Friday, June 30, 2023

Giving closed California prisons to Black folks as a form of reparations? One state senator's proposal

Erika Smith's column in yesterday's Los Angeles Times, headlined "The craziest reparations idea you won’t find in the California task force’s report," reports on an interesting proposal by California Senator Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), a member of the state's reparations task force.  The proposal is to give the state's recently closed rural prisons to Black folks.  More specifically, Bradford describes the proposal thusly:  

The conversation I had with the governor’s office a couple of weeks ago was that we’re shutting down prisons in the state of California. What are we doing with that land? Why don’t we turn that land over to Blacks who have never owned property in the state of California? Why don’t we turn it over to developers and build homes?
The response when Bradford articulated this at "an invitation-only panel discussion earlier this month in West Adams," as reported by Smith, follows:  
The dozens of mostly middle-aged Black men and women in the room, all clustered around circular tables, sipping on coffee and water with lemon, suddenly burst into raucous applause.

The column has Smith writing in first person as an observer of all this:  

But not me. My mouth dropped open in shock just thinking about the optics of Black people, who are disproportionately in prisons because of bias in the criminal justice system, essentially colonizing the rural, often majority white and sometimes conservative towns where most state prisons are located.

Bradford barreled on, as my mind continued to spin.

“A lot of people are saying, ‘Where’s my check?’” he added, referring to the frequent refrain from attendees of the task force’s meetings over the last two years. “Reparations was never about a check. It’s about land.”

Here's an additional quote from Bradford: 

Why can’t we [let] African Americans set up businesses and build homes there? Do agriculture projects, whatever the case may be and let that be Black-owned, Black-controlled? Because, again, generational wealth is not through money, it’s through land.

* * * 

Bradford readily admits that state prisons, as a rule, aren’t in “the most desirable areas” in California. But it’s still land that isn’t being used that can be economically controlled by Black people, whether it’s for industrial buildings or cannabis grows.

“They don’t have any plan for it right now,” he said of state officials. “That’s why I gave them a suggestion of what they could do.” 

Smith provides additional context for what makes this an extraordinary proposal--but could also render it a sort of poetic justice.  She describes the litigation initiated by officials in Susanville, California to try to prevent the the closure of the California Correctional Center (CCC) there:  

Susanville officials were adamant about not losing 1,000 prison jobs, saying it would lead to economic ruin. That set up the narrative of a mostly white, conservative, already dying Northern California town arguing that its very survival depends on the incarceration of Black and Latino men from Southern California.
Smith quotes Shakeer Raham, a Los Angles-based lawyer who represented CCC inmates who signed an amicus brief in the case: 
The court is deciding whether a form of bondage, a form of cruelty, is going to continue based on the personal financial benefits of the people around the prison.  At every single turn, the judge and the city have silenced the voices of our clients in order to keep marching on in this decision-making that treats them as a source of revenue.
Thus Smith concludes, "giving Black people the land where the prison once operated as reparations could be seen as poetic justice. It also could be seen as a gift of trauma."

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Rural legal scholarship: Rurality as intersectional factor in access-to-justice

Kathryne M. Young and Katie Billings published an article last week in the Utah Law Review, "An Intersectional Examination of U.S. Civil Justice Problems."  The abstract follows:   

Millions of Americans face civil justice problems each year, and most of these problems never make it to court, let alone to a legal expert. Although research has established that race and class are associated with a person's chance of experiencing a civil justice problem, detailed intersectional examinations of everyday people's justice experiences are largely absent. A more in-depth empirical understanding of the access to justice crisis can equip lawyers, policymakers, and other designers of justice interventions to create higher-impact, more efficient, and better-targeted programs to meet the justice needs of everyday people.

This Article fills a critical gap in the access to justice research. Using data from a representative sample of over 3,600 Americans, we conduct a granular analysis of the factors associated with the most common civil justice problems in the United States. We illuminate the scope of inequities in everyday legal experiences, point to key paths of legal and policy intervention, and show the importance of intersectional factors in understanding diverse needs for access to justice solutions.

In addition to investigating how gender, race, age, and class shape people's chances of facing a civil justice problem, we investigate several less-examined characteristics: queerness, disability, rurality, parental status, and experiences of trauma. These identities turn out to be significantly correlated with civil justice needs as well--independent from, and in addition to, race, class, and gender. We show that the kinds of civil justice problems vulnerable populations face are not always intuitive and often transcend people's status as members of a particular population.

We also use predicted probabilities to reveal enormous disparities in civil justice problems within groups that extant research has generally treated as monolithic--for example, showing that accounting for other identities and experiences can predict whether a low-income Black American has a 6% chance or a 45% chance of facing a family structure problem in the past year.

To shrink the U.S. civil justice gap, we need a more detailed picture of the landscape of civil justice problems experienced by everyday Americans. This Article provides that picture and is intended to serve as a springboard for access to justice policy reform.
And here is the part about the difference rurality makes as an intersectional factor.
Rural Americans are 43.6% more likely than non-rural dwellers to experience a family structure problem in the past year (p = .005). Previous work also shows that compared to suburbanites, rural Americans have the most subjectively serious justice problems and are less likely to resolve them. Differences in resolution rates are due partly to rural places' dearth of resources, such as legal aid clinics and public transportation. Additionally, cultural norms tied to rurality, such as self-efficacy, privacy, and a sense of dignity, may help explain the disparity. The top-cited reason low-income rural residents do not seek legal help for their justice problems is because they decide they prefer to deal with the problem on their own.

Beyond norms and values, the realities of rural spaces can render resources inaccessible. Imagine a rural resident without a car who must travel 50 miles to reach a legal aid clinic. Without public transportation, the trip may be impossible. Moreover, the intersection of location and other rural characteristics can exacerbate justice problem severity and decrease a person's chances of resolving a problem. Consider the intersection of rurality and poverty. Seventy-five percent of low-income rural households experienced a civil legal problem in the past year and 23% experienced six or more problems. Low-income rural residents receive either no professional legal help, or inadequate professional legal help, for 86% of their civil legal problems.

Because rurality increases people's likelihood of experiencing a civil justice problem and shapes their experience of the problem itself, researchers must further investigate the rural civil justice landscape and develop culturally appropriate resources. As Michele Statz adroitly notes about the rural access to justice crisis: “Not only are A2J ‘solutions' intrinsically insufficient in rural areas, but they compound existing stress and are even experienced as humiliating by many low-income rural residents.” We echo Statz's call to design justice initiatives that *531 acknowledge the structural realities of rural spaces, as well as the meanings and values that determine how rural residents define justice. Given the rural legal desert, rural areas may be well-suited for nonlawyer legal services--and given our results, family-related civil justice problems offer an important starting point.  (citations omitted)

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

On the destruction of the Orick peanut: a symbol of the enduring jobs v. the environment debate

The Eureka (California) Times Standard reported a few weeks ago on the destruction of the artifact known as the Orick peanut.  It's a long-time symbol of a long-time debate over what to do when environmental protection conflicts with jobs--the need for jobs.  (And that, of course, is a frequent topic of posts on this blog).  Here's an excerpt from the June 8 story by Jackson Guilfoil: 
“It might be peanuts to you, but it’s jobs to us.”

That was the sign on the Orick peanut carving — a hulking mass of an old-growth redwood roughly 6 feet tall, 10 feet wide and weighing 9 tons — delivered to the White House in 1978. Orick loggers were protesting then-President Jimmy Carter’s decision to expand Redwood National Park, carving the wood to mock Carter’s time as a peanut farmer. The peanut was turned away at the White House by Carter’s aides after it was loaded on a trailer and driven from Humboldt County to the president’s door. It was returned to Orick, where it has rotted, unadorned and scarcely remembered for decades.

An Orick resident who did not want to be named told the Times-Standard that many of those involved in the peanut’s carving are likely dead. Carter still lives at 98 years old.

Sometime between the evening of June 3 and the morning of June 4, a driver crashed through the peanut, demolishing huge chunks of the rotting wood and violently bisecting the symbol of a doomed mission to preserve Humboldt County’s timber industry. Back in the mid-20th century, Orick had a population in the thousands, largely due to the thriving lumber business. Now, the number hovers around 300, according to American Community Survey data.

The Yurok Tribe owns the land the peanut sits on.

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Literary ruralism (Part XXXVII): An interview with Barbara Kingsolver

The Guardian interviewed Barbara Kingsolver, winner of this year's Pulitzer Prize for her 2022 novel Demon Copperhead, on the occasion of the author also being awarded the Women's Prize for literature (previously the Orange Prize).  (I've featured excerpts from the Demon Copperhead in prior Legal Ruralism posts here and here).

Writer Lisa Allardice characterizes Kingsolver as "angry" and then provides this quote from the author as Exhibit A: 

I understand why rural people are so mad they want to blow up the system. That contempt of urban culture for half the country. I feel like I’m an ambassador between these worlds, trying to explain that if you want to have a conversation you don’t start it with the words, "You idiot."
Then there's this background on Kingsolver and the project:, which is set in Appalachia amidst the opioid epidemic: 
With its deep-rooted evocation of place, epic scope and powerful moral purpose, Demon Copperhead is undoubtedly the defining novel of an already distinguished career.

* * * 

“Now that it’s finished, I understand that my whole life I’ve been wanting to write the great Appalachian novel,” she says. For years she had been thinking of this big story she wanted to write “but that nobody wanted to hear”, not just about the prescription drugs crisis, but the generations of exploitation and institutional poverty, the plundering of the region for timber, coal and tobacco leading up to it. “Then Purdue Pharma targeting us saying, ‘OK, the last thing that we can make money off is the pain and the disability of the people who were injured in the previous industries’”, she says. 

 And this, which is about a part of the novel I excerpted in a prior post: 

Part of the block in writing her Appalachian novel, she realises, is that she had “internalised the shame” of her rural upbringing. Now she feels she has not “just the right but the duty” to represent her community. “The news, the movies, TV, it’s all manufactured in cities about city people. We’re nothing. We don’t see ourselves at all. And if we do show up, it’s as a joke, the hillbillies. We are the last demographic that progressive people still mock with impunity.”

In one memorable passage, Demon lists off all the insults thrown at them: “Hillbilly, rednecks, moonshiners, ridge runners, hicks. Deplorables.” The last alludes to a comment by Hillary Clinton, referring to Trump supporters as “a basket of deplorables”. Now Kingsolver often spots bumper stickers proudly declaring “I’m a deplorable” in her neighbourhood. But her agent and editor, both based in New York, questioned whether she should include it. “I decided, yes, I’m leaving it in because I want this to make the reader uncomfortable.”

One of my earliest blog posts, from 2008, is about Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (2007), and this one from earlier that year references the book.  This post from 2014 is about her novel Flight Behavior.

Monday, June 26, 2023

Mississippi reading program finds success, including in rural schools

Nicholas Kristof wrote in the New York Times a few weeks ago about the lessons Mississippi--yes, Mississippi--is providing about education, specifically how it's new-ish reading accountability goals are lifting up students--even in the context of a poor state like Mississippi.  While the story does not use the word "rural," Mississippi is one of just four states with a (slightly) larger portion of its population living in rural places (as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau" than in urban ones.  

Here are some excerpt about the state's successful program, with a reference to at least one rural-ish place, Leland in the Mississippi Delta: 

“Mississippi is a huge success story and very exciting,” David Deming, a Harvard economist and education expert, told me. What’s so significant, he said, is that while Mississippi hasn’t overcome poverty or racism, it still manages to get kids to read and excel.

“You cannot use poverty as an excuse. That’s the most important lesson,” Deming added. “It’s so important, I want to shout it from the mountaintop.” What Mississippi teaches, he said, is that “we shouldn’t be giving up on children.”

The revolution here in Mississippi is incomplete, and race gaps persist, but it’s thrilling to see the excitement and pride bubbling in the halls of de facto segregated Black schools in some of the nation’s poorest communities.
* * *
Mississippi has achieved its gains despite ranking 46th in spending per pupil in grades K-12. Its low price tag is one reason Mississippi’s strategy might be replicable in other states. Another is that while education reforms around the country have often been ferociously contentious and involved battles with teachers’ unions, this education revolution in Mississippi unfolded with support from teachers and their union.
* * *
Perhaps the most important single element of the 2013 legislative package was a test informally called the third-grade gate: Any child who does not pass a reading test at the end of third grade is held back and has to redo the year.

This was controversial. Would this mean holding back a disproportionate share of Black and brown children from low-income families, leaving them demoralized and stigmatized? What about children with learning disabilities?
* *  *
In the town of Leland [population 4,481] in the Mississippi Delta, one of the poorest parts of America, parents and family members come early on the day of the big exam and line a hallway at the elementary school, cheering madly as the kids walk through to take the test — like champion football players taking the field. And when I visited, 35 new bicycles were on display in the school gym, donated by the community to be awarded by lottery to those who passed.

Saturday, June 24, 2023

"Sowing New Fields" on preparing rural students for the digital workforce

Ascendium and Chronicle Brand Studio (as in Chronicle of Higher Education) have recently published "Sowing New Fields," an 8-page pamphlet on "How to Prep Rural Students for a Digital Workforce."  Interestingly, the material on the home page for this does not reference "rural" students at all.  Rather, it focuses on minorities and first-generation students (perhaps this content on this web page is in error): 
Minoritized and first-generation students are the most vulnerable populations at risk of stopping out or leaving early without a degree. “How do we onboard, support, and transition students into, through and then out of the first year, and design it in a manner so every student can succeed here?” asks Drew Koch, CEO of the Gardner Institute, a nonprofit organization focused on student success.

The Gardner Institute is just one of several organizations working with state and community colleges to study and redesign the early stages of students’ academic experience. Among them include the likes of the Institute for Evidence-Based Change and the Rand Corporation. Download the full case study to learn about the various educational interventions being tested, including:
  • Simplifying curricula requirements to improve student performance on major tracks
  • Nurturing a more caring campus to increase a feeling of belonging for students
  • Providing intensive advising during students’ first year
The pdf that can be downloaded from that page, however, does focus on rural students and rural economies.  Here's an excerpt: 
As the national economy continues to create jobs around the nation, one region has been left behind: rural America. For many of the 46 million Americans who live well outside major population centers, finding a job that pays a living wage qualifies as a major challenge. That number comes from a recent report on rural community colleges from the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program.
Outside of the boom-and-bust cycles surrounding energy fracking and tourism, rural areas have struggled to grow their economies at the same rate as the rest of the U.S. Non-metro areas have lost ground in job creation compared to urban areas each year since 2009, according to a federal report.
Bearing the brunt are workers who often live far from employment hubs and in areas that are becoming even more depopulated. Small towns and remote counties often lack the infrastructure needed to create salaried professionals; workers residing in these areas are more likely than their urban counterparts to lack the broadband capability needed to work remotely.

And many of them hold traditional notions about what constitutes work, leading them to seek jobs that no longer are in demand or that don’t pay well. Rural workers generally must survive on lower incomes than those who work in the cities or suburbs.

Around one in three people in urban areas have earned bachelor’s degrees, compared to 19 percent of rural residents. But access to a four-year degree doesn’t necessarily determine a person’s long-term career success.

“People are trying to build pathways to economic opportunity where there are fewer places to go,” says David Bevevino, director of research and knowledge management at the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program.

The trick to greening the economic landscape, Bevevino and others say, may lie in working with what rural America has going for it.

There are more data points, like the fact 1.5 million students attend 444 rural two-year colleges.  

And here's where the action seems to come in: 

Several organizations around the country, aided by seven-figure grants from Ascendium, are working to utilize close-knit local ties and strengthen rural infrastructure by linking some of those students with employers in their regions who need more skilled workers.

* * *  

Creating rural educational programs that lead to more and better job opportunities for students might eventually help two-year institutions reverse a 37 percent downturn in enrollment since 2010.  

Will be interesting to see what comes of this.  

Friday, June 23, 2023

Another angle on California's housing crisis: A disproportionate impact on the aging plays out with political drama in Ojai

Alexi Koseff reported yesterday for CalMatters on how a city council member in Ojai, population 7,637, in Ventura County became homeless 18 months ago.  That's when 74-year-old council member Suza Francina was evicted from her long-term rental so the new owner could renovate it.  Since then, Francina has been staying in a tiny apartment above the garage of a friend.  The problem is that the garage apartment is not in the district that Francina represents.  Francina, who emigrated from The Netherlands as a child and has lived in Ojai for 67 years, has been open about her housing situation.  Then, a few months ago, someone filed a complaint against Francina, triggering a grad jury investigation that has concluded Francina is violating residency requirements.  

At an hours-long public forum on June 13 to debate whether Francina should be removed from the city council, Dee Reed, one of Francina's friends commented, 
She’s a living, breathing example of the problem they are in denial about.
Francina made a moral appeal to her colleagues at that meeting, asking them to consider her situation as a matter of justice for a renter who has fallen on hard times.  She is quoted:   
Do you think Rosa Parks felt she was disobeying the law? I mean, look at all the laws that were changed through public protest.  There are absolutely numerous exceptions to upholding wrong laws. And this is a wrong law. It doesn’t work in reality.
Francina has lived in Ojai for 67 years, after she moved from The Netherlands as a child. She taught preschool and yoga.  She wrote and raised a family.

Koseff provides this big picture perspective on what is happening in Ojai, calling it a "a glimpse into a California that is increasingly out of reach, where the lack of affordable housing has distorted every facet of society and where millions of residents who once lived comfortably suddenly find themselves on the margins while those on the margins are pushed onto the streets."

He continues:
Like so many California communities that rely heavily on tourism and that have historically attracted newcomers with the promise of convenience and contentment, Ojai is becoming too expensive even for many of its longtime residents. Housing development never kept up with demand, while guesthouses that once provided a more economical option are being converted into vacation rentals in spite of a local ban. With fewer young families able to settle in the city, the school board recently voted to close three schools due to declining enrollment.

“It’s ironic,” said Francina, who remembers renting her first home for $75 per month. “We worked so hard to preserve it and here’s our reward. We can’t afford it.”

Interestingly, just a few days ago, Anita Chabria wrote for the Los Angeles Times about the disproportionate impact the state's housing crisis is having on those over the age of 50.  The headline is "The truth about our homelessness crisis: As Californians age, they are priced out," and it reports on a recent UCSF study of homelessness in the Golden State.  Chabria quotes Dr. Margot Kushel, who headed the study from UCSF’s Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative:  

These are old people losing housing,

Chabria's column continues: 

“They basically were ticking along very poor, and sometime after the age of 50 something happened,” Kushel said. That something — divorce, a loved one dying, an illness, even a cutback in hours on the job — sparked a downward spiral and their lives “just blew up,” as Kushel puts it.

Kushel and her team found that nearly half of single adults living on our streets are over the age of 50. And 7% of all homeless adults, single or in families, are over 65.

And 41% of those older, single Californians had never been homeless — not one day in their lives — before the age of 50.

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Marijuana's boom and bust across the Oregon-Idaho state line

The New York Times reported last week from Ontario, Oregon, population 11,366, and on the state line with Idaho.  The headline is "Oregon Town’s Marijuana Boom Yields Envy in Idaho," and the subhead is "Tax revenue has surged since cannabis stores opened in Ontario, Ore., fueling a push in neighboring Idaho to legalize sales and get in on the action."  Here's an excerpt focusing on the good economic news out of Ontario:

The cannabis boom is helping to drive a thriving local economy — and tax revenues that have paid for new police positions, emergency response vehicles, and park and trail improvements.

Missing out on the action has become increasingly frustrating to some politicians and longtime residents in Idaho, where the population and living costs have surged in recent years.

Here's the big picture background on the legalization of marijuana at the state level: 

Because the sale or possession of marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, many states — and in this case neighboring ones — have landed on drastically different approaches for whether and how to decriminalize, regulate and tax cannabis. Since 2012, 23 states have legalized it for recreational use, and more than three dozen allow medical marijuana.

Eleven states, mostly conservative-leaning, have enacted extremely limited medical marijuana laws. Aside from cannabis-derived drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for limited medical use, Idaho has not legalized any cannabis sales — a prohibition that has helped its more progressive neighbors.

The story quotes the Ontario mayor, Debbie Folden: 

Our cannabis market caters almost exclusively to Idaho residents.  This has been an economic boom unlike any this city has seen.

So, Oregon--and the City of Ontario, in particular--is getting the benefit of the state's lax marijuana laws, while neighboring Idaho is missing out on the revenues that flow from the sale of marijuana and cannabis products.  It's a contemporary parallel to a long-time issue associated with "dry counties," those where alcohol sales are prohibited.  A principle argument in favor of making those counties "wet" has been that people are going to drive across county lines (and sometimes state lines) to get the alcohol anyway; thus dry counties are missing out on the revenue associated with alcohol sales and thus simply hurting themselves.

Recent posts about Oregon and Idaho politics are here, here, and here.    

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Rural incumbent defeats (more) urban opponent in key Virginia Senate primary

It appears that long-time Virginia politician, Creigh Deeds, has defeated Democratic primary challenger (and University of Virginia professor) Sally Hudson.  Here's what the Washington Post is showing, with 95% of the votes in:  

Ben Pavior reported on the race for NPR yesterday, framing the contest as one between upstart urban professor and rural incumbent who has served in the Virginia legislature nearly as long as his opponent has been alive.  Here's an excerpt:    

Deeds is a self-described "country boy" who grew up on a farm hunting in a Democratic family. He's a familiar face at a community center in Esmont, a half hour south of Charlottesville, where he spent a recent evening talking to a rare breed: rural Democrats.

"We've got to figure out how to get people reengaged with the Democratic Party," says Deeds, who recently moved to Charlottesville to run in the new district after representing the old, mostly rural district that stretched from reliably liberal Charlottesville to conservative counties on the West Virginia border.

* * * 

Hudson and Deeds have different explanations for why Democrats faltered in 2021. Deeds singles out Gov. Youngkin's vast personal wealth and ability to fundraise. Hudson says Republicans did a better job connecting with everyday issues facing voters rather than concentrating on Trump.

Still, Ken Plum, who is the second longest-serving member of Virginia's House in its 400-year history, says Democrats have evolved significantly from when he first arrived in 1978. Back then, what he describes as "ultra conservative, right wing, racist" Dixiecrats dominated the legislature.

Plum is retiring this year and has ambivalent feelings about the primaries. He says some of this year's races are about personal ambitions. At the same time, he says the party needs to keep adding fresh voices. "I think that's probably healthy for the party and for the state in the long haul," Plum says.

Here's some coverage of the race from The Daily Progress, which suggests that Hudson has been dishonest about Deeds' record on gun reform.  

This, on the residency of Deeds--which was apparently disputed, as noted in The Daily Progress story--is  from the Richmond Times-Dispatch

Deeds lived in Bath County, closer to West Virginia’s border, before the state Supreme Court reconfigured the state’s legislative districts. In 2021, he moved to Charlottesville to run for this seat.

The district encompasses the Democratic strongholds of Charlottesville and Albemarle County, plus Nelson and Amherst counties and part of Louisa County.

Deeds was in the national news about a decade ago when his son died by suicide after threatening his father's life.  He was the Democratic nominee for Governor of Virginia in 2009.

Postscript:  Here's coverage of the race by the Cardinal News, which focuses on southwest Virginia (which Deeds previously represented in the Virginia House of Delegates and in the Virginia Senate) and the Southside, the term for the south central part of the state that abuts North Carolina.  This story also addresses how redistricting impacted the state senate race given that Deeds previously did not represent the Charlottesville area.  

Sunday, June 18, 2023

My Rural Travelogue (Part XXXV): A farmer's market in Prague

Ok, it isn't exactly "rural," but the farmer's market I visited last week in Prague brought the rural to the urban, which is what many (if not most) farmer's markets do.  (About a decade ago, I blogged about farmer's markets before, this one in my home town and this one in posh Telluride, Colorado).

Last Saturday, I visited the much touted Naplavka Farmer's Market, in Praha 2.  At least I thought that is what I was visiting.  It appears on reflection that I didn't travel far enough south on the Vlatava River embankment, because when I reached the intersection of the embankment with Na Morani at about 7:45 am, I saw vendors setting up in the little park and stopped to peruse the goods.  It featured perhaps a dozen stalls, which included a few flower stalls, a cherry stand, a strawberry booth, a coffee stand, a few bakeries, one egg stand, one chicken stand, a stand dedicated solely to kolach (the sweet Czech pastry), one with wine, and several with a variety of vegetables.  

Lots of potatoes and onions, along with
more colorful vegetables and herbers.

The egg vendor had 
a photo her chickens 
roaming free.

The poultry vendor from Holysov had photos of 
the types of poultry he was selling. He chopped 
the chickens in half right in front of customers, for those
who didn't want an entire bird.  
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2023

A dairy stall, with yogurts, cheese and milk

The coffee stand was popular.  There were no disposable cups so a 50 kr. deposit was required for those who didn't bring their own cup.  Only whole milk available for lattes and such.

The wine stall was guarded by a friendly dog. 

One of several bakeries. 
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2023

The name and address of each
vendor was displayed.  This was 
for the baker.  

This sign was at the juice stand.

Milovice is northeast of Prague, perhaps an hour away

This vendor had beautiful white and green asparagus, 
the former in its short season right now.
"Chrest" is the Czech word for asparagus.

This stand was all Kolach.

The cherry vendor had a few varieties. 

Strawberries in season from this farm, which has an address on
the southeastern edge of Prague 

Oh, and there was a woman and what appeared to be here two teenaged children selling various pestos, as well as what her sign called "fried green bread."  This was toasted bread smeared in the pesto(s) and herb butter of the patron's choosing.  She made me the striped one below, so I didn't have to choose.  The pale green at the top was with horseradish.  The bottom stripe is the melting herb butter.

Saturday, June 17, 2023

Migration from California to rural-ish middle America

That's the topic of a big Los Angeles Times feature in Tuesday's paper.  The headline for Don Lee's story is "Rural towns lure California’s remote workers with cash, child care and other relocation perks."  Here's the lede, which addresses Californians:   
What will it take for you to leave California for Indiana?

Start with $5,000 to $7,500 in relocation cash. If that’s not enough, how about free health insurance for a year, unlimited golf club membership, a seat on the community’s nonprofit board?

* * *  

Across the Hoosier state, dozens of counties and cities are practically stepping over each other in what has become the new competition across the land: attracting the pandemic-enlarged horde of people with remote jobs who no longer feel the need to live in more expensive urban centers like Los Angeles or New York.

The Indiana place featured most prominently in the story is Noblesville, an upscale suburb of Indianapolis and, with a population of 70,000 and ranked the 10th largest city in Indiana, hardly rural at all.  

On the other hand, sometimes the incentives come from more accurately rural places and leverage quintessentially local perks, as in Poplar Bluff, Missouri (population 16,225), which offers stays at vacation cabins in the nearby Ozark mountains, "among 17 incentives valued at $11,000."  Lee's story quotes the city's manager, 

I think we have a lot to offer....Our cost of living is low.  Rural America is attractive to some people. It takes me five minutes to get to work every morning, and that’s if I’m not in a hurry.

So far, however, no one has applied to take advantage of the Poplar Bluff offer.  

Still, broadly speaking, the incentive programs are working:  In just the last two years, some 22,000 people have applied for incentives in Indiana through Indianapolis-based MakeMyMove, which "helps cities across the U.S. recruit remote workers."

Thursday, June 15, 2023

My Rural Travelogue (Part XXXIV): Taking care of Iceland's rural roads and providing electric car chargers in remote locales

One thing I noticed on my recent visit to Iceland is how much maintenance I saw on what could only be considered rural roads.  I'm not just talking their Highway 1, on which you can circumnavigate the island.  Because it is two-lane for nearly the entire 16-hour journey, some might consider it rural, but given its high use by tourists and residents, I do not.  I'm talking unpaved (also known as unsealed) roads, like the one that we took south from near Reykholt (the place called Reykholt that is north of Rekjavik, as we were traveling back to Selfoss having been to see the Langjokull glacier) to the northern end of Thingvellir National Park.  Along the way, we were on Road 52 (unpaved for that segment), which meets Road 550 (paved).

There we saw two road graders in action, in addition to several signs indicating road works were in progress.  
Road 52, north of Thingvellir National Park

Road 52, north of Thingvellir National Park

We also saw road works on a minor road near Hella, in South Iceland.  
Near Hella, Iceland

Near Hella, Iceland

In fact, we saw more work on these minor roads--including unpaved ones--than we did on major roads.  I found this interesting in that it suggests the government is making rural transportation a priority.  (A post about the political significance of taking care of rural roads in the United States is here.)  

We also found of interest the electric car charging infrastructure.  Overall, it is not very extensive.  I saw only one bank of perhaps half a dozen Tesla chargers.  That said, there tend to be one or two car chargers in even very isolated places, like Reykholt (see details of location above) and the Highland Center Hraunejay, along a stretch of "highlands" road, seemingly leading nowhere but with a small lodge and dining room, in South Iceland, mostly to facilitate ecotourism to the area.  (We were there for lunch before visiting Haifoss waterfall, and adjacent Granni, meaning neighbor and after hiking into the valley at Gjain).  While we didn't see a lot of electric cars on the road in Iceland, it's clear the charging network will be far flung and ready for them: 

Several charges at Hotel Ranga, near Hella, South Iceland
Charging Station at N1 convenience store, Reykholt, Iceland
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2023

Charging stations at Highland
Center Hraunejay, above and below 
(c) Lisa R Pruitt 2023

In comparison, here is what the sole gas pump in Reykholt looked like (the orange electric charger pictured above to next to the minimart, not visible behind the gas pump: 

Convenience store in Reykholt, location of the orange electric car charging station in photo above.
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2023
And here is the sole gas pump at the Highland Center: 
Highland Center Hraunejay, South Iceland
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2023
Finally, here is a photo of the public transit bus stop in Reykholt; it sits in front of the convenience store pictured above:
Public transit bus stop, Reykholt, Iceland
Speaking of rural transportation, the New York Times reported this story today out of Huron, California, in the central Valley.  Lyft and Uber don't operate there, but it offers electric car share services, as reported by the Los Angeles Times 18 months ago

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

On the most rural Presidential candidate yet

Doug Burgum, governor of North Dakota, declared his candidacy for the Republican nomination for U.S. President last week, leading to a relative avalanche of coverage of a previously obscure political figure. 

Jonathan Weisman's New York Times story of June 8, 2023, dateline Fargo (population 127,000, which is 16% of the state's population), is headlined "The Presidential Candidate Who Has His Own Supporters Scratching Their Heads."  Here's an excerpt that explains Burgum's extraordinary wealth: 

[A]s a base for a presidential run, Fargo is still the smallest of towns, closer to Winnipeg, in Canada, than to Minneapolis, the nearest American metropolis. The hamlet of Arthur, where Mr. Burgum grew up and where his family’s prosperous, century-old grain elevator dominates the flat landscape, is still more removed from the nation’s political currents. Even North Dakotans who express admiration for their governor’s wealth, business acumen and energy are baffled by his suddenly lofty political ambitions.

“He’s a long shot, for sure,” said Brad Moen, 69, of Jamestown, N.D., who has known Mr. Burgum for 60 years and traveled 100 miles for his presidential introduction on Wednesday. “California, New York, Ohio, Florida — they’re the big dogs, not North Dakota.”
* * *
Mr. Burgum’s path to the White House seems particularly forbidding. His story is out of central casting: the son of a tiny town who as a teenager lost his father, and then channeled a natural entrepreneurial spirit into enterprises that included chimney sweeping, a business software empire and venture capital — all within the state lines of North Dakota.

Mr. Burgum’s status as a billionaire traces back to Microsoft, which bought his company, Great Plains Software, in 2001 in a $1.1 billion stock deal that made him one of the richest men in the Dakotas.
Maggie Astor's story for the Times, "5 Things to Know about Doug Burgum," ran the day before.  Here's an excerpt focused on the fact that Burgum's election as governor in 2016 was a "major upset."  
When Mr. Burgum began running for governor in January 2016, few people in North Dakota knew who he was either.

A poll conducted the next month found him running 49 percentage points behind the state attorney general Wayne Stenehjem, who was the chosen candidate of the North Dakota Republican Party, the departing governor Jack Dalrymple and Senator John Hoeven.

He ended up beating Mr. Stenehjem in the Republican primary by more than 20 points.

“Stand up if you saw this coming,” Mike McFeely, a columnist for The Forum, a newspaper in Fargo, wrote after the primary. “OK, now sit down. Because no you didn’t.”

Mr. Burgum, who had never held elected office, benefited from an anti-establishment campaign message — this was, after all, the year that Donald J. Trump showed Republican voters’ appetite for perceived outsiders — and from Democrats who crossed over to vote in the Republican primary, as state law allows.

Also, Burgum supports fossil fuels as well as carbon capture.  He's signed into law one of the nation's strictest abortion bans, along with eight anti-transgender laws in 2023 alone.  

Maeve Reston writes for the Washington Post about Burgum here, and I love the small-townish, farm-values anecdote she leads with: 

When Microsoft was on the verge of acquiring the software company that tech entrepreneur and soon-to-be GOP White House contender Doug Burgum had helped build from a small firm to one with more than 2,000 employees, he had specific ideas about where he wanted to iron out the details of the $1.1 billion deal.

He convened a meeting at a ranch deep in the rolling hills of central North Dakota. Between working sessions, he said in a recent interview, he dispatched soon-to-be co-workers to mend fence posts, then had them saddle up and move cattle. Burgum, who grew up shoveling grain and hauling fertilizer at his family’s grain elevator business, wanted the big-city Microsoft team to understand the work ethic of the employees they were acquiring, who were “mostly kids from small towns who grew up on farms or ranches,” he said last week during a driving tour that wound its way from the shabby converted warehouse where he helped build his company to the gleaming Microsoft campus at the outskirts of town.

I first became aware of Burgum during the relatively early days of the coronavirus pandemic when he became almost tearful in asking people to be considerate of one another in relation to pandemic restrictions--or the lack thereof--in North Dakota.  Unlike Kristi Noem, the governor of neighboring South Dakota, there was no show-boating, no polarizing language.  Instead, there was just a plea for people to be empathic toward each other, noting that some folks might be fighting cancer or other illnesses and thus be particularly vulnerable health-wise.  I suppose the "nice" or "kind" response he was trying to elicit could be seen as a quintessential rural thing.  Back when I watched the clip of a tearful Burgum at that May, 2020 press conference, I would never have guessed he was a wildly successful entrepreneur.  Instead, he struck me as more like an unassuming, local protestant minister.  

When investments in electric vehicles are also investments in rural America

Benyamin Applebaum's New York Times piece last weekend, "Giving Red America a Reason to Love Electric Vehicles," highlights Moses Lake, Washington, population 25,146, which he describes as a "conservative farms-and-factories community [where] few people have the cash or the inclination" to own an electric vehicle.  Here's an excerpt about how the Biden administration's policies may draw places like Moses Lake into the electric car revolution by "giving people an economic stake in the transition to green energy" such that a "durable political consensus in favor of confronting global warming" is built. 

Over the next few years, however, hundreds of Moses Lake residents are going to be entering the electric vehicle business. Two different companies, attracted by cheap hydropower, are opening plants there, each backed by $100 million in federal money, to produce a key ingredient for electric vehicle batteries.

* * *  

Instead of delivering electric vehicles, solar panels and other green technologies at the lowest possible cost, no matter their country of origin, the Biden administration is determined to use this opportunity to expand domestic manufacturing. And it is concentrating much of that effort in rural and Rust Belt communities, where reactionary politics have taken hold most strongly. The plan to combat global warming is also a bid for industrial revival and a transformed political landscape.
* * * 
In Moses Lake, where one city official described the local version of the American dream to me as “house-boat-truck,” it is possible to imagine that one day in the not-too-distant future, workers at the battery plants will be driving electric pickups.

Now, though, Moses Lake residents are anticipating the economic benefits of these plants.  

Adan Lopez, 20, is studying physics at Big Bend Community College in Moses Lake. He isn’t sure whether he wants to stay in the area. “Jobs are kind of limited around here,” he said. “If you want to do anything, people have to go to Spokane or Seattle.”

Brant Mayo, executive director of the Grant County Economic Development Council, said the Moses Lake region has been chasing factories since the early 1990s to bring higher-paying jobs to the area. “We want our kids and our grandkids, if they want to be in the area, to have an opportunity to do whatever they want here,” he said.

Some prior posts on electric vehicles in rural America are here, here, here, and here.  

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

On the dangers that lurk in the rural South

Margaret Renkl writes in her most recent column in the New York Times of a new monograph, Dark Waters (Aperture 2023), by photographer Kristine Potter.  Here are some excerpts from Renkl's column, which strike me as echoing the themes of my 2013 book chapter, "The Rural Lawscape:  Space Tames Law Tames Space," in which I hypothesize the relative absence of law in rural spaces, which are more challenging and costly to police--and to keep people safe--because of the nature rural spatiality.  I also wrote about that book chapter here in relation to a McClatchy Press series about the practical realities of rural law enforcement in California.  

Here are some salient excerpts from Renkl's essay on Potter's book: 

The landscapes in these photographs are not so much threatening as bereft of protection. Entering such beautiful spaces is always a risk for a woman alone — not because of anything inherently dangerous about a mist-drenched stream or a bamboo-clotted riverbank or even a rocky waterfall, but because bucolic settings aren’t always as empty as they seem. And nobody would hear you scream if danger has followed you into the woods — or if danger is already there, just waiting for you to arrive.

* * * 

In the South, our most isolated places are at once the most beautiful and the most blood-soaked, and Ms. Potter understands that women are in no way the sole victims of this violent legacy. In one photo, an older white man teaches a young Black man how to tie on a fishing hook. The younger man’s position — kneeling, head bowed, eyes cast downward, arms raised, wrists together — suggests both resignation and supplication. He could be learning to tie a hook on a fishing line. He could as easily be crouching to avoid blows. He could as easily be presenting his wrists for handcuffs.

Our deep woods are lovely, our still waters restful, but the Southern landscape has never been a safe place for a woman alone. It has never been a safe place for a Black man alone. It has never been a safe place for L.G.B.T.Q. people of any race or gender. To enter an isolated place alone has always been to take a risk, and we have known that all our lives.

Monday, June 12, 2023

My Rural Travelogue (Part XXXIII): Rural gentrification--next to a prison, no less--in Iceland

I've been vacationing in Iceland for the past week, and I'm struck by how rural this country of less than 400,000 residents is.  In particular, Reykjavik, the capital city, has a population of about 140K, and the entire capital region is home to 248K residents.  Thus, some 140K Icelanders live in small cities/towns and rural areas.  Once outside Reykjavik and the peninsula on which it sits, farms dot the countryside.

We have spent the bulk of our time in southeastern and southern Iceland, where many towns are no larger than a thousand residents.  Our guide has told us that Selfoss (population 10K) is the fastest growing city in the country and the largest residential area in South Iceland.  It lies just about an hour south of Reykjavik, and wikipedia says it is a centre of commerce and small industries.  We were happy to do some grocery shopping there and also to enjoy the renovated downtown shopping area, where an outpost of a popular Reykjavik restaurant, Messinn, opened not long ago.  

Our guide has told us that most Icelanders have country cabins/cottages, and that those who don't are able to use the cabins belonging to their workers' unions.  Many such cabins are located around Selfoss, and we saw ample evidence of this phenomenon, with some cottages so close to one another as to give the appearance of little housing developments.  

One small town we passed through en route to Selfoss and just maybe 10-15 kilometers away is Eyrarbakki, population 570.  Our guide pointed out that many of the old homes here are being fixed up by folks from Reykjavik, some of whom commute.  Here are some of the old-style homes that are now fixed up:

And here, for comparison's sake, are an outbuilding and home on the same main street that have not been renovated: 

Here is a local (Reykjavik) blogger's post about the village and a very old timber home there, one built from a kit in the late 1700s.  

And here is the school, whit sits next to the sea wall:

And the church, across the street from the school:  

There is also an "old folks home," but I didn't capture a photo of it. I did, however,  get a photo of the cemetery.

And it was while photographing the cemetery that I caught sight of these buildings behind a high fence, which were to my back as I looked toward the cemetery, which our guide informed us is the country's largest prison, Litla Hraun, founded in 1929.  As you can see, it isn't very large.  Also, its population is not included in the town's population.  

I'll share more photos of rural Iceland in future posts.