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Secretary’s Column: In Rural America, Promise and Opportunity Abound for Veterans

Veterans have sacrificed dearly to keep this country safe. Every day, they confront and triumph over those that threaten our national security. We owe it to our military men and women to ensure a different kind of security is waiting when they return home—the security that comes from the promise of a good job, affordable housing, a quality education and dependable health care.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture stands proudly alongside those who have served. Our staff across America includes more than 11,000 veterans – and our team works hard every day to strengthen services and programs in rural areas that support veterans and their families as they achieve their dreams. This includes everything from health clinics and telemedicine services, to distance learning and training opportunities for those who want to start a farm or ranch to grants and loans to help veterans start or expand a rural business. Read more »

National USDA Award Honors Idaho’s Pioneers Alliance for Sage Grouse Conservation

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Agriculture Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden present the Secretary’s Honor Award to the Pioneers Alliance group leader Michael S. Stevens at the U.S. Department of Agriculture 66th Annual Honor Awards Ceremony in Washington, D.C. USDA photo by Lance Cheung.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Agriculture Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden present the Secretary’s Honor Award to the Pioneers Alliance group leader Michael S. Stevens at the U.S. Department of Agriculture 66th Annual Honor Awards Ceremony in Washington, D.C. USDA photo by Lance Cheung.

The Pioneers Alliance, a unique group of ranchers, community members, conservationists, elected officials and agency employees, is making a difference for sage grouse in south central Idaho. Based in Carey, Idaho, the alliance leads a local effort to protect working ranches and core sage grouse habitat near Sun Valley. So far, more than 65,400 acres are protected through private landowner conservation easements supported by Farm Bill programs.

Last week, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack acknowledged the alliance’s work with the Secretary’s Honor Award for External Partnerships. This prestigious national award recognizes groups who have made outstanding contributions that support USDA’s mission and goals. Read more »

WIC: Improving the Nutrition and Health of Families’ for Forty Years

For 40 years, WIC has been improving health outcomes for pregnant women, infants and young children.  Today, we are celebrating this important milestone by visiting the first WIC clinic in America to distribute WIC benefits, officially known as the Special Supplemental Program for Women, Infants, and Children.  Check out the video below to meet the amazing staff of Bell County Health Department, who made history by distributing the first WIC benefits in Pineville, Kentucky back in 1974. Read more »

Armed to Farm: Bridging Veterans to Agriculture

Ivory Smith, founder of SmithPonics, shows off a tray of his microgreens while his son tags along for the ride. (Photo provided by SmithPonics)

Ivory Smith, founder of SmithPonics, shows off a tray of his microgreens while his son tags along for the ride. (Photo provided by SmithPonics)

“I’m used to hard work; I served in the Infantry – but agriculture is a different kind of hard work.” That’s what Ivory Smith, founder of SmithPonics in Poplarville, Miss, had to say about opening his own business selling microgreens.

Ivory was one of many veterans who participated in a recent ‘Armed to Farm’ workshop in Jackson, Mississippi. Sponsored by the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (also known as ATTRA), and funded in part through USDA Rural Development, the workshop gave veterans a chance to learn about sustainable small-scale farming practices and visit working agribusinesses to learn from them first-hand. Read more »

Conservation Plans Keep Land-Use Goals on Track

Theresa Lackey talks to NRCS District Conservationist Tony Hoover about planned improvements to her land. (NRCS photo)

Theresa Lackey talks to NRCS District Conservationist Tony Hoover about planned improvements to her land. (NRCS photo)

Theresa Lackey, of Ashland, Missouri, said she had a general idea about the improvements she wanted to make to the 32 acres of mostly overgrown woods around her home. But she credits a conservation plan that she developed with assistance from the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, (NRCS), for helping turn her goals into reality.

“What NRCS did was work with us to create a plan for our goals,” she said. “Developing the plan helped us clarify what our goals were, and it helped clarify a process to move in that direction.” Read more »

A U.S. Forest Service Ranger Sees Wilderness as the Ultimate Yardstick

David Warnack, a district ranger on the Lincoln National Forest in New Mexico, has a deep, even poetic connection to the wilderness. (U.S. Forest Service)

David Warnack, a district ranger on the Lincoln National Forest in New Mexico, has a deep, even poetic connection to the wilderness. (U.S. Forest Service)

For most of his 16 years with the U.S. Forest Service, Dave Warnack spent them boots-on-the-ground. That’s to say that he does not just talk the talk.

“Wilderness will be the ultimate index by which I measure my status, progress and overall place in the world,” Warnack says in the film “Wilderness: The Ultimate Yardstick. “I say this because when you enter a wilderness alone, unsupported, you quickly realize that the wilderness doesn’t care about you. It doesn’t care about the grades you got in school. It doesn’t care about your medals, your degrees or the size of your salary. The first time you measure yourself by the yardstick of wilderness, you may quickly find that you are, indeed, very small and perhaps inconsequential.” Read more »