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Recruiting the Next Generation of Food Safety Workers

Food Safety and Inspection Service Administrator Al Almanza today spoke about career opportunities at Texas A&M Kingsville to the Hispanic Leaders in Agriculture and the Environment. HLAE is a USDA-supported organization that draws membership from several colleges and universities.

The organization works to increase the number of Hispanics in agricultural pursuits in government, academia and private industry. While there, Almanza also observed and evaluated the agricultural research presentations prepared by HLAE members, who are mostly graduate-level students.

“Despite the tough economy, there are jobs at USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, especially for those with scientific and technical training”, Almanza told the students.  (Click here for information about job openings at FSIS.)

Positions at FSIS follow the inspection, technical, professional, management, scientific and administrative career tracks. Everyone from veterinarians and chemists, to public affairs specialists and policy writers are needed.”

As a science-based agency, there’s a real need for microbiologists, epidemiologists, statisticians, nutritionists, medical officers and risk assessors.

But it’s not all test tubes and lab coats. The FSIS story is told through the Office of Public Affairs and Consumer Education, where computer, communications, journalism and writing skills are in demand.

FSIS also works with Hispanic youth organizations to offer internships and other training opportunities in agriculture.

While the Texas trip allowed the administrator to meet HLAE members, Almanza pointed out that careers are equally open to everyone. More than ever before, FSIS needs skilled and talented employees dedicated to protecting the nation’s meat, poultry and egg products.

“As our population grows and now that food safety is a top priority of this administration, working to keep pathogens out of America’s food supply can be a real top job. Agriculture and food safety offer meaningful and satisfying careers,” said Almanza, who has more than 30 years experience at the Department of Agriculture.

By Paul Koscak, FSIS Office of Congressional and Public Affairs

Community Grows in the People’s Garden

Written by:  John A. Goolsby, Ph.D., Research Entomologist, Biological Control of Pests and Weeds  United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service

The McAllen Community Garden was formed by a small group of USDA employees to bring community gardening to the people of McAllen, Texas. McAllen is located on the border with Mexico near the southern tip of Texas. This area along the Rio Grande is prime farmland. The year round frost free climate and deep sandy-loam soil makes it one of the best in the nation for gardening and commercial production of winter vegetables, citrus, avocadoes and other crops.

The water from the Rio Grande irrigates many acres of winter vegetables, citrus, sugarcane, sorghum and cotton. The McAllen Community Garden is a subtropical vegetable and fruit garden. 22 gardeners plant more than 54 types of winter vegetables here. We’re unique because it is flood irrigated like a commercial farm. This ample supply of irrigation from the river allows us to grow lots of vegetables.

We use organic methods including lots of manure and compost at the start of each season.  During the hot summer we don’t garden. We plant a cover crop of lab-lab, a tropical forage legume like a pea or bean. The lab-lab is shredded in September and disked into the soil as a green manure making it more fertile.  John Goolsby, the President and founder of the MCG saw this method during his USDA travels to southern India.

The City of McAllen, especially our City Commissioner, John Ingram is very supportive of the garden. Some of the gardeners work for USDA. John Goolsby, Alex Racelis and John Adamczyk work for ARS, the Agricultural Research Service.  ARS is the in-house research agency for USDA. Don Vacek, Vice President, works for USDA-APHIS, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.  APHIS is the regulatory branch of USDA .

Each garden has their own plot that they are responsible for planting, cultivating and harvesting.  We share the pecans, mangoes, avocadoes, olives, grapes, and passion fruit grown at the MCG.  This year more than 54 different kinds of vegetables were harvested. This bounty was shared with the community.

McAllen Community Garden

McAllen Community Garden

Dr. Alan Kirk (USDA-ARS) and a McAllen fireman admire a large turnip that was harvested from the garden.
Dr. Alan Kirk (USDA-ARS) and a McAllen fireman admire a large turnip that was harvested from the garden.

 

McAllen Community Gardeners. This photo shows some of the gardeners aged 8 to 80+. The gardeners have just finished spreading manure and compost on the garden. McAllen Community Gardeners. This photo shows some of the gardeners aged 8 to 80+. The gardeners have just finished spreading manure and compost on the garden.

 

 

Vilsack Commemorates 50th Anniversary of the Iowa “Hog Lift” in Yamanashi

During the third day of his visit to Japan, Agriculture Secretary Vilsack had another packed day – starting with a successful bilateral meeting with his Japanese counterpart, and concluding with a series of events commemorating the 50th anniversary of a 1959 ‘hog lift’ in which Iowa farmers sent 36 hogs to Yamanashi, Japan. Read more »

Secretary Vilsack Highlights Partnership Between U.S. and Japan While in Tokyo

This week, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack left the beauty of a cherry blossom adorned nation’s capital to travel to the origin of the beautiful pink and white flowered trees—Japan (where one finds even larger crowds of tourists, amateur photographers, and general admirers of the cherry blossom trees than along Washington DC’s tidal basin this time of the year). Vilsack is in Japan to highlight the outstanding partnership that exists between the United States and Japan, and to promote U.S. agricultural exports, as part of President Obama’s efforts to expand U.S. exports under the National Export Initiative. Read more »

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