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From Sisters’ Generosity Grows a Garden to Benefit Carthage, Texas Community

Jane Ray was ironing clothes and watching the news when a story inspired her to action. The news story showed First Lady Michelle Obama speaking to employees at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C., telling them about the agency’s People’s Garden initiative. Ray, who grew up in Carthage, Texas, realized she had just heard how she and her sister, Jill Burkindine of Manhattan, Kan., could honor their parents and benefit their hometown community. After the newscast, Ray contacted the USDA in Washington, D.C., to learn how she could establish a People’s Garden. This call led her to Matt Feno, a district conservationist for the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service in Carthage. From Ray’s inspiring moment, has grown a unique People’s Garden national initiative site. It is the only privately owned initiative garden in the world. The sisters own the land where the more than one acre garden is located at the USDA Service Center in Carthage.

Fresh garden produce will benefit Mission Carthage, an organization that works to help families in need. The mission feeds 300 families of four each month from four surrounding counties. Children are a large percentage of individuals receiving food. The garden also will provide an area for the community to learn about gardening, water and soil quality, along with sustainable practices such as capturing rainwater.

Volunteers and NRCS employees have put in months of hard work to make the dream a reality. What began as barren land now has a decorative wooden fence around its borders. Volunteers have planted vegetable seeds and plants in the expansive area. Ornamentals have been planted and bird and butterfly houses dot the fence. Bee hives and water harvesting practices are also part of the garden’s future plans. A groundbreaking ceremony was held recently. Upwards of 100 people braved inclement weather to be a part of the dream.

“It is an example of what the Secretary envisioned,” said Livia Marqués, director of the USDA People’s Garden Initiative, adding that the garden exemplifies the mission of the national initiative, such as incorporating sustainable agriculture practices, while benefiting a community as a whole. She traveled from Washington, D.C., to speak at the event.

Numerous agencies and partners attended the ceremony and continue to volunteer and support the garden effort, such as the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, Farm Service Agency and Resource Conservation and Development, Texas AgriLife Extension, Soil and Water Conservation District, the City of Carthage, Master Gardeners, Watson Organics and the Carthage Chamber of Commerce.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has recognized the sisters’ efforts. He highlighted their efforts during a video message on the People’s Garden initiative. He said “this story demonstrates the power that gardens have to make a difference in local communities.” The USDA also invited Ray and Feno to speak at its first People’s Garden Summit.

Washington, D.C. is a long way from Carthage, but People’s Gardens share common goals, such as feeding the hungry. From this commitment has grown the sisters’ mission statement for Carthage’s Hometown Garden – “Feeding Our Neighbors One Family at a Time.”

Don Gohmert, state conservationist for NRCS in Texas, who traveled from Temple to speak at the groundbreaking ceremony, commented on the garden’s uniqueness: “This is so much more than just a piece of ground with plants on it.”


Submitted by Beverly Moseley, NRCS Public Affairs Specialist, Texas


Along with community members, individuals from numerous agencies and partners instrumental in bringing the garden to fruition attended the groundbreaking ceremony. Some of these included the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, Farm Service Agency and Resource Conservation and Development, Texas AgriLife Extension, Soil and Water Conservation District, the City of Carthage, Master Gardeners, Watson Organics and the Carthage Chamber of Commerce. Representatives from U.S. Representative Louie Gohmert’s office and the Texas Department of Agriculture also attended.

Jill Burkindine of Manhattan, Kan., and Jane Ray of Carthage, Texas, sisters, own the land where the more than one acre Hometown Garden is located at the USDA Service Center in Carthage. This is a unique garden. It’s a U.S. Department of Agriculture People’s Garden national initiative site. It also is the only privately owned initiative garden in the world.

Jill Burkindine of Manhattan, Kan., and Jane Ray of Carthage, Texas, sisters, own the land where the more than one acre Hometown Garden is located at the USDA Service Center in Carthage. This is a unique garden. It’s a U.S. Department of Agriculture People’s Garden national initiative site. It also is the only privately owned initiative garden in the world.

Matt Feno, left, NRCS district conservationist in Carthage, Texas, Livia Marqués, director of the USDA People’s Garden Initiative and Don Gohmert, NRCS state conservationist for Texas, took advantage of a break in the rain showers.

Matt Feno, left, NRCS district conservationist in Carthage, Texas, Livia Marqués, director of the USDA People’s Garden Initiative and Don Gohmert, NRCS state conservationist for Texas, took advantage of a break in the rain showers.

Along with community members, individuals from numerous agencies and partners instrumental in bringing the garden to fruition attended the groundbreaking ceremony. Some of these included the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, Farm Service Agency and Resource Conservation and Development, Texas AgriLife Extension, Soil and Water Conservation District, the City of Carthage, Master Gardeners, Watson Organics and the Carthage Chamber of Commerce. Representatives from U.S. Representative Louie Gohmert’s office and the Texas Department of Agriculture also attended.

Along with community members, individuals from numerous agencies and partners instrumental in bringing the garden to fruition attended the groundbreaking ceremony. Some of these included the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, Farm Service Agency and Resource Conservation and Development, Texas AgriLife Extension, Soil and Water Conservation District, the City of Carthage, Master Gardeners, Watson Organics and the Carthage Chamber of Commerce. Representatives from U.S. Representative Louie Gohmert’s office and the Texas Department of Agriculture also attended.

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USDA/DOJ Workshop on Competition Issues – Important Step in the Right Direction

Today over 600 people packed the FFA Enrichment Center in Ankeny, Iowa to participate in the first ever USDA/DOJ workshop on competition issues in agriculture.

With FFA purple jackets helping direct the attendees (and selling boxed lunches), the hall was full nearly an hour before U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack and U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder began speaking to lead off the day.

The diverse audience included farmers and ranchers, union members, academics, representatives of both small and large businesses, lawmakers and federal officials, all eager to begin the series of 5 workshops that will be held over the next several months.

Many in the crowd expressed the opinion that this type of collaboration between USDA and DOJ was long overdue, and their appreciation that the Obama Administration was clearly taking their concerns about the market for agricultural products so seriously.

Once the program began, it became clear that AG Holder and Secretary Vilsack were not prejudging the results of these workshops, but were here to listen and engage in a discussion that would inform the efforts of both Departments over the coming months and years.

To underscore this point, Vilsack announced at the start of the second panel that public comments would be taken over the lunch hour to ensure that everyone had a chance to offer their comments.  It is clear that the issues are complex, but there was agreement that having today’s discussion was a critically important step in the right direction.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, and U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack at the USDA/DOJ Workshop on competition issues.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, and U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack at the USDA/DOJ Workshop on competition issues.

Caleb Weaver, Press Secretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture

A Tour of How Forest Service Job Corps Program Changes Lives

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to see first hand how the Forest Service Job Corps Program changes lives.  The motto of the Centennial Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center (JCCCC) is “Creating brighter futures one individual at a time” and this motto is applicable to all 28 JCCCCs. My day at Centennial began with a tour of the center to observe many of the vocational trades that are being taught at our centers.

This was followed by a groundbreaking for a  ”People’s Garden,” part of an international effort where our employees create sustainable gardens at every USDA facility. The food produced in this garden will provide both Job Corps students and the local community with fresh, nutritious produce.

A “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” luncheon featuring food from local agriculture producers, including lamb, trout, and beef, was next on the agenda.  Honoring Secretary Vilsack’s vision, Centennial Culinary Arts students created a fabulous luncheon composed of food produced in Idaho.  In preparation for the luncheon, our students visited local producers so that they appreciate the nation’s vital agricultural resources, strengthening connections with the local agricultural community. The food was absolutely delicious and I sampled a unique dessert of Ice Cream Potatoes!

Next was a program in which I unveiled Job Corps’ new green curriculum and new interagency partnership between  Forest Service JCCCCs and other USDA agencies.  The new curriculum emphasizes the integration of green skills into traditional and new trades.

Our JCCCCs are perfectly positioned to lead the country in developing an effective green jobs program and USDA now is taking steps to position our JCCCCs as a foundation of America’s Green Job Corps!  The new interagency partnership will expand job training, internship and career opportunities for Job Corps students.

Centennial, thank you for your warm welcome Kudos to the Forest Service Job Corps Program.   It was an honor!

By Harris Sherman, Under Secretary for Natural Resources and the Environment

--People's Garden Groundbreaking L to R: Carl Powell, Business Community Liaison, Centennial JCCCC, Harv Forsgren, Regional Forester, Intermountain Region, Larry Dawson, Director, Forest Service Job Corps Michael Rolfe, President, Student Government Association, Centennial JCCCC, Meryl L.R. Harrel. Special Assistant to the Under Secretary, Natural Resources and Environment, USDA, Harris Sherman, Under Secretary, Natural Resources and Environment, USDA, Safiya Samman, Director, Conservation Education, USDA Forest Service
People’s Garden Groundbreaking L to R: Carl Powell, Business Community Liaison, Centennial JCCCC, Harv Forsgren, Regional Forester, Intermountain Region, Larry Dawson, Director, Forest Service Job Corps , Michael Rolfe, President, Student Government Association, Centennial JCCCC, Meryl L.R. Harrell. Special Assistant to the Under Secretary, Natural Resources and Environment, USDA, Harris Sherman, Under Secretary, Natural Resources and Environment, USDA, Safiya Samman, Director, Conservation Education, USDA Forest Service

Sign features the design and theme of the event--Forest Service Job Corps and USDA: Training America's Youth for the New Green Economy
Sign features the design and theme of the event–Forest Service Job Corps and USDA: Training America’s Youth for the New Green Economy

Attention Techies! Apps for Healthy Kids Launched Yesterday!

Yesterday was a very exciting day here at USDA as we joined First Lady Michelle Obama in announcing our Apps for Healthy Kids competition! Apps for Healthy Kids is part of the First Lady’s Let’s Move! initiative to end childhood obesity. Read more »

The 2010 Census: We Can’t Move Forward Until You Mail it Back

By taking just 10 minutes to answer just 10 questions, farmers and rural residents can help ensure a bright future for their local communities. The 2010 Census is now on its way to every household in the United States – and the results will have a major impact on rural America.

The U.S. Constitution requires a national census once every 10 years to count the population and determine the number of seats each state will have in the U.S. House of Representatives. In addition, the federal government uses census data to allocate more than $400 billion each year to state, local and tribal governments.

These funds support many of structures and services critical to the health and sustainability of rural areas, including hospitals, schools, senior centers, job training facilities, roads, bridges and telecommunications infrastructure.

I can think of few segments of the population that have more at stake in this census than rural America. In this economic climate, many rural communities are already struggling. And in recent years, many of them have suffered significant population losses. This makes it especially important that each and every rural resident be counted so their communities receive a fair share of representation and funding from the federal government.

Unlike the Census of Agriculture, which USDA conducts every five years to obtain in-depth information about the nation’s farms and ranches, the population census provides a quick snapshot of the entire nation. Both censuses are vital tools in ensuring the sustainability and prosperity of our rural communities.

So I urge you to please invest in your community’s future by taking 10 minutes to complete your 2010 Census form.

Cynthia Clark, Administrator, USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service

NASS is an agency of USDA’s Research, Education, and Extension Mission Area

Census workers have been busy visiting residents to increase awareness about the 2010 Census, verify addresses and answer questions. Credit: U.S. Census Bureau, Public Information Office
Census workers have been busy visiting residents to increase awareness about the 2010 Census, verify addresses and answer questions. Credit: U.S. Census Bureau, Public Information Office

Homes across the United States will receive a census packet this month. The package will include a census form and a privacy letter describing the confidentiality of the census data and how your privacy is protected. Credit: U.S. Census Bureau, Public Information Office
Homes across the United States will receive a census packet this month. The package will include a census form and a privacy letter describing the confidentiality of the census data and how your privacy is protected. Credit: U.S. Census Bureau, Public Information Office

An enumerator visits a farmer for the 1940 Census. One of the fifty questions Americans were asked in 1940 was, “Does the person’s household live on a farm?” Credit: Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-91199
An enumerator visits a farmer for the 1940 Census. One of the fifty questions Americans were asked in 1940 was, “Does the person’s household live on a farm?” Credit: Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-91199

Overflow Crowd for Job and Economic Growth Forum in Montgomery, Alabama

Stormy, cold, unpleasant weather did not hinder more than 125 people from attending the Job and Economic Growth Forum in Montgomery, Alabama last month hosted by USDA Rural Development and the USDA Farm Service Agency, as a follow-up to the Forum on Jobs and Economic Growth that President Obama hosted at the White House on in December of last year. Read more »