Friday, October 28, 2011

The Vernacular: This Is Our Whole Family

Selection from an unsigned, undated photograph-postcard

To Miss Maude Richmond, Broadhead, Wisconsin

Mar 9 1910

Dear Friend: - Well we have not got there yet. Frank is going with a corn shredder so we can't very well get away now, but Eddie's time is up Dec 1st and then we will try and come. - this is our whole family taken a year ago last summer. Are having fine weather for corn husking. As ever Martha

Selection from an unsigned, undated photograph-postcard

All images copyright Matthew Fluharty / Art of the Rural

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Listening To Miranda Lambert

To me, country music is about real life, the good and the bad. That's why country started, and it was because of Hank Williams telling true stories. And I don't see why a woman can't tell the truth just as fast as a man can.
Today on NPR's Morning Edition, Renee Montagne spoke with country music superstar Miranda Lambert. As folks might expect from her music and songwriting, the conversation had a substance to it that's missing from so much contemporary music coming out of Nashville. Here's an excerpt from the transcription:
When she was growing up, Lambert's parents would occasionally open their home to women who were in abusive relationships. She often shared a room with a displaced mother, daughter, or both, and heard from them the devastating effects domestic abuse. "Half of the women take your advice, use your help and get out," she says. "Half of them can't leave and always go back."

Lambert pulled from their stories to write the song that helped put her on the map, 2007's "Gunpowder and Lead," in which she sings, "His fist is big but my gun's bigger / He'll find out when I pull the trigger."
Here's Ms. Lambert performing "Gunpowder and Lead" live on Austin City Limits:

One of Miranda Lambert's earliest successes was "Everybody Dies Famous In A Small Town." This song came to mind again as the Occupy movement began to percolate in rural America. While the witty verses and that infectious hook are in keeping with what one would expect from Nashville, these lyrics also speak to a truth about the kinds of knowledge folks have in rural areas - and the kind of open humility that could make for some positive, and non-partisan, problem-solving in such small towns. It's a perfect country-pop song for such an urban - rural critique.

UPDATE: Folks may also be interested in feminist responses to Miranda Lambert's music. In "Rifles and Rural Feminism," journalist and blogger Kate Noftsinger considers the rural - urban dynamics of the term, and how its sensibilities are marketed in music. There's a wide range of feminist responses to "Gunpowder and Lead" within the feminist community - and the subject deserves an Art of the Rural article all to itself. Please feel free to send along any responses you might have to the idea of "rural feminism" or its critique here.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Revisiting The Dreams of Appalachian Youth

Self-portrait with the picture of my biggest brother, Everett, who killed himself when he came back from Vietnam; Freddy Childers

A new project has appeared on the USA Artists crowd-funding site that will no doubt interest our readers: Portraits and Dreams: A Revisitation, directed by filmmaker Elizabeth Barret, in collaboration with Wendy Ewald. Included below are two excerpts from the detailed project description:
Over the past three decades a growing number of artists have worked as collaborators with people from outside the art world. Photographer Wendy Ewald is one of the pioneers in this approach to artmaking.  During 1975 – 1982 in the coalfields of Letcher County, Kentucky, where one-third of all families were living below the poverty level, Ewald worked as an artist in the schools.  She encouraged her young students (ages six to fourteen) to use cameras to record themselves, their families and communities, and to articulate their fantasies and dreams.  Material from that artistic and educational initiative was collected in the groundbreaking 1985 book Portraits and Dreams.   It was named one of the 10 best art books of that year by the American Library Association and will be republished by visual arts press Steidl Verlag.  Ewald was awarded a MacArthur fellowship in 1992.  Her work has been included in the 1997 Whitney Biennial, and her fifth book, a retrospective documenting her projects entitled Secret Games, was published in 2000. 

Ewald was inspired to take on this new project when she initially reconnected via email with one of her former elementary school student collaborators Denise Dixon.  She worked with Ewald during the time she was nine to twelve years and is now a reading teacher who also operates her own video business recording local events.  The two realized how much their lives and work had been affected by their early encounter. Ewald then became interested in creating new work that draws on her former students’ experiences as children and adults as a vehicle to explore memory and reality across the passage of time.  

Ms. Barret, whose films have been the recipients of numerous awards, is working with Wendy Ewald to help provide context to the reunions and remembrances the film seeks to document.  As their USA Artists site outlines, the story of these children-turned-adult photographers becomes the story of a whole generation of Appalachian youth who seeked to navigate their cultural and regional inheritance alongside their own evolving identities as young people raised in the national milieu of the late 1970s.


[The earlier 17-minute Portraits and Dreams "sound slide," directed by Andrew Garrison, can be viewed in its entirety on Vimeo.]

Please follow the links to explore Ms. Barret's Stranger With a Camera, an award-winning film that considers how contentious the rural - urban, outsider - insider relationship can be when pitched in Appalachian communities. This is an extraordinary piece of place-based art, and we highly recommend it to our readers [a copy of this film will be sent in thanks for support of Portraits and Dreams: A Revisitation].

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sunday Song: Reverend Johnny "Hurricane" Jones

The cover to the most recent Dust-To-Digital release of the Reverend's music and sermons

It is a glorious thing when a person can say "I am walking with God. I don't have any money. I don't know how my bills are going to be paid." If God had not been walking with me, I could not have made the journey.
     - "The Hurricane," Reverend Johnny L. Jones

The Atlanta publication Creative Loafing has recently published an excellent and extensive consideration of Dust-To-Digital, a record label and publishing imprint with few peers. I imagine that many folks are already familiar with the astounding range of material they have brought into the world; if not, please refer to the link above and enjoy exploring their archives of LPs, CDs, books, and radio programs. 

Dust-to-Digital has worked hard over the last two years to bring the live recordings of Reverend Johnny L. Jones to folks around the world -- first with Jesus Christ From A to Z (the title track is essential listening) and later with Rev. Johnny L. Jones: The Hurricane That Hit Atlanta, a two CD set. Here's a video Creative Loafing produced of the Reverend:

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Homecoming: America Needs Farmers

Kinnick Stadium just before the Iowa - Northwestern kick-off; Benjamin Roberts, Press-Citizen

Each October, folks travel across town or across the country to return for Homecoming weekends. We were reminded of this in an email from Shawn, a long-time reader, who's looking forward to watching the Iowa - Indiana Homecoming game with friends today in Riverside, Iowa. 

Many thanks to Shawn for forwarding this photograph from last weekend's home game -- a local mix of state-pride and Big Ten-style-installation art.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Occupy Rural: Will It Play In Peoria?

Gone Viral: Diane McEachern and her dogs in Bethel, Alaska;  Anchorage Daily News

There’s something wrong in the world, where you are promised to be immortal but cannot spend a little bit more for healthcare. Maybe we need to set our priorities straight here. We don’t want higher standard of living. We want a better standard of living. The only sense in which we are Communists is that we care for the commons. The commons of nature. The commons of privatized by intellectual property. The commons of biogenetics. For this, and only for this, we should fight.
          - Slavoj Žižek, speaking at Occupy Wall Street on October 8th

I'd like to continue a discussion of the rural dimension of the Occupy movement with these words by internationally-acclaimed literary critic Slavoj Žižek. Folks can read his full remarks in transcript, along with video here; and I'd encourage our readers, regardless of political persuasion, to review Mr. Žižek's comments, as his remarks stand as one of the most lucid articulations of this movement from one of the world's most celebrated thinkers. From what I can tell, much of the mainstream media -- just as Diane Sawyer focuses again on rural destitution for urban consumption -- is more interested in displaying a cartoonish view of the Occupy movement. These words help to expand the dialogue; here's another excerpt:
There is a danger. Don’t fall in love with yourselves. We have a nice time here. But remember, carnivals come cheap. What matters is the day after, when we will have to return to normal lives. Will there be any changes then? I don’t want you to remember these days, you know, like “Oh. we were young and it was beautiful.” Remember that our basic message is “We are allowed to think about alternatives.” If the rule is broken, we do not live in the best possible world. But there is a long road ahead. There are truly difficult questions that confront us. We know what we do not want. But what do we want? What social organization can replace capitalism? What type of new leaders do we want?
Remember. The problem is not corruption or greed. The problem is the system. It forces you to be corrupt. Beware not only of the enemies, but also of false friends who are already working to dilute this process. In the same way you get coffee without caffeine, beer without alcohol, ice cream without fat, they will try to make this into a harmless, moral protest. A decaffienated process. But the reason we are here is that we have had enough of a world where, to recycle Coke cans, to give a couple of dollars for charity, or to buy a Starbucks cappuccino where 1% goes to third world starving children is enough to make us feel good. After outsourcing work and torture, after marriage agencies are now outsourcing our love life, we can see that for a long time, we allow our political engagement also to be outsourced. We want it back.
Žižek gets to the two poles at the center of this debate: on one hand, that this gathering of voices could be minimized to a "harmless, moral protest," something for which a number of folks in rural organizations can no doubt identify. In keeping with that, and considering Occupy Wall Street from a rural perspective, the closely-related possibility is that, for many living outside of the cities and suburbs, these members of this movement will appear, in modifying Žižek's words, only "in love with themselves." 

I include these images not to offer a caricature, or to poke fun, but to suggest that while the Occupy movement should be concerned with projecting a richer narrative of its aims to the American public, they also need to be concerned with the very image- and media-related techniques which they openly critique  Or, to put it another way, they might ask how will it play in Peoria? 

Or, how would it play to Joe Bageant? He would no doubt support their efforts, but the video below adds a class-perspective, and a cautionary one at that,  to the possible perceived "smugness" of the Occupy movement. If folks haven't read it yet this week, please see Lisa Pruitt's stellar consideration of his work in The Daily Yonder.

Beyond this, the movement should ask themselves if the rhetoric of "smashing capitalism" allows for real change, or if it is a self-congratulatory position. Is it perceived, outside of the largely urban sanctuaries of Occupy culture, as a comfortable, elitist slogan? Across most of the countryside we need rural economic development, we need local and sustainable business communities, we need imaginative entrepreneurs. Purely from my own perspective, I would echo what Alec Baldwin says below, that capitalism is worthwhile. I would add to his remarks that we need to think, as the Occupy movement has forced us to, about how we can can adapt these questions on a local level. Consider the words of Wendell Berry in The Citizenship Papers along with Alec Baldwin's remarks amongst Ron Paul "sentimentalists" at Occupy Wall Street:
We live, as we must sooner or later recognize, in an era of sentimental economics and, consequently, of sentimental politics. Sentimental communism holds in effect that everybody and everything should suffer for the good of "the many" who, though miserable in the present, will be happy in the future for exactly the same reasons that they are miserable in the present.

Sentimental capitalism is not so different from sentimental communism as the corporate and political powers claim. Sentimental capitalism holds in effect that everything small, local, private, personal, natural, good, and beautiful must be sacrificed in the interest of the "free market" and the great corporations, which will bring unprecedented security and happiness to "the many" - in, of course, the future. 

Since our initial piece on the rural dynamic to the Occupy movement, many new outlets have emerged to help tell the broader cultural story; earlier this week we mentioned Occupy Rural, and to this list should be added two Occupy Rural America Facebook groups here and here

As I mentioned earlier in the week, the kind of change folks could see in their local, rural communities might be more lasting, more permanent, than what emerges on a broader scale from Zuccotti Park.  I'd refer above to Rachel Reynolds Luster's description of her experiences in southern Missouri, and I'd also suggest that these kinds of social gatherings in a rural America could cut across generational, cultural, and political lines in such a way that these newly formed communities could put their minds towards solving together some of their region's challenges. If the politics of the last decade has fractured our sense of participation and cooperation, then perhaps such collaborations might be the lasting legacy of the Occupy movement.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Almanac For Moderns: Late In The Autumn

October Thirteenth

Late in the autumn, when the leaves of the buttonwood are turning deep as Burgundy and the cat-tails are ripening their silk, one little frog still sings his rather sad, metallic threnody. The sound, though small, is piercing, and for this reason he has been called the cricket frog. Cricket-like, he is but an inch and a half long, at the most, and he throws his voice with the ventriloquism of a Gryllus; it peeps and call from side to side of the boggy meadow; though I steal on footsteps that I would make as soft as a rabbit's tread, silence surrounds me where I walk, mockery clinks out from behind me.

More information on our Almanac For Moderns project and the work of Donald Culross Peattie can be found here.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Occupy Rural: Its Place And Its Possibilities

Occupy gathering in Coeur D'Alene, Idaho; Jessica Robinson, Oregon Public Broadcasting

Politics troubles our consciences. But places haunt our imaginations.
- Michael Kimmelman

This last weekend, as I've mentioned previously, I had the honor of presenting The Art of the Rural at the BIG FEED, a "regional social" of art, music, and rural culture organized by the M12 group of artists. Unbeknownst to me, two events happened during this weekend which have led me to consider again the rural element to the Occupy movement -- both its challenges and its extraordinary potential.

I say this first: my opinions on this subject are purely my own and they do not necessarily reflect the opinions of anyone else associated with AOTR. My editorial logic for covering the Occupy movement, as opposed to the Tea Party, is that -- as responsible journalists are reporting -- this is still an amalgamous, decentralized and non-partisan group of citizens. The minute that this becomes aligned with a traditional political party is most likely the minute that it loses most of its cultural imperative. As it relates to this site, I am more interested in writing about people than political parties; at this point, this is an extraordinary and moving example of people uniting across generational and class lines.

To return, I was interested how, during the BIG FEED, the Occupy movement was referenced alternately with curiosity and passion by both local presenters and folks who have flown from far away to attend the event: rural people, members of the rural diaspora, and even their supporters in urban areas, are all thinking about how this movement might be applied to the countryside. Last week we offered one example from southern Missouri, complete with Rachel Reynolds Luster's take on the events.

Steph Larsen and Brian DePew Occupy The Pasture; photograph Steph Larsen

In a moment of synchronicity, just as such a dialogue was percolating around the edges of the BIG FEED on the Colorado high plains, I received an email from Anna Culver informing me that an Occupy Rural group [Twitter: @occupyrural] was online, collecting "storylines" via toll-free phone that they would present via Soundcloud. Here's the introduction to this storytelling project:

Occupy Rural also maintains a Facebook presence, and they ask that readers submit their stories to the ever-expanding tumblr page We Are The 99 Percent. If folks haven't seen this tumblr page yet, I highly recommend a visit; it's the best articulation of what concerns this movement.

At the BIG FEED I had the opportunity to meet Mimi Zeiger, the editor and publisher of loud paper and a leading voice on art, architecture, and urban space, and she offered within her talk some inspiring examples of how artists and citizens are reclaiming public space -- ideas which readers can find in her Interventionist Toolkit series published online at Places. We had a chance afterwards to talk about the connections between interventionist art and the Occupy movement, and Ms. Zeiger later alerted me to a piece by New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman that holds real possibility for folks who want to think through the potential for a rural Occupy movement.

"In Protest, The Power Of Place," will resonate with many of our readers because it's less interested in politics than how place and community serve as a movement's lasting source of power. Instead of the expected myriad of demands at Occupy Wall Street (or beyond), Mr. Kimmelman tells us, "the encampment itself has become the point:"
And it was obvious to me watching the crowd coalesce over several days that consensus emerges urbanistically, meaning that the demonstrators, who have devised their own form of leaderless governance to keep the peace, find unity in community. The governing process they choose is itself a bedrock message of the protest.
It produces the outlines of a city, as I said. The protesters have set up a kitchen, for serving food, a legal desk and a sanitation department, a library of donated books, an area where the general assembly meets, a medical station, a media center where people can recharge their laptops using portable generators, and even a general store, called the comfort center, stocked with donated clothing, bedding, toothpaste and deodorant — like the food, all free for the taking.
To modify Mr. Kimmelman's language, how might "consensus emerge ruralistically?" Herein lies the reason that I feel that the Occupy movement could hold even greater possibility for rural place and rural citizens: we see a drastically different sense of geographic and community scale in rural places, and we may find that -- despite coming from different ideological backgrounds -- the Occupy movement in rural America could allow for folks to not only raise awareness of pressing, unacceptable, national problems but also to work as a community to solve them on a local level. Certainly, this can also happen in a city, though, as I know from a few years in living in Boston, it is too easy to retreat back into our physical and cultural neighborhoods. In rural America, such retreat is impossible. We have to see each other. We have to work together.

This is already evidenced in the diverse group of Occupy rural folks we previously covered; the solutions they proposed were singular, sensible, and non-partisan. Tomorrow I will continue this commentary on the rural Occupy movement with a look at these solutions, and the rhetoric of its urban counterparts.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Joe Bageant: Rednecks And the Rural-Urban

Joe with younger brother Mike in 1951; The Daily Yonder 

Folks, I've returned from an inspiring weekend at BIG FEED in Yuma, Colorado -- an event so rich in ideas, music, and art that I'm going to have a great deal to share from it in the coming weeks. 

Until then, I'd like to point folks' attention to a piece that appeared in The Daily Yonder that I consider to be essential reading: it's Lisa Pruitt's thoughts on the life and work of "redneck" writer Joe Bageant. Dr. Pruitt has covered much of the same ground, though from a different disciplinary perspective, on her excellent blog Legal Ruralism, and I can think of no better introduction to the passionate, clear-eyed prose of Joe Bageant. Her response is provocative and deeply moving -- this is a voice and a critique that's missing in large part from our current economic debates, a dose of reality that we all would be wise to consider. I'll be including her insights to just those ends tomorrow.

Below, I'll also include the video embedded at The Daily Yonder:

Friday, October 14, 2011

2011 BIG FEED: A Series Of Links

In anticipation of this weekend's BIG FEED, I'd like to print a series of links related to my rural arts and culture presentation. Many thanks to the M12 for the opportunity to visit Yuma and share the work of The Art of Rural; for folks in attendance, and perhaps even for those just looking to browse some links, I offer this distillation of the artists and organizations mentioned in my talk. With so much extraordinary work out there in the contemporary rural arts, I would like to stress that these links come together as a narrative of shared values and sensibilities, not a definitive "best of."  Please visit our Rural Arts Links page for much more information on the range of artists and organizations at work right now in rural (and urban) America.

M12: Open Space: Derek Grubaugh and Lindsay Kotovsky, in collaboration with Kirsten Stoltz and Vincent Family Farms

Jay-Z and Alan Lomax: Ethan Hein's Music, Technology, Evolution blog 

Dust-to-Digital and Goodbye, Babylon 

Alan Lomax's Southern Journey series and Fred McDowell: The Alan Lomax Recordings 

Nathan Salsburg's Root Hog Or Die 

Ishilan n-Tenere 

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Rural Studio 

Bob Arnold and Longhouse Press 

Lorine Niedecker

The Winding Stream

Don't Forget this Song:David Lasky & Frank Young's comic book project

The Carter Family Project

Where Soldiers Come From

Last of the Pagan Babies

Double Edge Theatre 

North Carolina Farmer Voices

Farmer-Veteran Coalition

The Lexicon of Sustainability

The Art of Regional Change

Appalachia Rising

Southern Foodways Alliance

Western Folklife Center

National Cowboy Poetry Gathering

Deep West Documentaries


Thousand Kites

Roadside Theater

Chris Sauter


Thornton Dial
Chris Verene

The Quilt Index

Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance

Amy Stein

David Lundahl

Richard Saxton

M12: The Ornitarium

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Supporting Family Farmers: Willie Nelson, Karen O, and Chipotle

Screenshot from the Chipotle Cultivate Foundation

As reported last night on our Facebook page, The Chipotle Cultivate Foundation has released a short-film in conjunction with its annual Boorito fundraising efforts. For folks who don't have a Chipotle near their town: Chipotle is a burrito restaurant which bucks the norms by not offering a drive-thru window and, most importantly, by sourcing its food from sustainable producers and, when possible, from local farmers. I'll include more information about the Foundation below:
The Chipotle Cultivate Foundation is committed to creating a more sustainable and healthful food supply and to raising awareness concerning food issues. This is realized through the support of family farmers and their communities, educators and programs that teach younger generations about food matters, along with support for ranchers and farmers who are working to develop more sustainable practices.
Over the last several years, Chipotle has contributed more than $2 million to help fund initiatives that support sustainable agriculture, family farming, culinary education, and innovation that promotes better food. The Chipotle Cultivate Foundation is a non-profit organization established by Chipotle Mexican Grill to continue this tradition of giving and focus our efforts going forward.
Much of the Foundation's recent work has been to raise money to support organizations working to aid family farmers:, Farm Aid, and The Land Institute among many others. The video below tells a story of rural youth entering an abandoned farmhouse; Karen O (of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs) covers Willie Nelson's classic "Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys:"

I imagine that this video will be extraordinarily complicated for those, like myself, who experienced exactly what this video documents. This is a hard video for me to watch. There's much more to say about the video, and Karen O's drawling inflections, but my overall sense is that this is well-intentioned (Willie surely signed off on this) and that it's part of a campaign that is working to reach the folks who need to be reached: urban and suburban consumers who haven't considered how the health of rural communities directly affects the health of their own neighborhoods.

The challenge, beyond this, is to bring the rural diaspora--those families whose absence is a palpable presence in this clip--into the discussion. As much as we should mourn the loss of these family farmers, we need to hear their voices now, whether they live in rural or urban America.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Native American Hip Hop and Electronic Music

Supaman; from the artist's MySpace page

 Yesterday on NPR's All Things Considered, Taki Telonidis of The Western Folklife Center reported from Crow Nation on a powerful cross-cultural and rural-urban story: the life, times, and music of rapper Supaman. Here's how the piece begins:
In southeast Montana, thousands of miles from the birthplace of hip-hop, a man with the given name Christian Parrish Takes the Gun has been rapping to young people on the Crow Nation reservation. He calls himself Supaman, and he's been merging inner-city music with more local concerns for more than a dozen years.

"Native Americans grasp that culture of hip-hop because of the struggle," he says. "Hip-hop was talking about the ghetto life, poverty, crime, drugs, alcohol, teen pregnancy; all that crazy stuff that happens in the ghetto is similar to the reservation life. We can relate to that."
Supaman was courted by record labels in the early 2000's for his brand of gangsta-rap-meets-rez-life, but a fateful encounter on tour led to a conversion experience for the artist; his mature work considers how faith, culture, and place can lead the hip hop genre in new directions. 

Supaman is not alone, though, in creating fresh and provocative music within the Native American community - evidence of further Native hip hop musicians can be found on the Native Hip Hop site

More broadly, I'd encourage a visit to Revolutions Per Minute (RPM), a site that provides "a centralized place for emerging and established Indigenous, First Nations, Aboriginal, Inuit, and Métis musicians to share and promote their work." Since debuting this summer, RPM has offered a dizzying array of musicians -- and the site itself is gorgeous, completely interactive, and linked to every relevant social media platform. Across the rural arts (and beyond) we could learn a great deal from how RPM is spreading its message.

Below I'll include Supaman's video for "Sabatage," featuring Deadly Penz. In addition, here's a group I discovered via RPM: A Tribe Called Red. These electronic musicians' work is informed by hip hop, and traditional folk forms, but they have created a style all their own. The track below, "PowWowzers," features the acclaimed drum group Northern Cree as well as samples of comedian Clarence Two Toes:

PowWowzers feat. Northern Cree and Clarence Two Toes by A Tribe Called Red

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Occupy Rural America

From the Occupy West Plains, Missouri event; Jill Henderson

This morning our Contributing Editor Rachel Reynolds Luster sent me word of some Occupy Wall Street gatherings and marches that are beginning to emerge in her region of southern Missouri. 

As the photograph reprinted from The Hill 'N Holler Review demonstrates, these rural manifestations of the Occupy movement are intergenerational, and offer a more coherent and to-the-point articulation of specific demands.  Furthermore, their proposed solutions are local, practical, and eminently sensible.

Here's Carroll Lucas, in her article for the H'NH: 
A group of about 25 persons showed up at the West Plains branch of Bank of America Friday afternoon, Oct. 7, and held their signs up in peaceful protest as part of the mushrooming national movement Occupy Wall Street. Occupy West Plains spokesman Dean Henderson said they decided to join in protest with the Wall Street kids and show their solidarity. He referred to Bank of America as an international bank that was a symbol of big money. He said people needed to withdraw their checking accounts, run them out of town and throw their support to local banks.

Some of the protesters told the Hill ’n Holler Review that they were there because they are part of the 99 percent. I’m uninsured and working part time, one said. She was referring to the slogan coined by this movement. “We are the 99 per cent that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1 per cent.”
Rachel Reynolds Luster also organized an Occupy Oregon County march in Alton, Missouri yesterday. As I learned from corresponding with her this morning, the gathering was much like that which Ms. Lucas describes above -- and it also gathered folks from across the political spectrum. I asked Rachel if she might share her perspective on the role of rural people in this movement, and if she might offer some positive outcomes that might emerge from the larger Occupy movement. Here's her response:
I think it’s important for rural Americans to engage in this conversation. Sure, we don’t house the headquarters of the world’s financial system, but corporate greed and influence permeate our daily lives. They influence domestic and foreign policy that affect us. They influence environmental, energy, and agricultural policy which affects us. Many of the issues that we as rural Americans face, such as lack of access to broadband and adequate healthcare, can be directly tied to the fact that we are not a profitable investment. Corporate greed influences our personal possibility and the health of our communities on a daily basis. We are the 99%! It’s important that our voices are heard.
At the same time, I think that we carry the power to impart positive change. Certainly, I think there should be steps taken on the policy level to limit corporate influence in our government, but many actions, and perhaps the MOST powerful steps, can be taken on the individual and community level. If we all pulled our money out of major banking institutions like Bank of America and re-invested our money in community banks and credit unions that would have a measurable impact. We should support our local businesses. We can grow our own food and/or support those in our communities that do.
I encourage all Americans to participate in the current conversations concerning Occupy but I think that it is especially important for rural America and those who care about it to participate and make their voices heard. We are not a passive people. We are the 99%.
Are Occupy gatherings emerging in your part of rural America? Please let us know by contacting us on our Facebook page or at artoftherural at

Monday, October 10, 2011

Farmville Files: Pastoral Romance

Longtime readers will remember a time on the site over a year ago when we posted a number of articles under the "Farmville Files" moniker. At the time, we thought of the series as a way to utilize the popularity of the Facebook application as a way to talk about what the online game had to say about pop culture's representations of rural people and agricultural work. 

As this morning's article on The Farmer-Veteran Coalition suggests, there's much more work to be done on this front -- especially in linking agriculture to culture and to the arts. While there are many excellent sites related to sustainability and local food systems, we'd like to add our own perspective to these issues through a revitalized "Farmville Files" series of articles and contextual links. 

To those ends, I'd like to share "Pastoral Romance" by Brent Cunningham; it's a provocative essay originally published in the Food issue of Lapham's Quarterly this summer. This piece focuses on two self-confessed urban foodies' sojourn in Huntington, West Virginia and their efforts to eat (and promote) local, sustainable agriculture. 

If this sounds like a scenario you've heard a thousand times before, give Mr. Cunningham's essay a read. He covers the "'bourgeois nostalgia' [that] pervades the food-reform movement," and a number of other issues that can make some elements of the organic food phenomenon a thorny subject. There may be, after all, some unsettling philosophical connections between the attraction of Farmville and those irresistible tables of produce at an urban farmers market. 

Here's the opening paragraphs of Brent Cunningham's "Pastoral Romance:"
Betty Jo Patton spent her childhood on a 240-acre farm in Mason County, West Virginia, in the 1930s. Her family raised what it ate, from tomatoes to turkeys, pears to pigs. They picked, plucked, slaughtered, butchered, cured, canned, preserved, and rendered. They drew water from a well, cooked on a wood stove, and the bathroom was an outhouse.
Phoebe Patton Randolph, Betty Jo’s thirty-two-year-old granddaughter, has a dream of returning to the farm, which has been in the family since 1863 and is an hour’s drive from her home in the suburbs of Huntington, a city of nearly fifty thousand people along the Ohio River. Phoebe is an architect and a mother of one (soon to be two) boys, who is deeply involved in efforts to revitalize Huntington, a moribund Rust Belt community unsure of what can replace the defunct factories that drove its economy for a hundred years. She grew up with stories of life on the farm as she watched the empty farmhouse sag into disrepair.
Recently, over lunch in Betty Jo’s cozy house in a quiet Huntington neighborhood, I listened to them talk about the farm, and I eventually asked Betty Jo what she thought of her granddaughter’s notion of returning to the land. Betty Jo smiled, but was blunt: “Leave it. There’s nothing romantic about it."

The Farmer-Veteran Coalition

Farmer-Veteran Coalition founder Michael O'Gorman; Melissa Barnes

I've worked in the organic-farming industry for 40 years. I visited New York not long after 9/11 and came across the statue of a guy beating his sword into a plowshare, and a light bulb went off in my head. In 2007 I talked to some Northern California farmers about creating jobs for returning veterans. From the beginning, there's been something so positive about the concept. It transcends politics. 
          - Michael O'Gorman, as interviewed in Sierra Magazine

I'd like to start of the week with news of The Farmer-Veteran Coalition, a national organization that supports and trains returning veterans seeking a career in sustainable agriculture. Funded by the USDA and a number of other foundations, the FVC has already provided assistance to many veteran-farmers working across the country.

As Coalition founder Michael O'Gorman told Patricia Leigh Brown of The New York Times, the convergence of soldiers returning to civilian life and an aging farming population create a unique opportunity. “The military is not for the faint of heart, and farming isn’t either," he told the Times,  "There are eight times as many farmers over age 65 as under. There is a tremendous need for young farmers, and a big wave of young people inspired to go into the service who are coming home.”

This August the organization announced its first eight Bob Woodruff Farming Fellows along with its inaugural Wells Fargo Fellow. As the titles above suggest, the FVC has been able to not only encourage support within the organic farming community, but beyond, and it should also suggest to folks across rural america that this could be modeled across rural America-- regardless of the specific farming methods or philosophies. 

As this program so powerfully demonstrates, these farmer-veterans not only find a vocation and a means of healing from their combat experiences, but they also help reinvigorate their communities. Folks can read the stories of these extraordinary farmer-veterans on the FVC news page; visit the Fellowship Fund to learn how to share this information with possible candidate or how to donate funds, equipment, or expertise.

Included below is the video of Matt McCue, who discusses how his time spent in rural Iraq opened up a path to a farm apprenticeship in California and a co-ownership of a local CSA:
Rather than thinking of Iraq as the place where my heart was broken and my mind was controlled I prefer to think of Iraq as the place where I discovered the key to my freedom. I prefer to remember the trucks full of watermelons and pomegranates that would pass through our checkpoints. I felt strangely human as I waved cars by with pomegranate seeds stuck to my Kevlar vest.

“I first learned the value of sustainability and the resilience of agricultural communities while serving as an Infantryman in Iraq. In the middle of the chaos of a regime change and a damaged infrastructure the farmers kept growing and kept selling. Seeing this strength is what made me want to be a farmer. [continue reading here]

Much more information on can be found on the Farmer-Veteran Coalition, along with photos, videos and a blog page. Reprinted below is a short excerpt from the FVC mission statement:
The mission of the Farmer-Veteran Coalition is to mobilize our food and farming community to create healthy and viable futures for America’s veterans by enlisting their help in building our green economy, rebuilding our rural communities, and securing a safe and healthy food supply for all.  The coalition seeks to simultaneously assist the farming community by developing a new generation of farmers and to help our returning veterans find viable careers and means to heal on America’s farms.

The Farmer-Veteran Coalition was founded by farmers and food industry leaders with long histories in overcoming the agricultural, managerial, financial, and marketing obstacles to be successful in their work.  The goal of our work is to share our experiences with recent military veterans and to assist them in using their many relevant skills to create a new generation of innovative, ecological, and financially successful young farmers.  Our program has the ability to help veterans reduce risk and become successful farmers by utilizing the many specific and unique resources available to help military veterans starting businesses, buying land, or overcoming disabilities.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

National Arts & Humanities Month in Rural America

Last week I had the honor of sharing the mission of The Art of the Rural with a number of local and national arts leaders on a conference call organized by Americans For The Arts and chaired by Theresa Cameron and Mitch Menchaca. On this call I also learned President Obama was set to declare October National Arts & Humanities Month

Americans For The Arts is offering up a number of online features to help citizens from across the country engage in this conversation and even facilitate dialogues in their own communities. The organization has designed an attractive and user-friendly map program to illustrate where and when NAHM events are taking place across the country. Here is the embedded map, though following the link above will open a full page of resources:

Americans For The Arts also offers a suite of resources for folks to create and publicize their own events -- and this information can be accessed here. The Creative Conversation stands at the heart of this community dialogue; these gathering seeks to "elevate the profile of the arts in America," but on a local, place-specific context by "connecting the cultural sector with the business community and political leadership." 

This month comes at an important juncture: we have read the feedback report from the White House Rural Council, considered the NEA's report on value of Creative Placemaking in rural America, and encountered a increasingly vocal cultural discussion on the distribution of wealth and media access sparked by the Occupy Wall Street protests. Regardless of our readers' political or philosophical views of any of the above, it's hard to deny that we are in a living in a moment that needs Creative Conversations more than ever.

Much more information on National Arts & Humanities Month is available on the organization's extraordinary ARTSblog. Below I will reprint a significant excerpt from President Obama's declaration:
Norman Rockwell’s magazine covers are classic and recognizable portrayals of American life. A longtime advocate of tolerance, Rockwell was criticized by some for a painting now hanging steps from the Oval Office — The Problem We All Live With. Inspired by the story of Ruby Bridges, this painting depicts a young girl being escorted to her newly-integrated school by United States Marshals. Today, the portrait remains a symbol of our Nation’s struggle for racial equality.
Like Rockwell’s painting, art in all its forms often challenges us to consider new perspectives and to rethink how we see the world. This image still moves us with its simple poignancy, capturing a moment in American history that changed us forever. This is the power of the arts and humanities — they speak to our condition and affirm our desire for something more and something better. Great works of literature, theater, dance, fine art, and music reach us through a universal language that unites us regardless of background, gender, race, or creed.
Millions of Americans earn a living in the arts and humanities, and the non-profit and for-profit arts industries are important parts of both our cultural heritage and our economy. The First Lady and I have been proud to honor this work by displaying American art at the White House and by hosting music, dance, poetry, and film performances and screenings. The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, along with the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services continues to recognize the skill and creativity of American artists, historians, and philosophers while helping educate and inspire our children through the power of the arts and humanities.
We must recognize the contributions of the arts and humanities not only by supporting the artists of today, but also by giving opportunities to the creative thinkers of tomorrow. Educators across our country are opening young minds, fostering innovation, and developing imaginations through arts education. Through their work, they are empowering our Nation’s students with the ability to meet the challenges of a global marketplace. It is a well-rounded education for our children that will fuel our efforts to lead in a new economy where critical and creative thinking will be the keys to success.
Today, the arts and humanities continue to break social and political barriers. Throughout our history, American hopes and aspirations have been captured in the arts, from the songs of enslaved Americans yearning for freedom to the films that grace our screens today. This month, we celebrate the enlightenment and insight we have gained from the arts and humanities, and we recommit to supporting expression that challenges our assumptions, sparks our curiosity, and continues to drive us toward a more perfect union.