White House Rural Council Blog

  • Sentinel Landscapes: Where Conservation, Working Lands, and National Defense Interests Converge

    Last July, the Administration launched the Sentinel Landscapes partnership to accomplish three critical goals: preserve agricultural lands, assist with military readiness, and restore and protect wildlife habitat.

    In this unique collaboration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Department of Defense, and Department of the Interior work with state, local, and private partners to preserve and restore natural lands important to the nation’s defense mission. The basic premise is to preserve and restore habitat around the military base to ensure at-risk species can survive, while also improving military readiness by ensuring training activities can proceed unimpeded.

    Joint Base Lewis McChord (JBLM), located in Washington state’s Puget Sound region, was the first designated Sentinel Landscape. Located about 10 miles southwest of Tacoma, Washington, JBLM is one of the premiere military installations on the West Coast, covering over 91,000 acres to support 43,000 soldiers and airmen for maneuver training and land-warrior system testing.  

    JBLM also boasts the largest and highest quality prairie habitat in the South Puget Sound region. Once covering more than 150,000 acres, this irreplaceable ecological asset now covers only 23,000 acres, with nearly 90 percent of it found on JBLM. This prairie landscape is a large part of the remaining habitat for several animal and plant species protected under the Endangered Species Act. As development moves closer, these species take refuge on the base, restricting certain military activities like maneuver training for Stryker Brigade Combat Teams. The Sentinel Landscapes partnership ensures that at-risk species can thrive in the habitat surrounding the base without threatening military readiness.

  • Second Made in Rural America Regional Forum Highlights Resources for Rural Delta Businesses

    U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker with Delta Regional Authority Federal Co-Chairman Chris Masingill

    U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker joins Delta Regional Authority Federal Co-Chairman Chris Masingill to discuss the opportunities for exporting goods from Rural America to the global economy. (Photo courtesy of Delta Regional Authority)

    Last week, the White House Rural Council convened the second Made in Rural America Regional Forum to bring together local, state, and federal export-related resources for businesses and community leaders throughout the Mississippi River Delta Region.

    The Delta Regional Authority and its state and local partners from Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas hosted the forum at Southwest Tennessee Community College in Northeast Memphis. The Delta region, with its entrepreneurial history, available land, and accessible waterways and transportation network, is primed to reap the benefits of increased exports and participation in exporting.

    More than 240 small business owners, industry representatives, community lenders, economic development officials, and community leaders attended the day-long forum. The forum offered business-to-business advice and best practices on expanding into international markets, highlighted financing resources, and facilitated discussion among regional leaders about how to incorporate exports into long-term economic development strategies.

  • Local Food, Local Places: A Federal Partnership to Help Rural America Use Local Food and Build Local Economies

    Today, the White House Rural Council Chairman USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Local Food, Local Places, a federal initiative providing direct technical support to rural communities to help them build strong local food systems as part of their community’s economic action plans. Under this effort, a team of agricultural, transportation, environmental, and regional economic experts will work directly with local communities to develop comprehensive strategies that use local food systems to meet a variety of needs.

    The announcement, made during the White House Rural Council’s first live-streamed meeting, included Vilsack, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, Environmental Protection Agency Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe, Appalachian Regional Commission Federal Co-Chairman Earl Gohl, and Delta Regional Authority Federal Co-Chairman Chris Masingill.

  • Rural-Made Goes Worldwide

    Ed. note: This is cross-posted on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's blog. See the original post here.

    This week, I visited Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, a small city outside of my hometown of Pittsburgh, to kick off the first of five Made in Rural America forums designed to help rural small businesses access the information they need to grow through exports.

    The global appetite for high-quality, American-made products is well established. Over the past five years, rural America has achieved record agricultural exports, but the rural economy is diverse. Last fiscal year, agricultural exports reached a record $140.9 billion, and we are on track for another record year, with fiscal year 2014 agricultural exports projected to reach $149.5 billion. Last year was also the fourth-straight record-setting year for U.S. exports as a whole, reaching $2.3 trillion.

    Yet few American companies today have capitalized on this demand — just one percent of U.S. companies export. At the same time, the vast majority — 95 percent — of the world's consumers live outside the borders of the United States, creating significant opportunities for our exporters, particularly rural businesses.

  • Transforming Veterans’ Care in Rural Practices Using Health IT

    Ed. note: This is cross-posted from the Health IT Buzz blog. See the original post here.

    A 65-year-old veteran living in a rural community presents at his local Critical Access Hospital (CAH) with symptoms of pneumonia. After evaluating the patient, the physician discharges him with a prescription for antibiotics. What the physician doesn’t know is that his US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) providers had prescribed warfarin (a blood thinner) to help prevent harmful blood clots that may cause a stroke. Yet certain antibiotics, when combined with warfarin, can lead to an adverse drug reaction that could include bleeding or interfere with the protection the anticoagulant (blood thinner) provides, which could lead to a stroke.

    Following the lead of the White House Rural Council, we in the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the VA are working with our public and private partners to ensure rural providers and the communities they serve have health IT tools to help them avoid scenarios like this one.

    Nearly 70% of veterans get health care services at both VA and non-VA clinics and hospitals. The percentage is higher among those veterans who live in rural and frontier areas of the country. In a recent evaluation of the VA Blue Button program conducted by Dr. Carolyn Turvey of the Iowa VA medical center, 52.5% of participants reported they carry information from one provider to another; about 13% indicated their providers use phone, mail or fax; 15% indicated that they do not know how their providers communicate between one another, and 15% reported their providers do not communicate at all. Currently there is no systematic and streamlined way for VA and non-VA health providers to exchange the patients’ health information to coordinate or co-manage care. One solution is to empower patients to initiate electronic transfer of their health information between their health care providers. That’s where our joint work comes in.

  • Working Together to Bring Healthy Foods to Communities in Need

    Recently, representatives from the White House Domestic Policy Council, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of the Treasury joined representatives from various community projects from around the country to discuss how to increase healthy food access to communities in need. The event included representatives from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, the Food Research and Action Center, PolicyLink, and the Fair Food Network.

    Participants shared their stories of success, and what we can do to encourage more healthy foods in these communities. For example:

    • Mary Donnell, the Executive Director of Green City Growers Cooperative, spoke about her urban greenhouse project in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. After its inception in 2012, Green City Growers has become the largest food production greenhouse in a core urban area in the United States. The cooperative manages over three acres of urban space and employs 25 people from the community. It produces over 3 million heads of lettuce annually, which is then distributed to Cleveland’s most distressed neighborhoods. The organization creates jobs in Cleveland while providing nutritious food to food deserts across the city, one of this Administration’s key goals.
    • Gray Harris, the director of the Sustainable Agriculture Programs at CEI, shared her organization’s story as a Community Development Financial Institution in rural Maine. As a CDFI, CEI invests in community-based projects contributing to local economies. CEI’s specific expertise is in strengthening the local food supply chain to increase healthy food access across New England. CEI has invested in nearly 300 food system projects, and it maintains a current active $6.2 million loan portfolio for food system investments. These investments help farms in Maine to stay in production, despite recent stressors on farmers.
    • One last story that really exemplified President Obama’s commitment to increasing access was presented to the group by Todd Chessmoore, the Superintendent of the Cody-Kilgore School District in Cody, Nebraska. Cody is a town of just 150 people, and for over a decade, its residents, many of whom are lower income or elderly, had to drive over 30 miles to buy groceries. In order to eliminate this food desert, the Cody-Kilgore School District opened its own student-run and operated Circle C grocery store, the town’s only dedicated food retailer. 

    These stories were just a few we heard during this event, emphasizing the unique and innovative work being done across the country to enhance health and access to food for folks from all walks of life. The Obama Administration has made increasing healthy food access a priority. In partnership with the White House, the Department of the Treasury, HHS, and USDA have been working collaboratively to support innovative strategies to increase healthy food access.

    One such strategy is the Health Food Financing Initiative, or HFFI. The recently signed Farm Bill authorizes an HFFI program at USDA, and the President’s most recent budget proposal includes a $13 million request for this work. The initiative will provide financial and technical assistance to eligible fresh, healthy food retailers for the purposes of market planning and promotion efforts as well as infrastructure and operational improvements designed to stimulate demand among low-income consumers for healthy foods and to increase the availability and accessibility of locally and regionally produced foods in underserved areas.

    This program will help USDA to continue collaboration with other federal partners to ensure that communities in need have access to fresh, healthy, affordable food. It will expand healthy food access for families on SNAP – some 46.6 million individuals in 2012, the vast majority of whom are children, elderly, or living in households where members were employed in low-wage jobs.  

    A particular focus for USDA will be the expansion of healthy food options in rural areas, which often lack grocery stores and other retail outlets. HFFI will allow USDA and our partners to support creative strategies to increase access to healthy foods in rural America.

    The USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative also coordinates work on local food investments, including distribution, which is a key element of increasing healthy food access. The White House Rural Council is making healthy food access in rural communities a priority, as it impacts the future health and economics of rural America. 

    Doug McKalip is the Senior Policy Advisor for Rural Affairs at the White House Domestic Policy Council.