WASHINGTON -- Doug O'Brien and Deb Eschmeyer are familiar with the disconnect between urban and rural America, a concern often cited by U.S. agriculturalists.

But O'Brien and Eschmeyer also say there are opportunities to bridge that divide.

"It's a great moment" for agriculturalists, said O'Brien, coordinator of the White House Rural Council.

O'Brien and Deb Eschmeyer, senior policy adviser for nutrition policy at the White House, spoke with members of North American Agricultural Journalists during the organization's recent annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

O'Brien, who grew up on a farm in eastern Iowa, agreed that fewer Americans have a direct, personal connection to agriculture.

"At the same time, there's also — and we see it at the White House — increased interest in food and agriculture," he said.

More people are interested in understanding how our food system works and in becoming farmers themselves, he said.

Eschmeyer's parents and brothers are dairy farmers in Ohio. She said the White House Kitchen Garden, with which she's involved, has helped generate more attention on farming and agriculture.

Michelle Obama planted the 1,100-square-foot Kitchen Garden on the White House lawn in the spring of 2009.

The Kitchen Garden will be ready for potential use by the new presidential administration next year, but that administration will decide for itself what use, if any to make, of the garden, Eschmeyer said.

The White House Rural Council was created by President Obama to make sure federal agencies are working together, and with other organizations, as well, to benefit rural interests.

The Rural Council was created by executive order, and so it continues from one administration to the next. But the next administration will decide for itself what use, if any, to make of the Rural Council, O'Brien said.

Helping kids

The Rural Council has focused recently on helping children, particularly poor ones. Research shows that increasing the economic self-sufficiency of poor families with children will boost the amount of taxes the children end up paying as adults, O'Brien said.

"Not only do these programs lift families out of poverty right now, but they're an investment in the individual family in the community into the future." he said.

Efforts to help poor families with children are making progress, but "there's also a lot more work to be done," he said.