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UC Sheep Shearing School Prepares Students for Gainful Employment

A flock of sheep

Unshorn sheep await their turn. Image courtesy of Jeanette Warnert

USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) administers the Smith-Lever capacity grant program. The Smith–Lever Act established the cooperative extension services program administered through land-grant universities. Today, a guest blog from Jeanette Warnert, University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, tells us how this program supports a unique rural economic opportunity:

Sheep shearing is like a dance. It requires strength, flexibility, a tender touch, and the right moves. Once mastered, the skill can open the door to gratifying and high-paying seasonal work.

Sheep shearers will never be unemployed and never be poor. They can earn $50 to $100 per hour and can start a business with a $3,000 investment in equipment, says John Harper, University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) natural resources advisor in Mendocino County. Read more »

Celebrating the Highbush Blueberry’s Centennial

A winter-hardy, black-fruited blueberry

Nocturne, a winter-hardy, black-fruited blueberry developed by ARS. USDA-ARS photo by Mark Ehlenfeldt.

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

You probably don’t think there’s anything special about picking up a tub of fresh blueberries at the store or the farmers market—the quality of the product, the freshness and the convenience of it all. If only you had to go pick the fruit from the wild yourself!

Up until 1911, blueberries had to be picked from the wild, and bushes were dug from the wild that might or might not survive when transplanted elsewhere. True domestication—reproduction at the will of the grower and breeding to improve desirable traits—was beyond reach until USDA botanist Frederick Coville unlocked a longstanding mystery in 1910. Read more »

Loan Applications Continue at USDA Farm Service Agency

Matt McCue and Lily Schneider of Shooting Star CSA, an organic farm in California

Matt McCue and Lily Schneider of Shooting Star CSA, an organic farm in California, received an FSA loan. Their operation is chemical and pesticide free and they rely on practices that reduce impact on the environment.

What do siblings Kenna and Peyton Krahulik, organic farmers Lily Schneider and Matt McCue, and livestock producer Brian Morgan have in common? They worked closely with USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) to obtain loans, giving them the working capital they needed to grow or maintain their operation.

FSA makes and guarantees loans to family farmers and ranchers to promote, build and sustain family farms in support of a thriving agricultural economy. It’s an important credit safety net that has sustained our nation’s hard working farm families through good and bad times. Read more »

Mapping Appalachia’s Local Food System: 900 Entrepreneurs At A Time

Chef Jakob Reed

Chef Jakob Reed of Albany Bistro in Decatur, Alabama

The following guest blog by Earl Gohl, Federal Co-Chair, Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) highlights some of the innovative work of one of USDA’s frequent partners supporting locally-led economic and community development in the 13 state Appalachian region. ARC is a leader in place-based development strategies.

An analysis of the most recent USDA Census of Agriculture determined that direct market farm sales grew three times as fast in Appalachia as compared to the rest of the country and that Appalachian consumers spend more per capita on direct farms sales than the rest of the country.

Farmers are not the only entrepreneurs fueling Appalachia’s growing local food economy. From Northern Mississippi to southern New York, a bounty of entrepreneurs, including bakers, brewers and butchers as well as chefs, retailers and farmers, are contributing to the Region’s local food system. Read more »

Seizing the TechHire Opportunity in Rural America

Cross-posted from the WhiteHouse.gov blog:

There’s an exciting trend underway across the country. More and more, major companies are leaving offshore hubs and turning to rural communities in America for high-quality IT talent. In addition to a narrowing wage gap and higher quality of work in these rural areas, the employee attrition rate in rural areas of the U.S. is less than half the rate typically seen in offshore locations.

The Obama Administration has supported the growth of IT jobs in rural America with unprecedented investments in rural broadband and other key infrastructure, and through innovative efforts like the White House TechHire Initiative, a multi-sector initiative and call to action to rapidly train Americans with the skills they need for well-paying, open tech jobs. Read more »

FAS Capacity-Building Efforts in Central America Yield Benefits There and at Home

Pablo Chacón, a Guatemalan farmer

Pablo Chacón, a Guatemalan farmer, takes notes at the CATIE dairy farm and research center in Turrialba, Costa Rica, where he is studying agroforestry on an FAS-funded scholarship.

Pablo Chacón, a young Guatemalan farmer who is studying agroforestry at the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center (CATIE) in Turrialba, Costa Rica, can now show the people in his home community how livestock grazing and hardwood forests can co-exist and prosper. Earlier this month, he told me and other Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) visitors to CATIE that the education he gained from his FAS-funded scholarship to CATIE has equipped him to be a change maker.

“CATIE’s research in the tropics shows that degraded lands can be restored using combined forest and pastoral production systems,” Chacón said. “The benefits of trees in pastures are clear: The shade helps reduce stress in animals during the dry season, keeps moisture in the soil and retains the strength of pastures during the dry season.” Read more »