Blog for Rural America

The Center for Rural Affairs, a private, non-profit organization, is working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities. Permission to reprint items from this web log is hereby granted, on the condition that clear credit is given to the original source of the material. If the blog provides information for a story, please let us know by sending an email to johnc@cfra.org.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

A Place To Live - A voice from the past

Consider this, as the debate over another farm bill begins...

-- from a newsletter from Orville Freeman, Governor of Minnesota from 1955 to 1961, Secretary of Agriculture under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson and one of the founders of the modern Democratic-Farmer-Labor party in Minnesota.

A Place to Live, the Yearbook of Agriculture, 1963 --- Forward:

This is a time and this is a book that call for discussion, cooperation and vision to channel great forces of change in directions that ensure that America will always be a good place to live.

The signs of change are everywhere. We see them in the growth or decline of communities, the building of highways and other facilities, the moving of people to new homes and jobs, the renewal of cities and the growth of suburbs, the enlargement of some farms and the disappearance of others, questions about the place of family farms as a dynamic force in agricultural production, shifts in the uses of land, and changes in our human relationships, institutions, and aspirations in rural and urban America alike.

But the meaning and the relentless force of the changes and their diversity become fully clear only if we fit them into a broad perspective, just as we need a map of all major highways, not only the roads in our own county, when we start a long trip.

A perspective, such as this book aims to give, discloses that a new economic order is taking shape on American farms, in rural America, and in cities. It is a product of a technological-scientific revolution, which began 200 years ago and has speeded up tremendously in the past few years.

Its effect on agricultural production has been almost beyond belief. Its effect on farmers and communities that could not keep up with its fast pace has been sorrowful. It has made agriculture miraculously successful, but it is a warning signal if the changes, like an automobile out of control, are so fast, so undirected, or so unmindful of traffic signs and lights as to jeopardize the well-being of people.

I give some examples. The farmer whose fields are too small or too rugged or too poor for machines cannot compete with bigger farmers. Economic slowdown has hurt some rural communities. Many of the people who have quit farming since 1950 have moved to cities. But cities, too, have had problems, and many of their residents have gone to the suburbs to seek a better place to live. Nationally a new situation has arisen, compounded of changing and growing needs for more land for industry and more water for everybody; for more and better community services; for a reevaluation of the uses of land; and for plans for the wise, enduring use of land, water, forests, open spaces, air, rivers, and seashores.

All such changes are challenges to direct American energy, American dynamism, American ability, and, yes, American humanitarianism toward a greater fulfillment of the American goal. We have an opportunity to bring closer together all parts of our population, our economy, and our geography and so to help us realize that the prosperity of city people is tied closely to the well-being of rural people, that many distinctions between city and country no longer are true, and that the United States is one Nation, indivisible.

Another opportunity, related to all the others, is to plan for our future and the future of later generations as individuals, as communities, and as a Nation: How can we best use our abundance for the good of all?

We can extend and speed up our efforts to conserve our wealth of human and physical resources for tomorrow's needs and today's unmet needs. As President Kennedy said, "In the work of conservation, time should be made our friend, not our adversary. Actions deferred are frequently opportunities lost, and, in terms of financial outlay, dollars invested today will yield great benefits in the years to come".

Of all our resources, the most valuable are people. Changes in rural America left many rural people disadvantaged. Less than a third of our population is rural, but more than half of the 8 million American families whose yearly incomes are below 2,500 dollars live in rural areas. More than one-fifth of the 22 million youths who live in rural America are members of poor families. Many of our people are unemployed. Many are underemployed. Many need training for new work. Many need help.

To help people, the Department of Agriculture, which has a long and glorious history of service to all Americans, has embarked on Rural Areas Development programs. Their aims are to revitalize and recapitalize town and country, to improve or redevelop physical resources, to put the resources to work for all America, and to provide new or improve public facilities and new economic opportunities….

They will have a great and good effect on our family farms, which as productive units have met the test of time but which have been threatened by forces outside of farming. As I said in a statement before the Subcommittee on Family Farms of the House Committee on Agriculture on July 11, 1963: 'I believe the family farm system is worth preserving because it has social worth as well as economic value. But if we are realistic, we must recognize that the family farm will continue only if it is an efficient producer of agricultural products in terms of current scientific, technological, and management practices.' Most of the people on these farms want to be farmers. It is their chosen profession. They want to stay on the land and in their community. We should help them realize their desire, but where the farming resources are clearly inadequate, we should make available additional opportunities so that such families can have a decent American standard of living.

All America will benefit in many ways. It is in the spirit of the American tradition of giving every man a chance.

We have also the opportunity to assess the function of government in the work before us. I, myself, believe the Federal Government must take a leading part in rural economic development because of its wide scope. But the work also requires investment capital and the help of commerce and industry. It will require the resources of State and local governments, but it can succeed only with the initiative and leadership of local people.

To the fulfillment of these opportunities, we commit our imagination, technical skills, and powers. Let us not seek tasks to fit our talents. Let us rather pray that our talents fit the obligations before us."

--U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and former Minnesota Governor Orville L. Freeman

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree, johnc@cfra.org

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

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