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Behind the Scenes of the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative: Jill Auburn

Jill Auburn, National Program Leader for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Beginning Farmer and Ranchers Development Program

Jill Auburn, National Program Leader for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Beginning Farmer and Ranchers Development Program, is one of the original members of USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Task Force which coordinates the Department’s work on local and regional food systems.

This month, the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative (KYF2) celebrates an important milestone: the sixth anniversary of the first convening of the KYF2 Task Force. Since 2009, the Task Force, a dedicated team of experts from across the Department, has been hard at work in support of USDA’s commitment to local and regional food systems. As we mark this important milestone, we wanted to recognize some of the outstanding USDA employees who have been at the core of this work.

Jill Auburn, National Program Leader at USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and manager of the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, has been part of the KYF2 Task Force since the beginning. Jill came to USDA in 1998 and has seen the Department’s work on local food evolve. Jill describes the launch of the Task Force as a recognition that “the world has been doing this [local food], and USDA needs to engage. We aren’t the lead on this – our work is being driven by what’s happening in communities around the country – but USDA has a lot of tools to assist.”  The 2008 and 2014 Farm Bills have given USDA many tools and authorities to support local and regional food systems. Read more »

Celebrating Small Cities Month

Anniston Downtown Farmers Market sign

The City of Anniston will use their 2014 AMS Farmers Market Promotion Program grant funds to establish and promote a year-round farmers market. Photo courtesy of Anniston Downtown Farmers Market.

June is Small Cities Month, an opportunity to celebrate the unique and important role our smaller communities play in our rural economy and making our nation a great place to live and work.  Leaders in innovation and entrepreneurship often hail from small cities and their residents are proud of their hometowns. USDA partners with communities across the country to create greater economic impact as the strong rural economies of our small, vibrant cities benefit the whole nation.

Secretary Vilsack identified strengthening local food systems as one of the four pillars of USDA’s commitment to rural economic development, and USDA efforts in this area have made a big difference in small cities.  My agency, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), has a long history of supporting local and regional food systems through grants, research and technical assistance.  Across the country, city leaders are recognizing that farmers markets are at the heart of many towns and cities. Read more »

South Dakota: A Strong Force in Economic Development

Legends Suspensions owner Jesse Jurrens demonstrating a custom manufactured spring coil

Legends Suspensions owner Jesse Jurrens demonstrates a custom manufactured spring coil from their Sturgis-based manufacturing center.

To me, the phrase ‘economic development’ is more than a buzzword – and that was reinforced during an all-too-brief trip to western South Dakota. It’s easy to get caught up in the policymaking and program implementation in Washington, D.C., and I find great value in getting to the field so I can see exactly how these programs are helping our local stakeholders and partners, small business lenders, and entrepreneurs make investments in the local economy.

I started out the day in Sturgis, where we met up with Legends Suspensions owner Jesse Jurrens. With the backing of two Business & Industry Guaranteed Loans, Jesse has shaped and changed the sport and lifestyle of motorcyclists globally. With his lean and efficient business model, he’s become a global force in motorcycle suspensions. We also visited Landsport, another Sturgis-based business that specializes in manufacturing and marketing aluminum loading ramps, drop deck ramps, service ramps, and other custom applications. Landsport used a Business & Industry guaranteed loan to expand its production and work staff. After meeting with the staff at both facilities, I walked away knowing these operations have a long-term vision for success and growth.  USDA and our lending partners helped give them the freedom to execute that vision. Read more »

Safe and Secure Rural Homes: Continuing the Tradition in Kentucky

Tex Peyton's new home beside the old home

Tex Peyton's new home is shown under construction next to the old one.

USDA celebrates National Homeownership Month each year in June, and we continue to shine the spotlight on projects across the nation. I wanted to illustrate the work we do to provide ladders of opportunity for rural residents who might not have such an opportunity without the support of USDA Rural Development.

I had the pleasure of meeting one such person this week. His name is Tex Peyton and for the past 18 years he lived in a basic two-room house in Eastern Kentucky that lacked indoor plumbing. Read more »

New Report Highlights Ranchers Restoring Habitat for Sage Grouse

A male greater sage grouse

A male greater sage grouse struts at a lek, near Bridgeport, CA to attract a mate. Photo by Jeannie Stafford, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Aldo Leopold once said, “Conservation will ultimately boil down to rewarding the private landowner who conserves the public interest.” Those words are powerful, especially in the West, where ranchers are partnering up to benefit sage grouse and the 350 other species that share its vast habitat.

Today, the Sand County Foundation, a non-profit organization named for Leopold’s signature book, “A Sand County Almanac,” released a report showcasing the dedication of private landowners in conserving this at-risk species that is currently being considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act. Read more »

Study Finds Increasing Wood Pellet Demand Boosts Forest Growth, Reduces Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Creates Jobs

A truck is filled with wood chips.

A truck is filled with wood chips as part of the process of turning wood into energy.

An industry that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase forest growth, and create jobs sounds too good to be true.  But that is the reality of the emerging wood pellets market in the Southern U.S.  That conclusion is supported by independent economic assessments of wood bioenergy, including a recent study that specifically focused on European pellet demand conducted by researchers at Duke and North Carolina State Universities.  Those researchers found that increasing demand for wood pellets resulted in more forest area, more forest investment, large greenhouse gas reductions, and little change in forest carbon inventories.

So, why is there concern?

Some critics have recently argued that land used to produce biomass for energy should instead be permanently protected as forests. They say that harvesting biomass from forests reduces forest carbon stocks. Instead, they claim that the best way to increase carbon storage is to reduce demand for renewable products that come from the land. Read more »