Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Exploring a law that's all about rural women

For the past several years, my scholarship has explored the legal relevance of rurality. One of my goals has been to expose rural difference—which is often also rural disadvantage—with respect to a range of domestic legal issues, e.g., abortion access), youth substance abuse, intimate partner violence, and availability of health and human services. My work reveals a pervasive presumption of the urban in culture, law and legal scholarship. Rural women have been the focus of a great deal of my writing, including an article that theorizes the intersection of gender with the rural-urban axis.

My most recent publication goes international with this “critical legal ruralist” (and feminist) project. Migration, Development and the Promise of CEDAW for Rural Women, has just been published in Volume 30 of the Michigan Journal of International Law (MJIL). To the best of my knowledge, this is the first publication to look in any systematic way at Article 14 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Why has Article 14 been overlooked by scholars? I can't say for sure, but it might have something to do with the fact that the provision is all about rural women, suggesting they are a distinct population.

For a self-proclaimed ruralist like me, Article 14 was a very exciting find. I am delighted that an MJIL symposium, "Territory without Boundaries," provided a timely opportunity to write about it. While U.S. law largely ignores the rural-urban axis, here in an international human rights instrument is an express legal recognition of rural difference—accompanied by a call to action.

My new article looks at the Travaux PrĂ©paratoires to explore how this marginalized population got included in CEDAW and how drafters determined which particular concerns of rural women got addressed. Several developing nations first put rural women on the CEDAW agenda, and they were apparently motivated to do so because of women’s critical role in food production. What ultimately became Article 14 was sponsored by Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Pakistan, Thailand, and—interestingly—the United States.

Perhaps the fact that an international human rights instrument such as CEDAW expressly acknowledges rurality and rural difference should not be a great surprise to us. The United Nations attends to rural people and places in many contexts. Some examples are here, here, here, and (implicitly) here. This UN attention seems highly appropriate given that about half of the world’s population is still rural. (Compare that to just under a fifth of the population of the United States, where rural interests get systematic government attention only within the U.S. Department of Agriculture). After all, “rural” is to some degree synonymous with undeveloped and primitive, just as “urban” connotes civilization and development. Plus, a great deal of the content of international human rights law arguably targets developing nations, compelling them to adopt the norms of the developed world. In a similar vein, CEDAW’s Article 14 seeks to secure for rural women the same rights urban women get, e.g., healthcare and education, while also recognizing rural-specific needs.

A very recent UN recognition of the significance of rural women came with the United Nations’ observance of the first International Day of Rural Women, on October 15, 2008. According to the UN declaration, the day’s designation recognizes “the critical role and contribution of rural women, including indigenous women, in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty.” (See this post). In the developing world, rural and agricultural are much more nearly synonymous than in the developed world. Indeed, the focus of my new publication is the Article 14 guarantees that are linked closely to women’s roles as the so-called architects of food security. These rights include land ownership, inclusion in development planning and implementation “at all levels,” and access to credit, marketing facilities and agricultural technology and extension services. To better understand the potential of CEDAW to enhance rural women’s livelihoods, I examine the most recent country reports of four Member States: China, Ghana, India, and South Africa. All have significant rural and urban populations; in a sense, all are simultaneously developed and developing.

My discussion of CEDAW’s Article 14 is situated in the context of massive rural-to-urban migration worldwide. In fact, its publication comes shortly after demographers report that, on a global scale, urban dwellers began to outnumber those living in rural areas (read more here). As globalization creates conditions that induce migration, causing the populations of cities to burgeon and their territories to sprawl, those same forces shape rural places, too. Although that which is rural is often thought of as quintessentially local, rural livelihoods around the world are buffeted by economic restructuring, migration, and climate change. I thus consider CEDAW in relation to migration’s consequences for the women who are left behind: enormous challenges, but also opportunities for empowerment.

Among other observations, I laud the priorities and framework of CEDAW’s Article 14 in terms of the ways in which they seek to foster women’s agency and material well-being. Many of the enumerated rights are of the socioeconomic variety rather than of the civil and political type. It is thus not surprising that Member States’ responses to Article 14 tend to be more often programmatic than in the nature of law reform.

I also discuss the potential for CEDAW’s Article 14 to accommodate legal pluralism, which can be particularly relevant in rural places, where custom and local sources of authority tend to be more entrenched and influential than in urban locales. I further suggest that the population churn associated with migration represents an opening for the renegotiation of gender roles and other cultural practices in rural places. I argue that migration enhances the prospect of raising the collective consciousness of rural communities regarding national and international legal norms, while also facilitating enforcement of rural women’s rights by fostering their access to formal legal actors and institutions at higher scales, usually in urban places. Finally, throughout the Article, I consider parallels between developing and developed nations with regard to rural-urban difference, population trends, the industrialization of agriculture, and the social and economic consequences of these phenomena.

Migration, Development and the Promise of CEDAW for Rural Women is hardly the last word on CEDAW’s Article 14. My analysis of the intersection of development, migration and human rights law for rural women raises many more questions than it answers. Among these questions is the impact of rural spatiality—including a relative absence of formal legal institutions and actors—on the ability of rural women to realize the promise of international instruments such as CEDAW and the domestic laws and programs that respond to its mandate. Another is the extent to which development efforts entail or encourage urbanization and how CEDAW’s vision for empowering rural women might influence the trajectory of development. A third is the wisdom of development strategies that fuel migration’s urban juggernaut by promoting the industrialization of agriculture. Such strategies—which I argue reflect an urban bias—seem wrong headed at a time when the developed world’s food production priorities are shifting to value and emphasize sustainable agriculture. I hope other scholars who are interested in gender, how we feed ourselves, and maybe even rurality, will join me in exploring these and other issues related to Article 14 of CEDAW.

Cross-posted at IntLawGrrls.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Spending stimulus dollars in rural Tennessee

Michael Cooper reports in today's New York Times on how stimulus funds are putting folks back to work quickly, New Deal-style, in nonmetropolitan Perry County, Tennessee, population 7,631. Here's an excerpt:
The state decided to spend some of its money to try to reduce unemployment by up to 40 percent here in Perry County, a small, rural county 90 miles southwest of Nashville where the unemployment rate had risen to above 25 percent after its biggest plant, the auto parts factory, closed.

Rather than waiting for big projects to be planned and awarded to construction companies, or for tax cuts to trickle through the economy, state officials hit upon a New Deal model of trying to put people directly to work as quickly as possible.

They are using welfare money from the stimulus package to subsidize 300 new jobs across Perry County, with employers ranging from the state Transportation Department to the milkshake place near the high school.

The grass-roots, fast-action sound of the program is certainly appealing, and Cooper reports that the June unemployment rate for the county fell to just over 22%. Still, folks in Perry County know they need a long-term solution to local economic woes, like the auto parts factory that closed and put so many in such dire straits so quickly.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Rural as "mom"? as sanctuary?

A story in the New York Times today tells of a federal program to tear down and re-build homes contaminated by uranium, mostly in the Navajo Nation. The dateline is Teec Nos Pos, Arizona, population 799, in the four corners area. Teec Nos Pos is in Apache County, population 69,423, and with a population density of about six persons per square mile. In other words, its pretty rural. The story features the Slowman family who lived in Farmington, New Mexico, population 37,844, and "miles away" from their Apache County home, while it was being re-built. This quote is from Mr. Slowman, following his explanation that a traditional Navajo medicine man would bless their new house before they moved in.
“In our traditional way, a house is like your mom,” he said. “It’s where you eat, sleep, where you’re taken care of. And when you come back from the city, you come back to your mom. It makes you feel real good.”
To me, the use of the city as foil, suggested that the rural setting was as much the "mom" or sanctuary as the home itself. It's a nice metaphor.

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part XXXII): "Adjudcated circuit court criminal cases reviewed"

The July 16, 2009 issue of the Newton County Times features that headline, the only front-page story of a law and order nature.

The cases adjudicated range from traffic violations, to residential burglaries (televisions and a gun) and a Class C theft of property (a horse), to domestic battery, terroristic threatening, and carrying a weapon following a domestic disturbance. In one burglary, the defendant was sentenced to 120 days in jail, 60 months probation, and was ordered to pay $500 in court costs and $100 in restitution. In the other, the defendnat was sentenced to two days in jail, 60 months of probation, and 100 hours of community service. He was ordered to pay a $250 fine and more than $1,250 in restitution. The defendant who stole the horse pleaded guilty and was placed on 36 months probation. He was also fined $250 plus court costs and ordered to pay restitution of more than $1,307. In the final case, arising from domestic violence, the charges were dismissed at the request of the victim, the defendant's wife.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Carrying the rural flag in the context of health care reform

A story in today's NYT, "Concerns on Plan Show Clashing Goals," discusses the current proposal to remake the health care system. The authors note the concerns of several law makers, and this part of the story, which attends to the rural, caught my eye:
Representative Mike Ross, Democrat of Arkansas, wants to reduce or eliminate the disparities in what Medicare pays for health services in rural areas versus urban centers, a gap that he says has forced hospitals to close and doctors to move away.

* * *

... Mr. Ross said that addressing long-term costs was just one area of concern for the Blue Dogs. They also want to reduce or eliminate the disparity in Medicare payments that result in lower rates for health providers in rural areas.

Mr. Ross said his hometown, Prescott [population 3,686], now has three doctors — down from six — and that private insurers in Arkansas pay 30 percent more than Medicare, making doctors reluctant to accept new Medicare patients.

India is paying attention to the need for rural broadband

I just saw this abstract on ssrn.com for a paper titled "Planning for Rural Broadband Coverage: The Ultimate Bridge Across the Indian Rural-Urban Digital Divide."
This article highlights the fact that broadband connectivity holds the promise to transform the lives of rural Indians. Universal access to broadband would not only bridge the digital divide but also help to overcome the infrastructural constraints such as lack of roads, market access, health and education facilities that commonly plague rural areas. Further, broadband connectivity can bring convenient access to specialized knowledge and government services to rural folk. All this would go a long way towards mainstreaming rural India and reducing its chronic deprivation and isolation. While substantiating the above conviction with examples and negating the doubts of naysayers, the author describes various government schemes to bring about ICT connectivity and benefits of broadband to rural populations. Universal Service Obligation Fund of India (USOF) and the Department of IT are in the implementing schemes in this direction. The author goes on to analyse USOF’s past efforts and draw lessons from the same for the envisaged rural broadband scheme, apart from touching upon the possibility of learning from other countries experiences and adapting the same into a scheme for the fibre-based ICT connectivity for rural India.
Of course, the need for rural broadband is getting some attention in the U.S., too. Read posts here and here. The attention is not always positive, the positions taken not always supportive of digital infrastructure for rural folks; see here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


One of the big takeaways from my recent scholarship is the stuff of Timothy Egan's latest column. Now that he is saying it, perhaps it will garner a bit more attention.

Egan's column is Methland v. Mythland. Egan writes of the brief media furor over the book Methland (see my post here) and then continues:

And then it all passed, as these things do, the damage done, leaving the impression of rural America as a broken land, scary. In the interim, the more traditional narrative, of country people somehow more authentic than city folk — “the best of America in these small towns” — came roaring back in the form of Sarah Palin.

In truth, neither of these images does justice to the complexities of small-town life. And neither version does anything to advance the cause of an honest rural policy, something that might help some of the worst casualties of global economic tumult.

Egan goes on to describe what all rural scholars know and what all law- and policy-makers should know: rural residents are more likely to be poor, to be without health insurance, and to lack access to sorts of health and human services city dwellers take for granted. Many rural communities are suffering population loss. As Egan expresses it, "[i]n the invisible margins off the interstate, the story about decline takes place in slow motion, rarely attracting a headline."

Egan's right, but he fails to mention several recent headlines that have been quite hostile to rural communities and interests, such as this one.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Some rural consequences of the pared down California budget

I am happy to see Jennifer Steinhauer's report on the just-agreed California budget also mention its consequences for rural places. Here's the excerpt from her story, "In Budget Deal, California Dream Meets Grim Reality."

The fallout is already evident. ... In Eureka, near the Oregon border, the Old Town Dental Center is about to close. Its patient base is 90 percent Medicaid, and the state’s program will no longer pay for anything beyond tooth extractions.

“There are a lot of people that are just not showing up,” said Nicole Eleck, the receptionist there. “Half our patients are saying, ‘If something bothers me, I will wait until it needs to get pulled.’ ”

Herrmann Spetzler, the chief executive of Open Door Community Health Centers, which operates 10 clinics in rural northern California, said clinics that are the only providers for miles around might close.

“If you sit in our waiting room, you will see the faces of everyone who lives in our region,” he said. “There is the local judge, the policeman, the mom with kids and the homeless person. In my health centers, we’ve had $5 million in cut since July, and we don’t know what the future will bring.”

Monday, July 20, 2009

Ouch! An extremely uncharitable characterization of rural America

See Frank Rich's column last week, which I didn't read when it first appeared because it was seemingly all about Sarah Palin, and I was suffering a bit of Sarah fatigue. The column is titled "She Broke the G.O.P and Now She Owns It," and I noticed its popularity in the NYTimes most emailed list last week. Seeing this comment about the column in the Daily Yonder caused me to take a look.

It seems that rural America just keeps taking it on the chin due to its association with Sarah Palin. I am generally a fan of Frank Rich's, but here he is just needlessly "piling on" about the link between Sarah and country folks. That association was created, of course, by Palin herself, but also by the pundits. I've previously written about it here, here, and here.

Here is the most problematic part of Rich's column, as I see it:
Most important, she stands for a genuine movement: a dwindling white nonurban America that is aflame with grievances and awash in self-pity as the country hurtles into the 21st century and leaves it behind. Palin gives this movement a major party brand and political plausibility that its open-throated media auxiliary ... cannot. (emphasis added).
Are rural Americans (who else might Rich mean by nonurban? I doubt he means suburban, or even exurban?) awash in self-pity? aflame in grievances? The reader comments to this article support the latter assertion, as did callers to last Friday's Talk of the Nation on NPR. But grievances are sometimes justified ...

Later in the column, Rich actually uses the word "rural." Here's that excerpt:
Even now, the so-called mainstream media can grade Palin on a curve: at MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” last week, Palin’s self-proclaimed representation of the “real America” was accepted as a given, as if white rural America actually still was the nation’s baseline.
The people who think "white rural America" is the nation's baseline are clearly rare these days. After all, the United States ceased to be a majority rural nation almost 100 years ago, with the 1920 Census. So why does Rich find it necessary to be so harsh? Can you imagine if a respected columnist like Rich (or anyone with such a national platform) took aim in such a harsh way at a racial or ethnic minority? Why are poor white people (especially rural ones, these days) fair game?

Of course, these are just two slices of the column (which generally does focus more on Palin and the G.O.P., as billed), but both are gratuitous rural bashing, truly unnecessary and destructive rhetorical hyperbole.

Pretty clearly, "white rural America" is no longer the nation's baseline, but does that mean they don't matter at all?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Some of Obama's pre-Presidential reflections on rural America

I have been reading President Barack Obama's Dreams from my Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, first published in 1995 not long after Obama finished Harvard Law School. It is a stunning, marvelous book in several regards, and I have especially enjoyed his reflections on his childhood and youth, his early grappling with race and his family's roots. Among other passages, I was taken with his descriptions of the Kansas towns from which his maternal grandparents came. Here it is:
They had grown up less than twenty miles away from each other--my grandmother in Augusta, my grandfather in El Dorado, towns too small to warrant boldface on a road map--and the childhoods they liked to recall for my benefit portrayed small-town, Depression-era America in all its innocent glory; Fourth of July parades and the pictures shows on the side of a barn; fireflies in a jar and the taste of vine-ripe tomatoes, sweet as apples; dust storms and hail storms and classrooms filled with farm boys who got sewn into their woolen underwear at the beginning of winter and stank like pigs as the months wore on.

Even the trauma of bank failures and farm foreclosures seemed romantic when spun through the loom of my grandparents' memories, a time when hardship, the great leveler that had brought people closer together, was shared by all. So you had to listen carefully to recognize the subtle hierarchies and unspoken codes that had policed their early lives, the distinctions of people who don't have a lot and live in the middle of nowhere. It had to do with something called respectability--there were respectable people and not-so-respectable people--and although you didn't have to be rich to be respectable, you sure had to work harder at it if you weren't.
This respectable/not-so-respectable dichotomy resonates with me in relation to my own upbringing in rural Arkansas. In a persistent poverty county where no one had very much in terms of material goods, this distinction was the stuff on which social hierarchies rested, though I suppose I reflect on it more as a continuum than a dichotomy.

Also interesting to me is Obama's awareness that he is "seeing" these places through the lens of his grandparents' memories and presentation to him. But this is no different than the self-awareness and maturity that Obama exhibits through the entire book, which I have found remarkable given that he wrote this book in his early 30s.

For the record, Augusta, Kansas, had a 2000 population of 8,423, and El Dorado, Kansas (the county seat of Butler County), had a 2000 population of 12,057. Both towns are located in micropolitan Butler County. I'll have to do some digging around to find out what their populations were when Obama's grandparents were growing up there.

As I wrote earlier, Obama's maternal great-great-great-great-great grandmother was once a resident of my home county, Newton County, Arkansas, which is just about as rural as it gets.

Friday, July 17, 2009

European farm subsidies used for broader rural development

This story in today's New York Times explains that farm subsidies in the European Union support enterprises that are not strictly agricultural, much to the dismay of some farmers and politicians there. As in the U.S., European farm subsidies also flow to many wealthy persons who happen to own rural and/or agricultural land, even if it is not farmed. Here's the story's lede:

Arids Roma is a gritty Catalan construction company in the northeast of Spain that paves highways and churns out dusty gray mountains of gravel from several sprawling factories.

It is also a beneficiary of €1.59 million in farm subsidies from the European Union, which last year doled out more than €50 billion, $71 billion, from the largest agricultural aid program in the world, one that provides financing to a wide variety of recipients beyond the farmers who plow the soil — German gummy bear manufacturers, luxury cruise ship caterers and wealthy landowners ranging from Queen Elizabeth II of England to Prince Albert II of Monaco.

Arids spreads gravel instead of seeds, but it received a farm subsidy for contributing to rural development — money well spent, according to the Catalan regional government, which requested the payment and then distributed it to the company.

As a spokeswoman for the Catalan government explains, “Paved roads connecting the villages aid the mobility of tractors.”

Elsewhere in the article, the theme of rural development is echoed in the comments of an EU spokesman who explains: “Rural development is not just about farms, it is also about environmental projects and boosting the rural economy ... So it is perfectly O.K. that nonagricultural businesses get money for a project that generates jobs and prosperity in rural areas.” I suspect that many rural residents in Europe disagree--not with the mission of rural development, but that the best way to achieve it is to channel monies through agri-business interests and the pockets of European monarchs.

I wonder what grass roots rural development efforts are underway in Europe. Here's a link to one rural community development program in the U.S. The USDA makes many grants available for community development purposes.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Racism and Arkansas voters in the 2008 Presidential Election

A story in the Fulbright Review, a publication of the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Arkansas, caught my eye today. The headline is "Red, White and Blue," with an emphasis on "white." It reports on a study by three UA political science professors who considered the role of "symbolic racism" in the 2008 Presidential election in the states of Arkansas and Georgia. Here is an excerpt:
What the researchers found was that symbolic racism was a driving--and often determining--factor in how people voted in both Arkansas and Georgia.

"If people for all rational reasons should have chosen Obama, based on the issues, but they didn't, we found symbolic racism to be the dominant force in the Arkansas presidential vote. The difference in Georgia as the effect was offset by strong gains for Democrats with new voters, African American voters, and first-time voters," said [one of the professors, Angie Maxwell].

What struck the researchers was that in Arkansas, there was no precedent for electing an African American as a governor or to Congress. The whole of the South was blue in the final tally, except for Arkansas, which resembled a red bull's eye.
This story (and apparently the study on which it reports) does not touch on rurality in relation to how Arkansans voted in the 2008 Presidential election, but I have written about that issue here, here and here.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part XXXI): "Jail Closed"

That's the big headline in the July 9, 2009 issue of the Newton County Times. I've been following this impending closures for about a year now. The Sheriff finally closed the jail on July 1, under threat of a lawsuit by the state attorney general after the century-old jail was condemned several months ago. The Sheriff reported that "dispatch and other operations are now working out of the law enforcement center across the street." He also reported that two prisoners who are awaiting transport to the Arkansas Department of Corrections have been moved to the Boone County Jail, which is about 20 miles away. The state pays for the cost of housing those prisoners, but the Sheriff said he would "watch closely" which "law violators are cited and released and which should be incarcerated in a neighboring jail" because these will be housed at Newton County's expense.

Interestingly, the Sheriff said he is also working with the district court to maintain a community service work and release program. I've never heard such a program mentioned previously, but it would seem a wonderful thing if this lack of a jail--albeit temporary--led to more progressive and rehabilitation-oriented handling of offenders. It could save the county a lot of money over the long run.

The ongoing jail saga also illustrates the cost of rights--taxes must be paid, not least at the local level, to finance our criminal justice system. This means, effectively, that taxes are not optional, at least they are not if we are to live up to our constitutional mandate.

Also on the front page are these headlines:

County applying for $75,000 grant for office of technology. This tells of an application to the Association of Arkansas Counties for a technology grant that would allow the Circuit Clerk's office to scan records.

Sheriff's activity reports end half year. This activity report notes that the jail housed 19 inmates or a total of 136 days in May. The jail housed 21 inmates for a total of 111 inmate days in June. The cost for outside prisoners (a term not defined) was $1,330 in May and not stated for June.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Toxic meth houses

Read the NYT report here, dateline Winchester, Tennessee, population 7,329.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Rural doc to be next U.S. Surgeon General

Read about Dr. Regina Benjamin's appointment here. I'm delighted that news reports are playing up her accomplishment of "establishing a rural health clinic in Bayou La Batre, Ala. — a small, medically underserved shrimping village along the Gulf Coast." Bayou La Batre's population is 2,313.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Dan Barry from Indian Country in South Dakota

Dan Barry's most recent "This Land" report is from Eagle Butte, South Dakota, population 619. (The Census Designated Place, North Eagle Butte, is also rural under the U.S. Census Bureau definition, with 2,163 ). Barry reports on a new health care facility being built on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation there, supported with significant federal stimulus funds.

The story's headline is "A Rising but Doubted Dream on a Reservation," and an excerpt follows:
[I]n 2002, the Indian Health Service, the federal agency responsible for providing health care to American Indians and Alaska Natives, approved the proposal for an “alternative rural hospital,” with more attractive housing. Architects were soon traveling around the reservation to hear what people wanted, meeting in the bingo halls and community rooms of remote places like Bear Creek and White Horse and Thunder Butte. They especially listened to the elders.
Wonderful as the new facility sounds--with even a traditional healing room--it will not have a CT scanner. Lack of economies of scale and all that, or as the Indian Health Service spokesman put it, "a formula that takes into account several factors: staffing, workload and population size." The nearest CT scanner will remain a 3-hour drive away, in Rapid City, South Dakota, population 59,607.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part XXX): All about the Elk Fest

No crime is reported in the June 25 and July 2, 2009 issues of the Newton County Times, which are both full of news about the recent Buffalo River Elk Festival. Among the headlines are these, many of which are related to the festival:
  • Elkettes 2009. This features a photo of three young women in swimsuits and apparently refers to a division of the beauty contest associated with the Elk Festival. The photo is of Miss Elkette and the alternates are shown. They are from as far away as Everton and Mountain Home. The later edition shows the winners of the Miss Elk Fest division, which apparently includes slightly older women, up to the age of 20.
  • Three jobs clubs formed for summer youth employment. This reports on a six-week program funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and overseen by the Arkansas Workforce Center. The program mostly familiarizes participants with child labor laws. The program also offers youth transportation to get jobs.
  • New 4-H Dog Project meetings start Thursday. This reports on a program to teach people proper dog care and dog training techniques.
  • Post Offices observing Independence Day early. This is the lead story in the 2 July edition and simply reports that post offices around the county closed at noon or 12:30 on July 3.
  • Elk Summit conducted during festival. This "summit" was part of the state Game and Fish Commission's process for developing a statewide "strategic elk management plan." The elk were transplanted from the Colorado Rockies about three decades ago, and the greatest controversy regarding them seems to relate to the amount of tourist traffic they generate in the Boxley Valley, where they are most concentrated. The five stated goals of the management plan are resource, habitat, sociological, education, and enforcement.
  • No local winners in elk permit drawing. This means that no Newton County resident got a permit to kill an elk during this fall's season.
  • Marie Holt '09 Farm Woman. This reports on an 88-year-old resident of the county who has been named by the Farm Bureau as Farm Woman of the Year. She still keeps 65 head of cattle and grows a large garden each year. Of her marriage, which began in 1934, the story reports: "they lived off of what the farm produced. They smoked their meats, canned produce and had corn milled into meal. Mrs. Holt said she even mde lye soap for a time. The only food items they really had to buy were flour, sugar and coffee. Chickens provided eggs and cows gave milk."
I'm not so excited about the exhaustive coverage of the regional beauty contest (with numerous photos of all age divisions), but I suppose "girls" putting on swimsuits and sequined gowns could certainly be considered better than having crime on which to report.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Is California's Central Valley the "new Appalachia"?

Listen to this NPR report, "Central Valley Disconnect: Rich Land, Poor Nutrition." The dateline is Kettleman City, California, population 1,499. Here's an excerpt that quotes Kettleman native Yesenia Ayala, 20, who works for Food Link, which distributes free fruits and vegetables to the community.

"We are a rural community surrounded by fields and crops."

* * *

"We don't have grocery stores, which is very hard," Ayala says. "We have to drive 35 miles in order to get to our nearest grocery store."

A city ordinance in nearby Fresno actually prohibited farmer's markets until last year. The story continues with a quote from Mark Arax, the grandson of an Armenian fruit picker who formerly reported for the LA Times:

"We're living in a region that produces the finest fruits and vegetables in the world, and yet the children of this valley rarely taste those fruits and vegetables," he says.

Alongside the most intensive farm belt the world has ever known, he says, is this stunning poverty. Some neighborhoods in Fresno have the most concentrated poverty of any city in the country, and all the pathology that goes along with it: the drugs and the gangs.

"We produce more meth and more milk than any region in the country," he says.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Big NYT headline: Stimulus funds for transportation flow to rural areas, cities lose out

Here's the link. Here's the lede:

Two-thirds of the country lives in large metropolitan areas, home to the nation’s worst traffic jams and some of its oldest roads and bridges. But cities and their surrounding regions are getting far less than two-thirds of federal transportation stimulus money.

* * *
Now that all 50 states have beat a June 30 deadline by winning approval for projects that will use more than half of that transportation money, worth $16.4 billion, it is clear that the stimulus program will continue that pattern of spending disproportionately on rural areas.
The rest of the story is well worth a read. Brookings Institution experts take their usual stance, promoting Miracle Mets ....

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

More on rural substance abuse (this time from Australia) with a local autonomy twist

Norimitsu Onishi reported in Sunday's New York Times about efforts in Western Australia to curb alcohol abuse by Aboriginals. It is an interesting tale of local autonomy following the lead of federalist intervention in responding to a serious social and public health problem. The headline is "Facing a Crisis, Aborigines Stage Interventions of Their Own." The dateline is Halls Creek, population 3,100, with about another thousand in surrounding villages.

Here's an excerpt:

Four decades after a constitutional amendment guaranteed equal rights for Australia’s Aborigines, including the right to legally drink, an increasing number of indigenous towns and smaller communities deep in the outback are curtailing the sale of alcohol. Many Aboriginal leaders say the restrictions are necessary to reverse the effects of a drinking culture that has led to widespread alcoholism, violence and child abuse.

The self-restrictions here in Western Australia and other states reflect a tougher approach toward Aboriginal communities taken by the federal government in the past two years in the Northern Territory, a federal region with the country’s highest concentration of Aborigines. Called “the intervention,” it has angered many Aboriginal people nationwide, especially older ones with direct experience of Australia’s colonial-like policies toward its indigenous people.

The federal government's Northern Territory "intervention," as it is known, has spurred Aboriginal leaders elsewhere to seek curbs on alcohol, and four towns and smaller communities have achieved restrictions or outright bans on alcohol in the last year and a half. Four others have requested such bans. One Aboriginal woman who led the campaign in Fitzroy Crossing, 180 miles west of Halls Creek is quoted as saying, “What we saw happening in the Northern Territory made us think, ‘Well, we need to do something about our situation as well.’”

Monday, July 6, 2009

Serial killer dead after spree in nonmetropolitan Cherokee County, SC

Read the latest from the New York Times here.

Gaffney, South Carolina, where the five killings occurred, has a population of 12,968 and is part of the Greenville-Spartanburg-Anderson Statistical Area. Gaffney is in Cherokee County, which appears to be micropolitan, with a population of about 54,000.

The news reports of recent events seem to reflect the vulnerability associated with rural places. Here's an excerpt from an AP report on 5 July:
An 83-year-old woman and her daughter were shot to death on Wednesday, and a 63-year-old peach farmer was found dead at his home a week ago.

The killings have alarmed residents, who canceled Independence Day holiday plans and armed themselves.

Sheriff Blanton warned people selling door to door to stop knocking, and he cautioned anyone who broke down on the county’s rural roads to wait instead of walking to a house for help because he worried “people are going to start shooting at shadows.”
In this short excerpt are rural themes of self reliance/self help--specifically involving guns, as well as vulnerability due to spatial isolation and the attendant limited presence of law enforcement.

Acknowledging rural challenges to healthcare delivery and reform

In her story on the two sides seeking to influence the views of the U.S. Senators from Maine on healthcare reform, Abby Goodnough explains her focus on this New England state which, in spite of its smallish population (1.3 million), has proven particularly challenging in terms of health care coverage and delivery.
The state has large rural, poor and elderly populations with significant health needs. It has many small businesses and seasonal workers, and few employers large enough to voluntarily offer employees insurance. Meanwhile, most insurers no longer find it profitable to sell individual coverage here, leaving a few companies to dominate the market. (emphasis mine)
The dateline is Presque Isle, Maine, population 9,511. Presque Isle is the largest city in Aroostook County, a sprawling county along the Canadian border. Aroostook County's population is 71,676 (down from 73,938 in 2000), but its population density is just 11/square mile.

Methland reviewed in NYT

The cover story for the Book Review section of the New York Times on Sunday featured Nick Reding's book Methland, reviewed by Walter Kirn. Kirn describes the book in a most compelling way as "Nick Reding’s unnerving investigative account of two gruesome years in the life of Oelwein, Iowa, a railroad and meatpacking town of several thousand whipped by a methamphetamine-laced panic whose origins lie outside the place itself, in forces almost too great to comprehend and too pitiless to bear." Oelwein's population is 6,692.

This passage again echoes the global-local link in Methland, which Kirn cals a "ballad of cultural invisibility," while also highlighting what Kirn sees as Reding's movitation:
Reding, a loyal native of the Midwest who’s frankly sentimental about its past and starkly lucid about its likely future, invites his rushing readers to gaze down at the “flyover country” of America and see not a grid of farms and county roads but a patchwork of failed institutions and aspirations. There’s the hospital, groaning under a load of uninsured patients with ­minimum-wage jobs and maxed-out household budgets. There’s the school, imperiled by dwindling tax receipts and students with ever more grown-up problems.
The link to manufacturing is especially interesting in light of an empirical study presented at the recent Annual Meeting of the Law and Society Association (LSA). Professors Ralph Weisheit and Ed Wells reported there on their study of predictors of where meth labs are located. One of few statistically significant predictors they identified was the presence of a manufacturing facility in the vicinity. Those participating in the LSA panel speculated that the repetitive motion involved in manufacturing was consistent with meth's effects on the body.

So, does meth make factory line workers more competitive in this age of global competition? That certainly seems consistent with Reding's apparent thesis--that the meth phenomenon, even in small town America--is by no means strictly local in cause or effect.

My own recent article on drug abuse in rural locales is here.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

More Urban Ag

Here's a story from today's NYT Magazine. It's called "Street Farmer" and is currently number 7 on the top-10 most emailed list.

Here's another from yesterday's Sacramento Bee.

This seems to be a laudable trend--except that any trend that could contribute to rural America's obsolescence troubles me, at least a bit.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

"New Country Squires" in greater NYC

Vivan Toy's story under that headline in the New York Times is about NYC dwellers who cannot afford to buy there and so are getting into the second-home market in the Hudson River Valley, upstate New York, and some "rural" places even farther afield. Here's a quote:
Joan Lonergan, the owner of Coldwell Banker Village Green Realty, which has three Hudson Valley offices ... said that there have always been Manhattan renters looking to buy a slice of the country. “But I think there might be more of it now, because there has been so much trepidation about the New York City market and some people see this as being more secure,” she said.
One family with two young children explained their motivation for seeking a place "in the country": “We enjoy raising our children in the city, but we live in a small amount of space and we can’t afford to buy anything in the city ... Being able to stretch out on the weekends and in the summer would really help.”

Is this just another urban use of the rural?

Friday, July 3, 2009

Escape to Appalachia

See the NYT feature, "Celebrating the Sounds of Appalachian Strings" here. A link to the multimedia feature accompanying the story is here.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Obama's rural listening tour: How rural is it?

Read the New York Times commentary on the listening tour here. It also lists the stops and which officials will be present on behalf of the Obama administration.

I was skeptical that this was going to be very rural when I saw the first few stops listed on the tour, so I decided to evaluate the rurality of each place.
  • The first is Wattsburg, near Erie, Pennsylvania. Erie is a city of just over 100,000 and not exactly what I think of as rural, even if Wattsburg borough is only 378. Plus, the population density of Erie county is 350/square mile.
  • The next is La Crosse, Wisconsin, population 50,493 in a county with a population just over 110,000, making it just barely metropolitan.
  • St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana has just under 50,000 residents, but the population density is about 200 per square mile. Of course, it may be culturally rural.
  • Zanesville, Ohio, population 25,112, is micropolitan--and Appalachian. (It was the subject of recent litigation about an adjacent area, Coal Run, that it had refused to annex; read the story here).
  • Las Cruces, New Mexico is metropolitan, with nearly 90,000 residents, in a county with with more than 200,000. Certainly, more rural places can easily be found in the American Southwest.
  • Scottsbluff, Nebraska, with 14,732 residents, gets closer to the mark. After all, Scotts Bluff County has just 36,000, and the county's poplation density is 50/square mile.
  • Ringgold, Virginia is not even a census designated place, but it is in Pittsylvania County, with a population of nearly 62,000. Still, the county's population density is 64 persons per square mile, which doesn't sound so rural after all.
  • Hamlet, North Carolina has a population just over 6,000; it is situated in Richmond County, population 46,564.
  • By many measures, Bethel, Alaska, population 5,471, is rural. That's Bethel City. Bethel's wider census area has a population of 16,006. (Read other blog posts about Bethel and environs here, here and here). The area's population density is a mere .4 persons per square mile.
With the possible exception of Ringgold, Virginia then--for which we don't even have a population--the only stop on Obama's rural listening tour that meets the U.S. Census Bureau's definition of rural--a population of less than 2,500 or open territory--is Wattsburg, Pennsylvania. And Wattsburg is in a metropolitan county. So, where are the category 9s on the rural-urban continuum code ... because that would be indisputably rural.

Besides that, there's the matter of where President Obama himself will be for the listening tour ...