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rural community development initiative

Fermentation Fest - Innovation and Creativity in Rural Wisconsin

As we enter the autumn season, the harvest is on most Wisconsinites' minds.   I'm particularly excited to be participating in an upcoming gathering in Reedsburg where the Wormfarm Institute’s annual Fermentation Fest will be taking place from October 4th through the 13th.   In addition to workshops on cooking and fermenting food, and even homebrewing, this “live culture convergence” will feature the nationally acclaimed Farm/Art DTour, a 50-mile self-guided drive through the rolling hills and farmlands in the “Driftless Area” of Sauk County.

On that Sunday the 12th, from 4 to 6 pm I will be participating on a panel called "The Art of the Rural – Creating Thriving Places Beyond the City" at the Woolen Mill Gallery, 28 E Main St. in Reedburg. We'll explore how local food systems and arts and culture can combine to be integral strategies for fostering economic development in rural areas. I will be joined by a distinguished panel which includes: Jamie Bennett, the President of ArtPlace America, a national philanthropy consortium; Matthew Fluharty of Washington University who leads Art of the Rural; Sarah Lloyd, a Wisconsin Dells dairy farmer, rural sociologist and member of the Wisconsin Food Hub Cooperative, a 2014 recipient of a USDA Value-Added Producer Grant, and Curt Meine, conservation biologist and Aldo Leopold biographer.

Addressing the Needs of Working Families in Rural America

Cross-posted from the Huffington Post:

Last Wednesday, I participated in a regional forum of the White House Working Families Summit that was held at Virginia State University in Petersburg, Virginia. Coming from a small town in Southwest Georgia myself, I can relate to the unique challenges that rural Americans face. Growing up, my father worked seven days a week on our peanut and cattle farm with help from my mother. To make sure our family had a constant source of income and health insurance, my mother also worked off the farm at the local independent bank. I am fortunate to be the product of hard working parents who provided my sister and me with the best opportunities possible.

All families have a right to have access to a good education system, affordable healthcare and jobs. Our rural families are concerned about creating strong prospects for their children, whether it is on or off the farm. But it is also essential that there are opportunities that will attract young people back to rural areas and help us secure the future of agriculture.

From West Virginia to Ohio, Food Fuels the Local Economy

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.”

USDA Receives Main Street Leadership Award in Recognition of Commitment to Rural Communities

More than 1,300 community developers from 47 states converged on Des Moines, Iowa, this week to attend the 2011 National Main Streets Conference organized by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

A key theme repeated during the conference illustrated how communities with healthy Main Street districts are two steps ahead in the race to create and retain jobs.

In small towns all across the country, downtown is typically two or three blocks of businesses run by familiar faces, a place where one knows who is at the local diner by the cars and trucks sitting outside.  Ensuring these districts remain vibrant many times requires a significant investment in buildings, capital and infrastructure, often financed through USDA Rural Development.