URBANA, Ill. – Harvest is back in full swing after a period of substantial rain that fell over central and northern Illinois between Oct. 5 and 15. With harvest, thoughts turn to application of fall ammonia.
“Almost everyone is on board with waiting until soil temperatures are at or below 50 degrees before applying ammonia,” says Emerson Nafziger, an agronomist in the Department of Crop Sciences at the University of Illinois. “Cool soil, along with use of a nitrification inhibitor, lowers the rate of nitrification, and helps preserve nitrogen in the ammonium form. Nitrogen present in the soil as ammonium is safe from loss.”
Nafziger says some producers would like to start before soil temperatures reach 50, assuming soil temperatures will go down as air temperatures start to decline. “But if we apply when soil is at 60 degrees and soil temperatures don’t drop quickly, or if they rise again after application, nitrification will continue and will persist as long as soils stay warmer. In fact, nitrification does not stop dead at 50 degrees; as a biological process, its rate drops off as temperature falls, but temperatures need to be near freezing for nitrification to stop completely.”
Therefore, he cautions farmers to wait to apply fall ammonia not only until soil temperatures are 50 degrees or less, but until they are likely to stay cool. In Illinois, it has typically been safe to apply ammonia on or after Nov.1. But that’s not a sure thing. In the past two years, soil temperatures have risen above 50 degrees at least once between November and February. “Even so, Nov. 1 is usually a reasonable starting date to balance keeping nitrogen safe with getting fall application done,” Nafziger says.
Minimum air temperatures have fallen into the 40’s this past week, and producers are wondering if it might be okay to start applying now. Minimum soil temperatures at the 4-inch depth under bare soil have dropped to the upper 40’s to low 50’s over much of the state each day between Oct. 16 and 18.
The problem with using only the minimum soil temperature is that it doesn’t represent the soil temperature in the ammonia application zone. Minimum soil temperatures on clear days are typically five degrees or so less than the average soil temperatures for the day. “Even though we may need a jacket on cool mornings this week, ammonia applied now is not going to be in soils with temperatures less than 50 degrees for some days or weeks,” Nafziger says.
Air temperatures are forecast to stay in the 70’s the rest of this week, fall into the 50’s (with lows in the mid to upper 30’s) next week, and rise again the following week.
“We’re already past the average first frost date for central and northern Illinois, and even with more seasonal temperatures coming the last week of October, it doesn’t look like ammonia applied now will be as safe from nitrification and possible loss as will ammonia applied in November,” Nafziger says. “Delaying application moves us closer to having soil temperatures low enough to be safe for nitrogen.”
Average fall temperatures in Illinois have been trending slowly upward for some time. As in other recent years, waiting until Nov. 1 to apply fall nitrogen does not assure low soil temperatures as consistently as it did in the past. So, if a stretch of warm weather is still in the forecast at the end of October, it might make sense to wait a little longer.
“Otherwise, patience in waiting another ten days will likely be rewarded, even if - as is often the case when doing the right thing - the reward isn’t very visible.”
A version of this article was also posted in the UI Bulletin on October 19, 2017.
Genetic predisposition may put a person at risk of higher triglycerides, but adopting a healthy diet can help
URBANA, Ill. – Triglycerides, a type of fat in the blood, are important for good health. But having high triglycerides might increase a person’s risk of heart disease, and may be a sign of metabolic syndrome—a combination of high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and too much fat accumulation at the waist. People with metabolic syndrome have increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.
A new study from nutrition researchers at the University of Illinois shows that some individuals with variations of a “gene of interest” may be at an even higher risk of developing high triglycerides. Specifically, researchers looked at genetics and risk in a group of young Mexican adults.
Despite genetic predisposition, the study shows that maintaining a healthy body weight or changing diet can help reverse the risk.
Katie Robinson, a former doctoral student in the U of I Division of Nutritional Sciences and fellow of the I-TOPP program, explains that the study, published in the Journal of Nutrigenetics and Nutrigenomics, is a collaboration between the University of Illinois and the Autonomous University of San Luis Potosi in Mexico (UASLP), also known as UP AMIGOS.
“Obesity is a growing problem in the U.S. and Mexico. In the U.S., obesity affects over a third of our population. We’re concerned because obesity is associated with other diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and high triglycerides,” Robinson explains. Compared to Caucasian groups, Hispanics in the U.S. have higher rates of type 2 diabetes and other obesity-related diseases. Of all Hispanic subgroups, those of Mexican heritage have one of the highest risks for obesity and associated diseases.
The UP AMIGOS project addresses genetic and environmental factors associated with obesity and related conditions among younger adults in Mexico. “A lot of existing data are from Caucasian cohorts, which means we needed to replicate and better understand those findings in groups with different ethnicities. That’s the main goal of the UP AMIGOS project.
“It was a great opportunity that we were able to look at this rich data set from young Mexican adults because we know that this population has a greater likelihood of developing not only obesity but also high triglycerides and diabetes,” Robinson adds.
For the current study, Robinson was interested in a protein made in the liver called fetuin-A (FetA). “It’s an interesting marker connecting inflammation with obesity and its associated diseases,” she says. “FetA is a protein that is released from adipose tissue and also the liver. We know FetA is integral to insulin sensitivity, and that’s where most of the research has been done to look at its function.
“We also know that FetA is elevated in obesity and diabetes. Therefore, we were interested in looking at the genetic implication. If there are alterations or single nucleotide polymorphisms within the gene that codes for FetA, does that change somebody’s risk for obesity or the associated diseases?”
To answer that, the researchers looked at bloodwork from 641 Mexican young adults to analyze biomarkers and genotypes. They also checked body mass index (BMI), took measurements of fasting glucose levels, and had the participants report on their dietary habits.
From the genotyping, they were specifically looking for occurrences of two mutations of the gene, AHSG, a gene that influences the protein FetA. They were interested in the association of those gene mutations with dietary intake, weight, and also biological markers of health.
The AHSG polymorphisms were found to be associated with triglycerides. Robinson explains the most important finding is that one of these polymorphisms, or mutations, was associated with higher circulating triglycerides, but that correlation was very dependent on BMI and dietary intake—the relationship was exaggerated in individuals who were overweight.
“So with an elevated BMI, we saw greater disorder within those carrying the risk genotype. But if these individuals who had the high-risk AHSG genotype had a lower BMI, their triglycerides were lower. It suggests that even if you carry the high-risk genotype, you don’t have a greater risk of high triglycerides if you can maintain a normal BMI or a lower BMI, which I think is a positive finding when we look at genetics.”
Robinson says diet also played a role in higher triglycerides. “Higher carbohydrate intake—specifically sugar or sucrose intake—was associated with elevated triglycerides. This association was mainly in one genotype group. The thought was perhaps these individuals are more sensitive to certain diets than the other genotype groups.”
Regardless of genotype, elevated BMI was associated with higher triglycerides. Due to the relationship between FetA and diabetes, the researchers also wanted to see if there was an association with AHSG mutations and glucose, but surprisingly, they didn’t find any.
While the study looked at relatively healthy young adults in a Mexican population, results were different than what has been observed in previous research from Caucasian groups. Robinson explains that they might have seen different results if they had looked at older Mexican adults with poorer health.
Some good news from the study’s findings is that maintaining a healthy body weight often can overcome the effects of genes related to metabolic disease and type 2 diabetes.
“We know that genes aren’t everything,” Robinson says. “There are a lot of things we can do, behaviorally, to change our individual risk. It’s a silver lining in our research. We can’t modify our genetics, but we can modify our epigenomes and some behaviors. You can still have positive health outcomes.”
The results are also important for the future of developing personalized nutrition as interventions for disease, Robinson says.
“In practical terms, it would be ideal to start by understanding someone’s basic biology, which may influence how they’re metabolizing and utilizing the nutrients they are eating. It would be great to bring people in, find out where their biology is at, and then tailor a diet for them, but we need a lot more research before we get to that point.”
Margarita Teran-Garcia, assistant professor in the Division of Nutritional Sciences and the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at U of I adds, “In order to advance the full potential of precision medical and nutritional sciences, there is a need to invest and create new sustained resources—financial and technological—to build the evidence base needed to guide clinical practice and strategic planning in public health.”
The paper, “Circulating triglycerides and the association of triglycerides with dietary intake are altered by alpha-2-Heremans-Schmid glycoprotein polymorphisms,” is published in the Journal of Nutrigenetics and Nutrigenomics. Co-authors include Katie N. Robinson, Itzel Vazquez-Vidal, Courtney Marques, Flavia Cristina Drumond Andrade, Celia Aradillas-Garcia, Margarita Teran-Garcia, and the UP AMIGOS Team.
This study was funded by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Research Board grant #09070, the Center for Health and Aging, the ACES Office of Research FIRE grant, and the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Hatch Projects #ILLU-968-312, #ILLU-971-368, and #ILLU-793-327. Funding was also provided by the Universidad Autónoma de San Luis Potosí, Hormones Laboratory at the School of Medicine, the Clinical Biochemistry Laboratory at the Chemical Sciences School, and the Autonomous University of San Luis Potosí University Health Center under agreement support C09-PIFI-030606. Furthermore, K.N. Robinson was supported by the National Institute for Agriculture under the Illinois Transdisciplinary Obesity Prevention Program grant (2010-04886) to the Division of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Illinois.
President/CEO of Global FoodBanking Network promotes food rescue as part of Fall lecture series
The President and CEO of the Global FoodBanking Network (GFN), Lisa Moon, visited the University of Illinois campus to speak about the role of food rescue in advancing food security as part of the Fall 2017 “Right to Food, Food Assistance, and the Biological Consequences of Malnutrition” lecture series.
This lecture series serves to ground a discussion of a right to food and programs to ensure that right is realized in the latest discoveries about the physical effects of food inadequacy. Serving as a graduate seminar for the Division of Nutritional Sciences (DNS 500), the series is co-sponsored by International Food Security at Illinois (IFSI) and is open to the campus community at large.
The Global FoodBanking Network (GFN) is an international hunger relief organization that supports and accelerates the development of food banks in more than 30 countries. Together, the GFN network of food banks rescues more than 960 million pounds of food annually and re-directs it to 6.8 million people in need.
Why we should care about food waste
“As a society, we waste about one third of what we produce,” said Moon before presenting economic and environmental reasons we should all care about food waste.
“Food waste increases food cost because food prices reflect the cost of producing all the food, even what is wasted,” she said.
By contributing to higher food prices, food waste makes food unaffordable to some people.
Environmentally, Moon noted that growing food implies emission of greenhouse gases and use of natural resources. Wasted food represents environmental losses that might easily be avoided.
“If ‘food waste’ were a country it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Also the wasted food took resources such as water, soil, land, fertilizer,” Moon said.
Thus, reducing food waste is a way to protect our natural environment.
What can we do?
“The answer to food insecurity is not simply to grow more food because so much of it doesn’t make it to people who need it. We need to focus on logistics,” she said.
Rescuing food that would otherwise be wasted is part of the solution.
Moon acknowledged harvest challenges, post-harvest challenges (storage, access to markets), distribution and retail challenges (estimating demands, inconsistent date codes). She also noted that shifting consumer preferences and new distribution channels all add to the ongoing challenge.
She made several suggestions towards reduced food waste and consequently greater food security:
- Better data. The last open source data study was completed in 2011. “We need to know, for example, where in the supply chain food is being lost and how much is being lost?” she said.
- Investment into cold chain storage to keep food edible longer.
- Incentives towards “Food for food first” meaning that surplus food goes to feed people.
- Date codes that are consistent and reasonable.
- Widespread good Samaritan laws, which currently only six countries have, that take away legal risk for companies who donate food. At a minimum, they should not pay taxes on donated food, ideally, they should get a deduction, she said.
- Focus on quality not cosmetics and increasing opportunities to distribute “ugly food,” such as blemished or bruised fruits which might be re-directed to other food purposes than were originally planned.
Advancement in these areas could reduce post-harvest loss and make it easier for food banks to rescue food.
“Foodbanks operate in more than 70 countries, serve more than 57 million people annually, and rescue 1.8 million tons of food annually. For the next three years Global Foodbanking Network will be thinking about how to promote food rescue in China and India,” she said.
She challenged the audience of scholars and researchers: “You have to think about how you’re going to work with the private sector on this.”
Moon concluded by inviting University students and research groups who are interested in food security to reach out to GFN because they serve as a “matchmaker” to pair up research groups with their network partners.
More about the speaker:
Previously, Lisa served as Vice President of Global Agriculture and Food at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, where she spearheaded a project that has become one of the leading global contributors to discussions around hunger and food security.
Prior to joining the Council in 2007, Lisa worked with the U.S. Department of Defense and the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Security Policy Studies from George Washington University and a Bachelor of Arts degree in international studies, political science, and Spanish from Bradley University. She is on the community board of the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences, is a member of the Farm Foundation Round Table, is a Term Member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and is currently a David Rockefeller Fellow of the Trilateral Commission.
Nutrition scientist Sharon Donovan elected to National Academy of Medicine
URBANA, Ill. — Sharon M. Donovan, a professor of nutrition and the Melissa M. Noel Endowed Chair in Nutrition and Health at the University of Illinois, was elected Oct. 16 to the National Academy of Medicine.
Considered one of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine, induction into NAM recognizes individuals who have demonstrated outstanding professional achievements and commitment to service.
Donovan is among 70 new members and 10 new international members announced by the academy. With the additions announced today, NAM has 1,812 active members and 151 international members.
“Being inducted into NAM is an incredible honor that very few people achieve,” said Kim Kidwell, the dean of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. “Sharon Donovan embodies the spirit of this honor through the incredible contributions she has made to advancing our understanding of digestive tract and brain development, childhood obesity and autism. Sharon’s work helps people throughout the world to live better lives. I am thrilled that she has been acknowledged for her contribution in this way and am very proud that she is a member of the ACES family.”
A registered dietitian, Donovan and her group conduct basic and translational research in pediatric nutrition, focusing on three areas: optimal intestinal development of neonates, prevention of childhood obesity and determinants of picky eating in 2- to 5-year-old children.
Donovan also is principal investigator with the Illinois Transdisciplinary Obesity Prevention Program; an affiliate with the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at the Urbana campus; and an adjunct professor of pediatrics at the U. of I. at Chicago College of Medicine.
Her work has garnered numerous honors, including awards from the International Life Sciences Institute North America and the American Society for Nutrition. She is an active member of the American Society for Nutrition, serving as that organization’s president from 2011 to 2012, and currently is present-elect of the International Society for Research on Human Milk and Lactation.
Donovan earned a bachelor of science degree in nutrition science and a doctorate in nutrition from the University of California, Davis. After completing a postdoctoral fellowship in pediatric endocrinology at Stanford University School of Medicine, she joined the U. of I. faculty in 1991. She served as the director of the Division of Nutritional Sciences Graduate Program at Illinois from 1999-2009.
Established in 1970 as the Institute of Medicine, NAM is an independent organization of eminent professionals from diverse fields including health and medicine, and the natural, social and behavioral sciences. The academy works to address critical issues in health, medicine and related policy and to inspire positive action across sectors.
Moving forward after October reports in corn and soybeans
URBANA, Ill. – The release of USDA’s October reports created a rally in soybean prices that pushed November soybean futures prices to levels not seen since the end of July. According to University of Illinois agricultural economist Todd Hubbs, corn prices saw a much more muted response.
“The question is, will the soybean rally consolidate as we move forward? Corn prices appear to contain a limited capability to generate upward price movements in the near term,” he explains.
The October soybean production forecast of 4.431 billion bushels came in at the same level as the September production forecast, Hubbs says. Although the production level was the same, harvested acres increased 740,000 acres while the national average yield declined by 0.4 bushels to 49.5 bushels per acre. The reduction in yield level combined with the lowering of 2017-18 ending stocks by 44 million bushels, to 430 million bushels, provided the impetus for the price rally. The projections for 2017-18 marketing-year consumption stayed at September levels with the ending stocks reduction being comprised entirely of lower beginning stocks, at 301 million bushels.
The USDA will provide new yield and production forecasts on Nov. 9. According to Hubbs, the forecast of the U.S. average soybean yield increased in September and decreased in October, like this year, in three of the last 20 years. In each of those years, the November yield forecast was smaller than the October forecast. The average decrease in November was 0.26 bushels with a range of 0.1 to 0.5 bushels. The final yield estimate released in January was below the November forecast once in those years.
“At this time, a drastic change in projected soybean yield for the 2017 crop appears unlikely,” Hubbs says. “The current information provides no clear indication of an increase in demand for soybeans higher than the current USDA projection. It’s tempting to look at the decreases in ending stocks over the course of the previous four marketing years and project a lower 2017-18 ending-stocks level than the current 430 million bushel forecast. On average, over the last four years, soybean ending stocks decreased approximately 45 percent from the October World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report projection to the final ending-stocks estimate for the marketing year. If this pattern held for this marketing year, soybean ending stocks would come in at around 236 million bushels at the end of 2017-18.
“The market has grown accustomed to upward revisions in soybean exports and downward revisions in ending stocks over the last few marketing years,” Hubbs adds. “A difference this year is that the current USDA projection for soybean exports sits at 2,250 million bushels, a record level for soybean exports and 3.5 percent higher than last marketing year’s export level.”
Current export inspections for soybeans for the week ending Oct. 12 are running 7.6 percent lower than last year’s inspection level pace. Hubbs says the recent demand for soybeans in export markets is a positive sign but to see export levels increased above the current record projection requires an upturn in the pace of exports.
At 14.280 billion bushels, USDA’s October forecast of the U.S. corn crop was 96 million bushels larger than the September forecast. U.S. average yield increased 1.9 bushels to 171.8, while harvested acres decreased by 377,000 acres. The 2017-18 marketing-year consumption forecast increased by 35 million bushels, to 14.285 billion bushels. The USDA increased the forecasts for feed and residual use by 25 million bushels and food, seed, and industrial use by 10 million bushels. Projected ending stocks for 2017-18 changed very little with an increase of 5 million bushels to 2,340 million bushels. Some help was provided by lower beginning stocks, at 45 million fewer bushels than September estimates.
“Corn price will require strong demand throughout this marketing year to lift prices in any sustainable manner, particularly if production continues to increase in the U.S.,” Hubbs says.
The forecast of the U.S. average corn yield increased in September and October, like this year, in seven of the last 20 years. In five of those years, the November yield forecast was greater than the October forecast. The average increase in November was 1.72 bushels with a range of 0.4 to 3.5 bushels. The final yield estimate released in January was below the November forecast once in those five years. Hubbs says the potential for a larger corn crop is continuing to develop and looks more likely given many of the yield reports coming out of the Corn Belt.
“The rally in soybean prices provides producers with the opportunity to lock in prices for 2017 soybean production,” Hubbs says. “To sustain this price rally, soybean production levels in the U.S. will need to stay at current levels, and robust export demand will need to develop throughout the marketing year. Corn prices will struggle to find support in the short run due to large corn stocks and the prospect of increasing production for the 2017 corn crop.”
Cholesterol byproduct hijacks immune cells, lets breast cancer spread
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — High cholesterol levels have been associated with breast cancer spreading to other sites in the body, but doctors and researchers don’t know the cause for the link. A new study by University of Illinois researchers found that the culprit is a byproduct of cholesterol metabolism that acts on specific immune cells so that they facilitate the cancer’s spread instead of stopping it.
The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, identifies new potential drug targets that could inhibit the creation or actions of the dangerous cholesterol byproduct, a molecule called 27HC.
“Breast cancer impacts roughly 1 in 8 women. We’ve developed fairly good strategies for the initial treatment of the disease, but many women will experience metastatic breast cancer, when the breast cancer has spread to other organs, and at that point we really don’t have effective therapies. We want to find what drives that process and whether we can target that with drugs,” said Erik Nelson, a professor of molecular and integrative physiology who led the study.
Nelson’s group fed mice with breast cancer tumors a diet high in cholesterol. The researchers confirmed that high levels of cholesterol increased tumor growth and metastasis, and that mice treated with cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins had less metastasis. Then they went further, specifically inhibiting the enzyme that makes 27HC during cholesterol metabolism.
“By inhibiting the enzyme that makes 27HC, we found a suppressor effect on breast cancer metastasis. This suggests that a drug treatment targeting this enzyme could be an effective therapeutic,” said Amy Baek, a postdoctoral researcher at Illinois and the first author of the paper.
The researchers also saw unusual activity among specific immune cells – certain types of neutrophils and T-cells – at metastatic sites high in 27HC.
“Normally, your body’s immune system has the capacity to attack cancer,” Nelson said, “but we found that 27HC works on immune cells to fool them into thinking the cancer is fine. It’s hijacking the immune system to help the cancer spread.”
See a video of Nelson describing the study on YouTube.
Because 27HC acts through the immune system, and not on the breast cancer itself, the researchers believe their findings have broad applicability for solid tumors. They performed experiments looking at colon cancer, lung cancer, melanoma and pancreatic cancer, and found that 27HC increased metastasis for all the tumor types, suggesting that a treatment targeting 27HC could be effective across multiple cancer types.
The researchers are working to further understand the pathway by which 27HC affects the immune cells. With clinical partners at Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana, the team is working to establish whether 27HC has the same pathway in human patients as in mice.
“We hope to develop small-molecule drugs to inhibit 27HC,” Nelson said. “In the meantime, there are good cholesterol-lowering drugs available on the market: statins. Cancer patients at risk for high cholesterol might want to talk to their doctors about it.”
Nelson also is affiliated with the Cancer Center, the division of nutritional sciences and the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at Illinois. The National Institutes of Health and the Susan G. Komen Foundation supported this work.
Editor’s notes: To reach Erik Nelson, call 217-244-5477; email firstname.lastname@example.org
The paper “The cholesterol metabolite 27 hydroxycholesterol facilitates breast cancer metastasis through its actions on immune cells” is available online.
New book explores chasing the American dream in rural trailer parks
URBANA, Ill. – Trailer parks offer an affordable place to live for 12 million people in rural America. Despite crude jokes, slurs, and the “trailer trash” stereotype that trailer park residents sometimes must endure, they are often families raising their children, hoping to grab hold of the American dream of home ownership.
In her new book, Singlewide: Chasing the American Dream in a Rural Trailer Park, anthropologist and ethnographer Sonya Salamon and co-author Katherine MacTavish discuss how the American housing dream in rural trailer parks is often just that—a dream— that is rarely realized by those working poor families who call these parks home.
Salamon, a professor emerita in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Illinois, along with MacTavish, an associate professor in Human Development and Family Science at Oregon State University, followed 39 families raising their school-aged children in three rural trailer park sites in the United States, each for one year. They examined the social and financial implications for families living in a trailer park.
Throughout the year, the researchers immersed themselves in daily life in the parks, exploring the sense of community at each site and how the children in these parks were developing. The parks in their study included a predominantly white park in downstate Illinois, a predominantly Hispanic park in New Mexico, and a predominantly black park in North Carolina. Only families who owned their trailer homes, and lived in a land-lease trailer park were included in the study.
In Singlewide, they present the stories of these families, including a few who moved up and out of the trailer park, but most who did not.
“We emphasize that these families were striving to do the best for their children,” Salamon says. “Instead of stigmatizing them as ‘trailer trash,’ we should realize that, for most of them, homeownership is a hard-won status and they are proud of that achievement.”
The residents in the parks, Salamon explains, were poor or of modest income, but they were not the poorest residents of rural trailer parks in America because they lived in land-lease parks where they owned their homes. People who rent their homes in rental trailer parks tend to be poorer.
“Uniformly, though, the young families in our study parks wanted to move out. Their dream was a conventional home. That was a really strong theme. One family from each of the parks achieved moving out during or just after our study. They were distinctive in how they managed their pathway out of the park. Particularly important was that they had a plan and they weren’t heavily in debt.”
But most of the families found themselves financially “trapped” in the trailer park.
Salamon, explains, “We called it entrapment, because the most common loan that they get for their home was a chattel loan, the same kind of loan you get for a car. And they don’t own the land underneath their home. Because it’s somebody else’s land, that makes them more vulnerable. The entrapment, if they bought new with this loan form, occurs because people were paying 13.5 percent or higher on a property that loses half its value in three years, like a car does. These are very expensive loans and their cost never comes down.”
To improve their housing situation, some families opt to “trade up,” buying a new trailer with the same kind of loan in the same park from, at times, vertically integrated companies that not only own the parks, but also produce and sell the trailers, and provide the financing.
Hoping to break through some of the stereotypes, the authors asked residents if they felt discriminated against because of where they lived, or had heard the slur “trailer trash” used. The answers varied by site and ethnic group.
“We wanted to see whether there is a ‘trailer trash’ culture, which implies that everybody living in trailer park is alike—that they all live the same way. Our conclusion is that there really isn’t a trailer park culture. The people in the three different sites, all very rural populations, looked like the people around them outside the park more than they look like a specific culture.”
One takeaway from the book is that the only people reporting that they consistently felt the “trailer trash” stigma were whites in the Illinois trailer park, and whites in the other sites. “We came to understand that the ‘trailer trash’ slur signified a middle-class put down, but it was also a variant of being called ‘white trash,’” Salamon says. Interestingly, the white residents in the Illinois park also felt the least sense of community.
“This lack of a sense of community may, to a certain extent, account for the behavior of a small number of residents—at the Illinois site—that helps bolster the ‘trailer trash’ stereotype over all those who live there. It really is a minority, though.”
During the year, the researchers were also looking at the effects from the neighborhoods surrounding the parks. They found that blacks and Hispanics, at the respective sites in North Carolina and New Mexico, were embraced by the communities or towns around them. “One man in New Mexico even ran for mayor,” Salamon says. “They were really a part of the town. Being southern New Mexico, there was one dominant church, a Catholic church, and everyone belonged to it. You could see the difference in the sense of community there.”
But for the white families in Illinois, their trailer park was not incorporated into the nearby larger town, which Salamon says may have led to a greater sense of segregation and discrimination for the residents there.
White youth living in Illinois seemed to find a sense of community with the other children who lived in the park, while at the other sites, it was in the wider community and within family for Hispanics, and among church and extended family members for blacks. Some youth found opportunities to move out of the park. “If a youth found some sort of middle class mentor, whether in a church or school, that was a major factor,” Salamon explains. “The park youth all thought they wanted to go to college but most didn’t have a clue about what it took – that was where a mentor made a difference.
“One girl, a youth in the Illinois park, became close to a middle-class school friend and her family, and could essentially keep herself socially distant from the trailer park. She lived ‘in’ it but wasn’t ‘of’ it. She ended up going to the U of I. Actually two girls from the park went to the U of I – a real achievement. As a consequence, like children from immigrant families, the girls changed enough that they were no longer as close to their roots as their parents might want. They moved on.”
By the conclusion of the book, Salamon, an expert on land-use and small towns in rural America, and MacTavish emphasize that trailer park families see themselves as “doing the best for their families,” despite the financial and social pitfalls they may face.
Singlewide is now available in paperback and can be purchased from Cornell Press, or wherever books are sold.
For more information, visit sonyasalamon.com.