Still a lot of work to do

Still a lot of work to do

Gazette Column
Throughout the community one question seems to dominate personal interaction: “How are you feeling?” I’ve been asked by people I see each day and those I only have occasional opportunity to speak with. Convenience store clerks, local members of the clergy, co-workers, neighbors, transit riders and drivers and community activists of all stripes are curious, some perhaps morbidly so, on my and their other neighbors’ state of mind. So, how are you feeling in these first post-election days? I am, of course, disappointed that the nation has not finally elected a woman to its highest office. I’m especially concerned by the years of misinformation and sexism that led to undeserved backlash against Hillary Clinton, and a campaign with an overall anti-women tone. More than shock at Donald Trump’s public disrespect…
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More cheesy government bailouts

More cheesy government bailouts

Gazette Column
Hoping to bolster dairy farmers once again facing steep price declines, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced it will spend $20 million to purchase 11 million pounds of cheese. The deal was much smaller than the $50 million requested by the American Farm Bureau Federation, or the $100 to $150 million requested by the National Milk Producers Federation, but that didn’t stop anti-tax groups from speaking out. “It’s yet another example of USDA caving to demands of an agricultural special interest wanting taxpayers to foot the bill for lower-than-desired prices,” Joshua Sewell, senior policy analyst for Taxpayers for Common Sense, said. But the reality is that not all American dairy farmers have done this to themselves, and $20 million isn’t enough to stave off continued culling of family dairy farms.…
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#RuralPride comes to Iowa

#RuralPride comes to Iowa

Gazette Column
DES MOINES — Chances are, if you are asked to describe an average LGBT American, certain attributes will come to mind. The stereotype is that members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community are urban dwellers who are well-educated and affluent. There is a reason this stereotype exists. As the civil rights movement has become more prominent, most LGBT community spokespersons have been highly educated men from larger cities. These are the people the public has seen, and who they’ve listened to. But the experiences of this narrow field of activists are only one piece of the story. [caption id="attachment_429" align="alignleft" width="640"] One Iowa volunteers speak with an attendee of the LGBT Rural Summit at Drake University in Des Moines on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016. One Iowa partnered with…
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Iowan, once nation’s youngest grocer, still fighting for rural

Iowan, once nation’s youngest grocer, still fighting for rural

Gazette Column
WICHITA, Kan. — If attendees at the Rural Grocery Summit pulled Bic lighters from their pockets, gave them a flick and held the flame in the air as the owner of three rural Iowa grocery stores gave his keynote address, I wouldn’t have been surprised. It was clear many attending viewed the man as part rock star and part legend. And, for those searching for rural saviors, Nick Graham comes pretty close — even if he is reluctant to embrace the fame. His popularity has little to do with his overall success rate, because he’d be the first to tell you that he has made mistakes. But no one can deny that Graham embodies an attribute that’s become a necessity in rural counties and small towns. Nick Graham, you see,…
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Getting the farm onto the table

Getting the farm onto the table

Gazette Column
WICHITA, Kan. — What does a high-end caterer in a rural area do to give back? If you are Donald Sorby, you volunteer with a statewide program that empowers families at risk of hunger to gain the skills, knowledge and confidence to make healthy and affordable meals. Sorby was one of about 200 people attending a Rural Grocery Summit, and offered his experience as part of Cooking Matters Minnesota as a way food retailers and advocates could promote a healthier lifestyle. The program is partnership between University of Minnesota Extension and Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign. Participants enroll for a six-week course that meets once a week and covers nutritional information, offers hands-on food preparation and provides strategies for food budgeting and shopping. Participants learn to cook two…
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Summit focus is declining food access

Summit focus is declining food access

Gazette Column
WICHITA, Kan. — Rural grocery store owners, food advocates and system experts are gathered for the fifth Rural Grocery Summit. If you’re wondering why I’m in the audience … well, let’s say you probably aren’t alone. The answer as to why I’m attending the summit is both simple and complex. The most direct answer is that I grew up in rural America; I’ve lived it and have family still living it. What happens to them matters to me and, therefore, what ails rural places also matters. More complex is my ongoing curiosity about how groups of people interact, and the ways industries and organizations adapt to ever-changing external forces. Why have we allowed certain places to exist as food deserts? How long are we willing to let our tax dollars…
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Prepare for more food deserts

Prepare for more food deserts

Gazette Column
Accessing fresh produce and other healthy and affordable food will become increasingly more difficult over the next decade. Nearly two-thirds of rural grocery store owners in Minnesota expect to step away from their business within 10 years, according to a recent Minnesota Extension survey. Many owners are aging out of the workforce and preparing for retirement. Only a fraction have adopted transition plans that would keep the grocery open and prevent possible food deserts. The survey also found the majority of rural grocery stores are housed in older buildings, requiring significant upkeep — 43 percent of owners reported their facility was at least 50 years old, others (44 percent) were between 16 and 50 years old. “With aging buildings and thin profit margins, I’m concerned we will see a continuation…
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Pair health insurance with access

Pair health insurance with access

Gazette Column
More of Iowa’s kids have health insurance. Now we need a more robust system that allows them to use it. A report released Thursday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation says between 2013 and 2014, about 13,000 more Iowa youngsters received health insurance, mainly through their eligibility for public insurance plans like Hawk-i or Medicaid. Increased adult access to Medicaid programs came via millions in funding from the Affordable Care Act. Researchers believe that as adults discovered new Medicaid options for themselves, youngsters were also signed up for coverage. In this report, Iowa claims the fifth lowest uninsured rate for children (3.2 percent) — a significant move in the right direction from it’s earlier placement of 13th in the nation (5 percent). Many state residents and health care advocates worked…
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2016 Iowa caucus is no rural friend

2016 Iowa caucus is no rural friend

Gazette Column
Thank goodness it’s nearly time to pitch the hay bales back in the barn. Presidential candidates — declared and exploring — have been milling about Iowa for more than a year. They’ve tucked celebrities and national figures into their suitcases, unpacking them alongside talking points in cities and towns from Rock Rapids to Keosauqua. They’ve posed on our farms, sat at our kitchen tables and strolled the midway at the fair. But, with the exception of ethanol, few bothered to discuss agriculture, much less ongoing and worsening challenges in rural communities. To be fair, school transportation budgets, child poverty, broadband access, land values, post office closures, food safety, water quality, workforce challenges and the like aren’t sexy topics. They are nuanced and difficult. Threats of carpet-bombing or promises of wall…
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Vilsack support of Branstad water quality proposal no surprise

Vilsack support of Branstad water quality proposal no surprise

Gazette Column
Tax exemptions should be on the table The urban and rural divide is alive and thriving. The response to an appearance this week by former Iowa governor and U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack at Gov. Terry Branstad’s news conference announcing a possible extension and expansion of a penny sales tax now funneled to school infrastructure proves it. Branstad’s proposal is to extend a one-cent sales tax earmarked for school infrastructure and set to expire in 2029. The plan would keep the tax in place for 20 additional years, through 2049. While schools would continue to earn proceeds from that tax to a certain cap point, about three-quarters of future growth would be funneled to conservation efforts that help reduce farm chemical runoff and, in turn, improve Iowa’s water quality. Some…
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