My friend and current U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack had some harsh words for those of us working in and with Rural America. No doubt his frustration is due, in part, because Congress failed to pass a Farm Bill in 2012.
Here, in a nut-shell, is the issue:
While commodity prices are at record highs, while farmland values are at record highs, with all the talk about how precious agriculture is and how important food, fuel and fiber is...Rural America is becoming less relevant and full of poverty and old ideas.
We see it every day. Rural manufacturing companies can not find skilled workers. The fabric of rural life, schools, houses of worship, main street are all struggling. Small towns are becoming places where the poor and the aged hang out.
Community leaders, government officials and business people seem to be unable to reverse the trends started over two decades ago. People are abandoning Rural America and coming to the cities. Secretary Vilsack is right. We have to re-think ways in which to build a thriving rural culture but doing that is going to cost money. Some starting points:
- Rural Broadband - We have been on this kick for years and it's something that Urban America just can't seem to understand. The Internet in many rural areas still is accessed through ancient telephone lines or expensive satellite hookups. To level education, jobs and creative we need to fix this...now;
- Politics - There is nothing wrong with having an opinion however when that opinion is so negative toward immigration reform we are going nowhere and making enemies of those individuals who want to move to small towns;
- Education - I love it that we have a good public school system and a large number of colleges and universities. However what we lack is the funding for trade schools where people don't have to "move" to get an education in skilled labor;
- Food - Isn't it odd that in the very areas where the food is grown we find significant hunger issues among the people living here. I often wonder if the conversation about cutting food stamp programs would be different if the face of the "welfare queen" were the faces of our rural population;
- Traditional vs. Organic - Can we say..."Enough!" There are people who demand organic food and there are people who say it's silly. Stop the argument and go create and then sell something.
I don't have all the answers...or even the right answers but congratulations to Secretary Vilsack for speaking up. If you want to connect, you can do so here or our Twitter Stream is @RuralLifeRadio.