America still does not have a farm bill and U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is seeking public assistance on the matter.

Vilsack was at California State University, Fresno on Nov. 20 to promote the farm bill, which he says will create jobs for rural America and generate a host of other benefits to enhance the economy.

Vilsack championed rural America as the source of America’s food security and the place where students, like those he spoke to at Fresno State, should seek entrepreneurial opportunities. He encouraged students there to consider careers in rural America to shore up American agriculture.

“I think too few people in America appreciate what Rural America contributes to the rest of the country,” Vilsack said.

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In highlighting rural America’s contributions he pointed out that it is where much of America’s surface water for urban areas comes from.

One of the many challenges Vilsack highlighted in his 45-minute speech was the inadequate storage facilities for surface water and the “difficulties balancing the needs of growing cities with the important role water plays in agriculture.”

While Vilsack was pointing this out, the California Department of Water Resources was gearing to make public its decision of a 5 percent allocation of water to State Water Project contractors in 2014. The net result will be hundreds of thousands of acres of fallowed farmland in the coming year and less food available for domestic use and export.

“Around the country, since agriculture represents 50 percent of the land mass of the United States, it impacts and affects a significant amount of the water supply for this country,” Vilsack said.

Something for everyone

His rallying cry during his appearance was the need for Congress to pass the comprehensive farm bill that Vilsack says has something in it for everyone. It will create jobs, decrease the federal deficit, give university researchers money to study agriculture’s complex issues, generate more domestic energy, address border security, and provide water conservation and other conservation resources.

“Every single American benefits from this bill,” he said.

He also said the farm bill will help add two years to the Social Security trust fund through immigration reform by forcing people “out of the shadows” and into the workforce where they will pay taxes and contribute to Social Security.

Vilsack’s Fresno appearance was also used to highlight a program aimed at helping school districts buy local food. The USDA will give grants for 71 projects in 42 states, including California, that support the agency’s efforts to connect school cafeterias with local farmers and ranchers through its Farm to School Program.

USDA Farm to School grants help schools respond to the growing demand for locally-sourced foods and increase market opportunities for producers and food businesses, according to a USDA statement released in conjunction with Vilsack’s appearance.

“We want to take advantage of the 350 million market opportunities that this Farm to School Program represents and we want to expand that number dramatically,” he said.

According to Vilsack, there are 107,000 Ag operations in America today selling directly to consumers or grocery stores. He said the USDA will continue to expand investment in opportunities to help these businesses grow.

Vilsack wants to build upon these and the thousands of farmers markets in America, which he said can also be used to help the 46 million Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients in America access more food buying opportunities.

Another series of grants, these through the USDA’s Rural Cooperative Development Grant Program, are also targeted at rural communities. Two California agencies are among the recipients of RCDG money.

The California Center for Cooperative Development will receive $200,000 to establish cooperatives, and the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives will receive $76,250 in grant funding to provide technical assistance to cooperative development projects.