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Category: Rural Development

Michigan Hispanic Growers’ Co-op Helps Improve Viability of Small Farmers

Board President Filiberto Villa Gomez, setting out produce at a farmers market, has been the driving force behind Farmers on the Move cooperative.

Board President Filiberto Villa Gomez, setting out produce at a farmers market, has been the driving force behind Farmers on the Move cooperative.

Editor’s note: Thomas is Extension educator and innovation counselor at the Michigan State University Product Center, Michigan Cooperative Development Program. This is one in a series of blogs USDA is posting to help celebrate Cooperative Month in October.

Farmers on the Move (FOTM) is a cooperative of Hispanic farmers, incorporated in June 2009, which is working to create a quality retail brand of fresh blueberries and vegetables for the Michigan and Midwest markets. Guiding this effort is Filiberto Villa Gomez, co-op board president, who has consistently striven to enhance member knowledge of both growing and marketing practices.

Together, the farmers process, package, deliver and share marketing expenses. The co-op sells to retail and wholesale markets, as well as through farmers markets. Read more »

A Tour of Development in Downeast Maine

Visiting Hand in Hand Apartments: Administrator Hernandez visits the home of Maria (China) Santos. Santos and her son Juan moved to Maine from Honduras. Left to Right are: USDA Rural Development Administrator for Housing and Community Programs Tony Hernandez; Mano En Mano Outreach Worker Edith Flores; USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel; Hand in Hand Apartments Resident Maria (China) Santos and Son, Juan Santos; and Mano En Mano Executive Director Ian Yaffe.

Visiting Hand in Hand Apartments: Administrator Hernandez visits the home of Maria (China) Santos. Santos and her son Juan moved to Maine from Honduras. Left to Right are: USDA Rural Development Administrator for Housing and Community Programs Tony Hernandez; Mano En Mano Outreach Worker Edith Flores; USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel; Hand in Hand Apartments Resident Maria (China) Santos and Son, Juan Santos; and Mano En Mano Executive Director Ian Yaffe.

Recently, Tony Hernandez, USDA Rural Development’s Housing and Community Facilities Administrator visited Maine to see firsthand how Rural Development can support the growing seafood processing industry in Downeast Maine. Tony also met with leaders from the Penobscot Indian Nation to discuss USDA Rural Development’s ongoing support of housing and community development on the Tribal lands.

We had a very valuable trip, starting with a visit to Prospect Harbor to see the Maine Fair Trade Lobster Company. Formerly the Stinson Seafood Cannery, the largest sardine cannery in the nation, the building and equipment were purchased by what became Maine Fair Trade Lobster Company. The purchase preserved much-needed jobs in the area, and the facility now employs approximately 170 workers and processes over 50,000 pounds of lobster every day. We’re working with community leaders in Prospect Harbor to ensure USDA Rural Development supports community capacity building and infrastructure development as businesses like Maine Fair Trade Lobster Company expand and increase employment. Read more »

Partnering for a Strong Rural Economy is a USDA Specialty

Partnering for a Strong Rural Economy is a USDA Specialty

Partnering for a Strong Rural Economy is a USDA Specialty

A strong rural economy benefits the whole nation. Sales of specialty crops – which include everything from fruits and vegetables to tree nuts, cut flowers and nursery crops – total nearly $65 billion per year.  The success of specialty crop farmers and businesses creates opportunities for new jobs and is critical to the rural economy. That’s why my agency, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), is partnering with states to support the hardworking American farmers who grow these products.

 This week Secretary Tom Vilsack announced millions of dollars in grant funding authorized through the 2014 Farm Bill, including $66 million in Specialty Crop Block Grants (SCBG) awarded by AMS.  The goal of the SCBG program is to promote and increase opportunities for specialty crop producers by supporting projects that create new business opportunities, boost productivity and improve food safety.  Every state department of agriculture receives a block grant that it can use to fund projects that support its specific priorities. This year’s specialty crop block grants fund 838 projects across all 50 states, the District of Columbia and four U.S. territories. 

Read more »

Fermentation Fest – Innovation and Creativity in Rural Wisconsin

Ruminant, The Grand Masticator, a transformed John Deere combine by Minnesota artist Karl Unnasch, a temporary art installation along the Farm/Art DTour 2013. Photo by Aaron Dysert

Ruminant, The Grand Masticator, a transformed John Deere combine by Minnesota artist Karl Unnasch, a temporary art installation along the Farm/Art DTour 2013. Photo by Aaron Dysert

As we enter the autumn season, the harvest is on most Wisconsinites’ minds.   I’m particularly excited to be participating in an upcoming gathering in Reedsburg where the Wormfarm Institute’s annual Fermentation Fest will be taking place from October 4th through the 13th.   In addition to workshops on cooking and fermenting food, and even homebrewing, this “live culture convergence” will feature the nationally acclaimed Farm/Art DTour, a 50-mile self-guided drive through the rolling hills and farmlands in the “Driftless Area” of Sauk County.

On that Sunday the 12th, from 4 to 6 pm I will be participating on a panel called “The Art of the Rural – Creating Thriving Places Beyond the City” at the Woolen Mill Gallery, 28 E Main St. in Reedburg. We’ll explore how local food systems and arts and culture can combine to be integral strategies for fostering economic development in rural areas. I will be joined by a distinguished panel which includes: Jamie Bennett, the President of ArtPlace America, a national philanthropy consortium; Matthew Fluharty of Washington University who leads Art of the Rural; Sarah Lloyd, a Wisconsin Dells dairy farmer, rural sociologist and member of the Wisconsin Food Hub Cooperative, a 2014 recipient of a USDA Value-Added Producer Grant, and Curt Meine, conservation biologist and Aldo Leopold biographer. Read more »

Co-op Month Celebrates Member-Owned Business Model

Amanda Barnett and David DiLorenzo pull out spinach plants in a greenhouse at Stone Soup Farm Co-Op in Hadley, Mass. (Photo by Jerry Roberts)

Amanda Barnett and David DiLorenzo pull out spinach plants in a greenhouse at Stone Soup Farm Co-Op in Hadley, Mass. (Photo by Jerry Roberts)

October is Cooperative Month, and this year’s theme is “The Co-op Connection,” an apt reference to the virtually unlimited number of ways in which co-ops connect their members to marketplaces and services they might otherwise be unable to access.

America is home to more than 30,000 cooperatives, including farmer, rural utility, credit/financial services, food stores, housing and many other types of cooperatives. To get an idea of just how flexible the co-op business model is in meeting virtually any need, see the Co-op Month special section of the Sept.-Oct. issue of USDA’s “Rural Cooperatives” magazine at: www.rurdev.usda.gov (under the “Spotlights” section of the home page). Read more »

Tribal Youth Celebrate New, Safe Place to Learn

Students help break ground on their future Head Start building.

Students help break ground on their future Head Start building.

“In the Dakota language, there is no word for ‘child’ or ‘children.’ Instead, there is ‘wakanyeja,’ which means ‘sacred little ones,’” reported a local newspaper. The importance of that future generation was evident on the Spirit Lake Indian Reservation in North Dakota as we broke ground for a new Head Start facility. This was a special project to me as it embodies so well what we do at USDA Rural Development.

President Obama’s recent visit to North Dakota highlighted our tribal areas and opportunities for native youth. This project aligns with the President’s vision as well as being a strong validation of Secretary Vilsack’s StrikeForce initiative. The Secretary’s leadership has allowed us to further identify issues in areas of persistently high poverty, which cultivated the ensuing meetings that helped make this project a reality. Read more »