According to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, South Carolina’s high poverty areas will be getting “intensive care” to help them improve farms, create markets for produce, build fire stations and schools, use technology, find doctors to move there, or whatever that community decides it needs to improve opportunities for its citizens.
The project can be as simple as a small-acreage farmer to learn efficient irrigation techniques or as involved a building a new school.
StrikeForce coordinates the staff, funds and resources of divisions of the USDA, rural development, farm services, nutrition, and rural conservation, to address each community’s specific needs.
In each of the first three states to get StrikeForce help, Arkansas, Georgia and Mississippi, there was a dramatic rise in the number of farm loans awarded. In those three states, traditionally lower producers have had as much as a 15,000 percent increase in acreage put under better practices– working toward saving farms and jobs.
Secretary Tom Vilsack came to South Carolina Tuesday to announce that the program is now expanding to South Carolina as well as Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, and Virginia –focusing on areas where the poverty rate is 20 percent or more and has persistently been above that percentage.
Vilsack says they have to build “partnerships with community building organizations, local organizations that would have credibility with local folks. We recognize that sometimes when the federal government comes in to help, people are sometimes skeptical about the degree of help. Sometimes the process is complicated and oftentimes people are met with failure because of the complexity. We wanted to cut through that.”
South Carolina’s 6th District Congressman James Clyburn escorted Vilsack to a private meeting with community leaders in Bamberg County, where they discussed their needs.
“We talked about a partnership that we are forming with the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities. They’ve pledged $1 million, NRCS and our forest service adding $200,000 to that pledge to help African American forest owners develop sustainable practices and make sure they can hang on to forest areas,” Vilsack said.”This is the kind of thing you are going to see more of.”
Vilsack acknowledges that part of StrikeForce funding is tied up in the fate of whatever farm bill comes out of Congress. Right now, Congress has stalled over extending the 2008 version, which Vilsack says does not meet current needs.
Despite that, he says there are enough resources now to make the program work to make significant improvements in the state’s struggling rural areas.