Become a fan on Facebook Follow us on Twitter USDA Blog Feed Watch USDA videos on YouTube Subscribe to receive e-mail updates View USDA Photos on Flickr Subscribe to RSS Feeds

USDA Recovery Act Broadband Funding to Provide Broadband Service to South Dakota Towns

USDA Rural Utilities Administrator Jonathan Adelstein was a guest speaker earlier this week at the South Dakota Association of Telephone Cooperatives 2010 Annual Meeting and Conference.  Adelstein spoke to a crowd of over 150 telephone cooperative managers and representatives on USDA Rural Development’s strong support towards improving rural telecommunications and broadband. Read more »

Afghan Farmers Turning Mines to Vines

Convincing Afghan grape growers to cut off 11 of the 13 canes on each grape vine was not an easy task for Afghan extension agents in the Roots of Peace organization. This process, known as trellising, ultimately leads to bigger, healthier grapes, as the farmers soon learned. In its first year implementing this Food for Progress (FFPr) program, Roots of Peace convinced 18 farmers to utilize their technical assistance. After this, participation in the program took little convincing: 180 farmers sought their help in the second year, and over 3000 are signed up for this year. Read more »

A Fun Family Day, the USDA Food Safety Discovery Zone Way!

“This a great exhibit!” a family commented as they toured the USDA Food Safety Discovery Zone at the Illinois State Fair last weekend. “This truck is great, I learned a lot of things I never even knew before, wattages and temperatures. Heck, I always over cooked my chicken, now I won’t!” Read more »

Reflections on Civil Rights at USDA

Before I was sworn in as Secretary of Agriculture, I took time to meet with a handful individuals who held the job before I did.  I asked them for advice, and two recent Secretaries mentioned that it was important that I focus on civil rights.  As I soon learned for myself, USDA has an unfortunate and checkered history with regards to civil rights, with a multi-decade history of discrimination against our customers and our employees.

So since becoming Secretary in January 2009, I have made civil rights a priority at USDA, working to turn the page on the Department’s tragic civil rights record.  I pledged that we would correct past errors, learn from mistakes, and take definitive action to ensure that there is no disparity in program benefits based on race, color, sex, age, sexual orientation or disability.

Over the past 20 months, I have implemented a comprehensive program to move us into a new era as a model employer and premier service provider.  And I made it clear to every employee that USDA will have zero tolerance for any form of discrimination, and that each employee and customer must be treated fairly and equitably, with dignity and respect. We have made substantial progress towards these goals, and civil rights will remain a priority at USDA until we have truly moved into the new era I envision.

But for our work on civil rights to be successful and lasting, it must be part of a broader cultural change at USDA.  We began this process last year when I created a task force to build a more open, responsive, collaborative, transparent, and effective USDA.

So there is irony in the fact that my commitment to civil rights was a factor in the run-up and decision to ask for and accept Shirley Sherrod’s resignation as USDA State Director for Rural Development in the State of Georgia.

Following that incident, I directed the USDA Acting General Counsel to conduct a review of what took place.  I wanted to determine what mistakes were made to ensure that the USDA could learn from the incident and avoid similar pitfalls in the future.

Today, I met with Mrs. Sherrod to discuss, among other things, the review we completed of this incident and how USDA will be moving forward to address the recommendations it contains.

This review identified a handful of significant lessons.  Among them is that we need to improve protocols for internal communications at the Department, and create a set of safeguards to avoid the sort of hasty action which led to the mishandling of the matter with Mrs. Sherrod.  I have accepted all of these recommendations and asked that they be implemented immediately.  I know that they will help us build a more inclusive and deliberative decision-making environment and prevent similar mistakes from occurring again at USDA.

This experience provides an opportunity to learn from our mistakes.  But it also provides an opportunity to build a Department that empowers and respects its employees and customers.  And at the end of the day, I know that we will build a stronger Department and better serve the American people.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack meets with Shirley Sherrod in his office at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, August 24, 2010. USDA Photo by Bob Nichols

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack meets with Shirley Sherrod in his office at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, August 24, 2010. USDA Photo by Bob Nichols

At the Indiana State Fair: Farmers, The First Entrepreneurs

Ed. Note: Building on the President’s commitment to address issues important to rural Americans, Administration officials are visiting state fairs all summer. See a map of where we’ve been so far, and hear from SBA Deputy Administrator Johns about her recent visit to the Indian State Fair:

Having grown up in Indiana, I know firsthand that there is much debate over what a “Hoosier” is, but I can tell you for certain that there were many at the Indiana State Fair. From the young 4-H and FFA participants that I met at a pancake breakfast, to the small businesses selling their products, and the family farmers displaying their livestock, Hoosiers represent the diversity and growth of the small business community. Read more »

Helping with the Deepwater Response

Last week I completed three weeks working at the Deepwater Horizon Unified Area Command (UAC) in New Orleans. The UAC is a command center made up of Coast Guard, BP, Federal and State employees working together to address the environmental-, public health- and wildlife-related concerns associated with the massive Deepwater clean-up effort in the Gulf of Mexico. At the UAC, hundreds of staff members work nearly 12 hours each day, seven days a week. Read more »