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'Great American comeback is under way,' Trump tells Mills River audience

President Trump claps as he walks in front of a truckload of Farmers to Families food boxes at Flavor 1st packing house in Mills River. President Trump claps as he walks in front of a truckload of Farmers to Families food boxes at Flavor 1st packing house in Mills River.

MILLS RIVER —President Trump touted the Farmers to Families Food Box program and its Mills River partner, Flavor 1st Growers and Packers, on Monday, casting the initiative as an unprecedented innovation that has helped right an economy savaged by the coronavirus crisis.

Painting an optimistic picture of an economic recovery and an end to the coronavirus pandemic, Trump pointed to jobs gains, trade deals and a surging stock market as indicators of a brighter future.

“Already, the great American comeback is very much under way,” he declared, a line that sounded like a theme of this week’s Republican National Convention.

It was a day that showcased the power of the presidency — a pageant of security, symbolism and base-pleasing politics that had not been on display here for 28 years. Crowds of Trump supporters lined the motorcade route. A huge deployment of law officers and Secret Service agents secured the president’s destination. A giant American flag strung from a Mills River fire truck waved in the breeze over Banner Farm Road. And symbols framed the stage in a gravel lot behind the packing house where President Trump would speak, marking the first public visit to Henderson County by a sitting president since George H.W. Bush visited in 1992.

The political climate was similar, too. Bush visited the North Carolina Apple Festival during a drenching downpour on Sept. 5, 1992, as he fought to boost his re-election bid against challenger Bill Clinton. Trump, too, is fighting what some polls characterize as an uphill re-election battle against newly anointed Democratic nominee Joe Biden. Trump, himself renominated a few hours before he landed at Asheville Regional Airport, joined co-owner Kirby Johnson for a tour of the Flavor 1st Growers & Packers facility in Mills River. Inside, the president met with farmers who are getting paid market price for food they supply to the USDA program. The program has distributed 1 billion pounds of food and more than 100 million meals to the needy, Trump says, while saving family farms and ranches across the U.S.

A crowd of about 200 invited guests applauded heartily as Trump took the stage. Wearing a navy suit and blue tie, Trump strode onto to the platform as Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” blared from speakers and joined his daughter, Ivanka, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, Flavor 1st owners Johnson and Brian Rose and Baptists on Mission Director Richard Brunson on stage.

In his 14-minute remarks, Trump bounced from aid to farmers to the economy and the stock market, trade war with China, his administration’s response to the coronavirus, taking several shots at North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and other Democratic governors he says have plotted to shut down their state’s economies to hurt Trump’s re-election prospects.

“The problem is he doesn’t want to reopen, he wants to keep it shut down and you can’t do that,” he said. “Because there’s a lot of bad statistics on the other side. Shutdowns cause problems, too, with suicide, depression and loss of jobs. We have to get numerous states open that are run by Democrats, because I really believe on Nov. 4th they’re all going to be open, it’s going to be a miracle.”

“You’re ready to open up,” he added later, “and you’re ready to play football.”

Trump also forecast elements of the acceptance speech he is scheduled to deliver on Thursday night from the White House as the RNC wraps up, touching on the economy, the Operation Warp Speed search for a covid-19 vaccine, slashing regulation, repealing the estate tax, securing better trade deals and America’s economic comeback.


Trumps makes ag news

Trump made farm news when he announced that he had added another billion dollars to the food box program, which had allocated $3 billion so far.

“Each time you deliver a food box to a family you show them that in this country no one is forgotten,” he said. “They’re no longer forgotten. ... America will come back bigger and better and more united than ever.”

Johnson, the first speaker, repeated a story he tells often when it comes to the Farmers to Family Food Box program. He was aboard a tractor planting beans in May when he got a call from a state Agriculture Department official about the program. A few weeks at that point into the coronavirus, Johnson figured the pandemic would be over by the time the government got the initiative up and running.

“But believe me, nine days later I was packing boxes in this packing house going out to people that needed it and paying farmers that needed the money,” he said.

Under the program, Flavor 1st workers pack roughly 7,500 boxes a week that are delivered to needy families. The program has bought $3 billion worth of produce, meat and dairy products from American farms, Perdue said.

Following Trump on stage, Perdue pivoted back to the president’s remarks.

“Mr. President, if you saw those throngs of people lining both sides of the road from the airport all the way to Mills River here, those were part of those forgotten people that voted for you in 2016,” he said. “And I’ve got better news for you. They and many others are going to vote for you for four more years in 2020. Because they understand under your administration they’ve not been forgotten and this program is a great example of that.”

'Business speed'

Perdue recalled an early morning phone call from Trump asking him to find a solution to two problems: farmers plowing under crops for lack of a market and families going hungry because of pandemic-related job loss.

“I love your speed, Mr. President,” Perdue said. “You’re a man with a business speed, not a government speed.”

Ivanka Trump, a supporter of the food box program and a senior adviser, said the program has not only supplied meals to the hungry but boosted farm income and saved “countless jobs in terms of the distribution network like this great facility that was having to lay people off because the supply chain was severed. This is truly a win, win, win program. And in government? You can’t say that about a lot of government programs, especially one of this scale that was mobilized so quickly. ... With this $1 billion addition we’re going to keep it going and we’re going to keep feeding those in need until this pandemic is past.”