by staff writers Megan Canfield and Grace Barger
On September 22, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack visited Wilmington College’s campus for a tour of the new Center for Science and Agriculture (CSA) to offer commentary on matters related to rural development. The new CSA building was made possible by a $19.7 million low-interest long-term [32 year] loan from the USDA.
Before starting his discussion on rural development, Secretary Vilsack highlighted Wilmington for its singularity in the competitive college environment.
“This is a unique college because of the number of students committed to agriculture,” Vilsack said. “This is a college that owns farmland, the community can be involved in teaching be having access to the farmland.” He saw this point as essential to the success of agriculture in the future as the median age of farmers is increasing rapidly; it now stands at 58.
“This is a unique college because of the number of students committed to agriculture.” – U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack
Vilsack also pinned the task of getting younger people more involved in farming onto the millennial generation through social media and pointing out the benefits of farming, not the pitfalls. Promoting agriculture, he said, could be done by promoting diversity within farm operations–diversity among people of color, gender, age, product, market and operation size. Vilsack said not to exclude young women from agriculture, as he pointed out 70% of those involved are women.
In 2016, the federal budget allocated approximately $155 billion to the USDA for rural development projects–an amount that often draws public scrutiny for its size over impact. To that end, Vilsack offered a practical response.
“Everyone in this land has the luxury, the freedom, to not be a farmer… We’ve delegated growing our food.”
On whether USDA programs or Vilsack, himself, demonstrated preference for commercial over local, smaller operations, he said, “Asking me to choose one is like asking me which of my two sons I love more.” Instead, he recognized the “need to promote diversity of operators, size of operations, productions methods, [and] kinds of crops.”
Although Secretary Vilsack acknowledged that there has been a greater demand on U.S. resources than ever before, he was sure to emphasize that individuals do not have to be big farmers to come into his office. He wants future generations of farmers and agribusiness men and women to thrive. He urged WC students to visit the USDA’s website and read up on their mentoring programs, start-up guides, and loan options.