On January 29th, Focus on Rural America held our first legislative reception. It was exciting to see Senate Democratic Leader Janet Peterson and House Minority Leader Todd Prichard at the event, along with most of the state House and Senate Democrats.

Speaking at the event were Tom Vilsack, former Secretary of the USDA and Iowa Governor, Patty Judge, former Lt. Governor of Iowa and state Secretary of Agriculture, and Robert Leonard, who is the news director for KNIA/KRLS radio and a contributor to the New York Times.  

Vilsack, Judge and Leonard had a simple message for Iowa legislators. Visit rural communities, take the time to understand rural problems, and engage 2020 candidates in championing rural issues. If progressives want to win statewide and at the national level, reconnecting with rural Americans is critical.

Rural Americans make our lives better. These communities disproportionately contribute to our military and they are to thank for our food security. They need leaders who are as committed to them as they are to our nation. In a thoughtful overview, Secretary Vilsack provided the basics to understanding and engaging in rural America.

First, we need to recognize the bedrock of stability that production agriculture provides to rural America. It supports jobs related to manufacturing, food production systems far beyond the farm, and exports. As well, it directly competes with fossil fuel extraction and petroleum manufacturing.

Progressives have a chance to uplift rural communities by engaging in bio-based production and manufacturing and find ways within trade policy to support producers. Progressives should be leading on efforts to connect small famers to bulk purchasers in their local and regional food systems, such as schools and hospitals. And of course, understanding and supporting the programs that offset the risks associated with safely, and economically feeding our nation.

The business of farming and agricultural manufacturing fosters and supports a relationship with our environment. More often then not, our farmers are the very sportsmen hunting on our wetlands and finding investments for conservation, even adding their own land to an easement. Food and beverage companies are finding ways to give back to our environment and our rural communities provide many of the opportunities for them to do so.

By working with rural communities, 2020 candidates have the chance to increase opportunities for small farmers, increase conservation investments, and create good jobs in areas that need them.

As Iowans citizens and legislators meet with presidential candidates, we hope you’ll talk to them about one of the most important topics this cycle – rural America.