Related Rural Blog Posts

  • Regional Planning – Key to Rural Economic Strength

    Ed. note: This blog is cross-posted from

    Both of us grew up in small towns, Kathleen in Greenfield, MA and Bob in Ancram, NY.  From our own experiences, we understand the challenges and the importance of a strong rural economy.

    We recently visited Brevard, a town of about 6,000 people in North Carolina’s Transylvania County. While there we held a White House Rural Council meeting at the Transylvania County Library with leadership from the Land-of-Sky Regional Council, the regional economic development commission AdvantageWest, business leaders from Asheville and Brevard, and several local elected officials. We released a report from the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, Supporting Sustainable Rural Communities, at Brevard College, which focuses on how the federal government can help rural areas to be economically vibrant and environmentally sustainable.

    One theme that was discussed at the Rural Council roundtable was the need for communities to be solution oriented by setting priorities and realistic goals for the direction they want their region to head. In Transylvania County, about 1/6th of the residents used to work in the paper mill business, an industry that is no longer there. So the county is working within the region to figure out how they can build a sustainable community for the future, one that recognizes the great economic value of the water, farmland and forests in Western North Carolina.

    Participants asked about how communities can continue economic growth with declining Federal, state and local resources.  We spoke about the need for regional planners to get the right people around the table in order to create a clear vision in the community so that they can make the best use of Federal funding to form partnerships and leverage private sector development. Because ultimately, the economy in Brevard, like the small towns we grew up in, is linked to the rest of the region.

  • Local Students Get Up Close to Country Music's Biggest Stars

    Some of the biggest names in country music gathered in the East Room at the White House on Monday night for a concert that honored the history and traditions of a uniquely American musical genre. Musicians including Alison Krauss, Kris Kristofferson, Lyle Lovett, James Taylor, Dierks Bentley and Darius Rucker paid tribute to many of country music’s most legendary figures through live performances that were enjoyed by President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Dr. Jill Biden and numerous administration officials. The event is part of a series called “In Performance at the White House” which has been produced by PBS throughout every administration since its launch in 1978.

    Earlier in the day, Lovett, Rucker and Kristofferson joined the First Lady and local schoolchildren in the State Dining Room for a workshop called “The History of Country Music: From Barn Dances to Pop Charts.” Mrs. Obama welcomed the students to “the People’s House” and reminded them of her vow to make sure everyone, not just“senators and diplomats and CEOs who have a chance to come here but … all Americans, especially young people” feels welcome. 

    The First Lady encouraged the young audience to explore the surroundings, ask questions and take inspiration from the talented and accomplished musicians who were there to tell their stories:

    And that is really my biggest hope for all of you, is that as you sit here and you listen to these fine gentlemen, that you figure out how you can turn something that you love into one of those real jobs, right?  I mean, think about the things that really drive you and give you passion.  And it might not be music.  It might be business, it might be technology, it might be teaching or medicine, or anything else.  For me it was working with young people that gave me passion.  But no matter what sparks your imagination, I want you to take that energy and then follow it.  Follow it with every little piece of energy that you have, because whatever you do, it does take work.  And that’s the one thing you have to get in your mind, that even when you love something, if you’re going to be good at it and get good enough at it, you have to invest in it. 

    And I also want you all to imagine yourselves coming back to the White House maybe years from now, sitting up on this stage and hearing from some future First Lady or future President.  And I want you to be thinking about telling your story to the next generation of young people.  And you have to be able to see yourselves in these places to begin to imagine and to dream and to work towards those dreams. 

    "Country Music: In Performance at the White House" will air on local PBS stations on Wednesday, November 23 at 8 p.m. ET

  • White House Rural Council Feedback Report

    Since the establishment of the White House Rural Council in June, President Barack Obama, a number of senior Administration officials and I met with folks throughout the country to better understand the challenges and opportunities facing rural America. By hosting the White House Rural Economic Forum in Peosta, Iowa, as part of the President’s three-day Bus Tour in August, in addition to nearly 200 roundtable discussions with business and agricultural leaders in rural communities, we learned what rural Americans think are the most important issues to ensure that their future is bright and prosperous.

    A summary of the places we visited and many of things we learned is encapsulated in the White House Rural Council feedback report (pdf), which is now available. 

    To be sure that we heard the voices of rural Americans from every corner of the nation, Obama Administrations officials traveled to 46 states and held nearly 200 forums to determine how folks in Washington, D.C. can improve our efforts on creating jobs and spurring economic growth.  We heard from local citizens on several key topics ranging from ways to build small business and strengthen the middle class in rural America, to plans for building economic opportunity for rural business through infrastructure investment. From these discussions, we were able to not only identify key themes and issues but also identify ways in which to improve our country. 

  • Lessons from the Farm to Strengthen America

    Ed. Note: Cross-posted from the USDA Blog.

    A week ago, President Obama released the American Jobs Act, a specific plan to jumpstart our economy and put Americans to work today.  It contains ideas that both parties in Washington have supported.  And yesterday, he laid out a plan that will pay for it – and for other long-term investments we need to stay competitive – while reducing our deficits.

    His plan takes a balanced approach.  It looks for savings across government.  And it asks everyone to do their part and pay their fair share so we can live within our means.

    For agriculture, the plan focuses on what the President and I believe is one of the most pressing challenges facing producers right now: maintaining a strong safety net and disaster assistance programs that will work for all farmers and ranchers, no matter what they produce or where.

    The plan will strengthen our disaster assistance programs, which are currently set to run out of funding at the end of the month.  It means that farmers knocked down by natural disaster can get their operations back on track.  After witnessing flood, drought, hurricanes, tornadoes and wildfires this year – I am even more certain of the importance of this component of the safety net.

    By modernizing our crop insurance program and making modest changes to the subsidy that crop insurance companies receive, we’ll make sure that we improve the programs and implement them more efficiently.

  • “Someday” is Now: Direct Farm Payments and the President’s Plan for Economic Growth and Deficit Reduction

    For nearly two decades, I have served in agriculture policy capacities for the federal government – most of those years with the United States Department Agriculture.  Today, I am reminded of a quote by Will Rogers.  The outspoken Oklahoman once remarked, “An onion can make people cry, but there has never been a vegetable invented to make them laugh.”  Instead, Rogers made so many Americans laugh during some of the most difficult times in the history of rural America, sometimes pointing out irony in the activities of government.

    Today marks a truly historic action, as President Obama proposes dramatic, yet common sense reform to what has become over the years, a product of conventional politics and longstanding irony in the landscape of government.  As part of the President’s Plan for Economic Growth and Deficit Reduction announced today, President Obama is proposing to terminate direct farm subsidies.  At nearly $5 billion in funding per year, the Direct Payments program is certainly no laughing matter.  And if a vegetable were ever developed per the Rogers quote above, it wouldn’t qualify for direct payments, because vegetables are not deemed to be “program crops”. (more on that in a moment)  

    As the lead advisor on rural issues for the President’s Domestic Policy Council, some will ask me “why advocate for the reduction of an agriculture program?”  In short, I believe the President’s proposal seeks to establish new policy that has been long overdue, and takes action that conventional thinking would regard as either too difficult, or too controversial.

  • Mobilizing Rural Communities: Partnerships and Outreach in Montana

    This week, I served as keynote speaker for a special conference in Great Falls, Montana, convened by Rural Dynamics Incorporated.  The theme of the conference  was “Mobilizing Rural Communities” and included participants representing a host of private, public, and non-profit participants.  It has been less than three months since President Obama signed an Executive Order creating the first White House Rural Council.  The Great Falls conference provided an opportunity to connect with many great folks from the Northern Plains Region, who are working on a daily basis on local projects and local partnerships to further the economic development and vitality of rural areas.

    The group was very interested to learn more about the work of the White House Rural Council.  We discussed President Obama’s priority of ensuring that rural areas have additional opportunities for economic investment and available working capital.  We also discussed the need for innovation in the areas of high-speed Internet, renewable energy opportunities, as well as enhancements in education and health care.  Topics involving natural resource-related business enterprises, public works, and forestry – all key focus areas for the White House Rural Council—were also discussed.