Rural West Virginia communities are struggling to recover from decades of disinvestment, and some are counting on the next Farm Bill to help propel rural policy reforms in agriculture and clean energy.
The legislation, reauthorized every five years, affects farming, land conservation and federal food programs like SNAP.
Rosemary Ketchum, a city council member in Wheeling, one of dozens of local officials who attended the recent Rural Policy Action Summit, said focusing on clean energy could help create more high-paying jobs in counties where large employers have disappeared.
“Something I’m really excited to see baked into the Farm Bill is what can support local communities in their efforts to be more renewable, and to take efforts to be on the right side of history here,” Ketchum emphasized.
The federal Rural Energy Assistance Program, which is funded in part through the Farm Bill, offers grants and loans for farms to purchase solar panels and make other energy-efficient upgrades. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has continued to oppose policies aimed at reducing dependence on fossil fuels, arguing it would cost more West Virginians’ their jobs.
Ketchum added it is up to local leaders to ensure rural workers, small business owners, and farmers’ voices are heard.
“For decades and centuries, rural communities have been the backbone of our energy economy and our agriculture economy,” Ketchum pointed out. “In so many ways, unfortunately, our federal government has left these rural communities behind.”
Last fall, polling showed around 88% of rural young people and 82% of rural independents said they would be more likely to support a candidate who called for reforming the nation’s food and agriculture systems.