StrikeForce Meeting Highlights USDA Efforts for Rural Growth & Opportunity in Georgia

October 2, 2019

Fort Valley State University’s campus was
the backdrop for a recent StrikeForce Informational Meeting where partners and producers from
across Georgia were invited to celebrate what’s been accomplished, hear where the initiative
is going and share their views. “Let me make one thing clear, StrikeForce
isn’t a hand out. It’s not just for minorities. The StrikeForce Initiative is for economic
development.”-Jerome Tucker, Southeast Agriculture Coalition (CBO) Georgia’s StrikeForce partners wanted their
diverse audience to know that the StrikeForce Initiative’s mission is to serve everyone
affected by persistent poverty and to create rural growth and opportunity. “My whole take on StrikeForce is that it’s
a very community based effort and if we’re going to change persistent poverty in rural
communities; that’s how we’re going to do it…one by one.”-Naomi Davis, Digging Roots
Educational Farm United States Department of Agriculture Secretary
Tom Vilsack launched the StrikeForce Initiative in 2010 to increase investment in priority,
poverty-stricken rural communities through technical assistance and other resources. Georgia was one of three pilot states. Vilsack
expanded the program to include three more states in 2011 and 10 additional states this
March. “Since the beginning of StrikeForce, Georgia
NRCS has been working with its partners, agencies, and community based organizations to set aside
funds to target outreach in the 60 StrikeForce counties. Over the last three years, we’ve
had about 180 workshops across the state servicing 73,000 participants and educating them about
projects and services offered by USDA as a whole.”- Aquanda Jones, GA NRCS (Assistant
State Conservationist for Programs) In addition to covering previous efforts,
meeting organizers made it a priority to share the program’s economic impact. Dr. Kent Wolfe
with The University of Georgia’s Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development presented
findings from a recent economic analysis of USDA’s investment in Georgia’s StrikeForce
region. It showed that in 2011 and 2012, USDA program
funds obligated in Georgia StrikeForce counties resulted in more than $ 1.4 billion dollars
in economic activity. And, a total of 8,756 jobs were supported as a direct result of
the initiative. “We also have demographics that show a constant
increase in our application participation in StrikeForce counties in the last three
years.”-Aquanda Jones, GA Natural Resources Conservation Service (Assistant State Conservationist
for Programs) While the program has been successful in accomplishing
its primary outreach and educational goals, Georgia’s StrikeForce Team and its partners
are looking at better strategies that support economic viability and promote food security
through expanding partnerships. “There are some challenges that we face with
the StrikeForce Initiative. We plan to focus on three general areas and one is the summer
lunch program.”-Don Arnette, Food and Nutrition Service (Regional Director) “We’re in a time where we have limited resources.
So, what does that mean? That means we have to step up. We have to step up these collaborative
efforts. USDA, the Universities, your community based organizations in order to provide assistance
to many of the people we deal with.”-Dr. David Lattimore, FVSU School of Agriculture (Dean) State USDA leaders acknowledged the challenges
they face working with available program funding to remove persistent poverty in targeted communities
on a realistic timeline, but by building strategic partnerships, we are beginning the process. “When you talk about 40 years plus of poverty
and you look at Rural Development grants for community facility improvements….we get
about $800,000 in grants a year. But, $800,000 of grants a year isn’t going to solve 40 plus
years of poverty. We’re talking $100 million plus per region.”-Quinton Robinson, GA Rural
Development (Director) Following the panel discussion, producers
were also able to ask their state leaders questions during a Q&A session. “In order to have the resources to build fences,
create pastures, buy lines, fertilizer and all that stuff to grow, which one of you all
do I see to assist me with all of that?”-W.B. Brown (Augusta, Georgia Farmer) StrikeForce Team leaders hope that the meeting
serves as not only an educational workshop but also as another step in ensuring that
persistent poverty continues to be addressed. “What makes StrikeForce so unique is these
agencies getting together…having those meetings, strategically looking at what they offer and
how they can complement each other….and achieve that goal to eradicate persistent
poverty in those counties that we’re working with in the StrikeForce Initiative.”- Aquanda
Jones, GA NRCS (Assistant State Conservationist for Programs) The USDA agencies that make up Georgia’s StrikeForce
Team are the Farm Service Agency, Food and Nutrition Service, National Agricultural Statistics
Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service and Rural Development. For more information on the StrikeForce Initiative,
please visit the website shown:

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