Sixty million Americans, including Vermonters, live in the countryside. That's one-fifth of the nation. Yet through this lengthy political season, we have heard little about the needs of rural America from the candidates.
Earlier this week in Washington, D.C., more than 500 leaders from communities around the country met to come up with strategies to improve the well-being of rural America.
The National Rural Assembly considered four policy areas: education, health care, natural resources and investment. It has put forth something called the Rural Compact, a statement of principles about the importance of rural areas to the nation's economic and social health.
What follows are the four principles contained in the compact to build stronger communities and a stronger nation:
* Quality in Education: Every child should have an equal chance to learn, excel and help lead America to a better, brighter future. Education policy should recognize the distinctive challenges and opportunities for rural schools and reflect the unique needs of those students, families and educators.
* Stewardship of Natural Resources: Eighty percent of our country's land is rural. It is a heritage and a trust. We all have a responsibility to protect the environment and develop and sustain our natural resources in ways that strengthen rural communities for the long haul. Good environmental practices and responsive public land management provide the opportunity to promote energy independence, grow healthy food in a sustainable manner, mitigate climate change and develop stronger natural-resource-based economies.
* Health of Our People: All people in America deserve access to good, affordable health care. If we want small towns and rural communities to contribute to the well-being of the nation, we need rural health care systems that work. These should include preventive care, health education and both community-based and high-tech delivery systems.
* Investment in Our Communities: To fight poverty, create wealth and build sustainable communities, everyone in America needs access to a safe and equitable system for saving, borrowing and building capital. To fully participate in and contribute to the American economy, rural communities need public and private investment, access to philanthropic resources, and the tools to develop their own community-controlled assets.
These four principles, as stated in the Rural Compact, are simple and common sense policy goals that would benefit the whole nation, not just rural areas.
We think that urban areas take rural communities for granted. We know the politicians do. But the needs of city, suburb and countryside are interconnected. Cities and suburbs benefit when rural communities succeed. When rural areas slump, the nation as a whole suffers.
Facing enormous challenges in how we fuel and feed America in future years, we need to come up with a real rural policy that allows places like Vermont to make a contribution to the solutions we need. If you agree, go to www.ruralcompact.org and add your signature to the compact.
© 2008 Reformer