This is the last of the reports from the Making Place Matter in Northwest Oklahoma Rural Community Economic Development Summit held in Alva on June 3, 2010.
Dr. Glenda Humiston is the director of California Rural Development at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).
She sees the USDA, especially Rural Development, as more than just agriculture. Rather than just the farmer, USDA needs to focus on sustainable communities, regional collaborations, and more, she said.
The definition of rural is a big mess for the whole nation, Humiston said. It’s difficult to draw lines, and different federal programs use different standards.
Today, fewer farms operate solely on traditional agricultural income than in the past. Humiston’s own family farm makes more from one agritourism event (a motorcycle rally) than from cattle annually.
Off farm income makes up a huge portion of farm family income. Without those outside jobs, family farms fail, Humiston said.
Big Farms and Big Processors
“Big farms are not evil. We’ve got to scale up to feed the world’s people,” Humiston said.
Consolidation of marketing is killing farmers, she said. Three firms control 84% of all US beef processing. This hurts the free market.
The next Farm Bill in 2012 will be crazy contentious, Humiston said. Farm Bill politics defy any other type of politics. It crosses partisan lines and urban vs rural divides. Free trade issues are getting involved, also.
A lot of the “modern” farm bill comes from the Depression and Dust Bowl. We still use the same framework, Humiston said.
Dr. Humiston referred to my 2010 rural small business trends article, listing the top 10 trends for this year.
New rural entrepreneurship initiatives were announced by the USDA the same day as this conference. These included new partnership efforts with the Small Business Administration.
Humiston said she would rather see the focus of economic development on incentive-izing local entrepreneurs rather than recruiting outside business.
She mentioned Bellingham, WA, as the granddaddy of all shop local programs. She also mentioned the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, BALLE.
After a state-wide listening program, her department put together a list of the ideas, in “Jobs, Economic Development and Sustainable Communities.” It is 79 pages of local ideas from people working in communities all over California. It is available as a free download, and is being updated with more information about the source of each idea, Humiston said.
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