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Got Green? Secretary Vilsack, Washington Redskins and local kids tackle Arbor Day

By Sammi Citron, News Services Information Assistant 

 Huddled around the flowering magnolia tree at the U.S. National Arboretum was a mix of suits, school uniforms and jerseys, as Secretary Vilsack, local D.C. schoolchildren and NFL Washington Redskin players Malcolm Kelly and Reed Doughty helped celebrate Arbor Day by cementing the new trees’ roots with mulch. Kicking off the inaugural dig was Secretary Vilsack, who called upon the single Raven’s fan in the crowd to help him – a tidbit he found out after taking an NFL survey amongst the kids. Arboretum employees quickly answered questions about gardening, (did you know tree’s roots grow 18 inches into the ground?) but not as fast as the children managed another spitfire round as they excitedly tested how much soil they could fit onto their shovels as compared to the football stars towering feet over them.

The children ran from booth to booth learning about different kinds of lettuce, – “there’s more than one?” was their general inquisition – herbs, and chili peppers. At another station, Doughty and Kelly showcased their teamwork as they dug holes for the kids to plant in. During a taste test of several locally-grown ingredients, the kids and players chanted “Mr. Secretary, you can handle it!” as he chewed a particularly strong mustard seed, and they even compared the mint flavor in toothpaste to homegrown mint leaves.

Mike Mangiaracina, science teacher at Brent Elementary, said lessons like these help the kids relate gardening and healthy eating to their everyday lives. “As we were driving in, the kids joked that they were in the country. Driving in from New York Avenue, it’s great for them to see that their city has this, and this isn’t that far away from their world,” said Mangiaracina.

To further encourage a healthy lifestyle was Fuel Up to Play 60, an in-school program that incorporates 60 minutes of daily physical activity with a balanced diet. Doughty and Kelly were the program’s representatives for the day, and they came bearing gifts. All of the participants received Fuel Up to Play 60 hats, which they wore as they tested their pigskin-throwing skills with some of Washington’s finest. Secretary Vilsack, hat in hand, cheered from the sidelines with each catch.

Wrapping up the afternoon was the National Dairy Council, another driving force behind the Fuel Up to Play 60 program. Between Secretary Vilsack, players Kelly and Doughty, Councilman Thomas and the kids, were “Got Milk?” mustaches that rivaled the some of the most memorable advertisements.

After the touchdown dance competition was squared away and everyone was leaving, Secretary Vilsack stole a moment with one of the younger participants, giving her a special coin of his. She happily accepted, grinning ear-to-ear with her milk mustache.

 Secretary Vilsack and students plant a tree on Arbor Day 
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack joined Washington, DC, school children from Brent Elementary and Center City Public Charter, Trinidad Campus and NFL Washington Redskins Wide Receiver Malcolm Kelly and Safety Reed Doughty at the U.S. National Arboretum to celebrate the 138th Arbor Day.

 Secretary Vilsack and students learn about different varieties of mint 
Agriculture Tom Secretary Vilsack (center) listens as Billie Parus a member of the National Herb Society and Tanya Zastrow, Volunteer/Intern Coordinator, National Arboretum explain the different varieties of mint to students from Center City Public Charter, Trinidad Campus, Washington, DC.

 Secretary Vilsack and Redskins Reed Doughty and Malcolm Kelly don milk mustaches 
NFL Washington Redskins Wide Receiver Malcolm Kelly (left), Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack (center), and Washington Redskins Safety Reed Doughty (right) display their milk mustaches received at the “Milk Mustache Mobile” sponsored by the Dairy Processor Education Program. The “Fuel Up to Play 60”campaign USDA is in partnership with the National Football League and the National Dairy Council to encourage children to eat well get outdoors and be active.


South Dakota Tribes Seek a Cleaner, Healthier Environment

Earth Day celebrations in both Rosebud and Porcupine, South Dakota, featured Jessica Zufolo, USDA Rural Development Deputy Administrator for Rural Utilities Programs.  Zufolo was joined by the South Dakota Rural Development State Director Elsie M. Meeks and Area Director Tim Potts, along with representatives from Indian Health Service, Bureau of Reclamation, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  The celebration featured the announcement of a water and environmental project totaling $6.8 million to the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and water and environmental project totaling $881,000 to the Oglala Sioux Tribe. Read more »

Texas Colonias to get First Time Sewer Services Thanks to USDA

Written by Gayle Cargo, Public Information Coordinator

Texas USDA Rural Development State Director, Paco Valentin, Pearsall Mayor Ray Martinez and other county officials celebrated Earth Day, April 22nd, with a $4,765,000 Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant funding presentation to the city of Pearsall.

The USDA Rural Development loan and grant will be used to improve water and waste water systems in colonias throughout Pearsall, specifically the Sandhollow and Sunrise areas.  Beever Colonia, Porter, Encino and Echo Acres will all benefit by receiving funding for first time sewer systems throughout the area, providing residents access to a centralized, sanitary system.

In conjunction with Earth Day, Valentin presented funding for first time sewer system services throughout parts of the area, which will have dramatic improvements on the environment and the quality of life of its residents.

“Safe drinking water and sanitary sewer systems are basic necessities for families and communities.  It’s an honor to provide funding for these services, especially on Earth Day.  These improvements will benefit the health of the residents and contribute to the clean up of the environment in this area,” said Valentin.

Nationally known as “The Hunter’s Paradise,” the city of Pearsall encompasses 4.2 square miles located 1 hour southwest of San Antonio, and is home to 7, 175 residents.

USDA Rural Development Texas State Director Paco Valentin (left) meets with Pearsall Mayor Pro-Tem Roy Trevino during A funding presentation to the City of Pearsall for sewer system upgrades and new service.
USDA Rural Development Texas State Director Paco Valentin (left) meets
with Pearsall Mayor Pro-Tem Roy Trevino during A funding presentation to
the City of Pearsall for sewer system upgrades and new service.

USDA Swings Into Action to Help Residents of Tornado Damaged Counties in Mississippi

By Ken Stribling, Public Information Coordinator

Last Saturday, a massive tornado nearly a mile wide ripped through central Mississippi, killing ten people and injuring scores of others.  Hardest hit were Choctaw, Holmes and Yazoo Counties.  Hundreds of Mississippi families lost their homes, businesses, and farms.

One of the first public officials on the scene after the tornado passed was Mississippi’s USDA Rural Development State Director Trina N. George.  On Saturday, she traveled from her home and linked up with local USDA Rural Development personnel in Yazoo County, arriving about an hour after the tornado had passed through.  She was joined by the mayor of Yazoo City, MacArthur Straughter.

“My immediate thoughts were on how USDA Rural Development could help with this matter,” said George. “I was quickly able to go to the hardest hit area and survey the actual damage. Because of being able to see the damage, my thoughts on our agency’s potential response were subdivided into three categories:  one, we needed to be a part of the immediate relief efforts, including helping folks who are displaced from their homes find immediate shelter; two, we should help with the mid-term relief by assessing the damage to USDA Rural Development community investments such as single-family homes, our multi-family units, our self-help homes, and the water and wastewater systems we have helped finance and grow; and three, we needed to be a part of the long-term relief by making sure that people in the affected areas know about the availability of our programs, especially our single-family home loan programs, so that they can rebuild their homes and businesses and continue to have clean water.”

Ms. George is assembling what will be a full-court press for relief and to make sure that the resources at USDA Rural Development are fully mobilized to help the damaged areas and their people. She is working with state, area, and local USDA staffers who are veterans of the last big wind to blow through Mississippi: Hurricane Katrina.  She has the goodwill of the USDA national office. “I have been in constant contact with USDA and other federal offices in Washington since Saturday,” said George. “This is the biggest disaster to hit Mississippi since Hurricane Katrina, and I want to make sure that we know all of our resources and that we leave no stone unturned.”

After touring Yazoo County, George surveyed the damage in nearby Holmes County.  “In Holmes County, I was able to not only see the physical damages, but I was able to listen to some of the actual victims, many of whom had lost everything,” said George. “One person removed his sunglasses to show me where he was struck by debris hurled from the tornado.”

Many homes, including ones financed by USDA Rural Development, were destroyed or damaged by the tornado.  In Yazoo County, a USDA Rural Development Self-Help Housing development was severely damaged.  Nine USDA-financed homes, including five that were completed in June 2009 and four that were almost finished, were completely destroyed.

State Director George and USDA’s Multi-family Housing Program staff in Mississippi will be coordinating a rapid response designed to identify and open vacant units for the families who are displaced by the tornado.

State Director Trina George and Yazoo City Mayor Mac Arthur Straughter inspect damages on afternoon after the mile-wide tornado went through Yazoo City.
State Director Trina George and Yazoo City Mayor Mac Arthur Straughter inspect damages on afternoon after the mile-wide tornado went through Yazoo City.

State Director Trina N. George inspects damages in Holmes County after a tornado.
State Director Trina N. George inspects damages in Holmes County.

Back Home in the Midwest

Cross posted from the White House Blog by USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack

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Recently, I had the privilege of accompanying President Obama on his White House to Main Street Tour to visit towns in Missouri, Illinois and my home state of Iowa. Coming home to small towns in the Midwest reminds me of what terrific places they are to live – but also of the challenges that so many middle class Americans in these communities face on a daily basis.

The truth is that there is a silent crisis going on in rural America.  Rural communities have higher poverty rates than the rest of the country, fewer people have college degrees, and many towns are watching as their young adults move away because they don’t see an opportunity to make a good living.

At the local businesses, farms and schools the President and I visited this week, folks were asking the same question:  how can we bring economic vitality back to Main Streets across the nation?  And many of our stops on the tour demonstrated possible answers to that question.

In Fort Madison, Iowa we visited a plant that manufactures blades for wind turbines that added nearly 400 new jobs with help from a grant from American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  The Obama administration is hard at work supporting plants like this – and other renewable energy opportunities – to build a green economy that will also help combat climate change.

In my home town of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa the President and I visited a small farm and business supplying locally grown food to schools and businesses in the community.  At USDA, our Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative is working to create more small businesses like this one that link local production to local consumers.

newly-released report from the White House Council of Economic Advisers’ outlines more of the Administration’s policies that will bring greater economic prosperity to rural America. The Recovery Act laid the framework for this new rural economy, making important investments in broadband access, energy, education and infrastructure – but there is still more work to be done to create jobs and ensure prosperity in rural communities.

Coming home to the Midwest was a reminder of how a healthy American economy depends on a prosperous rural America – and some of the steps we need to take to build it. But it also showed me once again that President Obama is deeply committed to nurturing strong, robust, and vibrant rural communities so that Main Street’s across rural America remain the best places in this nation to live, work, and raise a family.

President Barack Obama tours a farm with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, left, and farmer Lowell Schachtsiek in Palmyra, Missouri, April 28, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
President Barack Obama tours a farm with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, left, and farmer Lowell Schachtsiek in Palmyra, Missouri, April 28, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Safe Water No Longer a Pipe Dream

By Joan Messina, Public Information Coordinator

USDA Rural Development celebrated a magnificent Earth Day in the bright spring sunshine at Vandalia Lake in Fayette County, Illinois, last Thursday.  The clouds rolled away just hours before we joined Fayette Water Company (FWC) to mark the advent of abundant safe water for area residents. With Vandalia Lake as the backdrop, State Director Colleen Callahan announced that Rural Development was providing $1,275,500 in affordable funding to make FWC’s project possible.

After years of waiting, hundreds of area people now are sure of getting clean water.  What an irony that the people living around this picturesque 660 acre lake have only contaminated and inadequate well water at their disposal.

The area’s access to clean water is possible only because of the hard work of the volunteer board of FWC and its partnerships with Rural Development and local entities, including area townships, the county highway department, and the City of Vandalia.  We celebrated by signing a certificate of partnership to continue the work of bringing clean water to hundreds of homes around the Vandalia Lake area and joined pieces of water pipe as a symbol of the next step.

This was a perfect way to commemorate Earth Day, an event established 40 years ago by citizens committed to making their local communities cleaner and healthier.  It was 22 years ago that concerned citizens in Fayette County began looking for ways to bring a healthy supply of water to rural Fayette County.  Now FWC can rightfully boast that, with the completion of this phase, it will supply safe water to 1400 homes and farms.  And Rural Development will be very proud to have been a partner in their efforts.

Fayette Water Company board members join Illinois State Director Colleen Callahan after signing a certificate of partnership.
Fayette Water Company board members join Illinois State Director Colleen Callahan after signing a certificate of partnership.

Rural Development, Fayette Water Company and local partners sign two sections of water pipe to symbolize the next step in providing safe water to the Vandalia Lake area.
Rural Development, Fayette Water Company and local partners sign two sections of water pipe to symbolize the next step in providing safe water to the Vandalia Lake area.