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USDA Direct Home Loan Program, Neighbors, Combine to Make a Homeownership Dream into a Reality

Written by Katherine Belcher, Kentucky USDA Public Information Coordinator

As USDA kicked off National Home Ownership Month, more than 115 volunteers from 25 churches across the state of Kentucky gathered in a vacant lot in Whitley City to build a house for a woman many of them have never met. They are camping near the construction site, working long days to see that the project is completed by the home’s dedication date of June 19.

In Kentucky’s first homeownership event of the 2010 campaign, Rural Development staff joined representatives from other state and federal agencies, non-profit groups and community leaders to participate in the opening ceremony for the “Extreme Build” that will provide a new home for a very deserving, hard-working single mom.

Kristi Wilson was chosen to be the recipient of the fifth annual Extreme Build in McCreary County by the Kentucky Baptist Fellowship (KBF) – because of the struggles she has overcome in her life and her dedication to providing the best life possible for her two children. McCreary County is one of the state’s 43 persistent poverty counties.

KBF volunteers will build a new home for Wilson, who received a Rural Development Direct Loan to make the purchase and other assistance from local non-profits and state and federal agencies.

Wilson was overwhelmed and awed by the number of people that have shown up to assist in building her new house from the ground up.

“It’s amazing that you can find so many people with that big of a heart,” said Wilson. “It’s answering my kids’ prayers. I wanted this for my kids – I want them to have a home.”

After the home’s foundation was laid, a crane placed an 8,000 pound “core” unit containing a pre-fabricated kitchen, bath and utility room onto it. The core is pre-wired and the unit was provided by Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation and built off-site by residents at Kentucky Foothills Academy – a licensed, residential treatment facility for state-committed youth.

As many of the guest speakers reiterated throughout the opening ceremony, this project is truly a partnership among numerous people and local, state and federal agencies – all working to make possible one woman’s dream of providing her family with a safe, affordable decent place to live.

It was truly an honor and privilege to be a part of it.

Kentucky State Director Tom Fern (second from right) congratulates new homeowner Kristi Wilson, who was selected=
Kentucky State Director Tom Fern (second from right) congratulates new homeowner Kristi Wilson, who was selected
by the Kentucky Baptist Fellowship as the recipient of this year’s McCreary County Extreme Build.

A crane is used to place a pre-fabricated unit consisting of a kitchen, bathroom and utility room onto the foundation of Kristi Wilson’s new home.
A crane is used to place a pre-fabricated unit consisting of a kitchen, bathroom and utility room
onto the foundation of Kristi Wilson’s new home.

“Hot Links” for Breakfast!

By Phil Sammon, USDA Forest Service Public AffairsTry something a little different for breakfast over the next three weeks with the USDA Forest Service – “Hot Links”! The agency has developed a three-week informational series centered around wildfire prevention and awareness, community planning, wildfire response and resource and landscape restoration information.

Wildfire is a “hot” topic that garners significant national attention each year. But it is the local interest that the agency seeks to address in this web-based campaign. Each of their daily messages and points of interest will be accompanied by a “link” to one of many wildfire-focused websites that the agency or other wildfire agencies hosts and supports.

The three week-long themes will focus on Fire-Adapted Communities; Wildfire Response by the agency; and Landscape and Resource Restoration activities the agency conducts. The information presented comes in short notes that direct readers or followers to a Forest Service or interagency web site where readers can find more details and get recommendations for other wildfire resources and information.

The agency seeks to capitalize on the growing number of followers on both the USDA Facebook profile and numerous Forest Service twitter accounts across the country, and anticipates reaching as many as 500,000 ‘followers’ through these social media websites. As the Department of Agriculture finalizes overall department-wide guidance and regulation for new media, the Forest Service is actively engaging this valuable communication and social networking opportunity to convey the vital role the agency plays in the everyday lives of Americans from coast to coast.

Make sure to check out “Hot Links” every morning – you’ll only need to follow the USDA Facebook page, or keep up with the Forest Service on Twitter.

Public Feedback and Comments Welcome on the New Advisory Committee Report on Dietary Guidance

Cross-posted from the Let’s Move Blog

By Tom Vilsack, Agriculture Secretary

I’ve just received an important report about diet and health, and wanted to share with you some of what it says. The Advisory Report is from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, and it is directed to me and to Secretary Sebelius at Health and Human Services. We will be using this report as the basis for finalizing the Dietary Guidelines for Americans by the end of the year. This report is a summary of the absolute best and most up-to-date science available, written by a group of 13 prominent independent experts in nutrition and health.

Their guidance is important because their recommendations provide the basis for important policy decisions related to the Food Pyramid, school meals, the WIC program, and other nutrition programs that USDA manages. The report highlights four major action steps for Americans to improve their diet and health:

The first is to reduce overweight and obesity by reducing overall calorie intake and increasing physical activity. The committee said that the obesity epidemic is the single greatest threat to public health in this century.

The second step is to eat more vegetables, cooked dry beans and peas, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. In addition, eat more seafood and fat-free and low-fat milk and milk products, and moderate amounts of lean meats, poultry, and eggs.

The third step is to cut out most added sugars and solid fats. Foods with added sugars and solid fats have unneeded calories and few, if any, nutrients. Also, to reduce sodium and eat fewer refined grains, especially desserts.

The final step is to “Meet the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.” This means to get up and move more—lots more! It is important for overall health and it helps burn calories to keep weight in balance.

How to put all of this advice together? The Committee identified several ways to build a total diet that meets nutrient needs, but stays within a person’s “calorie budget.”

The Advisory Committee was very concerned about the health of children—as we are at USDA. Obesity in children has tripled in the past 30 years, and we need to tackle that problem.

Between now and July 15, the public will have an opportunity to read and comment on the Advisory Report. You can find the report online. In early July we’ll also be holding a meeting here in Washington where the public can come provide oral testimony on the Advisory Report. We look forward to receiving and reviewing your comments. After evaluating your feedback, USDA and HHS will work together to develop the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which we expect to release at the end of the year.

Kansas Butterfly Count Seeks Volunteers

Written by Allen Casey, NRCS Soil Conservationist, Kansas

The Manhattan Plant Materials Center (PMC) is recruiting Earth Team volunteers to participate in a butterfly count on July 14, 2010.

The count, sponsored by North American Butterfly Association (NABA), will help scientists monitor butterfly migration and get a good estimate of the different species and their numbers.

Volunteers will meet at the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Plant Materials Center and disperse into the surrounding area, Wednesday, July 14, 2010, from 8:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. While knowledge of butterflies is a plus, it is not necessary.

In conjunction with the butterfly count is an optional Butterfly Identification Workshop on Thursday, July 8, from 9:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Working as a partner with the PMC, the Konza Prairie Biological Station will host the workshop to help prepare volunteers to identify butterflies. Please register by Tuesday, July 6, at (785) 539-8761.

Those attending the event will also learn more about the PMC and its purpose of developing plants for conservation, as well as have a chance to look at some of the pollinator projects.

There is no charge for participating in the count, but attendees need to register by calling (785) 539-8761 by Monday, July 12, to assure adequate supply of materials. Those attending should bring a sack lunch and bug spray—and binoculars and camera (if you have them)—and dress appropriately for the weather conditions. You must provide your own transportation. If special accommodations are needed for the count or workshop, please let the PMC know when you register.

Earth Team volunteers expand NRCS services with volunteer time, talent, and energy. If you are interested in participating in the count but aren’t already an Earth Team volunteer, it is easy to become one. Earth Team application forms will be available the day of the butterfly count, or you can call (888) 526-3227. Anyone 14 years or older who is interested in conserving our natural resources is welcome to become a volunteer. (Minors aged 14 to 18 years need a parent’s signed consent form.)

Butterfly on red clover.
Butterfly on red clover.

Bear Fencing Provides an Electrifying Experience

Written by Bill Wood, State Biologist, AlaskaLet’s say you’ve just awakened from a restless 6-month nap. You check on the kids and it seems like everyone is really hungry. On your way to the grocery store you pass a chicken take-out joint and the smell of those fryers is irresistible. With kids in tow, you perambulate into the unattended shop; by all appearances, it seems you may have discovered the proverbial “free lunch.” Who could say no?

This happens for scores of mammas and pappas all over the Kenai Peninsula every spring—mamma and pappa bears, that is. And it’s not just chicken on the menu. Equally delectable items like dog food, honey and fish, not to mention livestock feed, a wide variety of human foods and other attractive items draw hungry bears that are just following their natural instincts. Bears spend as much as 80 percent of their waking day feeding or foraging for food. So when they’re rewarded for their efforts with a fairly easy meal and experience no negative repurcussions, they can quickly become habituated to that attraction.

Bears can be destructive and these situations can potentially be dangerous for all involved. Chicken coops, beehives, smokehouses and the like can quickly become demolition sites with lost equipment, money, time and effort. Sometimes encounters between humans and bears don’t turn out so well for the people, but they never turn out well for the bear. People can be proactive in reducing the potential for these kinds of human-bear encounters in a few important and sensible ways.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP) helps provide solutions for issues like this one. WHIP’s cost-share funding assistance is used to improve a wide variety of wildlife habitat conditions and help reduce negative impacts to wildlife species on private land.

For the 2011 fiscal year, NRCS has developed a new initiative available to landowners only on the Kenai Peninsula. The new project idea seeks to reduce potential up-close-and-personal interactions between people and bears at sites of human-induced bear attractants and provides matching funding to landowners to install permanent electric bear fencing. This type of fencing is an effective technique to exclude bears from areas where they should not seek food.

After receiving their first shock, many bears seem to sense the electrical charge in the fence lines and avoid those fences. When the fences are properly designed, even their appearance can remind bears of their previous unpleasant encounter.

NRCS, in cooperation with Alaska Department of Fish and Game, will also provide fence designs and site management plans and recommendations for the installation of the fences. Site inventory and assessment is part of the technical assistance landowners will receive, in addition to help with purchase and installation costs.

To find out more about the program contact the NRCS Kenai Field Office at (907) 283-8732, the NRCS Homer Field Office at (907) 235-8177, or the office of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Kenai at (907) 262-9368.

A mamma grizzly on the hunt for food in Alaska.
A mamma grizzly on the hunt for food in Alaska.