Earlier this month I joined USDA Deputy Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Conservation, (NRCS) Ann Mills, and Deputy Director of the Executive Secretariat, David Aten, in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont for a “Great Regions” convening.
Federal, state and local officials joined members of the Northeast Kingdom Collaborative and we shared some of the great progress Rural Business Opportunity Grant (RBOG) recipients have made and spoke about the challenges the communities of the three-county Kingdom face in securing a healthy, culturally robust and economically successful future.
During the presentations there were many memorable and insightful comments. Steve Campbell, our area office manager in St. Johnsbury noted that in 2010 USDA NRCS, the Farm Service Agency and Rural Development invested $46 million in the Kingdom. All of us laughed heartily when Allison Hooper of the Vermont Cheese Council, who was discussing the demand for goats’ milk told us that “3 goats = 1 cow.” She told us their big challenge is overcoming the “real Vermonters don’t milk goats” phenomena. We heard from Gloria Bruce of the Chamber of Commerce about sharing the Kingdom we love with our visitors in a “way that sustains” this special place. The Chamber’s grant is focused on agritourism. Rob Riley of the Northern Forest Center applauded the Agency’s Great Regions project stating that it is so important to build regional partnerships that make use of our regional assets like the northern forest. Kate Williams from the Northern Forest Canoe Trail organization enchanted us with scenes of a four state canoe trail that is not only scenically spectacular but is also an economic engine.
We finished the day with a focus on the strategic plan of the Cooperative. Action steps were suggested. Information about available resources was exchanged. As an example, Mike McNamara of HUD outlined the rural housing grant program announced recently by the Housing and Urban Development secretary. Deputy Undersecretary Mills and Deputy Director Aten promised their support of the Kingdom’s strategies. Steve Campbell concluded the event by citing some of the Kingdom’s challenges but confidently stating, “With the talent, energy and intelligence that we have in the Kingdom we will succeed.” It was a great day in a “Great Region!”