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USDA Partners with Maryland School for the Deaf in Work-to-Learn Program

APHIS Work-to-Learn Student Carroll Barnes and USDA Federal Disability Employment Program Manager Alison Levy converse about his work with the APHIS Professional Development Center in Frederick.

APHIS Work-to-Learn Student Carroll Barnes and USDA Federal Disability Employment Program Manager Alison Levy converse about his work with the APHIS Professional Development Center in Frederick.

Traditional classrooms aren’t the only place where high school students learn new things.  Every workday from 12:40 to 2:40 p.m., Maryland School for the Deaf (MSD) senior Carroll Barnes is learning outside the classroom through his school’s Work-to-Learn program.  He hitches a ride from the program’s van and arrives at the Professional Development Center (PDC) of the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Plant Protection and Quarantine, in Frederick, Maryland for two hours’ of on-the-job training.  He’s tasked with a broad range of general office duties, such as filing, shredding, and stocking printers.  He also assists with the PDC’s training support activities, including collating and distributing classroom materials and labeling laboratory equipment and supplies.

As the PDC Equal Employment Opportunity Advisory Committee (EEOAC) Chair, I oversee his daily activities and coordinate the work needed by our staff with his availability.  In addition to gaining administrative and clerical work experience, Carroll is also exposed to the broader APHIS mission of safeguarding American agricultural and natural resources from invasive pests.  The PDC provides training, leadership and consultation to APHIS employees and others who work to protect the Nation’s agriculture and natural resources from plant pests and diseases.  Carroll believes that “all happiness depends on courage and work,” and adds he’s “learning about my new job, learning to schedule my time, to balance my budget…” which he suggests are good life lessons that everyone should learn. Read more »

Trip Home to Illinois Gives USDA Leader a Chance to Encourage Students, Share about Conservation

NRCS Assistant Chief Kirk Hanlin (right) conducts a radio interview with Abby Wendle, agriculture correspondent for Tri States Public Radio and Harvest Public Media, during a recent trip to Illinois. NRCS photo.

NRCS Assistant Chief Kirk Hanlin (right) conducts a radio interview with Abby Wendle, agriculture correspondent for Tri States Public Radio and Harvest Public Media, during a recent trip to Illinois. NRCS photo.

At USDA, we spend a lot of time thinking about the next generation of farmers, the challenges they will face, and about the science, technology and knowledge they will need to overcome those challenges.

As assistant chief of the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, I help guide this world-renowned agency in assisting agricultural and forestland producers become better stewards in ways that protect and enrich the land, soil and water on which their operations, plants and animals rely. Read more »

The Real Story Behind Bats

A California leaf-nose bat captures a cricket. (Copyright photo used with permission/Merlin D. Tuttle, Bat Conservation International, www.batcon.org)

A California leaf-nose bat captures a cricket. (Copyright photo used with permission/Merlin D. Tuttle, Bat Conservation International, www.batcon.org)

As Halloween approaches, it is easy to get caught up in the mystery and fear that surround bats, but the truth about bats is that they are fascinating animals vital for a healthy environment and economy.

As we celebrate National Bat Week, set your concerns aside. We need bats, and bats need us – now more than ever.

Bats occupy almost every habitat in the world. They devour tons of insects nightly, pollinate flowers, and spread seeds that grow new plants and trees. They are our most important natural predators of night-flying insects, consuming mosquitoes, moths, beetles, crickets, leafhoppers and chinch bugs, among others. Many of these insects are serious crop or forests pests, while others spread disease to humans or livestock. Every year, bats save us billions of dollars in pest control by simply eating insects. Read more »

WIC: The Foundation of Healthy Families Since 1974

Forty years ago, WIC was established to improve health outcomes for pregnant women, infants and young children.  Today, the program officially known as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, continues to be one of the nation’s most successful, cost-effective and important nutrition intervention programs. USDA’s new infographic demonstrates why WIC Works for our children and for our country! Read more »

Opening Doors for #WomeninAg

Earlier this week, I hosted a White House Rural Council discussion with farmers, business owners, board members, commodity groups, youth leaders and academics to discuss opportunities for women in agriculture. The group included women and men, conventional farmers and organic producers and organizations like Food Corps, the Future Farmers of America Foundation and the American Farm Bureau.  There were major corporations including Coca Cola and Land O’ Lakes as well as smaller operations like Sandy Oaks Olive Orchards from Texas.

In preparation for the meeting, I asked the participants to use #womeninag to identify inspiring women in agriculture.  The overwhelming response on Twitter stimulated our discussion and motivated the group to identify what we can do to continue supporting women in agriculture. Read more »

Still Made in Rural America: Steel in California Gold Country

Del Oro High School in Loomis, CA, boasting a new Performing Arts Building and Gymnasium—as well as 400 tons of Metal Works steel. (Photo courtesy Metal Works)

Del Oro High School in Loomis, CA, boasting a new Performing Arts Building and Gymnasium—as well as 400 tons of Metal Works steel. (Photo courtesy Metal Works)

Small town Oroville, California sits on the banks of the Feather River at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. It was established to supply the thousands of prospectors headed to Bidwell Bar, one of the first gold rush mines in the state. Today, this community of 16,260 people produces much more than just gold dust.

At the edge of town, what started in 1989 as a backyard blacksmith shop by owners Michael Phulps and Sean Pierce has become a 82-employee steel manufacturing company called Metal Works, thanks to a little help from USDA Rural Development. Fourteen years ago, Metal Works received their first Business & Industry loan guarantee to purchase a 20,000 square foot fabrication shop and office building on a little over 18 acres. Since then, they’ve converted their original 9,400 square foot building to a retail steel shop, and added another 20,000 square foot fabrication shop, burn table, and a modern, high-precision drill and beam line. Now, they’ve leveraged a new Rural Development guaranteed loan to refinance, save tens of thousands of dollars annually, and hire 10 new employees as a direct result of those savings. Read more »