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Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan Tours Community Center, Meets with Workers

A warm winter day greeted USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan as she visited the high desert community of Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico.

Chandler Sanchez the Governor of Acoma Pueblo gave the Deputy Secretary a personal tour of the new $12-million dollar community center which is currently under construction.

Donning a hard hat Deputy Secretary Merrigan saw firsthand the progress of the construction.  The facility is scheduled to be completed later this summer.

The financing for this project was made available through Recovery Act funds in the amount of an $11,409,600 loan and a $500,000 grant, through USDA Rural Development’s Community Facility (CF) program.

The 50,000 square foot facility will be a multi-purpose center which will include a gymnasium, a wellness center and the Pueblo’s council chambers along with offices for support activities which will serve the 5,000 residents of Acoma Pueblo.

Governor Sanchez described in detail to the Deputy Secretary how USDA Rural Development and the Recovery Act has been instrumental in providing funds for much needed projects, projects which create jobs at the Pueblo.  The latest project is a new wastewater treatment plant that was just dedicated in December.

The newest project made possible by Rural Development and the Recovery Act is a Rural Business Enterprise Grant (RBEG) in the amount of $500,000 to pay for the infrastructure of a new manufacturing facility.

Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan and Governor Chandler Sanchez (right) touring the new community center
Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan and Governor Chandler Sanchez (right) touring the new community center

For more information about this project and USDA’s Recovery Act efforts go to http://www.usda.gov/recovery.  Log on to USDA’s YouTube channel to view additional ARRA project highlights, videos are available at here.

Recovery Act, Helping Put Food on The Table

Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan visited Road Runner Food Bank in Albuquerque, New Mexico today, where she took a tour of the facility and helped distribute USDA foods.  Merrigan highlighted the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), and the ARRA funding that Road Runner received in 2009.

The Recovery Act supported the nation’s food banks, food pantries and soup kitchens, by increasing funding to USDA’s Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP).

TEFAP helps supplement the diets of low-income Americans by providing them with emergency food and nutrition assistance at no cost.  USDA makes food available to State governments, which distributes it to their emergency feeding network and their affiliates, like Road Runner.

And Road Runner didn’t just receive food through the Recovery Act, it also received TEFAP Administrative Funds, which it quickly put to use renovating and installing racking in it’s cold storage facility.  Because of these renovations, Road Runner is now able to store and distribute more foods to those in need.

More information about USDA’s Recovery Act efforts is available at http://www.usda.gov/recovery.  Log on to USDA’s YouTube channel to view additional ARRA project highlights, videos are available at http://www.youtube.com/usda – g/c/2A468F5AC6EBCED7

A “New Dynamic” for Rural America Highlighted at the 2010 Agricultural Outlook Forum

Yesterday was a landmark day for USDA.  The 2010 Agricultural Outlook Forum kicked off near Washington with a top-flight list of speakers, including Secretary Tom Vilsack; Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan;  Ambassador Ronald Kirk, U.S. Trade Representative; USDA Chief Economist Joseph Glauber and Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Jim Miller.

The Secretary was forceful in his commitment to rural America, saying the Obama Administration has an approach to Rural Development and to value-added opportunity creation  that will take rural America to “the next level.”   He spoke of the need to develop new sources of biomass, turning marginal lands into highly productive property.  He told us that “It is time for America to take back its energy destiny” and, noting the large number of young people, including National FFA representatives in the audience, said “Your country needs you.  I say to young people that you have a future in rural America.”

In the afternoon Rural Development Deputy Under Secretary Victor Vasquez and I moderated panel discussions on the future of rural communities.  Victor’s panelists discussed topics including how to bring financial institutions and economic activity to Indian reservations, building new capital networks, and promoting redevelopment and financial security through microlending.

One of my passions is promoting the “Know Your Farmer, Know your Food” initiative that is a priority of Deputy Secretary Merrigan.  It was my privilege to moderate a distinguished panel that centered on the cooperative model and how it can make a difference, not only in the area of channeling locally and regionally produced foods to urban populations, but improving the quality of foods in schools and also using the cooperative model to improve access to health care in rural areas that often suffer from a lack of medical staff.

It was an amazing day, not just for me, but for all of us committed to a vibrant rural America …one that is not only productive, and relevant , but a place that is central to the economy of our nation and a catalyst for urban renewal.  The vision set forth by Secretary Vilsack yesterday is an exciting one, and will not only  change the lives of the one in six Americans that call rural America home, but will improve the health and well-being of all Americans for decades to come.

Cheryl L. Cook, Esq. Deputy Under Secretary, USDA Rural Development