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Native Homeownership Coalition Continues its Work in South Dakota

South Dakota United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development State Director Elsie Meeks (right) meets with Colleen Steele, Executive Director, Mazaska Owecaso Otipi Financial. USDA photo.

South Dakota United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development State Director Elsie Meeks (right) meets with Colleen Steele, Executive Director, Mazaska Owecaso Otipi Financial. USDA photo.

“Being a homeowner is absolutely rewarding to my family and me. Owning my own home means stability, safety and accomplishment in our lives,” said Stephanie Richards-Apple.  She purchased her home through Mazaska Owecaso Otipi Financial.  Mazaska is a partner to USDA Rural Development in South Dakota and a member of the South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition (Coalition).   Richards-Apple worked with Mazaska to make the step from tenant to homeowner.  Her story highlights the importance of the work of the South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition.

The Coalition is a partnership of Federal and State agencies, Housing Development Authorities and non-profit entities that share the common goal of improving Native homeownership in South Dakota.  South Dakota Rural Development State Director Elsie Meeks welcomed over 50 participants at a coalition-sponsored training session in Pierre, SD and stated “We strive to advocate and strengthen families and Native communities through homeownership; it isn’t often that the Native and non-native housing organizations get to learn from each other.” Read more »

Enhancing the Local School Wellness Environment

USDA Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Deputy Under Secretary Janey Thornton thanks Food Service Staff at Valley Intermediate School for their dedication to the children’s health.

USDA Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Deputy Under Secretary Janey Thornton thanks Food Service Staff at Valley Intermediate School for their dedication to the children’s health.

Local school wellness policies are an important tool for parents, local educational agencies, and school districts to promote student wellness, prevent and reduce childhood obesity, and provide assurance that school meal guidelines meet federal standards. They help communicate nutrition guidelines for all foods available on the school campus and include goals for nutrition education, physical activity, and other activities that help improve overall student wellness.

While visiting schools across the nation, I have seen firsthand how important local wellness policies are, and we here at USDA aren’t the only ones who think so. Over two dozen national associations and organizations have joined the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the US Department of Education in sharing information and resources about local school wellness policies. In fact, this group has issued a joint statement recognizing the role schools play in promoting wellness among staff, students, and families. Read more »

Safety Datapalooza: Opening Up Data To Better Protect Public Health

An estimated 1 million illnesses can be attributed to Salmonella every year. USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) recently announced its Salmonella Action Plan to help reduce the number of illnesses associated with FSIS-regulated products using new standards, strategies and innovation. When the Agency learned of the upcoming Safety Datapalooza on January 14, Chief Information Officer Janet Stevens knew they wanted in. “As lead of our Agency’s innovation Strategic Goal, I knew the value of leveraging the public through challenges, unconferences and datapaloozas,” said Stevens, “This was a wonderful opportunity to bring together data scientists, technologists and practitioners to generate ideas to help save lives.” Read more »

U.S. Forest Service Recognized for Energy Conservation Efforts

The Forest Service’s Technology and Development Center is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s first net zero energy facility in the nation. (RecSolar Inc.)

The Forest Service’s Technology and Development Center is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s first net zero energy facility in the nation. (RecSolar Inc.)

The Forest Service’s Technology and Development Center recently received the White House’s 2013 GreenGov Presidential Award and the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2013 Federal Energy and Water Management Award for its net zero energy facility project in San Dimas, Calif. A facility earns a net zero energy designation if it produces more renewable energy than it uses per year. This is the first facility of its kind in the Department of Agriculture.

The Department of Energy also recognized the Center for the same facility project and the Forest Service’s Northern Region for executing a $2.6 million Energy Savings Performance Contract in Fiscal Year 2012. Read more »

Secretary’s Column: A New Food, Farm and Jobs Bill to Fight Hunger Here at Home

America’s farmers and ranchers work hard every day to put healthy food on our tables. Thanks to their incredible productivity, we have the capacity to produce enough food not only for every American family, but for much of the world.

In a nation with such an abundance of food resources, it is unthinkable and unacceptable that any American go hungry. Unfortunately, even as the economy recovers and more Americans get back to work, millions of hardworking folks still need help putting food on the table.

America’s food insecure families are just one group of Americans counting on Congress to finish the work of a comprehensive Food, Farm and Jobs Bill that adequately invests in America’s nutrition safety net. Read more »

Native Seedlings to Return to Reforest Burned Areas

Gretchen Fitzgerald, forester on the San Juan National Forest in Colorado, checks the health of an eight-year-old ponderosa pine that has regenerated naturally on burned slopes west of Vallecito Reservoir. Some of the national forest where natural regeneration is lacking across the reservoir behind her will be replanted in 2015. (U.S. Forest Service/Ann Bond)

Gretchen Fitzgerald, forester on the San Juan National Forest in Colorado, checks the health of an eight-year-old ponderosa pine that has regenerated naturally on burned slopes west of Vallecito Reservoir. Some of the national forest where natural regeneration is lacking across the reservoir behind her will be replanted in 2015. (U.S. Forest Service/Ann Bond)

Decades ago, ripe cones were plucked from the tops of conifer trees in the San Juan National Forest and sent to Nebraska for storage in a U.S. Forest Service nursery.  This winter, tiny seeds from those cones have been sown in the nursery with the big mission of returning home to create new forests in southwestern Colorado.

Donations to the San Juan National Forest Plant-A-Tree Program will help return the little trees to their native environment in 2015, when 250 acres burned by the 72,000-acre Missionary Ridge Fire will be replanted.

“We’ll plant limber pine seedlings in the more rocky areas,” said San Juan National Forest Forester Gretchen Fitzgerald. “Douglas fir will be tucked into north- and east-facing slopes because they like cooler, moister conditions. Ponderosa pines can go just about anywhere; they’re very drought tolerant.” Read more »