Gov. Steve Beshear and Fifth District U.S. Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers joined U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Friday at Pine Mountain State Park and Resort to reveal significant new partnership opportunities through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Leaders say the action means promising new strategies for the success of eastern Kentucky and the entire commonwealth.
Vilsack announced the expansion of the USDA’s StrikeForce initiative into four additional states, including Kentucky, Louisiana, Tennessee and West Virginia.
There are 73 counties in Kentucky included in this part of the StrikeForce, meaning the USDA will partner with local community organizations, businesses, foundations, universities and other groups to support local projects and pursue needed investments into rural areas.
Bell, Harlan, Knox and Whitley counties are included in the 73 Kentucky StrikeForce counties.
“Through StrikeForce, we are able to reach people in new ways and bring resources to them directly,” said Vilsack. “We are learning better ways to help communities leverage their assets and bring opportunity to their residents.”
In 2010, USDA launched the StrikeForce for rural growth and opportunity in an effort to leverage partnerships in poverty-stricken rural areas to ensure that every community has equal access to USDA programs. Since that time, through StrikeForce, the USDA has partnered with over 400 community organizations, businesses, foundations, universities and other groups to support 80,300 projects and ushered more than $9.7 billion in investments into rural America.
According to Vilsack, states in StrikeForce prior to the meeting have seen significant growth in several areas. In those states, there have been increases in farm loans, conservation activity and investment, local and regional food system development and home owning.
Vilsack said there has been an investment increase in community facilities. He explained that investment in community facilities could be anything from equipping a hospital with an EKG machine, building a school, financing a fire truck or building a police station.
“Our commitment is to be here. Our commitment is to work,” said Vilsack. “We eat, we drink, we have access to power, we are protected, we are able to recreate all because of what happens and what is being done by rural families in rural communities.”
The addition of the four new states brings StrikeForce attention to over 700 rural counties, parishes, boroughs, tribal reservations and Colonias in 20 states.
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