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Southeast Asian Farmers and NRCS Building Capacity Together in California’s Central Valley

By Lisa A. Hokholt, NRCS California State Outreach Coordinator

California’s Central Valley has long lured farmers to its fertile soil and generous growing season. It’s no surprise that Southeast Asian farmers are settling there too, bringing their farming and culinary cultures with them.

 

 

Arriving in the United States as refugees following the 1975 communist takeover of Vietnam and Laos, many Hmong immigrants soon started farming but met many challenges in their new land.

Conservation of soil, water and air might have been way down their priority list if not for assistance from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). For years now, NRCS has strived to insure that Hmong farmers have the same level of access to its technical services and programs as other clients. Two recent events helped NRCS build its service delivery capacity while also strengthening the conservation capacity of the Hmong farming community.

The Second Annual Hmong American Farmers (NHAF) National Conference, held in Fresno, California in May, showcased successes and provided a forum to discuss challenges facing Hmong farmers. The Clean Air Farming Workshop, held in June at a Hmong-owned farm in Del Rey, California presented technical information — in the Southeast Asian languages of Hmong, Lao, and Khmer (as well as Spanish and English) — about farming practices that reduce harmful air pollutants. Both events were designed to bolster awareness, enhance technical skills, exchange information, identify needs, build and strengthen effective partnerships, provide leadership, and offer fellowship.

Farmers at the NHAF Conference expressed to USDA agency reps that processes required by some federal programs are currently too complicated. On the other hand, NRCS and its sister agencies had opportunities to explain how specific programs work and to help identify and match programs to farmers’ needs. This exchange of information will help NRCS modify assistance and processes accordingly, and local farmers gained a better understanding of how to participate in Farm Bill programs.

The Clean Air Farming Workshop, organized and sponsored by NRCS and several partners, showcased specialized equipment suitable for small farm applications and information about on-farm conservation practices that reduce harmful air pollution sources such as volatile pesticides, soil erosion by wind, and diesel exhaust emissions. Five stations with different learning topics were set up among the farm’s Asian vegetable crops and participants were divided into different language groups. As the language groups went from topic to topic, so did translators who facilitated the learning process. The small groups enabled presenters to focus on farmers’ specific interests and needs.

California NRCS’ strategy to assist Hmong farmers has included hiring native Hmong speakers as technical field staff, supporting field workshops and demonstration projects, producing Hmong-language informational materials, supporting Hmong radio programming, and working with partners such as local University of California Farm Advisors who share a similar commitment to working with new client groups.

 

Hmong farmers participate in the Clean Air Farming Workshop at Cherta Farms owned by Txexa Lee (center, in white hat) in Del Rey, California, where air quality concerns impact human health and choice of farming practices.
Hmong farmers participate in the Clean Air Farming Workshop at Cherta Farms owned by Txexa Lee (center, in white hat) in Del Rey, California, where air quality concerns impact human health and choice of farming practices.

Clean Air Farming Workshop Participants were able to sign up for continuing education credits - a requirement to maintain pest control advisor and other certifications.
Clean Air Farming Workshop Participants were able to sign up for continuing education credits – a requirement to maintain pest control advisor and other certifications.

NRCS Soil Conservationist (center) describes the benefits of reducing soil compaction, in this case accomplished by use of a low impact cultivator.
NRCS Soil Conservationist (center) describes the benefits of reducing soil compaction, in this case accomplished by use of a low impact cultivator.

Why Not Keep Honeybees?

Did you know that less than one in ten thousand bees sting? Most of the stings that you and I have experienced are at the hands of wasps and hornets and their relatives; they are hunters that sting several times a day. Bees, however, only sting when they feel threatened and die shortly thereafter. It’s easy to tell whether you’ve been stung by a bee: bees leave their stinger behind. If there’s no stinger left and just a welt, you were stung by a wasp or hornet. Read more »

USDA Direct Home Loan Program, Neighbors, Combine to Make a Homeownership Dream into a Reality

Written by Katherine Belcher, Kentucky USDA Public Information Coordinator

As USDA kicked off National Home Ownership Month, more than 115 volunteers from 25 churches across the state of Kentucky gathered in a vacant lot in Whitley City to build a house for a woman many of them have never met. They are camping near the construction site, working long days to see that the project is completed by the home’s dedication date of June 19.

In Kentucky’s first homeownership event of the 2010 campaign, Rural Development staff joined representatives from other state and federal agencies, non-profit groups and community leaders to participate in the opening ceremony for the “Extreme Build” that will provide a new home for a very deserving, hard-working single mom.

Kristi Wilson was chosen to be the recipient of the fifth annual Extreme Build in McCreary County by the Kentucky Baptist Fellowship (KBF) – because of the struggles she has overcome in her life and her dedication to providing the best life possible for her two children. McCreary County is one of the state’s 43 persistent poverty counties.

KBF volunteers will build a new home for Wilson, who received a Rural Development Direct Loan to make the purchase and other assistance from local non-profits and state and federal agencies.

Wilson was overwhelmed and awed by the number of people that have shown up to assist in building her new house from the ground up.

“It’s amazing that you can find so many people with that big of a heart,” said Wilson. “It’s answering my kids’ prayers. I wanted this for my kids – I want them to have a home.”

After the home’s foundation was laid, a crane placed an 8,000 pound “core” unit containing a pre-fabricated kitchen, bath and utility room onto it. The core is pre-wired and the unit was provided by Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation and built off-site by residents at Kentucky Foothills Academy – a licensed, residential treatment facility for state-committed youth.

As many of the guest speakers reiterated throughout the opening ceremony, this project is truly a partnership among numerous people and local, state and federal agencies – all working to make possible one woman’s dream of providing her family with a safe, affordable decent place to live.

It was truly an honor and privilege to be a part of it.

Kentucky State Director Tom Fern (second from right) congratulates new homeowner Kristi Wilson, who was selected=
Kentucky State Director Tom Fern (second from right) congratulates new homeowner Kristi Wilson, who was selected
by the Kentucky Baptist Fellowship as the recipient of this year’s McCreary County Extreme Build.

A crane is used to place a pre-fabricated unit consisting of a kitchen, bathroom and utility room onto the foundation of Kristi Wilson’s new home.
A crane is used to place a pre-fabricated unit consisting of a kitchen, bathroom and utility room
onto the foundation of Kristi Wilson’s new home.

“Hot Links” for Breakfast!

By Phil Sammon, USDA Forest Service Public AffairsTry something a little different for breakfast over the next three weeks with the USDA Forest Service – “Hot Links”! The agency has developed a three-week informational series centered around wildfire prevention and awareness, community planning, wildfire response and resource and landscape restoration information.

Wildfire is a “hot” topic that garners significant national attention each year. But it is the local interest that the agency seeks to address in this web-based campaign. Each of their daily messages and points of interest will be accompanied by a “link” to one of many wildfire-focused websites that the agency or other wildfire agencies hosts and supports.

The three week-long themes will focus on Fire-Adapted Communities; Wildfire Response by the agency; and Landscape and Resource Restoration activities the agency conducts. The information presented comes in short notes that direct readers or followers to a Forest Service or interagency web site where readers can find more details and get recommendations for other wildfire resources and information.

The agency seeks to capitalize on the growing number of followers on both the USDA Facebook profile and numerous Forest Service twitter accounts across the country, and anticipates reaching as many as 500,000 ‘followers’ through these social media websites. As the Department of Agriculture finalizes overall department-wide guidance and regulation for new media, the Forest Service is actively engaging this valuable communication and social networking opportunity to convey the vital role the agency plays in the everyday lives of Americans from coast to coast.

Make sure to check out “Hot Links” every morning – you’ll only need to follow the USDA Facebook page, or keep up with the Forest Service on Twitter.

Public Feedback and Comments Welcome on the New Advisory Committee Report on Dietary Guidance

Cross-posted from the Let’s Move Blog

By Tom Vilsack, Agriculture Secretary

I’ve just received an important report about diet and health, and wanted to share with you some of what it says. The Advisory Report is from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, and it is directed to me and to Secretary Sebelius at Health and Human Services. We will be using this report as the basis for finalizing the Dietary Guidelines for Americans by the end of the year. This report is a summary of the absolute best and most up-to-date science available, written by a group of 13 prominent independent experts in nutrition and health.

Their guidance is important because their recommendations provide the basis for important policy decisions related to the Food Pyramid, school meals, the WIC program, and other nutrition programs that USDA manages. The report highlights four major action steps for Americans to improve their diet and health:

The first is to reduce overweight and obesity by reducing overall calorie intake and increasing physical activity. The committee said that the obesity epidemic is the single greatest threat to public health in this century.

The second step is to eat more vegetables, cooked dry beans and peas, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. In addition, eat more seafood and fat-free and low-fat milk and milk products, and moderate amounts of lean meats, poultry, and eggs.

The third step is to cut out most added sugars and solid fats. Foods with added sugars and solid fats have unneeded calories and few, if any, nutrients. Also, to reduce sodium and eat fewer refined grains, especially desserts.

The final step is to “Meet the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.” This means to get up and move more—lots more! It is important for overall health and it helps burn calories to keep weight in balance.

How to put all of this advice together? The Committee identified several ways to build a total diet that meets nutrient needs, but stays within a person’s “calorie budget.”

The Advisory Committee was very concerned about the health of children—as we are at USDA. Obesity in children has tripled in the past 30 years, and we need to tackle that problem.

Between now and July 15, the public will have an opportunity to read and comment on the Advisory Report. You can find the report online. In early July we’ll also be holding a meeting here in Washington where the public can come provide oral testimony on the Advisory Report. We look forward to receiving and reviewing your comments. After evaluating your feedback, USDA and HHS will work together to develop the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which we expect to release at the end of the year.

Kansas Butterfly Count Seeks Volunteers

Written by Allen Casey, NRCS Soil Conservationist, Kansas

The Manhattan Plant Materials Center (PMC) is recruiting Earth Team volunteers to participate in a butterfly count on July 14, 2010.

The count, sponsored by North American Butterfly Association (NABA), will help scientists monitor butterfly migration and get a good estimate of the different species and their numbers.

Volunteers will meet at the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Plant Materials Center and disperse into the surrounding area, Wednesday, July 14, 2010, from 8:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. While knowledge of butterflies is a plus, it is not necessary.

In conjunction with the butterfly count is an optional Butterfly Identification Workshop on Thursday, July 8, from 9:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Working as a partner with the PMC, the Konza Prairie Biological Station will host the workshop to help prepare volunteers to identify butterflies. Please register by Tuesday, July 6, at (785) 539-8761.

Those attending the event will also learn more about the PMC and its purpose of developing plants for conservation, as well as have a chance to look at some of the pollinator projects.

There is no charge for participating in the count, but attendees need to register by calling (785) 539-8761 by Monday, July 12, to assure adequate supply of materials. Those attending should bring a sack lunch and bug spray—and binoculars and camera (if you have them)—and dress appropriately for the weather conditions. You must provide your own transportation. If special accommodations are needed for the count or workshop, please let the PMC know when you register.

Earth Team volunteers expand NRCS services with volunteer time, talent, and energy. If you are interested in participating in the count but aren’t already an Earth Team volunteer, it is easy to become one. Earth Team application forms will be available the day of the butterfly count, or you can call (888) 526-3227. Anyone 14 years or older who is interested in conserving our natural resources is welcome to become a volunteer. (Minors aged 14 to 18 years need a parent’s signed consent form.)

Butterfly on red clover.
Butterfly on red clover.