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Secretary’s Column: A Food, Farm and Jobs Bill As Soon As Possible

After spending much of August out of Washington, Congress is back – and rural America is watching closely, hoping for passage of a Food, Farm and Jobs Bill as soon as possible.

With farmers facing the worst drought in decades this summer and the current Farm Bill set to expire on September 30 of this year, time is running out for Congress to act.

You and I both know the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Since early this summer, when the Senate passed a comprehensive, multi-year Food Farm and Jobs Act, the Administration has expressed its preference for such comprehensive legislation and urged Congress to act before the current law expires. Read more »

USDA Drought Code Sprint: Giving Americans One-Click Access to Federal Drought Relief

Editor’s note: After hearing from many of you, we are extending the deadline to submit your apps for the Drought Code Sprint to Wednesday, October 24 at 5 p.m. ET.

Americans across the country are feeling the impact of the most severe and extensive drought in the last 25 years.  We’ve heard from people throughout the United States, asking how they can help. That’s why today we’re launching USDA’s first-ever Drought Code Sprint, a call to developers across the country to use publicly available government information to help farmers, ranchers, and others gain quick and reliable “one-click” access to information on drought conditions and Federal drought relief.  Developers can submit their apps using this form by Wednesday, October 24 at 5 p.m ET.  Some of the most innovative ones will be featured on USDA.gov.

Crops are withering as a result of this historic drought and feed for livestock is growing ever more scarce and expensive.  None of us is immune—these conditions are affecting over 50% of the country and almost 80% of our agricultural land.  But our rural communities and family farmers and ranchers are on the front lines, and have been the first to feel the drought’s full effects. They are working hard to overcome these hardships, and the Federal Government has stepped up to help.

Of course, apps can’t influence the weather or refill our reservoirs. But they can help farmers and ranchers become more easily aware of the kinds of assistance available to them, and they can simplify the process of taking advantage of these options so relief gets to the people who need it as efficiently as possible.

Some tools we’d love to see include apps that provide “one-click” access to the nearest USDA service centers and available drought programs; county-level drought disaster designations and program eligibility; information on Federal assistance available based on location and sector; types of loans or refinance options available with a handy repayment calculator and eligibility requirements; drought maps; and localized weather outlooks.  These are just a few of our ideas but we’re confident that you have even better ones—so get coding!

To get started, check out these publicly available data sets in the Natural Hazards Data Community on Safety.Data.gov and on the USDA drought website:

We encourage developers to use other freely available resources on safety.data.gov or the USDA website as well—including Agriculture Weather and Drought Outlook blog posts and Drought Assistance Programs and Information sites—and any other data resources that would be helpful to those affected by the drought.

Here is a great opportunity to apply American ingenuity and technology to the cause of helping America’s farms. We look forward to seeing your ideas.

Healthier School Days for Students in West Virginia

A young student at Piedmont Year-round Elementary School in Charleston, West Virginia gets ready to enjoy a nutritious breakfast.

A young student at Piedmont Year-round Elementary School in Charleston, West Virginia gets ready to enjoy a nutritious breakfast.

Recently, I joined students and staff there for breakfast and was delighted to see the youngsters start their day with a delicious parfait along with cereal, juice, milk, fresh-baked muffins and sliced oranges. While balancing the tall plastic containers of fruit and granola parfait proved just a bit challenging for a few of the younger kids carrying breakfast trays to their tables at Piedmont Year-round Elementary School in Charleston, West Virginia, the meal itself was exactly the type of healthy, well-balanced meal envisioned with the recent improvements to school meal standards issued by USDA. Read more »

Smokey Bear and Woodsy Owl Trek Across the Nation on “Home Sweet Home” Exhibit

Smokey Bear & Woodsy Owl: Home Sweet Home. Photo Credit:  Visual Image Photography

Smokey Bear & Woodsy Owl: Home Sweet Home. Photo Credit: Visual Image Photography

Since 2009, Smokey Bear and Woodsy Owl have been making the rounds from coast to coast on a green-built, interactive traveling exhibit called Smokey Bear & Woodsy Owl: Home Sweet Home created by the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum in collaboration with the Forest Service.

The educational exhibit features Smokey and Woodsy inspiring children and families to discover and care for natural resources. Visitors are led into imaginary woodland and urban settings where children learn to be explorers and caretakers of the land. Hands-on activities underscore the importance of protecting forest ecosystems and highlight ways to reduce, reuse and recycle valuable resources. Read more »

Illinois Celebrates 150 Years of USDA

USDA and FAC members enjoy the cake with candles representing 150 years of service.

USDA and FAC members enjoy the cake with candles representing 150 years of service.

“How many of you here today have done business with or been helped by USDA in some way?” The master of ceremonies, Rita Frazer with RFD Radio, asked a crowd of 200 at the recent USDA 150 Years celebration in Illinois.

The event took place on Ag Day at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield. USDA was founded in 1862 by Abraham Lincoln, who called it “the people’s department.” Illinois was, famously, Lincoln’s home state. Read more »

FAS Food for Education Program Fuels Food for Thought

As summer break winds down, children around the world prepare for a new school year. But for some children, going to school is more than making new friends and learning new subjects; it’s an opportunity to eat a full, nutritious meal.

The Foreign Agricultural Service’s (FAS) McGovern-Dole Food for Education Program helps provide these meals to children in low-income, food-deficit countries that are committed to universal education. The program aligns with President Obama’s Feed the Future initiative and has helped feed millions of children over the years. One example of the success of this program can be found in the Republic of Congo, where the undernourishment rate of children is estimated at nearly 35 percent of the population.

Since 2001, FAS has implemented four McGovern-Dole Programs in Congo through the non-profit organization, International Partnership for Human Development (IPHD). During this time, IPHD distributed about 30,000 metric tons of U.S.-donated foods (rice, beans, potato flakes and vegetable oil) to nearly 150,000 pre-school and primary school-age Congolese children. IPHD also supported school infrastructure, parent-teacher associations and children’s health needs. Read more »