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Rural America’s relevance

By Nate Wilson
January 9, 2013

Until recently, I considered it a rank impossibility that I could hold a lower opinion of our nation’s Secretary of Agriculture, Thomas Vilsack. But in condescending remarks to the Farm Journal Forum on last December 6, he unleashed a Dutch Uncle lecture at rural America that sunk him even further.

Vilsack scolded; “It’s time for us to have an adult conversation with folks in rural America. It’s time for a different thought process here....” He further admonished, “You will hear this speech... until it finally percolates down and starts to penetrate.” Why this need to talk down? Is it possible Vilsack perceives rural Americans in some prejudicial, archaic context, perhaps as stereotypical rubes or dumb farmers?

Vilsack whines that young people are deserting rural America because of a lack of diversity, caused by its being too closely aligned to the Republican Party and with being “reactive” rather than “proactive” in outlook. He envisions country kids being spirited away by the bright lights of the several continents, lured by the vast opportunities in the global marketplace. He berates rural America for neglecting to create diverse opportunities to hold its young people. He bemoans rural America losing political “relevance” with the rest of the nation and, somehow, being left behind. He notes that our military is lopsided with able recruits from rural America and that our national value system’s roots draw deeply from the spirit of rural America, yet he sees rural youth abandoning their homesteads.

The reality, had Vilsack the sagacity to confront it, is far different—rural kids are not forsaking their rural homes; they are being exiled from them by the very policies Vilsack has staked his ag-policy career on. Ignored are inconvenient details, such as several decades of a national cheap-food policy that destroyed the dreams of two generations of aspiring young U.S. farmers. Ignored are the evils of industrialized farming—fewer farmers on huge mono-crop farms getting ever bigger and, ironically, ever less diverse. Ignored are current national farm policies that result in unsustainable commodity prices, which often cannot even return the farmers’ production costs. These are the true cause of rural depopulation and the decline of America’s small towns, not Vilsack’s bizarre imaginings.