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Kentucky Couple Says Thank You Berry Much

Jeff and Kim Essig gave their blueberry farm a boost with a microloan to help purchase equipment that will further expand their operation.

Jeff and Kim Essig gave their blueberry farm a boost with a microloan to help purchase equipment that will further expand their operation.

This post is part of a Microloan Success feature series on the USDA blog.  Check back every Tuesday and Thursday as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s Farm Service Agency.

USDA’s Microloan program allows beginning, small and mid-sized farmers to access up to $35,000 in loans using a simplified application process, and up to seven years to repay. Through the Farm Service Agency (FSA) USDA is focused on increasing opportunities for farmers and ranchers and has made several modifications to farm loan programs, including making Microloans to beginning farmers and veterans exempt from direct loan term limits. Producers have more flexible access to credit for initial start-up expenses, family living expenses, minor farm improvements and hoop houses to extend the growing season.

Kentucky couple Kim and Jeff Essig, owners of Middlebridge Blueberry Farm, know about the benefits of the Microloan program first-hand. Kim shares their story: Read more »

Earth Team Volunteer Benefits USDA with Wetland Expertise

Molly Stetz, a graduate student in wetland ecology in New York, gives of her time and expertise to NRCS through the Earth Team program. NRCS photo.

Molly Stetz, a graduate student in wetland ecology in New York, gives of her time and expertise to NRCS through the Earth Team program. NRCS photo.

When not in class, Molly Stetz volunteered her time to USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), assisting with the agency’s efforts to restore wetlands and curb other environmental concerns.

As part of National Volunteer Week, NRCS is celebrating the contributions of volunteers like Stetz that help the agency advance the conservation mission through Earth Team.

Stetz, a graduate student in wetland ecology at the State University of New York at Brockport, donated more than 900 hours to NRCS through the agency’s Earth Team volunteer program. Read more »

Old Microscope Sparks New Idea for Kids’ Science Club

Drs. Rebecca Efroymson and Bill Hargrove held a recent science club meeting in Haw Creek Elementary School’s computer lab. (U.S. Forest Service/Stephanie Worley Firley)

Drs. Rebecca Efroymson and Bill Hargrove held a recent science club meeting in Haw Creek Elementary School’s computer lab. (U.S. Forest Service/Stephanie Worley Firley)

When he was a child, Forest Service scientist Bill Hargrove burnt off his eyebrows making rocket fuel, blew up a sealed jar of cultured yeast and started a bathroom fire while doing sterile transfers for a carrot tissue culture. Fortunately, he survived his early scientific experiments and is now inspiring a new generation of young students.

Hargrove, a research ecologist with the Eastern Forest Environmental Threat Assessment Center, and his wife, Rebecca Efroymson, are pioneering an extramural science club for fourth and fifth graders at Haw Creek Elementary School in Asheville, N.C. Each monthly club meeting features real-life scientists who lead lively discussions and activities about diverse scientific topics.

During the first club meeting last year, students looked at living creatures found in drops of pond water through a light microscope—Hargrove’s own childhood microscope. Read more »

Spelling out the A, B, Cs of Accessing Business Credit

America’s farmers and ranchers are a diverse bunch. They span the gamut – from farm families in operation for many generations to new and beginning farmers just getting their agricultural businesses started; from farmers raising commodities for export to farmers engaging in robust domestic and regional markets; from farmers managing big operations to smaller farmers tilling a few acres and everything in between.

No matter the size, type or history of their operation, there is one thing all farmers and ranchers agree on—accessing appropriate capital can be one of the biggest challenges to building a successful farm enterprise. And often, it’s important to start with the basics. Read more »

USDA Researchers Go High-Tech to View Tiny Organisms

Under the microscope: a worm-like mite species Osperalycus tenerphagus

Under the microscope: a worm-like mite species Osperalycus tenerphagus

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

During the month of April we will take a closer look at USDA’s Groundbreaking Research for a Revitalized Rural America, highlighting ways USDA researchers are improving the lives of Americans in ways you might never imagine.

“Seeing the unseen” may sound like a science fiction movie theme, but it’s actually the real-life mission of USDA scientists who use special high-powered microscopes to view microscopic organisms that play a big role in agriculture.

The facility where these scientists produce the images of the unseen world–from fungal spores to plant cells–is called the Electron and Confocal Microscopy Unit (ECMU) and it’s operated in Beltsville, Md., by USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS). Read more »

In Indiana, the Cooperative Interstate Shipment Program Opens Meatier Markets for Small Processors

Lou’s Gourmet Sausage, a small family business run by the Vinciguerra brothers of Cleveland, Ohio, takes sausage seriously.  For over fifty years, the company has been supplying Cleveland restaurants and grocery stores with Sicilian, Andouille, Cajun, mild and hot chicken and veal sausages. But despite strong demand for its products, it took a USDA program to make Lou’s sausage available outside Ohio.

In 2012, Ohio was the first state to join USDA’s Cooperative Interstate Shipment program (CIS).  The program, authorized under the 2008 Farm Bill, allows inspected and approved small state-inspected meat processors, like Lou’s Gourmet Sausage, to bear an official USDA Mark of Inspection and ship meat and poultry across state lines. Previously, only products from federally inspected plants could be sold in other states. To participate in the program, state certified plants like Lou’s Sausage work with USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) to integrate their systems to meet federal inspection standards.  Once inspected and approved for compliance, these smaller plants can ship across state lines and are poised for bigger market opportunities. Read more »