Cultural Encounters: A Journal For The Theology Of Culture Volume 11 Number 2 (Summer 2016) - Page 38

FOOD FIGHT CONFERENCE PLENARY 2 - Finberg & panelists 6. Rural Development When I tell people that the US Department of Agriculture is like the fifth largest bank in the entire country, they scratch their heads. And when I am able to show and say that we help provide housing in rural America, they say, “But you’re not the Department of Housing and Urban Development.” No. But Congress, our board of directors that gives us the mandate and the mission and sometimes the resources to do the job they’ve given us has said, “You have responsibility for rural America for housing, for providing credit and capital for rural businesses, and for rural utilities.” How many of you grew up in a rural area? Chances are decent that the rural electrification agency or administration, the precursor to this part of the USDA, helped make sure that your parents or your grandparents could flip a switch and turn on lights because that wasn’t always the case. That came out and is now part of USDA. And we do broadband and sewer and water and all sorts of things. But we also have a program—this is very cool—I mentioned a couple of vendors at the Portland farmers’ market. One of them is Cherry Country, chocolate covered cherries and other things. They received a value-added producer grant from the Department of Agriculture. Their daughter had gone off to college and said, “Mom, Dad, you need some help. You need to help folks understand what you’ve got.” So they got this grant to help market their products because they weren’t just selling the cherries off the trees; they were adding value to it. And that has meant a huge boost in their income and bottom line; it’s meant that their daughter has a job with them now, and more of us are able to access their product. 7. Research, Education, and Economics Seventh is our Research, Education, and Economics division. And that’s where we help to fund the extension service. It’s a great state, federal local partnership that has extension agents in most counties. Even in Multnomah County, there are extension agents, and they’re able to help with the backyard gardens and chickens and so on. But we also finance a whole bunch of the research that is a public good, as opposed to a private company’s research that is patented and stays in their control and in their hands. The research that we fund, that you fund, through the agricultural research service or otherwise, is in the public sphere. And some of the data-sets . . . we’ve had hack-a-thons where folks have used the data that belongs to the people of the United States to develop new products, to do great things, to get the word out 35