This webinar, hosted by The Horinko Group’s Water Division, will explore some of the issues and opportunities tied to moving our nation forward on a path of sustainable agriculture practices, while strengthening small family farms and diversifying rural economies to foster more livable rural communities.
At the local, state, and federal levels, deliberations are ongoing on how best to chart a sustainable path forward. Many are attempting to craft and share the business case for sustainability. Efforts underway to address the next farm bill and future farm programs could have a profound effect on the family farm and rural communities. Rural landscapes support the natural capital that must be optimally utilized to feed a growing population while protecting the ecological services that natural systems provide us. Reclaiming and sustaining the economic vitality of rural communities is an imperative.
An uptick in consumer interest for local food systems and special attribute products present growing value-add and direct marketing opportunities for producers. Many farmers face financial challenges in diversifying and transitioning their operations to address these opportunities and lack access to viable local and regional markets. Local and regional food systems will likely play a much larger role if we are to secure a sustainable future. Federal policies and programs are cautiously responding to this changing market environment and a trend is emerging of “grow local, buy local.”
Influencers and change drivers point to the need for innovation and job creation in rural communities to ensure the long-term viability of rural America. Traditional economic models for business recruitment and retention simply don’t meet the needs of rural communities. Grassroots entrepreneurship is part of the equation, but only part of it. There is a perceived need for incentive to mobilize and perhaps incubate small entrepreneurial operations during the transition to new practices, products, and markets. A number of organizations and programs offer technical assistance, innovation grants, assorted tools and other resources to help rural communities and growers in this transition, but more is needed.
Richard Warner, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Moderator)
Richard (Dick) Warner is Professor Emeritus of Natural Resource Ecology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Warner is also Senior Scientist and Director of External Relations for the National Great Rivers Research and Education Center and Director of the Center for Community Adaptation. He has previously led the Illinois Water Resources Center, and the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant College Program.
His current research centers on sustainable natural resources management in urban and agricultural settings, as well as the integration of multiple natural resource objectives in agricultural policies and programs. He is also involved with the development of information technologies for economic development and regional food systems and is one of the leaders of the National Food Industry Market Maker network.
Robert Stewart, Executive Director, Rural Community Assistance Action Project
Mr. Stewart has served as Executive Director of the Rural Community Assistance Action Project (RCAP) since January 2006. He has 25 years of experience in the rural utility field, including the provision of technical and training assistance to water and wastewater systems, water- quality management, regulatory compliance, financial and managerial capacity development, training for managers and boards of rural utilities, utility financing, contract management and consulting for local government entities.
Formerly, he was the Executive Director for the Texas Water Utilities Association (TWUA), a 9,000-member professional association of water and wastewater operators. Prior to TWUA, he was employed at the Texas Rural Water Association (TRWA), where he served in several capacities, including State Contract Manager, Professional Development and Training Director, and Associate Executive Director. Prior to his employment with TRWA, he served as Texas Director for Community Resource Group, the Southern RCAP, where he oversaw a statewide program that provided direct, onsite technical assistance and training for small, low-income rural communities in the areas of water and wastewater utilities and affordable housing.
Mark Gorman, Policy Analyst, Northeast-Midwest Institute
Mark Gorman is a Policy Analyst at the Northeast-Midwest Institute, focusing on water and watershed issues. Prior to joining the Institute in 2009, he directed the Northwest Office of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council (PEC), based in Meadville. While there, he worked with numerous partners from the private sector, government, communities and individuals in the upper Allegheny River and Great Lakes basins to promote sustainable use of built and natural landscapes, particularly by focusing on links between the environment, the economy and quality of life.
Prior to working for the PEC, Mr. Gorman served over 22 years with the Northwest Region of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP). There, he helped to launch PADEP's new Hazardous Sites Cleanup Program statewide and directed that Program in PADEP's Northwest Region. He was co-leader of the pilot PADEP regional watershed team effort (focused on the internationally-renowned French Creek watershed), and later co-chaired PADEP's Lake Erie, French Creek and Oil Creek watershed team.
Please Note: At this time we are still awaiting confirmation on an invited panelist from U.S. Department of Agriculture