Indiana native Anne Hazlett has long been interested in farm policy and in supporting rural communities, which is why she’s spent much of her career in Washington, D.C., part of the time on Capitol Hill and now at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where she focuses on rural development.
But staying connected to farmers and other rural residents while living and working in Washington has always been a challenge, and she gives Farm Bureau much of the credit for helping her retain that connection.
“One of the things that I’ve always appreciated is that the Farm Bureau membership really takes the time to leave their communities and come to Washington to bring that important voice for farm and rural families here,” she said.
Talking to members at a county annual meeting, during a lobbying trip to Washington or at a district summer picnic, “All of those things really do end up shaping the decisions that get made here, and I think that’s really important,” she added.
Hazlett became the assistant to the secretary for rural development at USDA nearly a year ago. In this position, she is leading the USDA’s rural development mission with particular emphasis on creating an environment for rural prosperity. This includes greater access to broadband connectivity, medical care and workforce training.
Prior to the USDA, she worked for the U.S. House Agriculture Committee and was the chief counsel for the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee. She also served as Indiana’s director of agriculture under Gov. Mitch Daniels and as chief of staff for Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman.
And before all that, she served as INFB’s first legal intern, she noted.
The issues in agriculture and rural America have evolved significantly during her time in D.C., Hazlett said, citing changes in federal farm policy but also challenges such as broadband access and opioid abuse.
“But that’s one of the reasons I’m very hopeful about an organization like Farm Bureau stepping up and stepping forward to be part of the solution to that (opioid) crisis because their members remain such strong leaders in these towns,” she said. “They’ve been an influence for generations in the past and they will be an influence for generations in the future. And I so just appreciate how Farm Bureau continues to evolve as the issues evolve and remains a respected and trusted voice.”
Broadband access, opioid crisis remain priorities
As assistant to the secretary for rural development at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Hazlett oversees the rural development mission area, which includes three agencies: the Housing and Community Facilities Agency, Business Program Agency and Utilities Agency.
“There’s a saying around here in rural development that we can build a community from the ground up,” she said, “and that’s about accurate. Pretty much anything that a community needs here, we can build.”
Two of Hazlett’s current priorities are broadband access and the opioid crisis. She noted that she was very pleased to see the partnership between Farm Bureau and the Farmers Union regarding the opioid issue.
She also noted that in a way, these two very different issues are linked. Many of the rural areas that have been impacted by the opioid crisis are also places where there’s a lack of economic opportunity, she said, and that’s where broadband comes in.
“We believe that the broadband infrastructure can be foundational for quality of life and economic opportunity in small towns,” she explained. “Any more, it’s not just an amenity, it’s a necessity.
“That’s why under (Agriculture) Secretary Perdue’s leadership and really all of our team here at USDA, we’re very focused on infrastructure, and specifically on broadband,” she said.