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USDA Breaks into the Top 10 Best Places to Work

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and others at the newly renovated USDA Child Development Center

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and others at the newly renovated USDA Child Development Center

I would like to congratulate all who work at USDA for the incredible improvement in our ranking in the Best Places to Work in the Federal Government.  In 2016, for the first time, we have moved into the Top 10 Best Places to Work among large Federal agencies.  When I became Secretary of Agriculture in 2009, one of my first priorities was beginning a cultural transformation of our Department, redoubling our efforts on diversity and inclusion and retooling USDA to be a modern, 21st century employer and premier service provider that better reflects all of the communities we serve.  Participating in this transformation has been one of my most meaningful experiences as Secretary, and I am immensely proud that it has become part of the fabric of our Department.

Over the past eight years, USDA has worked to become a model employer by making it a priority to improve in areas such as communication, teamwork, diversity and inclusion, work-life balance, and employee training and development.  Today, as a result of these efforts, I am proud to announce that the Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit organization, has recognized USDA for the strides we have made across our Department to improve the quality of our workplace. Read more »

Working with the Private Sector, Guaranteeing Affordable Housing Opportunities in Rural America

People at Pine Glade Apartments

In 2015, the Pine Glade apartments for elderly and disabled people received USDA funding to modernize 32 affordable apartments in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Groceries, childcare, education, transportation, insurance, utilities: these are just some of the essential places families nationwide spend their paychecks every month. Making ends meet takes hard work, but sometimes even after working long hours and shopping right families need help to make it.

Twenty years ago essential affordable housing opportunities were scarce in rural America. Banks weren’t investing in these opportunities because deals that would build affordable rentals required long-term, patient capital that turned profit much slower than those big, new, luxury apartments in cities and larger towns. Read more »

Family Farm Co-op in Missouri Shows Commitment to Food Safety

Tony Schwager, Good Natured Family Farms Project Manager; Sara Cano, USDA Senior Auditor; Doreen Choffel, USDA Senior Auditor; and Diana Endicott, GNFF Founder and Director

From left to right: Tony Schwager, Good Natured Family Farms Project Manager; Sara Cano, USDA Senior Auditor; Doreen Choffel, USDA Senior Auditor; and Diana Endicott, GNFF Founder and Director review audit information. In August, Good Natured Family Farms became the first cooperative certified under USDA’s GroupGAP program.

For more than four generations, Amish farmers in the Kansas City area have abided by a simple tenet:  farm sustainably and care for the earth to preserve their way of life for future generations.  Good Natured Family Farms (GNFF), a cooperative of 18 Amish family farms in Missouri, is using GroupGAP, a new USDA audit program, to help them safeguard their future by building strong markets for the high-quality, local foods they produce. In August, the group made USDA history as the first to receive an official USDA Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certification through our new GroupGAP program.

Since 2002, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has provided the traditional USDA GAP audit program to the fruit and vegetable industry. GAP is a voluntary program that verifies its participants follow U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines and industry best practices to minimize risks of food safety hazards when producing, handling, and storing fruits, vegetables, and other specialty crops. In 2016, AMS conducted nearly 4,000 traditional GAP audits. Read more »

USDA Unveils Landmark New Rules to Protect Farmers

Cross-posted from the White House blog:

Today, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is taking some major steps forward to protect farmers – including swine, beef cattle, and especially poultry growers – from unfair treatment by the often much larger processors who purchase their fully grown hogs, cattle, and chickens. These three rules are another step forward in response to the President’s Competition Initiative announced in April, which has the goal of enhancing competition to help consumers, workers, and small businesses get a fair shake in the economy. Read more »

12 Gifts of Conservation

12 Gifts of Conservation graphic

12 Gifts of Conservation graphic. Created by: Jenn Cole

Holidays are a time to enjoy the warm comforts of home and family. A time to reflect and give thanks for life’s blessings. This month, we’re going to highlight important gifts given to us when we conserve natural resources: soil, food, plants, wildlife, people, health, protection, recreation, air, water, technology and future.

Unlike a single wrapped present, conservation is a gift to the whole world, and to the future. Each breath of air, sip of water and bite of food you will ever take, exists because of it. Were the world not continuously renewed, it would soon be consumed and barren. Conservation is the gift that keeps on giving. Read more »

Learning Through Listening: Convening with the Navajo Nation

Rural Business-Cooperative Service Administrator Sam Rikkers, Utah State Director Dave Conine and New Mexico State Director Terry Brunner

(From right) Rural Business-Cooperative Service Administrator Sam Rikkers, Utah State Director Dave Conine and New Mexico State Director Terry Brunner discuss economic development with members of Navajo Nation.

“We do not inherit the land from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”—Navajo proverb

Last month, Rural Development and the Navajo Nation convened an economic development workshop involving an array of leaders and stakeholders from across the Navajo Nation and 14 Federal partners in Crownpoint, N.M. The convening gave me a chance to meet with Navajo Nation officials, university representatives, private business owners and nonprofit administrators.  All were focused on improving the economy and quality of life throughout the Navajo Nation. Read more »