Jessica Wirgau, Executive Director of the Community Foundation of the New River Valley and Kevin Byrd, Executive Director of the New River Valley Planning District Commission, celebrate the near completion of a successful three-year federally-funded community planning process.
One of the challenges with implementing USDA Rural Development programs is that many of the communities we serve have not had the opportunity to develop strategic plans to guide federal infrastructure investments effectively. Fortunately, a 2010 grant from HUD’s Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities enabled the New River Valley Planning District Commission to engage the public in the rural Southwest Virginia counties of Pulaski, Montgomery, Giles, and Floyd and all the major towns to develop a blueprint for future economic activity.
Earlier this month I had the opportunity to attend a meeting where over 100 rural citizens in the New River Valley gathered to put some of the finishing touches on the 3-year regional planning process, known locally as their Livability Initiative. I came away inspired by the dialogue that has evolved over the past three years and am looking forward to seeing how the communities in this economically diverse rural region look for ways to implement some of the ideas they have generated to improve their communities and enhance long-term economic opportunities. Read more »
Ajo, Arizona’s Sonoran Desert Retreat Center recently received an ArtPlace grant to promote small town vitality. The town’s annual International Day of Peace parade brings together people from the Tohono O’odahm Nation and Sonoyta, Mexico. Pictured here Eric Alegria (board chair of the Center), Lorraine Marquez Eiler of the Hla C-ed O’odham district on the Tohono O’odham Nation legislative Council, and (behind) Brian Mackenzie, the principal of the Ajo school. Photo courtesy of Tracy Taft.
As rural communities search for new and viable economic approaches, it is becoming clear that one core component of many successful rural communities is the presence of vibrant arts and cultural opportunities. Last month I had the opportunity to speak about rural arts initiatives and how USDA Rural Development is engaged with local communities and private foundations to provide awareness of our infrastructure programs and how they can assist in supporting local cultural strategies.
At the Americans for the Arts annual meeting I had the honor of representing USDA on two panels where our Rural Development programs were part of the mix. The sessions included discussion of ArtPlace, a consortium of national and regional foundations, and their efforts to support rural communities. Projects in Lanesboro, Minnesota and Ajo, Arizona are recent ArtPlace grantees, and we had the opportunity to explore ways in which USDA’s infrastructure programs might be able to leverage this new boost of philanthropic support as these communities work to demonstrate how cultural development is an essential ingredient for rural communities in the next generation. Read more »
West Virginia State Director Bobby Lewis and others visited Tucker County High School near Hambleton West Virginia as part of ARC’s tour through Appalachia. The group met with local educators and students to discuss the farm to school program; school, community and industry relationships; local farmers markets and greenhouse and high tunnel operation. While there, the group toured a high tunnel currently under construction. Photo Credit: Savanna Lyons of the WV Food & Farm Coalition
West Virginia and Appalachian Ohio have a lot in common beyond their shared state border. With a strong agricultural heritage, these vast rural areas are known for their forest and timber industries, and they are integrating food systems into local economic development.
Earlier this month, I joined Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) Co-Chair Earl Gohl and Ohio’s State Rural Development Director Tony Logan to take a look at local food in the Buckeye state. My colleague, Deputy Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Joani Walsh, recently made a similar trip to West Virginia. Organized by ARC, the visits were an opportunity to discuss how local food is diversifying the economy, developing a more competitive workforce and generating opportunities within regions like Appalachia. “Through our work on the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative, we know that there are lots of ways that local foods are providing economic opportunities in rural communities,” said Walsh. “These visits with ARC gave us a clearer picture of how that is happening in Appalachia.” Read more »
Earlier this week, USDA Rural Development Deputy Under Secretary Doug O’Brien met with local and regional officials in Mississippi to discuss ways USDA can help businesses create jobs and stimulate local economies. Mississippi was one of the first states in the nation to be designated a StrikeForce state by USDA and last Tuesday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture will launch its “StrikeForce” initiative in ten additional states.
The primary goal of the StrikeForce initiative is to increase partnership with rural communities and leverage community resources in targeted, persistent poverty areas. Vilsack noted that through the StrikeForce initiative, USDA will do more to partner with local and state governments and community organizations on projects that promote economic development and job creation. Read more »
South Dakota has been awarded two regional training opportunities through the Stronger Economies Together (SET) initiative. USDA Rural Development (USDA RD), the nation’s four Regional Rural Development Centers and South Dakota State University Extension are collaborating for this initiative.
“While USDA RD staff directly impact communities with housing services and integral community infrastructure, the SET process is going to be one more way for communities to strive for economic vitality, improved quality of life, and sustainability,” said USDA RD South Dakota State Director Elsie Meeks, “In the end, everyone works together so that rural communities can address a broad range of other needs such as regional based planning and leadership development.” Read more »