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Rural Health Week: How the Affordable Care Act is Helping to Build a Stronger, Healthier Rural America

ACA #RuralHealth Infographic

Getting covered is good for rural America. (Click to enlarge)

Keeping our rural communities healthy is key to building a stronger America. That’s why as we kick off this year’s Rural Health Week, I’m proud of the new affordable health insurance options that are available because of the Affordable Care Act, helping to give rural families piece of mind across the country.

Quality health care is critical to the success of rural children and families – and open enrollment for health insurance coverage only happens once each year. From now until January 31, 2016, you can sign up for an affordable plan that’s right for you and your family. If you currently have coverage, you might qualify for a plan that can save you money. Read more »

How Sacrifice and Sense of Duty Drive Our Veterans

Kevin Brown, NRCS State Conservationist and Deputy Secretary Harden talk with Jason Seaton, Sevier County landowner, about the conservation practices he has installed on his farm

Kevin Brown, NRCS State Conservationist and Deputy Secretary Harden talk with Jason Seaton, Sevier County landowner, about the conservation practices he has installed on his farm. NRCS photo.

I would like to take a moment to recognize the hard work and dedication of America’s veterans.  After serving our country so honorably, many of our veterans feel a sense of duty to continue to give back to the land they love and have fought so hard to protect. And we want all veterans to know about the many ways USDA can support military veterans and their families.

USDA offers incentives and other benefits for veterans interested in everything from farm loans to conservation programs to nutrition assistance to rural rental housing and home ownership opportunities. We also offer a wide variety of loans, grants, training and technical assistance to veterans who are passionate about a career in agriculture. That is why this fall, USDA and the Defense Department came together in an effort to enable every single one of the more than 200,000 service members who leave the military each year to access the training they need to start their own farms or ranch businesses. Read more »

Make a Difference and Vote During FSA County Committee Elections

Sample FSA County Committee election ballot

Sample FSA County Committee election ballot.

This is a great time of the year for the Farm Service Agency (FSA), not just because of another successful American harvest, but because of the opportunity for agricultural communities throughout the country to vote for officials to represent them on FSA County Committees.

In my first year as FSA Administrator, I’ve traveled to 32 states and visited with farmers and ranchers from California to Maine. I know firsthand the impact of successfully delivered farm programs in rural communities all across this great nation. Working with county committee members while serving as FSA state executive director for California and now as Administrator, I have a deep appreciation for the essential role these farmer-elected committees play in connecting FSA with the needs of local producers. Read more »

Veteran Turns Backyard Hobby into Successful Agribusiness

Ed and Sheila Spence in front of their sign

Ed Spence retired from the U.S. Marine Corps and moved back home to North Carolina with his wife Sheila to farm. The FSA microloan helped Spence purchase a plastic mulcher and seed and fertilizer for two years.

Growing up on a farm in Kipling, North Carolina, Edward Spence thought the one thing he was not going to do as an adult was farm.

“It was hard work from sunup to sundown and there was no reward for it because we didn’t own the land,” said Spence, whose parents were sharecroppers. “We had a place to live and a small plot to grow the food we ate, but there was no financial reward, nothing tangible.”

That all changed when “life happened,” said Spence. After losing two brothers in the Vietnam War, Spence volunteered — when others were drafted — to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps and fight for his country. Read more »

Crop Insurance Keeps the Rural Economy Strong and Sustainable

USDA New Farmers website screenshot

Beginning farmers may explore new web resources to help them get started. USDA photo.

Agriculture is an inherently risky business. Some risks are everyday business risks; some risks are brought on by natural disasters. Producers need to regularly manage for financial, marketing, production, human resource and legal risks.

Helping farmers and ranchers overcome such unexpected events, not only benefits individual producers, but also rural communities that depend on agriculture. Over time, resilient rural producers help form robust rural economies, which build a strong economic foundation and provide improved access to credit for the next generation of beginning farmers and ranchers. Read more »

Using Agroforestry to Help Pollinators Help You

A blueberry bush with a bumblebee

Blueberry bushes provide food for both bumblebees and people. (Photo credit: Nancy Adamson/ National Agroforestry Center.)

Today, farms in the U.S. are larger and have less nearby habitat to support bees than in the past, yet the need for pollinators in rural landscapes has never been greater. In light of concerns over pollinator declines, a Memorandum was released by President Obama on June 20, 2014, Creating a Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Pollinators. Since the release of this Memorandum, USDA agencies have been taking additional steps to support pollinators.

One question many people are asking is: how can we incorporate more pollinator habitat into our communities, agricultural lands, and forests? Read more »