U.S. Department of Agriculture forum
October 8, 1993
Notes from afternoon panel discussion compiled by Isaac Kaufman,
Center for Policy Alternatives
` USDA Secretary Espy began by welcoming everyone back from
lunch and giving a brief recap of the morning's discussion,
entitled "Rural Resources/Rural Challenges." The morning panel
had identified niche markets, employment & training, and a
response to the diversity of rural communities as keys to the
revitalization of America's rural economies.
` Congressman Glenn English of Oklahoma was introduced. He
emphasized that since there are budget problems at every level,
from local to federal, simply asking for more money to boost
rural development is not a viable option. what is needed is
flexibility; federal rules and regulations are often too rigid
and insensitive to the range of local needs. For example, rural
communities should have more discretion over priorities,
shifting funds among programs when necessary.
` Congresswoman Jill Long of Indiana pointed out that many of
the characteristics of rural areas (e.g. their isolation)
inhibit the process of modernization and development. To
overcome these obstacles, rural areas must be connected to urban
centers by improving transportation systems, telecommunications,
etc. This would provide rural industries with the technical
expertise and the access to capital that they need to compete.
` Congresswoman Long went on: this transition requires an
assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of rural communities,
with as much hands-on input (like this forum) as possible.
Rural economies need to be diversified; they need enhanced
education and training resources. She asked John Riemke, Mayor
of Kendallville, Indiana: in general, what helps rural areas
attract industry, compete and grow economically?
` Mr. Riemke responded: cooperation and coordination. The
Congresswoman's follow-up question was: what has the federal
government done to promote or inhibit this?
` Louise Liston, Commssioner of Garfield County, Utah, chimed
in: the federal government can help by encouraging cooperative
partnerships and the productive use of public lands. This would
help to promote a friendlier atmosphere between federal agencies
and rural businessmen, farmers, etc., who are traditionally
` Beverly White, formerly Superintendent of the Lee County
School District in Marianna, Arkansas: We need a true
reinvention of government with systemic changes. The federal
government should play a role in the formation of partnerships
and access to resources. Finally, the federal government must
mandate equity, making inclusion and consistency of principle
preconditions for federal grants.
` Congressman English: the federal government cannot save rural
communities; no matter what services Washington provides, these
communities depend most of all on local leadership.
` Chris Claflin, a natural resources activist and timber workers
organizer from Medford, Oregon, agreed. Most successful rural
communities have not waited for the federal government to help.
Secretary Espy added that the federal government might even
hinder rural development in some circumstances, such as the
federal timber policy that many Northwesterners feel is
` Carolyn McKecuen of Camden, North Carolina, manager of
Watermark Association of Artisans, a worker/owner craft
cooperative designed to help unskilled, disadvantaged women,
described the history of her group since 1978. REA loans have
been crucial in making Watermark a thriving enterprise.
` Congressman English: should the federal grant/loan approval
process be restructured with new priorities? Lynn Youngbar of
Redmond, Oregon, a leading sustainable development advocate and
director of Rural Development Initiatives, Inc. explained that
her organization has begun to do just that, encouraging local
leadership and vision through their loan policy.
` Lee Reeve, who runs an integrated family farming operation in
Garden City, Kansas, argued that above all America depends on
businesspeople to champion rural development. There can be a
backlash when rural development moves too quickly; other
services must play catch-up in order to sustain economic growth
and push it to the next tier. For example, once jobs have been
provided for local residents, advancement opportunities and a
favorable environment must also be provided to keep those
residents in the area.
` Ms. Liston objected, saying business does not necessarily lead
the way. Mary Brown, a community development funding advocate
from Palatka, Florida, elaborated: a combination of
contributions from all elements of a community are needed. What
the federal government can do to help is to streamline
paperwork, as well as to provide technical assistance and to
` Lorentino Lalio, who has developed a program to bring economic
development and enhanced cultural pride to Native Americans in
Zuni, New Mexico, offered his search for funding as an example
of the absurdity of government bureaucracy. Federal agencies
are so concerned with "turf" that they fail to recognize
community needs and human resources.
` Secretary Espy took this opportunity to hype the Clinton
Administration's efforts to solve such red-tape problems.
` Congresswoman Long: Should the federal government help rural
areas identify and access export markets? Mr. Claflin:
` Ginny Eager of Berea, Kentucky, director of Forward in the
Fifth, a nonprofit organization helping Kentucky citizens
improve local schools, liked the idea of the federal government
serving as a clearinghouse for news and information about rural
devlopment programs around the country. We also need more open
forums like this one.
` Tom Fosse, a community education innovator from Rothsay,
Minnesota, agreed. His community, in which students are
learning about retail business by operating the town's only
lumberyard and hardware store that were purchased by the school
system, has achieved enormous advances without any help from
Washington at all; still, the federal government could certainly
help spread information around about programs like his.
` J.M. Chandler, manager of the Pioneer Electric Cooperative in
Greenville, Alabama, emphasized the need for basic utility
services if rural development is to have any chance at all. His
impoverished region of Alabama receives half its income from
government transfer payments; there is no industry to provide
` Congressman English promised that new legislation will broaden
the role of regional utility cooperatives like Mr. Chandler's;
this is an example of how the federal government needs to be
willing to become more flexible and to assume the role of a
follower, not a leader, in rural development.
` Ms. White agreed; we need empowerment of local residents in
order to implement change. In addition, services provide by the
government must be sincere and consistent; when these services
are provided in a disjointed way, on one year and off the next,
they do more damage than good.
` Ms. Brown described several successful rural development
ventures, including land grant colleges. She reaffirmed the
need for help in identifying markets for international trade.
` Mr. Chandler: speaking of flexibility, cooperative utilities
need more discretion over the use of their assets; the 15% rule
concerning outside investment should be reevaluated.
Congressman English promised to look into it.