Related Rural Blog Posts

  • Addressing the Needs of Working Families in Rural America

    This was originally posted on the Huffington Post, and is part of a series of essays about the issues facing working families, leading up to the White House Summit on Working Families on June 23, 2014.

    You can learn more about the Summit and how you can get involved at www.workingfamiliessummit.org.


    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.

    The Obama Administration is committed to providing opportunities for working families across the country. That's why earlier this year President Obama created the Made in Rural America Export and Investment Initiative to help rural businesses and leaders take advantage of new investment opportunities and access new markets abroad.

  • June is Pride Month, National Homeownership Month: USDA Brings Homeownership Assistance to Rural LGBT Communities

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

    Lissa Biehn (left) with FSA and Ramona Mitchell

    Lissa Biehn (left) with FSA and Ramona Mitchell, Rural Development, discuss USDA’s dedication to civil rights in employment and program delivery at the Northwest Pride Festival in Portland, OR, on June 14.

    June marks the 2014 celebration of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month. USDA is taking this opportunity to recognize the immeasurable positive contributions made by the LGBT community — including our coworkers, partners and clients — to help rural America innovate and thrive, protect our natural resources and promote sustainable agricultural production to help feed the world. In addition, we are demonstrating our commitment to treating our LGBT customers and coworkers fairly and respectfully through educational events, outreach efforts and listening sessions across the country.

    June is also National Homeownership Month, and the theme is “Own Your Future. Own Your Home.” With concurrent Pride and Homeownership Month observances, it’s a great time to raise awareness among LGBT communities about USDA home mortgage and home repair programs that can help rural residents own their future.

    USDA plays a key role in ensuring low- to moderate-income rural residents have access to affordable home loans. Last year alone, USDA Rural Development provided $23.4 billion for the purposes of purchasing, building, and restoring homes in rural communities. These programs make it possible for low-income rural families to achieve the dream of homeownership. Ensuring that programs like these are accessible to the LGBT community is especially important as a recent study by the Williams Institute finds that LGBT adults are 1.7 times more likely than non-LGBT adults to be living in poverty.

  • 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.