By Tom Driscoll, Director of NFU Foundation and Conservation Policy
One of the principles driving National Farmers Union is our dedication to the communities in which food producers live and work. The preamble to our policy states, “The goal of NFU is to protect and enhance the economic well-being and quality of life for family farmers, ranchers, fishers, and our local communities.” Vibrant rural communities are essential to the success of family farm operations, and the flourishing family farms are essential to the prosperity of rural communities. And just as NFU has fought and continues to fight for cooperative organizing rights and other protections for farmers against market abuses, we support policies that mitigate the obstacles to development presented by sparse populations and tax bases. If left to the free market, many rural communities would still want for electric and telephone services today.
The relationship between family farms and rural communities is so strong that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) maintains the Rural Development (RD) agency, which is “committed to helping improve the economy and quality of life in rural America.” RD offers an extensive menu of community-directed programs, including advantageous financing for rural businesses, rural housing, community facilities, such as medical clinics and civic buildings, and utilities and services, such as wastewater management.
As a beginning producer, your connection to RD may not be immediately obvious, but it is likely you already rely on businesses and community infrastructure that has benefitted from RD assistance. As a Farmers Union member engaged in community leadership and civic life, it is important to become familiar with these programs that offer opportunities to improve your community’s economy and quality of life. Unfortunately, the recently proposed USDA reorganization, coupled with the President’s budget proposal, could lead to significant changes in RD and weaken its support to the communities where producers live.
Do you know of RD assistance in your community? Can you identify any opportunities to partner with RD to benefit your community and your farm?
Like what you’ve read? Check out our Beginning Farmer Forum home page, and join the conversation in the Beginning Farmer Forum Facebook group.
Beginning farmers are supported directly by Rural Development through the RD value-added grant. That small, but valuable, funding is available specifically to support entrepreneurial efforts in value-added production and processing. Tomatoes and strawberries are fragile and perishable, but help a farmer buy equipment to make jam and salsa and she or he has reached a new market. RD grants to establish community kitchens can help many farmers.