldt County needed-- provided the bottom doesn't fall out on the commodity propping the whole project up. The next few years will likely produce huge upheaval in Humboldt-- only time will tell whether the county is relegated to a backwater as cannabis moves to more populous areas, or whether it can capitalize on its history and use tax revenues to improve county services.

Full disclosure: I worked for the Drug Policy Alliance during the 2016 push to get Prop. 64 passed.

On Main Street, nostalgia, efficiency, and rural America

Louis Hyman of Cornell's Institute for Workplace Studies has a provocative op-ed in today's New York Times, "The Myth of Main Street."  Hyman argues that nostalgia is getting in the way of reasonable and appropriate expectations for "Main Street" America.  He begins by noting Trump's appeal to an American of yesteryear and explains why that America is inefficient, even a luxury.  
Throughout the Rust Belt and much of rural America, the image of Main Street is one of empty storefronts and abandoned buildings interspersed with fast-food franchises, only a short drive from a Walmart. 
Main Street is a place but it is also an idea. It’s small-town retail. It’s locally owned shops selling products to hardworking townspeople. It’s neighbors with dependable blue-collar jobs in auto plants and coal mines. It’s a feeling of community and of having control over your life. It’s everything, in short, that seems threatened by global capitalism and cosmopolitan elites in big cities and fancy suburbs.
Hyman is an economic historian, and he explains the historic trajectory as one the that has always short-changed rural America:
You can draw a straight line from the Jeffersonians in the late 18th century to the agrarian populists in the late 19th century to Mr. Trump’s voters, all of whom have felt that the city hornswoggled the country.
His whole column is well worth a read for its detailed explanation of how most folks can't afford the luxury of local, small-town merchants.  In fact, the folks who can afford it are usually living in upscale urban locales and tony suburbs.  The rest of us are basically relegated to big box stores and fast food.

While Hyman is mostly talking about the private sector, his op-ed piece reminds me of something Cornell demographer Daniel Lichter said a few years ago at a University of South Dakota symposium on the rural lawyer shortage:  in the face of population loss (itself a consequence of industrialization, mechanization), rural America has to look for efficiencies in regional centers or hubs.  It's no longer feasible for every community or even every county to have a high school--or other sorts of key services, public (a courthouse, a public health office, a public defenders office) or private (a grocery store).  

This discussion of Main Street as a myth--and its pitting against Wall Street--also reminds me of Sarah Palin's posturing in the 2008 Presidential election, which I wrote about in this law review article.  It's interesting (if depressing) to be reminded of the parallels between the 2008 and 2016 presidential elections.

Rural children and guns (Part IV): Hunting to eat

"In rural America... people hunt to eat." - Francine Shaw, director of Kids and Guns (a documentary exploring the world of children and guns)

Gun Ownership and Hunting in Rural America

There is a common association between rurality and hunting, whether it is for food (as will be explored in this post) or for sport (which will be addressed in my next post). Additionally, many gun advocates cite hunting as a reason for continued access to firearms. However, according to a PEW research survey completed in 2014, 48% of gun owners said that the main reason they owned a gun was for protection, while 32% stated that they owned a gun for hunting. These results show a change in the justifications Americans provide for owning firearms as in a 1999 survey, 49% said they owned guns for hunting while 26% said they owned a gun for protection. This change may show not only a difference in reasoning for gun ownership but also a potential departure from hunting.

In terms of hunting's general connection to food in rural places, there is a relatively easy connection to make: rural people "live in the countryside where animals are raised for food. When [they] take a walk into the woods to shoot a rabbit or deer, it seems little different than harvesting cattle or poultry."

Rural Children Hunting for Food

There are a multitude of reasons given for why children should be taught how to hunt. While many of them revolve around hunting being a recreational sport, there are also still those who believe children should learn to hunt as a means to eat. There appear to be three main thoughts espoused as to why children should be taught to hunt for food.

Self-Reliance and Necessity

The first area of thought argues that hunting allows for self-reliance and can ensure that the children, no matter what happens, know how to obtain food and feed themselves. This idea of self-reliance is a theme that is often seen in rural and remote communities who either do not wish to, or are unable to, rely on governmental resources. This area of thought also ties into another reason for teaching children how to hunt, cost savings. While hunting still costs money (in terms of start up costs and licenses) eating meat that you kill may help make eating meat more affordable. Therefore, children who hunt can act as providers for their family in some manner. Or, even if children and families do not hunt because they need to, they will sometimes donate their excess meat to food banks and other charitable organizations to help feed others in their communities.

Additionally, this conception of hunting is supported by potential necessity and the desire to ensure that children throughout their lives will not have to rely on others for sustenance. In 2014, about 40% of families living below the federal poverty line were food insecure (meaning they do not have enough to eat) and households that had children or were single parent households were particularly at risk. Over 50% of all food-insecure households are outside of metropolitan areas. Food deserts, areas that lack a grocery store, farmers' market and access to nutritious food, are a problem for rural Americans, especially in the south. For many rural individuals, grocery stores or other sources of nutritious food can be hundreds of miles and multiple hours away. Therefore, hunting for food may be a means to supplement food, particularly protein rich food, when it is otherwise scare or hard to come by.

Teaching Children About the Food Cycle

The second area of thought argues that hunters are actually conservationists and that by exposing children to hunting, they can be taught about the "balance of animals in the space that hosts them and the idea of taking only what you need." Hunting is also said to allow children to gain an understanding of the food cycle by connecting the meat they are eating with the animal. Teaching these lessons to children seems to be particularly important to those living in rural communities who often live closer to the "wilderness" where these animals live or who may otherwise be involved in food production on family or commercial farms.

When discussing this issue, the articles I read often also included a section about being prepared for children to cry or express other such emotions when they watch an animal die. Most of the articles were clear to advise that the children should not be shamed for this display of emotions, but should instead be told about the "circle of life" and how the "animal gave up its life to sustain" the lives of the hunters. This area of thought is also supported by those who wish to bypass the mass production and slaughter of animals.

People who support this area of thought also tend to espouse the health benefits of eating what you kill. The argument around this often involves food safety, as not eating commercial meat may allow individuals to avoid artificial preservatives, hormones, and antibiotics.

Though I am still not sure I support children hunting (especially if they are not even a teenager yet or if they are going out alone) but my research for this post has made it clear to me that I likely feel this way because I have never had to worry where my next meal will come from and have always simply bought my meat from the grocery store. However, between my research for these posts and other videos involving animal slaughter we have seen in class, I have decided to give up meat for awhile. This was likely not the point of the articles I read that championed teaching children about the food cycle (and I do think this is an incredibly important lesson for everyone to learn), but I need a break for a bit.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

A "Fancy" call for research on rural prostitution

The country music industry is buzzing over the results of the 52nd Academy of Country Music Awards, which aired live Sunday, April 2nd. This blog has previously discussed the ties between country music and ruralism on many occasions (see here, here, here, here, here, and here for several examples), but I decided to continue the conversation.

I grew up a fan of country music, and I learned at a young age to appreciate a variety of artists in the genre. I remember shooting guns with my father on his 40 acre ranch listening to Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Patsy Cline. At the same time, I have fond memories of traveling to cities with my mother to attend (what I refer to as "pop country") concerts, including Tim McGraw, Carrie Underwood, and Luke Bryan

This Spring Break, I found myself on a solo road trip across California. On lengthy trips, I tend to put my entire music library on shuffle. While driving through the desert, Reba McEntire's country cover of "Fancy" (here is a link to the music video), a 1969 song originally written and performed by Bobbie Gentry, blasted through my stereo. I have loved and listened to this song since I was a little girl. Singing along with the lyrics, I began thinking about the implications of the song in the context of rurality.

The song is told from the perspective of a woman named Fancy, who reminisces about the summer she turned 18. Fancy's family (including her mother and a baby sibling) lived in "a one room, rundown shack on the outskirts of New Orleans" after her "Pa" abandoned them.

In a last, desperate attempt to save Fancy from the vicious cycle of poverty, her mother spends her last money to buy Fancy a red "dancin dress," and essentially sends her away to be a prostitute. Her mother encourages Fancy to "be nice to the gentlemen . . . and they'll be nice to you." The chorus sings:
She said, "Here's your one chance, Fancy, don't let me down.
Here's your one chance, Fancy, don't let me down."
Lord, forgive me for what I do
But if you want out well it's up to you
Now don't let me down
Now your Mama's gonna move you uptown. 
Fancy used sex to build a better life for herself, eventually owning a Georgia mansion and a New York City townhouse flat. Moreover, Fancy eventually makes peace with her late mother and acknowledges the complexity of the decision her mother was forced to make "for turning [her] out." In embracing her past, Fancy declares, "You know I might have been born just plain white trash, But Fancy was my name."

Listening to this song after learning more about rurality, I began thinking about prostitution in the rural context. Upon an initial search, I struggled to find significant research regarding rural prostitution. In a 2015 article in the Journal of Sociology and Social Work titled "'We Get a Lot of Crack Whores': Official Perceptions of Rural Prostitution in Four Rural Counties," authors Christine Mattley, Thomas Vander Ven, and Kelly L. Faust address the lack of scholarship pertaining to rural prostitution.

Mattley et al. note that "while there is a long rich literature on urban prostitution in sociology, investigations into the forms, frequencies, and functions of rural prostitution are few and far between." Through their interview-based survey of law enforcement officers and social service providers in four rural counties, Mattley et al. present interesting findings about rural prostitution.

Law enforcement officers said that arrests and incidents of prostitution in rural areas were "rarities" or "oddities," consistent with Uniform Crime Report (UCR) data which reports that prostitution arrests make up less than 2 percent of the total annual arrests for prostitution nationwide. Contrastingly, social services agency workers saw prostitution as relatively common in rural communities. For example, one social worker reported that 'out of 100% of cases, 45% of them are engaging in prostitution." Another maintained that prostitution is "very common in the area" and out of her caseload of 23 clients, that "10 of them were involved in prostitution."

However, "Fancy" presents a idealized vision of using prostitution as a way to escape rural poverty and establish upward mobility in high-class urban society. Fancy may have escaped her "white trash" roots, but is this the common end result for most rural sex workers?

Perhaps surprisingly, Mattley et al. found that most instances of prostitution–while out of economic necessity–did not typically result in cash exchanging hands. Social workers commented that they believed sex is not just exchanged for money, but many other necessities or goods including housing, food, transportation, drugs, and cigarettes. One social service provider noted:
"They (female clients) trade (sex) for pot, for diapers, for food, for rent, etc. You know that they don’t have any money but somehow the rent gets paid and they have stuff so you kind of know where it comes from."
Unlike Fancy, it seems as though most rural female sex workers do not escape poverty or leave their homes for the city; rather, they turn to prostitution to support their families or their drug habits. While prostitution is illegal in virtually all of America, the state of Nevada is the only jurisdiction in the United States where prostitution is permitted. Strictly regulated brothels operate legally in isolated rural areas, away from the majority of Nevada's population.

A clear lack of research exists addressing the issue of prostitution in rural America. The statistics indicate that prostitution is almost exclusively an urban phenomenon, but new literature indicates such a generalization may be inappropriate. Thus, new studies would be useful to fill the existing gaps in the literature.

Monday, April 3, 2017

LGBT in rural America - the need for special programming?

The dominant cultural narrative of LGBT people living in rural parts of the United States is that a person will come out as gay and then move to a progressive urban center. Although true to some extent, this narrative ignores a large population of LGBT people living in agricultural communities. This population faces unique challenges and has unique characteristics that are molded by the circumstances in which they live.

As discussed in this earlier blog post, in 2014 the USDA Office of the Assistant Secretary of Civil Rights, in collaboration with the National Center for Lesbian Rights and The True Colors Fund, began a program to engage with rural LGBT communities. Titled the LGBT Rural Summit Series and the #RuralPride Campaign, the intention of the project was for “federal agencies to share information relating to policies, programs, and services that exist to protect, promote and strengthen LGBT rural communities.”

However, in August 2016 conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh theorized on his radio program that the program is a strategic effort by the Obama Administration to make rural areas less conservative. This led to increased media awareness of the campaign and caused it to garner significant criticism as being unnecessary and a waste of taxpayer money.

Poverty, Employment, and Rural LGBT People 

According to a survey conducted by the Williams Institute, about 10% of same-sex couples live in rural America. These couples are statistically more likely to live in poverty than their urban counterparts. Female same-sex couples fare the worst in rural areas, as their poverty rates jump from 4.5% in a large city to 14.1% in a rural one.

Employment nondiscrimination laws protect LGBT people from suffering adverse employment actions because of their sexual orientation. Typically these are added by amending existing nondiscrimination ordinances, but occasionally they may be drafted as stand-alone ordinances. Some states have passed statewide nondiscrimination laws, while others only have them in specific areas.

According to a study conducted by the Movement Advancement Project, 70% of the geographic area of the United States has no city, county, or state employment protections for LGBT people. This divide is even more striking for people living in rural areas. Of the counties that are all or mostly rural, only two out of 581 counties had LGBT nondiscrimination ordinances. This is less than half of one percent of counties. This is an alarming statistic considering female same-sex couples that live in a state with no employment discrimination law are 9.2% more likely to live in poverty.

Rural LGBT Youth

Although the Summit Series is focused on adults using USDA, the #RuralPride Campaign is more broad in scope and designed for all ages. Just as with LGBT adults, rural youth face unique and heightened challenges. These challenges are also discussed in this earlier blog post.

One study found that 94% of rural LGBT students had heard homophobic language on a regular basis, with 25% having heard school staff members make similar comments. 81% had felt unsafe in the past year because of their sexual orientation or gender expression. 87% had been verbally harassed at school, and 22% had been physically assaulted in the past year because they were LGBT.

Most schools have anti-bullying policies in place meant to address harassment from other students. However, students often do not report harassment that they experience out of fear that it will only make things worse, or that it will not have any effect on the bullying.  In some cases, when students did report their experiences, teachers told them to “man up,” or to not take what students had said so seriously.  School officials may also make students feel unwelcome, especially for students who are ‘visibly’ LGBT, as they may demand that the student conforms to traditional gender roles in how they dress and act.

Students who feel unsafe in school are more likely to be distracted and do poorly in class, and are much less likely to attend class regularly. Eventually, chronic absenteeism can result in status offense charges of truancy or incorrigibility. These factors make it far more likely that someone will have a lower earning capacity later in life, and therefore have a higher chance of living in poverty.

Conclusion

Despite the USDA’s long, checkered past with discrimination(I have discussed here, here, and here), some may view their LGBT efforts as being a step too far, as there have not been any major litigation or reports on pervasive discrimination perpetrated by the USDA against this group. Others may see it as an affirmative step to fix problems before they become litigation, and as being part of a larger effort to reform the USDA. Regardless, a question remains on the necessity and effectiveness of the program.

The stark urban/rural divide for LGBT people clearly demonstrates the need for programming that combats discrimination. The increased poverty levels, lack of employment protections, and harassment of youth make it incredibly difficult for some LGBT people to live in rural America.

The effectiveness of the program is somewhat more difficult to ascertain, as the USDA has not published numbers with regards to how many people have attended the series, or how satisfied the attendees were. Anecdotally, participants interviewed by newspapers spoke positively of the event.

Considering one of the goals was to increase awareness of LGBT farmers, the backlash of the event can be viewed in a positive light, as it meant more people were made aware of it. And attendees were informed about some programs they might not have been aware of before.

Regardless, the LGBT Rural Summit Series and the #RuralPride Campaign appears to have now ended. The United States Secretary of Agriculture has the discretion to set the programming for the USDA, and it is likely that this particular project will not be continued. However, some anti-discrimination programming may be continued. On March 23rd Sonny Perdue, the United States Secretary of Agriculture nominee testified before the United States Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry regarding his four main goals for the USDA. One of these goals was

I will prioritize customer service every day. They expect, and have every right to demand, that we conduct the people’s business efficiently, effectively and with the utmost integrity.
Many minority farmers may hope that "with the utmost integrity" means that efforts to combat discrimination will continue.