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Under Secretary Marks 60th Year of USDA Telecommunications at Cooperstown, New York Event

It was great to have Under Secretary Dallas Tonsager on hand for our combined event with Bassett Healthcare on Tuesday. The event highlighted the 60th anniversary of our Telecommunications Program and Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Amy, a breast cancer survivor, spoke to the crowd about the importance of breast cancer screenings and early detection, which is crucial to curing the disease. Her remarks about being the mother of two boys, as well as a wife, daughter and sister were truly moving. I’m proud that my agency has made such a positive contribution to women’s health in this very rural part of our state. Read more »

USDA Highlights 60th Anniversary of Housing Program in Alaska

Last week it was my privilege as State Director of USDA Rural Development to travel across Alaska with Under Secretary Dallas Tonsager.  His trip is a follow-up to one that was taken by Secretary Vilsack to Western Alaska in August, as part of the Rural Tour.  I was privileged to also participate in that trip.

This month marks the 60th anniversary of the start of USDA’s housing program and it was fitting that the Under Secretary observed the occasion by visiting two of our “Self Help” housing sites. Self help is a great program.  A group of prospective homeowners, working under the direction of a non-profit, build their own homes.  Usually about eight to ten homes are involved.  It takes a year, but at the end of the process, the homeowner’s work becomes their “sweat equity”.

In Wasilla the Under Secretary met Mary Beall, a mother of eight, who finished building her home about a year ago.  Shortly after she and three of her children moved in, she was involved in a serious auto accident.  Because she was physically unable to complete her landscaping, Pat Shiflea and his staff at Alaska Community Development Corporation stepped forward and did it for her, at no cost.  The Corporation oversaw her home construction effort.

In Palmer, we joined U.S. Senator Mark Begich in helping a group of prospective homeowners as they build their houses in a subdivision off Evergreen Avenue.  These efforts are reminiscent of an earlier time in our Nation’s history when neighbors helped neighbors raise barns or bring in crops.  It is refreshing to see that in this age, that spirit still lives.

Since Congress established our housing programs in 1949, three million rural Americans have benefited from housing loans, grants and guarantees totaling $124.6 billion. After visiting the Self-Help construction site, we met with Bill Eckhardt and senior members of their mortgage operations department (at Palmer branch) to present the “Top Mat-Su Lender” award.  In FY’2009, Alaska USA had an all-time high level of participation in the GRH program.  Alaska USA did $ 10.6 million in GRH loans in the Mat-Su!

Also during his trip, Under Secretary Tonsager got to see the regional hub community of Kotzebue, which is above the Arctic Circle and facing difficulties due to erosion, especially during the fall storm period.  He also flew to two extremely rural communities which have predominantly Native populations and he addressed the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention in Anchorage.  You can read his speech here.

We traveled a great deal, seeing renewable energy projects, water projects and rural homes in need of replacement. No matter what the challenge, USDA Rural Development is equal to the job.  As we enter our next 60 years of service to rural America, we’re just getting started and I was pleased to spend a great deal of last week getting to show our state to the Under Secretary.

Jim Nordlund, Alaska State Director

Deputy Secretary Brings KYF2 Discussion to Iowa State

The ‘Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food’ College Tour continued this week with a visit to Iowa State University, where I had the opportunity to speak with students, faculty, and members of the community about USDA’s efforts to promote local and regional food systems. Read more »

Secretary Vilsack Kicks off the Combined Federal Campaign at USDA

October 20 marked the official launch of the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) at USDA for the Washington, D.C. metro area. Administered by the government’s Office of Personnel Management (OPM), CFC is the world’s largest workplace giving program. Since its inception in 1961, federal employees have contributed more than $6 billion to the non-profit community.

This year, USDA has set a goal of raising just under $2 million from its approximately 10,000 employees in the national capital area. The official kickoff on Tuesday morning was an exciting event in the Whitten Building patio featuring top USDA leadership and more than 20 CFC registered non-profit organizations. Secretary Tom Vilsack and Undersecretary for Research, Education, and Economics, Dr. Raj Shah, led off the event by speaking movingly about the ways that non-profit organizations touch all of our lives in critical and transformative ways. Read more »

USDA Using New Media to Reach Communities

Agriculture groups find voice in social media

“I’m trying to be a modern deputy here,” said Kathleen Merrigan, deputy secretary of Agriculture, during the department’s first monthly Facebook live chat earlier this month. She’s not the only ag player trying to take the plunge into social media. In the last year, many farm lobbying groups have established a presence on Facebook and Twitter in an effort to reach out to farmers. Americans farmers are old and getting older, with an average age of 57.1 in 2007, up from 55.3 in 2002. Social media, like most technology trends, is still thought of as the domain of young people, but the two fastest-growing age demographics on Facebook are 35- to 54-year-olds and those 55 and above, according to a Jan. 2009 analysis by iStrategyLabs, an online marketing company. (National Journal 10/19/09 link) Read more »

Town of Fort Kent, Maine Utilizes Recovery Act Funds

In April 2008, flood waters swept through Fort Kent, Maine, damaging infrastructure and preventing emergency crews from accessing several existing water and wastewater facilities. As a result of the rising flood waters, the facilities sustained damage severe enough that they no longer met health and safety codes, leaving the community vulnerable should similar events occur in the future. The Town was in need of financial assistance for upgrades. Read more »