Rural America

Saturday, Mar 21, 2020, 11:50 am  ·  By Nick Shoulders

Fake Twang: How White Conservatism Stole Country Music

Country singer Toby Keith performs on Jan. 19, 2017 in Washington, D.C. during the Make America Great Again Welcome Celebration before Donald Trump's inauguration. The commodification of country music has whitewashed the music's diverse and complicated history, argues Nick Shoulders, and the consequences of this whitewashing can still be heard in the radio country of today.   Photo by Noam Galai / WireImage

If country music is really music from “the country”―as in rural spaces anywhere between Portland, Oregon and Portland, Maine―why does nearly every country performer, living or dead, sing with a southern accent, regardless of where they came from? 

Since we’re having a “yeehaw moment” as a nation, thanks to the new Ken Burns documentary “Country Music,” let’s dig into this question―because the answer might change how we think about country music, where it comes from, and who, so to speak, owns it.

The southern accent itself has, puzzlingly, taken on a second life as the voice of universal rurality. Why? Rurality clung on longer in the South than other places because of poverty―a poverty that was the result of the evils of slavery, the destruction of total war, and an ensuing era of brutal white supremacy and economic strife. The destitution of the former Confederacy served to preserve the use of instruments and melodies that were common in every corner of this country, until the tide of industrialization swept over these older music forms almost everywhere else, inadvertently isolating and enshrining the haunting songs of yesteryear in old Dixie. 


Tuesday, Mar 17, 2020, 7:28 pm  ·  By April Simpson

After Years of Disinvestment, Rural Health Care Systems May Be Ill-Equipped to Cope with an Outbreak

On March 14, a hospital employee stands in front of a sealed space for nursing staff to don necessary equipment for testing at Dayton General Hospital. Dayton, a small town in rural southeast Washington with an aging population, recorded its first positive test for Coronavirus and is waiting on results of more tests.   Photo by Nick Otto / Getty Images

Editor's Note: This article was orignally published by Stateline, an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts. Read the original article here.

If you’re exhibiting coronavirus symptoms and meet the criteria, you should get tested.

But if you live in rural Presidio County, on the western end of the Texas-Mexico border, be prepared to travel. County residents who are severely ill are being told to go to Big Bend Regional Center in Alpine, Texas, which is nearly 90 miles away from the city of Presidio. The hospital will stabilize those patients before sending them nearly 200 miles to El Paso, according to a hospital spokeswoman.

Patients in the region seeking test results should be prepared to wait. The 25-bed hospital in Alpine takes samples and sends them to the nearest testing site, also in El Paso. Those tests are reported in a day or two. Three local clinics also have a handful of coronavirus tests, but those are taken by a courier to El Paso on weekdays, and then flown across the state to a lab in Dallas. The turnaround time is three to four days, said Dr. Adrian Billings, with Preventative Care Health Services in Alpine.


Saturday, Mar 14, 2020, 6:40 am  ·  By Kirsten Carlson

The Census Badly Undercounts Native Americans. In 2020, Tribal Leaders Hope to Change That

People dance at the "Come to Your Census" Pow-wow at the Minneapolis American Indian Center, where Native Americans from all over the area gathered to promote participation in the 2000 census.   (Photo by Duane Braley/Star Tribune via Getty Images)

Native Americans living on reservations and in traditional villages were the most undercounted people in the 2010 U.S. Census. This year, tribal leaders throughout the U.S. are urging American Indians and Alaska Natives to be seen and counted in the 2020 U.S. Census.

The Census, mandated by the Constitution, counts all people living in the United States every 10 years. The resulting data is used by federal and state governments to determine political representation and allocate funds for education, social services and other programs. An undercount translates into less money, less political representation and access to fewer resources.

The Census Bureau estimates that it undercounted American Indians living on reservations and Alaska Natives in villages by approximately 4.9% in 2010. This was more than twice the undercount rate of the next closest population group, African Americans, who had an undercount rate of 2.1%. This undercount was a significant improvement over previous Censuses. In 1990, the Census overlooked more than 12% of American Indians and Alaska Natives living on their traditional lands.


Tuesday, Mar 3, 2020, 6:13 am  ·  By Markie Miller

As I Write This, You Are Dying: A Letter to Lake Erie

This true-color photo shows a harmful algal bloom in Lake Erie harmful in August 2017.   Photo by Zachary Haslick, Aerial Associates Photography / NOAA

Editor’s Note: On Feb. 27, a federal judge overturned the "Lake Erie Bill of Rights," a law passed by voters in Toledo, Ohio last year in response to pollution, which caused an algae bloom in 2014 that poisoned the city's drinking water. Markie Miller, an organzier with Toledoans for Safe Water, which advocates for Lake Erie's rights, wrote the following letter the night before a court hearing on the law.

Dear Lake Erie,

As I write this, you are dying.

I am searching for the right words – of comfort, inspiration, even acceptance – because all you ever seem to receive is an “I’m sorry.” An apology, no matter how sincere, feels hollow and cold. It will not bring you redemption or peace.

You have sustained me for 30 years through your constant and selfless presence. Yet it was not until you were sick that I fully understood the quality of life you were capable of providing.


Monday, Mar 2, 2020, 1:49 am  ·  By Christopher Walljasper

New Trump Budget Proposes Big Cuts to Crop Insurance and Emergency Aid to Farmers

Unharvested corn rots in a field near Monmouth, Illinois in November 2019.   Photo by Christopher Walljasper/Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting

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

Crop insurance and other farm support programs are set to receive big cuts in President Trump’s proposed 2021 budget.

The President's proposed 2021 budget, released on Feb. 10, slashes spending on crop insurance, commodity purchases and emergency aid to farmers facing natural disasters―three sources that contributed to nearly a third of farm income in 2019.

“Donald Trump has repeatedly expressed his appreciation for and dedication to American farmers,"  said Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union in a statement. "Yet year after year, his budget has failed to address the very real economic challenges facing rural communities. There are a number of programs and agencies that can help farmers and rural residents with these difficulties―including the Conservation Stewardship Program, the Agricultural Research Service, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program―but the Trump administration is looking to cut funding from all of them.”


Saturday, Feb 29, 2020, 4:50 am  ·  By Liz Kimbrough

Insect Apocalypse: Count Finds Critically Low Number of Monarch Butterflies for Second Straight Year

Monarchs Cluster on Monterey Pine in California.   Photo courtesy of Carly Voight / Xerces Society

Editor's Note: This article was originally published by Mongabay news and is republished here under a creative commons license.

Monarch butterfly populations are at a critical low, according to the annual Western Monarch Count in California.

In the fall and winter, western monarchs (Danaus plexippus plexippus) stop to roost along the Pacific coast in California. Here, under the direction of the Xerces Society, nearly 200 trained volunteers find and count monarchs for the annual Western Thanksgiving and New Year’s counts, now in its 23rd year.

And for the second year in a row, the counts have generated troubling numbers. Fewer than 30,000 individuals were found — the number, researchers say, may be the tipping point for the population.


Thursday, Feb 20, 2020, 12:04 pm  ·  By Joel Berger and Jon Beckmann

America’s Grasslands Once Teemed with Animals. We Must Save What’s Left of Their Vanishing Habitat

Bighorn sheep graze on grassland in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.   Photo by Joel Berger, CC BY-ND

In the grip of winter, the North American prairies can look deceptively barren. But many wild animals have evolved through harsh winters on these open grasslands, foraging in the snow and sheltering in dens from cold temperatures and biting winds.

Today most of our nation’s prairies are covered with the amber waves of grain that Katharine Lee Bates lauded in “America the Beautiful,” written in 1895. But scientists know surprisingly little about today’s remnant biodiversity in the grasslands – especially the status of what we call “big small mammals,” such as badgers, foxes, jackrabbits and porcupines.

Land conservation in the heartland has been underwhelming. According to most estimates, less than 4% of the tallgrass prairie ecosystem that once covered some 170 million acres of North America is left. And when native grasslands are altered, populations of endemic species like prairie dogs shrink dramatically.

Together, we have more than 60 years of experience using field-based, hypothesis-driven science to conserve wildlife in grassland systems in North America and across the globe. We have studied and protected species ranging from pronghorn and bison in North America to saiga and wild yak in Central Asia. If scientists can identify what has been lost and retained here in the U.S., farmers, ranchers and communities can make more informed choices about managing their lands and the species that depend upon them.


Wednesday, Feb 19, 2020, 9:47 am  ·  By Claire Hettinger and Pam Dempsey

Rural Farmers Face High Suicide Rates and Decreasing Access to Mental Health Care

Carle Foundation Hospital employees showcase virtual technology, which are being used to fill some of the mental health care gaps in rural areas.   Photo courtesy of Carle Foundation Hospital

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

With farmers facing increasing stress and depression, Midwestern states and national farm groups are making more efforts to better provide services to alleviate the high rate of suicide among the agriculture industry. 

Yet in rural areas, this care is more of a challenge.


Saturday, Feb 15, 2020, 4:37 am  ·  By Johnathan Hettinger

Dicamba on Trial: Jury Sides with Farmer in Lawsuit Against Monsanto

Bill Bader, owner of Bader Farms, and his wife Denise pose in front of the Rush Hudson Limbaugh Sr. United States Courthouse in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, on Jan. 27, 2020.   Photo by Johnathan Hettinger/Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting

Editor's Note: This article was updated at 2:15 p.m. CST on Saturday, Feb. 15 after a federal jury ruled that Bayer and BASF would have to pay $250 million in punitive damages to Bader Farms, in addition to the $15 million they were ordered on Friday to pay in actual damages. Read the earlier version here. This story was originally published on the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, which has been convering the case. Read all the Midwest Center's reporting on the trial here.
CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. - A federal jury determined that German agribusiness giants Bayer and BASF will have to pay $250 million in punitive damages to Bader Farms, the largest peach farm in Missouri, for damage caused by their dicamba-related products.

The verdict comes at the end of a three-week trial of a case where Bader Farms alleges it is going out of business because of damage incurred by the companies' dicamba herbicides moving off of neighboring fields and harming their 1,000 acres of peach orchards. 

On Friday, the jury ruled that both Monsanto, which was acquired by Bayer in 2018, and BASF acted negligently and Bader Farms should receive $15 million in actual damages for future losses incurred because of the loss of their orchard.

Bader Farms will receive a total of $265 million. BASF and Bayer will have to sort out what portion of the damages each company pays. 


Tuesday, Feb 11, 2020, 8:00 am  ·  By Stacey Schmader

Does Lake Erie Deserve Legal Rights? A Federal Court Hears Arguments

This photo shows a toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie in September 2017. Such algae blooms are caused when excessive amounts of phosphorus are added to the water, often as runoff from fertilizer, according to a NASA study. The Lake Erie Bill of Rights is designed to protect the lake from such pollution.   Photo Credit: Aerial Associates Photography, Inc. by Zachary Haslick/NOAA

Last week, the Lake Erie Bill of Rights (LEBOR) was debated in federal court, where arguments were presented defending the right of Lake Erie to exist, flourish, and evolve, and residents’ right to clean water. The groundbreaking law was adopted by popular vote in Toledo one year ago, and immediately challenged by a purported agribusiness corporation.

The City of Toledo’s robust defense of LEBOR included arguments that no agriculture corporation has a constitutional right to pollute, and that the actions of Toledo residents are an emergency response to a heating planet.

"Industrial dumping and with some of the environmental issues and pollution caused by large scale agriculture," the city argued, "in combination with climate change, has put the citizens on notice that they feel that they are in an emergency situation as it relates to water quality and the need to protect their water, which is certainly a compelling and significant interest.”