Blog for Rural America

The Center for Rural Affairs, a private, non-profit organization, is working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities. Permission to reprint items from this web log is hereby granted, on the condition that clear credit is given to the original source of the material. If the blog provides information for a story, please let us know by sending an email to

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

To Protect The Common Good

To protect the common good

by Jim Wallis, Editor-in-Chief, Sojourners Magazine

According to the biblical prophets, the greatest moral offense of poverty is the inequality that often lies behind it. When poverty abounds and the wealthy refuse to share their prosperity, God gets mad. If the congressional leadership has its way, American inequality is about to take a giant step forward with their efforts to destroy or gut the estate tax - an effective measure to combat inequality that has been working for 100 years.

Sometimes, there are public policy choices that simply make no moral sense. When a nation is at war, when deficits are rising at record rates, and when everyone knows that even more budget cuts are coming that will directly and negatively impact the nation's poorest families and children, you don't give more tax breaks to the super-rich. But that is exactly what the administration and the Republican leadership are strenuously trying to do. And with the latest Census Bureau income and poverty report showing that the poverty rate has gone up for the fourth straight year, the moral offense is compounded. There are 37 million Americans now living below the poverty line, 4 million more than in 2001. That includes 13 million children.

So why are George Bush, the Republican leadership, and some Democrats on Capitol Hill pushing so hard to completely repeal or substantially gut the estate tax? It's been in place for nearly 100 years, is a substantial source of government revenue, and has been a major catalyst to charitable giving (including to faith-based organizations, something the administration claims to support). A repeal of the estate tax will cost an estimated 1 trillion dollars in federal revenue over the next 10 years (that's right, 1 trillion), substantially increase the deficit, dramatically diminish the resources available to help low-income families escape poverty, and further increase the pressure on the budget from the high cost of war. The only thing the repeal of the estate tax will accomplish is to make sure the wealthiest of Americans will bear no sacrifices during war-time belt tightening and tough decision making but, rather, will reap a windfall of benefit and be the only Americans who do.

Repeal supporters have cleverly changed the language of the debate by calling the estate tax "the death tax" and claiming that it mostly affects family farmers and small businesses who are unable to pass their farms and businesses along to their children. That is simply not true. To put it less delicately, they are lying to cover up the fact that the estate tax mostly affects their richest friends. The tax affects only the wealthiest half of 1 percent of Americans - estates with a net value of more than $2 million ($4 million for couples). That is exactly what this tax was supposed to do when it was introduced in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt (a Republican, remember) to counter the European practice of passing on enormous wealth from generation to generation, thereby encouraging aristocracy. The more American idea was to ask those who have benefited enormously by accident of birth to contribute back to the common good and expand opportunity for all. Many wealthy people, such as Bill Gates Sr. and Warren Buffett, agree and vigorously support the estate tax. But that American ideal is now under attack by a political leadership which seems anxious to restore an American aristocracy.

Those who want to retain the estate tax are willing to reform it to make sure that family farmers and small business people are not adversely affected and to ensure that the tax - let's call it a "common good tax" - is focused where it was intended, on those who have benefited so much from the opportunities of America. In a very real sense, the estate tax is a repayment for the public services and infrastructure that enable wealth creation - our transportation system of highways, bridges, and airports; our legal and educational systems; and many other investments we make in our society. It is only right that having benefited so much from the opportunities of America, the wealthiest should be obligated to return some of their good fortune to expand the opportunities of other Americans (maybe we should call the estate tax "the opportunity tax").

Is this the America that we want? One whose top policy priority is to make the rich richer while abandoning the most needed efforts to reduce poverty and protect the common good? That, in particular, was the original purpose of the estate tax, initiated by different kind of Republican president who was committed to the equality of opportunity for every American.

It is time for Democrats, moderate Republicans, and people of good social conscience across the county to draw a line in the sand against this administration's radical policies to redistribute wealth from the bottom and middle to the top of American society. It's time for a moral resistance to such unbalanced social policies and the place to begin is to defeat the dangerous and disingenuous effort to destroy the estate tax. In the name of social conscience, fiscal responsibility, equality of opportunity, protecting our communities, and the very idea of a "common good," it's time for the moral center of American public opinion to say "enough." The repeal of the estate tax would literally be an attack upon the common good and it must not succeed. Instead, we need policies that would create better and more balanced national priorities.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Building Better Futures for Our Communities

Building Better Futures for Our Communities
By Elisha Greeley Smith,, Center for Rural Affairs

Many rural communities in Nebraska are suffering from depopulation and depressed economies. But some of our communities are looking for and finding solutions to those challenges. The Building Entrepreneurial Communities Act (BECA) program, administered by the Nebraska Rural Development Commission and Department of Economic Development (DED), was created by the 2005 Legislature to assist those entrepreneurial rural communities.

Funded at $250,000 per year, BECA is a grant process for communities and counties seeking to collaborate on economic and entrepreneurial development. DED is initiating a second application process to combine the remainder of this year's funding and 2007 funding, for a total of $360,000 in available funds.

The purpose of BECA is to support rural communities that are struggling economically through grants for entrepreneurial development initiatives that generate and retain wealth in the community and region.

The rules are fairly simple – grants can be used for education and technical support for small business development or to facilitate small business transfers, build leadership, retain and attract youth, or retain intergenerational transfer of wealth. Grants will be provided to two or more towns or counties that collaborate on a BECA project, and at least one of the collaborating communities must demonstrate chronic economic distress (e.g. above average unemployment, below average per capita income or severe historical population loss). The next application is August 1, 2006.

BECA is new, and some communities that applied before were not funded. But this is a tremendous opportunity for rural communities with an entrepreneurial spirit. If interested, give us a call. 402-687-2103

Monday, May 29, 2006

Memorial Day - "In Our Youth Our Hearts Were Touched With Fire"

exerpts from an address delivered for Memorial Day, May 30, 1884, at Keene, NH, before John Sedgwick Post No. 4, Grand Army of the Republic by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (Associate Justice of U.S. Supreme Court, 1902 - 1931)

...Comrades, some of the associations of this day are not only triumphant, but joyful. Not all of those with whom we once stood shoulder to shoulder -- not all of those whom we once loved and revered -- are gone. On this day we still meet our companions in the freezing winter bivouacs and in those dreadful summer marches where every faculty of the soul seemed to depart one after another, leaving only a dumb animal power to set the teeth and to persist -- a blind belief that somewhere and at last there was bread and water. On this day, at least, we still meet and rejoice in the closest tie which is possible between men -- a tie which suffering has made indissoluble for better, for worse.

When we meet thus, when we do honor to the dead in terms that must sometimes embrace the living, we do not deceive ourselves. We attribute no special merit to a man for having served when all were serving. We know that, if the armies of our war did anything worth remembering, the credit belongs not mainly to the individuals who did it, but to average human nature. We also know very well that we cannot live in associations with the past alone, and we admit that, if we would be worthy of the past, we must find new fields for action or thought, and make for ourselves new careers.

But, nevertheless, the generation that carried on the war has been set apart by its experience. Through our great good fortune, in our youth our hearts were touched with fire. It was given to us to learn at the outset that life is a profound and passionate thing. While we are permitted to scorn nothing but indifference, and do not pretend to undervalue the worldly rewards of ambition, we have seen with our own eyes, beyond and above the gold fields, the snowy heights of honor, and it is for us to bear the report to those who come after us. But, above all, we have learned that whether a man accepts from Fortune her spade, and will look downward and dig, or from Aspiration her axe and cord, and will scale the ice, the one and only success which it is his to command is to bring to his work a mighty heart.

Such hearts -- ah me, how many! -- were stilled twenty years ago; and to us who remain behind is left this day of memories. Every year -- in the full tide of spring, at the height of the symphony of flowers and love and life -- there comes a pause, and through the silence we hear the lonely pipe of death. Year after year lovers wandering under the apple trees and through the clover and deep grass are surprised with sudden tears as they see black veiled figures stealing through the morning to a soldier's grave. Year after year the comrades of the dead follow, with public honor, procession and commemorative flags and funeral march -- honor and grief from us who stand almost alone, and have seen the best and noblest of our generation pass away.

But grief is not the end of all. I seem to hear the funeral march become a paean. I see beyond the forest the moving banners of a hidden column. Our dead brothers still live for us, and bid us think of life, not death -- of life to which in their youth they lent the passion and joy of the spring. As I listen , the great chorus of life and joy begins again, and amid the awful orchestra of seen and unseen powers and destinies of good and evil our trumpets sound once more a note of daring, hope, and will.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Laboring Towards Self-Sufficiency

Laboring Towards Economic Self-Sufficiency:
A Research Perspective

Catherine Huddleston-Casas, Ph.D., University of Nebraska
Bonnie Braun, Ph.D., University of Maryland

Following passage of the federal Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, researchers launched a number of policy evaluation studies to monitor the effectiveness of the legislation on targeted families, primarily urban families. Few of these studies focused on the multiple systems that surround and affect families and few focused on rural families over time. To balance those investigations, researchers from 17 land-grant universities, with funding from the USDA, launched a three-year, multi-state study of rural, low-income families known as Rural Families Speak. Findings are emerging with implications for public policy and programs…

Taken together, the key findings of Rural Families Speak research on labor force participation concludes that:
• It’s not good enough to simply be employed. Families need access to full-time jobs paying adequate wages. Employment stability is enhanced by having a flexible employer, working sufficient work hours, and having health insurance.
• If jobs are available but families lack reliable transportation, they will not be able to maintain employment.
• Access to affordable childcare is critical to gainful employment for rural, low-income families. Families who do not have affordable childcare options will:
1) Look to the social support of family and friends to fill the gap. This gap decreases their employment stability and increases their financial vulnerability or,
2) Make caregiving for young children a priority over earning an income.
• Families earning income are eligible to receive the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Families who are aware of the EITC and have assistance with tax forms receive and use the money to pay bills, invest in reliable transportation, and increase assets through home improvements or savings. EITC receipt increases income adequacy and improves financial stability.
• Mothers who are gainfully employed and earning an adequate income are more food secure, more financially stable and are healthier – they are less depressed and report fewer health problems.

For more information or a full copy of this Rural Families Speak report go to –

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Dream of Owning Small-Town Business Comes True

Young Couple’s Dream of Owning a Small-Town Business Comes True

The young couple who purchased the grocery store in Sterling, Nebraska is on the receiving end of “thanks” quite often. Residents of the town and surrounding rural area are grateful that Brandon and Shalen Keeler worked it out to purchase the local grocery this past spring.

For financing, the local bank was supportive of the business transfer deal, as well as others, including the previous owners, family members, and REAP. Together, these resources and a lot of encouragement from the Keeler’s family and friends, helped make the business transfer transaction a reality.

REAP helped the couple piece together a business plan and financial projections. The local bankers reviewed the plan and projections and helped put together a version that they were comfortable with. It took several months of diligent work and persistence on the part of the Keeler’s before the transfer was finalized on June 1, 2005.

Both Brandon and Shalen were employed in Lincoln and commuted about 45 miles every day to work. Brandon also worked on weekends, so he had some ideas on changes that they could implement. They have moved the store shelving around, added a new front counter, and painted the exterior of the building thus far.

They are purchasing inventory cooperatively with The Family Tree grocery in Cook, Nebraska and nearby Sadie’s in Firth, Nebraska. They say the biggest challenge in the business is knowing what their customers want and in keeping good inventory control.

The couple both quit their jobs in the city and are working together to operate the business in Sterling. Sterling is Shalen’s hometown. They say the greatest reward so far is being able to work in Sterling and provide goods and services to local patrons.

Enjoying time with their 5 year old son is their favorite pastime. Brandon is helping as a coach for an elementary basketball team, and he is a basketball referee as well.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Friday, May 26, 2006

School Building for Sale

this story is from Brian Depew's Rural Populist Blog -

School Buildings for Sale

Aside from the fact that the school had to close in the first place, I love this story.

Speaking from the unique new home of his electronic business TAB Funkenwerks, [Oliver Archut] tells his story in a deep European accent: “On CNN I saw a documentary that the heartland of the United States is bleeding out. The schools are empty, the hospitals are empty. And they pretty much said that they were giving it away. That’s when I told my wife, find me a school.”

So with a few keystrokes, Oliver’s wife and business partner Gwen went to the place to people go when they’re looking to get a deal on something totally random.

“I just threw in school on e-Bay and there it was,” says perky Gwen from her office. “I was shocked. I had to speak with people three times before I actually believed the price they had said.”

The price for the 30-thousand square foot former school: 25 grand. Too good to pass up. So the Archuts packed up their shop in Seattle, headed east, and didn’t stop until they were in Gaylord, Kansas.

“There was no way you’re going to find a 30-thousand square foot anything in Seattle for 25 thousand dollars,” Gwen says. “That’s a minimum three million dollar investment.”

So they bought the school and relocated their business from Seattle, Washington (Population 600,000) to Gaylord, Kansas (Population 145). They say that they have everything that they need in Gaylord: high speed internet, UPS service, potential employees, and a very low cost of doing business.

Gwen and Oliver aren’t the only ones buying old rural schools for new business ventures.

There are others too.

And now for the best part. Have a business idea? You too can buy an old rural school on ebay. There are about half a dozen for sale right now. Gaylord, Kansas set a trend though because schools are bringing more than $25,000 these days.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Congress Gives $3 Million Boost to Organic Research

U.S. House of Representatives Gives $3 Million Boost to USDA Organic Research

The U.S. House of Representatives passed an amendment to its 2007 Agriculture Appropriations Bill on Tuesday increasing funds for the USDA Organic Transitions research program from $1.8 million to $5 million for the next fiscal year. Offered by Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ), Rep. Jim Leach (R-IA), Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), and Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI), the amendment passed on the House floor by a resounding voice vote.

The Organic Transitions program provides competitive grant funding to research, education and extension projects that help farmers address the challenges of modern organic production and marketing. "We must take steps to help this industry improve and allow these competitive grants to assist in the process," said Rep. Leach, a Republican from Iowa's 2nd district.

With the House working to cut nearly $100 million dollars from 2006 spending levels for agriculture programs, the increase for organic research was particularly significant. Several members of the House rose to speak in support of the bill, including Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), the ranking member of the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee; Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH); and Representatives Holt and Kind.

"It should come as no surprise that the demand for organic, pesticide-free foods has skyrocketed in recent years," said Holt, a New Jersey Democrat. "This amendment is good for farmers and good for consumers," he added.

"The broad support for the amendment was likely a result of so many members of Congress hearing directly from constituents about the importance of this program," said Brise Tencer, Legislative Coordinator for the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF). Many members of OFRF's Organic Farmers Action Network, along with colleagues in the rapidly growing organic industry, contacted their Representatives to urge them to support the amendment. The four-month-old Network is comprised of more than 500 farmers who have chosen to receive updates and action alerts on public policy issues that pertain to organic agriculture.

The Senate will now develop its own version of the 2007 Agriculture Appropriations Bill. The two chambers will then reconcile differing provisions of the legislation in a conference committee. If the Senate includes the same $5 million for the Organic Transitions program in its version, the change is very likely to be included in the final bill forwarded to President Bush later this year for his signature.

A full list of organic program appropriations for the 2007 fiscal year is available online at OFRF will provide updates and action alerts on this site as the Senate bill moves forward.

The Organic Farming Research Foundation was founded in 1990 to foster the improvement and widespread adoption of organic farming practices. Working organic farmers from across the United States comprise the majority of OFRF's Board of Directors.

Brise Tencer,, (831) 426-6606

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Strenthen Rural America Petition - Update II

Strengthen Rural America – Rural Action Network Petition

The Center for Rural Affairs has launched a drive to gather 10,000 signatures in support of historic reforms in farm and rural economic and development policies through the next farm bill. We hope that the petition will grow even bigger as the farm debate advances, but we want to start the debate with a loud and united voice calling for an unprecedented commitment to and investment in entrepreneurial development, community development and farm policies that focus on creating and sustaining the next generation of farmers and ranchers.

We began this effort quietly. We hope that this will begin as a different kind of petition than most, primarily because we want you, our supporters to help us build it. We began by asking as few of our supporters and close friends to sign the petition and send an e-mail to their friends asking them to sign it as well and send it on. The effort is growing, albeit slowly at first, because this kind of word of mouth effort takes a little time.

But the petition is catching on. We still have fewer than 1,000 signatures, but most encouraging is that more than a third have come from people that we did not know before this effort began. And that is at the heart of this effort. If each of us shared our hope and our dreams for the future of rural America with ten or twenty or fifty friends and families, we could build a network and rural Americans and urban allies that could break the stranglehold that some of the most powerful economic and political special interests hold over farm and rural policy and use the 2007 farm bill to begin creating rural policy that raises up family farms and ranches as well as rural communities, instead of undermining them as do so many current policies.

So, the question remains, have you signed the petition? Have you asked your friends and family and colleagues and everyone you can think of to sign the petition? You can sign the Strengthen Rural America Petition at –

Then, take another step and ask everyone you can to sign the petition! You can forward this blog address or send an e-mail from the Center's Strengthen Rural America webpage -

The Center for Rural Affairs National Rural Action Network will deliver the petition signatures to your Senators and Representatives. We will also alert all who sign on when contacting their elected officials or taking other action will make a crucial difference on a rural issue before Congress.

With your help, the National Rural Action Network will grow to tens of thousands of people speaking out for Rural America, perhaps even more. Together we will build the power necessary for rural Americans take control of our destiny.

If you prefer to ask your friends to sign the petition in person, you can download a paper petition from the Center for Rural Affairs website. Or contact John Crabtree,, 402-687-2103 ext 1010 to have paper petitions mailed to you.

Tell everyone you know…Sign the Petition! –

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Estate Planning Tools for Ranchers and Farmers

Estate Planning Tools

As American farmers and ranchers age, they face the dilemma of how to pass on their life’s work. They can pass on a working business or they can sell off the land, equipment, livestock and facilities piecemeal. Coloring this basic decision are considerations of retirement income, long-term care payments, interests of heirs, and tax consequences. Every farmer and rancher faces these inevitable decisions, yet an Iowa study found that two-thirds of farmers over age 65 had done little or no planning for retirement.

The documents we provide in this Risk Management Workshop Series are an attempt to help farmers and ranchers become better consumers of estate planning tools. They provide basic information on retirement planning and farm or ranch transfer to explain processes that have grown in complexity. Since most of us begin or retire only once, it’s helpful to learn from advisors who have observed many stages of the process. These documents arose from the experiences of financial and legal counselors who have worked through these issues with hundreds of farm families in Nebraska.

Reports available in the series:

Ownership Structures for Your Farm or Ranch

Piercing the Corporate Veil: How Limited Is the Liability of Doing Business as a Corporation?

Long Term Care

Medicaid: Planning for Long-Term Care in the Farm & Ranch Context

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Monday, May 22, 2006

SBA Microloan Program - Legislative Update

Friends of the SBA Microloan Program: Legislative Update

Senate Small Business Committee Hearing - A quick report on the hearing that the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship held last month regarding - Reauthorization of Small Business Administration Financing and Entrepreneurial Development Programs.

While the Committee did not invite an SBA Microlending Intermediary to testify, Committee Chairman Olympia Snowe (R-ME) directed a question to the Committee’s first witness, SBA Administrator Barreto, about the Microloan Program. Chairman Snowe reiterated her support for the Microloan Program and challenged the Administration’s efforts to eliminate a program that has been so important to small business in Maine and other rural states across the country.

Administrator Barreto responded by stating that the SBA can serve more micro-businesses through their flagship 7(a) program using the SBA Community Express Program. He pointed to the fact that the average Community Express loan is $150,000 (hardly a micoloan). He also re-stated the SBA assertion that it costs the SBA $1 in federal funds to deploy $1 dollar in loans to a microbusiness. The Administrator admitted that despite these assertions, Congress has continued to support the program. However, he was also clear that the SBA does not recommend that the micriloan program be reauthorized.

Chairman Snowe responded to the Administrators comments by stating that “There is no question that it (the SBA Microloan Program) will be restored in reauthorization legislation.”

While this was a strong and reassuring message coming from Senator Snowe – it is clear that the Administration has not softened it’s view on the SBA Microloan Program and we can expect that they will be working hard to keep it from being funded in FY 2007 or reauthorized in this Congress.

A Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, April 25th, Microloans Are Again a Point of Budget Dispute, describes the Administration’s attempt to eliminate the program and presents the counter arguments coming from both the field as well as from Congress.

Please pass on to your members of Congress some local counter-arguments of your own. It is particularly important for Members and their staff to hear about borrowers that CANNOT secure loans from the 7(a) Community Express lenders.

Also - Please pass on any other local or national press that you come across on the SBA Microloan Program. These stories were of great interest in Congress. I will gladly share the Wall Street Journal article with anyone that would like that as well, just contact me directly.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Employee Turns Employer — A Dream Comes True

For Lisa Budd, being independent and being rewarded for an extraordinary work ethic were extremely important to her. Doing what she liked to do was also a major issue. What did she do about these priorities?

She risked venturing into the ownership of a “Daylight Donut” franchise in Gothenburg, Nebraska. The business was already profitable, but showed much more growth potential.

With the benefit of technical assistance from REAP, cooperation with the previous owners, and friendly assistance from local realtor Brian Miller, Lisa purchased the business and hit the deck running.

Customer volume in the Dawson County town has increased under Lisa’s management. She has been all business – managing loan payments, cash flow, and keeping on top of her business in every way. Her shop is well known for providing friendly, quality service.

Approximately 75 percent of her volume is deliveries to other small and large businesses in the Gothenburg and Cozad areas. Lisa has created a good balance between individual retail customers and business firms.

Lisa is a young rural entrepreneur who has a very strong work ethic, is a responsible business person, and is doing very well at her business enterprise. Lisa is community-minded as well, and was recognized by local media after recent generous aid and food donations to travelers stranded in an early blizzard.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Fuel Subsidies Undermine Small Farmers

Fuel Subsidies ‘Undermine’ Small Farmers, Favor Agribusiness

by Michelle Chen, The New Standard

Small farmers and their advocates say funneling tax dollars to big farm corporations is unwise and unappreciated, especially while an even playing field is the scarcest resource of all.

As rising energy costs squeeze communities from coast to coast, in rural America, high fuel prices top off a host of burdens weighing down family farms. But a Senate proposal to funnel about $1.5 billion in "energy assistance" to farms encapsulates what some say is a broken system of federal handouts, which wastes cash on agricultural behemoths while ignoring deeper problems looming over the country's farmlands.

The energy assistance included in the Senate Appropriations Committee's proposed emergency funding legislation would boost by 30 percent the "fixed" direct subsidies that certain farms are already due to receive under existing federal policies. The measure is part of a $3.9 billion spending package to help farmers recover from natural disasters.

The government projects that farmers' fuel and oil costs will rise by more than 12 percent this year, subsequently driving up the overall price of production, transportation, and fuel-based fertilizers. A typical farmer might spend about $20 per planted acre just on fuel, oil and electricity.

"When diesel fuel and fertilizer costs skyrocket like they have in the last few months, people like the idea of supporting those farmers," said John Crabtree, with the agriculture-policy think tank Center for Rural Affairs. "But by doing it this way, ultimately, you just sort of undermine them – short-term help that ends up costing them in the long term."

According to an analysis by the watchdog organization Environmental Working Group, among the 1.1 million farms that stand to gain from the proposed measure, the bonus is heavily skewed toward the largest enterprises, with 47 major commercial farms raking in aid payments exceeding $100,000.

Overall, the top ten percent would sweep up about 60 percent of the funds, leaving nearly 900,000 farmers sharing the short end of the handout, receiving only about $370 on average. Farms producing non-subsidized crops, including many fruit and vegetable producers, would receive no subsidy, regardless of how much they lost to high fuel prices.

Yet for many family farmers, high energy costs are just the beginning of their troubles. The government estimates that for small-farm households reporting farming as their primary occupation, incomes will fall by more than 6 percent in 2006, as small and mid-sized farmers struggle with dismal revenues and an intensifying turf war with large farming operations.

Critics of federal subsidy programs say that the proposed energy subsidy highlights the system's tendency to prop up big business instead of helping struggling farms stay afloat.
Lauren Sucher, a spokesperson for the Environmental Working Group, said lawmakers' interest in sweetening current subsidies smacks more of corporate favoritism than disaster relief.

According to the analysis, the districts of two House Agriculture Committee members from Minnesota, Gil Gutknecht (R) and ranking Democrat Collin Peterson, would each soak up more than $35 and $40 million, respectively. Agricultural districts that primarily produce unsubsidized crops would gain almost nothing by comparison.

"I have to assume that, yes, it does help some farmers," Sucher remarked. "But... is it the wisest way to spend money when you're doing kind of an across-the-board, arbitrary increase?"
Although many farmers' advocates see a need for some type of government support, they warn that subsidies in their current form have tethered the family farm to a poorly targeted welfare system. The proposed energy payout, they argue, would mask or even aggravate a more insidious crisis that subsumes alarming fuel costs: the slow disintegration of family farms under the crush of agribusiness and factory farming.

"Farmers are just being used as a conduit to funnel taxpayer money into corporations," said John Peck, executive director of the Wisconsin-based advocacy group Family Farm Defenders.
Agriculture subsidies, including direct payments to farms and other funding programs, have ranged from about $13 billion to $23 billion annually in recent years, according to the US Department of Agriculture, and are concentrated on major "commodity" crops like corn, soy, wheat, rice and cotton. These crops, which have since the late 1980s become increasingly concentrated in the hands of large and non-family farms, absorbed 93 percent of payments in 2005, even though they generated only 21 percent of cash sales in the sector.

Farms with household incomes topping $100,000 ate the lion's share of the subsidies last year; that 12 percent swath at the top took more than 40 percent of federal payouts.

Placing the proposed energy bonus in the context of consolidation of the farm sector, Crabtree warned that the subsidies could undercut small farmers in the long run, by simultaneously fattening massive "mega-farms," which are pushing up property costs as they swallow the country's farmland.

"It helps pay for your diesel fuel today," he commented, "but it's going to drive your cash rent up next year. Well, what good is that?"

Groups pushing to reform the system say subsidy programs are neither tied to the real needs of farmers nor reflective of their economic contributions. Under the current system, in which giant, mass-producing factory farms can easily mow down smaller competitors, family farmers are often forced to accept market prices below their cost of production.

By contributing to overproduction and mass export of crops, subsidy policies have faced wide criticism for throwing off the market and wreaking havoc on farmers both in the US and abroad.
Joel Greeno, a dairy farmer in Monroe, Wisconsin and a member of Family Farm Defenders, said that he has typically received about 34 cents from the government for every dollar in lost income. The system, in his view, hurts those seeking self-sufficiency. "Sure, it generates income for farmers that they desperately need, but the core issue is that the farmer's not getting a fair price," Greeno said.

But some say that while the payments ignore the systemic problems, they at least acknowledge the immediate ones.

Countering the Environmental Working Group's suggestion that the proposed subsidy would be lavished primarily on large, established farms is Kathy Ozer, executive director of the National Family Farm Coalition. She told TNS that subsidies are a crucial, if flawed, vehicle for aid to many who genuinely need it.

"The reality is that a lot of farmers get direct payments," she said, "and direct payments are, for many farmers… what has [allowed] people to have some chance of staying on their farms."

This year, as Congress approaches the reauthorization process for the farm bill that established the current system in 2002, many farmers' advocates are calling not for an elimination of subsidies, but more comprehensive government income supports that would reduce the need for subsidies. Some farmers' advocacy groups support a "parity pricing" scheme, which would provide a base price that reflects farmers' cost of production, including higher fuel prices.

Calling for policies to make the entire supply chain more equitable, Family Farm Defenders also advocates government action against agribusiness "cartels," which maximize profits by buying raw materials cheap and selling products at relatively high prices. "Farmers could get more, and consumers could actually pay less if you bust up the food cartels," Peck said.

Larry Mitchell, chief executive officer of the American Corn Growers Association, said that as family farmers clamber for whatever tumbles down from Capitol Hill, giant food-industry corporations are milking the subsidy system from below. "Those are the people that are the beneficiaries," he said. "It's not the consumers, it's not the taxpayers, it's not the large farmers or the small farmers. It's agribusiness."

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Long Bus Rides for Rural Students a Problem

Long Bus Rides for Rural Students a Problem Nationwide

By Aaron Sadler
Arkansas News Bureau

When it comes to long bus rides for rural students, there are no shortcuts.

Long rides on buses are inevitable for students who live in rural areas, and there are few, if any, limits on the length of time children spend riding to and from school, transportation directors nationwide said Tuesday.

Arkansas has no such limits, though patrons of tiny Paron High School contend there should be in a lawsuit that asks a judge to bar the state from closing the school in rural Saline County. Some students in grades 6-12 face three-hour round-trip bus rides to Bryant schools next fall, and plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the state maintain that excessive time on a bus would violate some students' right to equal educational opportunities under the state constitution.

Doug Eaton, director of public school facilities and transportation for Arkansas, said relocation is one option for rural residents concerned about lengthy bus rides. "If they don't like to ride the bus, move closer to the school," Eaton said in a telephone interview. Chris Heller, attorney for the Paron patrons, responded that the state Supreme Court has ruled that residence should not play a role in whether a student receives an adequate education.

"A statement like (Eaton's) is similar to saying if kids in poor Delta school districts don't like the education they're getting, they ought to move to Little Rock," Heller said. Eaton's boss, state Education Commissioner Ken James, said the issue does not have such an easy solution. "There are always going to be issues with respect to transportation," James said. "People don't live in a magic box and they never will."

The director of the National Association for Pupil Transportation said bus ride limits are almost exclusively a local issue." Sort of the industry rule of thumb is you try to limit bus rides to an hour, maximum," NAPT Director Michael Martin said. "But by the same token, in states where there are tremendously rural districts, often those times can be much longer than that."

James, a member of the sate commission on facilities and transportation, said a Department of Education study on isolated schools should help the state address the problem. The study, mandated by the Legislature last year, is expected to be finished by the 2007 legislative session.

The state Board of Education last week voted to close grades 6-12 at Paron. Just days later, Republican gubernatorial candidate Asa Hutchinson said he would seek "reasonable standards" for school bus rides is governor. Hutchinson's Democratic opponent, Attorney General Mike Beebe, said the isolated-schools study should offer guidelines for transportation times. The Bryant district annexed the smaller Paron district in 2004 and the Bryant School Board voted in April to close Paron High School because of financial concerns. The lawsuit against the state Board of Education, which endorsed the closure, claims long bus rides hurt academic performance.

Eaton said that claim could be extended to the point of arguing whether a Ford or Chevrolet bus is better for children. "I think anybody would be extremely, extremely hard pressed to be able to draw a parallel between a child's inability to read and write and how long they've sat on a bus," Eaton said. However, Rod McKnight of the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services cited numerous studies that suggest a correlation between long bus rides and student achievement, though he said even those conclusions have conditions. "It's quick to come back and say, yeah, you may lose some educational time, but the consensus was there's not a lot people could do about it," McKnight said.

West Virginia asks school districts to limit bus rides for elementary students to 30 minutes and high schoolers to one hour, but an official there said the regulation is rarely enforced. Kansas encourages districts to limit bus rides to less than an hour. Until 1993, South Carolina required rides of no longer than one hour and 15 minutes. The regulation was removed when officials attempted to make it part of state law, said South Carolina Director of Transportation Donald Tudor. No statute was implemented, he said.

"We know our (rule) is not going to happen from time to time," said Debbie Romine, a transportation safety consultant in Kansas. "We have lots of gravel. Arkansas probably does, too, and Arkansas probably has a lot more windy roads than we do. "States surrounding Arkansas do not limit the length of school bus rides. Texas and Oklahoma officials said several bus routes in those states are longer than 90 minutes.

Even in the nation's most isolated state, Alaska, there are no restrictions on bus trip lengths. "We leave it to the local school board to determine length of ridership," said Alaska Department of Education spokesman Eddy Jean.

Plaintiffs in the Paron suit contend the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has already set a standard for bus rides of not more than 45 minutes one way. But Eaton, a former Little Rock School District official, said the federal case was related to desegregation efforts in Little Rock and should have no bearing on the Paron case.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Coporate Sow and Corporate Chicken on the Move

The Corporate Sow and Corporate Chicken on the Move

Mega corporate hog and chicken operations migrate to areas with fewest protections for local citizens.

- Residents in three eastern Indiana counties are pressuring county officials to control odors and pollution from rapidly growing numbers of industrial livestock operations moving into the area. Grant, Jay and Randolph county residents worry that mega hog and dairy operations will decimate their quality of life.

Over the last two months confinements for 23,000 finishing hogs have been proposed in Randolph County. North Carolina-based Maxwell Foods plans to build two large swine nurseries between the Indiana towns of Lynn and Modoc housing 38,400 nursery pigs. Maxwell also plans to build two other confinements near Modoc that would contain 15,484 pregnant sows, young females, nursery pigs, and finishing hogs.

Local residents have expressed concern that Indiana is encouraging corporate hog operations to move from North Carolina, where state policies have curtailed the dramatic expansion of corporate hog production in North Carolina that occurred in the 1990’s.

Randolph County's planning commission has voted against several CAFO ordinances. But local concerned citizens believe that the tide may be turning in favor of endorsing regulations for hog farms, due to the recent dramatic influx of hog operations.

“Before, the only thing the plan commission could see was the [first] dairy…what came to light…is a much bigger scheme,” said Randolph County resident Robbie Davis.

- Chicken lobbyists score big victory in South Carolina – As of this writing, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford had not decided whether to veto a bill that loosens regulation of large, industrial poultry farms.

The House voted 94-11 to ban county laws that require substantial distances between poultry farms and people’s homes. The Senate had previously voted 29-7 for restricting county regulation.

Corporate farming proponents have sought this legislation for ten years. The legislation nullifies county poultry ordinances that are stricter than the state’s law.

The S.C. Poultry Federation says county laws are so strict that they prevent chicken and turkey operations in some counties. However, Kershaw, one of the state’s top turkey-producing counties, is among the fewer than ten counties with strict local ordinances.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Missouri Legislature Votes Against Wal-Mart Bank

Missouri Legislature Votes Against Wal-Mart Bank

The Missouri legislature recently approved SB 892, sponsored by Senator Delbert Scott, which is designed to stop Wal-Mart from opening banks in the state.

Wal-Mart has applied to run an industrial bank in Utah, a type of bank this is not regulated by the Federal Reserve.

The bill – passed by unanimous votes in both the House and Senate – bars industrial bank companies from having any branches in Missouri.

Interesting news, and I thought I would see what folks have to say about this.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Rural America and Immigration Policy

Rural America and Immigration Policy: Find Appropriate Balance

by Chuck Hassebrook,

Rural America would be best served by a balanced approach to immigration.

Immigration should be managed to limit the work force to levels that allow working people to earn decent wages. But we should embrace the immigrants who are here and enable them to become full and contributing members of our communities.

Immigration is just one aspect of economic globalization that has depressed lower tier wages in the United States. As employers move jobs to areas with cheaper labor and the world’s poor move to American jobs, wages of American working people are pushed down toward developing world levels – for both new Americans and those who have been here for generations.

The gap between rich and poor is growing in America. The gap is even growing within the middle class between wage laborers and salaried workers. Self-employed farmers and small business people are also affected. They cannot pay themselves a middle class income for their labor and compete with corporations that can buy labor at poverty-level wages.

Tackling the problem requires effective labor standards in trade agreements to prevent companies and nations from gaining a competitive advantage by exploiting working people. It requires trade and aid policies that help poor nations develop, because desperately poor workers anywhere in the world can be used by global companies to depress wages everywhere.

Effective enforcement systems that hold employers accountable for circumventing immigration law are also part of the solution. In the electronic age, it is surely possible to track the use of phony social security numbers to enable employers to determine the legal status of job applicants and to identify employers that routinely use illegal immigrants.

But as we better enforce immigration law, we would also do well to recognize the benefits of immigration managed at reasonable levels and the importance of assimilating new Americans into our communities.

New families can help build our communities, as did our own immigrant ancestors. We can help by embracing new Americans and inviting them to contribute their time and talents to improving our communities.

We can support political efforts to open pathways for immigrants who have been here and acted responsibly to earn legal status and citizenship. And we can show some understanding with the time it takes to adopt a new language and customs. Our pioneer ancestors held on to their native tongues for nearly a century after settling here.

For their part, new immigrants should embrace the responsibilities, as well as the rights, of becoming part of America. That includes taking steps to citizenship, learning the language, joining in community life, voting, and contributing their time and talents to the betterment of America and its communities.

America was built by immigrants. Today’s immigrants, like those before them, are mostly hardworking people seeking better lives for their families. They can help build a better America if we give them the chance and they embrace the responsibility.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Trouble for Rural Entrepreneurs

Trouble for Rural Entrepreneurs in Federal Budget

By John Crabtree, Center for Rural Affairs,

If Congress goes along with the President's proposed 2007 Small Business Administration budget, the SBA Microloan Program would be wiped out, totally. Eliminating this program would have dire consequences for entrepreneurs in rural America.

The program helps with start-up loans for businesses with fewer than 5 employees. The SBA Microloan Program plays a crucial role in rural economic development across the nation.

Nearly seventy percent of new rural jobs created over the last ten years where created in businesses with five or fewer employees. And the SBA Microloan program is one of the few that provides the assistance that these small, rural business need to get started.

The White House has also proposed severe cuts in two other programs that Nebraska rural communities depend on – Community Development Block Grants and Rural Businesses Enterprise Grants.

Without SBA microloans, these rural small businesses often cannot get started because many are overlooked by traditional lenders.

A vast majority of the start-up capital that these businesses use is from personal savings and credit cards. Decimating people's savings and maxing out credit cards to start up the businesses that are creating most of the jobs in rural communities is just bad public policy.

But it is not too late. You can stand up for your community and for rural entrepreneurship by contacting your Senators and your Representative and asking them to restore the funding for the SBA Microloan program.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Strenthen Rural America Petition - Update

The number of people signing the petition keeps increasing everyday. We are rapidly approaching 500. This started out a small effort to get people talking about the importance of revitalizing rural communities and making sure the 2007 farm bill creates farm and rural policy that invests in and helps create a vibrant future for rural America. And it has turned into something bigger than that. We didn't talk about a goal for signatures when we started putting this idea together a few weeks ago. Then, we said, 10,000 (and I gulped).

But, we started slowly, sharing the petition with a few friends, talking to them about the importance of building a rural network with a loud enough voice to make Congress sit up and take notice. And a handful of people turned into a dozen, then two dozen, then 50 and now we are rapidly closing in on 500. How about it? Want to get in the ground floor of building something important, something crucial, something meaningful for rural Americans? Here is your chance. By the way, I don't gulp anymore when I think about the goal of 10,000 signatures. john

Strengthening Rural America Strengthens All of America!

The Center for Rural Affairs is calling on rural Americans to join the thousands of people that are standing up and speaking out for rural America. Add your voice to the voices of thousands by signing the Center’s Strengthen Rural America Petition.

Sign the Strengthen Rural America Petition! –

Then, take another step and forward this Blog for Rural America post to everyone you can!

The Center for Rural Affairs will deliver the petition to your Senators and Representatives. We will also alert all who sign on when contacting their elected officials or taking other action will make a crucial difference on a rural issue.

With your help, the National Rural Action Network will grow to tens of thousands of people speaking out for Rural America, perhaps even more. Together, through the Rural Action Network, we will build the power necessary to take control of our destiny.

Tell everyone you know…Sign the Petition! –

America is strongest when all of its communities are strong and all of its people have access to genuine opportunity. Rural America is a valuable part of America. Rural communities are not sharing in the nation’s prosperity. This hurts all of us.

- When rural young people are denied the opportunity to build homes, businesses, lives and careers, rural America contributes fewer taxes, fewer jobs and less productivity to America. To contribute to the nation’s prosperity, rural America must share in it.

- When community is weakened, the bonds that make us strong are weakened. In strong communities we are more likely to help each other. To uplift rural values, we must lift up rural communities.

- The destruction of family farms and small business is shrinking the rural middle class. People denied a stake in the American dream, are less likely to take responsibility for sustaining it.

Strengthening Rural America Strengthens All of America!

Tell everyone you know…Sign the Petition! –

Congress Must Act Now to Revitalize Rural America!

There are practical strategies that work to revitalize rural communities. But local initiative must be matched by federal policies that support rural revitalization, rather than hinder it. The 2007 farm bill provides an opportunity to change course.

- Rural Entrepreneurship – traditional economic development based on industrial recruitment simply does not work for most rural communities. Investment in entrepreneurial development based on small business counters out-migration and chronic economic hardship by creating economic opportunity.

- Rural Asset Building – match savings of lower income families in counties with chronic depopulation and allow money saved in these Individual Development Accounts to be used for starting a business, buying a home or obtaining higer education. These strategies help individuals and families build assets base that lift the veil of poverty and dependence on low wage work, making rural communities stronger and more viable as opportunities are expanded and ownership extended to more rural people.

- Family Farm and Ranch Innovation – assist farmers and ranchers in pursuing new, high-value, consumer driven markets for their products, thereby creating enhanced economic opportunities in rural communities. Invest resources in innovative cooperatives and other ventures that increase the profitability and viability of family farms and ranches.

- Beginning Farmers and Ranchers – the future of agriculture depends on the next generation of family farmers and ranchers. And the viability of many rural businesses, schools and other community institutions also depends on new farmers and ranchers getting started. Invest in training, mentoring, linking, education and planning – invest in the future of family farming and ranching.

- Conservation – preserve land and water by rewarding farmers and ranchers for good stewardship on working lands. Investing in programs like the Conservation Security Program which rewards more intense management of land to protect the environment rather than what and how much farms produce, is also good for family farmers, ranchers and rural communities.

- Payment limits – the single most effective thing Congress can do to strengthen rural America is cap farm payments and stop providing subsidies that mega farms use to drive smaller operations out of business. Capping farm payments saves money that can be invested in creating a future for rural America.

We do not have to choose between family farms and rural communities.

Take Action Today!

Tell everyone you know…Sign the Petition! –

John Crabtree
Development and Outreach Officer
Center for Rural Affairs
Blog for Rural America
402-687-2103 ext 1010

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Center Provides Equity Awards to Rural Women Entrepreneurs

Center for Rural Affairs' Rural Enterprise Assistance Project Provides Equity Awards to Rural Women

Fourteen women micro-entrepreneurs across rural Nebraska will receive a cash equity award from the Center’s Rural Enterprise Assistance Project (REAP) Women’s Business Center. The equity award winners were announced at the Women in Business Benefit banquet on March 29, 2006 in Lincoln, Nebraska in correlation with Women’s History Month.

REAP is one of 15 Local Partners with the national Women and Company Microenterprise Boost Program. Glennis McClure, REAP Women’s Business Center Director said, “This is our second year in this project. With the nice boost these awards provided our member businesses last year, we were thrilled to once again be a partner in this national project and help Nebraska women-owned businesses.”

REAP clients selected to receive equity awards in 2006 include:

Marilyn Capps, MC Tax Prep, Falls City, NE
Carol Douty, Garden Lane, Milford, NE
Darla Grace, Your Country Neighbor, Peru, NE
Sandra Gutierrez, Bilingual Consulting Services, South Sioux City, NE
Pat Setlik & Connie McFadden, Cottonwood Lane, Loup City, NE
Rhonda Dowling, RT Fudge, Burwell, NE
Martha Martinez, Esperanzo’s Creations, South Sioux City, NE
Carla Mayo, Cedar Creek Steakhouse, Humboldt, NE
Harriet McFeely, Country Meadows, Hastings, NE
Lisa Johnson, Lisa Johnson Photography, Oakland, NE
Angela Rathe, By Design & Upholstery, McCook, NE
Katrina Schroder, Kats Kritters, Ainsworth, NE
Ronda Sherman, Sherman & Beel Photo LLC, Johnstown NE
Denice Swanson, The Drawer, Holdrege, NE

Recipients were selected through an application process coordinated by REAP. The awards can be used for essential business development activities such as marketing, technology purchases, website development, inventory, or professional services.

Funding for the Boost Program is provided by the Citigroup Foundation. Women and Company, a division of Citigroup, provides access to financial education and resources for women and is working with the Association for Enterprise Opportunity (AEO) to implement and promote the program.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Keeping the Family Together in Rural Communities

Keeping the Family Together in Rural Communities

by Michael L. Holton,

In examining children and poverty in rural communities, it is clear that we must get at the root of problems despite the barriers

The chances that rural children will live in poverty are increasing. How do we explain this? In examining the question, we found several startling statistics that simply cannot be ignored.

Drop in agriculturally-dependent counties.

In 1950, when rural counties were defined by the prevalent income-generating activity, 2,000 counties were considered agricultural. By 1990 this figure had dropped to 556 counties. By the 2000 census, 420 counties across the United States were considered agricultural.

What a tremendous drop. Not only does it reflect the agricultural consolidation that has taken place, it also shows the wide diversity of income-generating activities that account for what can be considered rural throughout the country.

Decline of family structure.

One major thread weaving its way through all of America, rural and urban, is the decline of family structure. While urban and rural areas experience similar divorce rates, it is clear that poverty rates for children are higher in rural areas than in urban areas.

Single female parent households in rural areas account for up to 48 percent of children considered in poverty. This compares with 34 percent in urban areas. While both figures are startling and unsettling, the difference is significant.

Teenage pregnancy rates.

Another startling statistic that wraps all of child poverty together concerns unwed mothers. Unwed teenage mothers with less than a high school education have a 78 percent poverty rate, while mothers who are married, over 20, with at least a high school education experience only a 6 percent poverty rate.

According to USDA statistics on child poverty, unwed mothers in rural areas tend to have children earlier than those in urban areas. This is also significant in terms of education. Those in urban areas may attend more school and possibly attain a high school education as compared to those in rural areas.

In discussing the decline of family structure, it is not our intent to criticize but rather to point out barriers that have clearly surfaced when it comes to child poverty in rural areas. If we address the root of the problems surrounding child poverty, we may also soften the effect that comes along with the breakdown of the nuclear family.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Center for Rural Affairs Supports Amendment One

Lack of State Senator pay increase since 1988 will deter good people from running for office.

The Center for Rural Affairs is a member of a far ranging coalition, chaired by University of Nebraska Kearney Chancellor Doug Kristensen, to support Amendment One, a Constitutional amendment on Nebraska’s primary ballot May 9, 2006 that would increase State Senators’ salaries. Other Yes on Amendment members include both the Republican and Democratic parties, Nebraska Farmers Union, Nebraska Farm Bureau, Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Nebraska AFL-CIO.

Amendment One would increase the pay of State Senators from the current $12,000 annually to $21,000 beginning in 2007. Each year after that, the salary would increase based on the change in the consumer price index, but will never exceed a four percent annual increase.

“Amendment One addresses a key issue facing citizen government in Nebraska. Not only have we not addressed this issue since 1988 when the salaries were raised from $4,800 to $12,000 annually, but it is one of the lowest in the country and deters good people from serving in state government,” said Doug Kristensen, UNK Chancellor, former Speaker of the Nebraska Legislature and Chair of the Yes for Amendment One Committee.

The legislative salary increase will cost each Nebraskan 16 cents per year.

Why is Amendment One good for Nebraska?

• It is important to pay Senators enough so they can serve and support their families.
• State Senators’ pay should be commensurate with their responsibility.
• Amendment One reinforces the idea of a representative government by addressing a major financial obstacle many Nebraskans have to consider before running for the legislature.
• State Senators do not receive health insurance or any other benefits and only receive a per diem for expenses and mileage when the legislature is in session. When senators travel and meet with constituents in their districts, they receive no compensation.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

A Fight to Save a Town

Dougherty, Iowa Residents Fight to Save Post Office, and to Save their Town

By Judy Keen

The trouble with the post office started a few months ago. The mail, which had always been delivered to this town's 81 residents by 10:30 a.m., began showing up three hours later.

It didn't take long for people to find out that their carrier had been assigned a new route that starts 12 miles away in Marble Rock. When people asked why, they learned that, starting this month, mail destined for delivery by carrier here wouldn't go through the post office on Main Street. It would be sorted 14 miles away in Rockford.

Most people here are assuming the worst: that the U.S. Postal Service won't keep the Dougherty post office open just to serve the 22 P.O. boxes in the lobby and to sell stamps.

It's a fear shared by small towns across the country. They worry that losing the post office will hasten their hometowns' demise, because people who need to buy stamps or mail a package while running errands could decide to shop elsewhere.

In the past two years, 222 post offices have closed.

"Usually when you lose your rural carrier, the post office is next," says Tim King, 47, who owns a radiator repair shop here. "If you don't act right away, the Postal Service thinks you don't care. And the next thing you know, you're done."

Becky Litterer, 53, owner of a greenhouse, organized a petition drive to save the post office and gathered 184 signatures. Copies were sent to postal officials and politicians. Without the post office, Litterer says, "people have one less reason to come to town."

Fred Hintenach, the Postal Service's national customer service manager, says there are no plans to close the post office here, though its hours might be reduced. In the past few days, people who signed the petition got letters from Gov. Tom Vilsack saying postal officials have told him the facility won't close. But people are skeptical. "I just don't know how long that's good for," Litterer says. "The only way it's a cost savings is when we're closed."

In a letter to the Postal Service, Mayor Lynn Nagel wrote, "Actions like this are like pounding a nail in the coffin in preparation for the death of our small town."

'It's devastating'

Other communities fighting to keep their post offices agree.

"It's devastating," says Henry Music, who was postmaster in East Point, Ky., until its post office closed in December. Residents of East Point, population 1,278, also collected signatures on petitions. "We deserve our post office like every other community," Music says.

Monkton, Vt., population 2,000, is trying to prevent its post office from closing in April when the postmaster retires. The post office is located in the postmaster's garage. About 500 signatures have been collected on a petition. Henry Boisse, a town selectman, says saving the post office is "a question of our town's identity."

Occasionally there are happy endings. McCausland, Iowa, was notified in January that its post office would close temporarily on Feb. 24. Most of the town's 300 residents were sure it would stay closed. After a public outcry, the Postal Service agreed to keep it open.
Retired postmasters have offered their expertise to small towns in the fight.

Keva Richardson, a former postmaster in Glenwood, Iowa, who retired in 2001, told people here to document how closure would affect them, write letters and prove that the town is united behind keeping the post office open. "Rural America is as important as New York City or anywhere else," Richardson says. "The post office is the pride of many of these communities, and working together is the only way to save it."

Federal law says the Postal Service must provide "a maximum degree of effective and regular postal service to rural areas, and small towns where post offices are not self-sustaining." It can close a post office because of inadequate facilities or to streamline service after giving 60 days' notice and getting recommendations from district postal officials.

"We don't discount anyone's input," Hintenach says. "The important thing is what the customers need." The Postal Service considers revenue, population growth or loss, proximity of other post offices and the effect on businesses and schools, he says. "We care dearly about the communities," he says. "We pride ourselves on the fact that we take a good, hard look at this."

When a post office closes, its operations sometimes move to another town or are contracted to a local merchant. Sometimes unstaffed mailboxes are set up. As a last resort, communities can appeal to the Postal Rate Commission. In the past five years, there have been no appeals, Postal Service spokesman Jim Quirk says.

A town's lifeline

The Postal Service, which gets no subsidy from taxpayers, is competing with e-mail and commercial shippers. It ended 2005 with net income of $1.4 billion but expects to end this year $1.8 billion in the hole because of a mandatory $3.1 billion payment to an escrow fund for retirees' health care, Quirk says.

There's been a post office in Dougherty since 1900, when the town was incorporated. People are so attached to their mail carrier, Dennis Campbell, that they leave him gifts on his birthday and tuck glasses of iced lemonade inside their mailboxes on hot days.

Ethel Conners, 88, recalls mail arriving on horse-drawn surreys. She put up a sign at the bank where she works that reads, "If you don't understand the importance of a post office in a small town, then you've never lived there."

Eileen Weber, 78, worries about getting her blood-pressure medication in the mail. Litterer frets that potential customers won't find her greenhouse if the 1,500 fliers she mails every spring don't originate here. King wants to be sure he receives customers' checks in the mail before the bank closes at 2 p.m.

Mostly people worry about their town, where the population peaked at 300 soon after it was founded. In 1922, there were 250 residents, a pool hall, a hotel and two general stores. Today, vacant buildings line Main Street, and only a handful of businesses remain.

"Everyone keeps saying we're a dying town, but we're still plugging away," King says. "We see something that needs getting done, we do it. We want to keep our post office."

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

I grew up on a farm 3 miles from Dougherty. Dougherty, Iowa is my hometown. Any thoughts that our readers might have on helping save the post office in the hundreds of rural communities faced with losing theirs, like Dougherty, would be greatly appreciated as well as shared with others and acted on as soon as possible. thank you, John Crabtree

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Individual Development Accounts for Beginning Farmers and Ranchers

Asset-Building for Beginning Farmers

California FarmLink developed the first of these savings accounts for agriculture; they recently trained others on their program

by Michael Holton,

Individual Development Accounts have been around since 1995. IDAs are matched savings accounts designed to help low-income persons accumulate a targeted amount of funds for a specified purpose. The most common use so far has been purchasing homes, forming small businesses, or furthering education.

Account holders generally make a monthly contribution to an account, usually over a one to four-year period, and their savings are matched by funders. The match is typically from one to three dollars for every dollar saved. Funds accumulate in a savings account, which for some is their first experience as an account holder at an insured institution.

IDAs grew from three programs in 1995 to more than 500 programs by 2002. They now encompass more than 20,000 account holders. These matched accounts are similar to 401 (k) plans, but serve a broader range of purposes. Now, federal, state, and local governments; the private sector; and nonprofit organizations can match IDA deposits made by low-income or targeted persons.

California FarmLink created the first beginning farmer IDA asset building program in 2005. This linking group is patterned after the Center’s pioneering Land Link program. The main focus of California FarmLink’s program is to direct the IDA money to farm equipment and land purchases, particularly downpayments.

Working with Wells Fargo and other banking institutions, California FarmLink recruited eight clients the first year. The match ratio was three to one. At a $100 contribution from the client, that entitles the aspiring farmer to $9,600 in 2 years or $4,800 per year.

Participants in this program must attend educational classes and workshops geared to helping them save money and showing them what farm financing is all about. Partners in this relationship were the Farm Service Agency and the Alliance for Land Based Agriculture.

On February 8-10, 2006, California FarmLink hosted training for groups around the country on their IDA program. Michael Holton attended from the Center, as did staff from varied groups and organizations in Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, New England, and Washington state.

The training aligned farming groups around the country to see if the concept of Individual Development Accounts would work in their regions. The consensus of the group is that it would work and that each partner should take back information and begin to design the program.

Beginning farming programs need to diversify their offerings as many of the traditional methods of helping the beginner have either dried up or are simply not enough. Adding the potential of an IDA to the portfolio of services offered in Nebraska for beginning farming makes sense and should be explored.

With the passage of an increase in the Nebraska Beginning Farmer Tax Credit in 2006, IDAs could be another way to entice beginners to save for their future. There is a future in farming, and with tools like the IDA, we can help make it happen.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

A Younger Face for Rural America

A Younger Face for Rural America

Contribute your stories, images to book showcasing role of young people in rural revitalization

Beth Munnich, Renewing the Countryside
(612) 871-1541,

As rural populations decline, community leaders across the country find themselves concerned about how to hold on to young residents—and attract young families to rural places. But young people are, in fact, making lives for themselves in rural America—launching new businesses, keeping family farms in production, starting new farms, and becoming involved in their local communities.

Moreover, young people in both rural and urban areas are engaging in rural development by participating in farm-to-school programs, community gardens, and exchange programs that give young people a taste of rural lifestyles. Forward-thinking communities are finding new and innovative ways to engage the next generation in building a better future for their original and adopted hometowns.

Consider contributing your story or photo to Youth Renewing the Countryside, a book in progress that will capture the best stories of hope and youth-led renewal in rural America. The book will be produced by young writers and photographers who tell the success stories of young adults crafting rural livelihoods that support themselves, their families, and their communities, and of youth programs that build social capital while strengthening local food systems.

The book will form the basis for a national public education campaign about the role of young people in sustaining and revitalizing rural communities. Renewing the Countryside, a Minneapolis-based non-profit organization, in partnership with the USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, is now seeking stories and story ideas, as well as young writers and photographers to be part of the Youth Renewing the Countryside production team this summer.

A national committee composed of representatives from farming, youth development, and entrepreneurship networks, along with writers and photographers, will select the stories to be included in the publication and the writers and photographers who will create it. Selected contributors will be paired with professional writers and photographers who will act as mentors throughout the process. Renewing the Countryside will provide modest compensation to writers and photographers for their work.

Contact Beth Munnich ( or (866) 378-0587) with: * your story idea * name(s) of potential contributor(s), including young writers or photographers

The deadline for nominating stories, writers, and photographers is June 15, 2006. Submissions and nominations will be reviewed beginning in early June.

Renewing the Countryside is a 501c3 non-profit organization that provides support and resources for individuals and communities who are looking for sustainable ways to strengthen their rural communities and reduce poverty. The organization does this by sharing stories of rural renewal, building public awareness of and support for sustainable endeavors, connecting people interested in sustainable rural development to each other, providing practical assistance and networking opportunities for people working to improve rural America, and fostering connections between urban and rural residents.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Monday, May 01, 2006

John Kenneth Galbraith - In Memorium

John Kenneth Galbraith: 1908-2006

Pioneering liberal economist John Kenneth Galbraith died on April 29 at the age of 97.

Dr. Galbraith was a Harvard professor, the author of nearly 50 books, and an advisor to four presidents. In one of his most famous books, "The Affluent Society" (1958), he depicted a "consumer culture gone wild, rich in goods but poor in the social services that make for community," and warned that artificially created demand for consumer products would weaken the ability of the public sector to provide necessary services.

In that same book, he also asked, "Is the added production or the added efficiency in production worth its effect on ambient air, water and space — the countryside?"

First and foremost, however, Galbraith was an agricultural economist, and one of his main areas of investigation was "how America changed from a nation of small farms and workshops to one of big factories and superstores." He was sharply critical of USDA policies which he described as, starting in the 1950s, promoting a "get big or get out" philosophy, policies he considered to be "sonorous boondoggling."

Rest in Peace Professor Galbraith, and thank you.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.