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The National Summit of Rural America: A Dialogue of Renewing Promise

Cross-posted from the White House Blog

By Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack

As the Obama Administration National Rural Summit came to a close yesterday, there was a general feeling of hope for the future of America’s rural communities. But there was also a sense that a host of partners – federal, state, and local governments, non-profit and for-profit entities, and most of all the good people who live in rural America – must work together to bring about the change our rural communities so deserve.

One of our panelists, Aneesh Chopra, Chief Technology Officer of the United States, acknowledged that although the day’s conversation had covered a breadth of important topics, challenges still lay ahead for rural America. The wide range of issues that will be involved in driving the economic revitalization of rural America span not only several government departments and agencies, but also hit home in every community across the country. With only a limited time to discuss the topics concerning rural communities at the summit, I encourage the public to keep the conversation going to ensure a successful future for the rural economy. That can be done as simply as talking with a neighbor, or by offering your ideas to the White House by visiting the Open Government Initiative.

One underlying theme of our conversations yesterday was the importance of educating the public about rural America in order to get our rural communities the attention and support they need to thrive. Over the last year, Deputy Secretary Merrigan and I have visited almost all 50 states, in an attempt to focus attention on the pursuit of the American dream within rural communities, and to illustrate how far around the country the reaches of rural America go. But this can only go so far. The conversation needs to extend into all of our communities, so folks understand that the strength of this nation relies on the strength of our rural communities.

Rural America plays an important role in our nation’s value system, which can be seen from family to family across countryside communities. Almost all of our founding fathers had rural upbringings, and a rural mindset imbued our foundational documents. In his remarks, Dr. Cummiskey, President of Jefferson College where the Summit was held, recalled a quote from Benjamin Franklin: “…there seem to be but three ways for a nation to acquire wealth. The first is by war,.. the second by commerce… and the third by agriculture, the only honest way.

There is still truth in Benjamin Franklin’s words. Small towns across this nation are filled with fundamentally good people who are raising their families and instilling a strong set of values in their children. They are generous and compassionate people, hard working, playing by the rules. They are everything we try to teach our kids to be.

And so we owe it to these folks to help them chart a better future for their families. I think if our country takes a few minutes – and if we can focus our attention on rural America – then I think our potential is unlimited. I foresee a day in rural America where the entrepreneur can prosper, where more and more of our energy is being produced on our farms. I foresee a day with prosperous main streets in small towns across the nation. I see a day when parents can turn to their sons and daughters and tell them they don’t have to travel far from home to experience the American dream – but that they can live it right here in rural America.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack speaks at the opening session of the National Rural Summit held at Jefferson College in Hillsboro, MO. June 3, 2010. (by Alice Welch)
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack speaks at the opening session of the National Rural Summit held at Jefferson College in Hillsboro, MO. June 3, 2010. (by Alice Welch)

A Dialogue on Rural America was the first discussion panel held at the National Rural Summit. (Panelists L to R Chief Technology Officer and Assistant to the President Aneesh Chopra, President of Show Me Energy Steve Flick, President of National Corn Growers Association Darrin Ihnen, Past President of National Association of Conservation Districts John Redding, Mayor of Philadelphia, Mississippi James Young, Agriculture Broadcaster at WGN radio Max Armstrong, and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack). June 3, 2010. (by Alice Welch)
A Dialogue on Rural America was the first discussion panel held at the National Rural Summit. (Panelists L to R Chief Technology Officer and Assistant to the President Aneesh Chopra, President of Show Me Energy Steve Flick, President of National Corn Growers Association Darrin Ihnen, Past President of National Association of Conservation Districts John Redding, Mayor of Philadelphia, Mississippi James Young, Agriculture Broadcaster at WGN radio Max Armstrong, and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack). June 3, 2010. (by Alice Welch)

People’s Garden Teaches Gardening to Youth in Kentucky

A new People’s Garden was planted in west/central Kentucky this past Memorial Day weekend.  The garden is located on the greenhouse business property of Meredith Agriculture in Elizabethtown, Kentucky.  This new People’s Garden is a project of Meredith Agriculture and Central Hardin High School FFA.  The garden is managed by a CHHS graduate member, Alex Meredith, and his father Steve.  Several FFA members, parents, and siblings of FFA members gathered to plant a 4,500 square foot garden of tomatoes, sweet corn, potatoes, squash, lima beans, and watermelons.  The produce will be donated to several local agencies that help the needy. Read more »

Cowbell Rings In the Start of the 2010 USDA Farmers Market Season

By Peter Rhee, Creative Media Director for USDA’s Office of Communications

With the first day of summer just around the corner, USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan rang the ceremonial cowbell today, signaling the beginning of the 2010 USDA Summer Farmers Market season. With extra help from the hot sun and heat rising off the pavement, the air carried with it smells of fresh produce, fragrant soaps and flowers, and piping hot kettle corn.

Local vendors from Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia were on hand, selling their fruits, vegetables, herbs, bakery products, and other goods like coffee and honey.

Another aroma wafting through the air was the scent of grilled burgers and strawberry shortcakes, prepared fresh on the spot by Eric Ziebold, Executive Chef of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel’s prized restaurant, CityZen.

Chef Ziebold and his team, with some help from Deputy Secretary Merrigan, transformed flour, butter, and strawberries, into delicious desserts worth fighting the large crowd over.  The cooking demonstration was a highlight of the USDA Farmers Market kick-off celebrations, and drew a large crowd of hungry onlookers.

Farmers markets are important nationwide outlets for agricultural producers to offer consumers affordable, convenient, and healthy local foods and goods.  USDA’s Summer Farmers Market has been a DC favorite for the past 15 years and offers local vendors the access to expand their outreach efforts to the local community.

Come get your fill every Friday, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on the corner of 12th Street and Independence Avenue, S.W. through October, 2010.  For more information on Farmers Markets, where to find one, how to become a vendor, or registering your own Farmers Market, click here.

Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan make remarks, then rings the bell opening the 2010 Farmers Market at the U.S, Department of Agriculture in Washington, D. C., on Friday, June 4, 2010.

Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan make remarks, then rings the bell opening the 2010 Farmers Market at the U.S, Department of Agriculture in Washington, D. C., on Friday, June 4, 2010.

USDA Deputy Secretary assists Chef Eric Ziebold with a cooking demonstration at the kick-off of the USDA Summer Farmers Market.

USDA Deputy Secretary assists Chef Eric Ziebold with a cooking demonstration at the kick-off of the USDA Summer Farmers Market.