I grew up on a small hobby farm just outside of Northfield surrounded by hundreds of acres of our neighbors’ cropland. My dad based his landscaping business out of our small three-and-a-half-acre plot, and we raised chickens and pigeons in the small coop on our property.

Every day, I rode the school bus into town with friends and neighbors who shared their stories of working on the farm. The pride in their voices and their strong and independent spirit is something I’ve never forgotten.

Farming has always been one of the backbones of the Minnesota economy – it’s part of who we are as a state. Minnesota is home to more than 68,000 farms, and nearly half of the state is cropland.

Yet today, it’s no secret farmers have experienced several economic setbacks. Weather, low commodity prices and unstable trade relationships are just a few of the challenges farmers have faced, and those challenges are taking their toll.

Income earned by farmers has declined in recent years from a peak in 2012 of 4.4 percent of the state’s total personal income, to just 0.5 percent in 2018.

As commissioner of the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), I take those challenges seriously. At DEED, our mission is to empower the growth of the Minnesota economy, for everyone. Those last two words are important.

One of the best ways to empower the growth of the Minnesota economy for our state’s farmers is to ensure that local rural communities have the resources they need to thrive. There is a strong demand for these communities to support farmers through both difficult and prosperous times. Without these communities, it’s all the more difficult for farmers to get the tools they need for their business.

That’s why we have a number of initiatives and programs at DEED working to support rural communities in Greater Minnesota.

The Border-to-Border Broadband Grant program has invested more than $85 million and helped connect more than 39,000 homes, businesses and farms to fast, reliable Internet access over the past five years.  This year, we were able to pass an additional $40 million in grants for the program.

Then there’s the Greater Minnesota Public Infrastructure program, which helps rural communities fund infrastructure projects, such as street construction, water infrastructure and utility improvements.

The Child Care Economic Development Grant program works to increase childcare availability in rural Minnesota, which to date has helped create nearly 60 new childcare centers and more than 1,000 new childcare slots.

Additionally, our CareerForce program, with physical locations across the state, helps Minnesota workers find employment or training opportunities for in-demand jobs. Some of those jobs can be done in the off-season from farming. Others can be temporary jobs when farming conditions are hard.

There’s a lot of opportunity in our state right now, and we want to help job-seekers everywhere take advantage, regardless of their ZIP code. It’s through these programs and others that DEED is working to support rural Minnesota communities and to make Governor Tim Walz and Lt. Governor Peggy Flannagan’s vision of One Minnesota a reality.

We want Minnesota to be a state where anyone can be economically successful, no matter where they live.

Minnesota is a strong, economically diverse state.

Farming has played a large role in our history, and will continue to impact our future. That’s why DEED is honored to work with our state’s farming community to grow our state’s economy for everyone.

– Steve Grove serves as the commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED).