Archive for the ‘Articles’ Category

Dresses for African Girls

Monday, February 25th, 2019

Readers help turn retirement into a charitable cause

After more than 40 years of working in the food and pharmacy industries, Ron and Bobbi Thomson retired in 2013. Eager to find something they could pour their time and energy into, the Redmond, Oregon, natives decided to take an annual trip dedicated to a worthy cause.

It wasn’t long before Bobbi found a charitable cause that has completely derailed the couple’s retirement plans in a wonderful way.

“I was looking for something to do in my retirement and I heard about making dresses for needy girls in Africa on the TV,” Bobbi says. “I thought to myself, ‘I can make dresses out of pillow cases!’”

Bobbi, who spent the 12 years leading to her retirement working as a pharmacy technician, searched the internet and discovered Little Dresses for Africa online. The nonprofit organization is dedicated to providing relief for impoverished children in Africa and anywhere extreme poverty persists.

The organization offers easy-to-follow instructions on its website for making simple-patterned dresses out of pillowcases. Pillowcases are used because of their variety of colors, pre-sewn hems and side seams and their general availability.

The organization collects and distributes the homemade dresses to girls and young women living in Africa and other impoverished regions of the world.

These small tokens of compassion are just part of the organization’s numerous relief efforts, which include providing clean water, routine medical services and other supplies.

“My heart has always gone out to the poorest of the poor,” Bobbi says. “When I heard about Little Dresses for Africa, I just thought it was a wonderful idea. I could see a little girl putting on a dress that reached her ankles. I could see them growing up in the dresses and the dresses eventually turning into shirts. It’s something simple they can use for years, and I knew how to sew. We’ve been doing it ever since.”

In 2015, the Thomsons decided to make the charity an important part of their lives. They converted an apartment attached to their home into a sewing workshop and pledged to make 2,015 dresses in commemoration of the year.

Needing raw materials to achieve their lofty goal, the couple placed an ad in Ruralite magazine, asking readers to donate pillowcases, fabric, string and other sewing materials.

“The day the magazine hit my mailbox, we had people showing up in our driveway, donating box after box of supplies,” Bobbi says. “They just kept coming. We were getting 15 to 25 boxes a day. It just mushroomed, and I was shocked by how many generous people there were.”

Thanks to the overwhelming support they received, the Thomsons exceeded their 2015 goal. Since then, they have dedicated their lives to supporting Little Dresses for Africa full time.

“After we made that commitment in 2015, it just took off from there,” says Ron, who helps Bobbi with every aspect of their charity work and sews some of the dresses. “Since then, it’s become something we are both very passionate about. It’s fulfilling to help others, and there are a lot of people who benefit from good causes like these.”

The Thomsons have continued to manufacture dresses from their home, setting higher production goals each year.

To meet their self-imposed demands, they moved Bobbi’s workshop from the apartment to a decommissioned two-bedroom manufactured home in 2017. Her small workshop was transformed into much larger sewing factory with a manufacturing line. They produce 24 to 40 dresses a day and work upward of 80 hours a week.

Where many might find running such an operation a daunting task, the former small business owners are no strangers to the logistical challenges of organizing, packing and shipping their weekly deliveries to Little Dresses for Africa. They have exceeded their production goals each year.

“When I started making the pillowcase dresses, I really just wanted to help people and make their day just a little better,” Bobbi says. “Inside each box we ship out, there are 12 dresses. I like to imagine 12 smiles of little girls who might never own a dress if it wasn’t for organizations like this.”

In 2018, the Thomsons asked Ruralite for assistance again, this time asking for colorful T-shirts to ship with each dress. Magazine readers answered the call, and the Thompsons expect to produce more than 3,000 dresses with the materials donated in 2019.

“I really want to thank Ruralite for giving me my pay-it-forward avenue,” Bobbi says. “There is a lot of need in the world, but it’s amazing how many people are willing to help. All you have to do is ask.”

No Doctor in the House

Monday, February 25th, 2019

Physician Assistant Sharon DeHart meets with Lou Melius, a patient at the Deschutes Rim Clinic in Maupin, Oregon, where she is the only medical provider in a vast and remote rural area.

Rural communities struggle with shortage of medical providers

As the head of the only medical clinic for 50 miles, Physician Assistant Sharon DeHart tends to the needs of more than 250 patients who live across a wide landscape of farms, ranches and a smattering of small towns in north-central Oregon.

At 69, Sharon is roaring toward retirement—if she can find her replacement.

For 10 years, Sharon has served as sole medical provider and administrator at the Deschutes Rim Health Clinic in Maupin, Oregon, and the job has taken a toll. The paperwork is immense, and processing complicated insurance reimbursements and claims is consuming.

A limited support staff and a population that has twice rejected votes to increase the health district budget have only increased the burden.

“The days of a quaint country doctor are over,” Sharon says. “We’ve had a terrible time recruiting.”

She’s not alone. Across the nation, rural communities suffer from a shortage of medical providers. Clinics in isolated areas operate on thin margins, limiting their financial ability to recruit new medical personnel.

Though she served for years as president of the Central Oregon Independent Practice Association and was recently named a Rural Health Care Hero by Oregon Health & Science University, Sharon hopes to partner with a hospital or medical group to gain administrative and management assistance.

“I don’t think it’s possible now to remain an independent clinic. I’m tired of trying to do all this myself,” says Sharon, her voice weary with frustration. “We can’t recruit to get additional providers and resources.”

When a rural physician moves or retires, it can create a health care crisis for the community, says Brock Slabach, a former rural hospital administrator, now senior vice president for member services at the National Rural Health Association.

“Physicians are disappearing from the map of rural America,” Brock says.

About 60 million people live in rural America, according to the U.S Census Bureau. That means one in five Americans live in a uniquely challenging health-care delivery environment.

“You have an elderly population, a sicker population and a low-income population,” says Alan Morgan, CEO of the National Rural Health Association. “Yet you have the fewest options available when it comes to seeking care.”

Rural clinics are often headed by nurse practitioners or physician assistants like Sharon. Both are advanced-practice providers, and in remote areas, they are increasingly filling roles traditionally filled by doctors, including making diagnoses and prescribing medication.

Nurse practitioners and physician assistants account for one in four medical-care providers in rural clinics—an increase of 43 percent from 2008 to 2016, according to a report in Health Affairs journal. While telemedicine is helping rural providers meet their communities’ needs, the need for more advanced-practice providers persists.

The average salary for a rural health clinic provider is roughly $100,000, According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But recruiting requires generous incentives beyond a six-figure salary.

Even the smallest clinics are stepping up to pay student loan debt, offer hiring bonuses, cover relocation costs, pay for malpractice insurance, and guarantee weekends off and few on-call hours.

Despite all of those incentives, rural communities still struggle to bring providers to the frontier. Small towns and remote areas are now working to create their own pipeline for health professionals.

“A trend we’re seeing in every rural area is the challenge of keeping your local people with viable work options,” says Julie Manning, communications director for Samaritan Health Services—a network of hospitals, clinics and physicians serving six mostly rural communities in Oregon.

In 2013, Samaritan partnered with Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, California, to create a second medical school in Lebanon, Oregon, a former timber-based town of 15,000 people. With 400 students on a 50-acre campus, the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific-Northwest (COMP-NW) is the first new medical school in Oregon in 100 years. Graduating 100 students each year, the nationally accredited school has doubled the number of medical degrees in Oregon.

“We wanted to recruit and retain medical professionals for our region and state,” Julie says. “A key for many in rural areas is access to education. COMP has really been an incredible asset.”

The medical school receives more than 4,000 applications a year, and more than half of its graduates are from the Pacific Northwest. Upon graduation, most complete their residency training in Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, Utah and Wyoming.

Julie says physicians tend to stay in the region where they completed medical training and residency.

Another program at the University of Washington School of Medicine integrates medical, science and clinical education with rural training to encourage more health professionals to learn and work in medically underserved areas.

“WWAMI is the UW School of Medicine’s one-of-a-kind, multi-state medical education program,” according to the UW Medicine website. WWAMI stands for Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho—the states served by the program.

Of the five states, Washington is the only one with medical schools. UW Medicine partners with universities in the other states, allowing students to complete a large portion of their studies in their home states and complete clinical rotations within the five-state region, where they gain practical experience in rural and underserved settings, such as trauma centers, migrant communities and remote areas.

U.S. News & World Report ranked the UW School of Medicine as a top medical school for primary-care education, as well as family medicine and rural medicine training. The school attributes the ranking to its WWAMI program.

The school’s physician assistant program, known as MEDEX Northwest, is another regional program that focuses on primary care with an emphasis on underserved populations.

Christina Rust grew up in the small town of Sandpoint, Idaho. After earning her doctorate in physical therapy from Creighton University in 1996, she returned to Sandpoint to open her own practice. After raising four children, she attended UW’s MEDEX Northwest program in Spokane, graduating as a physician assistant in 2018.

Last year, she became the primary care provider for the Sherman County Medical Clinic in Moro, Oregon—a small farm and ranching community of about 325 people.

In many ways, Christina is the ideal country doctor. Raised in a small town, she appreciates rural living. Her mother was a nurse and her father a family doctor. She recalls fondly that he would sometimes trade his medical visits for cords of wood or handmade doll clothes.

“I like small towns,” Christina says. “I’m not a big-city girl.”

Christina says she prefers the outdoor activities that are abundant in rural settings, such as biking, hiking and skiing. With the move to Oregon, she’s within a few hours of her siblings. In nearby Goldendale, Washington, her sister, Ann Rust, is a doctor. Her brother works in Hood River, Oregon.

The challenge for rural clinics is that people like Christina are a rarity.

As administrator of the Sherman County Medical Clinic, Caitlin Blagg spent a year trying to recruit someone for the job Christina ultimately filled. In promoting the position, she highlighted the “spectacular exploration opportunities, breathtaking mountain views, multitude of wind turbines and infinite amount of outdoor activities.”

“I felt like a real estate agent,” Caitlin jokes. “You can’t paint a rural community in a way that is not accurate. There’s no night life, and there are not a lot of singles. I have to say, ‘Cows roam freely around here.’”

Despite the challenges, Christina says rural communities have a distinct advantage over more densely populated areas when it comes to recruiting medical providers.

“In a big city, you end up practicing medicine but not helping people,” she says. “But here, I can really help people.”

About the series: This Ruralite-produced initiative spotlights health challenges in rural communities, efforts to address them and the unsung heroes behind the work. The series receives support from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, which funds projects and programs in Alaska and the Northwest. The sponsorship helps fund journalism that makes a difference. We welcome story ideas at gro.etilarurnull@swenhtlaeh.

For the record: This story has been updated to clarify that the University of Washington School of Medicine is one of two medical schools in Washington state. The other is Washington State University’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine. WSU’s medical school, accredited in 2016, was opened to draw more doctors to Eastern Washington and less served communities.

Photographing Friends

Monday, February 25th, 2019

My friend Rick died not long after we made the cheesy selfie above. I am thankful we did those. Right, Rick with the albacore he caught.
Photos by David LaBelle

The last time I saw Rick, he was in his chilled, dark bedroom. He couldn’t take heat or light after his second brain tumor operation, when his thyroid gland was removed.

I crawled in his king-sized bed fully clothed and pulled the covers up to my neck. I lay beside him and we talked in the darkness for hours. I told him I loved him and thanked him for being such a great friend. I think each of us knew this was the last time we would see each other. He died a few months later while I was teaching in Kentucky.

Sometimes, we most miss the things we take for granted when they are no longer with us. Like good friends.

I often have heard someone say after a dear friend passes, “I wish I would have taken a picture of us together.”

I have been blessed with many friends, but a handful of true friends: someone who listens to me, prays for me and watches out for me; who knows my dreams, weaknesses and faults and loves me anyway; who forgives me when I disappoint; who tells me the truth even when I don’t want to hear it; who makes me a better person.

True friends laugh with us when we are happy or at us when we do dumb things. They cry with us when we hurt, encourage us in times of self-doubt and share in our moments of glory without jealously or pretense.

Rick Hester was that friend.

Opposites in many ways, Rick was clean shaven, stout, barrel-chested with pipe-fitter arms, like a fire hydrant with legs. A year younger, I was tall and lanky with a face full of tangled whiskers. A hard-working laborer and ex-football lineman, almost a red-necked conservative, he viewed me as a liberal dreamer and carefree hippie, which I was not. We loved football, fishing and staying up too late playing ice hockey in his garage and trying to serve Christ.

We viewed the world differently, but in time came to realize our differences strengthened our friendship.

I still remember the first time I visited him after he moved from California to his beloved Oregon.

My eyes fill when I remember how Rick played and sang the John Denver song, “Friends With You,” which includes this stanza: Friends, I will remember you. Think of you. Pray for you. And when another day is through, I’ll still be friends with you.

Sometimes, circumstance brings and binds us together.

Hardship can be the catalyst for deep and enduring friendships. Recently, I met two men in their late 70s who had lost their wives and were fighting cancer. Neighbors, they love fishing and have become nearly inseparable.

Most of us have friends early in life and in later years. Some are blessed to have a best friend throughout their entire life. Others, it seems, are given friends when they need them the most.

You may have 5,000 Facebook friends, but only one or two true friends. Cherish them. Make pictures of and with them.

One of the best things still photographs do is preserve and gift-wrap moments in time to be remembered and enjoyed forever.

Make pictures of your friends, maybe even record their voices while they are still near. In the years to come, you will be thankful you did.

After all, when we count all our possessions, is there anything greater or more beautiful than a true friendship?

Tips You Can Use

  • Explain to your friends why you want to make pictures of them.
  • Let them get comfortable with the camera by making posed pictures before trying to capture storytelling candids. After a while, most people lose interest in the camera and quit posing.
  • Hand them the camera and let them photograph you. This ice-breaking technique almost always produces interesting pictures.
  • Dress up. A hat or prop loosens up inhibited friends. People in costume do fun, crazy things, which makes memorable pictures.
  • Ask what is important to them and where they would like to have their picture taken.

David LaBelle is an internationally known photographer, teacher, author and lecturer. He has worked for newspapers and magazines across the U.S. and taught at three universities. For more information, visit

Growing Good Health

Friday, January 25th, 2019

Greg Price, director of River Road Neighborhood Farm and Community Garden shows off tomatoes. River Road is part of the Garden City Harvest network.
Photo by Chad Harder

Colin Corbett didn’t want to garden. Chronic illness wracked his body and wrecked his mood.

A severe flare of arthritis combined with Crohn’s disease left him bedridden for nearly a year, forcing him to quit work and school, where he was in his senior year of physics at the University of Montana. Even as his health started to stabilize, Colin was swamped with medical expenses, living on limited funds and feeling hopeless.

In an act of love, his partner signed him up for a community garden plot. He knew little about gardening. Even more, in his fragile state he was afraid to embark on a new challenge.

“I was terrified,” Colin says, his voice cracking at the memory. “I was convinced that no matter what I tried, I would fail. When you lose months or years of your life at a time, it can be hard to get back into the groove of things.”

Colin found good health in the Garden of Eaton, a site in a network of neighborhood gardens and farms run by Garden City Harvest in Missoula, Montana. Founded in 1996, the nonprofit offers 10 community gardens, four neighborhood farms and numerous youth education programs.

“Digging in the dirt is pretty darn healthy for a lot of reasons,” says Jean Zosel, executive director of Garden City Harvest.

Agriculture brings the community together for food, health, friendship and connection to others. More than just growing food, the gardens and farms reduce isolation and depression while increasing connections to nature and neighbors, she says.

Since Colin joined the community garden five years ago, his health has improved significantly. Gardening has become a near-daily fixture in his life, and he serves as a garden leader and mentor to others. He attributes his turnaround to the combination of new medication, the exercise he gets tending plants, eating more fresh vegetables and making new garden friends.

“It got me moving around and helped me with my confidence,” Colin says. “It really changed my mindset.”

Gardeners eat better, are more active, more involved in social activities, view their neighborhoods as more beautiful and have stronger ties to their neighborhoods, according to Dr. Jill Litt, a researcher from Colorado School of Public Health who spent a decade studying how gardens support healthy living.

“A community garden is more than a good idea among a select group of people; it is a community model for healthy living,” she writes.

Garden City Harvest’s efforts support Litt’s assertion. Its sites produce more than 100,000 pounds of food each year, most of which is donated to local food banks, homeless shelters and group homes.

As community leaders and nonprofits look for innovative ways to improve public health, the community garden movement has taken root all over the country, from urban cores to rural areas.

The Gorge Grown Food Network is a nonprofit in Hood River, Oregon. In 2015, it developed a fruit and vegetable prescription program designed to increase consumption of fresh produce. The “Veggie Rx” program allows medical and social-service providers to distribute monthly vouchers worth $30 for the purchase of fresh fruit and veggies at local farmers markets and retail stores. The program has been replicated by a dozen organizations in Oregon, including farms and health-care providers.

Anyone whose family has had to skip a meal because they ran out of food or has worried that their family would run out of food is eligible. Last year, the program provided $60,000 worth of vouchers to 900 families.

“A program that treats food as medicine is really valuable,” says Kate Karlson, a public health nurse turned Veggie Rx program manager.

For Colin, the community garden movement has life-changing effects, and he hopes to see it spread even further.

“Before joining the garden, we would never have fresh tomatoes in our home,” Colin says, noting the expense and poor quality at the grocery store. “I can attest that until you have had a locally grown, vine-ripened heirloom tomato, you don’t actually know what a tomato tastes like.”

About the Series: This Ruralite-produced initiative spotlights health challenges in rural communities, efforts to address them and the unsung heroes behind the work. The series receives support from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, which funds projects and programs in Alaska and the Northwest. We welcome story ideas at gro.etilarurnull@swenhtlaeh.

For more information about community gardening, check out the American Community Gardening Association.

Brushes With Fame

Friday, January 25th, 2019

John Denver in a candid moment before a concert in Utah in 1982.
Photo by David LaBelle

Have you ever found yourself face to face with a famous person? Maybe at an airport, a shopping mall, a sporting event, a fishing spot or in an elevator? You may have felt a little star struck and unsure how to act or what to say.

Somehow, being seen with somebody famous makes us feel a little famous, too.

Before the term “selfie” was born, most of us liked having our picture taken with a famous person. With the advent of cellphone camera technology, it is easier and quicker than ever to get your picture taken with a celebrity.

As annoying as quicker, easier smartphone selfies can be—clearly out of hand, at times—I understand the appeal. Brushes with celebrity can be exhilarating. I have seen people freeze and even cry uncontrollably when having their picture taken with a star.

Brushing shoulders with famous actors, authors, musicians, sports stars and even presidents sometimes feels a little like visiting Fort Knox. You are close to unfathomable wealth—so close you can touch it—but it doesn’t belong to you.

I have never been a celebrity photographer, though I have photographed a lot of famous people. I regret not taking advantage of some opportunities. I could have photographed Robert Kennedy the day before he was killed, but passed because I wasn’t interested in politics or making pictures of celebrities then. I was in high school and had not yet developed an awareness of history or how important images like these could become.

When I look back at my black and white images—many now a half-century or more in the past—I am thankful I photographed the people I did. Though thousands of pictures may have been taken of a celebrity, each is unique.

I remember sitting on the steps of a Utah university debating philosophy and evolution with John Denver several hours before a rehearsal, and being backstage with a weary Johnny Cash before a concert. I told him I came from the same area where he once lived and had watched him in an ugly bar fight that had spilled out in the street.

I encourage you to photograph as many famous or almost famous people as you can, on stage or off. Most of us love old pictures, candid moments of celebrities before they were famous. We love seeing them as equal, vulnerable human beings without their stage faces or decoration, when they are not performing. Some of my favorite celebrity pictures have been taken by amateur photographers.

A few tips about photographing famous people:

  • Choose small venues in out-of-the-way places. The atmosphere is often more casual and less stressful. You might be able to approach a person in Billings, Montana, who is unapproachable in New York or Chicago. I have been to venues where a dozen people came to listen to an artist who later filled stadiums.
  • Photographing is one thing. Publishing a picture is another. These days, more than ever, celebrities are extremely protective of their image because it is so attached to their livelihood and their legacy. Taking a picture and sharing it with friends is one thing. Selling it commercially is another. Agents, artists and handlers frown on that.
  • If you get an opportunity to photograph a celebrity, don’t overshoot. Be polite and discreet. Enough is enough and too much is too much.
  • Above all, respect your subject. Most famous people are surrounded by pushy people with an agenda. Be sensitive. Be honest. Be real.

David LaBelle is an internationally known photographer, teacher, author and lecturer. He has worked for newspapers and magazines across the United States and taught at three universities. He applies many of the lessons he learned during his magical boyhood years in rural California to photography. For more information, visit

Make Room for More Fishing Gear

Friday, January 25th, 2019

Here are three ways to make every penny count when shopping for fishing gear: Don’t miss the preseason sales in late February and March, shop the deep-discount aisle and ask retailers to match prices of other stores. If you know exactly what you want, check out online sales. It’s not a bad way to shop. You avoid crowds and can score some awesome deals.
© iStock/JackF

It won’t be long now. Fishing retailers will start rolling out some of the biggest sales of the year later this month.
What better excuse to clean out and organize your tackle boxes, and make room for new gear.
Here are eight tips to help get you started:

  • Go through everything you have. That way you know exactly what you have and what you need.
  • Get rid of ineffective gear. Give it away, garage sale it or donate it to charity. Maybe someone else will have better luck with it.
  • Determine the best way to organize the keepers. There are two main strategies: organizing by type of tackle or organizing by fish species. The latter works well when dealing with less gear, while organizing by tackle type is preferable when managing large inventories. Or use a combination of both.
  • Everything should have a home. Plastic trays and bins with adjustable dividers are perfect for the job.
  • Use clear plastic storage containers. They provide better visibility and allow quicker access to tackle than opaque containers.
  • Keep similar tackle together. Arrange it according to type, size, shape and color.
  • Keep soft baits in original packaging. If already opened, store them according to type and color in plastic bags to avoid a mess.
  • Label everything. Use removable labels rather than writing directly on the containers. Add color coding to locate gear even faster.

Outdoor 101: First Aid in a Bottle
Carrying a first-aid kit is a good idea, even on day trips. To make a pocket-size version, fill a prescription bottle or similar container with a few of the essentials, such as antiseptic wipes, antibacterial cream, adhesive bandages, pain relievers and small tweezers.

Tea is Not Just for Drinking
That’s what my great-aunt used to tell me when I was a kid. She was a serious tea drinker—very British, though she had emigrated to Canada after the blitz, as she called the bombings of London during World War II.
Auntie said one of tea’s other uses is deodorizing shoes. I had an opportunity to test that claim on a sweaty pair of ski boots after a day on the slopes. I put a couple of tea bags in each boot overnight. It worked wonders. I’ve been a believer ever since.

Not surprisingly, tea is also great for soaking tired, stinky feet. I’ve learned of other uses, too, such as soothing a sunburn, bug bites or a rash.

Not to mention it’s marvelous with biscuits and jam. Quite.

What Day is It?
February 3, Feed the Birds Day
February 5, National Weatherman’s Day
February 22, Walking the Dog Day

Got a Tip or a Whopper?
Send us your favorite outdoor tip, photo or story. If selected for publication, we will send you $25 for one-time use. Email your submission to gro.etilarurnull@ofni.

Many of Curtis Condon’s fondest memories involve outdoor adventures with friends and family, whether fishing with old school buddies, backpacking in the mountains of the Northwest with his sons, or bird watching along the Gulf Coast with his wife. He feels fortunate having the opportunity to write about the outdoors and other subjects for more than 30 years.

Sprouting Young Gardeners

Friday, January 25th, 2019

Elementary school students and a Captain Planet Foundation Project Learning Garden employee harvest peppers grown in the school garden. Photo courtesy of Captain Planet Foundation

Introducing children to gardening helps plant healthy habits for a lifetime

Gardening is a great way for parents and kids to spend quality time outdoors. Whether the goal is to grow flowers, herbs and vegetables; have an activity to share; learn about nature and the environment; or just break away from the pull of technology, it pays off with a bumper crop of fun and some life lessons.

“Gardening can be a wonderful bonding opportunity for parents and their children,” says Jane Taylor, nationally recognized youth gardening advocate and founding curator of the 4-H Children’s Garden at Michigan State University. “Children are too attached to their electronics, and they need to be outside more. They’re not eating healthy foods, and they’re not getting enough exercise. That’s resulting in greater incidence of childhood obesity and early childhood diabetes.

“Getting them to unplug from technology and learn to garden has so many benefits, both short term and for their lifetimes—from learning about nature to developing good nutrition habits.”

Teachers, schools and gardeners across the country have found that encouraging youngsters to grow their own vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers addresses myriad challenges and expands their curiosity.

“They’re more interested in trying new foods if they’ve helped grow them,” Jane says. “They get a chance to participate in fun, social activities outdoors, and they can spend time with adults, including parents and grandparents, as they learn about gardening, nature and the world we live in.”

Thanks to the American Horticultural Society, National Garden Clubs, Master Gardeners and 4-H, youngsters from preschool to high school are being introduced to the wonders of gardening.

In-school and community gardens allow kids to play in the dirt and see the results of their work.

Formalized junior master gardening programs are offered from Alaska to Florida. Some are community-based organizations, sponsored by garden clubs or other groups. Many programs are offered in tandem with 4-H.

“Whether kids are learning to grow beans and carrots, to make compost and recycle or solve a math problem using gardening as the basis, the benefits of engaging young people in gardening are more far-reaching than simply producing more fresh foods,” Jane says. “Beyond the obvious, we’re finding that students are becoming the teachers as they share what they’ve learned with their parents and siblings. The kids are asking their parents to create home gardens, and their enthusiasm is spreading.”

Whether you have a place for a backyard garden or need to start with containers on a deck or patio, gardening offers unlimited possibilities. Colorful catalogs and websites provide the inspiration to research plants and put a garden together.

“It’s exciting to create a sense of wonder with children as you plant seeds together,” says Kathy Lovett, who—along with her husband, Lee—received the American Horticultural Society’s Jane L. Taylor Award in 2016 for their work with children and youth gardening. “You can share the magic and a true scientific understanding of what happens to seeds that grow into plants and produce more seeds.”

If you live in a colder climate, start seeds indoors in cups on sunny windowsills. Seed packaging describes the planting depth, light and water requirements. Remember to turn the cups periodically so the plants will grow straight stems.

For container gardens, buy larger pots with drainage holes, and use good-quality potting soil. Place your plants in a sunny spot on your deck or patio.

Outside, stake out a sunny spot. Most vegetables and many flowers require at least six hours of sunlight a day. Start with a small plot to keep it manageable. Select three or fewer crops the first year.

“Gardening is a time to play outside and get your hands dirty,” Kathy says. “Wear older clothes that can be thrown in the washer when you’re finished. This is about having fun together, so don’t worry about getting a little muddy.”

You will need trowels, shovels and rakes. Make the shopping trip a family outing. Look for smaller tools that will fit kids’ hands, buying real tools rather than ineffective plastic ones prone to breaking.

Select fast-growing vegetables such as radishes, baby carrots, bush beans or cucumbers. Plant according to package instructions. Buying seedlings gives you a head start.

“Flowers like marigolds, nasturtiums and zinnias can offer quick color, and brightly colored blooms attract pollinators to further ensure the success of your vegetable crops,” Kathy says.
Herbs are an excellent way to introduce kids and their families to gardening.

“As the gateway to gardening, herbs can be harvested right away and, with the proper care and requirements, they’ll keep on producing all season long,” says Joan Casanova of Bonnie Plants.

She suggests growing basics such as basil, parsley and rosemary, and branching out with novelty herbs such as Thai basil, cinnamon basil or lemon thyme.

“Add to your growing experience by picking out simple recipes that use these herbs,” Joan says. “Consider freezing them in water in ice-cube trays so you can use extra harvest all winter long. Freezing herbs retains more of the nutrients and flavor than drying.”

To engage third-graders in gardening, Bonnie Plants delivers more than
1 million free 2-inch oversized Cross cabbage transplants to schools in the lower 48 states each season. Students take the plants home and, with their families, tend to the cabbage plants.

“Within 10 to 12 weeks, the cabbages have reached maturity, some tipping the scales at more than 40 pounds,” says Joan. “The kids are just amazed, not to mention engaged.”

The Bonnie Plants cabbage program sparks children’s interest in agriculture while teaching them not only the basics of gardening, but the importance of growing their own food, says Stan Cope, president of Bonnie Plants.

“This unique, innovative program exposes children to agriculture and demonstrates—through hands-on experience—where food comes from,” Stan says. “The program also affords our youth valuable life lessons in nurturing, nature, responsibility, self-confidence and accomplishment.”

Let children explore the dirt for earthworms, dig holes to plant seedlings and place them in the ground.

“This is a shared activity, and it’s a chance for kids—and adults—to learn,” Kathy says. “Younger ones can also help water the garden and look for insects as the crops grow.”

Take time to explain what is happening in the garden. Find age-appropriate books such as “Green Thumbs: A Kid’s Activity Guide to Indoor and Outdoor Gardening” by Laurie Winn Carlson, “Square Food Gardening with Kids” by Mel Bartholomew and “Seed, Sun, Soil: Earth’s Recipe for Food” by Cris Peterson. “Kid’s First Gardening” by Jenny Hendy includes step-by-step activities and crafts for kids ages 5 to 12. “Gardening Lab for Kids” by Renata Fossen Brown offers more than 50 experiments related to gardening.

To introduce children to gardening on a larger scale, schedule a trip to a nearby farm. Many offer U-pick activities so your family can harvest fruits and vegetables. Find a simple recipe you and your kids can prepare together.

“Getting kids engaged in gardening can have lifelong benefits,” Jane says. “Not only are you helping children learn about nature and health, you’re starting them off on a hobby they can enjoy for a lifetime.”

2019 Photo Resolutions

Tuesday, December 25th, 2018

Benedictine monks prepare for public worship. Writing a photo story about the monks is on my 2019 photo resolution list.
Photo by David LaBelle

My New Year’s resolutions are usually the same. I intend to spend more time in prayer, and be a better husband, neighbor, father and grandfather—and do a better job of remembering birthdays.

I go back and forth about resolutions, believing, like starting a diet or exercise program, I need not wait until the beginning of a new year to begin doing what I should be doing or quit something I shouldn’t be doing.

I don’t remember ever making photo resolutions. But this year feels different.

It has been 50 years since my first pictures were published in a newspaper and I began my photography career. I realize the shadows are longer and my days are numbered, and there are photo contributions I still hope to make. I cannot say with certainty I will do these things because only my Creator knows the time I have left.

Here, in no particular order, are my 12 photo resolutions I intend to keep and hope will guide and challenge me through the upcoming year:

  • Keep a camera handy, battery charged and always have a flash card or film.
  • Read at least two photo biographies.
  • Continue writing and learning to be a better writer.
  • Begin assembling photo books for my family—photos for my children and grandchildren to be given as graduation, wedding or anniversary presents.
  • Have prints made of our loved ones and put them up on our walls.
  • Taking the advice of now-deceased LIFE Magazine photographer Horace Bristol and begin putting my photo house (archives) in order.
  • Teach at least two photo seminars.
  • Return to Italy and, with my photographer wife, finish a book called “Postcards from Florence.”
  • Complete several other books for publication—some photo, some not.
  • Finish several photo projects, including a story about Benedictine monks in Vermont.
  • Continue teaching and growing with the Athens Photo Project—a nonprofit art program that promotes mental health recovery by providing opportunities for community members living with mental illness to express themselves creatively through photography.
  • Take a first step toward photographing (on film) with a medium or large format camera an interpretive biblical project I have dreamed of doing for 40 years.

I encourage you to make your own list. Write them down and post them in a place you and others see regularly.

Perhaps it is to buy a better camera that allows you to do more of the things your creative heart desires. Maybe there is a faraway place you wish to visit and photograph, a photography seminar you want to attend or a photo story you long to do. Perhaps you hunger to expand your awareness and competence with specific types of photography: sports, portraiture, macro-photography, nature or documentary. Maybe you have a list of pictures you want to make.

Hopefully, making a list of photo resolutions will help you discover what is important to you—your photo dreams—which should make your life and photography more rewarding while making you a better, more deliberate photographer.

It has often been said, how will we know if we have arrived if we have no idea where we were going?

David LaBelle is an internationally known photographer, teacher, author and lecturer. He has worked for newspapers and magazines across the United States and taught at three universities. He applies many of the lessons he learned during his magical boyhood years in rural California to photography. For more information, visit

Cold-Weather Camping in Comfort

Tuesday, December 25th, 2018

A campfire is somewhat of an extravagance in summer, but it’s a downright necessity in winter. That’s all the more reason to use extra care when siting and building it. If there’s not an existing fire pit, find a flat area convenient to your tent or RV, out of the wind and away from snow-laden trees. If there’s snow—and it’s not too deep—dig down to ground level. Line the spot with non-river rocks or large chunks of wood as a base to keep the fire off the wet ground.
© iStock/Maxim Rozhkov

Winter is one of the four best camping seasons. There are no crowds, no campfire restrictions, and you see and do things you won’t experience in any other season.

Something else that sets winter apart is, of course, temperature, which can be exacerbated by rain, wind and snow. But if you can overcome those elements, you are well on your way to enjoying the season to its fullest.

Wear the proper clothing. That means layers. They should be made of wool or man-made fabrics, especially your underwear. No cotton.

Locate a campsite out of the wind and away from snow-laden trees. It should have an existing fire pit or a dry, flat or slightly elevated spot to build one.

When tent camping, use a four-season tent that can withstand high wind and heavy snow. It should have a rain fly that completely covers the tent and extends to within a few inches of the ground. Do not pitch it on low ground, where cold and water can pool. Open the vents at night to limit condensation and icing on the inside walls.

Sleep with a closed-cell pad underneath you to provide insulation from the cold ground. That goes for sleeping on a cot, too.

Don’t overdress for bed, which can cause perspiration. Sleep in dry, fresh underwear, ideally the ones you will wear the next day.

If you camp in an RV, skirt its bottom. Precut and fitted foam boards are ideal, but even a tarp hung around the RV will minimize the cold and heat-sucking wind.

No matter how you camp in winter, always check the weather before leaving. Make sure your camping destination is open and accessible. Tell friends and family where you are going and when you expect to return. Also, pack extras of everything: water, food, fuel, clothing, blankets and emergency supplies.

Four Outdoor Classics You May Have Never Heard Of
Most Americans are familiar with Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea” and London’s “The Call of the Wild.” A few have even read them. But they are just two of the outdoor classics written in the past 100 years.

Here are four more to curl up with in the off-season. Most people have never heard of them, but they are well worth the read.

  • “Trout Bum,” by John Gierach.
  • “Meditations on Hunting,” by Jose Ortega y Gassett.
  • “The River Why,” by David James Duncan.
  • “The Longest Silence: A Life in Fishing,” by Thomas McGuane.

A DIY Zipper Solution
Zippers are one of winter’s biggest challenges. It’s nearly impossible to zip a jacket, backpack or tent when you’re wearing gloves. Fear not. Here’s a zip-it hack that will work on everything but a big mouth. Add an easy-to-grasp lanyard or loop of parachute cord to your zipper. Maybe dress it up with beads or baubles. Better yet, attach a whistle, small compass or micro flashlight for added practicality.

Got a Tip or a Whopper?
Send us your favorite outdoor tip, photo or story. If selected for publication, we will send you $25 for one-time use. Email your submission to gro.etilarurnull@ofni.

The Doc Will See You Now

Tuesday, December 25th, 2018

Robots are revolutionizing rural health care

When Amanda Petersen went into labor a month before her due date, she had no reason to expect complications. But after doctors at Grande Ronde Hospital in La Grande, Oregon, delivered Petersen’s daughter, Mya via cesarean section, they immediately realized something was wrong. The baby wasn’t breathing.

Rushing to stabilize Mya, medical staff whisked her away to the nursery. It was December 14, 2015, and what Petersen was expecting to be an early Christmas blessing came with a nightmare.

“It was a complete shock when they told me there were complications,” Petersen says, choking up at the memory. “I was just trying to keep it together and be strong for her because we didn’t know what was going to happen.”

Excess fluid in Mya’s chest cavity meant hydrops fetalis—a rare condition often undetectable before birth and possibly fatal. She desperately needed a neonatal specialist, and the closest one was 170 miles away in Boise, Idaho.

With time running short, hospital staff turned to technology to beam the needed specialist straight to Mya’s side.

Petersen, food service coordinator at Grande Ronde Hospital, had seen the robots around the hospital from time to time. Now, a lanky, 5-foot-tall cart with a video monitor for a head stood by Mya, projecting the face of Dr. Stewart Lawrence, a neonatal-perinatal specialist from St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise.

EDGAR, or Educated Doctor Guided Assisting Robot, is one of five telemedicine robots at this 25-bed critical-care hospital. Its digital, real-time stethoscope let Lawrence listen to Mya’s heart and lungs, and vital signs and providers’ notes were logged directly into her electronic medical record. Lawrence determined that to remove the fluid from her lungs, Mya needed emergency surgery at SARMC. The video consult and speedy transport saved her life.

“With telemedicine we’re making the impossible possible,” says Registered Nurse Doug Romer, who recently retired as executive director of Patient Care Services at Grande Ronde Hospital. Ringed by mountains, it’s the only hospital within Union County’s 2,038 square miles.

One of the fastest-growing areas of health care, telemedicine is used by more than half the hospitals in the U.S. Nearly every area turns to it, from emergency and intensive care to psychiatry and pharmacy.

“Telemedicine brings urban health care to rural settings,” says Romer. “Our network allows specialists far away to see and evaluate our patients and interact with care providers, working with them to improve and save lives.”

Maybe it’s a videoconference you have with a surgeon. It could be the virtual home monitoring of your blood glucose levels so doctors at a distance can adjust your diabetes medication. Or it can be a digital stethoscope transmitting the real-time beating of your baby’s heart to a neonatologist in the next town over.

Whatever the means, all telemedicine data zooms encrypted straight into the patient’s electronic medical record.

During the two days Petersen spent recovering from her C-section at Grande Ronde, EDGAR allowed her to visit with Mya whenever she wanted.

“It was hard not being able to hold Mya,” she says. “But getting the news that she was stable and seeing her on the monitor was such a relief. It meant the world to me.”

Once she was discharged from the hospital, Petersen traveled to Boise to reunite with Mya at SARMC’s neonatal intensive care unit. On Christmas Day, Lawrence delivered the good news: Mya was fine and could go home the next day.

Just a few years earlier, Petersen and Mya’s story might not have been possible. Bringing telemedicine to La Grande was complicated.

In 2008, administrators at SARMC invited Grande Ronde Hospital to participate in a grant program for telehealth services. Romer envisioned a multistate network of telemedicine offerings.

“We realized we couldn’t get all our needs met from one hub,” he says, referring to SARMC.

Standing in the way of Romer’s vision was an Oregon Medical Board regulation requiring that physicians pursuing a license to practice across state lines must examine the patient in person before diagnosing, treating and prescribing.

With support from the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, Romer worked to remove the requirement. While making their case for the regulatory change, Grande Ronde officials showed board members someone’s dilated pupil enlarged on the robot’s monitor. The board members were amazed by the fine detail they could easily see.

In 2009, the regulation was lifted. With that victory, the Oregon-Idaho telemedicine network was formed.

That year, the National Rural Health Association named Grande Ronde Hospital Outstanding Rural Health Organization. In 2010, Amerinet recognized the hospital with the Healthcare Achievement Award for Quality in Patient Care Delivery and Satisfaction. The hospital won the 2011 ECRI Institute Health Devices Achievement Award for excellence in the field of health technology management.

By 2014, Grande Ronde had teamed up with 20 pulmonologist-ICU physicians from Advanced ICU Care in St. Louis, Missouri. Grande Ronde added providers in intensive care, dermatology, neurology, maternal fetal medicine, neonatology, pediatrics and cardiology from SARMC, Oregon Health & Science University in Portland and Walla Walla Clinic in Washington.

Now, Grande Ronde’s Remote Presence Health System includes 95 telemedicine providers. They respond to everything from strokes and heart attacks to provider education and genetic counseling. Soon they’ll add behavioral health. There is one oncologist in La Grande who also sees patients in Enterprise and Baker City.

“If he’s gone when you need your chemotherapy dosage changed, with telemedicine we can call on four to five Oregon-licensed oncologists,” Romer says.

The hospital’s emergency department relies heavily on telemedicine. The department sees about 50 patients every month. Before telemedicine, doctors would be woken up in the middle of the night more than 100 times in a month. Romer says telemedicine has cut that number in half.

Grande Ronde now has a language access program for non-English-speaking and hearing-impaired patients. It offers real-time videoconferencing with certified medical interpreters across the U.S. and can accommodate 250 languages.

ReadyCare puts patients and their devices in touch with Grande Ronde providers for noncritical and urgent care. Bluetooth-enabled in-home patient monitoring transmits patients’ encrypted vital signs to physicians via cellphone network.

“It’s quite unique that we’re able to leverage all these areas,” Romer says. “We’re now a hub, also, instead of just a spoke.

“It’s important that we use the technology and our common sense to make sure patients receive the same care in their rural communities as they would in an urban area.”

Today, Oregon is one of the more progressive states for telemedicine legislation. Romer says Grande Ronde is leading the way, not just for Oregon, but the nation.

As Grande Ronde’s telemedicine continues to grow, so does Mya, now 3 years old.

“You’d never know she was that sick when she was born,” Petersen says. “I’ve become so much more appreciative of telemedicine. Mya’s my miracle baby.”

About the Series
This month’s on-the-ground look at how telemedicine is revolutionizing care in rural communities is the first installment in a yearlong magazine series exploring the changing face of rural health care.

This Ruralite-produced initiative will spotlight what’s working, the recipe for success and the unsung heroes behind the work.

This special in-the-field storytelling, which will cover a broad geography and diverse topics over the course of 2019, is receiving support from the Murdock Charitable Trust, which funds projects and programs that enrich life in communities in Alaska and the Northwest.

The sponsorship helps fund journalism that shines a light and makes a difference.

We welcome story ideas at gro.etilarurnull@swenhtlaeh.