Sunday, July 29, 2012

Rich Pakistani charms Paris, Texas--as both its cardiologist and mayor

The International Herald-Tribune reported a few days ago on Arjumand Hashmi, the Pakistani mayor of Paris, Texas, who apparently has national political ambitions.  The suggestion of journalist Anand Giridhardas is that you wouldn't expect folks in nonmetropolitan northeast Texas to be so open to an outsider--especially a highly-educated and rich foreign one.  But Hashmi happens to be the small city's cardiologist, which may increase his favor with local residents.  It may also be that the intolerance for foreigners (and difference generally) and provincialism that is associated with small-towns is countered by small-town and working-class respect for wealth.

Paris, Texas, in the northeast corner of the state, has a population of about 25,000.  It is the county seat of nonmetropolitan Lamar, County, population 50, 074.  The poverty rate there is 16.7%, and--as Giridhardas suggests--it is an aging population; 17% are over the age of 65.  It is also not particularly diverse, with a populace who are 75.5% non-Hispanic white, 13.7% African American, 7% Hispanic or Latino origin, 1.7% American Indian or Alaska Native, and just 0.7% Asian.  

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Britain acknowledges the pastoral, but mostly as past

Everyone's talking today about the eclectic opening ceremony for the London Olympics.  The New York Times coverage featured the headline, "A Five-Ring Opening Circus, Weirdly and Unabashedly British."  It offered this description of the hodgepodge:
The noisy, busy, witty, dizzying production somehow managed to feature a flock of sheep (plus a busy sheepdog), the Sex Pistols, Lord Voldemort, the engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, a suggestion that the Olympic rings were forged by British foundries during the Industrial revolution, the seminal Partridge Family Reference from "Four Weddings and a Funeral," a group of people dressed like members of Sgt. Pepper's band, some rustic hovels tended by rustic peasants, "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" and, in a paean to the National Health Service, a zany bunch of dancing nurses and bouncing sick children on huge hospital beds.
Here's an excerpt from a NY Times blog--prior to the opening ceremony--explaining organizer Danny Boyle's thinking about the inclusion of the sheep:
[Boyle] has promised it will include horses, chicken and sheep in a ceremonial nod to Britain's rural expanses.
So, London--and Britain--did not forget its rural other, but did it acknowledge them primarily in the past tense?

Friday, July 27, 2012

A rural-urban Olympic duel

British Prime Minister David Cameron asserts that Salt Lake City is "the middle of nowhere," which explains why the Olympics hosted there a decade ago--and organized by Mitt Romney--doesn't compare to the London games that opened today.

Cameron thereby turns Romney's recent foot-in-mouth comment about London perhaps not being prepared for the games into a rural-urban contest.  The SLC games must have been easier to organize because of their relatively remote location, Cameron assumes.  

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A tale of two markets: Part II, Newton County, Arkansas

In my prior post about the farmers markets in Telluride and Mountain Village, Colorado, I promised to compare and contrast those markets with the one in Jasper, Arkansas, my home town.  Both places are similar in some ways, dramatically different in others.  First, both are rural/nonmetropolitan by most ecological measures, e.g., population density and size.  Indeed, both have similar total populations-- San Miguel County just over 7000, and Newton County just over 8000.  Both are also mountain towns (San Juans of the Rockies on one hand, Ozarks on the other), which benefit from ecotourism.  In fact, both are amenity rich in terms of scenic beauty and outdoor activities, but Telluride has many more "built" amenities, and is quite cosmopolitan culturally.  This distinction and the crowd each county attracts is reflected in the annual accommodation and food service sales for 2007:  $77 million in San Miguel County, $3.2 million in Newton County.  That and the relative affluence are also reflected in retail sales per capita in 2007:  $13,114 in San Miguel County, $1,596 in Newton County.

Tensions between old timers and newcomers are evident in both places.  In Telluride, those tensions often play out in planning battles, but presumably also in other ways.  Newton County does not engage in any planning or regulate building in any way, so these tensions are manifest in other ways.  In fact, my sense is that these conflicts have seemingly dissipated over the years, perhaps because long-time residents have come to see newcomers as a net gain to the community.

Beyond these similarities, the differences between the two places are more apparent.  Telluride is an extraordinary example of rural gentrification and is so obviously affluent, Newton County is a persistent poverty county, which means it is characterized by entrenched, inter-generational poverty.  I provided some socioeconomic data about Telluride and San Miguel County in my last post.  Here's some about Newton County:  Its poverty rate is 22.5%, and it's median household income is $27,441.  Whereas nearly half of San Miguel County residents have a bachelor's degree or greater, only 12.2% of Newton County residents do.  Newton County is a Federal/State Government dependent economy, while San Miguel County has a Service-dependent economy.
Tomatoes available July 6, 2012

How is this very different demographic profile reflected in the two places' farmers markets?  I already provided lots of information about the Telluride and Mountain Village markets, and at least the former is fairly long standing.  The Newton County farmers' market, in contrast, started only this year, with a push from the Newton County Agricultural Extension Office.  (I don't even recall much of a tradition of farm stands in Newton County--just neighbors sharing the fruits of their gardens with others).  Whereas the San Miguel County markets take place weekly, spring through fall, the Newton County market takes place only on one Friday evening a month, from 4 pm to 6 pm (aiming to catch people passing the courthouse square on their way home from work), with the last market of the season likely to be this week (though in future years it might be in August, absent present doubt conditions).  I don't know the cost of participating in the Telluride market, but participation in the Newton County market costs just $5/week, and the Extension Office is considering the option of an annual fee.  I'm not sure what participants get for that -- presumably the benefit of a sign announcing the market, which I saw in a newspaper story about it.

The vendors don't pay too much attention to presentation
While vendors at the Colorado markets were numerous, only five vendors showed up to participate in the Newton County market on the Friday in early July when my mom took these photos as my proxy.  She found four fruit and veg vendors and one craftsman.  One of the food vendors had not only fresh produce, but also home-baked goods and jams and relishes for $5 each.  That's less than half the $11/jar cost at Mountain Village.  Tomatoes were $6/lb in Colorado, but only $2.25 in Newton County (and my mom declared them the best she's ever eaten).  The selection wasn't extensive -- certainly none of the kohlrabi featured at the Mountain Village market--but it included some potatoes, peppers, and squash in addition to the items noted above.  I suspect most vendors simply brought excess bounty from their own gardens, and that they did not decide what to plant because of the existence of the market.  I don't believe any of the vendors are engaged in agritourism, but I suspect those selling jams and relishes don't also market those at the nearby gift shops on Scenic Highway 7 (see the figures below).  No one at this market is making a living off the market, which is quite different to what I learned about the Colorado markets.

All of the vendors at the Newton County market were from within the county, population 8,264.  I suppose it is not a sufficiently attractive market in terms of income potential to draw vendors from a wider area.  And I suspect most if not all vendors brought excess bounty from their own gardens, that they had not decided what to plant because of the existence of the market.  I don't believe any of the vendors are engaged in agritourism, but I'd be surprised if those selling jams and relishes don't also market those at the nearby gift shops on Scenic Highway 7.  Unlike in Telluride, none of the vendors had signs or brochures indicating their names or that of their farm; certainly, these Newton County farmers had not invested as much as the Telluride vendors in display aesthetics.

Meanwhile, I note that the USDA is supporting farmers' markets through the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program, which is being administered in a nine-county area including Newton County by the Area Agency on Aging of Northwest Arkansas.  The program provides a $50 coupon book to each eligible household with a senior adult 60 years of age or older.  The coupons can be used to purchase locally grown fresh vegetables, fruits, herbs and honey at "local farmer's markets from approved vendors."  Income eligibility is $1,723/month for a family of one, $2,333/month for a family of two, $2,994 for a family of three and so forth.  The Newton County Times story about this program does not indicate if any vendors at the Newton County Farmers' Market are "approved." 

I recently came across U.S. Government data on some of the very questions I was addressing.  Here's the county-to-county comparison on a range of agricultural data points, from the Atlas of Rural and Small-Town America:
  • Principal Operator 10 years or more on same parcel:  San Miguel County, 87; Newton County,  439
  • Principal Operator 2 years or less on same parcel:  San Miguel County, 1; Newton County, 35. 
  • Number of farms:  San Miguel County, 123; Newton County, 636.
  • Percentage of land being farmed:  San Miguel County, 18.3%; Newton County, 21.5%.
  • Average market value of product sold:  San Miguel County, $27,235; Newton County $29,907.
  • Percentage of farms with sales below $10K in 2007:  San Miguel County, 71%; Newton County,  68%.     
  • Average government payment 2007:  San Miguel County, $9230; Newton County, $1756.
  •  Percentage of farms with income from agritourism:  San Miguel County, 4.87%; Newton County, 0.47%.  
  • Percentage of farms engaged in value-added production: San Miguel County, 8.9%; Newton County, 5.3%.
  • Percentage of farms using CSA:  San Miguel County, 1.62%; Newton County, 0.
  • Percentage of farms with high speed internet:  San Miguel County, 48%; Newton County, 24%.
  • Percentage of operators working off farm:  San Miguel County, 38%; Newton County, 46%. 
  • Percentage of farms with woman operator:  San Miguel County, 18%; Newton County, 14%. 
I acknowledge that this county-to-county comparison is a bit misleading about the markets because, as acknowledged in my earlier post, food at the Telluride area markets actually comes from many neighboring counties, not only from San Miguel County.  Nevertheless, I find it an interesting comparison. 
Note the small size of the market, which is held on the courthouse lawn.
Cross-posted to Agricultural Law Blog.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

An unusually local, rural story in the NY Times

Erica Goode reports today from Whitesburg, Kentucky, under the headline "Hard Times and a Killing in Kentucky's Coal Country."  The alternate headline is "Wife and Lover Charged in Coal Country Killing."  The story is of a local murder, one involving a love triangle.  It's really not a very unusual story at all--certainly not unusual enough to be in the New York Times.  Yet the Times devotes three-quarters of a page--the first page of the National Section--to it, including six photos.

Actually, the "Hard Times and a Killing" headline is quite apt because the story is as much a depiction of hard times in coal county as it is about the seemingly run-of-the-mill murder described.  Yet the two--"hard times" and "killing"--are not directly linked in any clear way, though Goode reports that the decedent had a couple of life insurance policies.  But Goode takes the opportunity of describing the amateurish actions of the two charged in the murder--the victim's wife and her alleged lover--also to offer a portrait of a rural place.  She writes:
Homicide is uncommon in this Appalachian county of 25,000 where the declining fortunes of the coal industry are measured in mine closings and layoffs:  On the day [of the decedent's disappearance], Arch Coal announced the layoff of 750 workers ... 
Sheriff Danny Webb said that the county has maybe two or three murders a year, mot of them linked to the illegal prescription drug trade or domestic violence, "and then we'll have fights or something turn bad," he said.  
Elsewhere Goode writes, though with no apparent relation to the murder except to mention Dradick Fleming, the man who was murdered, of the attachment to place and lack of anonymity characteristic of the community.
The Fleming family has worked in the coal mines for five generations and is well-known in Letcher County ... The community is tight knit--"If you don't know one of my children, you know the other one, and if you don't know them, you know me or my husband," Mrs. Bentley [the victim's mother] said--and Mr. Fleming's death hit hard.  
Whitesburg, Kentucky, population 2,139, is the county seat of Letcher County.  Since Goode raises the issue of "hard times," I'll note that the county poverty rate is 26.8% and the median household income just $ 31,283.  That's hard alright, though I note that the victim was murdered in his brand new pick up truck.

No doubt, these events were devastating for Mr. Fleming's family and many who knew him, but I can't help think it must have been a slow day on the National desk.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The burden of voter ID laws on rural residents

NPR ran this story a few days ago on new state laws requiring voters to show photos IDs when they vote.  Here's the lede:
A new report by the Brennan Center for Justice finds that more than 10 million potential voters in states that require photo ID at the polls live more than 10 miles from offices that issue such ID.  Nearly 500,000 of these voters don't have access to a car or other vehicle.   
Many of these people presumably already have a photo ID, but for those who don't, the new laws pose a special challenge, according to the Brennan Center.
The NPR story, like a New York Times story in today's paper, focuses primarily on Pennsylvania because of its new voter ID law and a lawsuit that is challenging it.  But the NPR story, unlike the NYT story, also attends to the the particular challenge facing rural voters because they typically need to to travel greater distances to get to the places where they can get their IDs, such as motor vehicle registration offices.  Here's an excerpt that discusses the issue in relation to a U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit challenging a Texas ID law:
Witnesses told the court that some Texas voters would have to travel more than 100 miles each way to get to the nearest motor vehicle offices. 
But one author of the law, Republican state Rep. Brandon Creighton, says that doesn't mean anyone will be denied the right to vote.  "The fact is that, in rural areas, people choose to live in rural areas and they're accustomed to commutes," says Creighton.  
Whether it's for health care, shopping or going to a governmental office, he says long trips in Texas are a way of life.  "It may be an inconvenience for many of us.  But disenfranchised, I don't believe so, no," says Creighton.
Easy for Creighton to say from his vantage point in the urban sprawl of the greater Houston Metropolitan area.  Creighton represents the 16th House District, and his district office is in Conroe, Texas.

I have previously commented upon urban dismissiveness of the travel burdens facing rural residents when they seek to exercise constitutional rights.  Read more here.  One of my favorite quotes in the context of exercising the right to abortion is this one from a dissent by Judge Hamilton of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in the 2000 decision in Greenville Women's Clinic v. Bryant:
While traveling seventy miles on secondary roads may be inconsequential to my brethren in the majority who live in the urban sprawl of Baltimore, as the district court below and I conclude, such is not to be so casually addressed and treated with cavil when considering the plight and effect on a woman in rural Beaufort County, South Carolina.  
Kudos to the Brennan Center for including an entire section in their report on the challenges facing rural voters in particular.

A rural politics vignette from Appalachia

This story by Jonathan Weisman ran in the New York Times today under the headline, "A Hunt for Split-Ticket Voters in Tight Virginia Senate Race." The dateline is St. Paul, Virginia, population 1000, in the state's far southwest corner.  The lede, which follows, suggests rural small-mindedness in Appalachian Virginia.  It also depicts a voter smart enough to know that Romney is a silver spoon kid who doesn't know anything about the working class, let alone have their backs.
Like so many others in Appalachia, Amelia Trent's vote is tied to coal, and when it comes to the coal industry and her economic future, Ms. Trent does not trust President Obama. 
"Obama is scary. He's a Muslim," Ms. Trent said matter-of-factly, but incorrectly, outside the small law firm here where she works as a secretary.  On the other hand, she said she could never vote for Mitt Romney.  "He doesn't know what poor is--or the struggling middle class, which is what we are around here."   
The story goes on to report that Trent plans to vote for former Gov. Tim Kaine, the Democrat running for the U.S. Senate seat Jim Webb is vacating; Trent says she will choose Kaine over Senator George Allen, the Republican trying to get that seat back, having lost it to Webb in 2008.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The last few minutes to vote ...

in the Rural Digital Advocacy Grants.  Read about the fabulous projects contending for this honor here, and then vote now. The grant is funded by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

New Iowa Bar program places law students with rural practitioners

NPR reported yesterday on an initiative which aims to connect young lawyers with solo practitioners and small firms in small-town Iowa.  With high-paying, big city jobs in short supply, small-town life and law practice is looking better to some law students and recent law grads.  Here's an excerpt from Sarah McCammon's story:
Plenty of young aspiring lawyers dream of landing a job at a high-powered, big-city firm after graduation.  So an internship in a sleepy, rural town might not sound like a dream summer job.  But that's just what three law schools in Iowa and Nebraska are encouraging their students to consider.   
With recent law school grads facing mountains of debt and one of the worst job markets in decades, practicing law in smaller towns is becoming more attractive for some young lawyers.  
One of the story's subheadings is "Hot Spot for Jobs, Not Social Activity," and the story features several small town lawyers who are close to retirement--lawyers who presumably have considerable "books of business"--but with no one to serve their clients when they retire.  This is a situation I've been hearing about anecdotally ever since I started writing about law and rural livelihoods, and McCammon's story confirms the dearth of small-town lawyers with examples from Garner (population 2,922) and Albia (population 3,766).  She also implicitly makes the point that most lawyers in these small towns are older; many are close to retirement.

While the focus of McCammon's story is the business end of things--getting law grads jobs and succession planning for small-town solo practitioners--she does note that many nonmetropolitan counties have only a couple of lawyers.  So this is not only a business story and a legal profession story, this is an access-to-justice story.  McCammon notes that the ABA has not kept records on the numbers of rural lawyers for more than a decade.  This is a great pity because it makes establishing the extent of the access-to-justice problem very difficult, although the Access to Justice Commission in California provided some documentation from that state in a 2010 report.  

The law schools participating in this placement program are the University of Iowa, Drake University in DesMoines Iowa, and Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska.  The lawyer in Garner, Phil Garland, is on the Iowa State Bar Association Committee that initiated the program, which they hope will be expanded next year.

Monday, July 16, 2012

A tale of two markets: Part I, Telluride, Colorado

As some of my recent posts (here and here) suggest, I've been thinking about the farmers' markets in relation to the slow/local food movements and, in particular, how local--and affordable--the food at  farmers' markets really is.  
Stall of hole foods farm, La Sal, Utah,
at Market on the Plaza
As a ruralist, I'm interested in what the farmers' market phenomenon says about our interest in/connection to rural places and the extent to which rural people and economies benefit from farmers' markets.

This week I had the opportunity to visit two markets in southwest Colorado, one in the posh town of Telluride and the other in the equally posh (but more obviously nouveau riche and glitzy, with less of the old West cowboy patina) neighboring town of Mountain Village.  In a two post-series, I am going to compare these markets with a newly established one in my hometown, Jasper, Arkansas.  This initial post will be dedicated to the Colorado markets. 
High Wire Ranch booth, TFM, July 13, 2012.

Before I get down to what I saw at the markets, let me provide some background on Telluride, which I have written about previously here and here.  As these prior posts indicate, I see Telluride as a prime example of rural gentrification.  With a population of 2,221, Telluride is the county seat of tiny San Miguel County, which has a population of 7,490, a very low poverty rate of 9.8%, and a median household income of $66,399.  (To put this in perspective, the median household income for all of Colorado is $56,456, and for the nation it is $51,914).  Another demographic feature that really stands out is that nearly half of the county's residents have college degrees, whereas the national average is only about 30%. Many of the homes in Telluride and Mountain Village are second homes, occupied only part of the year.  Telluride in particular is a rigorously slow/no growth community, and nimbyism is rabid there.  On both days last week when I read the local paper, it featured front-page stories covering San Miguel County Planning Commission news. 

It is not surprising given the demographic profile of Telluride, Mountain Village, and the surrounding county that the offerings at these markets were, well, upmarket.  Lots of organic produce and grass fed beef, lamb, elk, and bison were for sale.  Both weekly markets--Wednesday afternoons in Mountain Village and Fridays in Telluride--also featured pottery, jewelry and other such artisinal wares from places as far away as Durango.  Prepared food was for sale, too, and at the Mountain Village market, you could even get a massage.  In fact, the Mountain Village market is called "Market on the Plaza" rather than farmers' market, and it offered far less food than other stuff.  Perhaps 4-5 stalls/tables out of 15 or so featured fresh fruit and veg, beautiful flowers, and one offering grass-fed beef.   The Telluride Farmers' Market (TFM) was much larger, with perhaps half of the several dozen stalls featuring farm produce.  Plus, as many of the food vendors were offering meat as were offering fruits and veg--something I don't see so much in California.  This meant that most of the meat vendors had brought entire display freezers, plugged in to central electricity outlets.  One stall had its organic whole chickens on ice.   
Canyon of the Ancients near Cortez offered
wild apricots and grass-fed beef. 

As for the provenance of the food, the TFM website indicates that it all comes from within a 100-mile radius, and the same is probably true of the Mountain Village Market.  At the latter, I chatted with one vendor, hole foods farm (highly recommend the sugar snap peas at $4/pound!), out of La Sal, Utah.  As the crow flies, that is certainly within a hundred miles, though it's no short journey through the mountains into Telluride's box canyon.  The same is true for the vendors from Cortez (population 8.482), Paonia (population 1,497), Hotchkiss (population 968), Norwood (population 438), and Colona (population 30).    

James Ranch, a farm stall, "Harvest Grill & Greens," guest ranch, and all around agritourism operator was at TFR promoting their operation, which is north of Durango.

Parker Pastures of Gunnison was at the Telluride market offering eggshares, CSA, and sales of meadow-fed bulk meat.  Parker also offers herdshares for purposes of providing raw milk because simply selling the milk is illegal in Colorado, as it is in California.  The brochure they provide indicates that if you buy in, "we will present you with two legal documents, the Bill of Sale and Boarding Contract."  The cost for a half gallon of raw milk each week is $35 for the share and $5.50/week to cover the cost of feeding, housing and milking the cows.  The milk can be picked up on certain days in either Crested Butte or Gunnison.  Their motto is "Nourishing our Community.  Nourishing our Lands."
Mesa Mix is offered by TomTen Farms, Placerville
I talked to several of the meat vendors.  One told me that he and his wife make a living from what they sell at the Telluride market on Fridays and the Aspen market on Saturdays.  Their farm is about half way between the two. Of course, they also acquire customers at these markets, customers who then place mail orders.  A lamb vendor told me she was there for her daughter, a recent college graduate who raises the lambs (and began doing so as a 4-H'er) but whose day job as a supervisor at a meat packing plant in Durango prevents her from being at the market herself.  The 20-something lamb rancher wasn't the only youngster represented at the market.  I also talked to three young farmers from Buckhorn Gardens, Colona, whose motto is "feed the soil, feed the body."  Their blog features photos and bios of their "New Agrarians," who come from around the country to work on the farm.   Other farmers and ranchers I met were a bit longer in the tooth, but one of the things I really enjoyed was actually meeting some farmer/entrepreneurs, not just their marketeers.  

It was hard for me to assess the price points on the meat offered at the markets since I rarely buy meat.  The brochure I took away from High Wire Ranch, however, put the price of a pound of ground elk or ground bison at $9, while elk tenderloin is $50/lb, bison tenderloin is $40/lb, and elk skirt or flank just $10/lb.  Sausage ranged from $10-$12/lb.  These folks also sell duck eggs for $6/half dozen, and they feature Wild Alaskan halibut and salmon--presumably caught and packaged by someone other than themselves.  It all looked terrific and tempting even for someone like me who doesn't eat red meat and who had not place to cook it.

Stall of hole food farms, La Sal, Utah, at Market on the Plaza
The fruits and veggies were perhaps more expensive than what you find in local grocery stores in the area--which are already quite pricey because of the place's remoteness and the size and demographic of the population.  One stall at the Mountain Village market featured tomatoes at the especially dear price of $6/lb, and the going price for cherries and apricots was $6/bag.  Japanese cucumbers were $2/each and Sweet Walla Walla onions, $3/lb.  Greens tended to go for about $5/bag, and prepared sauces for more than $10 a pint.  Still, these upscale Colorado produce markets were only marginally more expensive on most items than what I find at farmers' markets in greater Sacramento--except on items like tomatoes, which are quite a bit less expensive down here in "Sacatomato" land.     

The TFM website enumerates the following goals for its market, which it calls a "living, evolving event that actively and tangibly enhances the quality of life in Telluride":

  • Fresh, local foods for residents and visitors
  • Supports organic agriculture and environmental issues
  • Improves community spirit
  • Additional attractions for tourists
  • Improve/maintain bioregional biodiversity
  • Reduced environmental impacts with shorter transportation of local foods
  • Increases rural/urban links
  • Invigorates secondary shopping areas
  • Educational--awareness of farming, sustainability, etc.  
Farm stand of Buckhorn Gardens, Colona, at TFM
As this small sampling of photos indicate, both markets offered very salubrious experiences--come rain (Telluride on Friday) or shine (Mountain Village on Wednesday).

In my next post, I'll compare these markets to a new one in Newton County, Arkansas, a persistent poverty county in northwest Arkansas whose agricultural history runs primarily to subsistence farming.    

Cross posted to Agricultural Law Blog
Market on the Plaza, July 11, 2012

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Return to Postville

The New York Times Magazine this week features this story about Postville, Iowa, site of the 2008 ICE raid of Agriprocessors, the largest kosher meat producer in the United States.  The story is headlined, "Postville, Iowa, is up for Grabs," and the story documents the string of newcomers to the town since Agriprocessors set up shop there in 1987, bringing Orthodox Jews to the town.  Since then, workers from many nations have come--and gone.  The story mentions Russians, Ukranians, and Somalis in addition to the Latino/as more commonly associated with the town.  Photos of women in Muslim attire accompany it.  Indeed, a 2009 book called Postville USA:  Surviving Diversity in Small-Town America, also documents Postville's diversity.

That diversity seems to be the focus of Maggie Smith's story in this week's NYT Magazine, which includes this depiction of Postville, its 25-year experience with migration, and the consequences of the 2008 raid.
Postville--a town with no stoplights, no fast-food restaurants and a weekly newspaper that for years featured the "Yard of the Week"--had been through one of the biggest single-site immigration raids in U.S. history.  For 20 years, this community of schoolteachers, town officials, farmers and others had lived diversity up close, through influxes of Orthodox Jews, Guatemalans and Mexicans, in ways many people in larger cities never do.  The raid might have pushed that diversity out of Postville.  Instead, the post-raid, post-Latino years would create a more complex community and more big-city challenges for tiny Postville than anyone could have envisioned.  
Postville's population is about 2,200, up from 1,400 when Agriprocessors came in 1987, but down from the high water mark before the 2008 raid, which led to the loss of about 20% of the town's residents.

Read more about the Postville raid here and here.  My law review article about Latina/os in rural America is here.

Some other posts about immigration in relation to agriculture are here, here and here.

Friday, July 13, 2012

A catalogue of each state's poorest county; most are rural

MSNBC recently published this feature, a compilation of the poorest county in each state.  Not surprisingly, most such counties are rural.  Some exceptions to that rule are Fresno County in California, Wyandotte County in Kansas, and Philadelphia County in Pennsylvania.

On the more rural end of the spectrum, the poorest county in each of three states is in the four corners area of the Southwest:  Apache County in Arizona (population:  72,401; poverty rate:  34.4%), San Juan County in Utah (population 14,825; poverty rate: 25.8%), and McKinley County in New Mexico (population:  73,664; poverty rate 33.4%).  McKinley County is not literally where the corners of the four states meet; it is just south of San Juan County, which does is literally at that corner.  All of these counties are nonmetropolitan, and this area is dominated by an American Indian population.  The other county at the four corners is Montezuma County, Colorado, where the population is just over 25,000, and the poverty rate is 17.6%.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part CIV): Man sentenced to 36 years for murder of intimate

Jackie Len Campbell was sentenced on Monday to 36 years in the Arkansas Dept. of Corrections for the 2010 murder of his intimate partner, Alice Lloyd.  The Newton County Times reported on the story on Tuesday, noting that Campbell pleaded guilty to second degree murder and abuse of a corpse.  Campbell had initially been charged with capital murder and with tampering with physical evidence, but the latter charge was dropped because of lack of evidence, and the capital murder charge was reduced to second degree murder as part of Campbell's plea deal.  

The newspaper story recounts the circumstances of the murder, which I blogged about here and here.   Campbell shot Lloyd with a 20 gauge shotgun inside his home at Vendor, and he then washed the corpse in his bathtub, wrapped it in a blanket, and drove it to the Fort Douglas area of Johnson County, where he dumped the naked body into Piney Creek.  He then returned to Hwy 123 and set Lloyd's car on fire.   A U.S Forest Service Ranger came up on the burning vehicle at about 9:30 am the next day, with Campbell sitting beside it.  Campbell ultimately led the ranger to Lloyd's body.  Campbell was 48 at the time of Lloyd's murder, while she was 40.

I note that Campbell's 36-year sentence is greater the 25-year sentence given to a Newton County woman who shot her husband in 2008.  Read more about that case here.  Charges against another woman who shot and killed her intimate partner in late 2009 are still pending.  That case is discussed here.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Child welfare system faulted at Spirit Lake Indian reservation

Timothy Williams reports in today's New York Times on what sounds like a deeply dysfunctional child welfare system on the Spirit Lake Indian reservation in northeastern North Dakota.  Here's the story's lede:
Federal and state officials say they have documented glaring flaws in the child welfare system at the Spirit Lake Indian Reservation in North Dakota, contending that while child abuse there is at epidemic levels, the tribe has sought to conceal it.    
Nearly a third of the child abuse victims in North Dakota are American Indian, although only 9% of the state's population are.

Williams's story continues with these details of the problems with the child welfare system:
The problems uncovered by medical and social services administrators include foster children on the reservation who have been sent to homes where registered sex offenders live and a teenage female sexual-abuse victim who was placed in a tribal home and subsequently raped.  
Federal officials also report that the tribe used very bad judgement in hiring case workers, including one who had been convicted of felony child abuse and one who failed to take the hospital a 1-year-old covered with dozens of wood ticks.    

As a consequence of these and other concerns, the state of North Dakota recently took the highly unusual measure of cutting off funding for the 31 children in the tribe's foster care system.  The federal Administration for Children and Families for six states sought a state of emergency declaration for Spirit lake, which would cut off federal funding.  The Administration also sought charges of child endangerment against the tribe's leader, in part because of the tribe's alleged cover up of the abuses.

I have written about child welfare systems in rural settings here, with some attention to the American Indian context.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Federal funds and grassroots donations permit re-opening of women's shelter in remote Alaskan village

The women's shelter in Emmonak, Alaska (population 831) has re-opened, a few weeks after it closed following exhaustion of its federal funding due to the high price of heating oil during a particularly brutal winter.   The shelter was able to re-open after it received more than $30,000 in donations from the public and a $50,000 in an emergency grant from the federal government.  The funds rolled in after a May, 2012 story in the New York Times that highlighted the plight of the shelter, which has been operating since 1978.  Read that earlier story here, and my blog post about it here.  The New York Times article about the re-opening is here.

The shelter serves about 500 women and children each year from the dozen or so villages in the Yukon River delta.  Sexual assault and domestic violence rates are much higher in the area than the national average in this remote area, which is 500 air miles from Anchorage and accessed only by two flights from there, which can cost as much as $800.

The Emmonak Women's Shelter is the "only such facility in a region in which there are few police officers, no transitional housing for women and limited options for women seeking to escape.  There are few passable roads in the region.  During the winter, residents travel via snow machine or by aircraft."

The emergency grant came from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, while the typical source of federal funding for the shelter is the Department of Justice.

West Virginians still without power, six days after storms

NPR ran a few news stories over the past few days (see some NPR features from earlier in the week here and here) with varying reports of the number of folks in West Virginia who still do not have power a week following the derecho that ran roughshod over large portions of the nation's mid-section and east coast late last week.  The story I heard at noon on July 5th put the number without power at 180,000; by 6 pm, it had dropped to 140,000.  Both indicated that West Virginia was in worse shape than any other state a week after the storm.  One thing that struck me was a quote from an emergency official talking about how the state's physical geography--and many areas' spatial isolation--was impeding efforts not only to restore power, but to get food and other supplies to those in need.  Other news stories about the West Virginia situation are herehere and here (this one featuring lots of colorful local quotes).

Read earlier blog posts here and here about the challenges of responding to natural disasters in rural places.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Can urban farmers claim badge of virtue by differentiation from rural ones?

I know the association of urban ag/slow food/organic/locavore movement with all things virtuous has been going on for some time, but just because the movement has proved so self-congratulatory (and mostly bourgeois) didn't necessarily make rural farmers the "bad guys."  I figured that, more than anything, the slow/local/urban ag craze was, at worst, implying (if only to those too myopic to look beyond their own food needs) that large-scale farmers (and, by extension, rural communities and populations) were (becoming) obsolete.  

But a story in the New York Times a few days ago left me wondering if the urban ag trend (the fruits of which I admit to regularly indulging from my suburban home in greater Sacramento, where many posh farmers markets surround me) also makes rural farmers look less virtuous, even a bit like "the enemy."  Kirk Johnson's story focused on what he called a new business model of farming, one marked by smaller-scale farms on the outskirts of cities, producing food primarily for metropolitan areas, including their fine dining establishments.  Johnson asserts:
[T]he movement toward local food is creating a vibrant new economic laboratory for American agriculture.  The result, with its growing army of small-scale local farmers, is as much about dollars as dinner:  a reworking of old models about how food gets sold and farms get financed, and who gets dirt under their fingernails doing the work.  
* * * 
Economists and agriculture experts say the "slow money" movement ... a way of channeling money into small-scale and organic food operations, along with the aging of the farmer population and steep barriers for young farmers who cannot afford the land for traditional rural agriculture are only part of the new mix.  
OK.  That's an interesting business story.  I have written here, here and here of some of these phenomena, e.g, the obstacles facing new farmers and the aging farmer population in the United States.

But then Johnson goes on to suggest that this small farm/locavore phenomenon is not only in opposition to intensive production agriculture, but also in opposition to rural places, which he seems to collapse into "big ag." Johnson writes
A looming shortage of migrant workers ... could create a kind of rural-urban divide if it continues, with mass-production farms that depend on cheap labor losing some of their price advantages over local grown food, which tends to be more expensive.  
[While] big agriculture ... struggle[s] to find willing hands ...[l]ocal farm sales are becoming more stable, predictable and measurable.
Johnson goes on to note that the USDA has adjusted upward the value of "local revenues" from food sales to $4.8 billion.  The adjustment came from including sales to stores and restaurants and not only those at "road stands and markets."  (I wonder if that prior accounting included urban farmers markets.  I've written some about the distinction between road stands and farmers markets here).  Johnson notes that the economic pathway for these small scale farms that sell their food locally is somewhat supported in the new farm bill (which a NYTimes editorial recently labeled "mediocre").

Certainly, a lot of locavore/organic/slow and boutique food is grown in urban, suburban and exurban locales.  Read more here.  What Johnson overlooks--especially in writing of a "rural-urban divide"--is that these more "virtuous" types of food are also grown in rural places.  I (and my students) have written of instances of this herehere, and here.  Also illustrative is Low Gap, Arkansas, shown in these two photos I took in May, 2012.  Low Gap is a wide spot in the road in Newton County, where I grew up.  Low Gap is not even a Census Designated Place; nor does it have a wikipedia entry.  (As the top photo indicates, it's near Shiloh, a similarly obscure place).  So I was surprised a few years ago to see it listed as the provenance of food on the menu at the Greenhouse Grille, 80 miles away in Fayetteville, where I doubt that even 1 in 100 diners had previously heard of Low Gap, let alone know where it is.  Surely this is not a lone example of a small, rural farm producing organic food for an urban population (yes, Fayetteville is urban, part of the Northwest Arkansas Metropolitan Statistical Area) and--if the sign above is any indication--for its rural neighbors, too.  Ditto Rivendell Gardens, also in Newton County, pictured in this post.  It is probably not appropriate, then, to suggest that urban/suburban farmers have cornered the market on either virtue or small.

One thing seems certain:  If urban farmers are now sole (or even primary) bearers of the badge of agricultural virtue, we have come a long way not only from the rural yeoman farmer of Thomas Jefferson's day, but also from that of my grandparents (read more here) and a fair number of rural folk still operating smallish farms across America.

Yes, I know I am a little sensitive about this, but food and ag are two of the only justifications that rural people and places have for their existence these days.  If they lose the virtue associated with these--if only rhetorically--to "the city," they arguably lose a lot.

Plus, I just think Johnson's invocation of the rural-urban binary in this context is misplaced.  Or maybe his use just reflects a common lack of precision in how the terms "rural" and "urban" get used.  Many of the farms Johnson refers to are far enough outside the cities they serve to be in places that are rural by several definitions, or at least exurban.  Alternatively, when Johnson talks about small farms and urban ag, he may actually be thinking less about where the food is grown and more about who is consuming it.  And that is as much a matter of class as it is geography.

P.S.  On July 8, 2012, the NYTimes published this story on the front page of the Business section, "Has Organic Been Oversized?" which disputes the popularly held connection between small and organic.  It also disputes, in a sense, the authenticity of the designation.  Here's a key paragraph:
As corporate membership on the board [that sets standards for organic labeled products] has increased, so, too, has the number of nonorganic materials approved for organic foods on what is called the National List.  At first, the list was made up of things like baking soda, which is nonorganic but essential to making things like organic bread.  Today, more than 250 nonorganic substances are on the list, up from 22 in 2002.  
Cross posted to Agricultural Law Blog.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Andy Griffith's legacy and the rural-urban culture wars

It is perhaps not surprising that obituaries and features about Andy Griffith, who died yesterday, feature frequent mentions of rurality and its proxies, e.g., "rustic," "mountain yokel," and "small-town."  (To be fair, these refer not necessarily/always to Griffith, but also to his roles).  In fact, today's front-page New York Times feature by Neil Genzlinger is headlined (in the print edition) "Sheriff Who Gave Stature to Small-Town Smarts."  The lede to that story focuses on the role of the rural-urban divide in today's culture wars, a topic I've written about here.  Genzlinger writes:
You could argue that the defining issue in the culture and political wars that dominate American life isn't health care or big government or religion.  It is whether small-town is smarter than urban, or vice versa.  And that makes Andy Griffith, who died Tuesday at 86, a pivotal figure in those wars.  Not for the man he was, but for the character who made him a fixture in American living rooms:  Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry.
Sheriff Taylor, among the most popular and enduring characters television has produced, came along at a time, 1960, when things weren't looking so good for the rural-is-smarter argument, especially as it pertained to the South.
I have argued that the rural-urban divide and its role in the culture wars are related to class (read more here), a topic that crops up in the Times obituary:
[Griffith's] father was a foreman at a furniture factory.  Mr. Griffith described his childhood as happy, but he said he never forgot the pain he felt when someone called him "white trash."  
The obituary does not specify if someone in Mount Airy, North Carolina, Griffith's home town, called him that name, or if it was a barb slung by a city slicker.  I would expect the former to know the difference between "white trash" and working class, and it sounds like Griffith's family was the latter.  More cosmopolitan folks are less likely to understand that distinction.  Read more here.  

This excerpt from Genzlinger's story situates The Andy Griffith Show in the pop culture of the time.
The show imagined a reassign world of fishin' holes, ice cream socials and rock-hard family values during a decade that grew progressively tumultuous.  Its vision of rural simplicity (captured in its memorable theme song, whistled over opening credits) was part of a TV trend the began with "The Real McCoys" on ABC in 1957 and later included "The Beverly Hillbillies," "Petticoat Junction," "Green Acres" and "Hee Haw."
Of course, in the 1980s and 1990s, Griffith went on to play a defense lawyer in a series called "Matlock." 

I love the folksiness of this Griffith quote, which closes the Times obituary of him and suggests that he --and not only Sheriff Andy Taylor--was indeed a bit of a rustic.  In it, Griffith refers to the fact he was definitely acting when playing Sheriff Andy Taylor--that he was not simply being himself.  He took it as a compliment that people thought the contrary.  
You're supposed to believe in the character.  You're not supposed to think, "Gee, Andy's acting up a storm."

Monday, July 2, 2012

Federal judge stays Mississippi abortion regulations

A federal district judge in Mississippi last night temporarily blocked application of the law, which I wrote about here a few days ago.   The law was scheduled to go into effect today.  Here's a report in yesterday's New York Times about the stay.  Judge Daniel P. Jordan III, in staying the law, wrote:
Though the debate over abortion continues, there exists legal precedent the court must follow. 
* * *
Plaintiffs have offered evidence--including quotes from significant legislative and executive officers--that the act's purpose is to eliminate abortions in Mississippi.  They likewise submitted evidence that no safety or health concerns motivated its passage.  This evidence has not yet been rebutted.
The closure of the Jackson clinic would have "force[d] women to drive hundreds of miles out state to get an abortion."  Supporters of the clinic had sought the judge's intervention.

Judge Jordan has set a hearing on the law for July 11.