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The Link Between Rural and Urban Americans

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to speak before a group of city and town planners at a forum hosted by the American Planning Association.  Before I spoke I asked the crowd to raise their hands if they had worked in a community of less than 50,000 population.  To my surprise, three-quarters of audience raised a hand.

When I then asked for people to keep their hands raised if they worked in communities under 20,000, and close to half the hands were still up.

It was another reminder that people who live and work in rural communities are highly engaged—enough so to attend a conference here in Washington D.C.—and intent on exploring solutions for small towns and rural areas. Read more »

Listening Session Gives the Floor to Organic Community

The Department of Agriculture (USDA) was all ears on Tuesday as it opened up its hall to organic stakeholders to ask the question, “What activities should the Department focus on to serve the organic community?”

Many took the opportunity to respond. During a day-long listening session hosted by USDA, organic stakeholders shared their thoughts, concerns, praises, and requests with the department that administers the organic certification program and enforces the country’s organic standards.

The USDA’s National Organic Program, part of the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), currently serves a $29 billion industry on a budget of less than $7 million—and the industry continues to grow amidst challenging economic conditions. In support of that growth, USDA has a goal to increase the number of certified organic operations to over 20,000 by 2015–that’s a 20 percent growth from 2009. Read more »

Industry Insight: Checkoff Programs Empower Business

When it comes to expanding market share, increasing revenue and getting the word out about a great product or commodity, checkoff programs prove that there’s strength in numbers. Officially called research and promotion programs, checkoff programs give agricultural producers, importers and other stakeholders in the marketing chain the power to maximize resources while managing risk.

The strategy for increasing or expanding commodity markets takes more cooperation within the industry than competition between individual farms and businesses.  Consumers may not know exactly which farm grows or raises their fruit, beef, cotton or lumber, but they will decide what to buy based on knowledge, quality and availability.

The consumer’s perspective that there is a general uniformity to some commodities serves as the catalyst for many individual farms and businesses to collaborate on a comprehensive, industry-wide strategy to expand markets.  Promoting a commodity as a whole instead of by individual businesses means everyone in the industry benefits through increased sales, consumer awareness and higher overall demand. Read more »

People’s Garden in Turkey Promotes “Green Living”

Clara Hamilton (left) and Nilgun Birinci (right), look for tomatoes in the People’s Garden in Ankara, Turkey.

Clara Hamilton (left) and Nilgun Birinci (right), look for tomatoes in the People’s Garden in Ankara, Turkey.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, created a People’s Garden as part of their efforts to live a more “green” life at work. “Green Teams,” volunteer organizations present in many U.S. embassies, look for ways to improve green issues at the embassy through programs that promote green living such as recycling and saving water. Read more »

Forest Service Finds Local Government and Home Owners Pay the Price for Non-Native Insects

The emerald ash borer is an example of a non-native, wood-boring insect.

The emerald ash borer is an example of a non-native, wood-boring insect.

While invasive insect species are widely recognized as being among the greatest threats to biodiversity and ecosystem stability worldwide, there has been little research into their economic impact on the national level especially for non-native invasive species.

Many examples come to mind like the devastation caused by the native bark beetle in Colorado and surrounding states. However, what most don’t realize is that the threat from non-native insect species is equally if not more costly to U.S. tax payers. Read more »

Strengthening a Partnership with Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Earlier this week, I attended the 2011 National Historically Black Colleges and Universities Week Conference to accept the ‘Chairman’s Award’ on Secretary Vilsack’s behalf.

Over the decades, HBCUs have been critical in producing many of our nation’s great authors, intellectuals, civil rights and business leaders, inventors and teachers.  There are thousands of USDA employees, from soil scientists to conservationists, who hail from HBCUs.  And maintaining our HBCUs as thriving, top-notch, centers of higher-education is critical to preparing our nation’s future workforce and keeping America competitive.

That Secretary Vilsack was honored with this award, is a testament to his work to strengthen USDA’s relationship with HBCUs.  As Secretary, he has worked to build a new era at USDA as a premier service provider and partner for all Americans, including those in minority and underserved communities. Read more »