Rural America

Wednesday, Jul 8, 2020, 1:38 pm  ·  By Julian Agyeman and Kofi Boone

Black People Own Less of the U.S. than 100 Years Ago. A ‘Black Commons’ Could Help Reverse the Trend

This photo shows a group of people who had escaped slavery gathered on a former plantation. After Federal troops occupied the plantation, these former slaves began to harvest and gin cotton for their own profit.   (Photo by Corbis via Getty Images)

Underlying the recent unrest sweeping U.S. cities over police brutality is a fundamental inequity in wealth, land and power that has circumscribed black lives since the end of slavery in the U.S.

The “40 acres and a mule” promised to formerly enslaved Africans never came to pass. There was no redistribution of land, no reparations for the wealth extracted from stolen land by stolen labor.


Friday, Jul 3, 2020, 12:55 pm  ·  By Emma Burnett and Luke Owen

Coronavirus Has Shown that Our Food System Is Broken. Now Is the Time to Make It More Resilient

(Photo by Amy Sussman via Getty Images)

Most people rely on supermarkets, and these megastores dominate our food economy. They are part of a system that depends on large-scale agriculture and production, smooth-flowing international food trade and fast turnaround times.

But what happens when system vulnerabilities are exposed and they break down? What catches our fall?

We need a resilient food system. This means going beyond the ecological idea of resilience as merely survival during times of stress, and instead proactively building a food system that can both respond quickly to changing circumstances and act as a safety net.


Sunday, Jun 28, 2020, 12:35 pm  ·  By Gaurav Madan

Global Agribusiness is Devouring the World’s Last Forests. We Need Local Food Systems, Now.

An excavator works on an acacia plantation in Riau, the Indonesian province that lost 22% of its primary forest cover between 2002 and 2019.   (Photo by Rhett A. Butler)

Editor's Note: This article was originally published by Mongabay News and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

It was the middle of the afternoon in one of the world’s largest metropolises when the sky went black. Thousands of miles away, tens of thousands of fires raged, plunging Sao Paolo into darkness. For some, the blackout of Brazil’s largest city was a sign of humanity’s destructive course. A month later, across the globe in Indonesia, entire villages were swallowed by blood-red skies. Reports likened the Mars-like scenes to something from an apocalyptic film.

Last year in Brazil, fires set by illegal loggers and ranchers – and encouraged by neo-fascist President Jair Bolsonaro – were the worst in a decade. The burning Amazon sparked international protests and condemnation. Over 40,000 fires ravaged the lungs of the earth, blazing the path for soy and cattle production to expand ever deeper into the forest.

In Indonesia, palm oil companies that routinely drain peatlands and raze forests were once again guilty of burning large swaths of land for plantations. One report stated that 900,000 people suffered respiratory problems caused by smoke from the blazes.

All told in 2019, nearly 10,000 square miles of forests were destroyed between the Amazon and Indonesia. The impacts have been dire: increased greenhouse gases emissions, greater encroachment on Indigenous Peoples’ lands, and further destruction of endangered species habitat.


Tuesday, Jun 23, 2020, 5:18 pm  ·  By Stephanie Woodard

Bringing Back the Buffalo Was Always Important to the Rosebud Sioux. The Pandemic Made It Urgent

Soon the Rosebud Sioux Reservation will be home to 1,500 buffalo ― the largest Native-owned bison herd in the country.   (Photo by © Thomas Lee / WWF-US)

“We have always believed that bringing back the buffalo is important, but the pandemic shows that it is urgent,” said Wizipan Little Elk. “We are all talking about food security and what the new normal is going to be…We [at Rosebud] have to get back to our roots and provide an example for the rest of the world.”

Little Elk, CEO of the Rosebud Economic Development Corporation (REDCO), is referring to the alarming problems the pandemic has exposed in the huge, centralized system that provides most Americans with their food. Over the last several months, numerous large meat packers closed down after workers were found to be infected with coronavirus. Supply chain problems have caused many farmers to have to kill and dispose of millions of pigs and chickens, dump milk and plow under vegetable crops. Meanwhile, sporadic food shortages have been reported around the country, adding to the fear and insecurity created by the pandemic.

With 1,500 buffalo given by the Department of the Interior over five years, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe will establish the Wolakota Buffalo Range and take a step toward economic sustainability and their own food sovereignty—independent of the nation’s ailing food system. The tribe also hopes the herd can help reestablish its historical relationship to the buffalo. As the largest Native-American-owned herd, it will revitalize the tribe by supplying school meals on the reservation, welcoming visits from Lakota-language immersion classes and making spiritually important items such as hides and skulls available to community members. The tribe also plans to build a small-scale meat-processing operation to make the grass-fed, humanely raised meat available locally and, to generate revenue, to the public as well, said Little Elk. By improving the health of the prairie ecosystem and its ability to sequester carbon and remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, he said, the herd will also help fight climate change.


Saturday, Jun 20, 2020, 12:35 pm  ·  By Johnathan Hettinger

Deadly Drift: The Herbicide Dicamba is Damaging Trees Across the Midwest and South

The mural declares Campbell the "Peach Capital of Missouri." But peaches don't grow in Campbell anymore. At least, not the way they used to.   (Photo courtesy of the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting)

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

Everything in Campbell, Missouri, is peaches. Peaches are on the water tower. You can order peach ice cream at the Sugar Shack on the edge of town. There is even a mural downtown depicting rows of peach trees and a full basket of fruit that declares the town the “Peach Capital of Missouri.”

The largest orchard in the area belongs to Bill Bader. His 1,000 acres of peaches have supplied grocery stores across eight states for more than three decades.

But today, Bader can’t grow much of anything. His trees have been hit year after year by herbicides drifting from nearby farms. Bader’s farm has all but gone out of business. A couple years ago, in June, Bader went with his grandson to pick a peach, but couldn’t find a single one on the branch. The trees were so weak they couldn’t hold fruit.

It’s not only happening on Bader’s farm and it’s not only happening in the southeast Missouri town of Campbell, an investigation by the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting found.


Thursday, Jun 18, 2020, 11:51 am  ·  By Yereth Rosen

‘An Abrupt Wake-Up Call’: Alaska Peers into a Future Without Oil

This pullout offers tourists a closer look at the Trans Alaska Pipeline. Since before the pipeline began operating in 1977, Alaska has depended on oil revenue.   (Photo by Yereth Rosen)

Siqiniq Maupin, a young Inupiat mother and activist trying to help steer Alaska away from its fossil-fuel dependency, is convinced that the coronavirus pandemic will be a turning point. Oil prices have cratered, the industry has shed hundreds of jobs and the usual flow of oil money has dried up, signaling the urgent need for a “Plan B,” she said.

“Personally, I think this is absolutely the end of the oil era, and I think this is going to be an abrupt wake-up call for people,” she said in a phone interview from her Fairbanks home.

Though a harsh critic of oil development, Maupin acknowledges that oil money brought important improvements to rural Alaskans’ lives, like running water and flush toilets. “It’s nice to have the necessities,” she said.

But oil money came with costs. For her family members and others living on the North Slope, the coronavirus pandemic has put those costs into stark relief, she said.


Thursday, Jun 11, 2020, 11:00 am  ·  By Ashley Gripper

We Don’t Farm Because It’s Trendy: For Black Folks, Growing Food Has Long Been a Form of Resistance

Growers tend crops on a farm in North Philadelphia.   Photo by Sonia Galiber

Editor's Note: This article was originally published by Environmental Health News.

For more than 150 years, from the rural South to northern cities, Black people have used farming to build self-determined communities and resist oppressive structures that tear them down.

Today, agriculture still serves an important role in the lives of Black people, which is why we see urban agriculture projects and programs in Philadelphia, Detroit, and Washington D.C. and other cities across the United States. In all of these cities, there are Black-led organizations cultivating food and land sovereignty by helping individuals and communities regain agency and ownership over their food system.

My journey in food and land work began long before I was born. My ancestors were enslaved Africans forced to farm under abhorrent conditions in South Carolina, Texas, and Georgia. In 2012, I started my first professional job working at a food justice and nutrition education non-profit in Philadelphia. I worked with youth from across West Philly to explore connections between food, agriculture, culture, sustainability, and leadership.


Wednesday, May 27, 2020, 1:53 pm  ·  By Sydney Akridge

For Decades the U.S. Punished Indigenous Healers. Now the Indian Health Service Wants to Hire Them

Students in Cheryl Morales’ ethnobotany class at Aaniiih Nakoda College add moisture to the soil to achieve ideal conditions for transplanting.   (Photo courtesy of Native News/Skylar Rispen)

Editor's Note: This story was originally published by Kaiser Health News.

Cheryl Morales started the medicinal garden at the Aaniiih Nakoda College demonstration farm with only four plants: yarrow, echinacea, plantain and licorice root.

After 10 years, the campus garden within the Fort Belknap reservation in northern Montana now holds more than 60 species that take up almost 30,000 square feet. Morales adds new plants annually. This year, she is testing Oregon grape root and breadroot.

Such plants have been used as medicines for generations by the Assiniboine and Gros Ventre tribes who live on the reservation. Echinacea is used to help boost the immune system. Valerian produces a strong sedative that can address nervousness, tension and stress. Licorice root acts as an antihistamine, which treats allergy symptoms.

Like many people in the Fort Belknap community, Morales, 60, is working to teach herself and others the traditional Indigenous health knowledge that was largely lost because of federal policies.


Friday, May 22, 2020, 1:42 pm  ·  By Stephen Lezak

Blaming Ourselves for Crowded Parks Misses the Point: There Aren’t Enough Parks

A trailhead in Claremont, California was closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.   Photo by Russ Allison Loar (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Across the United States, local authorities have sealed off public parks and open spaces, blaming visitors who failed to maintain social distance. What started with closed urban playgrounds spread like a contagion in its own right. In California the city of Santa Cruz banned surfing. In Colorado San Juan County issued an order threatening to tow vehicles belonging to backcountry skiers. “Socially distant” gradually became synonymous with “indoors.”

It was only a few weeks ago that going for a hike was seen as a reasonable way to shelter in place. Then the sun came.

Beachgoers and picnickers turned out en masse, making headlines from San Francisco to London. Mayors and governors scolded the public on live television as they announced new restrictions.

A common refrain on social media lamenting the park closures has been, “Why can’t we have nice things?” But blaming ourselves for crowded parks misses the underlying issue: In many parts of the country, there simply isn’t enough public space to go around.


Monday, May 18, 2020, 10:36 am  ·  By Stephanie Woodard

Sioux Tribes Are Protecting Their People from Pandemic. The Governor Is Trying to Stop Them

Checkpoint sketch by Marc Nelson / @Marcnelsonart

“The tribes aren’t blinking.” 

That’s how attorney Greg Lembrich phrased the response to S.D. Governor Kristi Noem’s order to Sioux tribes in the state to remove the roadway checkpoints they had set up at their reservations’ borders to protect their communities from the coronavirus pandemic.

In early April, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and the Oglala Sioux Tribe began checking vehicles for drivers and passengers with Covid-19 symptoms and redirecting nonessential travel around their reservations. In May, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe began a similar effort.

“We will not apologize for being an island of safety in a sea of uncertainty and death,” Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Chairman Harold Frazier has said.