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The Sweat Equity Route to Homeownership: Raising Walls & Building a Community!

Wayne Bodley (far right) built his home through the Self-Help program with assistance from USDA Rural Development and the Housing Assistance Corporation. Bodley designed the bear which is displayed in downtown Hendersonville, NC, and will be auctioned off to benefit the local Self-Help program.

Wayne Bodley (far right) built his home through the Self-Help program with assistance from USDA Rural Development and the Housing Assistance Corporation. Bodley designed the bear which is displayed in downtown Hendersonville, NC, and will be auctioned off to benefit the local Self-Help program.

In celebration of USDA’s annual Homeownership Month, I toured a flourishing neighborhood tucked in the woods of Edneyville, North Carolina. Along with me were families who never thought it possible to own a home or have a yard for their children or a garden. Their dreams were realized by building not only their own home, but the homes of their neighbors too! In the process, they also built enduring bonds of a caring community.

This neighborhood is being developed by the private, nonprofit Housing Assistance Corporation (HAC) of Hendersonville using Rural Development’s Self-Help Housing program.  Since 1971, USDA has helped build more than 50,000 across the nation. Through the Self Help Housing program, homeowners save money and earn “sweat equity” toward their homes by completing 65% of the labor.  Ten to 12 families pool their efforts and work a minimum of 40 hours a week working on all the homes — and no one moves into their home until every home is completed.  Working together, families pour foundations, frame homes, install electrical wiring, hang doors and windows, and lay tile and paint. Their sweat equity qualifies as their down payment. Once completed, USDA Rural Development provides the families with mortgages through the Single Family Housing Direct Loan Program. Read more »

For American Chestnut Trees, People Help in the Art of Pollination

Clint Neel of Tennessee helps with pollinations at The American Chestnut Foundation’s orchards in Meadowview, Virginia. Photo by TACF.

Clint Neel of Tennessee helps with pollinations at The American Chestnut Foundation’s orchards in Meadowview, Virginia. Photo by TACF.

Nature has transformers! With time and the help of bees, butterflies, birds and other critters, some flowers change into seeds. Sometimes, flowers in trees transform into nuts.

But sometimes these transformers need help. That’s where a Conservation Innovation Grant from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to The American Chestnut Foundation came into play.

The foundation competed for and was awarded a grant from NRCS to plant and grow genetically diverse, blight-resistant chestnuts and other high quality hardwoods to reintroduce and maintain forests on reclaimed mine sites in Appalachia.  The American chestnut trees were once common, but, nearly vanished from the landscape because of an accidentally introduced fungus in the late 1800s. Read more »

Workshop Discusses Delving Deeper into the Animal Genome

Data gathered from the AgENCODE project will ultimately improve cattle breeding.

Data gathered from the AgENCODE project will ultimately improve cattle breeding.

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.

The idea that around 80 percent of human DNA is “junk” DNA with no real purpose never sat well with scientists.  So in 2003, researchers funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health started working on a project called ENCODE, which was designed to study the role of non-coding “junk” DNA in genetic expression and to define basic functional units in the human genome.

USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists are spearheading a parallel project called AgENCODE, which takes a similar approach to exploring the mechanics of DNA regulation in key livestock species. “We can identify 70 to 90 percent (or more) of the DNA coding elements in animal genomes, but we don’t know much at all about the non-coding elements,” says ARS National Program Leader Jeffrey Silverstein, who is helping to organize the AgENCODE effort. “We think many of these non-coding segments regulate gene activity, and we need to understand how these segments affect the expression of an animal’s physical traits, which is very important in breeding.” Read more »