Rural America

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Checkpoint sketch by Marc Nelson / @Marcnelsonart

“The tribes aren’t blinking.” 

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

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

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


Monday, May 11, 2020, 1:33 pm  ·  By Michael Haedicke

Meat Factory Work is Dangerous in Normal Times. The Same Conditions Spread Covid-19

Workers process pork in a plant in 2016.   (Photo courtesy of USGAO/Wikimedia Commons)

Large meatpacking plants have become hotspots for coronavirus infection, along with jails and nursing homes. As of May 1, nearly 5,000 packing plant workers in 19 states had fallen ill, and 20 had died.

Packing plants from Washington state to Iowa to Georgia have temporarily suspended operations, although President Trump has invoked the Defense Production Act in an effort to quickly restart these facilities.

As Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds put it in a press conference, virus outbreaks in packing plants are “very difficult to contain.” But what makes these plants so dangerous? As a sociologist who has studied food system labor issues, I see two answers.

First, working conditions experienced in meatpacking plants, which are shaped by the pressures of efficient production, contribute to the spread of Covid-19. Second, this industry has evolved since the mid-20th century in ways that make it hard for workers to advocate for safe conditions even in good times, let alone during a pandemic.


Tuesday, May 5, 2020, 11:03 am  ·  By Johnathan Hettinger

EPA Gives Agribusiness Giant Syngenta a Pass on Pesticide Monitoring Due to Covid-19 Concerns

The EPA recently allowed the Swiss agribusiness giant to halt its water monitoring program of a pesticide linked to reproductive issues and cancer.   (Photo by Joseph Bullington)

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

Amid COVID-19 restrictions, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has allowed Swiss agribusiness giant Syngenta to halt its water monitoring program of a pesticide linked to reproductive issues and cancer that is found in the drinking water of millions of Americans.

Since 2004, the agency has required Syngenta to monitor waterways for atrazine, a potent herbicide often sprayed on corn, because of its effects on human and ecological health.

But Syngenta asked for a reprieve this growing season in order to comply with travel restrictions imposed by Midwestern states, where the most pollution usually occurs. 

On April 1, the EPA granted that request.


Saturday, May 2, 2020, 3:54 pm  ·  By Melanie Bateman

A Mask Shortage Could Leave Farmers and Farm Workers Exposed to Toxic Pesticides

A tractor sprays pesticides on a Lousiana cotton field. Many farm workers and others rely on N95 masks to protect them from exposure to pesticides and herbicides, which often pose serious health risks.   (Photo by Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Editor's Note: This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads around the world, vital N95 masks and other personal protective equipment have been hard to come by, even for those who need them most.

The World Health Organization estimates that the crisis has driven demand for this equipment, known as PPE, 100 times higher than normal. Even with dramatic increases in production, manufacturers have said they’ll likely be unable to meet demand for the foreseeable future.

And the WHO has warned that the severe shortage is putting the lives of health care workers at risk.

But it’s not just health care workers and other care providers who need PPE – especially those N95 masks, technically known as respirators. These devices are also vital to the safety of workers in a host of other industries, from building trades to agriculture.


Monday, Apr 27, 2020, 10:21 pm  ·  By Joseph Bullington

In Montana, Food Banks Battle Surging Demand and Shifting Supply Chains

Aaron Brock, Executive Director of the Missoula Food Bank and Community Center, finishes a prepackaged bag of groceries for patrons on April 27, 2020.   Credit: Tommy Martino / MTFP

Editor's Note: This article is published in collaboration with Montana Free Press.

Brent Weisgram was too swamped to do a phone interview. 

As chief operations officer, he oversees food purchasing and distribution for the Montana Food Bank Network, headquartered in Missoula, and his troubles can be summed up in a few figures, which he sent in an email.

MFBN has shipped 1.6 million meals to Montana food pantries in the last month ― half a million more than during the same period last year. And as need has surged, so has the price of certain staples. A case of peanut butter, for example, currently costs about 45% more than usual.

The numbers illustrate how the COVID-19 pandemic, which has pushed tens of thousands of Montanans out of work and sent shudders through commercial and retail supply chains, has hit food banks from both sides.


Saturday, Apr 25, 2020, 12:36 pm  ·  By Christine Vestal

The South May Suffer the Largest Share of Covid-19 Misery. Here’s Why.

A customer enters Burnell's Lower Ninth Ward Market in New Orleans on April 14. Burnell's is the only grocery store in what is otherwise considered a "food desert." New Orleans has had the highest COVID-19 death rates in the country.   (Photo by Claire Bangser / AFP via Getty Images)

Editor's Note: This article was originally published by Stateline, an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts.

It looks increasingly likely the South will endure more death and economic loss from COVID-19 than any other region in the country — and not just because Southern governors were slow to shut down businesses and order people to stay at home.

Southern poverty rates are high, social welfare programs spotty and health care infrastructure threadbare. In the past decade, 120 rural U.S. hospitals closed their doors; 75 of them were in the South.

And emerging data from some cities and states shows that black people — more than half of whom live in the South — are contracting and dying from the virus at a disproportionately high rate.


Monday, Apr 20, 2020, 7:47 am  ·  By Tara Lohan

Ten Years After the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, We’re on Course to Repeat One of Our Worst Mistakes

The U.S. Coast Guard conducts a controlled burn of oil spilled from the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform, which exploded on April 20, 2010 and spilled 168 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico off the Louisiana coast.   (Photo by Justin E. Stumberg / U.S. Navy via Getty Images)

Editor's Note: This story was originally published by The Revelator, a publication of the Center for Biological Diversity.

It’s been 10 years since flames engulfed the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 workers and triggering the largest accidental oil spill in U.S. history. The resulting 168 million gallons of oil that spewed into the water for 87 days killed thousands of birds, turtles, dolphins, fish and other animals.

The messy slick washed up on 1,300 miles of beaches, coated wetlands with toxic chemicals, imperiled human health, crippled the region’s tourism sector and shut down fisheries — costing nearly $1 billion in losses to the seafood industry.

In the years since, scientists have studied the far-reaching and longstanding ecological damages. And it’s clear that problems persist.

A decade later, what have we learned? Are we any closer to preventing a similar — or worse — catastrophe? Here are some of the takeaways.


Thursday, Apr 16, 2020, 6:17 pm  ·  By Kai Huschke and Simon Davis-Cohen

The EPA Has Abandoned Its Duty To Protect the Environment. ‘Rights of Nature’ Laws Can Fill the Void

Supporters of the Lake Erie Bill of Rights rally in front of the federal courthouse in Toledo, Ohio in January.   Photo courtesy of Toledoans for Safe Water

Authoritarian governments often prepare laws they wish to pass and have them “ready to go” when opportunity strikes. That’s what Fionnuala Ni Aolain, a United Nations Special Rapporteur on Counterterrorism and Human Rights, recently told the New York Times

“They draft laws in advance and wait ‘for the opportunity of the crisis to be presented,’” Ni Aolain explained.

It’s clear to us that greed-fueled bad actors are taking this pandemic as just such an opportunity. Corporate lobbies have quietly pushed through laws criminalizing fossil fuel protests. Congress approved an unprecedented and unnecessary handout to corporate America. Pipeline companies want to classify new pipelines as “essential,” including TC Energy, which got the green light and began constructing the infamous Keystone XL pipeline. The federal government appears to be mulling a bailout for the fossil fuel industry. And, last but not least, the Trump administration ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to stop enforcing anti-pollution laws in some cases, removing what anemic oversight the EPA once held over corporate polluters, effectively suspending the agency while taking action to roll back some environmental protections permanently.

The EPA’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic ― effectively ceasing enforcement of federal environmental laws ― will, regardless of the motivations for this unprecedented decision, negatively impact peoples’ lives. This means that many communities, and the life-giving ecosystems they depend upon, are on their own.


Saturday, Apr 11, 2020, 4:24 pm  ·  By Tamara J. Benjamin

The Pandemic Could Hit New Farmers Hard, Just When We Need Them Most

A customer receives a bag of produce at the Star Route Farms stand in the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market in San Francisco March 21. Many small and beginning farmers, who often depend on farmers markets, are at risk of being knocked out of business by the pandemic.   Photo by Paul Chinn/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Editor's Note: This article was originally by The Conversation on March 25 and is republished hereunder a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The familiar sight of weekend shoppers brushing shoulders at farmers markets across the U.S. is under threat from the coronavirus and fears of its spread.

In Seattle, farmers markets have been suspended altogether. In New York state – the epicenter of the U.S.‘s fight against the virus – they remain open, but residents are being warned against gathering in groups and told to practice social distancing.

Such uncertainty is likely to hurt so-called “beginning farmers” – typically smaller-scale, start-up operations. As an expert in diversified farming systems, I can see vulnerable farmers closing down as a result of this crisis, and this could have a knock-on effect on the long-term food supply chain.