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USDA Announces Effort to Enhance Department Efficiency, Improve Access to Programs

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is asking the public for comment as it continues to review existing program rules to determine whether any should be modified, streamlined, clarified, or repealed.  The Department is particularly interested in hearing from the public concerning areas where USDA can simplify and reduce the reporting burden for entry and access to USDA programs, while reducing its administrative and operating costs by sharing data across participating agencies.

In response to Executive Order 13610 (Identifying and Reducing Regulatory Burdens), USDA has incorporated various initiatives into its review to reduce burden on the public, including the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS), Conservation Delivery Streamlining Initiative, which has the potential to reduce administrative time for clients participating in NRCS’ conservation programs, and FSA’s streamlined version of a current form for use by repeat customers whose information has not changed. Read more »

School Garden Turns into Living Learning Laboratory for Nevada Fifth Graders

Mr. Bob Gardner’s fifth grade class at Dayton Elementary, learns about science through a living /learning laboratory at the school greenhouse and garden. The Dayton Elementary School garden is one of several gardens funded with a USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant to the Healthy Communities Coalition of Lyon and Storey Counties in northwestern Nevada.

Mr. Bob Gardner’s fifth grade class at Dayton Elementary, learns about science through a living /learning laboratory at the school greenhouse and garden. The Dayton Elementary School garden is one of several gardens funded with a USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant to the Healthy Communities Coalition of Lyon and Storey Counties in northwestern Nevada.

“Can a School Garden Supplement a Community’s Food Supply in a Sustainable Way?” That was the question asked by Bob Gardner’s fifth grade class at Dayton, Nevada, Elementary School on Tuesday as students presented their science projects to classmates and adult guests. Read more »

Virginia Farmers, NRCS Give Makeover to the Land

Makeover shows are now a staple of reality TV—we all like to see dramatic transformations. Did you know that USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) helps make “conservation makeovers” happen on the land every day?

Take Peyton and Myra Yancey’s fourth-generation 225-acre farm in Virginia’s scenic Shenandoah Valley, which houses beef and poultry operations.

The Yanceys’ conservation makeover started in April 2011 with planning and staking a stream buffer, which is a group of plants that will filter nutrients from water draining into the stream and provide shade to cool the water, improving the habitat for fish and other aquatic organisms. Read more »

The Rapid City, South Dakota USDA Staff Helps Make Christmas Special for a Family in Need

The Rapid City, South Dakota, service center includes staff from Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Farm Service Agency (FSA), Rural Development (RD) and Pennington County Conservation District.   Three years ago, the Rural Development staff contacted the Cornerstone Rescue Mission and WAVI (Working Against Violence, Inc.) to provide information on various programs.  At that time, the USDA staff decided to forgo the typical interoffice gift exchange and set up the first Angel tree.  The first two years, the staff provided gifts to the families seeking assistance from WAVI.

Every year, the Rapid City Club for Boys finds sponsors to provide a Christmas for a family who would otherwise be unable to celebrate the holiday. This year, the group decided to sponsor a family of six.  The second to the youngest, is a 7-year old boy who lives with four sisters and his mother, and is a member of the Club for Boys.

The children’s mom works at a minimum wage job and is a full-time student in college.  The children range in age from 5 – 18, and the family budget is very limited making it difficult to make ends meet. Read more »

Gardening, Farming Take Root in New York City

Dianna Grant of East New York Farms! Youth Internship program washes bok choy at the United Community Centers Youth Farm in Brooklyn, N.Y. East New York Farms! Is a recipient of the USDA Community Food Projects grant. Photo courtesy East New York Farms!

Dianna Grant of East New York Farms! Youth Internship program washes bok choy at the United Community Centers Youth Farm in Brooklyn, N.Y. East New York Farms! Is a recipient of the USDA Community Food Projects grant. Photo courtesy East New York Farms!

If your picture of New York City is skyscrapers and neon, consider expanding that image to include vegetable crops – a lot of vegetable crops – growing everywhere from ground level to rooftops. Read more »

USDA Support Helps Delaware Families Build Their Own Homes

Earlier this month I joined Delaware Senators Tom Carper and Chris Coons in announcing USDA funding support for a project that will help 24 limited-income families build their own homes.  It’s called Self-Help Housing.

Under the program, limited-income credit-worthy families work together to build their own houses.  Usually, about eight families work together under the guidance of a construction foreman and the process takes about a year.  The program requires applicants to provide at least 65 percent of the labor, and at closing, this contribution becomes their “sweat equity.”  At the end of the process, USDA provides a direct homeownership loan at an interest rate of as little as one percent.

“The Self-Help Housing Program is one that instills a sense of pride in individuals as they work to build the very structure they will live in,” said Senator Carper. “Homeownership is part of the American dream, and programs like the USDA’s Rural Development Self Help Housing Program make that dream more accessible as we work our way out of this long and difficult recession,” Senator Coons said. Read more »