DIKE, Iowa – Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (search) said he hopes to strengthen the nation's rural economy with a plan that includes new venture capital investments and tax credits for farm-based businesses.
Dean, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for president, said Wednesday that the foundation of the nation's rural economy is crumbling under the Bush administration, which he said supports corporations and not family farmers who are tied directly to the success of rural economies.
"Opportunities are fewer. Poverty rates are shameful in rural America. The number of families living in poverty is 50 percent higher than everywhere else in this country," he said. "Almost 500,000 rural Americans fell below the poverty line in George Bush's first year in the White House. We have to do better than that."
Dean outlined his proposal in front of a group of local residents, farmers and environmentalists who gathered at Dike Lake in Grundy County in northeast Iowa.
Dean said his goal is not only to revive rural economies through measures such as seeking a 50 percent boost in grants to aid businesses, but also to reward sound environmental stewardship and return the virtues of capitalism and competition to American agriculture.
The proposal includes restrictions on factory farms which would give local residents veto power over where giant livestock confinements are built. That idea received a loud round of applause from the group, which gathered on a graveled lot overlooking the lake.
Dean, the candidate who has spent the most time in Iowa where precinct caucuses launch the presidential nominating season, also wants to slow the increasing trend toward corporate farms.
Dean's proposal includes prohibiting meat packer ownership of livestock, promoting renewable energy sources such as wind power and requiring a 10 percent mix of ethanol (search) in gasoline.
He wants to force the disclosure of where products are grown by implementing country-of-origin labeling. The measure was included in the farm bill, but Dean said implementation has been delayed by Bush.
"American consumers should have the ability to buy American if they want to and farmers should be able to enjoy the premium that consumers are willing to pay for quality American products," he said.
The proposal also includes a labeling requirement which would tell consumers if they are buying genetically modified (search) products.
In an effort to connect with Iowa voters Dean emphasized his record on rural issues while serving 11 years as governor of Vermont.
"Protecting Vermont's family farmers was one of my top priorities and I knew we needed innovative solutions," said Dean, who claims Vermont's rural program brought over $60 million to farmers and $180 million overall to the agriculture economy.
Dean has competition tapping into Iowa's agricultural base.
North Carolina Sen. John Edwards (search) unveiled a rural development plan in Iowa this spring, and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry vowed to protect family farmers and the rural way of life Tuesday during a trip to a north- central Iowa hog farm in Klemme.
Dean referred to the president's Texas ranch when criticizing Bush's connection with rural America.
"We can't afford four more years of a president who treats rural America like it's nothing more than a campaign prop. We need a president who will make the investment in our rural communities that America deserves," he said.