January 6, 2009
Jim Worstell has helped farmer groups develop locally-owned, value-added enterprises in Appalachia, the Mississippi Delta and many other third world areas. He was a member of the President’s Council on Sustainable Development during the Clinton Administration and has been Director of SAC member group Delta Land & Community since 1995.
Everyone is excited about the coming inauguration of our first African-American President. It may be equally historic that Barack Obama is the first community organizer ever elected President.
Urban community organizers are organizing caravans to Washington for January 20 to celebrate. They can hardly wait.
Those of us organizing in rural communities, though we may shy away from excess exposure to big crowds and may consequently skip the crowd of 4 million expected to show up at the Inauguration, should make every effort to help the new Administration build on this historic achievement.
We hope President Obama makes explicit what is obvious to any community organizer: sustainable rural development is only achieved when rural communities are organized to achieve economic and environmentally sustainable futures.
If you aren’t a community organizer, you might ask: What does that mean?
USDA, called “the people’s department” by Abraham Lincoln when he established it, used to have the answer and should revive it once again.
When my grandfather was a USDA county agent in Iowa during the Depression, he helped groups of farmers establish both marketing cooperatives and political action groups to change rural America. When my grandmother became one of the first women county agents in Missouri, she began a lifetime of organizing which led to enduring local organizations to help rural people. When my Dad was a USDA county agent in the 50s and 60s, he organized rural water associations as a Balanced Farming agent.
In the last 40 years, USDA has lost much of this spirit. A President who knows community organizing could rekindle it.
Revitalized rural agencies, operating once again as a catalyst for organizing rural people, could be exciting and tremendously valuable tools for addressing an array of complex problems and opportunities.
USDA staff could once again have the exciting job in rural America—on the cutting edge of the needed transformation of American food and natural resource systems.
Categories: General Interest