In June, President Obama established the Rural Council, which is chaired by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. As a result, numerous rural roundtables have been held and will continue to be held throughout the country.
Revitalizing rural America is a priority to this Administration. The rural roundtables are an opportunity for stakeholders to provide input, identify challenges and make recommendations.
On my recent trip to the great state of Alabama, my USDA colleagues from Rural Development, Farm Services Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and National Institute of Food and Agriculture supported me at a rural roundtable held in the community of Dothan. We had excellent attendance and constructive input from community leaders attending.
The primary challenges identified included a lack of credit/access to capital for small businesses; keep farmers on the farm by transforming some of the production back to truck farming; changing regulations that hamper business growth, including emphasizing the agriculture perspective to EPA and FDA; and a lack of adequate infrastructure in rural communities.
I expressed to the group that we are aware of many of their challenges. We are exploring ways to improve access to credit; developing local and regional food systems; improving flexibility in government programs; improving infrastructure in rural communities; and reducing government regulations.
In closing, I need to express how much I enjoyed the southern cuisine which is very similar to some of the food I grew up with in New Mexico, including oxtail (cola), chitlens (tripitas), liver (higaro), and pigs feet (pata de cerdo) – but collard greens, that was a first!