Rural America

Friday, Jun 23, 2017, 2:00 pm  ·  By John Collins

Rethink This Iowa: Do Not Gut the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture

Aldo Leopold sitting with his dog.   (Image: The Aldo Leopold Foundation)

Since 1987, the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture (LCSA) in Ames, Iowa, has been looking into ways to reduce the environmental impact of food production. Applying a scientific approach to ethical land use, the center has been funding the research needed to make sustainable farming methods not just possible, but profitable. Long before the good food movement grew into the national force it is today, their work included the implementation of integrated pest management techniques, bioreactors, cover crops, early spring nitrate tests, crop rotations, rotational grazing methods and much more—the results of which were shared with farmers and other researchers across the country.

All was going well enough until April 17, when the Iowa Senate without warning passed new legislation that ended LCSA’s funding and, going one diabolical step further, required the center to close. The funds in play—about $1.3 million annually—are generated from a fee imposed on nitrate fertilizers and pesticide registrations under the 1987 Iowa Groundwater Protection Act. The new bill instructs for those funds be redirected to the Nutrient Research Center, also at Iowa State University (ISU). On May 12, however, in one of his final gubernatorial acts before becoming the Trump administration’s ambassador to China, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) vetoed the portion of the bill he’d previously signed requiring LCSA to shut its doors, but let the funding cut stand.

This leaves the center in awkward limbo—free to continue existing, but without the money it needs to operate. As one writer put it in a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial, the bill renders LCSA “the Walking Dead of state agencies.”

“While we appreciate that the name and the Center will remain,” said LCSA Director Mark Rasmussen in a statement addressing their sudden change in status, “the loss of all state funding severely restricts operations and our ability to serve our many stakeholders.”

So why, when industrial agricultural practices pose an immediate threat to Iowa’s land and water, and when our dominant food production methods are causing a host of ecological, health and social problems in desperate need of new solutions across the country and around the world—did the Iowa legislature decide to end public support for one of the few forward-thinking sustainable agriculture institutions with an established track record? The center’s mission, after all, is: “To identify and develop new ways to farm profitably while conserving natural resources as well as reducing negative environmental and social impacts.”

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Wednesday, Jun 21, 2017, 12:00 pm  ·  By Joseph Bullington

Federal Judge: Environmental Law was Broken in Rushed Review of Dakota Access Pipeline

Water protectors at Standing Rock.   (Image: Honor the Earth / Sarah LilRedFeather / Idle No More)

The Army Corps of Engineers, acting under directions from the Trump administration, violated the law when it approved the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) on February 8. That’s according to a ruling issued by U.S. District Judge James Boasberg on June 14―two weeks after Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind DAPL, announced that the pipeline was fully operational. 

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Tuesday, Jun 20, 2017, 12:00 am  ·  By John Ikerd

Understanding the True Cost of American Food (Part I)

Earl "Rusty" Butz (right), who served as secretary of agriculture under Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, was a champion of industrial farming methods. He coined such phrases as "get big or get out" while advocating the planting of fields from "fence row to fence row."   (Photo: New Orleans in Green)

The increase in size of U.S. farms has been motivated by the quest for economic efficiency in an effort to reduce the financial costs of food. However, the “true” cost of food also includes costs that are not currently reflected in the costs of production—these are instead “externalizized” or imposed on society and nature.

The external economic costs of farming have risen as farms have grown larger, so it’s reasonable to believe a relationship exists between farm size and external economic costs. The “true” cost of American food, however, must include the non-economic social and ecological costs that cannot be converted into economic costs or internalized. Furthermore, there are good reasons to believe the non-economic costs of large farms may matter even more than the external economic costs.

An implicit assumption of “true cost accounting” is that costs should include the cost of sustainability—in the case of food, this means including the full economic, social, and ecological costs of sustainable farming. Previous concerns for ecological and social externalities have now merged into concern for sustainability: an ability to meet the needs of all in the present without diminishing opportunities for the future.

Most advocates of sustainable agriculture seem to believe that in farming size doesn’t matter. They contend that farms can be managed sustainably or unsustainably regardless of how large or small they may be. I readily admit that most small farms today are probably unsustainable. However, I believe today’s so-called "modern" large farms would need to be managed like well-managed small farms in order to be sustainable.

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Thursday, Jun 15, 2017, 2:00 pm  ·  By Jim Goodman

Wisconsin Dairy Farmers Have Been Duped into Producing Too Much Milk

The Village View Dairy farm in Muscoda, Wisc.   (Photo: Flickr / University of Wisconsin-Extension)

For a farmer, getting the news that you no longer have a market for your product is devastating. I know—I got one of those letters a few months ago. It is especially problematic if you are a dairy farmer, since cows need to be milked every day. So, in April, when 75 Wisconsin farmers were notified by their milk buyer, Grassland Dairy Products, that they would no longer have a market, state government officials took notice.

While our government officials appear to be concerned about the well-being and economic viability of Wisconsin's dairy farmers, I wonder if they are really more interested in the viability of the “dairy industry.”

Are they concerned about fair farm prices and the environment, or keeping the economic engine rolling?

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Tuesday, Jun 13, 2017, 2:00 pm  ·  By Joseph Bullington

Blacks, Latinos and Indians Think About Climate Change in Ways that Most Other Americans Do Not

September 21, 2014—The first People's Climate March is held in New York City.   (Image: peoplesclimate.org)

In March, when the Yale Program on Climate Communication released a detailed study of U.S. public opinion about global warming, the New York Times looked at the data and drew some interesting conclusions. Among them: “Most people think climate change will harm Americans, but they don’t think it will happen to them." They have a point.

But, as it turns out, not all Americans feel the same way. A closer examination of the data reveals that people who live in certain places tend to feel more vulnerable to climate change than others.

Below are a series of maps that illustrate this disconnect.

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Friday, Jun 9, 2017, 1:30 pm  ·  By Rural America In These Times

Farming Pathogens: An Evolutionary Biologist on the Links Between Big Ag and Disease

(Image: Farming Pathogens)

Intensive or monoculture farming—the industrial agricultural practice of producing way too much of one thing in order to maximize yield and profits—has serious global economic and ecological consequences. This, for the most part, is common knowledge. Despite all the patents, land grabs, pesticides and antibiotics, hunger and insufficient nutrition remain a problem for many people in the United States and around the world. But “Big Ag” isn’t just stiffing farmers, confining animals, polluting water supplies, failing to “feed the world” and, in the process, making a lot of money for a few corporations. According to Rob Wallace, it’s creating entirely new “agro-environments” for deadly pathogens to thrive.

Wallace is an author, evolutionary biologist and phylogeographer—someone who studies the forces behind the geographical spread and distribution of various living things, from viruses to mammals. His most recent book, Big Farms Make Big Flu: Dispatches on Infectious Disease, Agribusiness and the Nature of Science, tracks the ways influenza (bird and swine flus for example) and other pathogens are emerging within “an agriculture controlled by multinational corporations.” His blog, Farming Pathogens, explores the intersection of economics, food production, the environment and public health. In his words, the project is concerned with “disease in a world of our own making” and follows everything from “agriculture, infections, evolution, ecological resilience, dialectical biology, and the practice of science.” 

In his latest post, “Ten Theses on Farming and Disease,” Wallace hashes out why industrial agribusiness is “a scam” for farmers. He also makes the case that the epidemiological risks it poses could eventually kill a lot of people. The solution, he argues, is an end to the industrial food commodity paradigm, and the implementation of biodiverse, local, agroecological food systems. 

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Monday, Jun 5, 2017, 2:00 pm  ·  By Linley Dixon

The USDA’s Organic Seal Should Not (and Must Not) Apply to Hydroponics

In October 2016 in Thetford, Vt., farmers and advocates protest the potential inclusion of hydroponically-grown food among foods that can be labeled "organic" by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.   (Photo: Rebecca Sananes / Vermont Public Radio)

Growing up, I told a skeptical family member that I wanted to be an organic farmer. He replied, “Why make life difficult for yourself by choosing a career that goes against convention?”

The long answer to his question would have included everything from the benefits of farm biodiversity, nutrient cycling, environmental stewardship, animal welfare, reduction of farmworker and consumer chemical exposure, production of healthier food, and, in short, a desire to leave a piece of land better than I found it. Instead, I simply replied, “Because it’s the right thing to do.”

Last November esteemed Vermont organic greenhouse grower Dave Chapman testified before the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) that, if profits were his sole motivation as an organic farmer, he would become a hydroponic grower. 

Rather than putting so much effort into caring for the soil by building organic matter and fertility, he would see an immediate boost in yield and profits with a hydroponic container system. Chapman testified, “Do you have any idea how profitable hydroponics would be for me if I called it ‘organic'? Why wouldn’t I do that? Because I believe it would be fraud. Organic must be based in the soil.”

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Friday, Jun 2, 2017, 6:00 am  ·  By Lauren Kaori Gurley

“I’m as Poor as Shit”: A Look at Downward Mobility in Lancaster, Ohio

The city of Lancaster in Fairfield County, Ohio—population 38,270—as viewed from Mount Pleasant.   (Image: Wikipedia)

Newlyweds Jason Roach and Jessica Cantrell are driving on Interstate 33 towards their home in Lancaster, Ohio when they notice a police car flashing its lights behind them. Their three young children sit in the backseat, and a five-ounce ball of heroin that the couple picked up in Columbus lies in a diaper bag in plain sight. Jason, 37, has two felonies on his record for credit card theft and assault, and Jessica, 25, has served time for dealing heroin. After their arrests, sitting in the back of the police car, Jason begins to cry as he pleads with the police officer, “I’m tryin’ to take care of my family, man! I’m fuckin’ strugglin’ in life just like everybody else, man!” The police officer does not offer his condolences to Jason. Later, in a Lancaster court, a judge will reprimand Jason: “You are part of a much larger problem, and it’s disgusting.”

Disgust and shame have come to define the attitudes of Lancaster’s citizens towards rising drug addiction and poverty in their once prosperous town on the western foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. But Brian Alexander in his new book Glass House: The 1% Economy and the Shattering of the All-American Town makes the case that Lancaster’s decline is not the result of individual “bad” decisions, like not using birth control, dropping out of high school and getting addicted to opioids. Instead, it’s the consequence of deregulatory economics on Wall Street that eviscerated working-class communities in small towns across the United States. 

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Wednesday, May 31, 2017, 4:00 am  ·  By John Ikerd

Our Chemical-Dependent, Profit-Driven, Industrial Ag Complex is Not Going Quietly

An advertisement extolling the many benefits of dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), an insecticide later banned worldwide under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. The ad was featured in the June 30, 1947 issue of Time magazine.   (Image: Conservation Coalition of Oklahoma)

In an attempt to stem the tide of growing public concern, the industrial agricultural establishment has mounted a nationwide propaganda campaign designed to, in their words, “increase confidence and trust in today’s agriculture.” The board members of one front group, the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, include the American Farm Bureau Federation, John Deere as well as major agricultural commodity organizations. Board members Monsanto and DuPont have each pledged $500,000 per year to the campaign.

A recent study by Friends of the Earth, an international network of environmental organizations, documents similar “front groups” that have been spending more than $25 million per year to polish the tarnished public image of industrial agriculture. This doesn’t include the campaigns of individual industrial agricultural apologists that are carried out through public schools, 4-H and Future Farmers of America, local civic clubs, and state and local mass media. That said, the agricultural establishment seems to consider their PR campaign as little more than a “holding action” against growing public concerns. They are using their political power to establish legislative protections that would prevent effective regulation. 

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Friday, May 26, 2017, 4:00 pm  ·  By Jim Hightower

News Flash: Wage Workers and Immigrants Didn’t Create Our “Corporate Kleptocracy”

A nearly 100-year-old political cartoon published in Good Morning magazine in 1919.   (Image: Art Young / The Hooded Utilitarian)

The wailing in our country about the "invasion of immigrants" has been long and loud. As one complainant put it, "Few of their children in the country learn English... The signs in our streets have inscriptions in both languages... Unless the stream of the importation could be turned they will soon so outnumber us that all the advantages we have will not be able to preserve our language, and even our government will become precarious."

That's not some diatribe from the alt-right. It's the anxious cry of none other than Ben Franklin, deploring the wave of Germans pouring into the colony of Pennsylvania in the 1750s. Thus, anti-immigrant eruptions are older than the United States itself, and they've flared up periodically throughout our history, targeting the Irish, French, Italians and Chinese among others. Even Donald Trump's project to wall off our border is not a new bit of nuttiness—around the time of the nation's founding, John Jay, who later became the first chief justice of the Supreme Court, proposed "a wall of brass around the country for the exclusion of Catholics."

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