Yesterday was a landmark day for USDA. The 2010 Agricultural Outlook Forum kicked off near Washington with a top-flight list of speakers, including Secretary Tom Vilsack; Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan; Ambassador Ronald Kirk, U.S. Trade Representative; USDA Chief Economist Joseph Glauber and Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Jim Miller.
The Secretary was forceful in his commitment to rural America, saying the Obama Administration has an approach to Rural Development and to value-added opportunity creation that will take rural America to “the next level.” He spoke of the need to develop new sources of biomass, turning marginal lands into highly productive property. He told us that “It is time for America to take back its energy destiny” and, noting the large number of young people, including National FFA representatives in the audience, said “Your country needs you. I say to young people that you have a future in rural America.”
In the afternoon Rural Development Deputy Under Secretary Victor Vasquez and I moderated panel discussions on the future of rural communities. Victor’s panelists discussed topics including how to bring financial institutions and economic activity to Indian reservations, building new capital networks, and promoting redevelopment and financial security through microlending.
One of my passions is promoting the “Know Your Farmer, Know your Food” initiative that is a priority of Deputy Secretary Merrigan. It was my privilege to moderate a distinguished panel that centered on the cooperative model and how it can make a difference, not only in the area of channeling locally and regionally produced foods to urban populations, but improving the quality of foods in schools and also using the cooperative model to improve access to health care in rural areas that often suffer from a lack of medical staff.
It was an amazing day, not just for me, but for all of us committed to a vibrant rural America …one that is not only productive, and relevant , but a place that is central to the economy of our nation and a catalyst for urban renewal. The vision set forth by Secretary Vilsack yesterday is an exciting one, and will not only change the lives of the one in six Americans that call rural America home, but will improve the health and well-being of all Americans for decades to come.
Cheryl L. Cook, Esq. Deputy Under Secretary, USDA Rural Development