The flooding in rural Iowa was terrible for the cattle, the corn and the people, but what about the wastewater treatment systems? Joe Dvorak and Dennis Siders from the Midwest Assistance Program have been thinking about Midwest wastewater system for years. At the Midwest Rural Assembly yesterday, they led a learning roundtable session to talk about the problems that rural Iowa faces and the water infrastructure challenges that we all face.
The day-to-day problems of aging infrastructure, lack of funds, declining budgets, and losing knowledgeable and skilled certified operators are all of major concern. Dvorak and Siders also noted that many small communities simply pay a flat rate for water coming into the town on a main pipe, but a lot of that water is lost to inefficient distribution systems and even holes down pipe from the main pipe meter. In a world where water is becoming the new oil, water inefficiency is no longer an option especially for rural communities.
So the answer is, well, complicated. Dvorak and Siders are clear: “keep track of your water.” And although the motto is simple, the implementation is anything but easy. Small communities are not keen on mandating water meters on end-usage sources because of the added cost. Plus local governments are not even charging the actual cost of the water usage because they don’t want to add any additional costs to struggling individuals. However, Dvorak and Siders maintain that through simple steps such as monitoring usage and plugging leaks to keep wastewater out and clean water in, small towns can lower their costs and conserve one of our most important resources.
Addressing water infrastructure in rural communities is very difficult, complicated and possibly expensive but still less than the cost of doing nothing.
By Andrew Gross
At a learning roundtable at the Midwest Rural Assembly titled, "Broadband Regulation: What Title II Reclassification Means to Rural America" we tried to answer some tough questions: What does broadband access mean to rural America? How do different rural communities think of broadband access? What costs do rural communities bear that the urban areas don’t? Although, these questions are of central importance to rural America they are of little importance to the future of broadband. Why? The topic of broadband regulation has largely become a question of jurisdiction.
Pursuant to the 1996 Communication Regulation Act, the question of whether or not the Federal Communications Commission has regulatory authority over broadband has been anything but clear. Is broadband a communication service and therefore regulated by Title II or is it an information service and therefore not required to comply with Title II regulation? Without answering this question we won’t be able to talk about the more difficult questions of what to do about broadband access in rural locations, according to Parul Desai (Media Access Project) and Edyael Casaperalta (Center for Rural Strategies). We discussed the National Broadband Policy (proposed FCC regulation), but both Desai and Casaperalta stated that even if they thought the new policy to be wonderful, it will be locked up court because it’s impossible to know if the FCC has the regulatory authority to enact any of its proposals.
Desai and Casaperalta advocated for the importance of FCC regulation on broadband and mentioned some other possibilities to increase rural access to broadband. But in the end this roundtable was dominated by a single theme: The FCC needs to make clear its regulatory authority over broadband. Until this happens all wheels are simply spinning.
By Andrew Gross
"I felt like I had nursed a low-grade feud with where I grew up" for many years, Debra Marquart told participants at the Midwest Rural Assembly in South Souix City, Iowa this morning. Marquart is an English Professor at Iowa State University and author of the book, The Horizontal World: Growing up Wild in the Middle of Nowhere.
The book, spurred by the death of her father and wanting to understand more about the North Dakota town where she grew up, is the culmination of 14 years of research in small town libraries, cemetaries and interviews. Marquart left the small town of Napolean at age 17, but always carried the photo of the long road leading to her house with her. She went to college, toured with rock bands and then found teaching. The book documents her journey to learn more about the hometown and farm she grew up on but didn't pay attention to during much of her childhood spent working on the farm. As she described it, people there "lived on the narrow margin of life."
Her great grandfather emigrated from Russia in 1886 and built a large house with a balcony to look out over his acreage with the hope that future generations of his family would live on the land. But growing up in the 60s and 70s, Marquart couldn't wait to leave.
Marquart's book highlights one of the central themes of the Midwest Rural Assembly: How to engage young people in ways that they see the value of small towns and the land—before they leave. Several of the panels here later this afternoon will look at this challenge more deeply. Marquart was optimistic, describing how her hometown has actually grown in the last ten years. Many people are returning who left when they were younger. Others are attracted to some of the same traits that brought her great grandfather to North Dakota: low housing and land costs and a connection to the land.
One of the big focuses at next week's Midwest Rural Assembly will be on retaining young people. One of the leading afternoon sessions on Monday will feature young and inspiring leaders from the Midwest talking about the challenges of living in rural communities, and solutions for addressing those challenges. Check out this excellent story by Public News Service on the Midwest Rural Assembly and its focus on strategies to retain young people.
More on the Midwest Rural Assembly next week!
“Anyone who is passionate about the rural Midwest should plan on attending the Midwest Rural Assembly.” I made that statement last year in a post about the assembly, and I want to repeat it again this year. If you are one of those persons, I hope I will see you in South Sioux City, Nebraska on August 16 and 17.
What is the Midwest Rural Assembly?
The Midwest Rural Assembly is an effort to gather people who are care about the rural Midwest and hold a conversation about its future. In many ways it provides an opportunity to regionalize and localize the efforts of the National Rural Assembly by “providing an opportunity for rural leaders and their allies to unite in a common cause, advocating for common-sense policies that improve the outlook and results for rural places, people, cultures and economies.” After all, rural means different things to people in different parts of the country.
Even within the Midwest, people have different ideas about what “rural” means and what needs to be done to build a vibrant future for our region. One of the things I like about the event is that the agenda is shaped by the people who show up and are willing to do the work. That’s a lot like how things get done in our rural communities.
What’s happening this year?
The program is being positioned around the four guiding principles of the National Rural Assembly:
1. Investments in our People; 2. Health of our People; 3. Stewardship of Natural Resources; and 4. Quality in Education.
Last year I met some great people from whom I continue to draw inspiration and ideas (i.e., Neil Linscheid, who I wrote about in my last post). Unfortunately, I was too wrapped up in a presentation and some other activities last year to fully engage myself in the conversations. Hopefully that changes this year.
What I’m interested in
Lately, I’ve been thinking about the role education plays in the future of our rural communities. Specifically, I’m interested in the ideas put forth in Hollowing out the Middle. I’d very much like to hear what others have to say about the concept that educators and community members over-invest in those most likely to leave our rural communities at the expense of those who are committed to staying.
I’m going to look for places where that conversation is most likely to emerge. If this year’s event is like last year’s, many good conversations will take place in the hallways between sessions. If this is a topic of interest to you, I hope you will seek me out. And if you know of places where that conversation is already taking place online, I hope you will share them with me. It would be great to have interesting food for thought before the assembly meets.
Details of the 2010 Midwest Rural Assembly
Date: August 16 & 17, 2010
Location: Marina Inn and Conference Center (Phone: 1-800-798-7980)
Social Media: Be sure to follow the Midwest Rural Assembly on Facebook and Twitter as well.
This blog first appeared at Reimagine Rural. Written by Mike Knutson.
On August 16 and 17, rural community leaders in the Midwest have a unique opportunity. U.S. Department of Agriculture state rural development leaders from Minnesota, Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa and Kansas will be in South Sioux City, Nebraska at the 2010 Midwest Rural Assembly. And they want to hear about what's working in rural communities in the Midwest.
Join some of the Midwest's leading organizations working for rural prosperity, along with state and federal government officials, at the Midwest Rural Assembly. Topics covered will include how to retain young people in rural communities, cooperative business models, sustainable energy, local food systems, green job creation, rural teacher training, microenterprise programs, integration of immigrants, rural infrastructure projects and more. Policy discussions will cover federal health care reform, farm policy and broadband policy.
Find out more in the press release below, and at the Midwest Rural Assembly website.
Midwest Rural Assembly to bring together community and government leaders
Participants talk strategies for rural prosperity
Minneapolis – Rural community leaders and government officials will gather at the 2010 Midwest Rural Assembly (MRA) to exchange ideas and strategies for rural prosperity.
The MRA will be held on August 16–17 in South Sioux City, Nebraska. Along with rural community leaders from throughout the region, participants will include U.S. Department of Agriculture state rural development directors from Minnesota, Iowa, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas. Keynote speakers include South Dakota state representative Kevin Killer and Iowa State professor and writer/poet Debra Marquart.
“Rural communities have been particularly hard hit by these tough economic times,” said Jim Kleinschmit, director of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy’s Rural Communities program. “But there’s also a lot of innovation, energy and ideas coming out of our small towns. This is an opportunity for rural leaders and government representatives to learn about what’s working, and as importantly, how we can join together to face many of our common challenges.”
A special area of focus is to identify strategies to attract and retain young people in rural communities. Young rural leaders from Minnesota, Montana, Wisconsin and Kansas will share their priorities. Other leaders will discuss successful examples of increasing rural prosperity through cooperative business models, sustainable energy, local food systems, green job creation, rural teacher training, microenterprise programs, integration of immigrants, rural infrastructure projects and more. Policy discussions will cover federal health care reform, farm policy and broadband policy.
In addition to IATP, coordinating organizations include: Avera Rural Health Institute, Center for Rural Affairs, Center for Rural Policy and Development, Center for Rural Strategies, Dakota Rural Action, Great Plains Rural Policy Network, Heartland Center for Leadership Development, Iowa Policy Project, League of Rural Voters, Meadowlark Institute, National Rural Assembly, National Wildlife Federation, Nebraska Housing Developers Association, North Central Regional Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, Renewing the Countryside, Rural Learning Center, Rural Policy Research Institute, South Dakota Rural Enterprise, Inc., and West Central Initiative.
The MRA will be held at the Marina Inn Conference Center in South Sioux City, Nebraska. Registrants will receive a special MRA rate if rooms are booked before August 2. To register, and read the full agenda and speakers list, go to www.midwestruralassembly.org.
The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy works locally and globally at the intersection of policy and practice to ensure fair and sustainable food, farm and trade systems. www.iatp.org
Currently, the navigation infrastructure on the Mississippi costs the federal government an estimated $100 million a year to maintain—a subsidy that supports the export of Minnesota's agricultural products. Now, the navigation industry is pushing for more: nearly $270 million. In a new commentary, published yesterday in the Star Tribune, IATP's Mark Muller explains why increased investment in export channels like the locks and dams from Minneapolis to southern Illinois is bad for Minnesota agriculture.
“Now that the Farm Bill has encouraged all of this corn and soybean production, federal policymakers apparently feel some responsibility for facilitating the export of these crops,” he writes. “When agriculture production is narrowed down to just a couple of crops [...] economic opportunities that provide a greater return are lost. This hurts the Midwest farmers that have little choice to grow these crops even when prices are lousy, and hurts rural communities that need economic development.”
Read the entire commentary, “Don't give up on Minnesota's agriculture innovation,” here (pdf).
Syttende Mai (May 17) is Constitution Day in Norway. In Milan, Minnesota, out on the western prairie, hundreds of Norway’s distant sons and daughters gather on Syttende Mai to celebrate their Scandinavian heritage, language, food, music and customs. IATP joined the celebration this year in a parade that wound its way through the village and down Main Street. Our contribution to the festivities included an angel, a devil and one sinner towing the IATP banner in support of community-based energy conservation and the Milan Sustainable Energy Utility project.
Before lining up for the parade we went to the Kviteseid Smorgaas Tea in the Little Norwegian Church basement. We were welcomed by Anne and Chuck Kanten, the presiding Milan Citizens of the Year. Our own little IATP devil, Emily Barker, identified the wonderful food served in the smorgasbord, including two kinds of lefse, flatbreads, krumkaaka, spritz, Norwegian meatballs, blod klub, Gjettost with cloudberry jam, rommegrot and coffee. And then even more coffee.
Chuck Kanten provided an update on the sugar beet crop, with almost all the beets in the ground. The next week or so, when the first cotyledons appear, the sugar crop is vulnerable. Chuck explained that if a frost occurs, the young leaves fly up into the air like helicopters and the field will need to be replanted.
We took a quick side trip to Watson, Minnesota, just down the road from Milan to visit a small, but very intensive community vegetable garden owned by Aziz Ansari. Mr. Ansari and his wife ran into trouble with the town council over the garden and recently settled a law suit with the garden staying where it is and Aziz receiving $50,000 in compensation.
Back in Milan, the IATP Energy Conservation Angel and High-Priced Energy Devil joined Electric Bill and Phantom Load Phil and lined up in the parade behind the Mud Boots Band, a group of Community Supported Agriculture farmers and farmworkers who played an incredible collection of instruments, including the bass drum, saxophone, accordion, garbage can covers and a trumpet, to name a few. Behind the IATP contingent was a 1967 lime green Mustang convertible with three women playing a variety of popular tunes on their car horn. Erik Thompson, the town banker showered our path with candy insuring applause as we passed by.
Hundreds of people lined the street and were sitting in their front yards watching the fun as we handed out leaflets inviting them to attend a series of trainings on creating a community controlled revolving loan fund to pay for conservation and renewable energy projects using the best possible resources and technology available. The dates for the four workshops are Wednesdays from 6:30–8:30 p.m. on July 21, August 25, September 22 and October 13 at the school. IATP’s Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy has been leading the project and working with the Greater Milan Initiative to raise startup money and get the word out.
Not every Syttende Mai day has an Energy Conservation Angel, but in Milan you can always count on celebrating May 17 with a community that treasures its traditions and is committed to keep their village strong and hopeful.
View all the photos from our visit to Milan for Syttende Mai here.
Minneapolis – The Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) must undergo
significant revision before the program’s next phase is launched, said the
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) in comments submitted on
April 8 to the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA).
BCAP, a 2008 Farm Bill program, was created to help farmers
grow and sell new biomass crops for renewable energy. But the FSA’s
implementation of the program has come under widespread criticism for straying
far the program’s original intent. The FSA began the initial phase of the
program before setting clear rules for qualifying grants, and before it had
completed a full environmental impact statement as required under the National
Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). As a result, nearly all of the more than $164
million in funding that has been awarded so far has gone to the forest paper
and products industries to burn lower-value wood for their own energy needs.
But as most of these users were already buying or using biomass for
pre-existing energy purposes, BCAP support does not seem to be contributing in
any substantial way to new renewable energy production or new supplies of
“Done right, BCAP could go a long way toward helping farmers
transition to growing perennial biomass crops and increasing renewable energy
production,” said Jim Kleinschmit, IATP Rural Communities Program Director.
“But so far, it appears neither farmers nor energy consumers have seen much
benefit from the millions of dollars already spent on this program.”
The FSA is expected to finalize rules for BCAP
implementation later this year. IATP’s recommendations for improving BCAP
“There’s still time to right the ship on BCAP,” said IATP
Senior Associate Julia Olmstead. “The best place to start is to revisit the
original intent of the program, and take seriously the numerous constructive
comments submitted on how to improve the program.”
IATP’s full comment to the FSA can be viewed here. The BCAP
comment period closed April 9. The USDA will announce a final rule later this
It turns out that foods that are better for you may also be better for farmers and local job creation. A new study by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University found that expanding fruit and vegetable production in the upper Midwest could bring significantly more economic benefits than conventional corn and soybean production on the same acreage.
The study, by Iowa State Research Scientist Dave Swenson, looked at the potential for fruit and vegetable production in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. It identified 28 kinds of fruits and vegetables that farmers are able to grow in the region. Currently, much of the fruits and vegetables in the region come from other parts of the country or even outside the country.
Some key findings on the economic impacts on the region as a whole:
Previous research found that smaller sized farms (50 acres and smaller) are more likely to produce fruits and vegetables than standard-sized farms so it is likely that more, smaller farms would be needed. Researchers assumed that 50 percent of fruit and vegetable production would be directly marketed in-state by farmer-owned stores. Local and regional ownership of the food chain will be essential for maximum job creation.
The study breaks down the numbers by state and metropolitan region so it's easy to get a sense of what your neck of the woods could be doing to create new local food jobs.
The barriers to transitioning toward more fruit and vegetable production in the Midwest are enormous. Farmland is hard to come by as values are seen as a better investment than the stock market. U.S. farm policy greatly incentivizes corn and soybean production in a number of ways, including helping farmers to manage risks and supporting research for those crops. And then there's the lack of infrastructure needed to help local food systems serve a booming market. Despite these barriers, this study gives us a guidepost for the potential economic benefits of a new model for agriculture that produces healthier and more locally grown food.