Published Tuesday, January 1, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 3:47 pm
MIDLANDS VOICES
Let’s talk about meeting rural needs

Pittz, of Missouri Valley, Iowa, is a sixth-generation family farmer and member of the Farm Bureau. Hassebrook, of Lyons, Neb., is executive director of the Center for Rural Affairs.

“It’s time for us to have adult conversation with folks in rural America,” says Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. “Rural America with a shrinking population is becoming less and less relevant to the politics of this country, and we had better recognize that, and we better begin to reverse it.”

Secretary Vilsack makes a valid point. We need to talk with our friends and neighbors about the stark challenges confronting our communities. But it goes both ways. It’s also time for rural folks to have an adult conversation with those who represent them, because the politics of Washington are becoming less relevant to the challenges facing rural America.

Our small communities are fighting for their lives, but there is real hope for a better future. There are promising entrepreneurial opportunities to establish a new generation of family farms and small businesses — to turn our challenges into opportunities. But we need proactive policies that create a supportive climate for small enterprise in rural America.

Start-up capital and access to professional expertise for small business are in short supply. And federal investment in overcoming these barriers and revitalizing rural communities is shrinking. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s rural development funding has been cut in half over the last decade. If we don’t invest in our future, we won’t have a future.

But that is not a congressional priority. The House Agriculture Committee developed a farm bill this year that would invest only one-third of the amount invested by prior farm bills in rural development. Critical investments that shape our future for generations take deep cuts, while subsidies to the rich and powerful remain unchecked.

This is personal to me (Andrew Pittz). Our six-generation family farm sits at the fork of a dirt and gravel road, just north of Missouri Valley, Iowa. I traveled an hour and a half every day by bus to get to elementary school. Our farm was cut off from mail service because of low population.

My family’s roots are deep. My grandfather drove cattle from our farm to the Omaha Stockyards many years ago and served on the county’s first conservation board. My great uncle ran the general store on Mondamin’s once bustling Main Street. And nearly two decades ago, my parents reintroduced the native but once endangered aronia berry.

The aronia berry is a natural, antioxidant-rich fruit that also conserves our precious soil in the Loess Hills of western Iowa and eastern Nebraska — one of the rarest geological formations in the world. We planted 207 of the last cultivated aronia berry plants in the United States and are now selling their fruits to Fortune 500 companies and Main Street shops.

Over the past three years, our family farm has grown from two retail accounts to one of the top 51 companies shaping the natural and organic industry, a multibillion-dollar category. As our market grew beyond what our family farm could produce, we did what rural folks do — we reached out to our neighbors. Today, more than 200 farmers are part of our growers’ network. Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad declared September “Aronia Berry Month” in recognition of its value to the heartland.

My family is deeply invested in sustaining our rural way of life. We take a “century view” that spans not just years but generations. Like most other farmers, we hope that our grandchildren will have the opportunity to cultivate the land of our grandparents. We are driven by a vision of sustainability — economic, social and environmental — that provides a template for growth across rural America.

We know it. We’ve lived it. That farm that didn’t receive mail? We are now preferred business partners with the United States Postal Service.

Secretary Vilsack has invited us to a conversation about our future. It’s up to us in rural America to take him up on his offer. If we are willing to engage and are open to hearing the diversity of voices, we can lead our communities toward an entrepreneurial economy built to compete in the 21st century.

Crews working to subdue brush fire that may spread to Fontenelle Forest
Convicted killer Nikko Jenkins might await his sentence in prison
It's a pursuit of pastel at Spring Lake Park's Easter egg hunt
Financial picture improving for city-owned Mid-America Center
No injuries after fire at midtown's old Mercer Mansion
29-year-old Omahan arrested for 22nd time in Lincoln
Police: Slaying of woman in Ralston apartment likely over drugs
Explosion near 29th, Woolworth damages vehicles
Omaha police arrest man, 19, accused in March shooting
Earth gets its day in the sun at Elmwood Park
Beau McCoy strikes Obama doll in TV ad; Democrats are not happy
17 senators in Nebraska Legislature hit their (term) limits
Keystone XL pipeline backers blast 'political expediency' as foes hail ruling to delay decision
Nebraska senators to study tax issues over break
Portion of Saddle Creek Road closed after water main break
Teenager arrested after woman's purse is snatched outside Omaha store
Police identify 21-year-old shot in ankle near 30th, W Streets
Cult murderer's death row appeal denied, but execution in limbo
Interstate construction to cause lane shifts, closings in Omaha area
Kelly: A California university president returns to her Nebraska roots on Ivy Day
Omahan charged in fatal shooting in Benson neighborhood
Friday's attendance dips at Millard West after bathroom threat
High school slam poets don't just recite verses, 'they leave their hearts beating on the stage'
Crack ring's leaders join others in prison as a result of Operation Purple Haze
Haze in area comes from Kansas, Oklahoma
< >
COLUMNISTS »
Dickson’s Week in Review, April 13-19
On Twitter some guy tweeted that the spring game isn’t taken as seriously as a regular-season contest. What was your first clue? When the head coach entered waving a cat aloft?
Kelly: A California university president returns to her Nebraska roots on Ivy Day
The main speaker at today's Ivy Day celebration at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is a college president who grew up roping calves and earned her Ph.D. at the prestigious Oxford University in England.
Breaking Brad: Stuck in a claw machine? You get no Easter candy
I know of one kid in Lincoln who will be receiving a lump of coal from the Easter Bunny, just as soon as he's extricated from that bowling alley claw machine.
Breaking Brad: Mountain lion season's over, but the bunny's fair game!
Thursday was the last day of a Nebraska Legislature session. Before leaving town, legislators passed a bill to hold a lottery to hunt the Easter Bunny.
Breaking Brad: At least my kid never got stuck inside a claw machine
We need a new rule in Lincoln. If your kid is discovered inside the claw machine at a bowling alley, you are forever barred from being nominated for "Mother of the Year."
Deadline Deal thumbnail
The Jaipur in Rockbrook Village
Half Off Fine Indian Cuisine & Drinks! $15 for Dinner, or $7 for Lunch
Buy Now
PHOTO GALLERIES »
< >
SPOTLIGHT »
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
WORLD-HERALD ALERTS »
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for Omaha.com's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »