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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 »

USDA Visit to the Philippines Supports Bilateral Ag Trade

Bananas from the field collected and washed before exporting

Bananas from the field are collected and washed after harvest and prior to export.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture continuously seeks opportunities for U.S. agricultural products and producers to expand access to overseas markets and contribute to a positive U.S. trade balance, in turn creating jobs and supporting economic growth. The past six years have represented the strongest period for American agricultural exports in the history of our country. In fiscal year 2014 American farmers and ranchers exported a record $152.5 billion of food and agricultural products to consumers worldwide.

To that end, I recently had the opportunity to visit the Philippines with APHIS employees and meet with U.S. Embassy personnel, Philippine government officials, and Philippine industry representatives.  On my trip, I met with our Philippine counterparts at all levels and learned first-hand the value of outreach and relationship-building between APHIS colleagues stationed in Manila, Embassy colleagues, and locally employed staff.  Philip Goldberg, U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines, who was very gracious with his time, acknowledged the close working relationship between APHIS personnel in Manila and their local plant and animal health counterparts and highlighted how resolutions of technical issues contribute to the overall strong bilateral partnership between the United States and the Philippines. Read more »