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USDA initiative expands to Virginia

Published 8:55pm Saturday, March 30, 2013

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has extended into Virginia an initiative to increase participation in its programs to help economically struggling communities.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently announced that “StrikeForce,” the initiative started as a pilot in 2010 in select regions in Arkansas, Georgia and Mississippi, is extending into an additional 10 states.

“During my travels across the country, I’ve heard mayors and other community leaders say they have a hard time competing for USDA loan and grant programs,” Vilsack stated in a news release. “They have a plan to develop a new business or create jobs in their regions, but they lack development capital and they view our application and review processes as a barrier.

“StrikeForce changes that. By increasing outreach and technical assistance to communities, we can serve as better partners and help better leverage resources.”

The main aim of StrikeForce is to increase partnerships with rural communities and leverage community resources by targeting areas of persistent poverty, according to the release.

In these areas, the USDA will increase partnerships with local and state governments and community organizations “on projects that promote economic development and job creation.”

Areas StrikeForce operates in, which have over 20 percent poverty, are identified using census data.

“As areas of persistent poverty are identified, USDA staff work with state, local and community officials to increase awareness of USDA programs, and help build program participation,” the release states.

Groups involved in StrikeForce include The Natural Resources Conservation Service, Rural Development, the Farm Service Agency, the Food and Nutrition Service and the USDA’s Office of Advocacy and Outreach.

Since 2010, Vilsack noted, the USDA has partnered with more than 400 organizations based in local communities to promote local or regional development projects.

In Arkansas, for example, the USDA linked with Heifer International to address “food deserts” among nine counties.

In Nevada, the USDA partnered with the Indian Nations Conservation Alliance, the Nevada Department of Agriculture and local extension services to promote locally grown foods in tribal lands.

Farm Service Agency lending increased in StrikeForce areas last year, Vilsack stated, while it fell slightly nationwide.

“The StrikeForce initiative is helping us direct additional resources to better serve producers in persistent poverty rural communities,” Vilsack stated.

“We are focusing on these identified high poverty areas to help improve the quality of life of producers and their communities and to accelerate implementation of conservation practices on their land.”

Other additional states for StrikeForce will include Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas and Utah.

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