I was honored to join Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack at the White House today to announce Local Foods, Local Places, an Obama Administration initiative to help communities improve access to fresh, local produce--particularly among disadvantaged groups who lack such access. Investing in regional food economies is an investment in rural America, and DOT couldn't be prouder to take part.
Farmers are some the most self-reliant, self-sufficient people I’ve met in this country. But for all that farmers and farm communities can do on their own –and they can do a lot– we also know there are challenges that require more help. And one of those challenges is making sure that farms have access to good transportation.
As JFK explained the economic challenges that rural communities face, saying that, “the farmer is the only man in our economy who buys everything retail, sells everything wholesale, and pays the freight both ways.”
Although JFK said it 54 years ago, it’s still true: freight is a huge concern for rural communities. Transportation determines whether the crop gets to market, and the cost of transportation often determines whether it’s profitable there.
Everyone at our Department knows that, and we know there’s something we can do about it, too. That’s why Local Food, Local Places is just our latest effort to support rural communities and revitalize towns. We’ve forged partnerships with other agencies –like the Partnership for Sustainable Communities– to help rural regions. We’ve built roads to connect farms with ports. And we’ve provided grants to farm communities –and the people who help them– through our TIGER program.
We’re proud of our support, but we're in danger of losing that progress. If the roads, rails, and transit systems --the infrastructure that moves farm products to markets and moves people to those same markets— keep deteriorating at the current rate, by 2020 agriculture, together with forestry and fisheries, will lose about $17 billion in sales.
This challenge is why we’ve sent a transportation bill, GROW AMERICA, to Congress. GROW AMERICA will help repair and rebuild this country’s infrastructure, and there’s much in our proposal that’s good for rural areas.
It improves safety in high-risk rural corridors, strengthens our freight network, invests in workforce development, and expands the TIGER program.
Yes, farmers and rural communities may be self-reliant. But they’re not alone, and they certainly shouldn't be isolated from the world's strongest economy. Through GROW AMERICA and our participation in Local Food, Local Places, DOT is going to keep working to make sure they aren’t.