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Healthy Garden Workshop focuses on pollinators

Visitors check out the bee hive at the Healthy Garden Workshop

This summer, we’ve had the privilege to hear from all sorts of experts in the Peoples’ Garden at USDA, as part of the Healthy Garden Workshops series. We’ve learned about gardening various delicious vegetables, controlling pests, and preparing garden-grown foods. This afternoon, visitors to the USDA tents on the National Mall were treated to a really interesting presentation on pollination. Read more »

Vilsack exits Nairobi city limits to visit agriculture, education institutions

Chris Mather, USDA Director of Communications, traveled with Secretary Vilsack to Kenya for the AGOA (African Growth and Opportunity Act) Summit. Today she shares her thoughts on segments of the trip when they traveled beyond the city limits of Nairobi for educational events. Read more »

USDA employees volunteer for healthier communities

The Obama administration has called on Americans from all backgrounds and walks of life to work to improve their communities as part of the United We Serve project. Here at USDA, many of our more than 100,000 employees are doing their part. They are driven to serve, and proud to identify ways to use their skills to support their own communities.

Here’s some work two USDA employees are doing to improve the health of their communities:

One of the children served by Mike and his family rides a horse in Virginia

Horseback riding for people with special needs — Mike (Annandale, VA)

Mike and his family have long been involved with the equestrian sport of vaulting (gymnastics on horseback). Over the past year they have hosted a regular outing for special needs children and adults from their church, giving each an opportunity to ride a horse and to learn the freedom of movement and confidence the experience brings. Nothing can compare with the sheer pleasure of seeing these individuals, often initially nervous and scared, beaming as they ride triumphantly…and often for the first time in their lives. Perhaps the most meaningful experience was last October when, during local pony rides Mike was helping with, he saw a mother with an infant whose many tubes and blank stare evidenced the severity of his condition. He asked the mother if her baby wanted a chance to ride and he was soon up on a horse in the secure arms of an experienced rider. After a 5-minute ride his mother thanked Mike and later told him that her baby was normally mostly uncommunicative, but that after riding he seemed to be alert and aware for days!

The Relay for Life Fundraiser in Steele, North Dakota, coordinated by a local USDA employee

Raising money for a cure — Nancy (Steele, ND)

Nancy coordinated the local USDA Service Center’s team for the American Cancer Society’s “Relay for Life” fundraiser in Steele, North Dakota. They named their group “Team USDA” and over a few short months raised over $4000. “Team USDA” was the top fundraising team from within the 23 teams that participated. Some of the ways they raised funds were by serving dinners for local events, selling sweets and treats, and family and friends making donations. The 23 teams for this event raised over $40,000. It was a great success and they plan to participate again next year.

Happy 65th Birthday, Smokey Bear!

This week, the U.S. Forest Service celebrates the 65th birthday of one of its most prolific workers — Smokey Bear. This afternoon in the Whitten Federal Building, area children and the public joined the agency for Smokey’s official birthday celebration, where Forest Service officials had nothing but praise for his work. Read more »

Peoples’ Garden Workshop focuses on healthy eating

What a beautiful, sunny, not-too-hot day in D.C.!

It was perfect for today’s Peoples’ Garden workshop, which focused broadly on the many ways you can make your garden work for you — by planting different vegetables, and knowing how they’re bets prepared. Volunteer staff presented tips on utilizing garden vegetables such as squash, greens, and peppers, and gave basic advice on preparation. Read more »

USDA summer intern reflects on experience

Amy Sents spent the summer as an intern in the White House Liaison Office at USDA; she is currently a junior at Kansas State University.

When mapping out my plans for this summer, Washington D.C. was about the furthest from my mind, that is until I read an e-mail in early May from one of the assistant deans at my school. I had just completed a preliminary application process for a scholarship and was told by the committee that I needed a strong government experience in order to remain competitive. Less than a week later I received the e-mail announcing summer internships with USDA in Washington, D.C. With my ag background and interest in future employment with the department, this was the perfect opportunity. About three weeks later I interviewed with the White House Liaison Office, unaware until that point that such an office even existed in USDA.

Needless to say, since my arrival in early June, I have learned a LOT about the department and government operations. My responsibilities within the office have included answering the phone, scheduling appointments, and filing, but have also broadened to include larger, more long-range projects. One of these projects is assisting my boss and fellow mid-westerner, John Berge, with creating a taskforce to overhaul the current Boards & Commissions system. I have gradually been updating and reorganizing our files on these 200+ committees so the administration can make more educated decisions regarding budget, membership, and direction for these groups. As part of this process I have also vetted over 300 candidates for appointment to these boards.

Another task that this office fulfills is to update President Obama on activities going on within the department in the form of a weekly White House report. I have had the privilege of helping compile this report on two occasions.

Most recently I worked with my co-worker, Sam Liebert, and the Secretary’s office to schedule an Intern Appreciation Forum last Friday. You can read about the event on my blog that was posted Monday. I helped arrange the photographer, catering, and schedule.

Amy Sents, along with other interns from the Office of the Secretary, meets Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack
Amy Sents, along with other interns from the Office of the Secretary, meets Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack

One of the greatest things I have gained from this internship is all the networking I have done within the department, specifically within the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS.) John has been terrific to work for, especially as he wanted to help make this the best experience possible and encouraged me to assist on a couple projects in APHIS. One of these was a legislative research assignment in which I looked at all 2009 enacted bills from state legislatures to find bills that related to APHIS. I then summarized these into a few pages that will be included in an August newsletter to employees. A second project I was tasked with was to read through the transcripts from two National Animal Identification System (NAIS) listening sessions and summarize the concerns and positions of all producer or commodity groups present. This is an issue that I personally am very interested in, so I was eager to learn more about the concerns and suggestions for implementing such a program.

My time here has not all been spent working in USDA headquarters, though. One afternoon I and about ten other interns toured the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) facility in Beltsville, Maryland. It was really neat to learn about all the research projects ARS scientists have conducted- and to see some in action!

Looking back on the past eight weeks, I have had nothing short of a phenomenal experience. I am forever grateful to everyone who made this experience possible and to the entire team here for being so inviting and helpful. I owe a special thank you to everyone in the White House Liaison Office- Janice, Sam, and John, for making every day a new and fun adventure. I encourage any other students or young adults to apply for an internship here. USDA is a HUGE department- you just might be surprised at the opportunities that await you! With that, thank you USDA for providing me with this incredible experience and for making this a place to which I might someday wish to return.

-Amy Sents, White House Liaison Office Intern
Junior, Animal Science & Industry/Bioscience, Kansas State University