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Gooden greets council in new role as state’s ag secretary
By SEAN CLOUGHERTY
WINCHESTER, Va. (Oct. 4, 2016) — Basil Gooden was more interested in talking about his priorities as Virginia’s agriculture secretary than himself when he addressed the Virginia Agribusiness Council at its annual conference last month but conceded his own background plays a big role in him helping rural Virginia.
“Country boy and beef cattle farmer from Buckingham County; that’s enough about me,” Gooden, who was named secretary in July, said before moving on to talk about two of his main goals while in office.
He said he wants to continue the success of the Agriculture and Forestry Industry Development grant program that partners state funding with local government funding and produces money to to grow farm and forestry businesses.
Grants awarded to businesses throughout Virginia have helped create more than 1,700 jobs since 2012, Gooden added. Along with that fund is the upcoming rollout of the Farm Business Development Program.
Planning for the program began under previous Virginia Agriculture Secretary Todd Haymore, and Gooden said he expects its debut in a few months. The program’s aim is to help smaller farms improve and expand their businesses with grants no more than $5,000.
“We’re going to focus on improving the capacity of farmers to take their operations to the next level,” Gooden said.
Another priority Gooden shared was emphasis on leadership development in the agriculture industry.
“I’m a firm believer that any organization, any company, any agency rises and falls with its leadership,” Gooden said. “The future of agribusiness rests in the hands of the local leaders and the young leaders.”
While state director of USDA Rural Development, Gooden partnered with other Virginia agriculture organizations to publish a guide for agriculture development boards that work on locall- focused agricultural economic development at the county level.
“It’s pretty sporadic,” Gooden said of boards operating around the commonwealth. “It’s not uniform and the mission of some of the agriculture development boards varies from locality to locality.”
Gooden said he hopes to use the guide as tool to help strengthen the boards and “also make sure agriculture is front and center when you talk about economic development for a region.”
Gooden said his motivation for helping rural areas ultimately stems from a conversation he had with his father as Gooden was moving into his dorm room at Virginia Tech.
Gooden said after he was unpacked his father gave him three pieces of advice. He told his son to study hard, stay out of trouble and then paused.
“He looked at me and said, ‘And once you finish here, don’t come back to the country.’” Gooden said, adding his father told him there would be few if any opportunities for him if he did come back.
“I was 17 years old, didn’t know a soul in Blacksburg and all I knew was the country,” Gooden said. “That was earth-shattering for me.”
But Gooden said that’s why he’s passionate about creating opportunities for young people to be successful in rural Virginia.
“That is my motivation,” he said. “That’s a driving force for me because I feel like many of you feel that a kid growing up in Scott County or Lee County or Accomack County deserves the same opportunities as a kind growing up in Fairfax or Richmond. I’m fighting for rural Virginia each day that I come to this office.”