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Don’t Forget Your Winter “Vegetables”

Tomato basil soup made with fresh ingredients. Our version of this popular comfort food is a great way to celebrate National Tomato and Squash Month.  Photo courtesy Sriram Bala.

Tomato basil soup made with fresh ingredients. Our version of this popular comfort food is a great way to celebrate National Tomato and Squash Month. Photo courtesy Sriram Bala.

December is National Tomato and Winter Squash Month, a time to celebrate two very versatile “vegetables” that contain a wealth of flavors and nutrients.

You may find this hard to believe, but at one point tomatoes (once called “love apples”) were considered poisonous and grown solely for their ornamental value.  Today tomatoes are the most popular garden vegetable in America. While technically a fruit, they are considered a vegetable for culinary purposes and used in many dishes from countries and cultures around the world. Read more »

School Gardens on Wheels

USDA partnered with The Washington Capitals to bring a People’s Garden to Powell Elementary School in Washington, DC almost 2 years ago. The process began with a garden design session so parents, teachers and students from every grade could put their ideas on paper. Hundreds of ideas were collected – from dinosaurs to avocado trees – for USDA landscape architects to sort through. The People’s Garden team and the Caps returned about a month later to reveal a concept plan that included a habitat garden and food garden. With the help of hundreds of volunteers from USDA’s People’s Garden, The Washington Capitals and the local community, both of these gardens have been brought to life.

The Habitat Garden was built first in the only area of the playground not covered in asphalt. The ground was very compact making the project a challenge for anyone trying to do this, but more so, on a very hot summer day. We got it done and the students now have an outdoor classroom to stomp through and explore. (This video shows a time-lapse of the amazing transformation.) Read more »

Creative Financing Roundtable Hosted by Vermont USDA Staff

Last week, Molly Lambert, State Director of the Vermont Rural Development State Office, (RD) joined me in hosting the state’s first “Intermediary Relending Program and Creative Financing Roundtable.”  Meeting participants, including leaders from Vermont’s economic and community development centers, met at the Vermont Economic Development Authority office located in Montpelier, Vermont.

The purpose of the meeting was to explore ways to promote the distribution of more than $5 million in funds to Vermont’s rural small business entrepreneurs using the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Intermediary Relending Program (IRP).  These enthusiastic participants, who have keen insight into the state’s industries and barriers to capital, learned that working collaboratively will benefit all Vermont communities.

During the opening part of the meeting, staff from the Vermont USDA State Office gave the state’s Intermediary Relending providers updates on the administration of IRP loans.  The session then moved to a discussion of trends, observations, and economic opportunities for the small businesses in their respective areas. Read more »