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Opening Doors for #WomeninAg

Earlier this week, I hosted a White House Rural Council discussion with farmers, business owners, board members, commodity groups, youth leaders and academics to discuss opportunities for women in agriculture. The group included women and men, conventional farmers and organic producers and organizations like Food Corps, the Future Farmers of America Foundation and the American Farm Bureau.  There were major corporations including Coca Cola and Land O’ Lakes as well as smaller operations like Sandy Oaks Olive Orchards from Texas.

In preparation for the meeting, I asked the participants to use #womeninag to identify inspiring women in agriculture.  The overwhelming response on Twitter stimulated our discussion and motivated the group to identify what we can do to continue supporting women in agriculture. Read more »

Still Made in Rural America: Steel in California Gold Country

Del Oro High School in Loomis, CA, boasting a new Performing Arts Building and Gymnasium—as well as 400 tons of Metal Works steel. (Photo courtesy Metal Works)

Del Oro High School in Loomis, CA, boasting a new Performing Arts Building and Gymnasium—as well as 400 tons of Metal Works steel. (Photo courtesy Metal Works)

Small town Oroville, California sits on the banks of the Feather River at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. It was established to supply the thousands of prospectors headed to Bidwell Bar, one of the first gold rush mines in the state. Today, this community of 16,260 people produces much more than just gold dust.

At the edge of town, what started in 1989 as a backyard blacksmith shop by owners Michael Phulps and Sean Pierce has become a 82-employee steel manufacturing company called Metal Works, thanks to a little help from USDA Rural Development. Fourteen years ago, Metal Works received their first Business & Industry loan guarantee to purchase a 20,000 square foot fabrication shop and office building on a little over 18 acres. Since then, they’ve converted their original 9,400 square foot building to a retail steel shop, and added another 20,000 square foot fabrication shop, burn table, and a modern, high-precision drill and beam line. Now, they’ve leveraged a new Rural Development guaranteed loan to refinance, save tens of thousands of dollars annually, and hire 10 new employees as a direct result of those savings. Read more »

Secretary’s Column: Growing the #RuralMade Economy

Those of us who call rural America home know that there’s more to the rural economy than just farms and ranches. From biobased products to rural manufacturing, the potential to grow and make innovative products in rural America is limitless.

As part of our commitment to strengthening rural economies, USDA this week released a new series of state-by-state “Made in Rural America” factsheets. Each state factsheet is a snapshot of how USDA investments help to build a better atmosphere for small business in rural America. Read more »

Co-op Month: Much to Celebrate, But Much More to Do!

Doug O'Brien, Acting Under Secretary for USDA Rural Development addresses attendees at a National Co-op Month forum at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Lillian Salerno, Administrator for Rural Business & Cooperatives Programs and Charles Snyder, President of National Cooperative Bank are on the right.

Doug O'Brien, Acting Under Secretary for USDA Rural Development addresses attendees at a National Co-op Month forum at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Lillian Salerno, Administrator for Rural Business & Cooperatives Programs and Charles Snyder, President of National Cooperative Bank are on the right.

There is so much to celebrate during National Cooperative Month in October, as the U.S. co-op business sector is generating about $650 billion in annual sales and accounts for more than 2 million jobs. But the cooperative business model remains a “best-kept secret” for far too many people who could be benefitting from membership in co-ops.

It is thus imperative that everyone involved with cooperatives make co-op education and outreach a major priority in the year ahead. That was one of the primary messages of a National Co-op Month forum at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Oct. 22, sponsored by the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA). Read more »

How USDA Celebrated National School Lunch Week

Last week, USDA celebrated National School Lunch Week from October 12 -18 with exciting local events across the country.  It was a chance for USDA staff to meet with students and hear what they think of the newer, fresher options in the lunch room.  It was also an opportunity for USDA officials to say “thank you” to the hardworking school food service professionals who make healthy school lunches possible.

Healthy meals at school are an essential part of every child’s health, development, and academic success.   Students’ ability to learn in the classroom, grow up healthy and reach their fullest potential depends on the environment they learn in.  And that is why Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, so that all our nation’s students can experience a healthier school environment with more nutritious options. Read more »

Protecting a California Legacy

San Gabriel Mountains of Los Angeles County, CA. USDA USFS photo.

San Gabriel Mountains of Los Angeles County, CA. USDA USFS photo.

It has now been a couple of weeks since President Obama declared the San Gabriel Mountains in California a National Monument, and I’m still very excited about the great prospects ahead for that area based on this historic proclamation. This is another rare opportunity for the Forest Service to manage a national treasure with national monument status and – more importantly – it’s an opportunity for us to do more to protect and showcase the San Gabriel Mountains for millions of visitors and local residents each year.

This recent designation is a terrific way to celebrate an area that represents significant archeological, cultural, historical and scientific heritage for California and the nation, and it brings along extra benefits as well. National monument status will help enhance recreational access and interpretative and environmental education for millions of visitors each year near one of the major metropolitan areas in the nation, while helping to preserve the historical and cultural heritage of the region. Monument designation is a tremendous recognition and opportunity for the Forest Service, for the region, and for everyone who enjoys the forests. Read more »