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Nourishing a Nation at the Wholesome Wave Foundation Conference

By Kevin Concannon, Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, USDA

Exploring creative avenues to nourish a nation is a great to start any week.  And that’s exactly what USDA Deputy Secretary Merrigan and I had the opportunity to do this Monday (May 10, 2010) during the first Wholesome Wave Foundation conference in Washington, DC.

The Wholesome Wave Foundation is a nonprofit organization that, with the help of its partner organizations, provides locally grown food to underserved neighborhoods across the nation.  They’ve achieved success through partnership-based programs that serve food deserts in rural and urban communities. And thanks to the important connections they’ve established, their efforts boost the visibility of existing Federal, State and local government agencies that share their values.

Deputy Secretary Merrigan is never an easy act to follow, but the conference did offer a natural forum for issues like childhood obesity and childhood hunger. So a dialogue on the strategies of the First Lady’s Let’s Move! Campaign, the HealthierUS School Challenge, and expanding access to healthy foods at farmers’ markets through SNAP (formerly food stamps) and WIC (the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children) – was enthusiastically embraced.

After the presentation, I was fortunate enough to meet a number of community leaders and stakeholders attending the conference, including an impressive group of farmers’ market operators in Maine – a place I have worked, lived, and known fondly for years.  Next, I spoke with media on Child Nutrition Reauthorization, SNAP EBT cards, and the impressive strides recently made in Texas to provide nutrition assistance benefits to their most vulnerable citizens.

The foundation’s hallmark Double Value Coupon Program encourages the purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables by doubling the value of SNAP/food stamp dollars at participating farmers’ markets throughout the country.  It’s an innovative idea, and one that shares our mission of fostering a healthier nation for all.

Rain, Snow, and Sleet Didn’t Stop Kids at USDA Utah Event

Submitted by Dave Conine, USDA Rural Development State Director and Donna Birk, PIC

Weather was cold in late April in Utah when Santaquin City celebrated Earth Day with USDA Rural Development.  Santaquin City officials were shivering with excitement to receive a $7 million plus loan and grant combination for a Waste Water Project. 

USDA officials attended along with representatives of the city and state. The day started with a ‘Water Quality and Conservation Presentation” to the fourth grade students at Santaquin Elementary.

A program followed across the street at Centennial Park under the pavilion.  Dave Conine, USDA Rural Development State Director was on hand to outline the funding, reflect on the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, and say a few words of support. Conine applauded Mayor DeGraffenried, his staff, J.U.B. Engineering, and other partners for working for a very long time to bring together the funding resources, and expertise to make this worthwhile project possible. He concluded by saying, “This wastewater treatment facility is an example of the commitment we all have for maintaining and improving environmental quality.”

The City will purchase additional land located North of town to build the new Reclamation Facility, and should be completed in 2012.

The highlight of the day featured help from Thomas DeGraffenried’s (the Mayor’s son) third grade class from Santaquin Elementary. The children huddled together in coats and blankets as they planted a sycamore sapling near the playground at Centennial Park where it will grow for years to come.Students, School, and USDA officials plant a tree in Utah.

The event ended with a networking lunch at the local Senior Citizen Center.

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From REA to RUS-75 Years of Lighting the Way for Rural America

By Jonathan Adelstein, Administrator-USDA Rural Utilities Service

If you lived in a rural area 75 years ago, you probably didn’t have electricity. Water for livestock, cooking, cleaning and bathing had to be hand pumped from a well. Farmers risked milk spoilage in the summer, and people often got sick from lack of refrigeration of their food.

 On May 11, 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order to create the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) to bring power to rural areas. It was a resounding success.  Nothing before or since has transformed rural America like the REA.  Today’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS), part of the USDA Rural Development mission area, continues the work of REA. Just this week, four former REA and RUS administrators gathered in USDA’s radio studio, reflecting on their roles from 1993 to the present. Their observations will soon be available via podcast.

 Rural Development, through RUS, is aggressively building a program to finance renewable energy, and rural America is rapidly becoming a greater energy producer for the nation. Not only is this part of President Obama’s clean energy economy, but it will also create quality jobs in rural America.  Working with other federal agencies, rural electric cooperatives and other utilities, we are taking steps to modernize the electric grid and improve energy efficiency.

 While working to improve electric transmission services we are also meeting a new challenge: Delivering broadband to rural communities.  Without broadband, rural businesses are placed at a disadvantage and our children face diminished educational opportunities. Our next great achievement will be to build a system that will connect even the most remote places in America to the web. 

 Rural America’s future is bright, thanks to the thousands of men and women who have worked in or with the REA and now the RUS over the past three-quarters of a century.

 Chances are, if you live in rural America, some of those people are your neighbors, as close as your local electric cooperative.  They achieved a modern miracle, lighting rural America. This week, take a minute and think about all the good they’ve done.  They’ve achieved the greatest success in a government technology program of all time.   

75th Anniversary of REA/RUS 
 (Left to right) Christopher McLean, Administrator,  2000-2001; Wally Beyer 1993-1999; James Andrew 2005-2009;  Glenn English (CEO-NRECA);  Hilda Gay Legg 2001-2005; Jonathan Adelstein 2009 – present; Dallas Tonsager (Undersecretary, USDA Rural Development); gathered on May 4 at the U.S. Capitol for an event marking the beginnings of the effort to bring electricity to rural America.

Whippoorwill Hollow Organic Farm and NRCS Conservation Assistance

Mary Ann McQuinn, Georgia NRCS
NRCS Regional Assistant Chief Leonard Jordan, NRCS Georgia State Conservationist James E. Tillman, Sr., and others including Alice Rolls, the Executive Director of Georgia Organics toured Whippoorwill Hollow Farm with certified organic farmer Andy Byrd.  The group discussed the new Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) Organic Initiative successes and opportunities for improvement.

Andy Byrd owns and operates Whippoorwill Hollow Farm in Walton County Georgia, a Certified Organic farm that produces fruits, berries, vegetables, and free-range eggs for sale on-farm and at the Morningside and Decatur Farmers’ Markets. Mr. Byrd is a cooperator with the Walton County Soil and Water District and worked with NRCS for several years to plan and implement various conservation practices. He is also Georgia’s first agri-ability participant.

Through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program Mr. Byrd has received financial assistance to implement management type practices such as Cover Crop, Irrigation Water Management, and Pest Management.

A major natural resource concern of Whippoorwill Hollow Farm is the limited amount of available water for irrigation and livestock watering. The farm is located in a region of the State that does not have an ample amount of ground water for these purposes.

Mr. Byrd worked closely with NRCS to plan and design an irrigation system which included micro-irrigation, irrigation reservoirs, and livestock watering facilities to make his system highly efficient and gives him the ability to use every drop of water as affectively as possible without putting any undue stress on the ground water system. He was also able to obtain funding for these structural practices through Georgia’s EQIP Outreach program which emphasizes the traditionally underserved groups such as Beginning Farmers, Socially Disadvantaged Farmers, Limited Resource Farmers and Small Scale Farmers.

Andy Byrd, Whippoorwhill Hollow Organic Farms, Walton Country, Georgia gives federal and state USDA officials a tour of his farm.
Andy Byrd, Whippoorwhill Hollow Organic Farms, Walton Country, Georgia gives federal and state USDA officials a tour of his farm.

Farmers Market Fever: Needs More Cowbell

By Amanda Eamich, Director of New Media

Crowds drew near as Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan joined FRESHFARM Markets co-directors Ann Yonkers, Bernadine Prince and Chef Jose Andres for the grand re-opening of the 2010 season. At 3 PM, Merrigan and others raised their cowbells high and signaled that the market is open for business.

Behind the procession of local officials, chefs and market owners, Chef Andres’ team prepared the eight-foot copper pan to prepare giant paella for visitors and passersby.

After the opening march, market co-director Ann Yonkers introduced Merrigan to this season’s farmers and purveyors offering seasonal fruits and vegetables, meats, artisan cheeses, seafood, baked goods, flowers and more. Award winning cheeses, refreshing gelato and sausage samples filled the air with rich aroma.

At each vendor, Merrigan wished vendors a happy season and personal thanks for their support of the local market.

The FRESHFARM Market provides double dollars for food assistance recipients through a public-private partnership.  This is a great example of building upon federal programs with private assistance. USDA provides grant opportunities and resources to farmer’s markets nationwide.

Today’s opening is a reminder of the Department’s efforts to update the Farmers Market Directory. If you participate or know of a market that isn’t listed, help us by completing the survey by May 14!

 

Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan opens the Freshfarm Market on Vermont Avenue in Washington, D.C., near the White House on Thursday, May 6, 2010.  (L to R  Chef at Potenza Jason Mayle, Farmfresh volunteer, Chef at Ici Urban Bistro Olivier Perret, Superstar Chef Jose Andres, Vice President of Operations Partner with Stir Food Group Ralph Rosenberg, Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, Farmfresh Director Ann Yonkers, Vice President of Operations Partner with Stir Food Group Ralph Rosenberg, Farmfresh volunteer, Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Administrator Rayne Pegg, Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans, Farmfresh volunteer, Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner 2B Mike Silverstein, and Downtown DC Business Improvement District (BID) Executive Director Richard Bradley). USDA photo 10di1348-56.
Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan opens the Freshfarm Market on Vermont Avenue in Washington, D.C., near the White House on Thursday, May 6, 2010.  (L to R  Chef at Potenza Jason Mayle, Farmfresh volunteer, Chef at Ici Urban Bistro Olivier Perret, Superstar Chef Jose Andres, Vice President of Operations Partner with Stir Food Group Ralph Rosenberg, Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, Farmfresh Director Ann Yonkers, Vice President of Operations Partner with Stir Food Group Ralph Rosenberg, Farmfresh volunteer, Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Administrator Rayne Pegg, Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans, Farmfresh volunteer, Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner 2B Mike Silverstein, and Downtown DC Business Improvement District (BID) Executive Director Richard Bradley).

Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan wishes a vendor at the  Freshfarm Market on Vermont in Washington, D. C.,  Avenue by the White House good luck on his sales
Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan wishes a vendor at the Freshfarm Market on Vermont Avenue in Washington, D. C.,  by the White House good luck on his sales.

 

Clean Energy Economy Forum with Secretary Vilsack

Cross-posted from the White House Blog written by Katelyn Sabochik

Today, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will host a Clean Energy Economy Forum.  The forum will bring together stakeholders from rural communities across the country to discuss bio-energy and energy opportunities for rural economic development.

You can watch the event live on WhiteHouse.gov/live starting at 2:30 PM EDT.   Each of the panels will take questions from our online audience.  You can submit questions during the event via Facebook, or submit a question in advance on Facebook or Twitter.

Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutely will kick off the event with opening remarks.  Next up, Secretary Vilsack will discuss the progress achieved on the one year anniversary of President Obama’s Biofuels Directive and moderate a panel on bio-energy with Joe Glauber, Chief Economist from USDA, Dr. Roger Beachy, Chief Scientist at USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Dr. Jose Olivares of the Bioscience Division of Los Alamos National Laboratory, and Ben Larson from the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Secretary Vilsack will then moderate a second panel on energy opportunities for rural economic development with Neil Hamilton of Drake University, Dallas Tonsager, Agriculture Under Secretary for Rural Development, Ken Moss, CEO of Piedmont Bioproducts, and Dr. Dennis Beck of the University of Minnesota.