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USDA, Partners, Leading the Way to a Clean Energy Economy

There is an excitement at USDA with respect to bioenergy and biofuels and much is going on – a BIOFRENZY if you will – not in a sense of chaos – but rather many challenges and much to do.  The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS2) provisions of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 will be implemented July 1, 2010. The RFS2 calls for 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels to be used in the US transportation fuel supply by 2022 – and the majority of this total must be advanced biofuels. Read more »

Remembering Their Sacrifice: Food Safety Employees Killed in the Line of Duty

By Al Almanza, Administrator, Food Safety and Inspection Service

Today marks a difficult time in the hearts of USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service employees.

Ten years ago, FSIS compliance officers Jean Hillery and Tom Quadros; California special investigator Bill Shaline; and California inspector Earl Willis were shot as they worked together investigating a San Leandro, Calif., sausage plant. Jean, Tom and Bill would die from their injuries, while Earl would barely escape with his life.
Earl recently passed away.

Our fallen comrades are representative of the many outstanding public servants driving our government’s work for all Americans, everyday. USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, FSIS Assistant Administrator William Smith, coworkers, family and I are honoring them in ceremonies today and tomorrow.

Though the plant’s owner was tried and convicted, 10 years later, we haven’t forgotten this tragedy and our commitment to make sure it never happens again.

Workplace violence prevention is a priority for us — and should be everywhere. We emphasize outreach to improve relationships with plant staff, so they know we’re not there to harm them, but to protect the public and assist the plant in producing safe food. Other steps include a 24-hour hotline to report threats and appointing workplace violence liaison/intervention officers nationwide.

As we recall the lives and service of these four, we remember our mission to ensure safe food is a noble, important one. Those performing it — often without thanks and under the radar — are some of America’s most dedicated civil servants.

Workshops Aim to Maximize Investments in Broadband Infrastructure, Enhancing Overall Economic Development in Rural Areas

As further evidence of Secretary Vilsack’s belief that broadband is the foundation of rural economic development, he brought together American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP) recipients, economic development experts, and USDA officials in Dallas last week.  They worked together to prepare for the deployment and expansion of broadband into some of the most remote locations in rural America.   The workshop provided the opportunity for recipients to learn about compliance and reporting requirements associated with their funding packages.  Additionally, the workshop brought together representatives in the broadband industry with economic development experts to communicate how their unique roles can work together in a holistic approach to community economic development. Read more »

Keeping it Local When it Comes to Management of Natural Resources

Cross-posted from the Missoulian.com article, with guest columnist, Tom Vilsack.

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This past April, President Barack Obama launched the America’s Great Outdoors conservation initiative in an effort to confront the serious challenges our natural resources face today. This initiative recognizes that while we’ve made significant progress in protecting natural resources in America, we still face significant challenges. Our public and private working lands face threats from fragmentation and development. I’m particularly concerned about the loss of prime agricultural and forests lands that provide a wealth of benefits to Americans including clean water, wildlife habitat, food and fiber, and others. Through America’s Great Outdoors, the President has tasked us with developing conservation agenda worthy of the 21st century and to reconnect Americans with our great outdoors.

In an attempt to address these issues, Obama has instructed the U.S. Department of Agriculture and our federal partners to host a series of listening sessions to learn about what’s working and what’s not in land conservation, in getting Americans outside, and to learn how the federal government can be a better partner in these efforts. Our first listening session was held in early June in Ovando.

There, I joined Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester, Gov. Brian Schweitzer, as well as Director of the National Park Service John Jarvis and Chairwoman of the White House Council for Environmental Quality Nancy Sutley for an event on Jim Stone’s ranch. We were not there to give speeches, but to listen to a thoughtful conversation with Montanans about the work they are doing to preserve their natural treasures.

We learned about the innovative partnerships along the Blackfoot River Corridor, the Rocky Mountain Front, and in the Seeley-Swan Valley where ranchers, conservation groups, outfitters, forest industry, and others are working to conserve Montana’s natural resources and preserve its environmental heritage. In Montana, every rancher, landowner and farmer we met with emphasized the importance of getting federal employees involved at the ground level, stressing that decisions that are made with local input will lead to the most promising solutions. We also learned about the importance of voluntary incentive programs and a number of other ideas that could help Montanans protect their natural heritage and strengthen the connection between Americans and the great outdoors.

Following the forum in Ovando, the America’s Great Outdoors’ initiative held three other listening sessions in Bozeman, Helena and Missoula, giving over 500 Montanans the opportunity to share their ideas. Men and women across the state suggested successful conservation strategies, ways to engage youth in the outdoors, and discussed the appropriate role for the federal government in fostering community-led conservation efforts.

On my visit to Montana, I was reminded why we cannot wait any longer to get Americans back outdoors. Too many Americans have lost touch with their outdoor heritage that is present everywhere in Big Sky country. Too many Americans have never enjoyed the fishing, hunting, hiking or camping that are not only to America’s rural heritage, but also have a major economic impact on small communities. Outdoor recreation is worth $730 billion to the American economy each year. And the truth is that these activities not only yield a strong economic impact, they also promote good physical health. And I would remind folks that there’s no better time than June, Great Outdoors Month, to get involved in this project and reconnect with our country’s plentiful outdoors.

Over the next few months, representatives from the Obama administration will continue what began in Montana with listening sessions across the country to craft a national conservation plan. Other states will have their opportunity to let Washington know what great work is being done on the local level, and how we can partner in our efforts to reach conservation plans that best serve your communities – but also the nation.

If you weren’t able to attend an America’s Great Outdoors listening session, we still want to hear from you. You can visit www.doi.gov/AmericasGreatOutdoors to share your ideas and learn more about our path to America’s Great Outdoors.

With input from this initiative, USDA will continue to work every day to conserve the nation’s natural heritage. I know that with participation from local leaders like the ones I met in Ovando, we will be successful in preserving our nation’s treasures while still taking advantage of their potential for economic development, so that we hand them over to the next generation better than we found them.

Tom Vilsack is the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.

USDA Rural Development Homeownership Project Helps Tornado Victims in Mississippi

Mississippi’s Rural Development State Director Trina N. George and USDA officials, along with municipal and community leaders took a day last week to help rebuild a home that was severely damaged by a recent tornado that swept through Yazoo City, as part of the agency’s recognition of June as National Homeownership Month. Read more »

The Buzz at the Top of USDA’s Whitten Building

by Wayne Bogovich, The Peoples Garden Apiary Beekeeper

Folks in the area are welcoming USDA’s newest residents, bees!  The People’s Garden at USDA headquarters added a beehive in The People’s Garden Apiary which is located on the roof of USDA’s Whitten Building along the National Mall in Washington, DC.

USDA’s newest residents, six pounds (approximately 20,000) of bees and a queen were placed in their new home on April 21, 2010.  These bees are facilitating pollination of The People’s Garden as well as the surrounding areas.  If you’ve been to the National Mall, you probably recall that there are a lot of gardens at the various Smithsonian museums.  And if you haven’t been to the National Mall, you should plan a visit.

The hive’s location was chosen so the eastern exposure of sunlight would get the bees moving in the morning.  Directly to the west of the hive is a utility room which provides protection from the prevailing winds and bad weather along with afternoon shade to avoid the late day heat.

We check the hive every 10 days and our volunteers supply fresh water every other day.  We do this in addition to checking for fresh eggs as well as any visual parasite or disease issue in order to ensure the health of the colony.  We also monitor honey production and we add honey supers as needed.  And to facilitate the non-chemical control of mites, we use a ventilated bottom board  and remove the drone brood.

Because each of us depends on pollinators in a practical way to provide us with the wide range of foods we eat, we are doing our best in making sure our newest residents have what they need!

Wayne Bogovich, The Peoples Garden Apiary Beekeeper
Wayne Bogovich, The Peoples Garden Apiary Beekeeper