There is a silent crisis in America, secretary of agriculture Thomas Vilsak told members of the North American Agricultural Journalists last week in Washington.
That crisis involves rural America and the disconnect with urban America, he said.
"We have statistics that show 90% of the persistent poverty in America is in rural areas," he said. While social services programs exist to serve most of the urban need, virtually nothing exists to serve the rural need.
He said it is useless for lawmakers to continue on the same path they have been treading for the last 70 years.
"We can't persist with the same farm policies that have brought us to where we are today," he said. "And yet, it seems to always come back to just that."
He said investment must be made in a new economic model for rural America. There needs to be expansion of broadband access in rural America, investments need to be made to advance and accelerate biofuels production, create opportunities for earning money from recreation and generating jobs in rural towns.
Almost half of America's farmers work off the farm 202 days a year to survive, he said. About one-sixth of the military comes from small towns.
"We have to move the rhetoric beyond direct payments and subsidies," he said. "We need a broad discussion about fate of rural America. We need to let our urban and suburban friends know that their lives are linked to rural America.
"We need to tell them: You are connected. Your environment, your water, your food, your discretionary income, your ability to flourish, all depend on rural America."
Vilsak said too many conversations in rural homes center on telling children there is nothing for them on the farm, that they need to look elsewhere for the future.
"I want to change that conversation," he said. "I want the talk around kitchen tables and coffee tables to be about the opportunities that are there for the future, not about the lack of opportunity."