May 2nd dawned a majestic spring day in the Rocky Mountains of southwestern Colorado as rural and tribal stakeholders from the Four Corners region descended upon the San Juan National Forest Headquarters to learn more about USDA’s StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity Initiative. Participants traveled from New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Colorado and the east coast to discuss strategies to help USDA deliver its programs more successfully in persistently poor rural areas.
The StrikeForce Roundtable began with welcoming remarks from USDA’s StrikeForce Coordinator, Max Finberg, USDA Natural Resource and Environment Deputy Under Secretary, Butch Blazer, and White House Senior Policy Advisor for Native American Affairs, Jodi Gillette. The audience then heard overviews of programs and current priorities from four USDA agencies: the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Farm Service Agency, Rural Development and the Food and Nutrition Service.
After hearing from farmers, ranchers, lenders and community based organizations that have accessed USDA’s programs to fund projects, conserve resources and foster community and economic development, the floor was opened to the audience, to hear their concerns and recommendations. The large conference room was full and participants eagerly shared their experiences, what has worked well, and where improvements could be made.
In a stroke of good fortune and opportune timing, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe’s Farm and Ranch Enterprise received word that they had been selected for a Value Added Producer Grant (VAPG) the day prior to the round table event. The Tribe’s chairman, the Tribe’s executive director and two Farm and Ranch Enterprise managers were on hand at the event and graciously shared a few words about the Tribe and what they plan to do with the grant funds. We all look forward to seeing the Tribe’s cornmeal product in increased markets!
Two other Tribes received VAPG awards through the same announcement, the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin and the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe in central South Dakota. The three Tribal awards were a marked increase for awards to Tribes in this program, and the awards this year were directly related to Tribal Consultation efforts facilitated by USDA’s Office of Tribal Relations a few years ago, which led to an internal education process that illustrated how Tribes and Tribal entities may be considered producers for the purposes of eligibility in the Value Added Producer Grant program.
Since the goal of the StrikeForce roundtable event was to ensure that farmers, ranchers, producers and communities in persistent poverty counties know how to access USDA programs, it was particularly gratifying to help the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe’s Farm and Ranch celebrate the recent VAPG award. I look forward to seeing other similar investments throughout StrikeForce counties around the Country in the months and years ahead!