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Serving Those Who Serve America

This morning, I was privileged to represent USDA at a Military Families Summit hosted at the University of Maryland and organized with us by the Department of Defense Military Community and Family Policy program.  More than 300 leaders who provide support to military families – including the office of the Secretary of Defense, the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, the National Guard and Reserve, land-grant universities, and other non-governmental partners – also attended the event to review the Defense Department’s commitment to family support and readiness, the status of military families, and challenges military families will experience in the future.

Why was USDA at this event in the first place?  For one thing, we have more 20 years of experience in partnering with the different military branches providing educational programs and support for military youth and families on bases and installations and in local communities. In 2009, for example, more than 24,000 youth participated in 248 4-H club programs on bases and installations in the United States and around the world.  These programs offer the mentorship, guidance, and restored sense of pride that many children of military parents lose when they have limited support around.

Currently, 24 extension staff members are on direct assignment with the military services providing important leadership and working in partnership with service personnel to deliver quality 4-H youth development programs; more than other 240 4-H professionals work in support of this partnership

across the United States.  More than 75 Cooperative Extension staff members are working with Army bases in Texas alone to address some of the most critical needs being faced by military families (i.e., health, nutrition, financial management, and family stress).  Our Extension staff, in partnership with military services, has developed nine new curricula or programs in 2009 that address important issues for military families such as health, nutrition, stress, and leadership.

DOD and military families benefit directly from an extensive cooperative extension network that spans nearly every county in the United States.  The Defense Department supports these programs through USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), which in turn partners with several land-grant universities who work with the extension agents to provide support to military families.

Today’s Military Families Summit offered me a great opportunity to renew and reaffirm this relationship. We announced today formation of an expanded joint effort between NIFA and DOD.  The partnership will focus on three overall areasa:  community capacity building in support of military families, workforce development, and strengthening family, child care, and youth development programs.

As the nation this week honors the service and sacrifices of our military members – and their families – we can be very proud of the role that USDA plays in reaching out and helping those families in the United States and abroad.

Rajiv Shah is Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics.

USDA: A Farm Team Worth Playing For

My first three weeks interning for USDA have been extremely interesting and enjoyable.  A native of Austin, Texas, I grew up spending most weekends on my grandparents’ farm, the same farm where we currently raise Texas Longhorn cattle. Instead of returning to Austin after the baseball season, I came to Washington, DC to take advantage of this great opportunity to learn about both agriculture and the government while also making a difference.

I knew USDA played a significant role in the lives of farmers and ranchers, but I continue to be amazed by the breadth of programs and agencies here.  Rural Development, for example, does amazing work in rural communities, from building hospitals to improving water supplies to increasing the availability of broadband internet.  I also have a greater appreciation for USDA’s role in disease and pest control and its significant impact on the success of our country’s agricultural output and economy over the years.

In addition to learning about USDA, I have been afforded some great opportunities through my internship.  This week I went to a Tribal Leaders Reception for the National Congress of American Indians.  I met several interesting people, both tribal leaders and people who work in other departments of the government.

The reception was held in the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.  It was my first time visiting the museum and reminded me of all the great museums and government buildings in Washington, DC.  I have been to a few of them now, with my favorite two being the Library of Congress and the National Archives.  I’m looking forward to more great experiences in the weeks to come.

Ross Ohlendorf, a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates, is spending part of his off-season at the United States Department of Agriculture. A graduate of Princeton University, he is spending eight weeks as an intern with USDA’s Marketing and Regulatory Programs.

Photo of Ross Ohlendorf

Ross Ohlendorf

An Informative Farm-to-School Roundtable in St. Paul

I had the opportunity this week to participate in a roundtable discussion and tour of the St. Paul Schools’ Nutrition Services center. Joining me were local school foodservice professionals and members of the farming, distribution and non-profit community who are working to expand Farm-to-School programs in Minnesota. Read more »

Donativo del Programa de Energia Para USDA Asegura la Continuacion de la Cosecha del Café en Puerto Rico

Cuando la mayoría de los americanos piensan en café, piensan en Sur America o Hawaii. Lo que no saben es que Puerto Rico tiene una larga tradición en la producción de café de alta calidad. Un donativo otorgado al dueño de una hacienda de café  por USDA Rural Development bajo el programa de Energía Rural para America (REAP) está ayudando a conservar la tradición.

El café llego a nuestra isla en el año 1700 y fue por mucho tiempo, nuestro principal producto de exportación. Algunos de los mejores café del mundo son producidos en la zona montañosa central en el pueblo de Adjuntas. La combinación de la altura, ambiente fresco, lluvia y suelo volcánico contribuyen a que crezca una variedad de café con un sabor exquisito.

José Otero-García, USDA Rural Development State Director for Puerto Rico, coffee plantation owner Jimmy Román, and workers at the plantationJosé Otero-García, USDA Rural Development State Director for Puerto Rico, holds freshly roasted coffee at the Hacienda Monte Alto plantation.

Un problema grande que tenemos en Puerto Rico es el alto costo del gas propano combustible que se usa para secar y tostar el grano del café. Recientemente, el Sr. Jimmy Román dueño de la Hacienda Monte Alto, hacienda productora de café vino a USDA Rural Development buscando fondos para comprar un horno especial para tostar café. El horno en vez de usar gas propano usa la cáscara del café como combustible. Pudimos otorgarles un donativo de $14,000 al Sr. Román y a su familia para la compra de los hornos.

Debido a este nuevo sistema de tostar el café, esta pequeña plantación familiar no va a tener que subir los precios del café por la fluctuación del precio del combustible. El Sr. Román me indicó que este sistema de tostado del café, va a estabilizar los costos de producción, preservando 15 empleos permanentes y 40 de temporada en la cosecha del café. Es un placer trabajar con el dueño de esta plantación de café, el Sr. Román y su familia  y asegurarnos en continuar esta larga tradición de la cosecha del café puertorriqueño, y que esta familia pueda continuar trabajando su tierra en Puerto Rico.

Por José Otero-García, Director Estatal en Puerto Rico de USDA Rural Development.

USDA Rural Energy for America Grant Helps Ensure the Continuation of Puerto Rico’s Coffee Harvest

When most Americans think of coffee, they think of South America or Hawaii.  What they may not know is that Puerto Rico has a long and significant relationship with coffee.  Funds provided to a coffee plantation owner by USDA Rural Development through the Rural Energy for America (REAP) program are helping to preserve that heritage.

Coffee first came to our island in the 1700s, and was for a long time, a primary export.  Some of the finest coffee in the world is produced in the central mountain range in the town of Adjuntas. A combination of high altitude, cool weather, precipitation and volcanic soil allows the growing of a coffee variety with very flavorful beans.

José Otero-García, USDA Rural Development State Director for Puerto Rico, holds freshly roasted coffee at the Hacienda Monte Alto plantation.

José Otero-García, USDA Rural Development State Director for Puerto Rico, holds freshly roasted coffee at the Hacienda Monte Alto plantation.

José Otero-García, USDA Rural Development State Director for Puerto Rico, coffee plantation owner Jimmy Román, and workers at the plantation

José Otero-García, USDA Rural Development State Director for Puerto Rico, coffee plantation owner Jimmy Román, and workers at the plantation

The one significant drawback to coffee production here in Puerto Rico is the expense of purchasing propane gas for roasters to dry and roast the beans.  Recently, the owner of the Hacienda Monte Alto plantation, Jimmy Roman, came to USDA Rural Development seeking funds to buy special toaster ovens.  Instead of propane, these ovens use coffee bean shells for fuel.  We were able to provide a $14,000 grant to Mr. Roman and his family.

Because of this new drying system, this small family-owned plantation won’t be forced by rising fuel costs to raise the price it charges for its beans.  Mr. Roman tells me that the drying system will stabilize production costs, preserving the 15 permanent and 40 seasonal jobs that the plantation supports.  It is a pleasure to work with this plantation owner, Mr. Roman and his family to help ensure that a long-established custom, that of harvesting locally grown coffee, will continue and that a hard working family will continue to work the land here in Puerto Rico.

José Otero-García, USDA Rural Development State Director for Puerto Rico

Tribal Nations Gather at USDA for Open Dialogue

In celebration of American Indian Heritage Month the U.S. Department of Agriculture today reported that there are nearly 80,000 American Indian operators on 61,472 farms and ranches across the United States. This represents an 88-percent increase over the number of American Indian farmers USDA counted in 2002. Read more »