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Women are the Past, Present and Future of American Agriculture

Cross posted from the White House Rural Council blog:

From historic homesteaders to contemporary cattle ranchers, women have been the cornerstone of America’s agriculture heritage. We’ve produced food to feed our families, feed our neighbors and to feed the world.

The 2012 Census of Agriculture notes that nearly one million women are working America’s lands. That’s nearly a third of our nation’s farmers.  These women are generating $12.9 billion in annual agricultural sales.

Farm work isn’t the only way women are contributing to agriculture.  We are scientists, economists, foresters, veterinarians and conservationists. We are in the boardrooms and the corner offices of international enterprises, and are the owners and operators of small businesses. We are property owners and managers. We are policy makers and standard bearers.  Women are increasingly involved in every aspect of agriculture.

On October 20, I have invited a small group of leaders from almost all corners of the ag sector to join me at the White House and discuss the future of women in agriculture.  Co-hosted by the White House Rural Council, and co-organized by AGree (a collaborative initiative of nine of the world’s leading foundations to tackle long-term food and agriculture issues), this meeting will be an opportunity to discuss the impact women have had in American agriculture and the vision we have for the next generation of agricultural leaders.

Women principal farm operators average 60 years old. This means our daughters and granddaughters hold the future of American agriculture in their hands.  As women leaders, it is our responsibility to make sure the next generation of women are educated, trained and prepared to usher agriculture into the future.

When I was a kid growing up on a Georgia peanut farm, I was inspired by my mother’s hard work on and off the farm. She taught me to carry my love of the land into all aspects of my life. As my career has developed, I have continued to be inspired by not only incredibly strong and talented women who are making a difference in agriculture, but also by men who recognize the vital role that women play in this industry. Monday’s dialogue will be just one of many parts of an important conversation on how we can better engage and empower women to continue helping agriculture succeed.

Join the conversation using #womeninag and share with the world the women who inspire you.

Wyoming Landowners Restore Riparian Areas in Big Horn Basin

While working for the city of Worland for the Wyoming Game & Fish Department, Rory Karhu, currently a NRCS district conservationist in Park County, spearheaded tamarisk removal along the Gooseberry Creek, a tributary to the Big Horn River. NRCS photo.

While working for the city of Worland for the Wyoming Game & Fish Department, Rory Karhu, currently a NRCS district conservationist in Park County, spearheaded tamarisk removal along the Gooseberry Creek, a tributary to the Big Horn River. NRCS photo.

It took Dee Hillberry six years before he could get a handle on encroaching and hardy invasive vegetation. Working on two separate properties, he removed tamarisk trees, or salt cedars, from 200 acres along Cottonwood Creek and Russian olive trees from 100 acres along the Big Horn River.

Despite Hillberry’s hard work in Hot Springs County, Wyoming, his efforts in restoring riparian areas were part of a larger endeavor that involved work done in phases over several years, over hundreds of miles, and with numerous partners in the Big Horn River basin. The basin is about 100 miles wide, and so far, more than 13,000 acres of invasive trees have been removed from the riparian area. Read more »

Field Day Supports Organic Dairy Producers

Dr. Hue Karreman demonstrates how to put your arm inside a cow’s mouth. Photo by Lisa McCrory

Dr. Hue Karreman demonstrates how to put your arm inside a cow’s mouth. Photo by Lisa McCrory

Last month, I had the pleasure of attending the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance (NODPA) Field Days at Stonewall Farm in Keene, New Hampshire. The field days combine many activities for attending farmers, giving them the opportunity to learn from each other, speak with experts in the organic field, catch up with old friends and make some new friends too.

As Deputy Administrator for USDA’s National Organic Program, part of the Agricultural Marketing Service, I participated in a panel discussion on the future of organic certification with Dr. Jean Richardson, Chair of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), and Henry Perkins, President of the Maine Organic Milk Producers.  I also had the opportunity to present information about the National Organic Program, including USDA’s programs that support organic agriculture, sound and sensible certification, the National Organic Standards Board and the revised sunset process. Read more »

US Forest Service Entomologist Takes on Pesky Insects to Make a Difference in the Northeast

Ryan Hanavan, entomologist for the Northeastern Area State and Private Forestry. (Courtesy Ryan Hanavan)

Ryan Hanavan, entomologist for the Northeastern Area State and Private Forestry. (Courtesy Ryan Hanavan)

Ryan Hanavan is a multi-faceted individual who enjoys his work on the front lines of forest health as an entomologist for the Northeastern Area State and Private Forestry.

“I have always been fascinated by insects and this career has essentially allowed me to explore a lifelong curiosity,” Hanavan said. “I have also always been interested in using new technology to improve methods and techniques and the Forest Service has been extremely supportive in developing faster, better, and cheaper tools for detecting and monitoring forest pests.” Read more »

Farm to School: We Are Here to Help!

Members of the USDA Farm to School team in front of the USDA headquarters in Washington, DC.

Members of the USDA Farm to School team in front of the USDA headquarters in Washington, DC.

Since the official start of the USDA Farm to School Program, we’ve focused on making sure schools have the tools they need to bring local products into the lunchroom and teach children where their food comes from. As October is National Farm to School Month, it seems an opportune time to take stock of the many resources available from USDA to help bring the farm to school.

One of our newest resources, Procuring Local Foods for Child Nutrition Programs, covers procurement basics — how to define local, where to find local products, and the variety of ways schools can purchase locally in accordance with regulations. The guide is complemented by a twelve-part webinar series called Finding, Buying and Serving Local Foods. Our fact sheets cover topics that range from USDA grants and loans that support farm to school activities to working with Cooperative Extension professionals to grow your program, while a brand new Farm to School Planning Toolkit offers eleven distinct chapters on everything from school gardens to menu planning, marketing and more. Read more »

Secretary’s Column: Family Farmers Do More Than Feed the World

Earlier today, Secretary Vilsack posted a guest column on the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations blog in honor of World Food Day. The UN General Assembly has designated 2014 “International Year of Family Farming.” This is a strong signal that the international community recognizes the important contribution of family farmers to world food security.

The headlines today can often seem bleak: worries of terrorism, global health, climate change, drought and hunger dominate the news cycle. These are extraordinarily complex and challenging issues that will impact and forever transform the lives of future generations.

Solving them is not simply about military or economic might. While they are not always fully appreciated and recognized for their capacity to address these challenges, I believe the role that agriculture and family farmers can play is significant. Read more »