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Secretary’s Column: Local Markets, Local Growth

Many consumers want to “buy local” and support their local economy with their purchases. When local food marketing opportunities exist for rural producers, they cause ripple effects throughout the rural economy.

The 2012 Census of Agriculture results indicate that nearly 150,000 farmers and ranchers nationwide are selling their products directly to consumers, and 50,000 are selling to local retailers. Today, local food is a more than $7 billion industry and growing, according to industry estimates. The excitement around this market is drawing young people back to rural communities, generating jobs, and improving quality of life. Read more »

Strength in Numbers: USDA Employees Join Delaware Residents Who Are Building Their Homes in Order to “Own” Their Future

USDA Rural Development employees join Mutual Self-Help Program participant Michelle Mosely for a break from installing floor beams to Michelle’s future home.

USDA Rural Development employees join Mutual Self-Help Program participant Michelle Mosely for a break from installing floor beams to Michelle’s future home.

A stormy sky didn’t dampen spirits as a crew of us from USDA Rural Development’s national headquarters celebrated National Homeownership Month by helping Mutual Self-Help Housing Program participants build their own homes in Lincoln, DE.

USDA Rural Development’s Self-Help Housing Program offers families with modest means a hands-on approach to achieve homeownership.  Groups of families work side-by-side on nights and weekends to construct their homes, and no one moves in until all the houses are completed. Read more »

Build Your Way to Homeownership With USDA’s Help

Maria and Ignacio Gordillo of Reedley, Calif., helped build their house last year through USDA’s Mutual Self-Help Housing Loan Program. More than 50,000 rural families have become homeowners using their “sweat equity” as a down payment on an affordable USDA mortgage.

Maria and Ignacio Gordillo of Reedley, Calif., helped build their house last year through USDA’s Mutual Self-Help Housing Loan Program. More than 50,000 rural families have become homeowners using their “sweat equity” as a down payment on an affordable USDA mortgage.

More than 50,000 rural families have become homeowners using their “sweat equity” as their down payment on an affordable USDA mortgage.

What is “sweat equity?” These families have helped build their own homes and provided most of the construction labor with guidance from a qualified construction supervisor through USDA’s Mutual Self-Help Housing Loan Program. The “sweat equity” — the savings in labor costs — reduced the amount of the home loan and made the monthly payments affordable.

June is National Homeownership Month. USDA is celebrating the self-help program and the 50,000+ rural families who have invested in a home of their own through self-help housing. Read more »

The Promise of a Brighter Future

L to R: Vernon Brown, USDA Community Program Director in Kentucky; RHS Administrator Hernandez; and Thomas Fern, USDA Rural Development State Director for Kentucky.

L to R: Vernon Brown, USDA Community Program Director in Kentucky; RHS Administrator Hernandez; and Thomas Fern, USDA Rural Development State Director for Kentucky.

Recently, I visited southeastern Kentucky, where I joined Rural Development State Director Tom Fern on a whirlwind tour to parts of an eight-county region designated by President Obama as a rural Promise Zone and by Secretary Vilsack as part of USDA’s StrikeForce initiative covering 73 Kentucky counties.

During my first stop, I joined Congressman Hal Rogers as he announced a $23 million loan (funded by USDA’s Community Facilities program) to purchase the property and facilities of the Knox County Hospital in Barbourville.  That loan was the first one to come across my desk last December shortly after I joined USDA. Meeting with some of the 200-plus dedicated employees of that hospital affirmed my belief that granting that loan was the right decision, as the funding will enable those healthcare workers to continue to serve the families of the region. Read more »

Wildfires at His Doorstep Inspires Meteorologist to Develop a Tool to Help Firefighters

Shyh-Chin Chen is a research meteorologist for the Pacific Southwest Research Station in California. Having experienced wildland fire literally on his home’s doorstep at least several times during the last decade, he has a passion for developing new weather forecasting tools to help firefighters predict and combat fires more effectively. Here he is shown with the Firebuster web tool.  (U.S. Forest Service)

Shyh-Chin Chen is a research meteorologist for the Pacific Southwest Research Station in California. Having experienced wildland fire literally on his home’s doorstep at least several times during the last decade, he has a passion for developing new weather forecasting tools to help firefighters predict and combat fires more effectively. Here he is shown with the Firebuster web tool. (U.S. Forest Service)

Imagine a research meteorologist focused on developing the kind of detailed weather forecasts that firefighters need to fight wildland fires. Accurate, timely information is critical.

Then understand that he has faced wildland fire on his doorstep in Ramona, Calif., near San Diego at least three times since 2003.

Those experiences fuel the passion that Shyh-Chin Chen brings to his work to protect human life and property. Read more »

June is Dairy Month – a Time to Say Thanks to America’s Milk Producers

Roger Erickson takes pride in the success of his dairy operation in Clark County, Wis. NRCS photo.

Roger Erickson takes pride in the success of his dairy operation in Clark County, Wis. NRCS photo.

The next time you eat a cheese sandwich, drink a glass of cold milk, have an ice cream cone or a cup of yogurt on a walk through the park, thank the dairy farmers who made it all possible.  Now is a great time to do that because June is Dairy Month.

The dairy industry is an important economic engine in America. The farm value of milk production is second only to beef among livestock industries and is equal to corn. Milk is produced in all 50 states, with the major producing states in the West and North. Dairy farms, overwhelmingly family-owned and managed, are generally members of producer cooperatives. Read more »