May 6, 2013

State of Alabama
Press Release: Forestry Commission, Alabama

Initiative to Boost Rural Economic Growth and Opportunity in Alabama

Contact: Julie B. Yates, Director of Communications, Marketing, and Outreach





AUBURN, Ala., May 2, 2013 – Ron Sparks, Director of the Rural Development Office, Commissioner of Agriculture John McMillan, and State Food and Agriculture Council Chair Dr. William Puckett today announced the launch of the StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity in Alabama.  Currently, 90 percent of America's persistent poverty counties are in rural America. The primary goal of the StrikeForce initiative is to partner with local and state governments and community organizations on projects that promote economic development and job creation.


The kickoff was held at Al Hooks’ Produce Farm in Macon County, Alabama.  Mr. Al Hooks, Dr. Gilbert Rochon, President of Tuskegee University; and Dr. Walter Hill, Vice Provost and Dean, College of Agriculture, Environment and Nutrition Services, Tuskegee University, welcomed the group and spoke about the importance of working collaboratively with other agencies and organizations to make this initiative work.  Erin Swanson-Hall, Deputy Regional Administrator,



USDA Food and Nutrition Service, Atlanta, Georgia, spoke about meeting nutritional needs; and John Zippert, Director of Program Operations for the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, Epes, Alabama, discussed the importance of partnerships with community-based organizations.


Another event to introduce community-based organizations to the initiative will be held Friday, May 10, 2013, from 9:30 a.m. to 12 noon at the Central Farmers Co-op, 2519 U.S. Highway 80 West, Selma, Alabama.  Congresswoman Terri Sewell will be the guest speaker at this event.


U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack started the “StrikeForce” initiative as a pilot project in 2010 in selected regions in three states: Arkansas, Georgia, and Mississippi. In 2011 it was expanded to include Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada. In 2013, Secretary Vilsack announced new efforts to bring the StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity to Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, and Virginia.


“USDA in Alabama is actively involved in community outreach, service, and economic development,” said State Food and Agriculture Council Chair and StrikeForce Lead Dr. William Puckett. “We look forward to expanding this effort to help rebuild and revitalize rural communities in targeted areas.”  The StrikeForce team will focus on creating jobs, improving

quality of life, expanding business and community development, and building partnerships in the following 23 persistent poverty counties in Alabama: 


Bibb                                        Dallas                          Monroe

Bullock                                    Escambia                     Perry

Barbour                                   Greene                         Pike    

Butler                                      Hale                             Pickens

Choctaw                                  Lee                              Russell

Clarke                                      Lowndes                     Sumter

Conecuh                                  Macon                         Wilcox

Crenshaw                                Marengo


Participants in StrikeForce include the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Rural Development, the Farm Service Agency, the Food and Nutrition Service, and other USDA offices and state agencies. 

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