On November 3, I was honored with a Champions of Change award, allowing me to join a conversation between Administration officials and visionaries from around the country to discuss the many challenges and opportunities that face rural America.
I am a fifth-generation descendant of Colorado homesteading pioneers; my maternal grandparents were Minnesota dairy famers. Over a course of five decades I have witnessed technological and social changes that have both made our rural landscape the breadbasket of the world – and created a new social paradigm where our best and brightest often leave, never to return. It is with no sense of irony that a landscape that contains some of our grandest natural resources – our air, sun and water – the very infinite resources that produces this country’s food, feed, fiber and fuel – is the same landscape that is becoming increasingly depopulated.
Just seven decades ago our nation embarked on the idea of rural electrification. It is because of that effort that we saw a revolution in agricultural productivity and the establishment of vibrant, rural communities across this country. In thanks to the partnership between the resources of the federal government and the ‘can do’ attitude of our rural constituents, the economic potential of our resources were unleashed, bringing with them great prosperity.
Today we find ourselves at a crossroads across this vast landscape. As our nation embarks on what some may call our ‘Apollo moment’, the question remains: will we find ways to connect today’s technology to the distribution grid, gathering the bounty of our air and sunshine to provide affordable, local power to the masses? Will we harness the power of the sun through photosynthesis, converting our vast solar wealth into biomass for our fuel supply? Will we find ways to connect restorative practices to our soil carbon and organic matter to provide both a new source of revenue for America’s farmers and ranchers? Will we re-establish ourselves as global thought leaders on building the foundation for a 21st century global economy?
One of the organizations I helped found, “25x’25”, is an alliance on national interests who seek to establish agricultures role in these new markets; we seek to enhance the economies and opportunities to our rural areas. We seek common sense, pragmatic solutions to our nation’s woes. A second organization I help found, the Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance, promotes a local model of biofuel production. The ‘local first’ approach to vision is one we believe maximizes both job and wealth creation at a community level. It is an approach that we believe should be applied to all local resources, whether they be food, liquid fuels or an electron.
As a citizen of Colorado, we have demonstrated the effects of sound public policy related to a New Energy Economy. What started as a modest goal of 10% renewable energy in our electrical supply in 2004 has grown to a 30% standard today. Our focus on the conversion of our natural resources to an infinite supply of affordable, homegrown power has brought with it untold opportunities across broad swaths of our eastern Colorado prairies and our mountain valleys; it has attracted new industry and with it an expanding tax base and unleashed a torrent of entrepreneurial spirit. Our state ‘blueprint’ demonstrates a clear path upon which our nation would be served well to embark upon.
A revitalized rural America is one of the many benefits of a national focus on building a 21st century economy through technology, innovation and public support. Just as we were challenged some five decades ago by President Kennedy to land on the moon before the end of the decade, [a feat we accomplished in eight years], so today we face many of the same perilous challenges: our role as a global leader; our mission to out-innovate the rest of world – starting at home. On the farm. In every community across this nation. We owe it to the generations that follow us to embark on a visionary goal of energy independence, a strong rural economy and national policies that recognize the importance of the value American agriculture brings to the nation’s table of prosperity.
Michael Bowman serves on the National Steering Committee for "25x'25" and was a founding member of the alliance.