Meet the people behind this project for rural America
Barbara M. Leach – President
Barb got her start in agriculture as co-owner/manager of a 1000 acre farm located in SW Iowa. A native of Atlantic, Iowa, she is the original founder of My Rural America (2006-08) and a skilled political leader, previously elected for twenty years to leadership positions at the state and national levels. An experienced business executive, association manager and public servant, her professional experience includes having been appointed to senior level positions in two Administrations, including as Director of Intergovernmental Affairs at the U.S. Department of Transportation and as Associate Administrator for the Risk Management Agency at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). She also serves as an expert advisor and subject matter expert for the development of crop insurance and other farm safety net strategies at both domestic and international levels. Barb earned a B.S. degree in “Government and Politics” from the University of Maryland’s University College and also studied at Harvard University’s Kennedy School for Government.
Caren A. Wilcox – Treasurer
Caren is a retired federal appointee, business executive and senior advisor to government. Originally from Pennsylvania, she has served in two Administrations — recently as senior advisor and Special Assistant to the Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics, and formerly, appointed as the first Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety, both at USDA. Her experience includes service as Senior Advisor for Representative Rosa DeLauro, CEO of the Organic Trade Association, and in the private sector where as Director of Government Relations, she represented Hershey Foods Corporation. Her expertise includes focus on additional strategic issues in agriculture, counter-bioterrorism and organizational issues related to food safety for the United Nations and U.S. land grant universities. Caren holds degrees from Wellesley College and the University of Pennsylvania where she served as Assistant Dean.
Lloyd Wright – Director
Lloyd Wright is a farmer and a retired United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) employee. A Virginian by birth, he grew up on a family-owned soybean, corn, and wheat farm in southeast Virginia. Lloyd’s experience includes serving as an advisor to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. As a Legislative Assistant for Senator Tom Harkin, he was responsible for drafting a much-needed bill to stabilize land prices. Overall, preceding retirement, he worked for 37 years at USDA, holding a series of senior positions, include serving as Director of USDA’s Office of Civil Rights and Director of the Conservation Operations Division of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Lloyd has also worked on legislation which would have prevented farmland from conversion to non-agricultural uses and is the principal author of USDA’s Land Evaluation and Site Assessment (LESA) System.
Craig D. Obey – Board Leadership
A Wisconsin native, Craig Obey is a seasoned executive leader with a successful track record implementing strategic initiatives, executing effective campaigns, and providing direction for mission-oriented organizations. Prior to joining My Rural America, Mr. Obey was Deputy Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer for Families USA, where he played a core role in creating the national Protect Our Care Coalition and helping to defeat repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Preceding this, he served as Senior Vice President of the National Parks Conservation Association, where he led national strategies with Congress and the executive branch and built alliances to conserve, protect, and guarantee access to national parks and public lands. His experience also includes working for the top-rated public affairs firm Powell-Tate, where he assisted agricultural, health care and other issues. In addition, he spent nearly a decade as a key U.S. Senate Staff member focusing on issues like protecting Social Security, promoting rural access to affordable, quality health care, defending workers’ rights, boosting the viability of rural businesses, and a variety of other subjects of significance to rural America. His work on behalf of rural America has been recognized by such respected institutions as The Center for Rural Health at the University of North Dakota and the National Rural Electric Cooperatives Association.
Joyce Berman – Interim Public Affairs Director
A Michigan native, before joining the Rural America Works team, she served as the Public Affairs Council’s Deputy Director of Member Engagement, overseeing recruitment, retention and engagement of the more than 8,500 public affairs practitioners from over 700 member organizations who are active in the Council. Previously, she lived and worked in Eugene, Oregon, leading the Children’s Science Museum, where her efforts resulted in tripling the museum’s membership base. Joyce also provided marketing and communications leadership for several successful campaigns, including the establishment of a $70 Million school bond initiative. Her experience also includes serving as staff for Representative Harold Volkmer and as Press Secretary for the Democratic Leadership Council.
Founding Advisory Board Members
Mike is a Colorado farmer and a longtime advocate for federal public policies which strengthen rural communities and focus on soil health, biochar, renewable energy, and environmental markets. He is Founding Board Chair of the National Hemp Association, a Work Group Member of the Sustainable Technologies and Public Policy Initiative at the University of California Los Angeles and a Founding Board Member of the Sustainable BioFuel Alliance.
A Minnesota native, Dawn is a communications and public affairs strategist. A strategic public affairs pro, she specializes in advertising and public relations, with special expertise in sustainability, environmental, energy and conservation issues. She is owner of Aurora Strategic Advisors and serves as a Board Trustee for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities. Her specialties include: Advertising, Public Relations, Coalition Building, Outreach, Events and Strategic Planning.
An Iowa native, Dr. Stephanie Mercier is a Senior Policy Adviser at the Farm Journal Foundation. Prior to coming to work at the Foundation, she served between 1997 and 2011 in the position of chief economist for the Democratic staff of the Senate Agriculture Committee. Previously, she served as a team leader at the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dr. Mercier has a bachelor’s degree in economics from Washington University in St. Louis and a Ph.D. in agricultural economics from Iowa State University.
Joe is a former editor of the Anchorage, Alaska Daily News, and currently chairman and editor of the international news aggregator and distribution service EINNEWS.com. His political opinion columns are published at www.uspoliticstoday.com. For more than thirty years, through over two hundred campaigns, Joe Rothstein was at the center of U.S. politics. Rothstein was a strategist and media producer for United States Senators Tom Daschle of South Dakota, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Don Riegle of Michigan, Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, Tom Harkin of Iowa, and many others in the campaigns that brought each of them to the U.S. Senate.
In Larry Rasky’s words, he is a “Boston guy” Massachusetts. He is also Chairman and CEO of Rasky Partners, a leading national independent public relations and public affairs firm with offices in Washington, D.C. and Boston. Rasky Partners specializes in strategic communications counsel and hands-on implementation touching a wide variety of issues, including intellectual property, health care and hunger, start-ups and Fortune 500 businesses. For the past thirty years, Larry has provided strategic public relations and political advice to elected officials, businesses and non-profits. For My Rural America, he brings the same dedication that he uses as CEO for Rasky Partner, i.e., to help us be an organization that is respected for the quality of our work product, the quality of life we offer the people who work here and a real commitment for integrity for everyone. Larry has long been dedicated to helping America become a just society that affords economic opportunity to all of its people and regains its respect around the world. His experience also includes serving as communications director for the “Biden for President” campaign, and previously serving as press secretary for then Senator Joseph Biden’s 1988 presidential bid. Larry is also a board member of the New England Chapter of the Anti-Defamation League and Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees for Emerson College, his alma mater.