As we prepare for annual Halloween celebrations across the nation, I was reminded of a trip I made to Cedar City, Utah earlier this month. StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity is an effort Secretary Vilsack launched in 2010 to address the distinct set of challenges America’s most rural areas face. This added effort also helps to fulfill USDA’s commitment to Native American tribes. Since StrikeForce began, I’ve had the honor of meeting with many Native American tribal members to identify where USDA Rural Development may serve their communities best.
The Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah welcomed the USDA family around a great wooden table at their headquarters in Cedar City. Representatives from Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Farm Service Agency (FSA), and Rural Development (RD) came together with the Utah Governor's Office to show our combined support to the Paiute Tribe. More importantly, we were there to listen to what the Tribe and its five constituent bands could tell us about their plans for the future, as well as their needs.
The number of committed minds at one table guaranteed we would hear some exceptional ideas. Gaylord Robb handles economic development matters for the Tribe and suggested they plant a pumpkin patch, saying he’s seen others attract hundreds of people per day. Geri Lafferty, Chairwoman for the Paiute Tribe, added that in the past school children have had to travel more than an hour to purchase pumpkins for fall celebrations. The one suggestion got the ball rolling for other ideas to follow. Mark Gibbons, FSA State Executive Director added that, in addition to pumpkins, the Tribe could make the most of Utah’s growing season by double-cropping on the same land. Another person said they could use the produce to sell at farmer’s markets or serve meals in local community centers.
Whether the pumpkin patch ends up the most sincere has yet to be seen, but there was no lack of sincerity in the combined efforts of the participants of this meeting – and it is through our StrikeForce partnerships and this cooperation that we will succeed in bringing new prosperity to our most impoverished rural areas.