Portland, Oregon, Jun 04, 2012 -- By Vicki L. Walker
Too often in our discourse, I hear a refrain about the “two Oregons”: downtown vs. down on the farm; hubs of activity compared to the laid-back boondocks; or worse, the concept that urban centers of commerce are somehow compensating for their country cousins.
I completely reject such notions. Not only does rural Oregon embody the core values that make Oregon a fantastic place to live, but it’s also critical to recognize how our metropolitan populations rely on their “provincial” partners. Our rural communities develop and sustain the resources, conditions, and quality of life that allow for the success of many sectors, such as green industry, technology, manufacturing, local and exported food, and recreation. It’s also important to recognize that the proximity of well-tended rural landscapes have attracted a talented, skilled and creative workforce to the state overall. Simply put, what goes on in the countryside often creates opportunity within Oregon’s urban communities.
In these, and many other ways, rural and urban Oregon are mutually dependent, and our economic fates, no matter where we live and work, intertwine. In fact, scholars at Oregon State University have done significant work to document the many nuanced facets of this interdependence, as described in Toward One Oregon, published by OSU Press in 2011.
This inter-reliance, however, adds to the complexity of Oregon’s urban-rural relationships. Translating them into economic success requires certain conditions and, sometimes, a little help. That’s why the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) works to strengthen the linkages and functions between rural and urban economic structures through a number of our less familiar policies and programs designed to assist rural communities and businesses. Such efforts contribute to ensuring stable economies and quality of life for all Americans, and we’ve been doing it for a very long time. In fact, this year marks USDA’s 150th anniversary.
In 1862, President Lincoln created the Department of Agriculture with a basic mission “to acquire and diffuse among the people of the United States useful information on subjects connected with agriculture in the most general and comprehensive sense of the word.” Over the following decades, America’s economy became less centered on farming, alone. As this occurred, USDA’s work expanded to include a complete range of rural economic drivers.
Today’s USDA, consistent with President Obama’s vision for a strong rural economy, is a leader in across-the-board efforts to create an environment of rural success and prosperity. USDA’s Rural Development mission area promotes economic development in a holistic manner by ensuring access to the rural housing, public facilities, services and infrastructure needed to support modern commerce and productive communities. We offer affordable loans to residents, communities and entrepreneurs when traditional financing is unavailable or not affordable. In addition to agriculture, we work with manufacturers, housing providers, the health care industry, cooperatives, renewable energy producers, and every sort of utility. We partner with communities to improve water and waste systems, collaborate with business groups to support industry clusters, support modern technologies like broadband and telemedicine, fund technical assistance and workforce development in cooperation with community colleges, and enhance local and regional planning efforts. In partnership with all of these sectors, USDA is helping rural communities become and remain full players in the Oregon economy as well as the global economy.
Because we are so strongly rooted in the vast arena of rural development, USDA is one of the most comprehensive and vital organizations within the federal government. A century and a half ago, the Department’s focus was tightly on agriculture. As the nation has grown and evolved, so have we. Our modern, integrated program delivery now helps meet the needs of a rapidly evolving rural economic landscape that encompasses business development, international trade, modern housing development, productive agriculture, disaster response, natural resource conservation, food safety and security, as well as the infrastructure needed to support it all.
This is not Abe Lincoln’s USDA. As I believe he intended, however, and in keeping with President Obama’s agenda to create new jobs in rural America, today’s USDA remains true to the goal of ensuring healthy, vital communities and opportunities to prosper for all Americans and all Oregonians, both rural and urban.
Vicki Walker serves as the State Director for USDA Rural Development in Oregon. Walker, a long-time resident of Eugene, served ten years in the Oregon State Legislature, in both the House and Senate, before being appointed to USDA Rural Development by President Obama in 2009. To read more about USDA’s agencies and history, go to http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination in all of its programs and activities on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, and where applicable, sex (including gender identity and expression), marital status, familial status, parental status, religion, sexual orientation, political beliefs, genetic information, reprisal, or because all or part of an individual's income is derived from any public assistance program. (Not all prohibited bases apply to all programs.) Persons with disabilities who require alternative means for communication of program information (Braille, large print, audiotape, etc.) should contact USDA's TARGET Center at (202) 720-2600 (voice and TDD).