Friday, March 18, 2022

Beyond Fate: How Rural Schools Can Move Forward

Part three of a series

Brad Mitchell states in the second piece of this series: “The real tragedy for America’s rural schools is the damage … a deficit-based narrative does to inhibiting and concealing effective action to help all rural students (and their communities) rise.” He encourages us to tell the stories of success in rural education, so that we can learn from those stories and challenge negative stereotypes about rural schools.  

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all strategy for moving rural education forward. Due to geographic and economic differences across the country, there isn’t a cookie-cutter type of rural school system.  But there are common challenges to rural communities and schools such as geographic isolation, access to postsecondary education, and having a critical mass of students necessary to fund classes beyond the core courses, such as advanced-placement (AP) and career-and-technical-education (CTE) courses. 

These challenges can be mitigated in macro-support efforts and policy efforts such as these: 

  • Expanding broadband access to rural communities for education and workforce efforts. Creating “grow-your-own” programs to recruit and retain teachers.
  • Acknowledging and acting on the disparity of access and wraparound support that exists for low socioeconomic-status students, especially students of color. 
  • Creating opportunities for access to online and virtual courses. 
  • And creating postsecondary pathways that are part of talent pipelines to living wage careers within commuting distance or telecommuting opportunities.  

Those are some of the most common needs talked about in rural education circles, but do solutions manifest in communities?  Are there lessons about scale and transferability?  The answer is yes.  There is significant progress being made in the rural birth-to-career continuum due to innovation, resilience, and a fierce sense of independence.  What it takes to move rural education forward is collaborative leadership that partners with the community and local industries to connect schools to local resources and prepare students for the broader world.  

In Colorado for example, the Homegrown Talent Initiative is a statewide collaboration to support rural communities by enabling K-12 students to gain access to learning experiences “aligned to the needs and aspirations of their local economies.”  

Another example is found in Troy, Alabama, where Lockheed Martin has partnered with the local high school to create a virtual-reality training program through TRANSFR VR.  Using this technology, high school seniors can get training that leads to a career path into Lockheed Martin after graduation.  It’s innovation like this that displays the willingness of rural education leaders to think outside the box and innovate not just for their students to survive but thrive in a global ecosystem that is in constant flux.  

Access to broadband has been a major hurdle to overcome in many rural communities, and the disparities in home access for students were amplified in resounding fashion during the pandemic, when students were learning at home.  However, there are aggressive efforts taking place in rural communities to improve connectivity such as the Final Mile Project in Arizona, which has undertaken the challenge of connecting all students across the state.  

Education resource providers have also made shifts to provide learning opportunities to specifically support rural students without connectivity.  Companies like Thinking Media have developed tools like the Learning Blade Backpack app that enables students to access learning modules focused on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) related skills and career paths at home, and their work is automatically uploaded and stored the next time they connect at school or a hotspot.

I highlight these examples of innovation and ability to work within a flexible system to defend against some of the common stereotypes that portray rural education systems and students as unequipped, academically regressive, and saddled with an inability to succeed in the constant growth and shifting of the new global economy.  

Moving forward doesn’t always mean moving in a different direction.  The principles that consistently support rural schools are accelerating progress, amplifying innovation, and acknowledging some situations are more dire than others, such as the circumstances in Holmes County, Mississippi, discussed by Dr. Devon Brenner in the first piece of this series. You can’t think about community development without education because it’s the hub of rural communities.  We can’t talk about what was, but what we are today and what we will be tomorrow. 

Jared Bigham is senior advisor on workforce and rural initiatives for the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce, board chair for the Tennessee Rural Education Association, and a member of the National Rural Education Advocacy Committee.

This article first appeared on The Daily Yonder and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Beyond Fate: The Rise of Rural Schools

Part two of a series

Using the experience of one person to make assumptions about a group of people or an institution can promote misconceptions, intolerance, cynicism, and despair. Unfortunately, that’s what happened with a New York Times article about a student in a struggling rural school district in Mississippi. While powerful and poignant, the article evoked (or provoked) a narrative of despair. 

The graphic below characterizes four basic elements of this narrative. 

  • First, people living in rural places are left behind due to social, economic, or political changes. 
  • Second, this increases their chances to be poor, isolated, uneducated, and disconnected. 
  • Third, toxic and divisive politics emerge around perceived differences in rural and urban values and interests. 
  • Fourth, low-quality rural schools are blamed for producing poorly educated people who have lower rates of attending and completing college compared to urban and suburban counterparts.

This narrative advances a mindset that people who live in rural places deserve what they get or that there is little hope for a better life. This mindset encourages policymakers, advocates, and investors to abandon rural schools and communities. For example, many of the reader comments at the end of the Times article call for “rescuing” the bright, ambitious, and economically challenged student by helping his family relocate to a better school in Mississippi or elsewhere. Federal and state legislators have promoted “leave-rural policies” (e.g., let dying rural towns die, consolidate rural schools, close rural hospitals). Enough is enough. It is critical that we change the dominant rural narrative from despair to desire. It is in the best interest of all of us regardless of where we live.

Jesse Stuart, a rural Kentucky educator who began his teaching career at the age of 17 in 1923, wrote in his autobiography The Thread that Runs So True, that rural students, families, and communities needed to see how a “proper education” was worth its weight in “coal.” This meant shifting the narrative about the purpose, quality, and salience of education in rural communities. He was right. From 1910 through the 1940s rural communities across the country made massive local investments in the expansion of comprehensive high schools. This led to significant results in math and language literacy, educational attainment, and workforce quality. Just 9% of people under 18 had high school diplomas in 1910 but more than 50% did by 1940 (a five-fold increase in human capital in one generation). High school expansion happened most rapidly and broadly in rural, sparsely settled communities - places characterized by a keen desire for a better future. 

While high school expansion had serious social-justice blind spots, it arguably has been the most successful rural education innovation of the last hundred years. Expanding rural high school talent helped America win a world war, dominate the post-war economy, and put a man on the moon. It required a community effort grounded in classic rural values -- fairness, ingenuity, resilience, and interdependence.  It is a tale of shared desire, respect, and benefit. 

An iteration of Jesse Stuart’s rural narrative is emerging across rural America today. We are on the cusp of shifting economic and demographic trends involving race, class, ethnicity, gender, employment, wealth creation, and, yes, political persuasion. The graphic below outlines four basic elements of this narrative. 

  • First, a new era of pioneering leadership is emerging involving a diverse array of rural people with a deep desire to revitalize their schools and communities around both old and new values. 
  • Second, respect for place is being rekindled from organic farming to new economies designed around landscape, artistic, and cultural amenities. 
  • Third, new political coalitions and approaches are generating economic, community, and school development in more just, sustainable, practical, and mutually beneficial ways. 
  • Fourth, the decoupling of work and place and the reconnecting of school and community bonds increase opportunities for young people and families to stay or migrate to rural America. 

The stories we tell shape our lives. It is time to live and tell more tales of the rise of rural schools in a highly turbulent post-Covid world.

Brad Mitchell works with rural education and employment cooperatives across the country. He is a former college professor, policy analyst, and community organizer.  

This article first appeared on The Daily Yonder and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Beervana Podcast — Show 156: On the Farm with Wheatland Spring

Episode Description 

"Throughout most of the past ten thousand years, brewing was a farmhouse chore, one of the many ways people preserved their harvest throughout the year. In more recent times it has become a commercial and industrial activity. Yet in a verdant pocket of Loudoun County, Virginia about an hour NW of Washington DC, the husband and wife team of Bonnie and John Branding are conducting an ambitious experiment. They’ve revived farmhouse brewing, growing their own barley, using wild yeast from the land, and brewing it up in a barn. On today’s show, we’re going to hear their story and learn how they’re making this work in a 21st-century world."

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Beyond Fate: Funding Structure and Public Policy Mean Rural Schools Don’t Get Fair Share

Editor’s Note: Rural education leaders reacted strongly to an 2021 article in the New York Times Magazine portraying the struggles of a Mississippi teenager trying to get a good education from a historically troubled rural school district. Although the article’s goals may have been narrower, its structure and title -- “The Tragedy of America’s Rural Schools,” written by an editor, not the reporter -- made summary judgment on all rural educators and students. 

Today we start a three-part series written by members of the National Rural Education Association that attempts to provide a broader view of the nation’s rural schools. The first two writers examine how rural schools’ challenges are not the result of fate or rural people’s personal failings; rather, they stem from public policies that create inequities and hurdles. The third article looks at rural school systems where innovation and leadership have created promising solutions.


Part one of a series.

A New York Times Magazine article, “The Tragedy of America’s Rural Schools,” tells a story about the educational system in Holmes County, Mississippi, suggesting that the community has failed to provide adequate school facilities, that administrators and teachers have failed to provide sound educational programs, and that the schools have failed to serve their students. The article shines a spotlight on a single student in a single rural school district. There is benefit in turning on a spotlight. It’s important to use the national media to tell stories about Mississippi and the rural schools that serve one-fifth of students across the United States. However, a spotlight illuminates only part of the whole scene. Overhead lighting can reveal a bigger picture--in this case, revealing the impact of state and federal policies that fail to meet the needs of rural schools and the students they serve--including Holmes County, Mississippi.

School funding policies are one of the biggest barriers to rural school success. The bulk of funding for public schools comes from local property taxes. Rural populations, economies, and the presence of public lands (such as national forests) often yield lower property values, which in turn leads to funding inequities for rural schools. In Mississippi, as in most states, millage rates are capped. Even if the local community wanted to, districts cannot raise the property tax rate beyond a certain level to increase school funding, placing rural districts at an even greater disadvantage.  Inequitable funding can lead to lower teacher salaries and teacher shortages, limited school offerings, and under-resourced classrooms.

In Holmes County, the limited tax base means that school buildings are out of date and in need of repair. In 2019, the district sought voter approval for a bond issue that would have funded a new high school and freed up money currently going to facility maintenance to allow for a raise in teacher salaries.  Nearly half the county turned out to vote, and the majority, 58%, voted to approve the bond issue--but a state law in Mississippi requires at least 60% approval of a bond issue. Other states, including Washington and Oklahoma, have similar requirements. Rules like these make it difficult for a local community to raise funds to provide adequate school facilities for their children--even when the majority of voters approve.

Holmes County Schools were consolidated in 2018, but consolidation has not yet made things better for the students and families that live there. School consolidation--another set of policies imposed on rural schools--almost never makes things better for rural students, teachers, or communities. Under the guise of saving money or increasing efficiency, the overall number of school districts in the United States has decreased over the last century. Bigger, supposedly, is better.  Rural schools, with smaller enrollments and lower funding, have been particularly targeted for consolidation--often leading to school closures. School consolidation and school closure generally do not result in anticipated cost savings. Local economies rely on schools--the local gas station that sells fried chicken might get most of their business from teachers and parents stopping by on their way to and from school, and schools (and their sports teams and other programs) are important social and cultural glue.  These costs might be worth the price if students in consolidated schools receive better or more educational opportunities, but they don’t.  

Finally, it is also important to look at the state and federal policies that culminate in state takeover of schools that are labeled as “failing.”  Since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, the federal government requires that states use testing to identify schools that are low performing--and to provide support for schools that fail to show growth on standardized test scores. Because of student performance on state tests in Holmes County, the Mississippi Department of Education replaced school leadership with a conservator--an outside administrator brought in for a short period of time to try turn things around. Later the state stopped placing conservators in positions of leadership and instead created the Achievement School District, one state-run district for all “failing” schools. School turnaround models such as these have not yet shown to consistently improve student outcomes or bring about lasting change. Accountability requirements are bolstered by good motives--to ensure that all students have opportunities to learn. But how accountability policies are implemented matters. Rural schools get better when we provide schools with sufficient resources and then work to build local capacity. Rather than state takeovers, we need policies that help local leaders and communities to improve practices.

The way we choose to illuminate our rural schools, the stories we tell about them, can hurt or help. When the stories focus only on tragedy and failure, we can draw the conclusion that there is very little to be done and that failure is inevitable. When we cast a broader light on the root causes and policies that serve as barriers to success, we may begin to see a path forward. Ultimately, policies are choices--and together we can make different and better choices that leverage strengths and dismantle barriers. The millions of students attending rural schools deserve nothing less.

Devon Brenner is a professor of education in Mississippi where she works on issues of rural education policy and practice. Brenner is one of the co-editors of The Rural Educator, journal of the National Rural Education Association.

This article first appeared on The Daily Yonder and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Rural By Choice

When I was growing up in rural Knox County, Missouri (population 3,744 as of the 2020 census) I never really doubted that I'd move away when I grew up. It seemed a forgone conclusion, and that's exactly how it turned out. After college I lived in Brazil, New Mexico, and New Jersey, but never moved back to where I grew up. It seemed and still seems impossible. After all, what would I do there? The only options are agriculture, operating a small business, or service work. Besides, I intended to go into ministry (oh right, that's another option, though it's as poorly remunerated as anything), and eventually came to believe that mission work in Brazil was my calling. My kids grew up in urban New Jersey, and there's every likelihood that when I have grandchildren, they too will grow up here. Then again, my kids could move away, but certainly not to rural northeast Missouri.

For years I was pretty negative about the place where I grew up. With that few people the gossip can be vicious and damaging. Opportunities are few. The old buildings erected over 100 years ago are now literally falling in ruins, giving an air of decay that as a teenager seemed to hang over me. High school there made me lose almost all hope in humanity. Most of all, I saw no future there.

The passing of the years have seasoned my perspective. While I am still keenly aware of the negatives, I can finally see some of the positives. I recognize that friendships I formed then still exist now. When I go back to visit there are people who know who I am. The same can't be said of where my kids grew up, with the dense population of that New Jersey township turning over so frequently. Social media does manage to mitigate that somewhat. I also remember the kindly neighbor woman who helped me with and some other children my age with our 4-H fair craft projects, the other neighbor who helped one of my brothers with an electrical project for the fair, and the sweet woman who taught my VBS class how to find chapter and verse in the Bible. There were the volunteers who coached my little league team, the teachers who didn't give up on me, and the various people who cheered me on as I found my way out of the county.

I am not the only one to have such a change in perspective on rural origins. There have been many books, articles, and videos that I've encountered in recent months where people have explored their rural upbringing, or else went from an urban to a rural background. A short documentary series that recently caught my attention has been 'Rural By Choice,' featuring radio host Cory Hepola as he goes back to the Minnesota county he called home in his youth. With around 60,000 inhabitants it's not really as rural as where I grew up, but I guess he considers it small. In any event, this is a quick series to watch, and pretty enjoyable. He seems amusingly out of place for someone claiming a rural background, and he's quite kind in the narrative he shares. The first video in the series is below, or you can click here for the full playlist

As for me, I do have a strong interest in agroforestry, and certainly a small brewery could potentially do well in the right rural community. Still, with two young adult children, one in college, and with my preparation for ministry, it seems unlikely that I could make such a change any time soon. Even were I to do so, the farthest I can envision going is eastern Pennsylvania. After all, as I said above, maybe someday there will be grandkids.

Thursday, March 3, 2022

Learning the Many Styles of Beer

Studying brewing has opened up the world of beer to me in new ways, and I've begun to discover that there's a lot more to it than I ever imagined. There's a history that goes back to the earliest human civilizations, and a bewildering array of styles far beyond the light pilsners I grew up having around in rural Missouri. In order to get up to speed on these styles I've done a lot of reading, and the best resource in print I've found is The Beer Bible (Second Edition), but Jeff Alworth. This guide is the sort of book that you don't read cover-to-cover (although I suppose you could), but rather can open up pretty much anywhere and read. 

Another option, if you have the patience to sit and watch a video that goes over an hour, Master Cicerone Pat Fahey has produced an excellent intro to every beer style. You can check that out below. And, happy drinking!

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

My First Home Brew

This year I'm taking a course in Brewing Science and Operations through Saint Louis University, and my first term has focused on actually learning to brew. This was a completely new experience for me, as I have no prior brewing experience. Still, it comes down to a mix of planning, sanitation, and following a recipe, which is a set of skills I'd already developed pretty well. My very first home brew is a blonde ale. See below some photos and a couple of photos from my journey.

Brew Day

The Beer Kit and Supplies

Steeping the Grain

Chilling the Wort After Boiling

Pitching the Yeast

All Set to Ferment

The Look of the Wort

Transfer to Carboy

Bottling Day

Fresh, Clean, Sanitized Bottles

The carboy spent one week in the closet, then one in the fridge.


All Bottled Up

Now I'm just waiting a few days while the beer bottle conditions. In the meantime, I've already started work on my next batch, which will be a dry Irish stout. 

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Brazilian Immigrants and Faith

Having been a lay minister for a number of years with a Brazilian immigrant congregation in Newark, New Jersey, I've had close contact with the experience of Brazilians who have come to the United States to make a life. Many have stayed and found ways to legal status, while others have returned to Brazil. While here, the struggle to make their way can be quite rocky, and for many there is solace in faith. Although I am no longer much in contact with the Brazilian community in New Jersey, of course I still have great interest in the topic. 

Dr. João Chaves is Assistant Director for Programming at the Hispanic Theological Initiative at Princeton Theological Seminary, and he has a book out entitled Migrational Religion: Context and Creativity in the Latinx Diaspora. It was fascinating for me to hear him interviewed recently on The Distillery, a podcast of the Princeton Theological Seminary. So much of what he shares resonates with my own experience among Brazilian immigrants, and he sheds some light on the relationship between Brazilian-Americans and the US denominations with which they claim affiliation. This is particularly the case with Brazilian Baptists and the Southern Baptist Convention.  I have direct personal familiarity with how this plays out among independent Christian Churches as well, and it's pretty much the same.

For details, you'll just have to listen to the podcast

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Primitive Baptist Universalism Is a Real Thing That Exists

My late father had limited church experience growing up, but on the rare occasion his family attended anywhere, it was a Primitive Baptist church. Early settlers in the Hurdland, Missouri area referred to them as 'Hardshell Baptists.' They were and remain strict about not using instruments in worship, keeping services simple, and preaching a Reformed understanding of God and salvation. So, it has intrigued me over the years to see references in books to a very different sort of Primitive Baptist. Rather than 'Hardshell,' these are frequently referred to as 'No-Hellers.' They are, in fact, universalists.

The video below is the first I have ever watched that includes these Primitive Baptist Universalists talking about their own faith. It sounds as though they are in line with the 'death-and-glory' universalists of the Restorationist Controversy that is part of the Universalist history that has come to be part of Unitarian Universalism. There is no actual hell. Rather, all are saved already, and any hell to be found is on this earth. This wouldn't have been terribly satisfying to me as a Christian, both on the grounds of what the New Testament says as well as a basic notion of justice. Still, it seems to work well enough for them, and it sounds like from what they're saying there's some room for difference on the matter. 

Frankly, I've always thought it was ridiculous that there ever was a Restorationist Controversy. People literally fought and split churches over what God supposedly would or would not do with people after they died. As if anyone had direct knowledge of that, or that it could make any material difference in the world now.

In any case, enjoy the video below. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Beacon: A Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Summit, New Jersey

Beacon Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Summit, New Jersey is where I am a member, and currently I'm on the board as well. This is also the congregation that has sponsored me to enter the aspirant phase of discernment for Unitarian Universalist ministry. Just last year we had a wonderful opportunity come up to purchase a piece of property in Summit that would allow us to expand our work dramatically, and the video below was released recently to convey something of the vision we have for it. I'm proud of my UU community, and look forward to continuing to take part in its story.

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Forest Farming vs Forest Gardening

Appalachian Forest Garden. Photo by Katie Trozzo. (CC BY-ND 2.0)
There are five practices that are commonly classified as part of agroforestry: alley cropping, riparian and upland buffers, silvopasture, windbreaks, and forest farming. To these the authors of "Farming the Woods," Ken Mudge and Steve Gabriel, would add forest gardening. I can see where they are coming from with this idea of dividing the two, but I'm not sure it's necessary.

Forest farming consists of wildcrafting and cultivation practices that take place beneath a forest canopy. That habitat is modified to provide appropriate shade, light, and other conditions to allow for growth of a range of nontimber forest products (NTFPs). These might include plants used for food or medicine, mushrooms, ornamentals, or other wood products. At first blush that certainly sounds like something that could also be described as 'gardening.'

The fundamental difference between forest farming and forest gardening is where each begins. Forest farming takes place in an established forest ecosystem. Forest gardening, on the other hand, builds forest where it did not exist (at least in recent history). Another point of differentiation can be found in the variety of species present in each. A forest farm has whatever is already growing in it, and perhaps also some few additional plant or mushroom varieties. A forest garden will tend to have a far larger variety of species present, as the gardener is trying to make maximum use of space, designed around the different growth patterns and harvest times of the various plants. 

It is my opinion that while it matters whether woody perennials are being integrated into a garden, or producing NTFPs in an existing woodland is the focus, they are two sides of the same coin. Really, it might be more practical to think of forest gardening as a subset of forest farming, rather than a different category entirely. Then again, I'm a novice with a lot to learn. In any case, the field of agroforestry is relatively young, and so no doubt the arrangement and definition of practices will change in coming years. 

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Learning to Brew Through Saint Louis University

This past Fall semester I took "Agroforestry I: Theory, Practice and Adoption" at the graduate level through the University of Missouri. Although I did this as a non-degree student, it is my intention next year to return an actually enroll in either the Master of Science or Graduate Certificate program in agroforestry. This year (2022), I'm learning to brew.

Saint Louis University offers a certificate program called "Brewing Science and Operations" that runs from January through December every year. People who take it are a mix of complete novices like myself, homebrewers looking to get better, and people actively working in or intending to break into the beer industry. For me, it's a matter of building a solid skill set for the future. The details of what I'm working towards, however, I'll save for later posts. 

For now, enjoy this intro to the brewing program I'm attending.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

The Three Conditions of the Secret of Life

As I currently see it, there are three fundamental conditions to unlock the secret of life. Not the meaning of life, mind you. I believe that we make our own meaning for our lives, or else borrow it from something pre-established, like a formal religious belief. This goes beyond meaning to what makes a life satisfying, whatever the conditions. It doesn’t deny or neglect the reality of psychological pathologies, but rather considers them part of the human condition to be managed through the course of life.

These three conditions are as follows:
  • Work at getting really good at something.
  • Be part of something bigger than yourself.
  • Matter to people you care about.
There was a time in my life that lasted far longer than I care to admit that would have denied these conditions, at least in part or with modification. To me, none of it mattered if there wasn’t some ‘ultimate purpose.’ It wasn’t enough for me if the end result was a life well-lived, or even a world left a little bit better. Once you’re dead, that’s it for you and the world moves on, eventually forgetting about you. Even if you’re remembered, that does nothing for you personally, as a dead person.

And so, I sought solace in religion, finding it for a good while within Christianity. I figured that if I devoted my life and everything I did to God in Christ, then it didn’t matter whether I was remembered by anyone but God. This eventually broke down when I couldn’t hold together the core commitment to theism due to cognitive dissonance. Frankly, I had come to know too much.

The three conditions I listed are not new. Psychologists, philosophers, and theologians have been discussing them and other, similar ideas for many centuries. And yet, for me, they seem pretty powerful, likely because viewed in this way, they contradict some of my core prejudices.

Growing up, I observed that generations had come and gone in the place where I lived. In the depression I experienced from my adolescence onward, I interpreted the pattern of growing up, going to school, getting married, and working until at least retirement before dying as utterly futile. I had a classmates in high school who strove to achieve the honor role and who immersed themselves in ‘extracurriculars.’ This was all senseless to me, because it would only lead to college, work, marriage, and death.

Here’s the thing: with my faith, I went on to go to college, get married, and work. Death will come soon enough. I’ve raised children and changed careers along the way. I’ve experienced betrayal a few times before the one closest to my heart, which ended my marriage. Life has happened, whether I wanted it to or not. And, of course, I’ve come to understand that there is no known life beyond this one, and that if there is any omnipotent God, that God is not benevolent. I’ve set aside such supernatural beliefs in favor of beginning and ending with informed, empathetic reason.

So, instead of fighting against the pattern of life, I think it better to approach it with the three conditions in mind. They really aren’t in any particular order, but I’ll go through each one as listed below.

First, work at being really good at something. There’s nothing like watching a master at work. I’ve watched a woodworker make sculptures that didn’t seem possible. My late father planted gardens that flourished and produced more than we could eat as a family, so that we gave away produce to friends. In Brazil I saw people playing soccer with grace and ease that could only come through devotion to the game and a great deal of practice. When I first started learning Portuguese in 1997, while in Brazil, I couldn’t see the day in 2012 I would be interpreting for American religious scholars at a conference in that country. It started small, with flash cards, a dictionary, and many halting conversations, but with time came fluency.

We can be good at more than one thing. I don’t accept the ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ cliche. A person can develop admirably in more than one area. Sometimes, it’s not even about the individual areas of expertise, so that even if someone doesn’t have mastery in any one area, the sum of their skillset is something greater that focus would have provided for them. It is important though, I believe, to try to find some harmony or sense in the skills that one develops, so that they can be put into practice usefully.

Whether in a single concentration or a broader selection of skills, doing what one knows well is deeply rewarding. It’s possible to ‘enter the zone’ while at work, losing track of time and all else. This is a profound and, I find, satisfying feeling. Further, there’s that incidental ego boost when someone else notices your skill. While this isn’t about doing something to draw attention, but rather satisfying oneself, the admiration of others can be a rich part of the human experience, making what we do seem all the more meaningful.

Second, be part of something bigger than yourself. It can be a cause, a religion, an industry, a political ideology, or any number of other possibilities. Betty White, who passed away not long ago as I write this, had her cause in animal rights and protection, but also referred frequently to her joy at being in ‘show biz.’ She felt part of things bigger than herself, while also demonstrating the first condition above, that of being really good at something. More negatively, QAnon believers find their part in a movement that deals in misinformation and delusion. Being with others of similar fears and hatreds, even if mostly or only online, gives them a sense that they are involved in something that transcends themselves.

This isn’t always about something grand and showy. A person who runs a shop in a small town, participating in local events and organizations, will find that role in something greater in precisely the circles of community in which they find themselves. My late grandfather McAnulty was quite a socializer, very active in his local Methodist church, and known for his skill as an auto mechanic (again, we see the first condition with the second). That had to be satisfying for him.

Third, matter to people you are about. Note that this is not about fame. That’s already been covered, in that well-earned admiration from others can be a joyful, life-affirming experience. No, this is about having people in your life who would miss you if you were gone. Friends who want to see you, family who wants to spend time with you. These are the ones with whom you have been yourself, and have had that self embraced by them. When my aforementioned grandfather passed away, the funeral home was full to overflowing. That wasn’t mere fame. Many people loved him, and no one better than his family.

This might seem a condition beyond one’s control, and sometimes it will be. Someone who is lonely right now might find that unfair, and I’m sorry for that. Why is there loneliness? In my teens it was depression and anxiety that kept me from connecting with others, as well as the practical limitation of living out in the country before I had a driver license. I had no one I wanted to see specifically, and no easy way to go see them if I’d wanted to do so. In none of that I had blame, but I would have had my circumstances changed but I’d remained lonely. Instead, first a driver license, then church, then college and beyond opened up a world of worthwhile relationships to me. Now, there are people who matter to me, and for whom I am an important person in their lives. It’s no concern if it’s 5 or 25 people. The fact that I had any number of people in my life with whom this affection is shared is what matters.

This all calls us not to give up. We should keep developing our skills, in whatever we enjoy. We should look for what we each find to be a noble cause, and join others in moving it forward. We should show genuine love, patience, and forgiveness in our relationships so that we can enjoy the same in return. At times life will give us setbacks. No one lives long without experiencing some hardship and loss. Still, we keep going, and with these three conditions being met as much as possible, we can uncover the secret of life.

Friday, January 14, 2022

A Quick Intro to Hops

Photo by Logan Jackson (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Did you know that the hops plant is in the hemp family (Cannabaceae)? I had no idea until I started
learning more about how beer is made. Maybe you don't know anything at all about hops, so hopefully this post can serve as a quick intro.

The hops plant has a scientific name that sounds quirky: Humulus lupulus. The actual 'hops' are the cone-like strobiles that form on female hop vines. That's right, H. lupulus has male and female. In reality, they aren't even really vines, as that term refers to plants that send out tendrils to latch on to objects, while bines encircle vertical objects. In common parlance they're often called vines anyway, so I'll stick with that for the remainder of this post.

These plants are typically grown commercially from rhizomes, which are pieces of roots taken from a fully mature hop plant. They are pretty energetic, as under the right conditions they can grow a foot a day. The preferred conditions include at least 15 hours of daylight, and while they do best in dry conditions, that requires a lot of water. Unfortunately they are susceptible to a number of fungal infections, diseases, and pests. In the United States there is a concentration of hop farming in the northwestern part of the country, but they can grow virtually anywhere between 33 and 35 degrees latitude. 

Prior to the advent of hops in brewing a mix of spices were used to add flavor and attempt to cover up defects from brewing or spoilage. Hops were used at times as a bittering agent, and at some point hundreds of years ago someone noticed that beer brewed with hops kept longer. What they didn't understand but were able to make use of anyway was that hops inhibits the growth of bacteria in beer, which helps stabilize it for shipping and storage. 

Hops are added during the brewing stage of beer, and different varieties are known to offer distinct flavor profiles. This aroma and bitterness comes from resins and essential oils contained in lupulin glands inside the strobiles (cones). The length of brewing and timing of the addition of hops can change the flavor profile. 

If you visit a hop farm you'll find fields with tall posts and lengths of line, as the vines are trained to go up the lines. I've wondered how well these hold up in a climate like that of my native northeast Missouri, where severe thunderstorms can send violent winds through the region. The climate reportedly does introduce obstacles to many varieties prospering there, with long, hot days of high humidity.

If ever I have a patch of land, as I would like, I'll certainly give growing a hop yard a try. It would be interesting to brew beer with hops I grow myself, and would be glad to offer to others a locally-sourced beer. 

Thursday, January 13, 2022

An Example of Grade vs. Quality

In the world of project management, which has been my professional area for over 10 years at this point, I learned very early on about the difference between grade and quality. The PMBOK Guide, the central tome of project management, defines grade in part as "a category assigned to deliverables having the same functional use but different technical characteristics." Clear as mud, right? Quality, for its part, refers to conformance to requirements and fitness for use. To explain the difference, let me tell you about my food dehydrator.

November of last year (2021) I brought some pears back from my trip home to Missouri. Realizing that I couldn't eat them all, even baking two pies from them, I ordered a food dehydrator so I could save some for later snacking. I found one online with nearly 5 starts and plenty of positive reviews. It's a straightforward device, which can sit on my kitchen countertop, and which has a few racks so layers of fruit can be dried at the same time. To turn it on, all I have to do is plug it in. There is no on/off switch, standby mode, remote control, temperature setting, or anything else. It's either on or off, based entirely on whether or not it's plugged in.

Someone else might have need for a lot of different features, but I don't. That food dehydrator does absolutely everything I need it to do, and it's easy to clean. I hope it lasts a good long while. This countertop appliance would be accurately described as low grade, but high quality. That is, it's an extremely basic model with no frills, but it precisely meets all my expectations. It would be possible for me to buy a more expensive and feature-rich model which would be high grade, but if features didn't work properly or it gave me other problems, it would be low quality. Then again, maybe it'd be fine, with plenty of features that all work as expected. In that case it would be both high grade and high quality. 

Hopefully that makes sense to anyone looking to understand grade and quality. With this explanation in mind, think about other products, from food to electronics and all points in between, and mull over for yourself what makes for high or low rankings on grade and quality for each. In doing so you might be surprised by what you discover.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Growing Elderberries in the Midwest (Video)

The Savanna Institute has released the video below promoting elderberries as an agricultural product. While I wonder about the strength of the existing market for them, I found compelling the suggestions of using them as part of either an alley cropping or riparian buffer system. The latter in particular would be great for holding ground around ephemeral creeks (ditches) on farms. For more from Savanna Institute about elderberries, visit:

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Lost Grove Brewing Comes the First B Corp Brewery in Idaho

This impresses me. Lost Grove Brewing, of Boise, Idaho, has achieved Certified B Corporation status. In order to be designated as such, according to B Lab, the following standards must be met:
  • Demonstrate high social and environmental performance by achieving a B Impact Assessment score of 80 or above and passing our risk review. Multinational corporations must also meet baseline requirement standards.
  • Make a legal commitment by changing their corporate governance structure to be accountable to all stakeholders, not just shareholders, and achieve benefit corporation status if available in their jurisdiction.
  • Exhibit transparency by allowing information about their performance measured against B Lab’s standards to be publicly available on their B Corp profile on B Lab’s website.
According to the brewery's press release, the company's practices that brought it to this standard included the following:

Since 2018, Lost Grove has supported nonprofits through the Powerful Pints program, which highlights a different local nonprofit each month. Through this program, Lost Grove works to raise funds and awareness for the nonprofits and provides use of the taproom and brewery space for the organizations to use for events. Each year, Lost Grove also throws its annual BFF Block Party, which raises money for nonprofits during the Idaho Gives campaign. All Powerful Pint partners are invited to this celebration as an additional avenue for awareness and fundraising. Environmental responsibility has also long been a core value for Lost Grove. 

This year, Lost Grove installed solar panels on its patio bar, enabling the outdoor bar and cooler to be powered entirely by solar power. Lost Grove is committed to increasing the use of solar technology in the rest of the brewery in years to come. The brewery also began tracking employees’ transportation methods to find ways staff can reduce carbon emissions. In 2022, Lost Grove anticipates purchasing forest credits to help offset carbon emissions. 

In previous years, Lost Grove joined a pilot project to brew beer with reused wastewater, provided input on Boise’s new Water Renewal Utility Plan, supported fundraising efforts as part of the Idaho River United's Brewshed Alliance, and joined the Brewers for Clean Water campaign to show support to strengthen the waterways that provide drinking water. 

In addition to focusing on making positive changes in the world at large, Lost Grove is committed to being an ethical employer. In 2021, Black raised all staff’s wages to meet the living wage standard for Ada County as calculated by MIT. Lost Grove reimburses employees for up to 120 hours of volunteer work per year, provides incentives for employees using alternative transportation, and offers 25 vacation days per year to full-time staff. Lost Grove also provides training and resources for staff regarding sexual harassment prevention in the workplace and aims to offer health care support and 401k options to employees in the coming years. 

That's quite a lot for a brewery that only opened its doors in 2017 and has had, like everyone else, to adapt to the economic challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. This is the first brewery in Idaho to achieve B corp status, and nationwide it is the 19th. 

Monday, January 10, 2022

The Stories of Three Ethnic Groups Making It in Rural America

via flickr
In recent months I've seen some good articles about immigrants making a go of it in the United States, and these give me hope. The dominant narrative is of bigotry and exclusion in this country, particularly centered on people of rural areas. Meanwhile, some from diverse backgrounds are managing to get established in rural life. Here I'll share three scenarios; two stories from Indiana, and one from Minnesota. In the first we find a community self-organizing in a small town, and in the other two minority (from a US perspective) populations using formal means to get into farming in this country. It's all remarkable to me.

First up, we have the Chuj people in Seymour, Indiana. This state would seem pretty far culturally from that of indigenous Mayan people, and yet at least one of its towns has become such a destination for them that it's become a 'mirror city.' The immigrants in question, coming from a remote, mountainous region, are Chuj people. They began moving to Seymour in bits and pieces two decades or so ago from the town of San Sebastián Coatán. I have no idea how it started or who were the first, but Seymour now has over 2000 Chuj members of the community. That's small potatoes compared to something like the approximately 156,000 Haitian nationals who now call New York City home, but those 2000 Mayans consist of over ten percent of the overall population of the Seymour.

Chuj migrants originally came to Seymour because of opportunities at a local car parts manufacturer and at a large farm, and they also find work in construction and cleaning. They haven't just come to take jobs, though. Entrepreneurs among them have opened grocery stores, restaurants, shops, and even a company that bakes and distributes a type of Guatemalan bread throughout the United States. There are also churches, like the Iglesia Evangélica Ríos de Agua Viva and the Iglesia la Nueva Jerusalén where the Guatemalans can worship together. All of these contribute to the economic and social life of the community as a whole, even if not directly to the non-Hispanic residents.

When this is referred to as a 'mirror city,' the idea is simply that people from one town or city (generally another country) form a unique and cohesive community in another city. This really isn't something new. For as long as people have been coming to North America from other lands they have been forming enclaves with their own businesses, churches, and social organizations. What makes it interesting, at least to me, is where many of the immigrants are winding up, as in this situation.

As I suggested above, life in general is positively impacted by such migration. The other residents of Seymour are benefiting from the presence of tax-paying people who through their labor and spending help make the economy prosper. In the case of Seymour, the population has gone from stagnated growth to an increase of twenty-five percent in just the past ten years. What's happening is called 'community-based migration.'

Second, the Burmese population of Fort Wayne, Indiana. There are currently more than 10,000 Burmese residents in that city, many of whom arrived as refugees in the early 1990s. Evidently quite a number of them had been farmers in their home country, but after arrival in the United States they took other forms of labor as employment. In order to open a door for those interested in getting back to agriculture, an incubator called Rose Avenue Education Farm was founded in 2020. Three non-profits collaborated in establishing the farm, with funding from a the Office of Refugee Resettlement, part of the US Department of Health and Human Services.  

On the farm, Burmese refugees are given plots of land to work along with equipment, training, and other orientation. All this is intended to help them start their self-sufficient farm operations.  In this setup, each farmer decides what they will grow, and as a result they tend to grow the squashes, bitter melons, radishes, cabbage, and so for that is typical for a Burmese diet. In turn, they sell mostly to other Burmese people at farmers' markets in the area, supplying a demand that wasn't necessarily being fully met by what Indiana stores generally offer. 

While success has been lacking in making sales to non-Burmese consumers, program leaders are looking at options like additional processing to make the products more attractive to that segment. One of the non-profits has recently received another government grant, which it plans to use to open a kitchen to further work the vegetables into the sort of prepared foods that a wider consumer audience would find appealing. This will include meal kits and other types of ready-to-eat foods. The added value can raise the price of unprocessed foods multiple times over once they are in final, prepared form.

Third, and finally, we'll leave Indiana and head over to Minnesota, where just this past November (2021), the Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA), raised the last of the money it needed to buy the 155-acre Dakota County farm that it had been leasing for several years. Back in 2013 an anonymous individual bought that farmland and leased it to the HAFA, which in turn sublet it in plots to farmers. In 2020 the Minnesota state legislature put forward $2 million toward the purchase, and the association has now raised the remaining $500,000. 

The Hmong growers constitute more than half of the vendors at farmers' markets in the St Paul/Minneapolis area. They've been doing this for a lot longer than the HAFA has had access to the aforementioned farmland, using instead someone else's property and without assurances of continuous access over the years. 

It doesn't help that good, arable farmland is so expensive. Many immigrant farmers lacked access to the money, through loans or otherwise, for up-front costs aside from farmland, such as heavy equipment. Lacking security on the land and funds to make their operations more efficient, creating generational wealth was just a dream for the most part. 

With HAFA, Hmong farmers have received access to training and connections to institutions and businesses that purchase their products, moving them beyond just the farmers' market sphere. Being able to sublet land and increase revenue helps the farmers establish a foothold to prosper.

In all three examples above we have seen how people help each other. The Chuj people work in the US and send money back to their families in Guatemala, while also receiving newcomers. For them it appears to be more of an informal process, the type that has been the norm for centuries among migrant communities. The other two scenarios, however, with the Burmese and the Hmong, have formal organizations at the center, helping members of each group to put down roots both literally and figuratively in rural America. 

So much of what is said about the rural United States is negative, highlighting it as 'Trump country' where ignorance, poverty, and economic decline are the norm. As someone born and raised in rural northeast Missouri I can say that there are shreds of truth to that, but certainly not the whole story. 

The region where I grew up now has a vibrant community of Mexican-Americans and others from Central America, largely drawn by corporate ag operations, who have opened restaurants and other businesses that serve the community at large. That might be the nicest thing I'll ever write about corporate agriculture, but it's simply true that the industry brought in the people who are in some small way helping rejuvenate the economy. I'd just rather it be some other industry.

While some I knew growing up are ill-informed politically and religiously superstitious, others are astute in matters of civics and religion. That's not to say they're 'progressive' by the standards found in places like New York, but they are educated, compassionate people who want a better life for themselves, their families, and whoever their neighbors turn out to be. 

The future of small towns and family farms in the United States will likely not look entirely the same as it did in times past, if we are fortunate. Greater racial, ethnic, religious, and political diversity due to immigrants, urbanites shifting into farming, and other newcomers might well change the face of these places. Not ever small town will be revived, I'm sure, but it's not unreasonable to expect some to become more like the centers of commerce they once were, many decades ago. 

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Thoughts of Home

The novel entitled "You Can't Go Home Again" was published in 1940. It came from the unpublished work of Thomas Wolfe and was stitched together by his editor to make it presentable. I'll admit that I've never read it, but I've certainly heard the title as a saying over the the years. I've also felt in my person the reality of that statement. 

In 2013, after several years away from the farm in northeast Missouri where I'd been raised, I returned for a visit. I was getting ready for what I believed would be a permanent move to Brazil, and so this time in Knox County felt particularly significant to me. What I found surprised me.

The place was, to my eyes, both the same and different from what I remembered. Having lived in Brazil and then later in New Jersey, working in Manhattan, I think I'd become conditioned to seeing more people. The area where I grew up seemed somehow more remote, and so sparsely populated as to be practically vacant.

In reality, not a lot had changed there. Yes, the population has continued its gradual decline, but not really by that much since I'd graduated from high school in the mid-1990s. Many moved away each year as they too graduated, but others remained and carried on the business of life. It caught me off guard when I heard my uncle mentioned a couple of my friends from high school in passing, not thinking that I knew them. It'd never occurred to me that he would ever know who they were, as though there were separate worlds instead of one community that they all shared. 

It was a combination of factors that left me feeling more on the outside of the place that I'd known so well. My perspective had changed, and also subtle changed had taken place while I was gone. People had passed away, others had come into their own as parents and grandparents, businesses closed while others opened, buildings were torn down while others were built. 

One day during that 2013 visit I drove over to Kirksville, the nearby city where I'd been born, and almost ran through a stop sign on the highway that shouldn't have been there. While I was away a bypass was finally built around the town to alleviate traffic congestion. No one had told me about the bypass, I didn't know for about a minute what I was looking at, and the feeling of disorientation was a little overwhelming. This was a route I'd known like the back of my hand, and now 'suddenly' a whole new highway existed. In fact, it had been there for a few years at that point.

The trouble with going home again isn't just in feeling out of place, I've found. As the years have passed my attitude towards that place has changed, as has my understanding of events that took place there. I don't gloss over the ugly parts, though perhaps some become more difficult to remember. It's more that I've come to understand that while different locations are unique in history, customs, and even language, no matter where you are...there you are. 

Normally when I 'go home' my time is kept to only 3 or 4 days there, and I only see a few people. This year, 2022, I'm thinking that unless COVID gets in the way, I'll try to spend a week there around Independence Day. Hurdland, the small town nearest the farm where I grew up, holds an annual 4th of July celebration in its park, and this will be the 150th occasion. Maybe by spending a little time there, catching up with folks, remembering the good and not being able to avoid the less-that-ideal, I'll be able to regain a sense of where I'm from and how I can relate to it in the future. 

That book by Thomas Wolfe I mentioned above includes the following, ellipses and all, towards the conclusion:

You can't go back home to your family, back home to your childhood ... back home to a young man's dreams of glory and of fame ... back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting, but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.

Going back isn't an option. Not for me or for anyone, really. Even those who remained in Knox County have moved forward. It isn't for me to 'go home,' but rather sort out how I'll go forward with home, whatever that will mean.

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Jackson Hop Farm (Video)

For a quick profile of a first-generation hop farmer, check out the first video below.

For more on this operation, here's a virtual tour of Jackson Hop Farm.

Friday, January 7, 2022

Collapse and Revival in a Rural Missouri Town

Screenshot from video by Echo Menges, The Edina Sentinel
This morning I awoke to news of a building collapse in Edina, Missouri. As someone who grew up in that area I can attest that the sense of decay and depopulation played into my mentality of moving away after high school. It doesn't have to be this way, in my opinion.

Knox County is where several generations of my family from most lineages lived for generations, and Edina is where my mother grew up. The town square was designated a historic district some years ago, and the reality is that many if not most of the buildings have been unoccupied for years. There are apartments above some of them that people use, and recently some new businesses opened, which concerns me because this isn't the first structural failure experienced there. 

Knox County was thriving in the late 1800s. The 1890 census, for example, showed 13,501 people residing there, which appears to have been the peak. The 2020 census reports that 3,744 now make the county home, a decrease in 130 years of slightly over 72%. The buildings on the town square were built for that larger population, and as the decades passed they slowly, sporadically, became unoccupied. It's my understanding that a mix of people now own them, at least some of which don't live in the area and pay much attention. Sitting right at the heart of the county, the degradation of these structures is as highly visible as pretty much anything can be. 

Screenshot from video by Echo Menges, The Edina Sentinel
My mother grew up on the west side of Edina, so she had a view toward the horizon, just over which was the small town of Hurdland, a mere 8 miles away. Periodically, thick billowing smoke would roll up into the heavens from the west, and people would say "Hurdland's burning again." By the time I came along in the 1970s most of the buildings that had been around Hurdland's square were long gone. It was quiet, even pastoral, having a green park with tall shade trees in its center. This is a stark contrast to Edina, with its practically abandoned buildings casting long shadows over its town square. Honestly, I think it's better that Hurdland lost its downtown buildings so early, rather than keeping them as vacant reminders of the past. 

There was a time when that model of retail, having streets lined with stores, seemed to be well on its way out. Shopping malls for a few decades were considered the future of retail, and yet now we'd seeing a turn to shopping centers instead. Speaking only for myself, I far prefer parking near the store I want to shop at and then leaving, rather than dealing with massive parking lots and then having to walk past 20 stores just to get to the one I want to visit. Even before the pandemic I didn't like hanging around in a place with so many random strangers. With that in mind, I certainly think Edina's downtown could be revived with more retail options. However, not all those buildings can stay.

With fewer than 4000 people in the entire county, the economy of the place is tiny. It's my belief that for a revival to happen, Edina's downtown needs to become a destination. This past Christmas the Chamber of Commerce did a great job promoting downtown Christmas shopping with events and later hours for the businesses. Given the popularity of Hallmark-style Christmas movies I believe that if they really laid it on thick with the small town holiday angle people could be persuaded to drive in from farther away. Still, for the time being, great capacity is not needed, and the buildings continue to decay.

A structural engineering firm needs to be brought in to inspect all of the downtown buildings. Any that do not meet safety guidelines should be condemned and torn down unless repairs can be effected. This will leave gaps, to be sure, but better that than people being injured or killed when the architecture fails.

Screenshot from video by Echo Menges, The Edina Sentinel
 In the meantime, the Chamber of Commerce should continue its good work of promoting the downtown. Some sort of outside investment would be incredibly helpful at this point, but there's no use waiting on a miracle. Little by little, with each passing season, they can fan into flame the spark of life that still exists there.

With time the gaps from lost buildings can be filled with new ones, if the economy revives. Population could even grow again, if business were to begin thriving and retirees could be attracted by the convenience and slower pace of life. An upward cycle from there would include families with children relocating, though I have to think more businesses that include manufacturing and technology would need to come along.

Perhaps that's a lot to hope for, but I don't think this pattern of slow decay punctuated by sudden collapse has to continue. There can be a future for Edina, and Knox County more generally, that includes growth and prosperity. 

Thursday, January 6, 2022

How Goats are Regenerating a Forest and Protecting this Town from Bushfire (Video)

A second cousin back in Missouri recently posted on Facebook about some work he'd done cleaning out fence rows on his mother's farm, mentioning in particular eastern red cedar and multiflora rose. I commiserated with him on the latter, which is invasive and a real nuisance. Someone else commented that he should consider getting some goats in there to clean things out, which sounded like a great idea to me. In the video above you'll get an idea, albeit from Australia, about the positive impact that planned foraging with goats can have on the land. They really are quite useful creatures.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

The Man Who Plants Baobabs: A Burkina Faso Hero (Video)

YouTube description:

El Hadji Salifou Ouédraogo has nurtured thousands of baobab trees from tiny seeds to expansive forests for the past 47 years. The trees in turn help his family, his village and the Earth. Filmmaker Michel K Zongo’s uplifting film, The Man Who Plants Baobabs, meets this charismatic old man with a youthful spirit and a lifelong commitment to his trees, which are both a lifeline and a legacy for his community. 

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Brazil Shows You Can Harvest Sugar Cane Without Polluting the Air (Video)

Sugar cane farming is well outside of my wheelhouse. The closest I've come to it is traveling down highways in Brazil lined by kilometers of cane plantation. What this video demonstrates is the impact grassroots movements for change can, through appropriate government regulation, have on how our food is produced. Corporate ag businesses don't want change because it requires and investment in retooling and re-education, and they're driven not by the public good but by the obligation to increase value for shareholders. It's amusing to me how this is portrayed as being so effective in Brazil, and yet  the sugar industry in the US wants us to believe that somehow similar methods can't be implemented here.