Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack visited the Ohio Union at The Ohio State University last week to announce the expansion of the USDA’s StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity Initiative into 11 high-poverty counties in Ohio. Launched in 2010, more than 1,500 StrikeForce partnerships have already helped USDA support nearly 190,000 projects and invest $23.5 billion in high-poverty areas in rural America.
USDA’s StrikeForce delivers promising, sustainable results by building partnerships with community organizations, businesses, foundations, universities, faith-based and other groups to help challenged communities shape a future based on local assets and regional strengths. To date, StrikeForce technical assistance helping USDA invest nearly $7.5 billion into 970 counties across the U.S. to create jobs, build homes, feed kids, assist farmers and conserve natural resources in some of the nation’s most economically challenged areas.
“If farmers in these Ohio counties are looking for additional credit, it becomes available through StrikeForce,” Vilsack said. “It also raises the awareness of some of our conservation programs, the micro-loan program and the high-tunnel house program. That raised awareness results in more loans being made.”
StrikeForce was created to address persistent poverty across America. USDA identifies census tracts with over 20% poverty (according to American Community Survey data) to identify sub-county pockets of poverty. As areas of persistent poverty are identified, USDA staff work with state, local and community officials to increase awareness of USDA programs and help build program participation through intensive community outreach and technical assistance.
“The next step is for our team at USDA to travel to the designated counties, sit down with local officials and ask them what they need in their area,” Vilsack said. “This has to be a bottom up system.”
Currently, 85% of the country’s persistent poverty counties are in rural America. More than one-third of rural Americans and one-in-four rural children live in poverty.
Finding uses for these new funds in the determined Ohio counties will begin with meetings that include officials from USDA, the Ohio Rural Development and Ohio Farm Service Agencies and the Natural Resource Conservation Service. Shortly thereafter, the process will transition to an outreach effort in the StrikeForce zones.
“We’ll then survey local officials, businesses and stakeholders in those areas about what they think the biggest needs in their counties are,” said Tony Logan, State Director for USDA Rural Development for Ohio. “Then we’ll get to the drawing board and figure out which agency needs to apply their program dollars in each county.”
Although many of the dollars tagged for the StrikeForce Initiative will go towards needs that may not be tied directly to agriculture, some will be used for issues related to the farm and used to aid in the water quality concerns in the state.
“In Lucas county, these funds will be used to not only help with the poverty there, but also to start up some new conservation efforts in that county because of the recent water issues they have seen,” Logan said. “Farms across the state will also benefit with new farm loans for beginning farmers and veterans, which will be a sweat spot for the StrikeForce counties as well.”
StrikeForce counties in Ohio include: Adams, Athens, Fayette, Guernsey, Jackson, Lucas, Meigs, Morgan, Pike, Scioto and Vinton.