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I’ve spent the last few days here in Iowa, a state that I was honored to serve as Governor for eight years. Yesterday, I walked the grounds of the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines. The fair is refreshingly the same each year, but also a snapshot of changing rural America. The food stands, midway and cattle barns are in the same place that they’ve been for years. We’ve sculpted a "Butter Cow" since the early 1900s, but now the young people all have iPods and Blackberry phones. Their parents have cell phones.
Like the state fair, rural America is changing each year in subtle ways. Many of our grandparents and great grandparents made their homes on small farmsteads and made their living directly from the land. Today, farming is more mechanized. Farms are larger, and fewer Americans call them home. Most people who live in small towns in rural America still feel connected to the land, but they don’t necessarily depend on it for their livelihood. The demands of rural America are changing, along with the drivers of the rural economy.
While at the fair, I participated in a roundtable on rural revitalization. The roundtable discussion featured some of Iowa’s top rural leaders, including Iowa Farm Bureau President Craig Lang. We discussed our vision for developing a new, strong, vibrant rural economy; one that supports food production, but also generates renewable energy while safeguarding our environmental heritage. To help drive this rural renaissance, the Obama Administration supports quality health care and educational opportunities for all Americans, availability of broadband, and safe, sanitary rural housing. It’s what rural America wants.
At USDA, we are moving forward to meet the changing demands of rural America. Yesterday, I announced a major USDA investment toward the Administration’s goal: loans and grants to allow farmers, ranchers, business owners and producers improve energy efficiency, develop renewable energy and cut costs. Today, I will join Commerce Secretary Locke in announcing additional projects to bring broadband to rural America.
While USDA is adapting to meet the expanding needs of all of rural America, our primary purpose remains the same: to help those who live there prosper. Like the Iowa State Fair’s cattle barns and butter cow, some things at USDA remain constant, but we know that to remain vital to rural residents, we need to assist them when they ask for broadband and cell phone service, too.
Tom Vilsack is Secretary of Agriculture