Friday, September 25, 2015

Communities selected for federal project to reduce rural poverty, increase economic opportunities

Ten rural and tribal communities have been selected to participate in the Rural Integration Models for Parents and Children to Thrive (RURAL Impact) project, a collaboration between the U.S. Health & Human Services Department and the U.S. Department of Agriculture "to help communities adopt a two-generation approach to addressing the needs of both vulnerable children and their parents, with the goal of increasing parents’ employment and education and improving the health and well-being of their children and families," the White House announced today.

"The Rural IMPACT Demonstration will help communities adopt a comprehensive, whole-family framework for addressing child poverty, such as through facilitating physical colocation of services, universal 'no wrong door' intake, referral networks, shared measurement systems and use of technology to deliver services," states a White House release.

"The sad reality is that one of every four rural children lives in poverty," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a conference call. He said the goal of the project is to improve a basic understanding of the available federal programs for assistance and health and to make sure they are provided in a coordinated fashion to pave the way for health and economic opportunities in rural areas.

The 10 communities have child poverty rates ranging from 17.8 percent to 53.9 percent, Vilsack said. The communities are:
  • Berea, (Ky.), Partners for Education at Berea College (Knox County, Kentucky)
  • Blanding, (Utah), The San Juan Foundation (San Juan County, Utah)
  • Blytheville, (Ark.), Mississippi County, Arkansas Economic Opportunity Commission, Inc. (Mississippi County, Arkansas)
  • Hillsboro, (Ohio), Highland County Community Action Organization, Inc. (Highland County, Ohio)
  • Hugo, (Oklahoma), Little Dixie Community Action Agency, Inc. (Choctaw, McCurtain and Pushmataha counties)
  • Jackson, (Miss.), Friends of Children of Mississippi, Inc. (Issaquena, Sharkey and Humphreys counties)
  • Machias, (Maine), Community Caring Collaborative (Washington County, Maine) Marshalltown (Iowa), Mid‐Iowa Community Action, Inc. (Marshalltown, Iowa)
  • Oakland, (Md.), Garrett County Community Action Committee and the Allegany Human Resources Commission (Garrett and Allegany Counties)
  • White Earth, (Minn.), White Earth Reservation Tribal Council (Mahnomen County and portions of Clearwater and Becker counties) 
Communities will receive:
  •  A six-month planning period with targeted technical assistance (TA) to help communities link programs and services
  • At least six months of additional TA to begin the implementation period, during which sites will work to address system, policy and program changes targeting alleviation of child poverty
  • Partnership with CNCS to develop projects to place AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers, helping local partners develop new or enhance existing antipoverty programming, map community assets, and build local community capacity
  • Participation in a peer learning network to facilitate the sharing of best practices among sites facing similar opportunities and challenges
  • Support from a federal inter-agency team to identify and address barriers to cross-programmatic work.

Weeds resistant to Roundup are beginning to spread from Midwest to other states

Weeds in key farming states—Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Illinois—are showing a strong resistance to glyphosate, brand name Roundup, which "is a worrisome sign as weed resistance spreads from the southern U.S. into the Midwest and Plains farming states," Carey Gillam reports for Reuters. "As the key ingredient in Monsanto Co's Roundup herbicide products as well as about 700 other products, glyphosate is widely used on farms as well as residential lawns."

Dallas Peterson, a weed scientist at Kansas State University and president of the Weed Science Society of America, "said Kansas soybean farmers in particular are experiencing weed problems, particularly with a type known as Palmer amaranth," Gillam writes. "Wet weather along with the weed resistance contributed to the problem, he said."

"Weeds can choke off nutrients to crops hurting production and raise costs for farmers who often use added chemicals or other means to combat the troublesome weeds," Gillam writes. The House agriculture committee has scheduled a Dec. 4 briefing to discuss the problem.

"The U.S. Department of Agriculture said that reliance on glyphosate by many farmers is the primary factor for the problem," Gillam writes. "Fourteen glyphosate-resistance weed species have so far been documented in U.S. crop production areas, according to USDA." Monsanto and DowAgroSciences, a unit of Dow Chemical, have said they are introducing new herbicides to the market, but Peterson warned that KSU tests "showed that these combinations still had trouble controlling Palmer amaranth weeds." (Read more)

Theme of National Newspaper Week, to be observed Oct. 4-10, is 'Power of the Press'

The newspaper-association managers who organize and promote National Newspaper Week are emphasizing the industry's traditional medium in the 75th annual observance, set for Oct. 4-10. The theme is "Power of the Press," illustrated by images of newspaper presses that have become less common as the industry consolidates, limits expenses and increases its emphasis on digital media. The week's main logo shows a newspaper in print, on a smartphone and on a tablet, against a press backdrop.

"This observance underscores the impact of newspapers to communities large and small," the week's website says, urging editors and publishers to "editorialize locally about how your newspaper is relevant to your community. This can be about your government watchdog role, coverage of community events, providing timely public notices, etc."

The NNW website includes columns, cartoons, a crossword puzzle and state-specific ads. This year's chair is Layne Bruce, executive director of the Mississippi Press Association. The 2015 chair of the Newspaper Association Managers group is Lisa Hills of the Minnesota Newspaper Association.

Utah's $1.2B annual ski industry asks Republican governor to comply with Clean Power Plan

Concerned that climate change could hurt Utah's $1.2 billion annual ski industry—which employs more than 18,000 seasonal workers—14 alpine ski resorts have formed a partnership with advocacy group Protect Our Winters to urge Republican Gov. Gary Herbert "to commit the state to develop a strategy to comply with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan," Mike Gorrell reports for The Salt Lake Tribune.

Ski Utah president and CEO Nathan Rafferty wrote in a letter to Herbert, "On the heels of a hot and dry winter in Utah we're all increasingly alarmed by the local economic impacts of climate change . . . We are concerned by the disruptive impact of increasingly extreme weather events, like the Texs floods of last month. Utah's recreation industry is not immune to these types of events. Warming at this level means economic ruin for the skiing industry." (Utah State University map)

Pumpkin mystery solved: County-level map shows where pumpkins are produced

Fall means pumpkins are beginning to pop up at grocery stores, farmer's markets, pumpkin patches and the front porches of houses. Pumpkins are a fairly common sight in fall, especially when Halloween rolls around. But where do pumpkins come from? They don't come from the South and some portions of the Southwest and Midwest, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Census, Christopher Ingraham reports for The Washington Post.

"Pumpkins are grown commercially in just about every county in the Northeastern states," Ingraham writes. "There are plenty of pumpkins grown along the west coast and throughout the mountain west as well. But interestingly, there's an arc of relatively pumpkin-free counties running from eastern Montana all the way down through the middle of the country and across to Florida."

Five of the top six pumpkin-producing counties are in Illinois, led by Tazewell County, which has 4,669 acres of pumpkins, Ingraham writes. Next is San Joaquin County, California, 3,441 acres; Mason County, Illinois, 2,627 acres; Wayne County, Illinois, 1,547 acres; Peoria County, Illinois, 1,323 acres; Stark County, Illinois, 1,068 acres; Yoakum County, Texas, 1,014 acres; Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, 1,004 acres; Carroll County, Virginia, 703 acres; and Suffolk County, New York, 641 acres. (Post map)

Federal judge allows 'Paradise' protest song lyrics to remain in lawsuit against Peabody Energy

A federal judge in Wyoming has ruled that a lawsuit filed by environmental activists against Peabody Energy can include lyrics to John Prine’s 1971 protest song, “Paradise,” Andrew Wolfson reports for The Courier-Journal in Louisville. Defendants Thomas Asprey and Leslie Glustrom of Boulder, Colo., who claim in the lawsuit that the company violated their civil rights by having them arrested outside a 2013 shareholders meeting, quoted two verses from Paradise in their complaint. Prine wrote the song about Paradise, Ky., a Western Kentucky town that was once home to his parents and has been replaced by a Tennessee Valley Authority power plant. (MapQuest image: Paradise, Ky., can still be found on some maps despite not existing since 1967)

"Peabody, the nation’s largest coal company, said that quoting the lyrics in the suit was inflammatory and prejudicial, and its lawyers demanded that they be removed," Wolfson writes. "But U.S. Magistrate Judge Kelly Rankin said in a ruling last week that the song was arguably relevant to the suit and not so 'disconnected, inflammatory or prejudicial as to merit removal.' He questioned how the lyrics could hurt Peabody, given they were written 44 years ago, and said that nothing in them 'degraded Peabody’s moral character, contained repulsive language or disrespected the dignity of the court.'" Asprey and Glustrom argued that the lyrics were important to show Peabody's history.

The song says, in part:
When I was a child my family would travel
Down to Western Kentucky where my parents were born;
And there's a backwards old town that's often remembered
So many times that my memories are worn.

[Chorus:] And daddy won't you take me back to Muhlenberg County
Down by the Green River where Paradise lay?
Well, I'm sorry my son, but you're too late in asking;
Mister Peabody's coal train has hauled it away.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Lack of competition among Internet providers leading to high prices, government report says

Expensive broadband service, brought on by too few providers, is the reason why more than 25 percent of Americans—many of them low-income or in rural areas—are unable to afford the Internet, says a report by the Broadband Opportunity Council, a group formed by President Obama earlier this year, Allan Holmes reports for The Center for Public Integrity.

The report says "the high-speed Internet market in the U.S. is dominated by Comcast Corp., AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications Inc., Time Warner Cable Corp. and a handful of others," Holmes writes. The report states: “Lowering barriers to deployment and fostering market competition can drive down price, increase speeds and improve service and adoption rates across all markets.”

Holmes writes, "In numerous investigations, the Center for Public Integrity found that U.S. broadband prices are higher than those in countries similar to the United States and that price, not a perception of relevance, influences the decision to buy an Internet subscription. And the reason for the high prices is the lack of competition. The federal government, however, doesn’t have a lot of levers to pull to increase competition." (Internet Providers by Zip Code map)

Government shutdown could cost national parks $42 million per day in visitor spending

A government shutdown could lead to 770,000 visitors getting turned away from national parks every day, costing national parks $42 million per day in visitor spending, Clark Bunting, president of the National Parks Conservation Association wrote in a letter to Congress, which will shut down if a fiscal year budget is not approved on Wednesday. (Associated Press photo by Brian Skoloff: 2013 government shutdown)

The 2013 shutdown, from Oct. 1-16, forced parks to turn away "almost eight million visitors, costing local communities nearly a half billion dollars in lost revenue," Bunting wrote. "Rather than threatening another damaging shutdown, Congress should be preparing for the influx of visitors expected during the national parks’ 2016 centennial year by pursuing a deal that can allow for needed restoration of funding for national parks. We urge swift passage of a bipartisan continuing resolution clean of environmentally damaging policy riders, followed by a committed bipartisan effort to enact a budget deal that replaces the sequester and allows for the needed restoration of funding for the National Park Service in Fiscal Year 2016.” (Read more)

Iowa farmland prices down 11.3% in past year, national land values up 2.4%, says reports

Iowa farmland prices were down 11.3 percent to $7,095 per acre on Sept. 1, compared to the same time last year, Christopher Doering reports for The Des Moines Register. The Iowa Chapter of Realtors Land Institute said in a statement, “Factors contributing to current farmland values include: lower commodity prices, increasing interest rates. Other factors include: lack of stable alternative investments, cash on hand and limited amount of land on market.”

Doering writes, "It was the latest survey to show land prices dropping across Iowa and other parts of the Corn Belt. The biggest impact has come from low corn and soybean prices, which have left farmers and ranchers with less money to invest in equipment, land and other input costs. In August, the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago said Iowa posted year-over-year declines in land values for at least four consecutive quarters. From April 1 through July 1, Iowa’s land values were unchanged, but they have dropped 7 percent during the past year, the most of any state overseen by the Chicago Fed."

Overall, U.S. farm values increased by 2.4 percent from 2014 values, a considerably lower number than the past five years, says an August land values report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Chris Kick reports for Farm and Dairy. Ohio, Michigan, Missouri, Wisconsin and Indiana saw land values increase, while Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois saw decreases. "On a national level, farm real estate is averaging $3,020 per acre, compared to $2,950 per acre in 2014, $2,730 in 2013 and $2,300 in 2011." (Farm and Dairy graphic)

Oklahoma, where rise in earthquakes linked to oil and gas industry, losing its only state seismologist

Oklahoma, the heart of the hotly contested debate of the link between oil and gas wells and seismic activity and the controversy of whether or not officials withheld information on that front, could soon be without a state seismologist, Adam Wilmoth reports for The Oklahoman. "State seismologist Amberlee Darold has accepted another position and will step down next month. Her action comes less than three months after seismologist Austin Holland left for a position with the U.S. Geological Survey in New Mexico." (EcoWatch graphic: Oklahoma earthquakes linked to the oil and gas industry)

Oklahoma, which in 2014 led the lower 48 states in earthquakes with 585 of magnitude 3 or higher, surpassed that total in August.

"Chris Hartnady, a South African geologist, said in a study released in March that part of Oklahoma is in danger of a larger earthquake," Will Tracy reports for The O'Colly at Oklahoma State University. "The area of risk is positioned near Guthrie, Langston and Stillwater, according to the study. The distribution of recent epicenters reveals possible hidden faults, which may be oriented for re-activation, and earthquakes greater than magnitude 5 could shake the region on a weekly basis by the end of 2015, according to the study."

Rural Education Day program teaches Michigan youth about local food, agriculture

About 600 fourth-grade students from St. Clair County, Michigan, had an opportunity to experience rural life this week during Rural Education Day, a program through the Michigan Farm Bureau that teaches children about local agriculture, Bob Gross reports for The Times Herald in Port Huron. St. Clair County is one of 33 Michigan counties to have a Rural Education Day program. (Herald photo by Jeffrey Smith: A student pets a dairy cow during Rural Education Day)

While much of St. Clair County is rural in nature, farmer Stacey Lauwers "said there are many county residents who don’t know how their food is produced," Gross writes. She told him, “We need to know it actually starts with a farmer growing the food, that there are several steps that need to be taken before it ends up in the grocery store." Teacher Mark Whitney told Gross, “A lot of our population don’t have farms anymore. I would say six of these kids have farms, and it’s important that they know where their food comes from.”

Farmer Mark Naplin told Gross, "The American public is so removed from the farm. It’s nice to be able to educate them.” Teacher Liz Falk, told Gross, “A lot of them live outside the city, but they don’t live on farms, so this is new to them. It’s something they don’t get every day.” (Read more)

Eagles frontman Don Henley revisits rural east Texas roots as inspiration for new solo album

Don Henley, original member of the Eagles, has returned to his rural roots to find inspiration for his first solo album in 15 years, Anthony Mason reports for CBS News. The album, "Cass County," is named after the east Texas county where Henley grew up in the 1950s and 60s. (Wikipedia map: Cass County, Texas)

Henley told Mason, "After singing the Eagles material, some of which we've been singing for over 40 years now, I really need some other songs to sing. Even some of my solo stuff is three decades old now. So I want new songs to sing." Henley said he wanted to write the kind of songs he grew up listening to with his parents, an auto parts dealer and a teacher. He said he found those new songs through his childhood home, of which he says, "You can't really describe it. You have to bring them here. I just tell them, 'It's a magical place, and you've never seen anything like.'"

For Henley, "resuming his own successful solo career has meant returning to Cass County—where he started a foundation to preserve Caddo Lake—and to Linden," reports Mason. "Henley, who lives several hours away in Dallas with his wife and three children, has bought the land the old movie theatre used to stand on. He also owns the barber shop and several other buildings."

"He bought those buildings to help his hometown, but the farmland, Henley says, he bought for himself and his family," Mason reports. Henley told him, "This is gonna be my retirement place, I think. My big dream that I hope to accomplish in the next few years is to have a cornfield like my father had. That was my field of dreams when I was growing up. You could lie on your back and look up through the tassels at the sky. I don't think I've ever had a sense of well-being to equal that." (Read more) (YouTube video)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

County-level map shows recipients of $9 billion Phase II funding for rural high-speed Internet

The Daily Yonder has created a county-level map that details Phase II funding of the Connect America Fund to bring high-speed Internet to more rural areas. Phase II consists of $9 billion in funding in broadband subsidies to the largest telecommunications companies to provide broadband to 7.3 million hard-to-reach rural customers, Tim Marema reports for the Yonder.

The Federal Communications Commission "warns that there will be some variability in these potential service areas," Marema writes. "Borders could change based on how the broadband work proceeds over the six-year subsidy program. But as a rule, carriers that accepted this subsidy must provide broadband to these areas at a minimum speed of 10 megabytes for downloads and 1 megabyte for uploads. State-level goals are to complete 40 percent of the build-out by 2017, with additional 20 percent increases in service each year through 2020." (For an interactive version of the Yonder map, click here)

Large animal veterinarians are becoming a vanishing breed in underserved areas in the heartland

Large animal veterinarians are becoming scarce in the heartland, "as agribusiness changed the employment picture and people left the region," Ted Conover reports for Harper's Magazine. "Many vets simply close shop when they retire; private practice is too hard a way to make a living. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has become the nation’s largest single employer of vets, most of whom work in meat and poultry plants, where they oversee not animal husbandry but slaughter." (Iowa veterinarian Zach Vosburg talks with the owner of a cow during a pregnancy check)

"Today’s vet-school grads, about 80 percent of them women, head overwhelmingly to jobs in cities and suburbs, to work with pets," Conover writes. The main reason is that "fees aren’t tied to the market value of the animal; people spend more on critters that share their homes. With food animals, a farmer’s decision to summon the vet necessarily involves a calculation of profit and loss. In addition, the hours are better for an urban vet. A large-animal practitioner is usually on call twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week—and typical days involve a lot of highway driving."

Another problem is cost, Conover writes. When vet Zach Vosburg wanted to buy the north-central  Hampton Veterinary Center where he worked, he was facing student loan debts of almost $100,000. He gained some relief in 2013 after being awarded $75,000 from the USDA’s Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program, which "pays off $25,000 of debt each year for three years if a practitioner relocates or extends his practice to an underserved area. To meet these guidelines, Vosburg agreed to serve the residents of Butler County, just east of Franklin County, where his clinic is located."

The clinic is a mixed-animal practice, Conover writes. Vosburg told him, “Anything can walk through that door." Vosburg treats household pets year round, "but a surge of farm work begins in the fall, when cattle need vaccinating and preg checking, and continues through the spring, when cows calve, horses foal and goats kid."

Pilot program using technology to help medical professionals better serve rural patients

Harrington Family Health Center, which is located in rural Washington County, Maine, (Wikipedia map) and treats some of the state’s poorest and most at-risk populations for chronic health conditions, is part of a pilot program that uses technology to better serve patients, Whit Richardson reports for the Portland Press Herald.

Since July, nurses and physicians at the center have been using tablet computers with apps that "include searchable medical encyclopedias, a dosage calculator, a pill identifier and a symptom checker, which allows a nurse to input symptoms and immediately get a list of potential conditions," Richardson writes. "It also has an app that allows a health care provider to enter a patient’s medications and immediately get information on how those drugs interact and potentially dangerous combinations."

Lee Humphrey, CEO of the health center, which last year treated 3,500 patients over 14,000 visits, told Richardson that the area "has Maine’s poorest population and many of our people have the highest instances of diabetes, heart disease and cancer in the state. We also have the highest early death rate in the state. This device is one more tool to give providers. It’s like having an electronic library at your fingertips.”

Tablets "were provided by Health eVillages, a not-for-profit initiative created by Donato Tramuto, CEO of Massachusetts-based Physicians Interactive, which develops medical-related mobile apps and other technology," Richardson writes. The program was originally created after the 2010 Haiti earthquakes and has since been used in East Africa and India, before it was used in the U.S. "on the Louisiana coast in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. And now Maine, which Tramuto calls home." (Herald photo: A screen grab of a library of options on the app)

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton expresses opposition to Keystone XL Pipeline

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on Tuesday expressed opposition to the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline during a campaign stop in Des Moines, Iowa, Tony Leys reports for The Des Moines Register. (Register photo by Zach Boyden-Holmes: Clinton greets supporters Tuesday in Des Moines)

Clinton, whose announcement drew loud cheers from 300 people at the event, "described the pipeline controversy as 'a distraction from the important work we have to do on climate change,'" Leys writes. "The State Department, which she led until 2013, has to decide whether to approve the project. The pipeline would bring Canadian oil into the U.S. Critics say that type of oil is particularly laden with chemicals that contribute to global warming. Supporters say the pipeline project would bring crucial jobs and economic development to the U.S." Pipeline bills passed the Republican-led House and Senate but was vetoed by President Obama.

Clinton "said that instead of building a new oil pipeline from Canada, she will propose working with Canada and Mexico to increase production and distribution of 'clean energy,' such as hydro-electric power," Leys writes. "She also said the U.S. needs to fix leaky pipelines already in place and deal with the dangers of oil-carrying railroads. She added that by far more jobs could be created by pursuing clean energy projects than would be created by building the Keystone pipeline."

"Her main Democratic opponents, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, came out against the project months ago," Leys writes. Clinton said she waited to officially oppose the pipeline to give President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry space to make a decision about the pipeline before she publicly took a stance. Many Republican presidential candidates have expressed support for the pipeline. (Read more)

Photographer captures the changing landscape of the American West

From 2006 to 2013 New York-raised photographer Lucas Foglia traveled the American West, mainly in Texas, New Mexico, Nevada, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, taking pictures of a region whose land and people were vastly different from what he expected them to be, Rena Silverman reports for The New York Times. (Foglia photo: Rowdy horse training in 2012 in Deeth, Nev.)

He found "that two stories occurred in these areas—and few dealt with his original expectation of 'nomadic cowboys on horseback,'" Silverman writes. "One concerned the wild landscape itself, with its ranchers and farmers. The other was that of the mining and energy development boom, its workers and how that economic force was transforming the landscape."

He witnessed economic booms and busts, through coal, oil and natural gas and found that people are more than just stereotypes, Silverman writes. He told Silverman, “I expected cowboys to be nomads, herding animals over a wild landscape. I learned pretty quickly that most ranchers had homes with mortgages. I also learned that every mine closes eventually. When a mine closes, the company leaves and people have to move. Miners are the modern-day nomads, following jobs across the country.”

In the time he spent out West, Foglia "saw a lot of changes, each occurring at a different pace," Silverman writse. "Sometimes, it was the rapid change of weather. Other times, the price of gold, and still other times, it was the homes where people lived, or the jobs that came and went. All of this left him with one question: 'What is going to allow people to continue to live in the rural American West and how are we going to preserve or use the wild land we have left?'" Foglia's photos are in his collection "Frontcountry."

Poachers killing black bears in Great Lakes region; the animal is a delicacy in some Asian cultures

Overseas demand for black bear organs has led to poaching in the Great Lakes region. Four people were arrested in Michigan in August for illegally purchasing and selling black bear parts, Courtney Bourgoin reports for Great Lakes Echo, a project of the journalism department at Michigan State University. The Michigan House was expected to vote this week on stricter bear poaching bills. (National Park Service photo by Neal Herbert)

"The World Wildlife Fund says that bile from bear gallbladders provides an active ingredient for traditional medicines used in Asian cultures," Bourgoin writes. "Those who follow the practices believe it aids colds, inflammation and liver-related diseases." Bear paw soup is also "a cultural delicacy in countries like China, North Korea, South Korea and Japan."

Michigan United Conservation Clubs, a coalition of outdoor groups, is pushing for stricter punishment and "supports state legislation to increase restitution to the state from $1,500 to $2,000 per animal," Bourgoin writes. "Hunting license suspensions would increase from three to five years under bills sponsored by Sens. Phil Pavlov (R-St. Clair Township) and Dale Zorn (R-Ida.)." (Read more)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

School transportation directors spotlight passing of buses picking up or dropping off children

Vehicles continue to commit stop-arm violations—illegally passing school buses that have stopped to pick up or discharge passengers. A National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services one-day survey, involving 102,371 buses in 26 states, found 78,518 illegal passes occurred, Aaron Mudd reports for the Bowling Green Daily News. Some school districts have begun using cameras to catch motorists illegally passing buses.

Kentucky wasn't part of the survey, but Mudd reports that Warren County (Family Search map) has an unusually high rate of stop-arm charges. County schools Transportation Director John Odom said that since school opened Aug. 11, the district has reported 15 violations. In the Bowling Green independent district, Transportation Director Michael McCloud said stop-arm violations are “almost a daily occurrence.-

Warren County, with a population of 120,000 in a state of 4.3 million, had 23 of the state's 62 stop-arm charges through July, Mudd writes. It also had disproportionate shares in recent years.

McCloud, who said "drivers should stop when they see lights flashing on a bus and not proceed until the flashing ends," told Mudd, "It really comes down to people not paying attention or not being aware of the rules regarding school buses.” (Read more)

South remains the most obese part of U.S., says State of Obesity report

The South remains the fattest part of the country, according to the 12th Annual State of Obesity report released this week by Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Arkansas leads the way with an adult obesity rate of 35.9 percent. West Virginia is second, at 35.7 percent, followed by Mississippi, 35.5 percent; Louisiana, 34.9 percent and Alabama, 33.5 percent. Colorado has the lowest rate, at 21.3 percent.

"Seven of the 10 states with the highest rates are in the South, and 23 of the 25 states with the highest rates of obesity are in the South and Midwest," Daniel Enoch reports for Agri-Pulse. "Nine of the 10 states with the highest rates of diabetes are in the South. Diabetes rates increased in eight states— Colorado, Hawaii, Kansas, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, Ohio and Pennsylvania."

No state had an obesity rate above 15 percent in 1980, and no state had a rate above 20 percent in 1991, Enoch writes. "Now, nationally, more than 30 percent of adults, nearly 17 percent of 2- to 19-year-olds and more than 8 percent of children ages 2 to 5 are obese. Obesity, the report notes, puts some 78 million Americans at an increased risk for a range of health problems, including heart disease, diabetes and cancer," Enoch writes. "It is also one of the biggest drives of health care costs." (To view an interactive version of the map, click here)

New farm run-off rules could be too costly for some Vermont farmers to remain in business

New rules aimed at reducing farm phosphorous runoff in Vermont could prove to be too costly for some farmers to remain in business, Lisa Rathke reports for The Associated Press. "Small farms haven’t had as much oversight as their larger counterparts, so the state is now surveying such operations in northwestern Vermont, mostly Franklin County (World Atlas map) where toxic algae blooms have plagued parts of the lake, fed in part by phosphorus-laden runoff from farms."

Officials "are visiting small livestock farms and notifying them of changes they need to make now and in the future following the passage of a state water quality law signed by the governor in June," Rathke writes. "Some small farms with at least 10 acres will need to certify in 2017 that they are in compliance with required agricultural practices related to nutrient management, manure storage and buffer zones between crops and waterways. The exact definition of a small farm will be determined in 2016."

"About a third of the farms visited so far did not have nutrient management plans related to applying manure to fields and making sure that it’s not applied to areas that already have high levels of phosphorous in them," said Laura DiPietro, the agricultural water quality policy and operations manager for the Agriculture Agency. "What’s concerning is many of the problems need structural fixes that can be costly, such as constructing an entirely new manure pit because the old one is not meeting state standards, she said. A U.S. Department of Agriculture cost-share program will cover an average of 75 percent of the project, and the Agriculture Agency can get that up to 85 percent in some cases, but the farmer’s share can be significant."

Dairy farmer Daniel Fortin said making upgrades in a time when milk prices are bad is tough, Rathke writes. He told her, “It just takes time. It’s the old farms—it’s the old infrastructure, and it costs money,” DiPietro told here, "It becomes making a big decision for some of these farms. If you don’t have someone to pass it down to, are you going to make this investment?” (Read more)

States consider whether to release police body camera footage to the public

Now that many law enforcement officers are wearing body cameras, many states are deciding whether or not the public has a right to see the footage, Sarah Breitenbach reports for Stateline. Proponents of privacy say withholding footage protects victims and suspects, while critics say allowing access to footage could expose police brutality.

"This year 10 states—Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Nevada, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina and Texas—have passed laws concerning public access to the footage, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, a nonprofit group that assists journalists," Breitenbach writes. The Reporters Committee created an interactive map that charts body camera laws in more than 100 police departments.

In South Carolina, the law "exempts footage recorded by the cameras from public disclosure under the state’s Freedom of Information Act," Breitenbach writes. "The goal was to protect the privacy of people recorded by police, according to Democratic state Sen. Gerald Malloy, who sponsored the legislation. Malloy noted that the measure allows people with a direct interest in a body-camera video, including the state attorney general, law enforcement agencies and subjects of recordings, to watch it." Malloy told Breitenbach, “What you want is to have some responsibility. [So] you don’t just have everyone requesting it, placing it on the Internet, those kinds of things.”

"A Georgia law that took effect in July limits who can request the videos, and pending legislation would deem the videos 'records of law enforcement' and not subject to disclosure under that state’s public records law," Breitenbach writes. (For an interactive version of this map, click here)

Rural medical program working to retain medical professionals in western North Carolina

The residency training programs at the Mountain Area Health Education Center in western North Carolina have graduated 466 physicians and dentists in 41 years, retaining 60 percent of family medical graduates in the western part of the state, MAHEC director of development Tina M. Owen and UNC Asheville intern Jane Warstler report for the Daily Yonder. Despite that success rate, the 16-county region is still short 140 family medicine doctors. "MAHEC and its state network are part of a congressionally established medical training program designed to improve healthcare for underserved communities." (16 counties in MAHEC)

Those numbers highlight the great need for rural health care professionals. One way MAHEC is trying to increase rural health care professionals is through recruitment programs that expose young people to rural physicians and mentors, Owen and Warstler write.

Dr. Jeff Heck, president and CEO of MAHEC, told Owen and Warstler, “Learning opportunities at the medical school, undergraduate and high school level fuel students’ passion and vision for medicine. Our goal is consistently to increase the number of people pursuing rural health careers in [western North Carolina]. Personal and professional mentorships become an enormous influence helping students direct their path to rural medicine.”

The UNC Kenan Primary Care Scholars program, which is led by MAHEC faculty, "immerses medical students in rural community practices to mentor and encourage them as future physicians," Owen and Warstler write. "In the summer between the students’ first and second year of medical school, these medical students live and work in a rural community in western North Carolina."

One student to have experienced the program is Margaret Pray, who was raised in an urban setting, Owen and Warstler write. She spent her summer at the Tallulah Health Center in Robbinsville, N.C., the only primary care center in Graham County. The mountainous county, which has 8,600 residents and a poverty rate 20 percent higher than the state average, has only 3.4 physicians per 10,000 residents, well below the state average of 21.5 doctors per 10,000 residents.

Pray "said the experience of living and working in a rural county was significant," Owen and Warstler write. She told them, “It was kind of a test for me to make sure that this was something that really fit my lifestyle. It was really special to see this tiny town just kind of adopt me.” She added that spending "six weeks in the county showed her she could be at home in a rural community." (Read more)

Undercover worker records animal cruelty at Pennsylvania farm that supplies Whole Foods

An undercover farm worker recorded alleged abuse of pigs at a Pennsylvania Dutch Country farm that proclaims its humane practices and has connections to Whole Foods, a company that prides itself on its humane products, Justin Wm. Moyer reports for The Washington Post. The undercover worker from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, videotaped "images of pigs, some allegedly sick and not given appropriate care, crowded into hot pens and roughly handled by employees." (PETA photo: Pigs at Sweet Stem Farm in Lititz, Pa.)

The Sweet Stem Farm website states that "our pigs are free-roaming in spacious straw-bedded greenhouse-style hoop barns. The kind of farming we do is described variously as local, sustainable, humane and eco-friendly. Whichever term you use, it’s a way of life for us," Moyer writes. The site also says, “With our high-touch approach to animal care, we produce some of the best-tasting, humanely-raised pork, beef and lamb in our region.”

Sweet Stem Farm has been working with Whole Foods since 2007, Moyer writes. Sweet Stem is given a Step 2 rating by Whole Foods, which "means 'no crates, no cages, no crowding' Pigs are also supposed to be provided an 'enriched environment'—'like a bale of straw for chickens to peck at, a bowling ball for pigs to shove around or a sturdy object for cattle to rub against.'"

Whole Foods has stood by Sweet Stem, whose owners called the PETA video “deceit and distortion," Moyer writes. Michael Silverman, a Whole Foods spokesman, told the Post in an email: “We made a visit to the farm within hours of being informed about the PETA video to evaluate farm conditions and practices with our own eyes and gather the facts. We found that the farm conditions were in-line with GAP Step 2 certification. We did follow-up with the farm immediately regarding using the ear to restrain the pig so that a vaccine could be administered, and they agreed to stop that practice entirely.”

Monday, September 21, 2015

Organic farm sales up 72 percent since 2008

Sales of organic farm products increased by 72 percent from 2008 to 2014, according to the 2014 Organic Survey released last week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Daniel Enoch reports for Agri-Pulse. The survey shows that 14,093 certified organic farms in 2014 sold $5.5 billion in products, with California leading the way with $2.2 billion in sales, or 40 percent of all sales. Next were Washington ($515 million in organic sales), Pennsylvania ($313 million), Oregon ($237 million) and Wisconsin ($201 million).

The report also shows that there is plenty of room for growth, Enoch writes. "Approximately 5,300 organic producers, almost 40 percent, say they intend to increase organic production over the next five years. An additional 688 farms with no current organic production are in the process of transitioning into organic production."

Milk was the top commodity, accounting for $1.08 billion, followed by eggs ($420 million), broiler chickens ($372 million), lettuce ($264 million) and apples ($250 million), Enoch writes. "The report also showed that the vast majority of organic agricultural products sold in 2014 were sold close to the farm," with 80 percent of sales within 500 miles of the farm and 46 percent within 100 miles of the farm. (Read more) (USDA map)

State-level data shows poverty rate dropped in 34 states; more than 46 million are still in poverty

The poverty rate dropped in 34 states and Washington, D.C., last year, according to state-level data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual American Community Survey, Tim Henderson reports for Stateline. Despite those positive results, 46.7 million people—or 14.8 percent of the population—live in poverty, and 21.1 percent of children live in poverty. Overall, 13.4 percent of men and 16.1 percent of women live in poverty. Mississippi has the highest poverty rate at 21.5 percent. (Stateline map: To view an interactive version, click here)

Scientists say there's a 97% chance that 2015 will be hottest year on record

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said last week that there is a 97 percent likelihood that 2015 will be the hottest year on record, eclipsing the record year from 2014, reports The Guardian. NOAA scientists "said man-made global warming and the El Niño climate phenomenon were the cause."

August marked the sixth month this year—along with February, March, May, June and July—that the monthly temperature record was broken, reports NOAA. The year-to-date temperature across global land and ocean surfaces, the year-to-date globally-averaged land surface temperature and the year-to-date globally-averaged sea surface temperatures from January to August are all the highest since records began being kept in 1880. (NOAA graphic)

Rural radio station becomes key source of comfort, information during Northern California wildfire

A rural radio station in Northern California has become the lifeline for local residents seeking information during the devastating wildfires that have ravaged the area, Laura Nelson reports for the Los Angeles Times. Officials at KPFZ 88.1 in Lakeport had planned "to broadcast the usual rock and reggae—maybe some Bob Marley and Deep Purple—out over the area's chaparral-covered hills and low-lying mountains, throwing in some free legal advice." (Wikipedia map: Lake County, California)

Instead, "volunteers began taking on-air calls from people wanting to know what was going on in what would, within days, become a 110-square-mile zone of fear and confusion," Nelson writes. "A week later, the phone is still ringing. Hour after hour, callers—sometimes fighting back panic—have asked for information about missing friends or offered beds, food and clothes for evacuees."

"Victims of natural disasters often turn to Twitter and Facebook to get information and check in with loved ones," Nelson writes. "But many of Lake County's poor and elderly residents don't have Internet access, and evacuees fled without laptops or smartphones. There is, though, one thing almost everyone has: a car radio. It didn't take elected officials and state safety workers long to realize that going on 88.1 FM was the best and perhaps only way to reach many Lake County residents."

"Founded in 1995 as a low-frequency pirate station, KPFZ cut its teeth fighting a proposed prison in Lake County," Nelson writes. "Since then, it has found legal spots on the FM dial and the Internet, along with a small but loyal audience in the towns along Clear Lake's 100 miles of shoreline. The station typically divides its programming evenly between music and public affairs programs, including 'I'm Not a Lawyer But I Play One on the Radio' and 'Alternate Current' (subtitle: No Tea Party Allowed). The hosts are politically plucky, relaying what goes on at Board of Supervisors meetings, sometimes accusing officials of failing to support the county's poor, elderly and Native American residents."

"But any small-town sniping was put on hold as walls of fire roared through one community after another, charring homes and cars and putting traditional means of communication out of commission," Nelson writes.

Healthy school lunch program leading to less consumption of fruits and vegetables, study says

The addition of healthier requirements to the National School Lunch Program has resulted in children eating less fruits and vegetables and has created more waste, says a study by researchers at the University of Vermont Burlington and the University of California, Davis published in Public Health Reports.

Researchers, who studied children's food trays at two elementary schools in the Northeast before and after implementation of new lunch rules, found that when fruits and vegetables were required, students selected 29 percent more fruits and vegetables, but the overall consumption rates went down 13 percent, and the overall waste rates increased by 56 percent, Ariana Eunjung Cha reports for The Washington Post. Lead author Sarah Amin told Cha, "The basic question we wanted to explore was: does requiring a child to select a fruit or vegetable actually correspond with consumption. The answer was clearly no."

The study, which consisted of observing 498 trays before the rules went into effect and 944 trays after the rules went into effect, found that when fruits and vegetables were optional, 15.7 percent of students chose not to get fruits and vegetables, while 2.5 percent did not select fruits and vegetables when they were required. On average, children consumed fewer fruits and vegetables (0.06 cup or about 1 tablespoon) and wasted more fruits and vegetables (0.14 cup or about 2 tablespoons) when they were required compared than when they were optional.

"Average waste increased from one-quarter cup to more than one-third of a cup/tray, with about one-eighth cup/tray more fruits and vegetables discarded, or a total of about 56 cups/day/school (based on an average of 400 lunches served/day)," the report found.

Fish and Wildlife Service to assess status of four species for consideration of 'endangered' status

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says it will assess the status of the northern bog lemming, the wood turtle, the rusty-patched bumble bee and the regal butterfly to determine whether any of the species warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act, reports Agri-Pulse

"The northern bog lemming is found in sphagnum bogs, wet subalpine meadows and mossy forests in northern states including Minnesota, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Alaska," reports Agri-Pulse. "Wood turtles occur in Minnesota, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and West Virginia. They inhabit streams, woodland bogs and marshy pastures."

The rusty-patched bumble bee, which is found in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Maryland, Connecticut, Massachusetts, North Carolina, New Jersey, Ohio, Tennessee and Wisconsin, "needs a supply of flowers that bloom from April to September," reports Agri-Pulse. "A large orange and black butterfly, the regal fritillary is sometimes mistaken for a monarch butterfly if seen from a distance. It is found in grasslands and prairies from eastern Colorado to the East Coast, including the Midwest states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin. As a caterpillar, the fritillary eats only violets."