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Secretary’s Column: Ready to Help Pass a Food, Farm and Jobs Bill

In recent months, the Federal budget has dominated the conversation here in Washington.  At the U.S. Department of Agriculture, we have been working hard on mission critical priorities, even as we implement mandatory across-the-board budget cuts.

The good news is that our proactive efforts to cut costs have saved more than $828 million in recent years, putting us in a better position to deliver important programs.

But we also have not lost sight of a key requirement for these programs to continue: passage of a comprehensive, multiyear Food, Farm and Jobs Bill. Read more »

USDA Assists in the Rebirth of the Tomato Capitol of the World

(L to R) Anne Hogya, Pittston Library Director , Thomas Williams, USDA Rural Development State Director, and Barbara Quinn, Library Board President, display artist renderings of the library expansion slated to begin this summer. USDA photos.

(L to R) Anne Hogya, Pittston Library Director, Thomas Williams, USDA Rural Development State Director, and Barbara Quinn, Library Board President, display artist renderings of the library expansion slated to begin this summer. USDA photos.

Nestled among mountain regions between Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania the city of Pittston is the gateway to the Wyoming Valley. The city gained prominence in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a booming coal mining center.  After experiencing many ups and downs, Pittston is experiencing a rebirth as family businesses come back to the downtown area. With local, state and federal funding from USDA Rural Development, Transportation Enhancement Grants and state gaming revenue grants, Pittston is halfway through a 20-year revitalization project that includes continued upgrades to the streetscape, library and City Hall. Read more »

They’re Back! Count on the Cicada to Soon Be a Part of Your Springtime Experience

The adult periodical cicada emerges from its 17-year nymph stage, molts and arises as a winged adult. This spring will see the return of the large, colorful, fly-like bugs with large eyes and tented wings. (U.S. Forest Service photo/ Bob Rabaglia)

The adult periodical cicada emerges from its 17-year nymph stage, molts and arises as a winged adult. This spring will see the return of the large, colorful, fly-like bugs with large eyes and tented wings. (U.S. Forest Service photo/ Bob Rabaglia)

The buzz this spring has started, and some people may think it’s fodder for a new sci-fi movie. But this year’s spring brings a drama closer to home than you think – the pending emergence of brood II of the periodical cicada.

Cicadas are large, colorful, fly-like bugs with large eyes and tented wings. As the male cicadas sing their intense mating songs, some brand it as the sound of summer. Read more »

Illinois Urban Watershed Action Plan Will Address Water Quality Issues with NRCS Help

Flooding in September 2007 along the Fox River just south of East Dundee. (Photo courtesy National Weather Service, Chicago, Ill., Weather Forecast Office)

Flooding in September 2007 along the Fox River just south of East Dundee. (Photo courtesy National Weather Service, Chicago, Ill., Weather Forecast Office)

Over the past few decades, water quality in the Jelkes Creek–Fox River watershed in northern Illinois has diminished greatly.

That’s why USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service collaborated with the Kane-DuPage Soil & Water Conservation District and Illinois Environmental Protection Agency in 2011 on a watershed planning process with residents, environmental groups and other stakeholders. Read more »

Alaskan Forest Floors Sprout Array of Interesting Mushrooms

Fly agaric / Amanita muscaria (Copyright Steven A. Trudell; reprinted with permission)

Fly agaric / Amanita muscaria (Copyright Steven A. Trudell; reprinted with permission)

The fly agaric (Amanita muscaria) sits on the forest floor in Alaska as if it is waiting to be cast in an Alice in Wonderland movie.

Its recognizable bright red cap dotted with white warts belies their toxic nature. Although the effects vary, experts warn against eating them. In Alaska, fly agaric is generally found around birch or spruce trees and loves the northwest environment. Read more »

Revolving Loan Funds Support Maine’s Rural Small Businesses

Susan M. Corbett owns and operates Axiom Technologies, a telecommunications company headquartered in Machias, Maine. Axiom was able to expand and purchase its own building with funding support through USDA. USDA photos.

Susan M. Corbett owns and operates Axiom Technologies, a telecommunications company headquartered in Machias, Maine. Axiom was able to expand and purchase its own building with funding support through USDA. USDA photos.

Earlier this month, Revolving Loan Fund partners representing 13 Maine Intermediaries and 8 Microenterprise Development Organizations gathered at the USDA State Office in Bangor to listen to and share ideas for investing in rural Maine businesses. This meeting was one of dozens of Revolving Loan Fund Roundtables taking place around the country to assist USDA’s Intermediary Relending Program (IRP) and Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program (RMAP) providers share Best Practices and challenges encountered in financing business projects in rural areas. In Maine, there is approximately $9.3 million in existing revolving loan funds for credit-worthy businesses seeking capital. Read more »