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Partnership with USDA Cultivates New Possibilities for Farm Worker Families

For Martin Paredes and his family (pictured here), Castle Rock Apartments provide good quality rental housing for working families, while serving as a stepping stone to home ownership.

For Martin Paredes and his family (pictured here), Castle Rock Apartments provide good quality rental housing for working families, while serving as a stepping stone to home ownership.

Boardman, Oregon, is a port town of just over 3,000 on the banks of the Columbia River surrounded by productive farm lands. These resources have helped the community generate above-average economic growth through its agricultural, food processing, manufacturing, and shipping sectors. As these industries have grown, however, a significant shortage of affordable workforce housing has made finding and keeping skilled employees difficult and hinders further economic development in this promising community.

In order to secure affordable housing, many who work in Boardman have had to endure long commutes from outlying towns or settle for homes that simply did not meet their families’ needs. Martin Paredes, Olgalibia Rosales Rivera, and their four children are one such family. Due to a lack of rental options in the community, the family was living in a two-bedroom apartment in a part of town that offered few family-friendly amenities and services. Read more »

A Coat of Many Colors Cloaks Autumn in the Bitterroot National Forest

The Oregon grape in its fall coloring is a collage of green and pinkish-red leaves and blue fruits that resemble grapes. Photo copyright by Al Schneider.

The Oregon grape in its fall coloring is a collage of green and pinkish-red leaves and blue fruits that resemble grapes. Photo copyright by Al Schneider.

Several plant species around Montana make their transition from summer to winter unique. This is highlighted in the Bitterroot National Forest.

The Oregon-grape (Mahonia repens), a sub-shrub evergreen, maintains its leaves throughout the winter. In the summer, its leaves are green while it produces yellow flowers. In the fall, its leaves create a beautiful, eye-catching palette of reds in contrast to its purple berries. Oregon-grape is found throughout the Ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir forests. Read more »

Regional Drought Workshops Give Stakeholders an Opportunity to Learn About Resources

Deputy Thomas  Guevara, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Regional Affairs at the Economic Development Administration (left); Colorado Agriculture Commissioner John Salazar (right), and Colleen Callahan of USDA prepare for the morning session at the drought conference. USDA photo.

Deputy Thomas Guevara, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Regional Affairs at the Economic Development Administration (left); Colorado Agriculture Commissioner John Salazar (right), and Colleen Callahan of USDA prepare for the morning session at the drought conference. USDA photo.

Over 100 attendees joined Thomas Guevara, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Regional Affairs at the US Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration and Colorado Agricultural Commissioner John Salazar at the second of four regional workshops to outline resources available to assist with drought recovery efforts. The Colorado regional workshop was held at the state fairgrounds in Pueblo earlier this week. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is partnering with tribes, local, state and federal partners to hold the workshops. Federal partners include the Department of Commerce, the Small Business Administration, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

With over two-thirds of the country in drought, recovery efforts are underway and a new framework for delivery is being developed.   Collaboration, coordination and communication were the prevalent themes at the Colorado workshop.   These efforts will be needed at all levels of government and our ability to work together is crucial. Read more »

In Oregon, Forest-based Economic Development Can Grow Faster than the Trees Themselves

Susan Curington of North Woods Figured Woods (left) shows State Director Vicki Walker (right) how the family business “upcycles” burls, stumps and small, odd-shaped, or difficult-to-use wood pieces to be sold at premium prices to carvers and other hobbyists. USDA photo.

Susan Curington of North Woods Figured Wood (left) shows State Director Vicki Walker (right) how the family business “upcycles” burls, stumps and small, odd-shaped, or difficult-to-use wood pieces to be sold at premium prices to carvers and other hobbyists. USDA photo.

At a recent expo held by the Oregon Woodland Cooperative (OWC), I had the opportunity to meet with a number of family forest landowners who are cultivating additional commercial ventures thanks, in part, to USDA’s Value Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program.

At the event, OWC President Neil Schroeder introduced me to cooperative members who have sprouted new businesses and created local jobs as a result. The terrific part of all this is that USDA’s VAPG program provided funds needed to conduct the in-field assessments, feasibility studies, business planning, and marketing activities needed to identify, process and sell new, non-lumber products harvested from Oregon’s family forests. Read more »

Secretary’s Column: Investing in America’s Rural Communities

As producers face an historic and ongoing drought today, President Obama and I are doing all we can to help farmers and ranchers mitigate its effects – while helping communities to overcome the economic challenges posed by the drought.

To carry out our work on behalf of communities and producers, USDA has relied on programs authorized by the 2008 Farm Bill. Parts of that law, including authorization of USDA disaster assistance for livestock producers, expired last year. Other aspects of the law expire on October 1st and over the next few months if Congress fails to act. Read more »

Ask a School Meals Expert: What do the New Calorie Standards Mean for my Child?

You may have heard this year’s back to school season is a little different than in past years. There is a new, healthier look for the school lunch menu.  These updates represent the first major changes to school meals in 15 years, and we know that these changes come with questions.  We’ve promised to keep the dialogue open, and we are working to ensure that we answer them all.

The vast majority of students, parents, teachers and school service professionals have had great positive feedback on the new, healthier lunches.  However, a few parents have expressed concerns that kids will come home from school hungry or not get enough to eat during the day because their kids have higher caloric needs – in particular, kids who are athletes. Schools and families have – and have always had – multiple options for addressing their needs. Read more »