‘We are rich in many ways’

USDA StrikeForce Initiative pushes programs to rural areas
Jun. 25, 2014 @ 06:57 PM

Albert Howard traveled to Vance-Granville Community College on Wednesday from Person County to learn more about the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s assistance for farmers in rural North Carolina.

“I wanted to hear what they had to say about the small farmer, loans and stuff like that,” he said.

Howard was born and raised on a farm in North Carolina. He went north to work on the railroads, and when he came home to retire, he decided to try farming.

But Howard said the work has not been easy.

“It’s been a struggle, a big struggle,” he said.

Howard and about 100 others came out for the USDA’s StrikeForce Outreach meeting, which was organized in partnership with the Kerr-Tar Council of Governments.

The USDA established the StrikeForce Initiative in 2010 to provide intensive care for rural areas with persistent and concentrated poverty. In 2013, the program launched in North Carolina and nine other states.

Bob Etheridge, state executive director of the Farm Service Agency, and agency directors at the state USDA spoke at length to attendees about available programs, grants and loans.

There are 46 StrikeForce counties in North Carolina, including Vance, Granville and Warren counties.

About 85 percent of persistent poverty counties are in rural America, according to the USDA.

The StrikeForce designation is given to counties with at least 20 percent of the population living at or below the federal poverty level, which depends on the number of people in the household. For a family of four, it’s $23,850.

In Vance County, 28.2 percent of the population lived below the poverty level during 2008 to 2012, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

James Davis III, USDA county economic director for Halifax County, said members of the community came together to create a leadership initiative designed for students in kindergarten through grade 12 that would give youth hands-on experiences with agriculture and agriculture business.

The USDA has supplied loans and grants to aid in constructing the infrastructure for Vance County’s water system.

More recently, the owners of the former Middleburg Steak House applied for a grant from USDA to update the building’s water and septic system.

Diane Cox, Kerr-Tar executive director, said the restaurant’s application was chosen for a U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Business Enterprise Grant that would fund a water and septic system upgrade.

Eva Clayton, former U.S. Representative for North Carolina District 1, said rural communities need to take advantage of USDA funding.

“Rural areas, oftentimes we are good at describing what we don’t have and how poor we are,” she said at the event. “But we are rich in many ways. One, we have talent and strength. Part of our disadvantage is not using the talents we have and part of it is not holding ourselves accountable for development. Yes, we are disadvantaged. But we do have many resources that we can connect.”

Since becoming the USDA state director of rural development in 2009, Randy Gore has brought about $7.9 billion to the state through the agency.

“Whatever is essential to that community that will enhance and improve their quality of life, we can do it,” he said of the expansive programs at USDA. “If it’s town hall, if it’s schools, if it’s police or fire station, if it’s a clinic or nursing home or day care facility — if it’s needed in your community, we have a program to help you address those needs.”


Contact the writer at smansur@hendersondispatch.com.