John Shea, 202-690-0437
ASSOCIATE ADMINISTRATOR BARBARA LEACH'S REMARKS
AT WOMEN'S HISTORY MONTH CELEBRATION
Good morning. I’m glad to see so many of you here. My story begins in Atlantic, IA, a small town in the
heart of SW Iowa. Actually, at the time, we didn’t think of ourselves as “small” but rather, Atlantic was a
“big” town with a winning football team, a place where people came to shop. I grew up there in a two bedroom
“Levitt-like” house, belonged to country 4-H, and went K-12 to school in this same town.
My Dad had grown up in Alberta, Canada; he went broke farming in the first year and worked all sorts of
patched-together jobs, but in the heart of the Great Depression, he hitchhiked from near Edmonton, Alberta to Des
Moines, IA where his cousin found him a job on the railroad and he joined the union. In Des Moines, he met my mother,
was drafted for WWII and returned to marry my mother. That’s how I happened to grow up in Iowa, daughter of a
railroad worker with an 8th grade education who became chief of his AFL-CIO union for IA, MO, KS and NE.
It was the sixties on the calendar but really, the culture was like in the fifties. I was engaged my whole
senior year. I married a local farmer two months after high school graduation. We raised corn, beans, hogs, cattle,
and I had 1300 laying hens seven of those years. In addition to having two kids and the chickens, I drove a tractor,
tended our cow herd, sold certified and registered soybean seed, and I cooked four square meals a day – breakfast,
dinner at noon, lunch to the field at 5 and supper whenever the men came in. We went from farming about 500 acres
with his family to farming 1000 acres by ourselves with the help of the two full-time hired men who lived with us.
It was a big operation in 1981. In those days, we belonged to the National Farmers Organization (NFO) and I did a lot
of the organizing for my husband who was our county’s NFO president.
But then there was a turning point: In 1968, Bobby Kennedy met with NFO national leaders and made promises
on the Farm Bill. My husband then – now my ex, and I organized people to go to the Iowa Caucuses for Kennedy. I was
elected a Caucus Delegate to the county, district and state conventions, all because of my commitment to family
farmers and the Farm Bill.
Long story short - this was my beginning. Overall, I won elections – local, state and national - for about
20 years and I worked in the Iowa Caucuses every presidential cycle. For most of the eighties, I served as
Vice Chair/Co-Chair of the Iowa Democratic Party and also represented the Midwest on the executive committees
of the DNC and the ASDC.
In the mid-70’s, I started going to college at night. By 1981, I was living in Des Moines - divorced; a student
still going to college at night; and a single parent of two teenage boys. I held a series of jobs – Iowa PTA
Executive Director; Real Estate Broker, and, as the kids went to college, I came here (still going to college
at night), first to work for the Realtors and eventually to join the Clinton Administration as Director of
Intergovernmental at DOT and second term, I chose - worked - to be appointed Chief of Staff for RMA. Now I’m
RMA’s Associate Administrator, appointed by President Obama.
Why did I want to come back? Because after all these years and many stories, my heart and my commitment is
still tied to family farmers and rural communities. I live in the city and I love living here, but I still remember
how hard we worked, and that still, families are poorer in the small towns of RURAL AMERICA. I still remember that
the challenges of distance make it harder to get the news, to go to school, to get broadband, to believe in the
future. I still remember that farmers and ranchers have more risk and more danger than practically any other
“workers” in America. And because I believe in fairness – we feed our country and the world, I want RURAL AMERICA
to have both the respect and the fair return that RURAL AMERICA deserves.
Now, as RMA Associate Administrator, I have the opportunity to help our farmers and ranchers manage their risk,
with the help of FCIC production and revenue insurance products. I also have the opportunity to play at least a
small role in how our government,our democracy, can work as efficiently and compassionately as possible.
That’s what I started in politics to do and that’s why I love working here at USDA.
It’s a chance to serve our family farmers and their rural communities.
My advice – reach for the future. Work for things you can believe in. Never say, “No, I can’t,” because
together, we can succeed in the things our country needs done.