MINNEOSTA — U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) joined United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development Under Secretary Xochitl Torres Small to visit Wadena and Menahga in Central Minnesota. Photo and video footage from the visits can be found here.
They started the day in Wadena, where they toured Tri-County Health Care’s new $72 million project. Named Astera Health, this will be a new 125,900 square-foot facility designed to integrate new technology, create a healthy environment that improves the patient experience and efficiency for staff, and ensure a sustainable future for health care in the area. Tri-County Health Care received a $42 million direct loan from the USDA Rural Development Community Facilities program.
After their visit with Tri-County Health Care, they toured Ten Finns Creamery in Menahga to learn about their specialization in A2 milk production and sustainable farming practices. Owned and operated by Joel and Amanda Hendrickson, their namesake comes from their Finnish ancestry and ten kids who play a big role in the daily care of their cows. Their specialization in A2 milk production produces dairy products for people with milk sensitivities to enjoy. They currently have whole milk, 2% milk, chocolate milk, and butter available as products. They pride themselves on sustainable farming practices, which include refusing to use synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides and planting cover crops to keep carbon in the soil and out of our atmosphere.
“It was great to have Under Secretary Torres Small here to see a glimpse of what rural Minnesota has to offer. Increasing health care delivery in rural areas is important for building prosperous and resilient rural communities. The new Astera Health facility in Wadena is exactly the type of thing the federal government should be a partner in. This project wouldn’t be possible without the support of the USDA’s Rural Development office,” said Sen. Smith. “And small farms are such an important fabric of the Minnesota economy. Ten Finns Creamery is being innovative amidst challenging dairy market conditions and their sustainable farming is leading the way for the future of climate-smart agriculture practices. These two visits are such great examples of how Minnesotans in rural areas are working to meet people’s needs despite the disparities they face, and the federal government needs to continue to make investments to support them.”
“Rural people across America deserve opportunities to prosper, and that’s why the Biden-Harris Administration and USDA are committed to investing in access to affordable health care and finding new and better markets for innovative agricultural products. With historic investments like President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act, and thanks to the efforts of leaders like Senator Smith, we are supporting these opportunities here in rural Minnesota and throughout rural America,” said USDA Rural Development Under Secretary Torres Small.
Xochitl Torres Small was confirmed by the United States Senate to serve as the Under Secretary for Rural Development on October 7, 2021. In this role, she oversees loans and grants to provide infrastructure improvements; business development; affordable housing; community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care; and high-speed internet access in rural, Tribal, and high-poverty areas. During her leadership, USDA Rural Development secured $2 billion to support rural broadband through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
Senator Smith is a member of the Senate Health Committee and Co-Chair of the Senate Rural Health Caucus, and she has been a champion for improving access to health care in rural areas. Earlier this year, her bill to address America’s high maternal mortality rate in rural areas, the Rural Maternal and Obstetric Modernization of Services (MOMS) Act, was signed into law. Additionally, as a member of the Senate Agriculture committee, she will work to make sure the 2023 Farm Bill improves access to care and addresses health disparities in rural areas.
Senator Smith also serves on the Senate Agriculture Committee and chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Rural Development and Energy. She has been a champion for advancing conservation policy in Congress. Recently, her leadership in the Senate played a critical role in the passing of the Inflation Reduction Act, which President Biden signed into law last week. The law includes several conservation provisions, including funding to support climate-smart agriculture practices.