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Opening Doors for Greater Transparency and Engagement at USDA

Today is an exciting day at USDA – and across the government – as we release our Open Gov Plan that formalizes plans to integrate openness, transparency, participation and collaboration into our every day activities.

The path has been an exciting one, and USDA has met the Open Government Directive deliverables with help from employees and the public. Central to our efforts are core values of accountability and accessibility; bridging the gap between the American People and government.

USDA Open gov promo graphic - usda.gov/open, read the plan.On January 29 we launched the USDA’s Open Gov Website, the start of a dynamic conversation with the public to help shape the Open Gov Plan. Nearly 900 individuals contributed to the USDA Open Community with 108 ideas, 512 votes, and 196 comments. Last week we released the draft plan to show our progress and solicit additional feedback before issuing the formal plan. Many ideas and comments were incorporated to our plan.

We hope that the impressive level of civic engagement continues; as the plan evolves and grows we will provide regular feedback and updates on progress.  We are working to transform the culture and processes throughout the Department to fully embrace open government and apply its principles every day that are rooted in every agency, at every level.

This is only the beginning as we move forward to translate the principles of open government into lasting and tangible improvements in the way we make decisions, solve problems and address challenges together.

Amanda Eamich, Director of New Media U.S. Department of Agriculture

Laurel County, Kentucky Woman Proves it is Never Too Late to Own your First Home

When Lela Bunch talks about the prospect of building a new home so she and her children can have a place of their own and more living space, you can hear the excitement in her voice.

Between deciding what trees to plant and selecting new furnishings and appliances, it is clear how much the prospect of owning a home means to her.

And it should, it’s been a long time coming.

Lela Bunch is no ordinary woman – she is building her first home at the age of 94. 94 year old Kentucky first time homeowner Lela BunchCurrently, she and her daughter, Lee Meadors, rent a trailer in a neatly manicured mobile home park in Laurel County, Ky. Although they like where they live, Bunch says it just isn’t the same as living in a home of your own with a yard and some measure of privacy.

She has always been a renter and finally decided the time was right to build a home of her own close to her family’s homestead – very near the house where she was born and raised, which remains standing today. Being close to her parents’ burial site in a cemetery near the building site was one reason she opted for new construction rather than the purchase an existing home. “This was very important to me. I had a tough time finding a place where I wanted to live, so I thought it was best to build a house,” said Bunch. “I’ve already picked out the dogwood trees.”

She will celebrate her 95th birthday very near the time construction is finished on the new family home. Clearing of the construction site will start the week of April 5, 2010, and the house should be finished in three to four months.

When asked what she planned to do to celebrate once the house is finished, Bunch didn’t hesitate: “I told the contractor I’m going to have a dancing party!”

Bunch said it was a neighbor that told her about a housing program through Daniel Boone Community Action Agency (DBCAA), which partners with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development to provide direct housing loans to limited-income residents of rural communities.

She began the process two years ago, and now that her lifelong dream is about to come true, she could not be happier.

She said although the process has taken some time, it was very easy and worth all the effort.

“I’m just waiting for the house to be ready and I can’t wait to move in,” said Bunch.

Her daughter agreed, “She talks about it every day – she is so happy.”

Written by Katherine Belcher,  Public Information Coordinator, USDA Rural Development, Kentucky

Rescue Vehicle Purchased With Recovery Act Funds Through USDA Rural Development Helps Rescue an Oklahoma Logger

A few weeks ago, USDA Rural Development helped the Antlers, Oklahoma EMS purchase a brand new six-wheeled ATV with funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. This was an important investment considering that the EMS team did not own one already. This new machine was purchased to help EMS workers reach patients in harder-to-reach places and the forests and mountains. 

  Only a day after the ATV was purchased, it was called out to duty and helped rescue a man from a logging accident. It was used to transport him from the accident site to an ambulance. The patient suffered from a broken leg. Luckily, the team had the ATV because it would have been difficult to get an ambulance to this logging site. 

 Hopefully, this new ATV can be used to save lives all around the area, but as excited as the EMS team is to own this new equipment, let us pray that they do not have to use it frequently. 

  

Submitted by Student Reporter Derek Lehman, (Antlers, Oklahoma 4-H club) 

Antlers EMS personnel use an ATV funded through the Recovery Act to rescue a logger.  

Antlers EMS personnel use an ATV funded through the Recovery Act to rescue a logger. 

  

 Student Reporter Derek Lehman

Student Reporter Derek Lehman 

  

  

  

  

  

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What Is Your Community or Place of Faith Doing to Help Keep Kids Healthy This Summer?

During the school year, the National School Lunch Program serves more than 30.9 million students. What happens when school lets out? In the summer, about 1.4 million of these children eat a school meal in summer school, while over 2 million more enjoy breakfasts, lunches or snacks through the Summer Food Service Program. Some of the nation’s children are going without healthy meals in the summer. Hunger is one of the most severe roadblocks to the learning process. Lack of nutrition during the summer months may set up a cycle for poor performance once school begins again. Hunger also may make children more prone to illness and other health issues. The Summer Food Service Program is designed to fill that nutrition gap and make sure children can get the nutritious meals they need. Passionate community and faith leaders ensure there are meal sites in parks, schools, camps, places of faith and other locations nationwide that provide educational and nutritional meals to children to foster healthier lifestyles. However, the need is great and we need your help!

Here’s How You Can Help:

Open a Feeding Site

Your community building or place of faith could become a feeding site for children!  Sites are the physical locations were food is served. Each site location must work with a Summer Food Service Program sponsor that is financially and administratively responsible for the meal service at the site. You can also help by coordinating site participation with other youth activity programs in your area. The primary reason for the limited access to the program is that there are not enough feeding sites. So become part of the solution and open your community space to children seeking education opportunities and a healthy meal. To learn more contact your state agency: http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/Contacts/StateDirectory.htm

Become a Sponsor

Your community organization can be a sponsor, which means acting as the organizer for the Summer Food Service Program sites. Public or private non-profit schools, local, municipal, county, tribal or state government, private non-profits, public or private non-profit camps, and private or non-profit universities or colleges are examples of local organizations that often serve as Summer Food Service Program sponsors. Sponsors must be able to provide a capable staff, managerial skills, and food service capabilities. A sponsor may provide its own meals, purchase meals through an agreement with an area school, or contract for meals with a food vendor. To learn how to become a Sponsor visit: http://www.summerfood.usda.gov/Sponsor.htm

Volunteer

While feeding children is the top priority of the Summer Food Service Program, programming is what keeps children coming back. This takes volunteers – and LOTS of them – especially in June, July and August. Volunteers can help with basics like transporting food, setting up or cleaning up a site—they also plan and do educational or recreational activities with the children. Contact your State agency to find a SFSP Sponsor or feeding site to volunteer with in your area. http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/Contacts/StateDirectory.htm

Tell Others About the Summer Food Service Program

Tell others how the Summer Food Service Program helps feed hungry children and discuss how they or their organization can help. The more people know about the issues, the more likely they are to take action to help end hunger or know how to help their own http://www.summerfood.usda.gov/webinar.htmchildren. There are great outreach materials here: http://www.summerfood.usda.gov/Outreach.htm

To Learn More About How You Can Help Feed Kids Healthy Food This Summer visit: http://www.summerfood.usda.gov

To watch a previously recorded webinar about the Summer Food Service Program, visit: http://www.summerfood.usda.gov/webinar.htm

Amber Herman, U.S. Department of Agriculture

New Wisconsin Solar Energy Project Cuts Power Bill For A Farm Family

Written by Kelly Edwards, USDA Public Information Officer

Wisconsin Rural Development State Director, Stan Gruszynski, was joined by Marlene Mielke from U.S. Senator Kohl’s Office, Suzanne Brault-Pagel from U.S. Senator Russell Feingold’s Office and Adam Warpinski from Congressman Dr. Steve Kagen’s Office, various partners and many members of the community to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day and to celebrate the completion of the new solar energy project on Kuehn Acres, a small dairy farm in Egg Harbor.

The day included a formal program where the state director presented Gerald Kuehn, with an Earth Day Award recognizing his initiative and accomplishments successfully acquiring and utilizing alternative energy for his farming operations. Additionally, third graders from the Gibraltar School District participated in an Earth Day Logo Design Contest, had an opportunity to tour the farm and learn about alternative energy and its positive impact on the environment.

“The best leadership is by example. That is the concept that fueled the initiative that started Earth Day 40 years ago, that is why we have singled out the Kuehn Family Farm today,” said Gruszynski.

In 2009, Kuehn Dairy Farm received a grant from USDA Rural Development to help purchase a solar system for their small grain and dairy farm in Door County. Estimated annual energy production is 8,239 kilowatts. Excess energy produced will be sent back to the grid, helping to lower energy costs for area residents. Partners on the project include Lake Michigan Wind and Sun, Wisconsin Focus on Energy, and Wisconsin Public Service Corp.

The Kuehn’s received funds through USDA Rural Development’s Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) which provides loan guarantees and grants for renewable energy systems, energy efficiency improvements, feasibility studies and energy audits.

“If we want a cleaner environment, if we want a sustainable future economically, if we want our young people to be wise in their use of our natural resources, then we must teach by example.  It is the willingness of the Kuehn’s to take action toward a brighter future that we are recognizing and celebrating today,” Gruszynski concluded.

Kuehn Acres Dairy Farm in Egg Harbor, Wisconsin, and new solar panels
Kuehn Acres Dairy Farm in Egg Harbor, Wisconsin, and new solar panels

Third Graders from Gibraltar, Wisconsin Area Schools meet the Dairy Cows
Third Graders from Gibraltar, Wisconsin Area Schools meet the Dairy Cows

Third Graders from Gibraltar Area Schools in front of the new farm solar panels
Third Graders from Gibraltar Area Schools in front of the new farm solar panels

Forest Service Hosts Two-Day National Science Forum to Discuss Planning Rule

The Forest Service is collaboratively developing a new planning rule for the National Forest System that will be rooted in science. The collaborative dialog really opened up March 29-30 in Washington DC at the National Science Forum. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack visited the Forum in demonstration of his support of a new planning rule that embraces participation and is science-based.

 The Science Forum was just the first of many opportunities for the public to participate in the development of a new planning rule. In fact, on April 1st and 2nd a National Roundtable discussion is taking place. To view the schedule and watch live selections of National Roundtables.  We are also inviting people to join the Virtual Roundtable at our planning rule blog.

 The Forum was designed to provide scientific information to serve as the foundation for future collaborative meetings and aid in integrating science into the development of the next planning rule.  During the Forum, scientists shared in discussion on the latest science on topics such as restoration, climate change, watershed health, diversity, and the national forest’s contribution to vibrant local economies. The entire forum was made available on a streaming live web cast and online participants were able to participate and ask questions of the scientists via the planning ruleblog. We heard diverse viewpoints and we’re excited to keep the conversation going.

 An interim summary of some of the major themes discussed at the Forum is available now on online. This product shares some highlights of the science and viewpoints offered by Science Forum presenters, attendees and online participants. A more complete summary of the Science Forum will be available in coming weeks. Panelist’s presentations are also available on the planning rule Web site, and it is our intent to post video segments from the Science Forum on the planning rule web site in the coming weeks.

 Our collaborative process to develop the planning rule is in the early stages. We are continually adding new and broader opportunities to get involved. If you’ve got ideas, let us know what they are by commenting on our blog. Check our Web site for the latest, or follow the Forest Service on Twitter.

 The current schedule of future National and Regional Roundtables can be found here.

 Secretary Vilsack addresses attendees of the Science Forum expressing support for a new planning rule.  Secretary Vilsack addresses attendees of the Science Forum expressing support for a new planning rule. 

Panelists, from left to right: Dr. Kevin McKelvey, Marilyn Stoll, Dr. Gary Morishima, Dr. Bill Zielinski