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Like many of you, I spend a lot of time on my Blackberry and computer both at work and home. I use this access for business, for play, and a host of other applications that I can’t imagine living without. Read more »


 The USDA National Farmers Market Directory, affectionately called the “farmers market census” has extended its deadline for receiving information about the country’s farmers markets through June 4.  In 2009, the USDA counted over 5,200 operational farmers markets in the country. Thanks to the diligence of dedicated market managers, state Departments of Agriculture, state farmers market associations and others, the USDA has already heard from several hundred new markets, indicating that the farmers market industry is continuing to thrive in 2010.

Farmers market managers, state Departments of Agriculture, state farmers market associations, and other farmers market operators can continue to list their markets at the 2010 USDA Farmers Market Directory Website.

“[The USDA National Farmers Market Directory]” is a snapshot of what is happening in farmers markets, and demonstrates how the industry is growing and expanding,” wrote Rayne Pegg, the Administrator of the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) (the USDA agency that maintains the Directory) in a recent open letter to market managers.  “[The Directory] illustrates where the markets are, how big they are, how often they operate and other valuable information for policy makers, researchers, advocates, government officials, media and consumers.”

The official results of the USDA 2010 National Farmers Market Directory will be released later this summer and include data about farmers markets that have registered with the Directory up until June 4. In addition to knowing where and when farmers markets are operating, the National Farmers Market Directory also lists what federal nutrition assistance nutrition programs (like SNAP, WIC, SFMNP) are accepted at which farmers markets.  This is a critical way to map how farmers markets are making fresh, healthy, local food more accessible to more Americans.

The bell has rung and farmers market season has now begun! (from L to R): Chef Jose Andres, Vice President of Operations Partner with Stir Food Group Ralph Rosenberg, Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, Farmfresh Director Ann Yonkers, and Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Administrator Rayne Pegg open the Fresh Farm Market on Vermont Avenue near the White House. The bell has rung and farmers market season has now begun! (from L to R): Chef Jose Andres, Vice President of Operations Partner with Stir Food Group Ralph Rosenberg, Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, Farmfresh Director Ann Yonkers, and Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Administrator Rayne Pegg open the Fresh Farm Market on Vermont Avenue near the White House.

Apple Capital of Wisconsin, Gays Mills, Begins Move With USDA Support

By Kelly Edwards, USDA Rural Development, Wisconsin

The Village of Gays Mills lies in a valley among the steeply chiseled bluffs of the region known as the Driftless Area of Southwest Wisconsin, along the banks of the Kickapoo River. The people are known for growing apples and holding the Annual Apple Festival.

The small village of 625, nearly flooded off the map twice in the past few years.

Normally the river runs its course but in 1978 the Kickapoo flooded, reaching record levels of almost 20 feet. All was quiet until August, 2007. Extensive rain in the areas upstream from Gays Mills caused flash flooding and overnight the town filled with water. Homes and businesses filled with water and many people lost everything. The river crested just below the record level of 1978, and 75 homes were damaged.

Then in June 2008 Gays Mills was dealt another blow. This time, the river broke its previous record and crested at 20.1 feet, seven feet above the flood stage level. During both the 2007 and 2008 floods, the water on Main Street submerged cars.

In October 2008, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) asked residents and businesses to relocate to a new site. About 150 of the village’s 230 houses lie in the flood plain.

The planned layout of the new development outside the flood area calls for village offices and a library, along with space for a farmer’s market. Local businesses that move are expected to retain 41 jobs, and new businesses are expected to create 18 jobs within the first year. The relocation project also includes the construction of 10 townhouses and 34 single family homes for the residents.

USDA is a partner in the effort to help local residents.  In 2009 Rural Development awarded nearly $100,000 in a Rural Business Enterprise Grant to help businesses move. In addition, USDA Rural Development awarded the Redevelopment Authority a $1,081,500 Community Facilities Loan for the relocation/construction of a new Village Community Center in the Central Business District. The community center will house the village offices, library, a meeting room, office for the Commercial District Manager and facilities for a farmer’s market.

USDA also awarded two Community Facilities Disaster Assistance Grants to the town. A $67,100 grant will be used to buy a previously owned pumper truck for the Fire Department, replacing a truck that is almost 40 years old. The second grant of $35,200, will help to purchase a new one-ton pick-up truck with plow to assist with snow removal, and a new trailer mounted 4-inch pump for use at the wastewater treatment plant and to help with water removal from properties during high water events.

Other Federal and State agencies have also pitched in. In March of 2010, a grant of $4.31 million was awarded by the Economic Development Administration to prepare a strategy for relocating the Village’s commercial district outside of the floodplain. Also in March, the Village received a $640,000 grant through the Community Development Block Grant-Emergency Assistance Program (CDBG-EAP) from the Wisconsin Department of Commerce (Commerce) to help with relocation costs.

More construction is expected in Gays Mills over the summer.

The downtown of Gays Mills was flooded when the local river jumped its banks.The downtown of Gays Mills was flooded when the local river jumped its banks.

Flooding of Gays Mills shown from the air. Flooding of Gays Mills shown from the air.

Gays Mills, the Apple Capital of Wisconsin.Gays Mills, the Apple Capital of Wisconsin

Birds Sing the NRCS Song at Gully Branch Tree Farm, Georgia

By Suzanne Pender, NRCS

On a tour of Gully Branch Tree Farm, in Bleckley, Georgia, NRCS leaders and partners witnessed first-hand the benefits of the new Forestry Incentives Initiative of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Through conservation activities including woodland management, prescribed burning, cultivation of native plants, and pond management, Earl and Wanda Barr have created habitat for diverse wildlife species on their land.

The Barrs have been extensively recognized for their work and won the 2010 Georgia Governor’s Agriculture Stewardship Award. As foresters and committed conservationists, the Barrs have provided educational programs at their farm for over 7,000 students throughout the years, using the forest as a classroom.

NRCS Regional Assistant Chief Leonard Jordan, NRCS State Conservationist James E. Tillman, Sr. and partners from the local Soil and Water Conservation District, the Georgia Forestry Commission, the Wild Turkey Federation, and others toured the farm and saw conservation in action. Red cockaded woodpeckers followed our wagon in the early morning mist, as we viewed native plants as groundcover, a future silvopasture site, nesting habitat and wetland area.

At one moment in the middle of the forest, we all closed our eyes to fully appreciate the symphony of diverse bird songs. Their song of conservation was brought to life in one of the largest forestry states in the country. Forests are home to 900 species of wildlife and 3,600 species of plants filter water and air and provide thousands of products.

Foresters and Conservationists Earl and Wanda Barr take NRCS and conservation partners on a tour of Gully Branch Tree Farm, Georgia. Foresters and Conservationists Earl and Wanda Barr take NRCS and conservation partners on a tour of Gully Branch Tree Farm, Georgia.

Secretary Vilsack Meets Farmers, Tours Biofuel Facility and Discusses Recovery Act Business Support During Pennsylvania Visit

Friday, a beautiful spring day in Pennsylvania, it was my pleasure to welcome Secretary Vilsack and his wife Christy to Pennsylvania for a tour and rural discussion. We started the day at Middletown Biofuels for a facility tour along with Congressman Tim Holden and other local and state officials. Middletown Biofuels recently received over $17,000 from USDA for producing biodiesel fuel from soybean oil. The facility is located in the heart of Pennsylvania’s agricultural industry, providing ready access to soybean and other vegetable oil feedstocks.  We then traveled to the state capitol in Harrisburg where the Secretary announced that in Pennsylvania, the Recovery Act has guaranteed $35.6 million in business loans that are expected to save or create more than 450 jobs. In total, USDA has provided loan guarantees to 350 U.S. businesses in the last seven months that will create or save nearly 23,500 jobs. Read more »

U.S. House of Representatives Approves Resolution Honoring USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service

By Suzanne Pender, NRCS

The U.S. House of Representatives approved a resolution recognizing the 75th anniversary of the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS).

The Senate Concurrent Resolution (S. Con. Res. 62) congratulates the outstanding professional public servants, both past and present, of the NRCS as it celebrates its 75th anniversary this year. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson of Minnesota and Ranking Member Frank Lucas of Oklahoma introduced the House version of this resolution, which is co-sponsored by 17 other Members of Congress.

In 1935, Congress established NRCS in response to the Dust Bowl, a disaster that devastated vast stretches of the nation. Originally known as the Soil Conservation Service, the agency’s name changed to the Natural Resources Conservation Service in 1994 to more accurately reflect its role in protecting all natural resources – soil, air, water, plants and animals.

NRCS provides technical and financial assistance to landowners at a local level, recognizing the diverse needs across the country and the unique concerns in each local area. There is a NRCS field office in almost every county in the United States, and the staff in those offices helps local communities carry out thousands of conservation projects, translating into opportunities for job creation and increased investment in local communities.

“The United States depends as much today on productive soils and an abundant, high-quality water supply as we did 75 years ago, and given the agricultural and environmental challenges we face, these programs are more important than ever” Chairman Peterson said. “With this resolution we salute the NRCS professionals, both past and present, who have worked alongside America’s local farmers and ranchers for 75 years to help preserve our essential natural resources.”

“Farmers were conserving long before it became a celebrated trend to ‘go green.’  They have always had a vested interest in preserving the land that provides for them,” said Ranking Member Lucas. “Partnering with NRCS, our producers are provided the science and technical assistance to implement the most advanced conservation practices in the world.”

The House passed the resolution honoring the 75th anniversary of NRCS by a voice vote.