Conservation building stronger communities

September 24, 2013

Several years ago, Carol Heuther, Robert Short and Jorge Espinoza didn’t even think of working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Today, beginning farmer Carol Heuther is earning her living by growing and selling a variety of fresh herbs through a growing season much longer than the local Nevada climate normally allows, thanks to a high tunnel. In Mississippi, conservation practices are helping Robert Short to transition to a USDA certified organic operation to increase his market opportunities and continue his grandfather’s legacy of growing crops without synthetic fertilizers. And Jorge Espinoza installed a solar pump to provide water to his small herd of cattle, saving energy and conserving water in his drought-stricken Texas community.

What brought all three producers to NRCS was a new effort to increase outreach – the USDA StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity initiative.

StrikeForce was launched in 2010 to reach underserved communities in rural America and help increase their participation in USDA programs and services. Through StrikeForce, we’re working one-on-one with farmers and ranchers in communities that have not traditionally participated in NRCS programs. When this work happens in high-poverty areas, conservation implementation can have a big impact on the economic success of not only individual farmers and ranchers, but whole communities.

Through StrikeForce, NRCS partners with USDA agencies and local nonprofit and community-based organizations to host hundreds of seminars to let people know what NRCS can do for them and guide farmers and ranchers through the process of applying for conservation programs.

It’s working. Last year, we saw an average of 82 percent increase in applications from underserved producers in StrikeForce areas.

StrikeForce has grown from just three states in 2010 to over 400 counties and reservations in 16 states across the country. In some StrikeForce counties, we’ve seen a 200 percent increase in participation of historically underserved communities in just two years.