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Ohio Habitat for Humanity Home Framed and Rising with Help from ‘Team RD’

USDA Ohio Rural Development employees help construction workers "walk up a wall" during a day of volunteering at a Marysville, Ohio Habitat for Humanity build. The house, which will belong to Union County resident Michelle Amrine, is the first-ever built-from-the-ground-up collaboration between Habitat for Humanity and Rural Development in Ohio. (USDA Photo by Heather Hartley)

USDA Ohio Rural Development employees help construction workers "walk up a wall" during a day of volunteering at a Marysville, Ohio Habitat for Humanity build. The house, which will belong to Union County resident Michelle Amrine, is the first-ever built-from-the-ground-up collaboration between Habitat for Humanity and Rural Development in Ohio. (USDA Photo by Heather Hartley)

In commemoration of USDA’s annual Homeownership Month, some industrious Ohio Rural Development team members and I recently spent a sunny day at a Habitat for Humanity building site, helping Marysville resident Michelle Amrine and her two children frame out a place to call their own.

Financed through USDA Rural Development’s Direct Home Loan program, the home is being constructed through Habitat for Humanity of Union County. Although earlier projects in the state included funds for the rehabilitation of already-existing construction, the Amrine house marks the first “from-the-ground-up” collaboration between Ohio Rural Development and Habitat for Humanity. Read more »

Conservation Work in Arkansas Makes Positive Impact Downstream

Terry Dabbs gives Ann Mills, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, and Nancy Stoner, Environmental Protection Agency Acting Assistant Administrator for Water (right), a tour of his farm. (NRCS photo by Reginald L. Jackson)

Terry Dabbs gives Ann Mills, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, and Nancy Stoner, Environmental Protection Agency Acting Assistant Administrator for Water (right), a tour of his farm. (NRCS photo by Reginald L. Jackson)

I recently toured several farms near Stuttgart, Ark. with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s acting Assistant Administrator for Water Nancy Stoner, state officials and conservationists. We met farmers working to clean and conserve water using conservation efforts, including the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The tour provided me and my colleagues from Washington, D.C. and almost a dozen states an opportunity to see firsthand how voluntary, incentive-conservation practices are helping Arkansas farmers maintain productivity while protecting wildlife habitat and improving water quality and water use efficiency.

On Terry Dabbs’ Discovery Farm, we heard how the combination of conservation practices results in better water quality. As Dabbs said, if he is contributing to poor water quality downstream and in the Gulf of Mexico hypoxic zone, he wants to know about it and fix it. Read more »

Calling on Communities to Help Feed Children in Need

Cross-posted from the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships blog:

With summer’s arrival, officials at the White House and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are preparing for the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). This program ensures that low-income children continue to receive nutritious meals when school is not in session. Free meals that meet federal nutrition guidelines are provided to all children 18 years old and under at approved SFSP sites in areas with significant concentrations of low-income children.

Our offices recently hosted a nationwide conference call to thank faith and community leaders for their work in this area and to inform them about efforts surrounding the SFSP this summer. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack kicked off the call, challenging community leaders to strive for an aggressive, but attainable goal: serving an additional 10 million meals over the course of the summer to better reach our children in need. Secretary Vilsack discussed the need for children to be well-nourished, an essential part of our commitment to helping children learn and thrive. Read more »

Chef Art Kicks off Pride Month

Celebrity Chef Art Smith gives the keynote address at the 2014 Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender (LGBT) Pride Observance event held in the Jefferson Auditorium at USDA in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, Jun. 5, 2014. USDA photo by Tom Witham.

Celebrity Chef Art Smith gives the keynote address at the 2014 Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender (LGBT) Pride Observance event held in the Jefferson Auditorium at USDA in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, Jun. 5, 2014. USDA photo by Tom Witham.

Renowned chef Art Smith was the official guest speaker for U.S. Department of Agriculture’s observance of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month. Openly Gay, and formally the personal chef to Oprah Winfrey, Chef Art has made numerous TV appearances, and is one of the most popular chefs in the country.

The USDA and its agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service, was one of the first cabinet-level departments to recognize its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees through the establishment of an LGBT Special Emphasis Program. Read more »

At the Intersection of Agriculture and the U.S. Military

We couldn’t have asked for better weather for the 19th season opening of the USDA Farmers Market.  Our celebration of U.S. military service members, past and present, and American agriculture brought together special guests, partners, farmers and the community.  USDA photo by Peter Wood.

We couldn’t have asked for better weather for the 19th season opening of the USDA Farmers Market. Our celebration of U.S. military service members, past and present, and American agriculture brought together special guests, partners, farmers and the community. USDA photo by Peter Wood.

Red, white, and blue balloons soared high above the bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables from local farmers and vendors at the opening of the 19th season of the USDA Farmers Market.  With echoes of the Star Spangled Banner played by the “President’s Own” Marine Band, we celebrated the service of our men and women in uniform, reaffirming USDA’s commitment to supporting veterans and active-duty service members.  We also celebrated several points of intersection between American agriculture and the military community.

From our partners and stakeholders who joined us for the event, we saw amazing generosity and dedication to improving the lives of military families.  Burpee Seed Company handed out thousands of Welcome Home Garden Project seed packets, bringing the healing gift of gardening to thousands of heroes.  With over 165,000 families participating and over 1.8 million seed packets distributed over the last two years, their efforts to provide healing, comfort and homegrown foods are truly inspiring. Read more »

USDA Helps Landowners Manage for Soil Health, Buffer Drought Effects

These two farms have the same soils, same crops and same precipitation. The difference is that one farm uses many conservation practices that help improve soil health helping it thrive through extreme weather conditions. NRCS photo.

These two farms have the same soils, same crops and same precipitation. The difference is that one farm uses many conservation practices that help improve soil health helping it thrive through extreme weather conditions. NRCS photo.

Soil health is always important, but extreme weather in the last few years has shown landowners just how important managing for it really is.

“The vital part of soil is topsoil, which unfortunately is also the part most susceptible to the effects of weather. That’s what makes protecting it so crucial,” said Doug Miller, soil health coordinator with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Minnesota.

The top two components of topsoil are clay content and soil organic matter that hold nutrients and water for plant use and growth. Read more »