Keep It Rural

By Bryce Oates – Tuesday, June 22, 2021


The Map I Can’t Stop Thinking About

There are freelance writers who are much better at their jobs than I happen to be. Certainly, there are many who are more productive, or at least generate consistent content that is publishable somewhere for a paycheck (however small). My stacks of notes are full of half-to-ninety percent formed articles that just never make it across the submission finish line, unfortunately.

Sometimes this happens because a certain topic has completed its news cycle and is no longer very relevant in the “breaking news” sort of way. Other times it’s because emails and phone calls don’t get answered, interviews don’t get scheduled, things get stuck. Still other times there’s 30 hours spent on an unfinished story that pays a couple of hundred dollars, and that’s just a motivation killer. So I move on and live to work another day.

However, there is another category of the incomplete-story list: the potential longform or book-length topic. For me, this is where USDA’s Plant Hardiness Zone Map falls.

If you’re a gardening sort of person, you certainly have a working knowledge of this map and its corresponding data. The shades and gradations are based on the lowest average temperature hit during peak winter. Scientists and gardeners use the plant hardiness zone map to try and explain the likelihood of success for planting certain crops. You want to grow an orange tree in Northern New York? Or a “long day onion” in South Texas? The USDA planting zone can help you determine the futility of such horticultural aspirations.

I’ve been gardening—with a few breaks for moving and lack of access to a decent garden spot at times—since the mid-1990s. During this period, the USDA hardiness map has actually moved quite a lot. In West and Mid-Missouri, where I have planted and harvested the most, for instance, zone 5 has become zone 6b during my gardening career.

The moving map is because of warmer winters across most of the nation’s landmass. The winters are warmer because of climate change. In case you don’t already see where this is all heading, check out USDA Agriculture Research Service’s projected zone map in the next 50 years.

USDA ARS publishes this map every 10 years with support from Oregon State University’s PRISM Climate Group. Farmers and gardeners depend on this information, which is generated from public sector research and data. And from federal science and research budgets.

Some day, Keep It Rural readers, I am hoping to do a deep, deep nerdy dive into the history of the USDA’s plant hardiness zone map. I want to know the creation story, the drama, the secrets and the players who did the work to get us this critical information. If anybody has the hookup, give me a holler.


Rural Reading List

While the above musings might have been a little bit rambling, (sorry about that, I’m “composing” this in a rental car at a truck stop at 4:34am CST and I’m not on my A-game), here are some real stories to get you the rural information and news you need today: 

American Families Plan Will Help Lift Rural America Out of Poverty, White House Says

The Daily Yonder’s Liz Carey has a look at the Biden Administration’s American Families Plan proposal, a complement to its jobs and infrastructure plans.

Lowest Rates, Highest Hurdles: Southern States Tackle Vaccine Gap

This Daily Yonder/Pew Stateline report documents what’s keeping some Southerners from getting vaccinated. And it’s not access to vaccines at this point.

Some Incarcerated Meatpacking Workers Spent ‘100 Percent’ of Their Time in High-Risk Settings During Pandemic

The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting keeps up their stellar reporting on Covid-19 and non-coastal state meatpacking workers.

How to Organize and Support Southern, Rural Black Women

This interview, published by Human Rights Watch, features Amanda Furdge of the Southern Rural Black Women’s Initiative for Economic and Social Justice. Furdge trains high school girls from the deep South to advocate for themselves and their communities. Check it out.


One More Thing: Song of the Summer?

Lots of driving behind me this spring/early summer, hence, lots of radio time, and I’m still not sure I can pinpoint this year’s “Song of the Summer.” Certainly nothing jumps out. Or, it could be the fact that I’m getting old and cranky and don’t listen to mainstream radio much.

I don’t have a well-developed theory of the Song of Summer or anything. I don’t mind if it’s country or pop or whatever we categorize as “rock’n’roll” these days. That said, I don’t have much love for the Beach Boys or 50’s songs about the beach and bikinis. I prefer a funny-ish song like Luke Bryan’s “Rain is a Good Thing” or anything by Janis Joplin (see: “Summertime”).

Maybe you have suggestions for Song of the Summer, 2021. Or at least maybe you have some summer jams you turn to every year. Let me know what I’m missing.

You Keep It Rural readers don’t have an amazing track record for responding to prompts from me about “your favorite” something-or-other. I do hear from some of you, on occasion, and I truly appreciate the responses. I would love some help this time around, figuring out what songs I can share because summer is here. Officially now.


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