This Wednesday, I was lucky enough to attend the White House Rural Forum along with my colleague Betty Kruger. The forum was a chance to talk about rural issues, especially those dealing with food and agriculture. A number of topics were covered beyond agriculture such as, youth opportunity and heroin abuse. The panelists and speakers were aware of both great opportunity and a lot of need in rural America. Daphne Gooding, VISTA member, Garrett County Community Action Committee, Maryland, was also a panel member and had a chance to speak from our perspective.
Governor Tom Wolf gave the keynote. One of the points he stressed was just how great it is to live out in the country. He asks why there is a problem with youth leaving the rural areas. The problem should be keeping them in the cities!
Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture, was there to represent the White House. Secretary Vilsack is a native of Pittsburgh. Being from Pennsylvania and the way he spoke, you can tell he cares a lot about issues specific to us such as the low price of milk and the availability of local produce. The programs he talked about and announced are available nationwide but they also address problems right here.
After Tom Vilsack began the conference the dozen or so AmeriCorps members, including myself, were invited into a private room to have a conversation with him. It was really nice to sit down and speak with a high ranking White House official. We had time to do more than just shake hands, we got to talk about our projects and some of the challenges we face.
We also had the pleasure to meet and speak with Max Finberg the director of the VISTA program. He was involved in the programs merger with AmeriCorps 20 years ago and is really excited about the work we do.
I encourage everyone to check out the White House website for more info on the forum.