[imgcontainer right] [img:The-Alabama-Shakes-007.jpeg] [source]The Guardian[/source] The Alabama Shakes: Brittany Howard with Steve Johnson (drums) and Heath Fogg, from Athens, Alabama. [/imgcontainer]

The New York Times this weekend had a good reminder about why it’s important to buy local. 

The story is about Amazon.com and the gutsy move by a publisher in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to pull its books from the online retailer. Amazon is predatory, say book sellers. They force prices lower — so low that nobody makes any profit.

Amazon is particularly tough on local booksellers. People use local bookstores as showrooms. They look at a book locally — then, if they like it, they go home and buy for less on Amazon.

Christy Reed is a book sales consultant in Pleasanton, Texas, a rural community in South Texas. She worked with her local school district on the sale of 16 copies of a science encyclopedia and a science dictionary. The district liked the books, but eventually bought them from Amazon. They were cheaper. The Times reports:

“I worked so hard to sell those books,” Mrs. Reed said. “I had to talk to so many different people. Then I lost the sale to a couple of clicks on the computer.”

She acknowledged that the district saved a few dollars but added: “I’m here, in the neighborhood. I went to school here. My kids went to school here. Yes, they got the books for less. But my earnings go back into our community. Amazon’s do not.”

After one book publisher heard this story, he pulled his product from Amazon.

Do you need a better reason to buy local?

•A decade ago, corn and soybeans split Iowa’s farm acres evenly. This year, however, corn has pulled ahead, being planted on 14.6 million acres compared to 8.8 million for soybeans. 

Corn has a more predicable level of profit, say commodity brokers.

• The Denver Post has a story saying that the Food and Drug Administration failed to follow through on evidence gathered in an investigation of a 2009 E. coli outbreak. Michael Booth writes: 

The FDA’s decision to let the six-state E. coli probe go dormant, despite clear leads, is part of what some food safety experts call a worrisome “cone of silence” around leafy green produce problems in the United States. These experts say the FDA dropping promising outbreak clues blocks efforts to force better growing and packing methods.

And they say the federal government’s tendency to avoid naming names — even when state officials know the producers and suppliers — robs consumers of vital information. In an October 2011 salmonella outbreak that sickened 68, federal agencies told journalists there was no public benefit in being more specific than problems at Mexican “Restaurant Chain A.”

In Booth’s story, state health agencies are much more adept at investigation and quicker, too. They are then stymied by a slow-moving FDA. The people who get the least information are the consumers who are eating contaminated food.

• The Montana U.S. Senate race is going to be tight. Incumbent Sen. Jon Tester and Republican challenger, Rep. Denny Rehberg, each raised $1.2 million in the first quarter of 2012. 

• The St. Louis paper has an update on another tight Senate race, the one in Missouri between Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill and three Republicans who are vying to oppose her. 

This race is a tossup, according to the experts.

• Coal exports from Montana are booming, reports the Missoulian. The coal leaving Montana and Wyoming is headed west, to ports where it is shipped to Asia. 

• The Kansas City Star writes about the “Wal-Mart farm.” 

The retailer bought 20 acres in Johnson County, Kansas, a few years ago and plans to build a store there. They haven’t yet and continue to claim the land is “agricultural.” The claim has been granted and the company paid $53 in taxes last year. The story tells us that Kansas laws allow developers to keep their land agricultural for tax purposes until they begin building.

So, one empty lot was appraised for $33,850 and the tax bill was more than $500. The next year the lot was classified ag and the tax was $20.

Plenty of county officials are upset. 

Good story here from Roger Alford at AP about how the Amish got a traffic law changed that required them to put a bright orange triangle on their buggies. The trick was, they worked at it the old fashioned way — walking the halls of the state capital. 

• A bunch of college farms have closed, but there are some that are thriving, even making money for their owners.

The New York Times reports on the “student farm movement” and the balance that farms are finding between profitability and good food. There are some inspiring stories here.

At Warren Wilson College in North Carolina, students in the “herb crew” put together “Wonder Balm” after consulting with an herbalist, and sold two-ounce bottles for $6 each. Students at Berea College in Kentucky found ways to repackage and sell sausage, bacon and ham from the hogs they raised, turning a money loser into a school profit center. 

• One of the hottest bands in the country is from Athens, Alabama. Meet the Alabama Shakes. 

“Where we’re from, playing music and just playing music is not an avenue to take,” said singer Brittany Howard. “It’s not an option. Because like, where we’re from, most of the people, they’ve tried their best to get the best job they can and then they stay with that job until they can retire. So music was just kind of like our hobby. It was something we would do to like release at the end of the day or still feel like human beings.”

The Shakes’ debut album is out.

• The Missouri legislature is whacking away at the children’s services budget, provoking this lead sentence in an article this morning By Nancy Cambria:

Heroin addiction among parents and a poor economy are pushing more children into Missouri’s foster care system at a time when lawmakers want to cut nearly $13.6 million from the state foster care budget and eliminate dozens of child protection jobs.

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