Time to Take Action
Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.

 Gaelic Wolf

241 Sand Road
Port Townsend, WA 98368

12/9/12 commentary by Norman MacLeod


Thereís a strong temptation here to scream and shout, but I recommend that we look closely at what is said in the AP article. As the Secretary says . . . we can be reactive or we can be proactive.

Yes, the number of voters in rural America as compared to urban America has an impact. Here in Washington, we call that the I-5 Corridor effect. Yes, itís true that many urban and suburban voters have only the sketchiest understanding of what it takes to get their food to the grocery store, or the two-by-fours to the homebuilding mega-store. Them are the facts, maíam.

USDA Secretary Vilsack concentrated on farm issues. We have to remember that his department is the home of the U.S. Forest Service, one of the largest federal land-holders. Many of us live in counties where the U.S. Government is the majority land-holder . . . where we are heavily dependent on the federal governmentís payment in lieu of taxes (PILT) which is generally grossly underfunded, leading to unwarranted deterioration of our transportation infrastructure and underfunding of our local education systems.

While Secretary Vilsack sounded rather dismissive of rural America, there are some things we can take away to work with.

For instance, his comment about ď. . . an adult conversation with folks in rural America.Ē Yeah, that might be useful . . . so long as we are not being lectured at by people who take a patronizing position of some kind of assumed superiority over us. There are ways to have an adult conversation between equals, and the Tenth Amendment was created to ensure the preservation of those opportunities.

Allow me to clearly state that I am not talking about stateís rights, county supremacy, or anything beyond the Tenth Amendment reservation of powers principle that ensures local government the right to be at the federal policy-making table as full equals to the federal agencies that plan for and manage our federal lands and who regulate our activities. Those Tenth Amendment principles were created for our use, and just because they have not seen a lot of effective use doesnít mean that we canít start using them now.

So, yes Mr. Secretary, by all means, letís have some adult to adult conversations . . . but letís make sure that they take place between equals, just as the authors of the Tenth Amendment envisioned.

As for those of us who live and work in rural America, letís make sure that we make use of the opportunities weíve been provided to become more proactive and more relevant, one county at a time. While there may not be enough of us to be overly relevant in numbers, there are enough of us to become relevant to the policy process.



Dec 8, 11:29 AM EST




WASHINGTON (AP) -- Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has some harsh words for rural America: It's "becoming less and less relevant," he says.

A month after an election that Democrats won even as rural parts of the country voted overwhelmingly Republican, the former Democratic governor of Iowa told farm belt leaders this past week that he's frustrated with their internecine squabbles and says they need to be more strategic in picking their political fights.

"It's time for us to have an adult conversation with folks in rural America," Vilsack said in a speech at a forum sponsored by the Farm Journal. "It's time for a different thought process here, in my view."

He said rural America's biggest assets - the food supply, recreational areas and energy, for example - can be overlooked by people elsewhere as the U.S. population shifts more to cities, their suburbs and exurbs.

"Why is it that we don't have a farm bill?" said Vilsack. "It isn't just the differences of policy. It's the fact that rural America with a shrinking population is becoming less and less relevant to the politics of this country, and we had better recognize that and we better begin to reverse it."

For the first time in recent memory, farm-state lawmakers were not able to push a farm bill through Congress in an election year, evidence of lost clout in farm states.

The Agriculture Department says about 50 percent of rural counties have lost population in the past four years and poverty rates are higher there than in metropolitan areas, despite the booming agricultural economy.

Exit polls conducted for The Associated Press and television networks found that rural voters accounted for just 14 percent of the turnout in last month's election, with 61 percent of them supporting Republican Mitt Romney and 37 percent backing President Barack Obama. Two-thirds of those rural voters said the government is doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals.

Vilsack criticized farmers who have embraced wedge issues such as regulation, citing the uproar over the idea that the Environmental Protection Agency was going to start regulating farm dust after the Obama administration said repeatedly it had no so such intention.

In his Washington speech, he also cited criticism of a proposed Labor Department regulation, later dropped, that was intended to keep younger children away from the most dangerous farm jobs, and criticism of egg producers for dealing with the Humane Society on increasing the space that hens have in their coops. Livestock producers fearing they will be the next target of animal rights advocates have tried to undo that agreement.

"We need a proactive message, not a reactive message," Vilsack said. "How are you going to encourage young people to want to be involved in rural America or farming if you don't have a proactive message? Because you are competing against the world now."

John Weber, a pork producer in Dysart, Iowa, said Friday that farmers have to defend their industries against policies they see as unfair. He said there is great concern among pork producers that animal welfare groups are using unfair tactics and may hurt their business.

"Our role is to defend our producers and our industry in what we feel are issues important to us," he said.

Weber agreed, though, that rural America is declining in influence. He said he is concerned that there are not enough lawmakers from rural areas and complained that Congress doesn't understand farm issues. He added that the farm industry needs to communicate better with consumers.

"There's a huge communication gap" between farmers and the food-eating public, he said.

Vilsack, who has made the revitalization of rural America a priority, encouraged farmers to embrace new kinds of markets, work to promote global exports and replace a "preservation mindset with a growth mindset." He said they also need to embrace diversity because it is an issue important to young people who are leaving rural areas.

"We've got something to market here," he said. "We've got something to be proactive about. Let's spend our time and our resources and our energy doing that and I think if we do we're going to have a lot of young people who want to be part of that future."



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