As our country witnesses a trend toward urbanization of the population, our focus at NFU in the International Year of Family Farming is to continue to improve the economic well-being and quality of life of farmers and families in rural communities. In order for farms to thrive and for young people to be attracted to work on the farm, we must have vibrant and engaged communities. That’s where rural development comes in.
Rural development touches every aspect of farm life, from housing to transportation to utilities. In the area of housing, rural development programs have helped roughly 627,000 rural families in more than 21,000 communities buy, repair or refinance a home since 2009.
As many rural towns and counties have lost population to more urban areas, we focus on small businesses that rural towns need in order to serve residents. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Development success stories include one from Illinois:
“The Rocke family founded RMH Foods, a food processing company, in Morton, in 1937 and owned it until Smithfield Foods acquired it in 2001. The plant future was uncertain after Smithfield Foods announced plans to sell a portion of its portfolio that included RMH Foods. Jonathan Rocke, grandson of the original owner, assembled a group of investors to pursue purchasing the plant to keep it open. USDA Rural Development awarded… Rocke and his investors, a loan guarantee… The USDA investment was matched with private funding. Once again in the hands of the Roche family, the company is expanding with the launching of new food lines that are being distributed to some of the nation largest supermarket chains. With Rural Development support, 133 employees continue to have jobs in Morton, producing more than 200,000 packaged dinners each week at the 15-acre site.”
USDA’s Rural Development programs help by providing loans so that “mom and pop” don’t get pushed out by big box stores and corporations, and so “son and daughter” have assistance starting and maintaining their own local businesses as well.
More than ever, we rely on, and are connected to, one another online. We research crop information, read the day’s news, and email friends using the Internet. Having access to broadband in rural areas is key to living in a connected, informed community, as are the USDA programs and loans that help small communities achieve reliable service.
The vast majority of farmers rely on their small towns and communities for the needs of their everyday lives. The community provides school, shopping, health care, places of worship and recreation. It is necessary for utilities and transportation. We focus this month on how to strengthen all aspects of rural community life, and invite you to offer your thoughts in the comments section below.