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Urban Students Learn About Agricultural Policy as Part of ‘Know Your Farmer’ College Tour

“The ‘Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food’ program that Kathleen is spearheading is an effort to help rebuild urban food sheds and sustainable local and regional food systems and I have been in this city for nine years and you can see the change happening,” said former Senator and New School University President, Bob Kerrey as he introduced Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan.

Deputy Secretary Merrigan was at the New School for a presentation to local leaders and students interested in food and agricultural policy last Thursday evening. Despite a severe snowstorm, attendees filled the auditorium to capacity and spilled into the hallways to hear about what USDA is doing to strengthen the connection between farmers and consumers.  The presentation in New York City emphasized the importance of urban areas in the ‘Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food’ program and the future of agriculture policy with discussions on food deserts, Farm to School programs, and food distribution hubs in the Hudson River valley.

President Kerrey, who served on the Senate Agriculture committee during his time in the Senate, spoke about the progress he saw at USDA:

“There’s a lot at stake here, it’s not just about what Deputy Secretary Merrigan is proposing to do with Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food, it’s the nature of our government, the relationship with our government – it is dramatically changing. Much more oriented to food, much more oriented to the individual farmer and much more oriented to the individual consumer and much more oriented, as a consequence, to the changes that people want to see happen.”

Deputy Secretary Merrigan addressed those changes by highlighting the unprecedented coordination and collaboration at USDA to help promote locally and regionally produced food.  And the changes that President Kerrey spoke of are a part of the culture at USDA as we work to bring about “the changes that people want to see happen.”  For those of us at USDA, it is just part of being an ‘Every Day, in Every Way’ department.

School Breakfast Program in Bolivia Improves Children’s Health and Academic Performance

They say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and in Bolivia, this couldn’t be truer. In Bolivia, more than 162,000 children in 2,240 schools ate what was likely their only meal five days a week thanks to a Project Concern International (PCI) program funded by USDA’s McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition (McGovern-Dole) Program.

About three-fourths of Bolivia’s population survives on two dollars a day and 26 percent of the population is chronically malnourished. Development is hindered by a lack of education, especially among girls, poor agricultural practices and limited infrastructure.

To remedy this situation, USDA donated more than 17,000 tons of wheat, wheat-soy blend, vegetable oil, peas and bulgur valued at more than $4 million to PCI under a three-year McGovern-Dole Program agreement starting in fiscal year 2005. The commodities and cash provided by USDA were used by PCI to develop school feeding programs in 65 municipalities in the departments of Cochabamba, La Paz, Oruro and Potosi. Read more »

A Simulating Experience

I was at the ribbon cutting for a commercial driving simulator at Lake Land College in Mattoon, Ill., Thursday and had an incredible experience.

Have you ever driven behind someone and wished you were in a rubber car so you could “bump” them?  Well “driving” a truck driving simulator fulfills that wish, and scares the socks off you at the same time!  Being behind the wheel of a “18-wheeler” is a challenge.  And with wintery weather conditions and traffic patterns changing in the blink of an eye, you quickly realize the responsibility is frightening!  When you take off the seatbelt and leave the “cab,” you can feel the tenseness in your shoulders.  Thank goodness it all occurred in a simulated setting!  “On the job training,” without the simulator, would mean “on the road” training!  And that IS a scary thought!

But because of a USDA Rural Development Rural Business Enterprise Grant to Lake Land College, that terrifying prospect is eliminated!  The RBEG covered the entire cost of the commercial driver training simulator.  It’s designed to provide a realistic tractor trailer and commercial vehicle driving experience in preparation for students to receive their CDL (Commercial Driver’s License).  And the training and certification is completed in a safe, non-threatening environment over a four-week period.

Not only are the students well prepared, the simulator also enhances the development of a workforce for scores of businesses in the area and throughout the Midwest.  Area business have even “signed up their current drivers” for refresher courses!

As the regional leader in commercial driver training, Lake Land College has helped hundreds of men and women find employment in the trucking industry.  And that means:  job stability, bonus plans, health and life insurance, retirement plans, paid vacations and students being hired even before they graduate!

I’m a long way from getting my CDL, but I’m on the short list of new appreciation for those who do!

Colleen Callahan, State Director

State Director Colleen Callahan practices driving a semi in the snow in a commercial driving simulator.

Colleen Callahan and Scott Lensink

State Director Colleen Callahan and Lake Land College President Scott Lensink cut the ribbon for the college’s new commercial driving simulator.

Colleen Callahan

Illinois State Director, USDA Rural Development

Children Of Senegal Directly Benefit From USDA’s McGovern-Dole International Food For Education Program

In keeping with USDA’s commitment to addressing global food insecurity through school feeding programs, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that USDA will donate more than 100,000 tons of U.S. agricultural commodities valued at nearly $170 million in fiscal year 2010 under the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition (McGovern-Dole) Program.

The McGovern-Dole Program helps support education, child development and food security in low-income, food-deficit countries that are committed to universal education. The program has helped feed millions of children over the years and one example of the success of this program can be found in Senegal.

Children in 112 primary schools and 21 pre-schools and mothers and infants in 58 maternal and child health nutrition (MCHN) centers in the Matam region of Senegal are eating a daily meal and much more due to a Counterpart International (CPI) project funded by USDA’s McGovern-Dole Program. Read more »