Most Farmers in the Great Plains Don’t Grow Fruits and Vegetables. The Pandemic is Changing That.

A group of farmers from Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska hosted a remote agriculture happy hour. There were a few dozen attendees. …In total, they farm more than 30,000 acres of cropland, most of it planted in soy, corn, or cotton destined for the global commodity market.

…They primarily sell the same short list of crops that blanket most U.S. farmland: soy, corn, wheat, and cotton. These commodities are turned into a vast array of products with only a fraction fed directly to humans. (The bulk of corn and soy is fed to animals, and a great deal of what’s left gets turned into processed sweeteners and vegetable oils.)

…Cannon, who farms and ranches 10,000 acres near Blackwell, Oklahoma, was already feeling the squeeze from the trade wars with China when the pandemic hit.

The situation has disrupted many parts of the supply chain and left Cannon unable to move his products off the farm.

…“Even farmers are dependent on our fragile food system—and a lot of us are four days away from hunger,” said Cannon. As a result, he’s decided to start growing a variety of fruits and vegetables for local consumption.

…Tom Cannon, for one, is planting six acres of vegetables. He calls it a “chaos garden” and it’s essentially a cover crop, a crop that is planted in between cash crops. But while a standard cover crop may contain alfalfa, ryegrass, or sorghum that can be used for building soil organic matter or grazing, a chaos seed mixture might include peas, squash, radish, okra, melons, sweet corn, and other edible plants. In other words, it contains groceries.

It’s the perfect way for a commodity farmer like Cannon to grow fruits and vegetables without changing farming practices. “I just load my drill [planter] with 50 plus species, and don’t ever go back until it is time to harvest. Cannon plans to let community members pick their own produce. “After the people get everything they want, you turn out cattle onto the field.” Whatever remains serves as “green manure” to fertilize the soil.

……Cannon will give his customers the option of foraging in the maze or simply driving up to the barn to collect their produce. But he worries that many of his new customers won’t know how to use the fresh produce.

…“The country is just full of corn and soybeans. Why would you want to grow more when there is such a surplus and revenue is so terrible? I just try to grow what people want.”

…Some of the produce goes to his own kitchen but most of it gets donated to local community groups—the food bank, youth groups, and churches—with the agreement that they do the harvesting. Emmons estimates that each acre of chaos generates 4,500 pounds of produce.

…In addition to ease of planting, Emmons described other benefits of a chaos approach: The blanket of plants crowds out most unwanted species, including weeds; the cucumbers and squash and other flowering species attract beneficial insects that keep pests like “squash bugs” at bay; the dense foliage increases soil moisture retention and reduces the need to water; and the plants tend to mature at different rates, allowing for several months of a diverse bounty rather than a monocrop that gets harvested all at once.

…The effort could run into some red tape if it were scaled up. For example, federal agriculture policy makes it hard for commodity farmers to start growing vegetables on land that is enrolled in the USDA’s crop insurance program. However the program does allow cover crops—and chaos gardens could easily fit under that category.

…If every commodity farmer chose to dedicate 1 percent of their land to a Milpa garden, it could result in 2 million acres—providing a 50 percent increase in national vegetable production and distributing it more evenly throughout the country. Farming regions across the U.S. may be growing plenty of crops, but rural communities have long had limited access to nutrient-rich fresh food.

Most Farmers in the Great Plains Don’t Grow Fruits and Vegetables. The Pandemic is Changing That. | Civil Eats



Coronavirus: Full United flight leaves passengers ‘scared,’ ‘shocked’

Dr. Ethan Weiss tweeted a photo Saturday showing what appears to be a full United Airlines flight from Newark, New Jersey, to San Francisco. Though passengers are wearing masks, he said the crowded cabin runs counter to United’s assurances that it would leave middle seats empty in order to promote social distancing to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Coronavirus: Full United flight leaves passengers ‘scared,’ ‘shocked’


San Jose opens first tiny home community for homeless

In San Jose alone, more than 6,000 residents sleep in cars, shelters or on the streets every night.

After making your way past the 10-foot gate surrounding the property, 40 tiny homes — 80-square-feet rectangular structures with just enough room for a single bed, desk, shelf and air conditioning and heating system — are in neat rows with gravel paths, lined with potted plants, leading from one home to another.

…The community is open to people who are part of the county’s rapid rehousing voucher program and are in the process of securing permanent housing but need a place to stay in the interim to avoid homelessness. The city hopes to serve 120 residents on the VTA site during the first year, aiming to rotate 40 residents into permanent housing every four months.

…Only eight of the 40 sleeping cabins are currently occupied.

City officials attribute that to the stringent criteria placed on eligible residents, including a thorough background check, and the task of having to track people down.

“People get lost in the system,” Jacky Morales-Ferrand, San Jose housing director, said in an interview following the event. “And, that’s actually one of the benefits of creating these interim sites, because as we create housing opportunities for people to move in, we know that we can connect them very quickly.”

…In addition to the cabins, the community features shared bathrooms, showers and laundry facilities, a kitchen space and common areas with computers, internet access and job boards. The community is protected around the clock by a security guard who sits in a patrol station next to the front gate.

HomeFirst not only operates the community but provides a wide range of services to residents, healthcare assistance, personal finance advice and career readiness training.

To encourage residents to work with the organization to obtain permanent housing, they are each required to pay 10 percent of their income — or $20 if they’re not employed — for the first six months. Afterward, the rent will increase by 10 percent every six months, capping at 30 percent.

San Jose opens first tiny home community for homeless


Orphan wells: Canada’s struggling oil industry leaves thousands abandoned

Greg Latimer’s ranch near Sounding Lake, Alberta, has 4,000 acres, 350 cattle — and more than a dozen idle or abandoned oil and gas wells.

Latimer, who took over the family ranch in the southeastern part of the oil-rich province in 2011, worries about leaks contaminating the groundwater and soil. He believes his cows have fallen ill after drinking from puddles near the wells. He and his partner, Marva Coltman, get headaches from the odors that some of them emit.

Neither Latimer, his father nor his grandfather were given a choice about whether to let oil and gas companies onto their property.

…“My grandfather came here in 1911 in the middle of the country to make a homestead,” Latimer said. “These guys came here and destroyed it. It isn’t fair.”

…[The] government slashed municipal property taxes on shallow gas wells last year by 35 percent. Some operators have stopped paying municipal property taxes to the tune of $129.8 million.

Under provincial law, oil and gas companies are responsible for plugging defunct wells and restoring the environment to its pre-drilling state. When the operators are bankrupt or insolvent, the wells are transferred to the industry-funded Orphan Well Association, which is tasked with decommissioning them.

As the energy sector has struggled, the association’s inventory has ballooned, from 162 wells in 2014 to 3,406 today.

…And the number could skyrocket, soon. Last year, both Trident Exploration and Houston Oil & Gas bit the dust, leaving behind a combined 6,100 wells and a $307.9 million cleanup bill. 

…As of December 2019, the energy regulator had $170.3 million to clean up potential oil and gas liabilities estimated at more than $22.5 billion, the figures show.

Orphan wells: Canada’s struggling oil industry leaves thousands abandoned – The Washington Post


Trump Administration Suspends New Yorkers From Trusted Traveler Programs

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security says it will no longer allow New York state residents to enroll in programs intended to expedite international travel because of a state law that blocks immigration authorities from accessing motor vehicle records.

…In a statement released Thursday, the state’s attorney general, Letitia James, pointed out that more than a dozen other states and the District of Columbia share similar laws. As for New York itself, the top prosecutor vowed that the state “will not back down.”

“New Yorkers,” James said, “will not be targeted or bullied by an authoritarian thug.”

Trump Administration Suspends New Yorkers From Trusted Traveler Programs : NPR


The consolations of rail travel

Trains may once have accelerated life but in our digital world they have the opposite effect: they slow one down. To see the landscape rolling by, or at night to see the lights passing and feel the wheels turning beneath one, is to travel consciously, mindful of the distance one is covering. 

…Trains can be fast, but there is nonetheless a meditative quality to travelling by them. Not always, of course: a train laden with boozy commuters is no one’s idea of a sanctuary. But take a long-distance train. …Wait for the hubbub of people finding their seats and storing their luggage to die down. Gaze out of the window as the landscape, dull or beautiful, moves by and you will find yourself in a tranquil middle space: the hills, roads and fields outside stimulating enough to provoke thought without being so distracting as to interrupt it.

The consolations of rail travel



How Virginia’s $3.7 billion rail plan fits Amtrak’s long-term vision

With new routes and faster and more efficient service, the number of Amtrak trains operating in Virginia is expected to double by 2030.

…The state exemplifies Amtrak’s growth strategy of focusing on adding short-haul trips that compete with car rides and flights in dense urban corridors, they say.

…In recent years, Amtrak has been beefing up short-distance service across the country, advancing its vision to connect major metropolitan areas in regions undergoing significant growth and where there is little to no rail service, while fulfilling Americans’ growing desire for cost-efficient and more environmentally friendly travel options.

…Virginia, one of 18 states that sponsors Amtrak service, has some of the best-performing routes, officials said. Combined ridership for the four routes connecting Richmond and other major cities to Washington and the Northeast grew to 971,415 in 2019, from 844,698 the previous year — a 15 percent increase. That’s well above the average 2.4 percent increase among all state-supported lines and the 2.5 percent growth of Amtrak’s entire network.

“In just the 10 years since 2009, ridership has more than doubled on our Virginia corridors,” Anderson told members of Congress at a Nov. 13 hearing. “What these and our other very successful state-supported corridors have in common is that they offer multiple daily frequencies with trip times that are competitive with driving and flying.”

…In 2011, Virginia became one of only a few states to create a dedicated funding source for rail projects. The Virginia Intercity Passenger Rail Operating and Capital Fund gets .005 percent of the state’s retail sales and use tax, which equals about $50 million to $60 million annually.

…Increasing train service in the state makes sense, both for reducing traffic congestion and from an economic standpoint, officials and transportation experts say. A recent state study of the I-95 corridor estimates it would cost $12.5 billion to build one additional travel lane in each direction for 50 miles in the corridor.

How Virginia’s $3.7 billion rail plan fits Amtrak’s long-term vision – The Washington Post


This is why the US still doesn’t have high-speed trains

The FRA should never have been asked to oversee the project, said Thomas Hart Jr, president of the pro-rail consulting group Rail Forward. It was inexperienced, needlessly bureaucratic, and had “neither the experience, the staff, nor the regulations” in place to make high-speed rail work. To Hart’s mind, the largest problems were strategic: The FRA “tried to do too much with too little” by spreading the money across the nation rather than targeting the best possible projects, while simultaneously shutting out small or minority-owned businesses. He also believes the federal government made a fatal misstep in allowing Amtrak to run the projects, rather than opening it up to more experienced foreign competitors. 

…“The question really is, for us as an industry and as a company, in being pragmatic,” he said. All over the country, there are underserved segments of around 300 miles which are ripe for high-quality rail, he added. “We don’t even need to spend money on necessarily expensive high-speed trains—just getting what we have today working well at a hundred miles an hour, which is very feasible, is really viable.” 

Europe might have some of the world’s best high-speed rail, but it also had a great network of slower, 80-mile-per-hour trains, said Harris. “We should aspire to that first. We can deliver that and make a lot of people happy, without spending $100 million.”

This is why the US still doesn’t have high-speed trains — Quartz


Rail or trail? Topsham-Augusta trail proposal could derail the potential future return of passenger train service to Augusta, rail advocates warn.

Advocates for restoring passenger train service to Augusta — and potentially beyond to Waterville and Bangor — fear the Merrymeeting Trail proposal could squash any hopes they have of rail service returning to that corridor. 

…Richard Rudolph and Jack Sutton, directors of the Maine Rail Group, said once the rail corridor is converted to a trail, rail service will never return, due to the difficulty of both restoring the rails and reclaiming the space from those who would be using it as a trail. 

…“There are plenty of places to walk or bike, there aren’t that many places to run a train,” he said. “Common sense will tell you if we lose that rail to a bike or walking trail, it’s not going to be returned.” 

Dale McCormick, a former city councilor, said she loves the Rail Trail and loves the Merrymeeting Trail proposal, but not if it prevents the future development of rail service in Augusta. 

McCormick said if gas prices increase again, rail travel would be more feasible because of its energy efficiency and more popular with passengers. There should be a way to do both the trail project and protect the future of rail, she said. 

Rail or trail? Topsham-Augusta trail proposal could derail the potential future return of passenger train service to Augusta, rail advocates warn. – Portland Press Herald


Amtrak Wanted 2 Wheelchair Users To Pay $25,000 For A Train Ride

A group from his office is headed to Bloomington next Wednesday for a work retreat.

There are 10 of them, and five — including Ballard — use wheelchairs. Their train has three cars. Each car has one space for a wheelchair. That makes three spaces for five people in wheelchairs. In the past, when Access Living gave advance notice that it was sending a large group, Amtrak took out more seats to fit more wheelchairs. Once, it took out seats in the dining car and charged a few hundred dollars extra.

…”The cost is correct,” the agent wrote, citing a new policy for taking out those seats. The agent explained that it’s expensive to take out extra seats and that it means taking a car out of service.

…The ADA, which became law 30 years ago this year, is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in jobs, schools, public places and transportation — including trains. It requires companies like Amtrak to make “reasonable accommodations” so that people with disabilities have comparable access to transportation as do people without disabilities.

…”The Americans with Disabilities Act has been the law of the land for 30 years,” she said. “Yet in 2020, @Amtrak believes it would be an unreasonable burden to remove architectural barriers that would enable a group with five wheelchair users to travel together.”

Amtrak Wanted 2 Wheelchair Users To Pay $25,000 For A Train Ride : NPR


TSA apologizes to Native American traveler following ‘unacceptable behavior’ at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport

“TSA holds its employees to the highest standards of professional conduct and any type of improper behavior is taken seriously,” the statement continued.

TSA apologizes to Native American traveler following ‘unacceptable behavior’ at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport – The Washington Post

Their apology is weak. Anything other than firing the employee in question means the TSA doesn’t take this behavior very seriously at all and is willing to accept it from their employees.


NAACP’s Sherrilyn Ifill was asked by Amtrak conductor to give up her (unassigned) seat for other passengers

“I’m being asked to leave my seat on train 80 which I just boarded in D.C. There are no assigned seats on this train,” Ifill shared on Twitter Friday, directing her query at Amtrak’s account. “The conductor has asked me to leave my seat because she has ‘other people coming who she wants to give this seat.’ Can you please explain?”

…“What really disturbs me is how someone with this authority can just entirely make up something so ridiculous and approach a customer in this way,” Ifill wrote.

NAACP’s Sherrilyn Ifill says Amtrak conductor asked her to give up her seat for other passengers – The Washington Post

Enough with the “says” headlines, WaPo. By apologizing Amtrak has acknowledged this happened. It’s not alleged. It happened. Stop being such racist/hater apologists and play-acting at being unbiased and start asserting facts when they come up you spineless, corporate hacks.

Also, if Amtrack responds by doing anything other than firing the employee at question they are prioritizing their HR(PR!) practices over not tolerating blatant discrimination. shielding their employee is supporting their action. Name, shame, and terminate or be 100% culpable in overtly bigoted and illegal discrimination.

Sanders’s Climate Ambitions Thrill Supporters. Experts Aren’t Impressed.

Bernie Sanders’s $16 trillion vision for arresting global warming would put the government in charge of the power sector and promise that, by 2030, the country’s electricity and transportation systems would run entirely on wind, solar, hydropower or geothermal energy.

…The federal government to build and generate renewable energy, and sell it to publicly owned distribution systems, with preferential prices for utilities that pledge to break themselves of fossil fuels.

….Mr. Sander’s plan envisions expanding the four existing federal agencies that market electric power …[and] create a fifth such agency that would spend $1.52 trillion on developing renewable energy and another $852 billion on technology like advanced batteries to store energy for days when the sun does not shine or the wind does not blow.

…Congress would have to create and fund these new entities, a heavy lift even with a Congress in Democratic control.

…Economists said, his climate plan fails to consider his larger agenda, such as the new infrastructure projects in his economic plan that would create a burst of new emissions. High-speed rail, wind turbines and mass transit need steel and concrete, the production of which requires energy.

…[Oppenheimer] said he was disappointed that Mr. Sanders no longer supported a carbon tax, a position he embraced in 2016. Economists say a fee on the burning of fossil fuels is the most efficient way to drive down global warming, but Mr. Sanders says that would not work quickly enough.

…Other analysts criticized Mr. Sanders’s rejection of nuclear energy and technology to capture and store carbon emissions. His plan calls both of those “false solutions” to climate change and calls for a moratorium on the renewal of nuclear power plant licenses.

Yet nuclear power currently accounts for 20 percent of the nation’s energy mix and more than half of its carbon-free power. Allowing aging plants to close would likely mean that natural gas, a fossil fuel, would fill the void and emissions would rise.

…Mr. Sanders is not a newcomer to the climate issue; he has spent decades fighting, largely unsuccessfully, for ambitious legislation to increase clean energy, reduce carbon emissions, and end fossil fuel subsidies. He distinguished himself in the 2016 Democratic primaries by calling for a tax on carbon emissions and declaring global warming a national emergency.

…Joel Payne, a Democratic strategist, said Mr. Sanders was more focused on signaling his ambitions to the party’s liberal wing than sweating policy details.

“People who care about these issues want a warrior,” Mr. Payne said. “Whether or not the battle plans they draw up exactly check out is kind of beside the point.” [emphasis: Peanut Gallery]

Sanders’s Climate Ambitions Thrill Supporters. Experts Aren’t Impressed. – The New York Times