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New School Building in Dillon, South Carolina on the Drawing Board Thanks to a 15 year old Student’s Letter to President Obama

When 15 year Ty’Sheoma Bethea, formerly a student in Dillon, South Carolina, wrote to President Obama about the condition of her school, It set off a chain of events that led, last Friday, to a celebration in Dillon marking the unveiling of plans for a new J.V. Martin Junior High School.  A combination of loans and grants from USDA Rural Development will enable the district to replace the old school.

It was my privilege to accompany Vernita F. Dore, Rural Development State Director for South Carolina to the celebration. In her remarks she said, “This is a wonderful day in Dillon, South Carolina. This is a wonderful day all across America.” Looking directly at Ty’Sheoma Bethea, the student who wrote to President Obama concerning the conditions at her school, Dore said, “When you wrote your letter to the President, you were fired up. When the President read your letter, he was fired up, and Rural Development, Dillon County, Darryl Rosser, and people all across America were fired up about education in Dillon, South Carolina, and that’s why we are here today. We’re all fired up!” The crowd erupted in applause.

Dore went on to say, “The Recovery Act signed by President Obama more than a year ago made this funding possible and demonstrates the Obama Administration’s goal to create jobs and improve education for rural America. Because of the stimulus money, Rural Development was able to provide $39.5 million for Dillon County Schools.”
Among those on hand were Mr. Rosser, CEO of the Chicago-based classroom furniture supplier that provided the furniture to give the school a makeover last year, and Dillon County School Board Chairman Richard Schafer.

Former Dillon School student Ty'Sheoma Bethea, (L) who wrote a letter about the condition of her school to  President Obama, stands with Rural Development South Carolina State Director Vernita Dore next to a drawing of a new school building funded with Recovery Act loan and grant funds provided through USDA.

Former Dillon School student Ty'Sheoma Bethea, (L) who wrote a letter about the condition of her school to President Obama, stands with Rural Development South Carolina State Director Vernita Dore next to a drawing of a new school building funded with Recovery Act loan and grant funds provided through USDA.

Darryl Rosser, CEO of the Chicago furniture company that supplied new furniture for the J.V. Martin Junior High School, Dillon County school board chairman Richard Schafer and Ty'Sheoma Bethea unveil plans for the new school funded by USDA Rural Development.

Left to right: Darryl Rosser, CEO of the Chicago furniture company that supplied new furniture for the J.V. Martin Junior High School, Dillon County school board chairman Richard Schafer and Ty'Sheoma Bethea unveil plans for the new school funded by USDA Rural Development.

Written by Marlous H. Black

USDA Rural Development-South Carolina

A Century of American Eating in a USDA Database

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

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When the prominent food writer Marion Nestle accepted an invitation to speak at our agency to mark the centennial of USDA’s data on food availability in the United States, it didn’t surprise me that her remarks would focus on the problem of obesity. It’s evident throughout her widely read “Food Politics” blog that she, like First Lady Michelle Obama, is particularly concerned about childhood obesity.
A Century of Eating logo
Marion braved a fierce New York snowstorm to be with us at the Economic Research Service on February 26 as we celebrated 100 years of data on American eating, in a product we call the Food Availability Data System. In her keynote speech at the centennial, she indicated that our food availability data are key to explaining obesity trends, referring to the data system as “one of the government’s real jewels.” The food availability data, housed on the ERS web site, are used by nutritionists, food scientists, public health professionals, and policy makers, among others, as a popular proxy for consumption for several hundred foods.

What we term “food availability” is essentially the per capita amount of food available for human consumption. Each year my colleagues and I add together the production and imports of individual foods, and subtract exports and farm and industrial uses of the foods, to arrive at an approximation of what Americans consume on average. For many commodities, we now have data from 1909 to 2008. And data since 1970 are also adjusted for food losses that occur at the farm level, in processing and transportation, and at the retail/restaurant and consumer levels, providing an even closer approximation of what is actually consumed.  This latter data series also provides per capita calories per day for several hundred foods as well as daily per capita serving equivalents that can be combined for the different food groups and compared with Federal dietary recommendations.

The data system can tell researchers and other professionals that per capita cheese consumption, for example, has skyrocketed since the 1970s, and that carbonated soft drink consumption has seen a sharp rise since the 1940s, with a corresponding decline in milk consumption. Data users can compare diet with regular soft drink consumption. The system tracks per capita availability/consumption of vegetables over time, and users can look at numbers for the different varieties of vegetables. Users will find that just three vegetables – potatoes, tomatoes, and corn – continue to lead the pack. These are just a few examples of information that would likely be of interest to anyone concerned about obesity and diet quality.

We like to point out that this data product is the only source of long-term food availability in the country and continues to be a popular proxy for consumption.  Along with my colleague Hodan Farah Wells, I invite you to visit the Food Availability Data System on the web and explore a wealth of information on a century of American eating. A new audio-visual presentation on the site demonstrates some examples of what you can do with this unique data system.

Jean C. Buzby, Economist, USDA’s Economic Research Service

Urban Students Learn About Agricultural Policy as Part of ‘Know Your Farmer’ College Tour

“The ‘Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food’ program that Kathleen is spearheading is an effort to help rebuild urban food sheds and sustainable local and regional food systems and I have been in this city for nine years and you can see the change happening,” said former Senator and New School University President, Bob Kerrey as he introduced Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan.

Deputy Secretary Merrigan was at the New School for a presentation to local leaders and students interested in food and agricultural policy last Thursday evening. Despite a severe snowstorm, attendees filled the auditorium to capacity and spilled into the hallways to hear about what USDA is doing to strengthen the connection between farmers and consumers.  The presentation in New York City emphasized the importance of urban areas in the ‘Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food’ program and the future of agriculture policy with discussions on food deserts, Farm to School programs, and food distribution hubs in the Hudson River valley.

President Kerrey, who served on the Senate Agriculture committee during his time in the Senate, spoke about the progress he saw at USDA:

“There’s a lot at stake here, it’s not just about what Deputy Secretary Merrigan is proposing to do with Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food, it’s the nature of our government, the relationship with our government – it is dramatically changing. Much more oriented to food, much more oriented to the individual farmer and much more oriented to the individual consumer and much more oriented, as a consequence, to the changes that people want to see happen.”

Deputy Secretary Merrigan addressed those changes by highlighting the unprecedented coordination and collaboration at USDA to help promote locally and regionally produced food.  And the changes that President Kerrey spoke of are a part of the culture at USDA as we work to bring about “the changes that people want to see happen.”  For those of us at USDA, it is just part of being an ‘Every Day, in Every Way’ department.

School Breakfast Program in Bolivia Improves Children’s Health and Academic Performance

They say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and in Bolivia, this couldn’t be truer. In Bolivia, more than 162,000 children in 2,240 schools ate what was likely their only meal five days a week thanks to a Project Concern International (PCI) program funded by USDA’s McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition (McGovern-Dole) Program.

About three-fourths of Bolivia’s population survives on two dollars a day and 26 percent of the population is chronically malnourished. Development is hindered by a lack of education, especially among girls, poor agricultural practices and limited infrastructure.

To remedy this situation, USDA donated more than 17,000 tons of wheat, wheat-soy blend, vegetable oil, peas and bulgur valued at more than $4 million to PCI under a three-year McGovern-Dole Program agreement starting in fiscal year 2005. The commodities and cash provided by USDA were used by PCI to develop school feeding programs in 65 municipalities in the departments of Cochabamba, La Paz, Oruro and Potosi. Read more »

A Simulating Experience

I was at the ribbon cutting for a commercial driving simulator at Lake Land College in Mattoon, Ill., Thursday and had an incredible experience.

Have you ever driven behind someone and wished you were in a rubber car so you could “bump” them?  Well “driving” a truck driving simulator fulfills that wish, and scares the socks off you at the same time!  Being behind the wheel of a “18-wheeler” is a challenge.  And with wintery weather conditions and traffic patterns changing in the blink of an eye, you quickly realize the responsibility is frightening!  When you take off the seatbelt and leave the “cab,” you can feel the tenseness in your shoulders.  Thank goodness it all occurred in a simulated setting!  “On the job training,” without the simulator, would mean “on the road” training!  And that IS a scary thought!

But because of a USDA Rural Development Rural Business Enterprise Grant to Lake Land College, that terrifying prospect is eliminated!  The RBEG covered the entire cost of the commercial driver training simulator.  It’s designed to provide a realistic tractor trailer and commercial vehicle driving experience in preparation for students to receive their CDL (Commercial Driver’s License).  And the training and certification is completed in a safe, non-threatening environment over a four-week period.

Not only are the students well prepared, the simulator also enhances the development of a workforce for scores of businesses in the area and throughout the Midwest.  Area business have even “signed up their current drivers” for refresher courses!

As the regional leader in commercial driver training, Lake Land College has helped hundreds of men and women find employment in the trucking industry.  And that means:  job stability, bonus plans, health and life insurance, retirement plans, paid vacations and students being hired even before they graduate!

I’m a long way from getting my CDL, but I’m on the short list of new appreciation for those who do!

Colleen Callahan, State Director

State Director Colleen Callahan practices driving a semi in the snow in a commercial driving simulator.

Colleen Callahan and Scott Lensink

State Director Colleen Callahan and Lake Land College President Scott Lensink cut the ribbon for the college’s new commercial driving simulator.

Colleen Callahan

Illinois State Director, USDA Rural Development

Children Of Senegal Directly Benefit From USDA’s McGovern-Dole International Food For Education Program

In keeping with USDA’s commitment to addressing global food insecurity through school feeding programs, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that USDA will donate more than 100,000 tons of U.S. agricultural commodities valued at nearly $170 million in fiscal year 2010 under the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition (McGovern-Dole) Program.

The McGovern-Dole Program helps support education, child development and food security in low-income, food-deficit countries that are committed to universal education. The program has helped feed millions of children over the years and one example of the success of this program can be found in Senegal.

Children in 112 primary schools and 21 pre-schools and mothers and infants in 58 maternal and child health nutrition (MCHN) centers in the Matam region of Senegal are eating a daily meal and much more due to a Counterpart International (CPI) project funded by USDA’s McGovern-Dole Program. Read more »