On March 4, Cornellians gathered at Stocking Hall to hear from U.S. Department of Agriculture Undersecretary for Rural Development Xochitl Torres Small, who discussed the initiatives she has spearheaded to foster the development of rural communities. Americans.
A New Mexico native and granddaughter of Mexican immigrants employed as farmhands, Torres Small cited her background as her passion for rural development.
“I’m so grateful to be getting to work right now, investing in rural communities and building real partnerships with people living in rural communities,” said Torres Small. “And for me, that’s grounded in my experience of rural opportunity.”
On June 18, 2021, President Joe Biden announced his intention to appoint Torres Small to the position of Under Secretary for Rural Development at USDA. On November 8, 2021, the United States Senate nominated her for this position.
Torres Small was also the first woman of color to represent New Mexico’s second congressional district, serving in the position from 2019 to 2021. She was succeeded by Yvette Herrell (RN.M).
After earning his bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, Torres Small went on to earn a law degree from the University of New Mexico School of Law. She also holds an International Baccalaureate from Waterford Kamhlaba United World College of Southern Africa.
In his speech, Torres Small explained how the work that takes place in America’s rural communities sustains, nourishes and fuels the whole country. She emphasized that understanding the connection between rural, suburban, and urban communities across the United States is an important step in overcoming the barriers these communities face.
“I can see ‘rural’ all over the country and how diverse it is, and also how connected we are,” Torres Small said. “If we want to make sure we solve the most persistent challenges today, we have to do it together.”
Since beginning to serve as undersecretary, Torres Small has spearheaded initiatives to expand access to clean water and wastewater in rural areas. She leveraged funds from the bipartisan Infrastructure Act — a federal investment that aims to improve various national infrastructure, including access to clean water — and state EPA revolving funds, which provide financial assistance. hydraulic infrastructure projects.
Torres Small said improving access to water is key to improving resource equity in rural communities.
“If you want to talk about fairness like luck, it doesn’t get much more specific than if you always have to carry your water or if you can’t flush the toilet,” Torres Small said. “We were able to start [improving water access] in a few areas, and I’m really excited to continue working on partnerships that will reach new communities.
In addition to water infrastructure, Torres Small has worked to improve broadband access in rural communities. She noted difficulties coordinating with government organizations — such as the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Federal Communications Commission — as well as communicating with local engineers to build utility poles and provide internet service. . To overcome this obstacle, Torres Small worked with rural development staff who are experts in various aspects of Internet infrastructure and represent different rural regions.
Torres Small urged Cornellians to support rural America by forming true partnerships with its communities.
“It’s investing in these fair markets that will help tackle challenges like climate change or food supply chains and turn them into opportunities for people on the ground,” said Torres Small. “It’s about identifying their vision for their community and helping to make it a reality.”