Rural America

Friday, Jan 17, 2020, 10:52 am  ·  By Anthony Flaccavento

Our Food System Hurts Farmers, Consumers and the Earth. We Can Build a Movement to Change It

Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) speaks at a news conference with farmers and ranchers supporting the Green New Deal and farm policy reform in Washington, D.C. The local foods movement has made half a revolution, but for the other half we need a million-person food movement and a Green New Deal, argues Anthony Flaccavento.   Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Americans cherish the “family farm.” Most are also happy to be able to buy local foods at farmers markets, grocers or their favorite restaurants.

In the marketplace, consumers are sending the message that they want more sustainable and organic food, sales of which exceeded $50 billion last year. And the vast majority of people in our nation believe that climate change is real, and that urgent action needs to be taken.

While there is some variability depending upon one’s political affiliation, Democrats and Republicans alike hold these views. If this is what we collectively believe, across party, then surely our politics and public policies support these priorities, right?

Well, not so much.


Tuesday, Jan 14, 2020, 2:44 pm  ·  By Anthony Flaccavento

The Local Foods Movements Has Made Half a Revolution. For the Other Half, We Need a Green New Deal

People shop for food at a farmers market in Jackson, Miss. According to a 2016 USDA study, more than 167,000 farmers in the U.S. sell at least part of their farm products through local and regional channels.   Photo by Natalie Maynor

I’m one of those “farmers and ranchers for a Green New Deal,” and like a lot of them, my involvement started with soil.

I began market gardening in 1994, five years before my wife and I purchased the old tobacco farm where we’ve been doing organic farming ever since. Back in the mid-90’s in southwest Virginia, there was barely a hint of a “local food system,” save the occasional bartering of excess produce or the purchase of a quarter cow for freezer meat.

In that context, I started a tiny CSA—Community Supported Agriculture—with a dozen families, supplying them from my market garden. I reckon it was one of the first CSAs in central Appalachia.

Within four years, there were nearly 100 participating families and six other farmers contributing produce, eggs, honey and other staples, organized in a growers’ network we called Highlands Bio-Produce. 


Tuesday, Jan 7, 2020, 6:05 am  ·  By John S. Adams

Montana Senators Sponsor Bill to Return National Bison Range to Local Tribes

Bison graze on the National Bison Range, located in the middle of the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana.   Photo by Dave Fitzpatrick / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by Montana Free Press on Dec. 10 and is republished here under a Creative Commons license. The bill reported on here was officially introduced on Dec. 11 in the Senate Indian Affairs Committee and was co-sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.).

A bill that would settle a longstanding water rights dispute between the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and the Montana state government and the  federal government would also return control of the National Bison Range to the tribes. 

While the exact language of the bill has not yet been made public, a draft obtained by Montana Free Press includes a section that reverses a 111-year-old act of Congress that took the lands comprising the Bison Range from the tribes. The Bison Range is entirely within the borders of the Flathead Indian Reservation. 


Saturday, Jan 4, 2020, 12:24 pm  ·  By Martha Rosenberg

Another Disease Outbreak Threatens U.S. Pigs, But Big Ag Would Rather Talk About Bacon Prices

African swine fever (ASF), caused by the African swine fever virus (ASFV), has killed one-fourth of the world’s pigs this year.   Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Editor’s Note: This is a lightly edited version of an article that was originally published on the blog of the Organic Consumers Association. You can read the original article here.

There’s a lot the industrial factory farm industry prefers to keep consumers in the dark about, including what happens when millions of confined, stressed out animals with weakened immune systems are exposed to disease.

What’s the latest food animal pandemic Big Meat has been trying to keep out of the news? African swine fever (ASF), caused by the African swine fever virus (ASFV), a disease that just this year has killed one-fourth of the world’s pigs, including half of all China’s factory farm pigs.

So far, mainstream media’s coverage of ASF has focused almost exclusively on economic issues, including the disease’s potential impact on global trade. Questions about the pandemic disease potentials of intensive animal agriculture are skirted.


Thursday, Jan 2, 2020, 10:28 am  ·  By Robert Parker and Rebecca Lewis

Rising Rents, Loss of Farm Land, Destruction of Habitat and Other Costs of the Single-Family House

Single-family houses on former farmland west of Des Moines, Iowa.   Photo by Lynn Betts / USDA via Wikimedia Commons

For decades land use regulation across the U.S. has emphasized single-family houses on large lots. This approach has priced many people out of the quintessential American dream: homeownership. It also has promoted suburban sprawl―a pattern of low-density, car-dependent development that has dominated growth at the edges of urban areas since the end of World War II.

Now, however, Americans may be starting to question the desirability of a private house. In the past year, the Minneapolis City Council and the state of Oregon have voted to allow duplexes and other types of multi-unit housing in neighborhoods where currently only single-family homes currently are allowed. Democratic lawmakers in Virginia, who recently won control of their state’s legislature, are seeking to enact similar legislation. And several Democratic presidential candidates have included changes to zoning laws in their housing policies.

Headlines have predicted a housing revolution. But based on our research, we believe that while attitudes about suburban life may be evolving, the transition away from single-family zoning will be slow and difficult.


Friday, Dec 27, 2019, 2:22 pm  ·  By Liberty Vittert

The Deforestation of the Amazon Was Named the ‘Statistic of the Decade’

This 2014 photo shows four stages in deforestation on a cattle farm in the Brazilian Amazon: In the foreground, naked clear land where the forest has recently been burned and grass will be grown; on the right, a pasture waiting for the cattle; in the background, the forest being burned to make pasture; and, on the left, native forest, which will soon enough meet the same fate.   (Photo by Ricardo Funari/Brazil Photos/LightRocket via Getty Images)

This year, I was on the judging panel for the Royal Statistical Society’s International Statistic of the Decade.

Much like Oxford English Dictionary’s “Word of the Year” competition, the international statistic is meant to capture the zeitgeist of this decade. The judging panel accepted nominations from the statistical community and the public at large for a statistic that shines a light on the decade’s most pressing issues.

On Dec. 23, we announced the winner: the 8.4 million soccer fields of land deforested in the Amazon over the past decade. That’s 24,000 square miles, or about 10.3 million American football fields.


Monday, Dec 23, 2019, 9:14 am  ·  By Gabriel Furshong

The Little Shell Tribe of Montana Just Got Federal Recognition. Why Did It Take So Long?

On Friday, after more than 100 years of struggle, the Little Shell Band of Chippewa became the 574th American Indian Tribe to be officially recognized by the United States government.  

Five generations of Little Shell people lived and died as members of an American Indian tribe that, according to the federal government, didn’t exist. 

Gerald Gray, 52, represents the sixth generation to carry on the fight. Last week, the current chairman of the tribal council was at his office in Billings, Montana when Congress finally approved the Little Shell of Chippewa Indians Tribal Restoration Act, a bill granting federal recognition to the Montana tribe of more than 5,000 people. Gray’s mind was with those who came before him.

“Every morning I smudge and say my morning prayers to my relations because I think they still guide the Little Shell people, ” he said“I think of my grandfather Ernest Gray who was sent to boarding school as a little boy to remove the Indian from the Indian. They wanted to teach him the white man's ways.”

Now, after more than a century of struggle that began with a controversial treaty agreement in 1892, current and future generations of Little Shell people will be recognized as citizens of a sovereign indigenous nation, the 574th tribe to be recognized by the United States. The tribe will be permitted to exercise limited self-governance through its tribal council. Enrolled citizens will also be able to access federal funding for healthcare, education, and economic development which the U.S. is legally obligated to provide as compensation for appropriating their ancestral land and resources. 


Friday, Dec 20, 2019, 3:28 pm  ·  By Pat Thomas

Coffee, Avocados, Chocolate and Other Foods Climate Change Could Take Off The Menu

This photo shows a farm north of Dalhart, Texas in 1938 during the Dust Bowl―one of the most devastating environmental disasters in the history of American agriculture. Now, climate change threatens even more dramatic effects on world agriculture and, as a consequence, our diets.   Photo by Dorothea Lange, courtesy of the Library of Congress

What will we eat in the future?

What was once a rhetorical musing has now become the critical question of our time as scientists grapple with tricky questions about life—and larders—in a climate-changing world.

Agriculture is both a key contributor to climate change and one of the sectors most vulnerable to those changes. That fact alone should send an urgent message that the way we farm has to change. Instead, we see a stubborn cadre of policymakers, tech companies and big agribusinesses that believe business as usual can be maintained with only a few tweaks to the system.

The science, however, tells a different story.


Monday, Dec 16, 2019, 11:45 am  ·  By Jared Orsi

This Oasis Shows the Diverse History of the Mexico Borderlands. Trump’s Wall Threatens to Destroy It

The waters of Quitobaquito in southern Arizona have attracted diverse visitors for thousands of years. Construction of Trump's border wall threatens the area.   Photo by Jared Orsi

A few hundred yards from the Mexican border in southern Arizona lies a quiet pond, about the size of two football fields, called Quitobaquito. About 10 miles to the east, heavy machinery grinds up the earth and removes vegetation as construction of President Trump’s vaunted border wall advances toward the oasis.

I’m a historian and have studied Quitobaquito for six years. When I first started writing about this area, it was remote and little known, even though the land is part of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. But for the last few months, the park has headlined national news.

This spot is an occasional crossing point for transborder migrants, and some of the wall’s first stretches will traverse the national monument within steps of Quitobaquito. Many observers fear that the thirty-foot wall with nighttime floodlighting will harm wildlifelower the water table and destroy archaeological treasures. Crowds are visiting the site to protest the concrete and steel barrier.


Friday, Dec 13, 2019, 11:20 am  ·  By Johnathan Hettinger

Report: Illinois EPA Staff Has Been Cut in Half and That Risks Public Health

This graphic shows the annual staff headcount of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency from 2003 to 2018. During that period, the number of employees at the agency declined by nearly 50%.   Screenshot from "Protecting the Illinois EPA’s Health, so that It Can Protect Ours" report

Editor's Note: This story was originally published on the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.

The state's lack of investment in the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency is putting citizens at increased risk of public health issues, according to a report released by a group of experts on Nov. 26.

The report, entitled “Protecting the Illinois EPA’s Health, so that It Can Protect Ours,” found that staffing at the agency has been cut in half since 2003 and, as a result, inspections of polluting facilities, monitoring of water quality and enforcement of environmental violations have decreased. The report was published by the Abrams Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Chicago, with input from former IEPA leaders.

The report highlighted the issues with the agency in order to call for a renewed investment to restore the agency back to where it was 15 years ago. In 2003, the IEPA had 1,265 employees. In 2018, the agency had 639.

The decline has been consistent and gradual, the report showed.