Become a fan on Facebook Follow us on Twitter USDA Blog Feed Watch USDA videos on YouTube Subscribe to receive e-mail updates View USDA Photos on Flickr Subscribe to RSS Feeds

Back Home in the Midwest

Cross posted from the White House Blog by USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack

—————————

Recently, I had the privilege of accompanying President Obama on his White House to Main Street Tour to visit towns in Missouri, Illinois and my home state of Iowa. Coming home to small towns in the Midwest reminds me of what terrific places they are to live – but also of the challenges that so many middle class Americans in these communities face on a daily basis.

The truth is that there is a silent crisis going on in rural America.  Rural communities have higher poverty rates than the rest of the country, fewer people have college degrees, and many towns are watching as their young adults move away because they don’t see an opportunity to make a good living.

At the local businesses, farms and schools the President and I visited this week, folks were asking the same question:  how can we bring economic vitality back to Main Streets across the nation?  And many of our stops on the tour demonstrated possible answers to that question.

In Fort Madison, Iowa we visited a plant that manufactures blades for wind turbines that added nearly 400 new jobs with help from a grant from American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  The Obama administration is hard at work supporting plants like this – and other renewable energy opportunities – to build a green economy that will also help combat climate change.

In my home town of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa the President and I visited a small farm and business supplying locally grown food to schools and businesses in the community.  At USDA, our Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative is working to create more small businesses like this one that link local production to local consumers.

newly-released report from the White House Council of Economic Advisers’ outlines more of the Administration’s policies that will bring greater economic prosperity to rural America. The Recovery Act laid the framework for this new rural economy, making important investments in broadband access, energy, education and infrastructure – but there is still more work to be done to create jobs and ensure prosperity in rural communities.

Coming home to the Midwest was a reminder of how a healthy American economy depends on a prosperous rural America – and some of the steps we need to take to build it. But it also showed me once again that President Obama is deeply committed to nurturing strong, robust, and vibrant rural communities so that Main Street’s across rural America remain the best places in this nation to live, work, and raise a family.

President Barack Obama tours a farm with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, left, and farmer Lowell Schachtsiek in Palmyra, Missouri, April 28, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
President Barack Obama tours a farm with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, left, and farmer Lowell Schachtsiek in Palmyra, Missouri, April 28, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Safe Water No Longer a Pipe Dream

By Joan Messina, Public Information Coordinator

USDA Rural Development celebrated a magnificent Earth Day in the bright spring sunshine at Vandalia Lake in Fayette County, Illinois, last Thursday.  The clouds rolled away just hours before we joined Fayette Water Company (FWC) to mark the advent of abundant safe water for area residents. With Vandalia Lake as the backdrop, State Director Colleen Callahan announced that Rural Development was providing $1,275,500 in affordable funding to make FWC’s project possible.

After years of waiting, hundreds of area people now are sure of getting clean water.  What an irony that the people living around this picturesque 660 acre lake have only contaminated and inadequate well water at their disposal.

The area’s access to clean water is possible only because of the hard work of the volunteer board of FWC and its partnerships with Rural Development and local entities, including area townships, the county highway department, and the City of Vandalia.  We celebrated by signing a certificate of partnership to continue the work of bringing clean water to hundreds of homes around the Vandalia Lake area and joined pieces of water pipe as a symbol of the next step.

This was a perfect way to commemorate Earth Day, an event established 40 years ago by citizens committed to making their local communities cleaner and healthier.  It was 22 years ago that concerned citizens in Fayette County began looking for ways to bring a healthy supply of water to rural Fayette County.  Now FWC can rightfully boast that, with the completion of this phase, it will supply safe water to 1400 homes and farms.  And Rural Development will be very proud to have been a partner in their efforts.

Fayette Water Company board members join Illinois State Director Colleen Callahan after signing a certificate of partnership.
Fayette Water Company board members join Illinois State Director Colleen Callahan after signing a certificate of partnership.

Rural Development, Fayette Water Company and local partners sign two sections of water pipe to symbolize the next step in providing safe water to the Vandalia Lake area.
Rural Development, Fayette Water Company and local partners sign two sections of water pipe to symbolize the next step in providing safe water to the Vandalia Lake area.

USDA Rural Development Youths in Washington State Present Tree to City of Westport on Earth Day

Story by Student Reporter Jessi Southworth

This year USDA Rural Development highlighted The City of Westport’s upgrades for their outdated Wastewater Treatment Facility. USDA will be giving 3.9 million dollars in a loan through their Waste & Environmental Program; this will be used for the Wastewater Treatment Facility (WWTF) Renovation Project. This one was constructed in 1964, was expanded in 1974, and was modified several times with the newest in 1996. It is close to the end of its usefulness and is not meeting the processing requirements. The total cost of this whole project is $4,785,870.00.

The event started with The City of Westport’s Mayor Michael Bruce, who spoke of on the importance of partnership. And Rural Development brought a tree to the city to plant in recognition of its efforts to maintain and improve the environment. USDA bought a Crimson Kind Maple tree locally from a garden center in the community of Grayland. This year though, Earth Day was also National ‘Take Your Daughters and Sons to Work Day’ and Rural Development Washington used this situation to show their children and grandchildren how they can work every day to protect and preserve the environment.

Presenting the tree to Westport on behalf of the agency were the children of USDA Rural Development Washington State employees, including: Joel Garcia (11), Julianna Garcia (9), and K’Misha Divens (9). Accepting the tree on behalf of the city were National Resources class students from Ocosta Jr./Sr. High School, including Conner Graham, Tannija Smith, Trevor Sweet, Joshua Edwards, Jessica Beyers, and Shayla Trammell. After the tree presentation, the city offered tours of the Wastewater Treatment Facility before everyone went over to the Westport Maritime Museum for a cake reception.

“The USDA Earth Day event in Westport was an outstanding success,” said Mayor Bruce. “On behalf of the City of Westport, I would like to thank all the USDA Rural Development representatives (and children) for participating in this special Earth Day event.”

(Jessi Southworth is the daughter of Becki Southworth, Washington State USDA Multi-Family Housing Specialist)

City of Westport Mayor Michael Bruce accepts a funding certificate representing a $3.9 million loan through USDA Rural Development's Waste and Environmental Program which will be used for the city's Wastewter Treatment Facility Renovation Project.
City of Westport Mayor Michael Bruce accepts a funding certificate representing a $3.9 million loan through USDA Rural Development’s Waste and Environmental Program which will be used for the city’s Wastewater Treatment Facility Renovation Project.

USDA Rural Development youth - Joel Garcia, K'Misha Divens, and Julianna Garcia - present a Crimson King Maple to the City of Westport in commemoration of Earth Day for the City's work to upgrade and improve their wastewater treatment facility.USDA Rural Development youth – Joel Garcia, K’Misha Divens, and Julianna Garcia – present a Crimson King Maple to the City of Westport in commemoration of Earth Day for the City’s work to upgrade and improve their wastewater treatment facility.

USDA Forest Service Challenge Cost-Share Program Supports Goals of Numerous Childhood Initiatives

By Deidra McGee, US Forest Service Public Affairs Specialist

The announcement of the More Kids in the Woods (MKIW) challenge cost-share program highlights  the multiple outcomes of many USDA Forest Service programs not only within the Agency, but across the Department and reaching to White House initiatives.

The Forest Service selected 21 MKIW projects from field units across the country that foster environmental awareness and stewardship among young people. The projects such as summer camps, outdoor labs, nature caching, wilderness expeditions and more will help kids make the connection between healthy forests, healthy communities and their own healthy lifestyles; while encouraging them to seek careers in conservation and resource management.

The initiative to engage and involve MKIW has numerous partners, cooperators, and an equal number of overlapping features and benefits to other initiatives across the country. The MKIW goals are echoed in efforts from the White House to the forests of Alabama. There the state has initialed Youth Taking Action, or YTA, aimed at curbing childhood obesity.

“Blending physical activity with conservation and environmental ideas will be a great venue for students to not only enjoy the great outdoors, but develop an ownership in the environment for future generations of people, plants, and critters!” Sallie Chastain; Coordinator, Community Education for Talladega (Alabama) County Schools.

This effort, mirroring First Lady Michelle Obama’s own focus, capitalizes not only on MKIW projects, but incorporates other resources like lessons and teacher materials from the Project Learning Tree curriculum (PLT). Local state officials agree that these benefits multiply the effectiveness of related programs.

“The Project Learning Tree mission is to use the forest as a “window” on the world to increase students’ understanding of our environment; stimulate students’ critical and creative thinking; develop students’ ability to make informed decisions on environmental issues; and instill in students the commitment to take responsible action on behalf of the environment.” Chris Erwin; Director of Education and Outreach, Alabama Forestry Association

This is the fourth year the Forest Service has matched funds and in-kind contributions from partners for “More Kids in the Woods”.  Partners include local, state, and federal agencies and American Indian tribes. Project activities include summer camps, after-school programs, and wilderness expeditions. The challenge-cost share will serve more than 15,000 children throughout the nation, including under-served and urban youth.

For more information on this year’s 21 MKIW projects, go to http://tinyurl.com/2vgkq3u.

Strengthening the Rural Economy

Cross-Posted from the White House Blog.

Rural areas are home to about 50 million Americans and are an essential part of the overall economy.  As the President embarks on the next stops on the White House to Main Street Tour in Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri, the CEA today released a report that surveys the current state of rural America and describes the Obama Administration’s policies for strengthening the rural economy.  The map below shows the distribution of rural counties across the county. Read more »

Earth Day Marked by a Tree Planting and Funding Announcement to Boost Water Quality of a Vermont River

Molly Lambert, Vermont State Director for USDA Rural Development, was joined by Jenny Nelson from U.S. Senator Bernie Sander’s Office, State Officials, and Lyndon Town Officials for an Earth Day tree planting celebration and to announce the award of a USDA Rural Development Water and Environmental Program grant to upgrade the local wastewater treatment plant. Read more »