EPES, ALABAMA...Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer was the keynote speaker at Friday’s luncheon as part of the 41st Annual Meeting of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives. Schafer spoke about his experiences over the last six months as the Secretary of Agriculture. He said his major task was the implementation of the new Farm Bill passed by Congress in June.
He said he was working with the USDA staff to deliver the changes and continuing program opportunities included in the Farm Bill. He praised the work of the Federation in developing the ‘Small Farm Initiative’ under the Natural Resources Conservation Service which has now led to a nationwide set-aside of conservation funds by NRCS for small, beginning and disadvantaged farmers.
He also commended the Federation for its long-time commitment to the USDA Section 2501 Program which provides outreach, education and technical assistance to Black farmers and other farmers of color across the nation. Schafer indicated that the 2501 Program was included in the new Farm Bill at $15 million per year, which is more than double the amount allocated for this program in any previous year since 1990.
Schafer also announced that the Federation’s Rural Training and Research Center in Epes had been funded for $200,000 as part of a program that provided $4.5 million in grants to 23 cooperative development centers across the country.
In a later ceremony on Friday at the USDA Rural Development Office in Tuscaloosa, Schafer presented $10 million in water and sewer grants for people in Sumter, Pickens and Choctaw counties. This included a loan and grant combination of $3 million for the Sumter County Sewage Authority which will serve the towns of Geiger, Gainesville and Emelle in North Sumter County. The treatment facility for this new sewage system will be a refurbished lagoon at the Wendy Hills Subdivision South of Gainesville on Hwy. 39. The Federation has been instrumental in working with the three towns in the development of this sewage system.
Schafer spoke as part of a program on Friday which included workshops on women in agriculture, a forestry program involving payment to farmers for carbon sequestration and a session on the new opportunities for late filers in the Pigford Black Farmer Class Action Law Suit to have their claims heard.
John Lewis Honored at Banquet
Congressman John Lewis of Atlanta, GA was honored by the Federation at the Seventh Annual Estelle Witherspoon Lifetime Achievement Awards Banquet. He was given an award named for a founder of the Federation and manager of the Freedom Quilting Bee.
Lewis was first honored by comments from Congressman Artur Davis, State Senator Hank Sanders, a video sent by Andrew Young and statements from others including Ron Sparks, Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture and Nick Sellers representing Alabama Power Company.
Lewis thanked the Federation for the award and said he had visited with and stayed at Mrs. Estelle Witherspoon’s home with the Rev. C. T. Vivian in the late 1960’s. During the visit, they had discussed the work of Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement.
Lewis said that he was going to the Democratic National Convention in two weeks to see Barack Obama nominated on the night of August 28, 2008, which will be the 45th anniversary of the March on Washington.
“Hands that picked cotton will now be able to pick the president of the United States and for this we need to give credit to grassroots people like Estelle Witherspoon and community-based organizations like the Federation because you got in the way and made a difference for poor and Black people,” said Lewis.
Lewis also said, “We must register every person to vote who is not registered and we must vote more than we ever have before.”
Lewis accepted the award and a framed poster of the work of the Federation which he said he would hang in his Capitol Hill office. “As one of the Democratic whips, I have a pretty nice office. This poster will hang near the window in my office where I can look out at the steps of the Capitol where Barack Obama will take the oath of office in January, 2009.”
Lewis was also honored by the City of Birmingham, the City of Troy, his home town, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity and Mr. W. Frank Fountain of the Chrysler Corporation. Fountain pledged to give $10,000 of scholarships to Fisk University, Lewis’ alma mater.