Rural communities face unique problems. Power lines, cable and telecommunications towers tend to end right outside concentrated population centers. A few big businesses like Walmart hold a disproportionate number of local jobs. Food regulations give unfair advantage to large-scale producers.
Freedom means the ability to act on our own behalf, and we can’t do that with shaky power, no internet, and unfair regulations.
Undergrounding power lines. Rural Virginians in Culpeper County recently went without power for 32 hours after a storm downed power lines. Power lines in rural areas are carried above ground, and utility-unfriendly trees with shallow roots are easily toppled during a storm and down power lines. Burying power lines underground (“undergrounding“) protects power lines from storm damage. But undergrounding is expensive, and commercial power suppliers can’t afford to invest in undergrounding in rural areas. So-called intelligent undergrounding prioritizes burying high-reliability power lines in areas more likely to face storm damage. But we need grants and subsidies to encourage rural undergrounding that has less financial incentive for power companies.
Mobile slaughter units. Small meat producers are stifled by the limited number of USDA slaughterhouses. We need to even the playing field for small farmers. In order to sell USDA-inspected meat and poultry, producers must travel to one of the limited number of stationary slaughterhouses. For example, Virginia has only 13 USDA-approved beef processing facilities. With relatively few stationary facilities, transportation costs for small farmers to transport their poultry and livestock to the facility cuts into their already slim profit margins. Health-related regulations are important but shouldn’t give unfair advantage to large-scale operations. Mobile Slaughter Units (MSUs) are relatively inexpensive, USDA-approved traveling units that would greatly stimulate local meat production.
Food freedom. Farmers should be able to sell products such as milk on site. Food regulations are out of control: let’s keep Virginia from becoming the next Wisconsin, where the dairy regulations are so excessive that just selling Kerrygold Butter can get you a six-month jail sentence. Ben supports House Bill 619, the Virginia Food Freedom Act which includes reasonable regulations without excessive intrusion. Nick Freitas was unable to get his food freedom bill, HB 2030, out of committee in spite of his party’s large majority. Ben can bring Democratic sponsorship and votes. Ben also supports assistance for small farmers such as grants or tax rebates for sanitary milking parlors and establishing co-op processing facilities for pasteurization to streamline the process by which small farmers can get their milk into stores. Simple commonsense solutions like these can ease the livelihoods of our rural communities at little cost.
Rural broadband. Access to broadband is a fundamental positive freedom, just like access to electricity, clean water, and a public education. We’re not free, we’re not able to ‘pick ourselves up by our bootstraps,’ to make our own decisions and then fully act on them, if we don’t have access to basic communication. We don’t lose our freedoms just because we live in rural areas, and when the only available internet is expensive, slow, and unreliable, then our basic freedom to act is at risk. Ben supports efforts to improve rural broadband such as the Madison County Broadband Committee and will actively work to secure grant money for further improvements and to combat the crony capitalism that limits competition.