Sunday, December 29, 2013

West Virginia tilts right

Trip Gabriel reported a few days ago in the New York Times under the headline, "West Virginia Democrats Face and Uneasy Time."  The story is about the election to fill the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Jay Rockefeller who, interestingly, first came to the state "in 1964 to work with the rural poor as a Vista volunteer, just a few years after John F. Kennedy cemented his presidential nomination by winning the West Virginia primary."

Gabriel documents a right-ward shift in West Virginia politics, a shift that has ramifications as Democrat Natalie Tennant, the W.V. Secretary of State, and seven-term Republican congresswoman, Shelley Moore Capito, vie for Rockefeller's seat.  The story includes several references to the state's rurality.
Neighboring Virginia has leaned leftward in recent years because of the growth and diversity of its Washington suburbs. But the Appalachian region of West Virginia and parts of Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Tennessee, which had stayed faithfully Democratic even as Southern whites abandoned the party, have more recently been defecting over issues that are as much cultural as economic. 
Many of the poorest counties in West Virginia, which are among the most dependent in the nation on food stamps, unemployment insurance and other federal benefits, voted most heavily for Mitt Romney in 2012.
Gabriel quotes Lane Bailey, a former chief of staff to Senator Rockefeller and the son of a coal miner.
The state that first elected Jay Rockefeller in 1976 as governor is not the same state today.  [Rural West Virginians] are more and more angry, more and more turning inward, because they have become untrusting of a government that they feel has forgotten them.
Gabriel paraphrases Bailey as saying that "[r]ural West Virginians feel culturally adrift from Washington."  

This reminds me of a New York Times story from last week in which Jonathan Martin explored the question whether Arkansas is "Still Friendly to Bill" (Clinton, that is) who has been spending time in the state campaigning for Democratic candidates for governor, U.S. Senator, Congressional seats, and other offices.  Some of the candidates go way back with the former President--to their own work on Clinton's early campaigns for governor.  Martin notes that the state's right-ward tilt in recent years may have seriously tempered Clinton's influence there.  One of the striking things about that story was its suggestion that all politics remains local, with this story from James Lee Witt of Clinton's response when Witt told the former President that Witt was considering a run for a house seat:    
“He got very excited,” said Mr. Witt, who was the head of Arkansas’s emergency services for Mr. Clinton before joining him in Washington. “He was telling stories about when he ran for governor here and what counties he won by down there and what counties he lost and by what percentages.” Mr. Clinton’s conclusion: “He said, ‘You know what, you can win that race.’ ”

Friday, December 27, 2013

NYTimes covers controversy over industrial hog farm in rural Arkansas

C & H Hog Farm, Mt. Judea, Arkansas, in Buffalo National River watershed.  April, 2013.  Photos by Lisa R. Pruitt
I've been writing since last March about a huge industrial hog farm that Arkansas state agencies approved in August, 2012 under a virtual shroud of secrecy given the lack of notice to area residents.  The farm, called C & H, is in rural Newton County, Arkansas, just a few miles from the Buffalo National River and along one its tributaries, Big Creek.  (Read more here, here, here, here, here and here).  Some state and regional media have followed the story, too, which has drawn protests from environmental groups.

But imagine my surprise--and delight--when the New York Times published on its website this evening "2,500 Pigs Join Debate Over Farms v. Scenery."  I was even more delighted to see that the story focused on the very same industrial hog farm that I and lots of other folks in northwest Arkansas have been complaining about in the 11 months or so since the enterprise became truly public.

John Eligon's story for the Times does not have a lot of new information (above and beyond my blog posts, that is) about what happened and is, indeed, still happening.  It does, however, feature some interesting quotes from locals--some who support the hog farm, others who do not.  Here's a sampling:

  • “I was just sick over it — I just couldn’t believe it,” said Jewell Fowler, 87, who found out about the hog farm after it had been approved, through a notice in a local newspaper. Born in Mount Judea, Ms. Fowler has lived for the past four decades in a wooden cabin on the banks of the Big Creek, one of the main tributaries to the Buffalo River: a quiet oasis where the trees emit a sugary scent and water laps over rocks in a soothing whir.  “I’m just afraid of the stink, maybe contamination, make people sick,” Ms. Fowler said.
  • Glenn Ricketts, 55 and a relative by marriage to some of the hog farm's owners, asked Eligon, "You smell it." He then continued, “Reason why it don’t bother us, we’re just hillbillies.  When you’re raised up around a hog, it don’t bother you.”
  • Charles Campbell, 77, who has an agreement with the hog farm to spray its manure on his land says, “I don’t think that it would pollute the river at all.  I’ve lived in this count[ ]y for, well, all my life, and cattle and hogs has been raised up and down the creek here, and to me it ain’t bothered nothing so far."
As for BigAg, Mike Martin, a spokesman for Cargill, Inc., the entity that will benefit most from the farm, said:
We believe that modern farming and environmental conservation and protecting the environment can coexist.  A lot of the fear and concern is based on a ‘what if’ scenario that may never take place.
C & H Hog Farm, as seen from Mt. Judea School.
Eligon notes the economic context of this battle as it relates, in particular, to considerable local support for the CAFO:
Many see it as an economic bright spot in Newton County, which has high poverty. 
High poverty, indeed. It is a persistent poverty county with no industry and mostly subsistence farms.  It is classified by USDA ERS as federal-state government dependent.
Neighbors of C & H Hog Farm.  Newton County is a persistent poverty county. 

Friday, December 20, 2013

"A Town, a Team, and a Dream that Just Won't Die"

Here's the lede for an NPR story about Davy Rothbart's new documentary, "Medora"--as in Medora, Indiana, population 693.
In a high-school locker room in small-town Indiana, a coach is tearing into his basketball team. The Medora Hornets have scored zero points — none at all — in the game's fourth quarter. 
In Medora, the hapless team becomes a kind of metaphor for the town itself — "a no-stoplight town," in the words of documentarian Davy Rothbart, one where the jobs have dried up and the population has dwindled.
Melissa Block, who interviewed Rothbart, calls the film a "kind of elegy for a vanishing small-town America."

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Urban-rural partnerships help make Shanghai schools some of the best in the world

This editorial in today's New York Times highlights U.S. educational failures and then holds up three models from which the U.S. might learn:  Finland, Canada, and the Shanghai area of China.  The headlines for each country/region indicate what the NYTimes finds so laudable and key to the place's educational success:
  • Finland:  Teacher Training
  • Canada:  School Funding
  • Shanghai:  Fighting Elitism 
I am going to focus here on China because the specific mention of rural-urban difference there (although when it comes to improving rural education, we could certainly learn a lot from the Canadian model of more centralized, less localized funding.)  Here is how the editorial board summed up what Shanghai is doing so well.  Note the references not only to rural schools (and I'm not sure how Shanghai, as a city, has authority over "rural" schools), but also to the issue of rural-to-urban migration in China.
One of its strengths is that the city has mainly moved away from an elitist system in which greater resources and elite instructors were given to favored schools, and toward a more egalitarian, neighborhood attendance system in which students of diverse backgrounds and abilities are educated under the same roof. The city has focused on bringing the once-shunned children of migrant workers into the school system. In the words of the O.E.C.D, Shanghai has embraced the notion that migrant children are also “our children” — meaning that city’s future depends in part on them and that they, too, should be included in the educational process. Shanghai has taken several approaches to repairing the disparity between strong schools and weak ones, as measured by infrastructure and educational quality. Some poor schools were closed, reorganized, or merged with higher-level schools. Money was transferred to poor, rural schools to construct new buildings or update old ones. Teachers were transferred from cities to rural areas and vice versa. Stronger urban schools were paired with rural schools with the aim of improving teaching methods. 
The Times description goes on to note that strong Shanghai schools have been given administrative responsibility for weak schools.  In short, Shanghai educational officials are expecting that the "ethos, management style and teaching" of the strong schools can be transferred to the weak ones--and it sounds like a lot of that transfer from strong to weak is across the urban-rural divide.  

I am sure the reforms are all more complicated than depicted in this brief description, but the results speak volumes:  Shanghai's students were first in the world in math, science, and literacy in last year's  international exams.

N.B.  This was the most-emailed story in the New York Times for much of today.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

"Rural" sheriffs are scofflaws on gun control legislation

That's the gist of this story by Erica Goode in yesterday's New York Times under the headline "Sheriffs Refuse to Enforce Laws on Gun Control."  The dateline is Greeley, Colorado, population 95,357, and the county seat of metropolitan Weld County, population 263,691.  Never mind that Greeley is a city in a metropolitan county… early in the story, Goode evokes the connection between gun rights advocates and rurality, suggesting that this disobedience by public officials is a rural phenomenon (maybe she is thinking "frontier mentality" as "rural culture").
Colorado’s package of gun laws, enacted this year after mass shootings in Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn., has been hailed as a victory by advocates of gun control. But if Sheriff Cooke [of Weld County] and a majority of the other county sheriffs in Colorado offer any indication, the new laws — which mandate background checks for private gun transfers and outlaw magazines over 15 rounds — may prove nearly irrelevant across much of the state’s rural regions.
Goode reports that 55 of Colorado's 62 elected sheriffs have signed onto a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the state's new statutes.  (And many of them no doubt are from nonmetropolitan counties). Some sheriffs explain that the laws are too vague, and others--even those who have not signed onto the lawsuit--say that enforcing them is "a very low priority."  Among the latter category is Sheriff Pete W. Palmer of Chaffee County, population 16,242, in central Colorado, who notes the "huge practical difficulties" in enforcing the laws, violations of which are misdemeanors.  Palmer states:
All law enforcement agencies consider the community standards — what is it that our community wishes us to focus on — and I can tell you our community is not worried one whit about background checks or high-capacity magazines.
Regarding the law suit, a federal district judge has ruled that the sheriffs can sue as individuals, but that they have no standing in their official capacity.  The judge also ruled that one part of the law regarding magazines was not unconstitutionally vague.

As for the sheriffs' decision to buck the laws, Goode quotes Lance Clem, spokesperson for the Colorado Dept. of Public Safety:
We’re not in the position of telling sheriffs and chiefs what to do or not to do.  We have people calling us all the time, thinking they’ve got an issue with their sheriff, and we tell them we don’t have the authority to intervene.
Goode continues, with a more opaque reference to rurality--"heartland": 
The resistance of sheriffs in Colorado is playing out in other states, raising questions about whether tougher rules passed since Newtown will have a muted effect in parts of the American heartland, where gun ownership is common and grass-roots opposition to tighter restrictions is high.
She goes on to details similar issues in Florida, New York, and California. For example, Goode reports that a delegation of California sheriffs met with Governor Jerry Brown this fall to try to influence his action on new gun control laws passed by the California legislature.  Goode quotes Jon E. Lopey, the sheriff of Siskiyou County, who was among those meeting with Brown:  
Our way of life means nothing to these politicians, and our interests are not being promoted in the legislative halls of Sacramento or Washington, D.C.
Goode paraphrased Lopey's other comments, including that "residents of his rural region near the Oregon border are equally frustrated by regulations imposed by the federal Forest Service and the Environmental Protection Agency."  Brown did veto a law that would have banned semiautomatic rifles with detachable magazines.  Another California law, one banning lead ammunition for hunting, he signed into law.

Note that Weld County, Colorado and Siskiyou County, California, are two places where secession activism has recently garnered national attention.  Read more here and here.  Weld County residents voted against secession on the November ballot, though six other counties favored secession.  

P.S.  This was one of the five most emailed stories on for the week ending Dec. 18, 2013.  

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Swam of earthquakes shakes rural Oklahoma

Henry Fountain reported a few days ago in the Environment section of the New York Times.  The headline is "Experts Eye Oil and Gas Industry as Quakes Shake Oklahoma."  The story's dateline is Oklahoma City, but most of the earthquake action lies in the nonmetropolitan counties between Oklahoma City and Tulsa, as the accompanying map suggests.  Photos accompanying the story are of places like Calumet, population 507, and Sparks, population 137.   The report also mentions Love County, population 9,558, and Shawnee, a city of 28,692.

Here's an excerpt that summarizes what is going on quake-wise in Oklahoma where, as in other places, experts think the the culprit may be wastewater disposal in wells.  The wastewater comes from both conventional oil and gas wells and fracking.   
Oklahoma has never been known as earthquake country, with a yearly average of about 50 tremors, almost all of them minor. But in the past three years, the state has had thousands of quakes. This year has been the most active, with more than 2,600 so far, including 87 last week.
This was one of the most emailed stories on for several days after it appeared.  

Friday, December 13, 2013

Canada to curtail urban postal delivery, leaving rural services (apparently) in tact

Ian Austen reported on Wednesday for the NYT:  
Though Canada would become the first Group of 7 country to end all residential mail delivery in cities and older suburbs, Canada Post shares many problems with postal services in the United States and elsewhere, including rapidly declining mail volumes and high wage and pension costs. Along with the service cuts, the government-owned service said it would eliminate 8,000 jobs, mostly through attrition.
What is interesting from a ruralist perspective is what Canada plans to do about its postal service budgetary crisis:  curtail metropolitan delivery, NOT close rural post offices.  The latter, of course, is what the U.S. has periodically proposed in recent years. Read more herehere, here, and here, for example.  What's odd about this news report--especially in light of the relatively recent controversy over rural post office closures in the United States--is that Austen's report never mentions the rural at all.  The implication, I guess, is that rural service will not be affected.  Or maybe it is just so unimportant as not to be worthy of mention. Hmmm.

Rather Austen quotes Professor Dwayne Winseck, who teaches communications at Carleton University in Ottawa, for a more general proposition--that the decision to end postal delivery is a "pivotal moment" in Canadian history:  
The whole notion of a universal correspondence service is a pretty important one. It’s quite a comedown for a national postal system.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

"Gun Country" in the New York Times

Don't miss this multi-media feature, with the stories of several people sharing their perspectives on guns and gun control in the United States. Among the places featured, Jeffersonville, Indiana, population 44,953, Merrill, Wisconsin, population 9,661, and Summerville, South Carolina, population 43,392. Highly urbanized places are featured, too.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Homelessness in rural Alaska

That is the subject of Kirk Johnson's piece in today's New York Times, "Soldotna Journal:  Alaska's Thin Line Between Camping and Homelessness."  Specifically, Johnson writes of the problem of homelessness on the Kenai Peninsula, south of Anchorage.  Johnson's story highlights the challenges of providing services in an area where the few population clusters--Soldotna, Homer, and Seward--are no more than a couple thousand people each and where natural features--forests, rivers, mountains, the sea--dominates the landscape.  Part of the challenge to service provision, in short, is the spatial challenge associated with rural spatiality--magnified by the Alaskan scale:
In Alaska’s deeply rural villages, where no roads penetrate and many families are interconnected through blood or culture, homelessness is often dealt with in the old-fashioned way, with relatives or neighbors giving shelter to those in trouble. 
Johnson contrasts this situation with Anchorage, which has the the state’s biggest homeless population, but also "the biggest system of help and outreach."

Johnson also addresses some of the reasons for the homelessness problem on Kenai, which are linked to the nature of the economy and the workforce.  While the area features "bounties of nature" like salmon and oil--both of which are accompanied by "upward opportunities and working-wage jobs for people with skills," those bounties "mask a hard reality":
 When someone’s life goes awry, through a misstep or a spousal betrayal, a job loss or an eviction, or just a stretch of bad luck, there is not much of a safety net here.
* * * 
[T]the downward pull of drugs, alcohol and poverty is always there.
He quotes Cathy Giessel, a state senator who represents part of the peninsula, who notes the role that lack of anonymity can play in keeping the downtrodden in that situation. 
This is a great area to raise families; it has wonderful, positive things.  But folks can be shut out of jobs pretty easily by making bad choices.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Crime on the rise in Great Plains oil field communities

Jack Healy reports in a front-page story in today's New York Times, "As Oil Floods Plains Towns, Crime Pours In."  The dateline is Sidney, Montana, population 5,191, where 42-year-old Sherry Arnold, a school teacher, was abducted during her morning jog in January, 2012, and later found murdered.  But the story also references sensational crimes in other oil field boom towns, including Dickinson, North Dakota, population 17,787, and Williston, population 18,532

Here's an excerpt:  
While the raw numbers of murders and rapes remain low, every few months seem to bring an act of violence that flares like a gas flame on the dark prairie, shaking a community and underscoring how much life here is changing. 
In Dickinson, it was the rape of an 83-year-old woman, who the police say was attacked inside her home by a 24-year-old man who had come to town looking for work. In Culbertson, Mont., it was a man who was beaten with brass knuckles by a group of drug dealers and left for dead along the side of a road. In Sidney, it was the murder in January 2012 of Sherry Arnold, the 43-year-old schoolteacher abducted during her Sunday morning jog. 
Hundreds of people searched for Ms. Arnold in frozen fields, neighborhoods and ditches until her body was found in North Dakota, near a line of trees planted as a windbreak by farmers.  
Healy quotes Sidney Mayor Bret Smelser:
Nobody knew anybody anymore.  We were a community that never locked our doors. That’s all changed.
The story also highlights the problem of domestic violence in these communities, including the shortage of shelter beds and other support services.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Two tales of rural enrollment in the ACA: Kentucky and Iowa

A few days ago, the Washington Post ran a story haling Kentucky's success at enrolling rural residents in the state's Medicaid expansion at part of the Affordable Care Act.  Of the 640,000 uninsured Kentucky residents, 56,422 have signed up for health insurance as of 22 November.  Among those, more than 80% have enrolled in Medicaid, while the remainder now subscribe to private plans.

Stephanie McCrummen's story features a navigator (one paid to assist with enrollment) named Courtney Lively, working patiently with residents of Breathitt County, population 13,878, poverty rate 30%.  An excerpt follows:
But in a state where the rollout has gone smoothly, and in a county that is one of the poorest and unhealthiest in the country, Courtney Lively has been busy signing people up: cashiers from the IGA grocery, clerks from the dollar store, workers from the lock factory, call-center agents, laid-off coal miners, KFC cooks, Chinese green-card holders in town to teach Appalachian students.
McCrummen's story recounts Lively's interactions with several residents who represent different family and employment profiles--in short, all profiles of need. Most of those profiled have lived what most of us would characterize as unhealthy lifestyles, including smoking and abuse of substances.  Several are concerned about whether dental benefits will cover their need to have teeth extracted.  Most have not seen a physician in the last decade or more.  A few have never had health insurance.  For educated folks living in metropolitan areas, it's a pretty startling lineup.  Here's how Lively explains the options the ACA provides to 60-year-old Woodrow Wilson Noble, who has never had health insurance.
If you go to the doctor, all you’re going to pay is $1.  If you’re in the hospital for an extended period, you should only be billed $5. . . . If you get medicine, generics are $1 and brand is $4. . . . You can go to the dentist once a month — exams, X-rays and cleanings are covered. . . . Now for your teeth, the plan does take care of having them pulled and does take care of fillings, but not bridges, because that’s considered cosmetic.
As McCrummen observes, this is the law working as its proponents envisioned.  Indeed, Abby Goodenough for the New York Times also recently reported on Kentucky's success, with a similarly glowing profile of a busy navigator.  That story was oriented to a Louisville navigator who was also serving the surrounding area, including LaGrange, Kentucky, population 8,082.  Here is the link to an accompanying slide show.

Contrast those reports of the Kentucky experience with this NPR story out of rural Iowa today, where the report is not so optimistic.  The dateline is Des Moines, Iowa, where Broadlawns Medical Center, a public hospital, is also helping those from surrounding small towns and rural areas sign up for coverage under the ACA.  But a key difference between Iowa and Kentucky is that the former has not invested as much in navigators as the latter.  The story by Sarah McCammon suggests that Iowa is spending only the $600K it received from the federal government to finance navigators.  (The stories out of Kentucky do not indicate whether the state is paying part of the cost of the navigators there).  McCammon quotes Iowa Insurance Commissioner Nick Gerhart who comments on the limits of what that sum can accomplish:
You have to hire staff, train staff, hold events.  I mean, that's expensive.
* * *
When you think that some of the navigators are going to be working in 60-plus counties, that's a heavy lift for just a few people, quite frankly.   
As a consequence, Iowa currently has only a dozen navigators working full-time, plus a few working part-time.  McCammon notes that no navigators are working in 27 Iowa counties, which represent more than a quarter of the state's 99 counties.
In those areas, people with questions have some options. They can turn to insurance agents or certified application counselors like Joe Heitritter. 
Heitritter, director of outreach at Greater Sioux Community Health Center, which serves four rural counties in northwest Iowa, has been visiting local Head Start programs, churches and food banks, looking for people who need help. And he's getting some really basic questions. 
"There are a lot of people we're seeing who've been uninsured for a lot of years," he says. "Just understanding what health insurance is, what premiums and deductibles are are, may be new to some people." 
Heitritter says he and his colleagues have helped several clients narrow down their options, but he doesn't know of any who've finished the sign-up process yet.
Wow!  Perhaps no one has finished the registration process in four counties in rural Iowa.  That's pretty discouraging.  Is the difference between Iowa and Kentucky down to the difference in the number of navigators working on the task?  

Here's a chart showing the state of enrollment in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia between 1 October and 2 November.  

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Quality of life issues drive reverse migration, rural gentrification in China

Edward Wong reports from Dali, Yunnan Province, China for the New York Times today, in a front page story headlined, "Urbanites Flee China's Smog for Blue Skies."  What is not specified in the headline but becomes clear from the story is that those migrating are well-heeled urban professionals--in short, those with abundant social capital--and money.  Wong refers to them as Chinese bobos--or bourgeois bohemians--who seek freedom from the urban focus on "what you're wearing, where yo're eating, comparing yourselves with others." The story features several couples, some with young children, all waxing poetic about the improved quality of life in Dali, as compared to China's massive cities, mostly on the coast.  Wong refers to the "growing number of urbanites who have decamped to rural China," whom one Dali resident calls "environmental refugees" or "environmental immigrants."

Here's an excerpt from Wong's story:
At a time when hundreds of millions of Chinese, many poor farmers, are leaving their country homesteads to find work and tap into the energy of China’s dynamic cities, a small number of urban dwellers have decided to make a reverse migration. Their change in lifestyle speaks volumes about anxieties over pollution, traffic, living costs, property values and the general stress found in China’s biggest coastal metropolises.
* * * 
The urban refugees come from all walks of life — businesspeople and artists, teachers and chefs — though there is no reliable estimate of their numbers. 
Wong notes that many of the migrants to this part of rural China are ethnic Han, and that many are renting properties owned by ethnic Bai, who are native to this region of southwest China.  

This story--while about migration between rural and urban--is very different in tone and substance to those in Ian Johnson's series for the Times this year about China's forced and planned urbanization.  Read posts about that series here, here, here and here.

Friday, November 22, 2013

"The Insanity of our Food Policy"

Don't miss Joseph Stiglitz's piece under that headline in The New York Times Opinionator section this week.  Here's a paragraph that sums up his complaints about proposed changes to the farm bill and how they would deepen inequality in our nation.  It also happens to be one of the best explanations of "rent seeking" that I have ever read:
The proposal is a perfect example of how growing inequality has been fed by what economists call rent-seeking. As small numbers of Americans have grown extremely wealthy, their political power has also ballooned to a disproportionate size. Small, powerful interests — in this case, wealthy commercial farmers — help create market-skewing public policies that benefit only themselves, appropriating a larger slice of the nation’s economic pie. Their larger slice means everyone else gets a smaller one — the pie doesn’t get any bigger — though the rent-seekers are usually adept at taking little enough from individual Americans that they are hardly aware of the loss. While the money that they’ve picked from each individual American’s pocket is small, the aggregate is huge for the rent-seeker. And this in turn deepens inequality.
Meanwhile, as Stiglitz points out, House Republicans who would continue to line the pockets of agribusiness with subsidies on crop insurance premiums, would cut the food stamp program, which currently provides most recipients only about $4/day.  

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Deeds family tragedy and the shortage of mental health care in rural America

The apparent suicide of Austin "Gus" Deeds on Tuesday--following his attack with a knife on his father, former Virginia gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds--has cast attention on the shortage of beds in psychiatric wards, especially in rural areas.  Gus lived with his father and stepmother in Millboro, Virginia, an unincorporated community in rural western Virginia's Bath County, population 4,731.  The New York Times reports
On Monday, state mental health officials unsuccessfully sought to find a bed in a hospital psychiatric ward for Gus Deeds, who had undergone an evaluation, according to Mary Ann Bergeron, the executive director of the Virginia Association of Community Services Boards. 
None could be found and he returned home, even though a magistrate had issued an order of involuntary commitment. “In that particular rural area of the state, it is not unusual to have contacted anywhere from seven to 15 hospitals” looking for an available bed, Ms. Bergeron said.
Dennis A. Cropper, executive director of Rockbridge Area Community Services, said Gus Deeds was evaluated at Bath Community Hospital, according to The Richmond Times-Dispatch. Mr. Cropper issued a statement late Tuesday declining to elaborate, citing the family’s wish for privacy.
On the issue of psychiatric bed availability, including in rural areas, NPR reports:  
Starting in the 1960s, many psychiatric hospitals were closed because treatment in the community was considered a more humane and less costly alternative. But outpatient treatment can be difficult to find, especially in rural areas. And inpatient care is still needed, especially for people considered at risk of harming themselves or others.
Creigh Deeds has represented the 25th District in Virginia since 2001, and he was in the Virginia House of Delegates for nine years before that.  Deeds narrowly lost a race for Virginia Attorney General to Bob McDonnell in 2005. Deeds was the Democratic nominee for governor in 2009 but lost by 17 points to Bob McDonnell. 

100,000 visitors later ... reflections on 1,845 posts and 6 1/4 years of blogging

My sitemeter tells me I am about to hit the 100,000 hit mark here on Legal Ruralism--probably in the next day or two.  I know that number isn't very accurate because I didn't set up site meter until I was perhaps a year into this enterprise, and Google tells me Legal Ruralism has had many more hits than that--some 190,000 since the blog's exception.  Nevertheless, it seems that nice round 100K number is inviting me to reflect on the six and quarter years since I established Legal Ruralism:  A Little (Legal) Realism about the Rural.  

First, I will say that, while time-consuming, the blog has proved very helpful in terms of cataloging themes and trends I see regarding rural America--what is happening there, but also how what happens there is depicted in the mainstream, national, and mostly liberal elite media.  Regular readers will know that the three media outlets I draw on most frequently are the New York Times, NPR, and my hometown weekly, The Newton County Times.  In the context of the New York Times, coverage of rural people and places is the exception, less so with NPR.  In sharp contrast, rurality is the unspoken, taken-for-granted context for the Newton Count Times.

Second, I enjoy visiting the sitemeter occasionally to see who is visiting--by that I mean the city, state, and or country.  Lately, I've been getting lots of visitors from Turkey.  Before that, visitors from China were outpacing those in other nations, and visitors from the former Eastern bloc are relatively common, too, as are those in Australia.

The blog has just 19 "followers," but I am happy to say that it has attracted attention among a wide array of folks who occasionally write with invitations.  Most rewarding have been the periods during which I get to blog with my students.  They add so much variety and valuable new perspectives to the enterprise.

Here's to another 6 and a quarter years--at least.

Monday, November 18, 2013

A poignant vignette of rural healthcare

This piece by Dr. Regina Harrell appears on the NPR "Shots" blog, with the sub-head, "policy-ish."  The headline is "Why a Patient's Story Matters More than a Computer Check-List," and in it Dr. Harrell, an assistant professor at the College of Community Health Services, University of Alabama, recounts a visit to an elderly patient in rural Alabama to make the point that her patients' experiences don't always fit neatly into the boxes to be checked on the interfaces of new fangled electronic health records (EHRs).  Here's an excerpt from the piece, which provides not only a critique of EHRs, but also a vignette into rural lives and healthcare delivery:
We chat a moment, then we move on to Mr. Edgars' arthritis. Early on in his dementia he wandered the woods. His wife was afraid he would get lost and die, although the family agreed that this was how he would want it. 
Now his knee arthritis has worsened enough that it has curtailed his wanderings. I suspect that Mrs. Edgars is cutting back on his pain medicine to decrease the chance he'll wander off again. 
We talk about how anxious he grows whenever she's out of his sight, and how one of his children comes to sit with him so that she can run errands. I leave carrying her parting gift, a jar of homegrown pickled okra. 
Back at the office, I turn on the computer to write a note in the electronic health record, or EHR. In addition to recording the details of our visit, I must meet the new federal criteria for "meaningful use" that have been adopted by my office, with threats that I won't get paid for my work if I don't. 
Under history, I enter "knee pain." Up pops a check-box menu: injury-related (surely the chronic wear on Mr. Edgars' knees as a farmer is an injury, but I don't think that's what the programmer had in mind); worsening factors (none apply, as he couldn't give his own history); relieving factors (there's no check box for a sleep-deprived wife who's purposely keeping the dose of acetaminophen low); and so on. Nothing fits, so I exit and type in "follow-up". It cedes a blank screen.
 * * * 
Next is the physical exam. The check boxes ask if the person is oriented to person, place and time. Mr. Edgars is oriented to person and place; he knows his wife and home, and he is happy nowhere else. He no longer cares what year it is. There isn't a check box for that. 
At day's end, I review my meaningful use. I spent more time checking boxes than talking to patients and their families.
There aren't enough physicians to see all the homebound patients in my area, so I try to visit as many as I can safely care for. I could see twice as many patients if I could write their notes at the bedside while visiting with them. I would happily do this using paper or an EHR that took the same amount of time, but these are not options.

SNAP usage, state-by-state

See this map and accompanying story by Maria Goody on NPR's The SALT.  The map, by Stateline,  shows the percentage of residents in each state who receive SNAP--also known as food stamps.  Goody observes:
While Republicans have led the call to slash the SNAP program in the House, many of the states whose residents are most reliant on food stamps are reliably Republican and located in the GOP's Southern heartland. About 20 percent of the population in Tennessee, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Kentucky, and South Carolina, for instance, receive benefits from the federal food assistance program.
Other states with very high food stamp usage are Oregon and New Mexico at 21% each.

Body to be exhumed from front yard in Stevenson, Alabama

I wrote here last month about the legal dispute over Patsy Davis's burial by her husband in the front yard of their home in Stevenson, Alabama, population 1,770.  Now the Associated Press reports that the husband, James Davis, has agreed to comply with the City of Stevenson's regulations regarding burial in the city.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Emeryville, California a "small town"? You've got to be kidding me

But there it is in the NPR headline today, "How a Free Bus Shuttle Helped Make a Small Town Take Off." The population of Emeryville is 10,080, but it is in the midst of the huge San Francisco Bay area conurbation.  More precisely, it is in Alameda County, in the East Bay, surrounded by Oakland and Berkeley.  Alameda County's population is 1.5 million, and that of the San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont Metro area is 7.15 million.     

Of course, technically, 10,000 people is not rural (by the U.S. Census Bureau definition).  But it's also hard for me to think of this municipality--which is a city with a smallish population-- as a "small town"--at least as that term is used in common parlance--when it's smack dab in the middle of a major metropolitan area.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Urban bias in closure of ROTC programs (but wasn't the military supposed to be a rural stronghold?)

The New York Times reported a few days ago that the U.S. Army is reversing a decision announced a few weeks ago to close 15 ROTC programs in 2015.  Most of the programs slated for closure were in "rural" states or, more precisely, in nonmetropolitan areas, and most were also in the South.  Those programs, including the one at Arkansas State University (ASU) in Jonesboro, population 67,263, and Tennessee Tech in Cookeville, population 30,435, have been placed on "probationary status," the meaning of which is unclear.  The Army reported selecting these programs for closure because they commission fewer than 15 officers a year and because it needs to respond to "the nation's new demographic landscape" and focus on 56 other markets like New York and Chicago.

Journalist Alan Blinder reports that the response from the universities--and politicians--was swift:
But many of the universities, often backed by their congressional delegations and influential alumni, waged spirited campaigns to keep their programs and contended that the Army’s plan would eliminate academic and career opportunities for students from rural areas. Frustrated by what he said was a lack of transparency by the Army about the decisions, Senator Mark Pryor, Democrat of Arkansas, blocked a nomination for a senior Pentagon job.
The story quotes Dr. Tim Hudson, chancellor of Arkansas State University, which was threatened with loss of its 77-year-old ROTC program:
We appreciate the fact that the Army was willing to review the decision it had made.  We intend to work hard. We intend to improve what we’re doing. 
Dr. Hudson also commented on ASU's efforts to forge a stronger relationship with the military “that will allow us to understand better their expectations.”

The change at ASU and elsewhere would have forced some cadets to alter their plans for higher education and military service.  They would have been the first programs closed since 1998.  

What is surprising about the proposed closures is the fact that a disproportionate number of military recruits come from rural areas.  Maybe the move signals a military inclination to take enlisted men and women, but not officers, from nonmetropolitan places.  Read more about that here and here.

Oh, and Happy Veteran's Day.  The Center for Rural Strategies sent an email with this message today re honoring rural veterans:
Nearly half the men and women in military service have rural roots. Too often rural veterans don't get the attention, resources and respect they deserve. 
Please honor them by joining 10,000 Friends of Rural America. If you have already become a Friend, encourage your family, friends and neighbors to join.
The email included a link to this site re: appreciating and supporting rural communities more generally.

Here is a recent USDA ERS report on the 4 million veterans who live in rural America.  Those veterans comprise more than a tenth of all rural adults.  

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Poverty and place--and lack of purpose in nouveau urban China

Read the fourth installment of Ian Johnson's "Leaving the Land" series in the New York Times here.  It is headlined, "New China Cities:  Shoddy Homes, Broken Hopes."  This installment focuses on the city of Huaming, built over just 16 months to be a model for how China would transition from a nation of farms to a nation of cities.  It was constructed hurriedly starting in 2006 in order to be on display for the World Expo in 2010.

But Huaming has disappointed many of its residents, mostly displaced from their farms, and suicide is all too common.  The government often failed to deliver on promises to provide displaced farmers an apartment as large as their farm house, and other problems have arisen.  Johnson writes:
But the new homes have cracked walls, leaking windows and elevators with rusted out floors. For farmers who were asked to surrender their ancestral lands for an apartment, the deterioration adds to a sense of having been cheated.
He quotes Wei Ying, a 35-year-old unemployed woman whose parents live in a poorly built unit:  
That was their land.  You have to understand how they feel in their heart.
Another resident who moved to Huaming five years ago against her will, 40-year-old former farmer Feng Aiju says she has spent $1500 on anti-depressants:
I have anxiety attacks because we have no income, no job, nothing. We never had a chance to speak; we were never asked anything. I want to go home.
Feng Aiju says she has spent some $1500 on anti-depressants.  

Perhaps most interesting is the unfavorable comparison between these new cities and the makeshift housing where migrants to more established cities live:  
Many of those [migrant camps] are created by farmers who chose to leave their land for jobs in the city. Although cramped and messy, they are full of vitality and upward mobility, said Biao Xiang, a social anthropologist at Oxford University who has studied migrant communities.
These migrant neighborhoods in big cities are often called slums, but it’s the new resettlement communities that will be harder to revive, partly because they are not related to any productive economic activity.  And the population tend to be homogeneous, disadvantaged communities.
Part of what drove the government push to urbanize Huaming was the official view of the place as it was--16 villages spread over about three square miles that a government publication called "dirty, messy and substandard." The document stated:
The naturally formed villages had undergone disorderly developments resulting in low building density, in disarrayed industrial space and layout.
But by 2008, the Chinese government was unhappy with the pace of the project--in particular, progress in buying out farmers.
The local government used intense pressure to force farmers out of their villages. It tore up roads and cut electricity and water. Even so, thousands stayed on. As a final measure, the schoolhouses — one in each village — were demolished. With no utilities and no way to educate their children, most farmers capitulated and moved to town.
Now those farmers are mostly unemployed, unable to compete for jobs in nearby cities because they lack the necessary education.  Johnson quotes one farmer:
We know how to farm, but not how to work in an office.
Previous installments in this series on China's push to urbanize are here, here, and here.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

11 American nations, how many of them predominantly or culturally rural?

Reid Wilson reported yesterday for the Washington Post on map recently produced by Colin Woodard, a reporter at the Portland Press Herald and author of several books.  Woodward opines that "North America can be broken neatly into 11 separate nation-states, where dominant cultures explain our voting behaviors and attitudes toward everything from social issues to the role of government."   See the map here.  Woodward writes in the Fall 2013 issue of the Tufts Alumni Magazine:
The borders of my eleven American nations are reflected in many different types of maps — including maps showing the distribution of linguistic dialects, the spread of cultural artifacts, the prevalence of different religious denominations, and the county-by-county breakdown of voting in virtually every hotly contested presidential race in our history.  Our continent’s famed mobility has been reinforcing, not dissolving, regional differences, as people increasingly sort themselves into like-minded communities.
Woodard's piece for the Tufts Magazine is based on his new book, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America.
Of particular interest to ruralists like me are the descriptions of these regions, some of which might be thought to be dominated by a certain rural culture:
  • The Midlands: Stretching from Quaker territory west through Iowa and into more populated areas of the Midwest, the Midlands are “pluralistic and organized around the middle class.” Government intrusion is unwelcome, and ethnic and ideological purity isn’t a priority.
  • Tidewater: The coastal regions in the English colonies of Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland and Delaware tend to respect authority and value tradition. Once the most powerful American nation, it began to decline during Westward expansion.
  • Greater Appalachia: Extending from West Virginia through the Great Smoky Mountains and into Northwest Texas, the descendants of Irish, English and Scottish settlers value individual liberty. Residents are “intensely suspicious of lowland aristocrats and Yankee social engineers.”
  • Deep South: Dixie still traces its roots to the caste system established by masters who tried to duplicate West Indies-style slave society, Woodard writes. The Old South values states’ rights and local control and fights the expansion of federal powers.
  • El Norte: Southwest Texas and the border region is the oldest, and most linguistically different, nation in the Americas. Hard work and self-sufficiency are prized values.
  • The Far West: The Great Plains and the Mountain West were built by industry, made necessary by harsh, sometimes inhospitable climates. Far Westerners are intensely libertarian and deeply distrustful of big institutions, whether they are railroads and monopolies or the federal government.
Other regions include the Left Coast, New France, New Netherland, and Yankeedom.  Oh and don't forget the 300,000 folks left in what Woodard calls "First Nation." 

Friday, November 8, 2013

Litter is peril for Swiss cows

Here's the story from the New York Times a few days ago under the headline "With Cows in Mind, Swiss Farmers Wage Litter Battle." (The mini-head is Solothurn Journal, Solothurn being a canton in the northwest of Switzerland, with a population of 260,000).  Here's an excerpt:
Hard as it might be to believe, the orderly Swiss have a litter problem. Oddly, though, it is not in their towns and cities, where you might sooner stumble over a meteorite than a flattened Coke can or empty cigarette pack. 
Out in the countryside here southwest of Basel, it is another story. So much litter is tossed out of cars that Swiss farmers have begun a campaign to fight it. They complain not just about the mess but about the danger the refuse poses to livestock.
Journalist John Tagliabue goes on to explain how litter can be fatal to ruminants.  He reports that a number of cows have had to be slaughtered, presumably after ingesting litter that gets shredded and baled into hay.  Interestingly, the Swiss have identified themselves--not tourists or immigrants--as the source of the litter, and they are working to educate their countrymen about the perils of litter to cows and the wider environment.

It seems this phenomenon may support the argument I have made elsewhere that rural areas tend to be more lawless, perhaps because it is more difficult to police dispersed populations, among whom space creates expectations of privacy.  That privacy may give rise to unlawful acts because people assume they will not be found out.

As for the Swiss campaign to educate against litter, opinions on its effectiveness are mixed.  One farmer opines that the "results are about equal to zero," but an official with the Swiss Farmers Union insisted, "The Swiss sense of order remains strong." 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Organized crime responsible for nut heist (walnuts and almonds, that is)?

That's the suggestion in Scott Neuman's NPR story about a $400,000 walnut theft in California's Central Valley.  The report notes that this is at least the sixth major theft of walnuts and almonds in recent months.  The details of the most recent theft are described by Rich Paloma, a former law enforcement officer who is now a journalist with the Oakdale Leader:
The walnuts were in three double-trailer sets ... apparently the suspect or suspects hooked up their own tractor to [it] and then drove it off through the fence and then onto the nearby highway.
Paloma further opines on who might be behind the thefts, using the phrase "nut mafia."
From my research, I'm gathering that the person who does this is going to be well-organized and have some connections.  In fact, some of the sources I've contacted indicate that there's an organized crime aspect to this. If you look at how they're taken out, how they are planned, the equipment that is being used, it's going to require some investment.
The price of walnuts has more than tripled in recent years, from $0.60/pound to $2.00/pound.

A 2011 post about pecan thefts in Georgia is here.

Sexual assault of farm workers

NPR ran a two-part series on this phenomenon, yesterday and today.  The first story is "Silenced by Status:  Farm Workers Face Rape, Sexual Abuse," and it features the story of Maricruz Ladino, who was raped by a farm supervisor in 2006.  Against the odds, Ladino courageously filed a civil suit against the grower. That suit ended in a confidential settlement in 2010.  The story quotes Bill Tamayo, an attorney with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission,  the federal agency tasked with protecting workers from gender-based discrimination.  The EEOC has been using radio ads to reach out to farm workers about sexual harassment.  Tamayo emphasizes just h how much power farm supervisors wield.
"He determines who gets hired, who gets promoted, who gets fired. And if you're a sexual predator, that's the ideal position to be in because you can determine whether her family eats or not," he says. 
* * *
Over the last 15 years, Tamayo estimates his agency has won tens of millions of dollars in back wages and damages for farm worker victims across the country. The companies involved are rarely made public unless a lawsuit is filed. And the agency doesn't have the power to bring a criminal case — that's the job of local prosecutors. In fact, a review of EEOC's federal lawsuits shows none of the perpetrators accused in those cases have been tried in criminal court.
The second story in the series is "Despite Barriers, Farm Worker Breaks Silence about Rape Case," and it too features a Latina farmworker who is also a rape survivor and, like Ladino, had the courage to report her assailant.  The woman featured in this story is Guadalupe Chavez, who eventually pressed criminal charges against the farm supervisor who raped her in 2006.  Yet with no physical evidence--Khokha notes that many of the farmworkers survive rape don't get a medical exam, which is also true among other demographics--the case came down to Chavez's word versus that of her assailant.  A jury acquitted the defendant, believing his assertion that the encounter was consensual.  Khokha writes:
Even so, Chavez says she got some justice because the man she accused of raping her had to face her in court, and she says, now supervisors like him may think twice about how they treat women in the fields.
This story notes the important role played by organizations such as rural legal aid providers and social service agencies such as Westside Family Preservation Services, in Huron, California.

This two-part series was produced in collaboration with the Center for Investigative Reporting and UC Berkeley's Investigative Reporting program.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Six of 11 Colorado counties favor secession

Read the Denver Post coverage here.  Here is the story's lede:
Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway said the 51st state movement is halted — at least in his county — but there were positive benefits from the secession campaign. 
"Weld County voters said this is an option we shouldn't pursue and we won't pursue it," Conway said Tuesday night. "But we will continue to look at the problems of the urban and rural divide in this state." 
Weld County voters Tuesday soundly rejected the 51st State Initiative 58 percent to 42 percent. 
But in six of the 11 counties where the secession question appeared on the ballot, the measure passed by strong margins.
The counties voting in favor of secession were Kit Carson, Phillips, Sedgwick, Yuma, Washington, and Cheyenne.  This Denver Post story has the details of the vote in each of those counties, and it features this summary of the issue:
Fort Lupton Mayor Tommy Holton said Tuesday night that secession probably would not succeed. But he said the publicity would shed light on rural Colorado's grievances. 
"We not only want to be at the table," he said, "but we want a voice at the table as well."
Proponents say they have become alienated from the more urbanized Front Range and are unhappy with laws passed during this year's legislative session, including stricter gun laws and new renewable-energy standards. 
"The heart of the 51st State Initiative is simple: We just want to be left alone to live our lives without heavy-handed restrictions from the state Capitol," said 51st state advocate Jeffrey Hare.
Both Governor John Hickenlooper and his Republican opponent offered comments on the issue in coverage of yesterday's vote, and both seem somewhat conciliatory in relation to the secession movement's desire that rural Coloradans not be so marginalized.

New York Times coverage of other Colorado election issues does not mention the secession vote.  Commentary from the Daily Beast is here, and coverage from Fox News is here.  Here is a story on 11 areas/places that want to secede.

Read an earlier post about the Colorado secession vote here.  Read an earlier post about some California counties' dalliance with secession here.

Poetic ruralism

NPR featured this review today of poet Harryette Mullen's Urban Tumbleweed:  Notes from a Tanka Diary.  (A tanka is a 31-syllable Japanese poetry form typically featuring "a refined awareness of seasonal changes and a classical repertoire of fleeting impressions.")  Reviewer Carmen Gimenez Smith calls the collection, published yesterday, "a gorgeous book that should establish Mullen as a poet with wide appeal."   

Urban Tumbleweed's 366 tankas describe 
a year of living in Los Angeles and traveling to places like Texas, Ohio and Sweden while taking careful note of the natural world around her. The book is dense with jacaranda, rainstorms, bedbugs, epazote, and neighborhood watches, while faithfully evoking both the form and ancient spirit of the tanka.
I especially like this description of the work as at the intersection of pastoral/natural/rural with the built environment, the urban:  
a quiet argument about living in two worlds: the insistent, natural world, as well as the civilization that sometimes complements nature and other times complicates it.
I am reminded of this New York Times Magazine cover story, "Jungleland" from spring, 2012, about the tension between the natural--even "wilderness"--and the built environment in New Orleans Lower Ninth Ward several years after Hurricane Katrina.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Immigrants to Australia "banished" temporarily to rural reaches

That is one of my takeaways from this story about a Pakastani comic who recently immigrated to Australia.  Matt Siegel, in his Saturday Profile of Sami Shah in the New York Times, writes that he and his wife and child were able to immigrate on a "skill migrant visa" because his wife, a psychologist, studied in Australia and has relatives there:  
There was, however, a catch. 
To provide services to rural communities, Australia sometimes requires migrants with certain skills to live in small towns for the first two years, after which they are free to move anywhere. 
“I’m on a visa that says I can live in Australia for two years, but I have to spend those two years in regional Western Australia,” he told the audience. “Which lets me live in Australia for two years, but makes me feel like I never left a third-world country in the first place.”
I found interesting how Shah makes rural Australia the butt of a joke, and Seigel's story goes on to describe Northam, the city of about 6,500 in Western Australia where Shah lives, in a way that sounds like a similarly sized population cluster in the middle of America:
Northam’s social life revolves around the pub or the high school parking lot, where residents gather next to their pickup trucks for beer-fueled weekend afternoons watching the local Australian-rules football team.
Northam is in the state's wheat belt, about 60 miles northeast of Perth, where Shah occasionally performs.  Northam is also home to a detention center that houses 600 asylum seekers.  Shah and his family plan to move to Melbourne after their two years of banishment to rural Australia are done.

Also of interest is Australia's policy of using skilled immigrant labor to serve its under-served rural and regional populations.  It may not be different to what happens as a practical matter to many highly skilled immigrants into the United States--South Asian physicians, for example, going to practice in nonmetropolitan locales.

This joke from Mr. Shah is also interesting for what it says not only about Australian attitudes toward immigrants, but also shifting perceptions of the merits of white workers (read more about the latter here, here, and here in the U.S. context).  Shah's joke goes like this:
“They’re illegal immigrants. They’re taking our jobs. I hear that one a lot,” he told the audience, interjecting the odd expletive for emphasis. “What do we do?” Try being better at your job, he counseled. 
“If a guy who’s spent the last two weeks on a boat, can’t speak the language, lost half his family on the trip over, then spent two years in Nauru can take your job away from you,” he told his listeners, then they should lift their game by upgrading their LinkedIn profiles. “That’s all I’m saying.”

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Finally, some law and rural sociology/ag scholarship

For the six years I've attended the Rural Sociological Society's (RSS) Annual Meeting, I've been pressing for the production of more scholarship at the intersection of law and rural livelihoods--and specifically for more attention among rural sociologists to the role of law in the phenomena they study.  So, imagine my delight when I learned at the RSS meeting in August, 2013, of an article forthcoming in Rural Sociology titled, "Where's the Farmer?  Limiting Liability in Midwestern Industrial Hog Production."
Scholars largely assume that hog production is following the same industrialization process as the integrated poultry industry. Since the collapse of hog farming in the 1990s, academics have anticipated that producers will eventually become trapped in contracts that leave the integrator with full control over the production process. Embedded in this prediction is an assumption that hog farmers respond to these productive pressures individually. Our analysis of the Carthage Management System suggests a different path for the hog commodity chain. The Carthage Management System is a conglomeration of business management firms that bring finishing hog farmers together to form limited liability corporations (LLCs) in the breed-to-wean stage of hog production. We use a sociology of agrifood framework to suggest that the nuances of hog production encourage the use of what we call folding corporations to limit liability in ways that profoundly transform the family farm. Corporations and individual hog farmers alike employ this creative LLC structure to deflect responsibility for the risks of hog production. We identify how folding corporations externalize the costs of production onto rural communities. Additional research is needed to better understand unfolding farmer identities, legal protections for farmers, how widespread organizational structures like Carthage Management System are, and their consequences for rural communities and the industrialization process.
The paper's authors are Loka Ashwood, a PhD candidate at the University of Wisconsin in the Dept. of Community and Environmental Sociology, and Danielle Diamond and Kendall Thu, both of the anthropology department at Northern Illinois University.  I was fortunate enough at RSS 2013 to moderate a panel on which Ashwood presented her paper on "The Moral Economy of Land Loss," and I'm excited by the prospect of future work from a rural sociologist expanding the discipline in exciting cross-disciplinary ways, including by engaging law and legal processes.

Cross-posted to Agricultural Law.