By Scott Soares, State Director USDA Rural Development Southern New England
I’ve had the privilege to work closely with agricultural, aquacultural and rural businesses as well as local community, state, and federal leaders for much of the past 30 years. During that time the common and recurring themes of environmental and economic impact, good and bad, have more often than not been at the center of most matters associated with where we live, work and play. Also, common has been the recurring evidence that environmental benefit and economic development are not mutually exclusive but, in fact, most often mutually beneficial.
Whether the emergence and growth of systems on dairy farms known as anaerobic digesters that turn food and animal waste into energy, increased opportunities for energy independence for home owners and small businesses by increased accessibility to renewable energy sources or the continuously growing demand for locally grown and processed food products, all have been examples, some more direct than others, of the universal good that comes from intentional efforts to benefit our economy and our environment.
Of course, such shifts come at a monetary cost but fortunately, initiatives at the local, state and federal level have also emerged and grown to off-set those costs and in fact serve as wise investments that have provided immediate and, certainly with regard to our environment, long-term opportunity and high value returns. To that end from the federal level, I’m very proud to highlight USDA Rural Development as a key contributor to those investments across our three-state jurisdiction of Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. And considering this year’s “Invest in Our Planet” theme for Earth Week, it’s fitting that we take a moment to highlight our efforts.
A lot of people don’t realize that investing in our planet is something that we do at USDA Rural Development every single day, investing in our local rural communities while supporting good jobs and opportunities for rural people across the country. Indeed our mission has been enhanced and strengthened under the Biden-Harris Administration’s Investing in America agenda facilitating partnerships with rural and Tribal people to build brighter futures in rural America. For us, it’s our mission to invest in our planet – and people across rural America. We do this critical work in many ways all around the country. USDA is doing this work by helping to:
1. Expand access to safe drinking water, clean energy and reliable wastewater infrastructure for rural people everywhere.
2. Reduce energy costs with programming that also creates jobs for rural Americans through the Inflation Reduction Act.
3. Accelerate a transition to biobased products across the nation that foster energy independence.
The success of rural America is critical to the success of the rest of the country and the world. So, when we invest in projects that create good-paying jobs and advance clean infrastructure in rural communities, we create a ripple effect that impacts everyone. This is what our agenda is about – to strengthen communities that for too long were left out or left behind.
For example, our investments through USDA RD Self Help Housing Program in Burrillville Rhode Island has provided dozens of families with affordable housing assistance through a partnership with NeighborWorks. Also in Burrillville, our support of the Pascoag Utility District has awarded loans and grants totaling more than $3.3 million to provide clean water to the community’s residents.
Similarly in Massachusetts, the Town of Provincetown's Water Pipe Replacement Project will supply all residential, commercial, and municipal property, a community that swells from a few thousand to over 60,000 during the summer months with a reliable water supply. Ultimately, Rural Development is providing support in improvements to Provincetown's public water system that is essential to the residents as well as the regional economy.
A Rural Development investment in Connecticut has supported the establishment of a 600 kW anaerobic digester at Hytone Dairy Farm in Coventry, CT. This project not only supports local dairy production as part of our regional food system but also turns the environmental liability of animal and food waste into a renewable energy source that will generate greater than 3.7 million kWh per year or enough electricity to power 342 homes.
Projects like these invest in our planet, our people and our communities by creating important employment opportunities and ensuring that the resources and wealth we build in Southern New England stays right here in Southern New England.
Under the leadership of President Biden, Vice President Harris and Agriculture Secretary Vilsack, USDA Rural Development is committed to ensuring that the people who live in rural areas have every opportunity to succeed – and that they can find those opportunities right at home in Southern New England
USDA is proud to celebrate Earth Day to show how we are investing in locally driven solutions to expand access to safe water and reliable wastewater infrastructure, renewable energy and essential services that create jobs, build critical infrastructure and create sustainable futures for rural America. We are committed to unleashing the potential of all rural and tribal communities to build a secure and successful future for all.
For more information and to contact your local USDA Rural Development office, please go to www.rd.usda.gov/ct-ma-ri.