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60th Anniversary Telecom Programs and Award of CommunitHurley

It was exciting to have Congressman Rick Boucher, 9th District of Virginia and the Deputy Administrator for USDA Rural Development’s Rural Utilities programs, Jessica Zufolo join me last week in Hurley, Virginia for an awards ceremony. The event highlighted the funding of three Virginia rural community broadband projects and the 60th anniversary of the involvement of USDA in providing Telecommunication infrastructure improvements to rural America.

I am proud to say that Southwest Virginia will be receiving Community Connect Grants totaling over $2.4 million dollars that will help purchase and install high speed internet equipment to the rural communities of Hurley, Carbo and Grant. Working with the Rural Utilities Service Virginia Field Representative Richard Jenkins; Paul Gearheart from Inter Mountain Cable, Michael Maynard from the Wired Road Authority and Thomas Kurien from Almega Cable were successful in their pursuit of this USDA Funding. Certificates of Appreciation were provided to each cable service at the ceremony. As a result of this assistance, cable customers in these three areas will soon have high speed internet service available, improving educational and business opportunities.

Starting with a farm family receiving its first in home telephone in the 1950’s, to the rural household now being able to run an international business from a home office, USDA continues to play an important role in bringing new modern telecom services to rural Virginia.

Virginia has been very successful over the years in delivering new technology to rural areas of the state.  Since the inception of the programs, over $10 million dollars has been provided in our State for Distance Learning and Community Connect Grants. Other key achievements in Virginia include the Telemedicine System currently being operated by the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville. This state-of-the-art system allows medical specialists at the UVA Medical Center to perform detailed medical examinations of patients in over 20 rural clinics mainly in remote Southwest Virginia. Without this service, these patients would have to travel for many hours over challenging roads to obtain advanced medical care.

Group photo during award ceremony in Hurley, VA

Group photo during award ceremony in Hurley, VA

By Ellen M. Davis, Virginia State Director, USDA Rural Development

Merrigan Addresses Global Agricultural Leaders

Agriculture Deputy Secretary Merrigan today kicked of the 36th Conference of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations – the first woman to hold this role and the first time the United States has chaired the Conference in 20 years.

As Merrigan welcomed top agricultural officials from throughout the world, she highlighted the Obama Administration’s commitment to advancing global food security and improving agricultural productivity. She also noted her past work for FAO to advance organic agriculture internationally, and urged her fellow leaders to build on past efforts and prioritize organic agriculture as one step to meet global ecological and environmental challenges.

See Merrigan’s opening remarks:

“The conference this year comes at a critical time following the World Summit on Food Security.  President Obama has committed the United States to a whole-of-government approach to tackle the problem of global food security.  The United States will work with Members as we move forward with this important effort.

“My government fully supports the FAO and its mission.  We believe the FAO reform process underway provides a unique opportunity to move the organization into a more relevant, focused, and effective organization and we reaffirm our commitment and dedication to the faithful implementation of the FAO’s Immediate Plan of Action.

This endeavor will greatly enhance FAO’s contribution to agriculture development and global food security.

“The FAO’s mandate to raise levels of nutrition and standards of living, improve agricultural productivity, promote rural development and, ultimately, provide all people at all times with access to the food they need for an active and healthy life, is extremely important to the United States.

“It has been 20 years since the United States last chaired this ministerial conference.  But, I am not a stranger to FAO.  My association with FAO began 10 years ago, when, as an expert consultant, I assisted FAO staff in drafting the Committee on Agriculture paper on organic agriculture, adopted at the 30th session of the Conference.

“Since that time, organic agriculture has grown substantially in my country and around the world. In the United States, more than 2 million hectares and over 10,000 certified producers are involved in organic agriculture.

“There have been some important efforts by FAO on organic agriculture, including the FAO–led organic standards harmonization effort and the 2007 FAO meeting in partnership with the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements on organic agriculture and food security.

“However, after 10 years, the organic program is neither mainstreamed in the FAO program of work nor in the FAO budget.  Even the very small amount of central funds given to the interdepartmental working group on organic agriculture may soon disappear.

“As someone with a deep interest in this subject, I would like to see the importance of organic agriculture and its role in agro-ecology elevated within the FAO scope of work.

“The Agenda before us calls for decisions that will have a lasting impact on the future of our Organization. Given that we have only five and a half days to do this, I call on your cooperation and understanding to ensure we make the best use of our time to make wise and forward-looking decisions for the good of this Organization and its mission.”

Deputy Secretary Merrigan

Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan

First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary Tom Vilsack Visit HealthierUS School Award Winner

This morning Secretary Tom Vilsack joined First Lady Michelle Obama at Hollin Meadows Elementary School to recognize their Silver Meadal achievement in the US HealthierUS School Challenge. Read more »