USDA Rural Business Services Administrator Sam Rikkers enjoys a honey crisp apple from Leffel Roots Orchard in Eau Claire, Wisconsin
After 21 years of dedicated service in the United States Air Force, Jim and Laura Leffel looked to establish their “forever home.” Both natives of the Midwest, they moved to a small farm south of Eau Claire, Wisconsin to plant their roots, quite literally. Laura and Jim are now owners of Leffel Roots Apple Orchard, a 40 acre property that includes 2,500 apple trees and an on-site store where they sell bakery items, jams, cider, honey and more.
With the help of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Leffels will be able to expand their product lines further. Last month, I visited their orchard with Wisconsin Congressman Ron Kind to announce the Leffels were among 325 recipients of Value Added Producer Grant (VAPG) funding totaling over $45 million. Read more »
Ribbon Cutting for the Socially Disadvantage Farmers and Ranchers Policy Research Center at Alcorn State University
Day in, day out, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) brings programs to many farmers and ranchers as well as opportunities to students. As I meet with farmers, ranchers and USDA interns, a sense of great appreciation and anticipation wells up for the future of agriculture. One of the USDA offices that serves these farmers and students is the Office of Advocacy and Outreach (OAO). OAO staff connect with farmers, community organizers, veterans, educators and students to bring opportunities and services.
OAO works with community-based organizations to ensure access to USDA programs and services for underserved and limited-resource communities and farmers. A major program is the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program (also known as the 2501 Program). Forty-five projects from organizations representing 25 States were awarded $8.8 million in 2016. This included a second year of $400,000 for the Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Policy Research Center at Alcorn State University. Read more »
Henry Smith, who served in the 75th Infantry Division in World War II, holds a gift he received when he visited Belgium earlier this year. The framed item includes a photo of Smith and thank-you notes from people who today live in towns that he helped liberate in 1945. He is wearing his uniform coat from that time.
When I met Henry Smith in March, he told me about how two months earlier he stepped off of a plane and onto Belgian soil for the first time in more than 70 years. He said the setting was immediately familiar to him.
“It’s going to snow,” he said to his family as the chill in the air and low-hanging clouds echoed conditions he remembers vividly from January 15 and 16, 1945. Read more »
Yesterday, Secretary Vilsack and RUS Administrator McBride announced an Energy Efficiency and Conservation Loan Program award to Pedernales Electric Co-op of Johnson City, TX. Left to right: RUS Administrator Brandon McBride, Secretary Vilsack, John Hewa (CEO, Pedernales Electric Cooperative, Inc.), Emily Pataki (Board President, Pedernales Electric Cooperative, Inc.), and Cindy Thyfault (Founder & CEO, Westar Trade Resources)
This is a special year for rural electric cooperative utilities. Eighty years ago, Congress passed and President Roosevelt signed the Rural Electrification Act of 1936.
The REA brought electricity to rural America, ultimately making the United States the source of the world’s food, fuel and fiber—the breadbasket for the world. Read more »
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack serves breakfast to students at Robert E. Lee Elementary in Petersburg, VA on Jun. 7, 2016. Secretary Vilsack was at the school for the kick off of the U.S Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Summer Food Program.
Now that summer has come and gone, I’m happy to announce that this season the USDA Rural Housing Service was able to partner with the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) to feed more kids than ever before. Three hundred and five Rural Housing Service Multi-Family Housing properties participated in FNS’ Summer Meal Programs, which provide low-income children with free, healthy meals during the summer when school is out. This is 121 more affordable housing communities we were able to serve than the year before, and almost triple the number from 2014.
This is a huge success, and I’m so proud of my team across the country for feeding more kids at our properties than ever before! However, we cannot become complacent because we have the potential to make an even bigger difference in the lives of rural kids. There are more opportunities to partner with borrowers in our Multi-Family Housing and Community Facilities Programs, and I’ve set a lofty goal for summer 2017. Read more »
Administrator Sam Rikkers (left) discusses the Central City Solar Garden Project with (L-R) City Administrator Chris Anderson, Cliff Mesner of Mesner Development Company (with his back to the camera), and Bill Sheppard and Jeff Carpenter of USDA Rural Development’s Nebraska offices.
USDA Rural Development’s Rural Energy for America Program, commonly referred to as ‘REAP’, provides financial resources for rural agricultural producers and small businesses to help them improve their bottom line. REAP provides loan guarantees and small grants to support these producers and owners as they improve the energy efficiency of their operations and develop renewable energy sources.
Today, Secretary Vilsack announced hundreds of new projects like the one I visited over the summer in Central City, Nebraska. It exemplifies the strategic thinking our rural communities use daily to find new ways to prosper. A community just shy of 3,000 residents, Central City is home to the first community solar garden project ever developed in Nebraska. Read more »