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Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack Highlights Links Between Climate Change and Global Food Safety at Copenhagen Talks

It’s apparent as you speak to the Danes here in Copenhagen that this city, and all of Denmark has a lot on the line when it comes to the issue of climate change.  No part of this country is far from the sea, and climate change and a rising sea level combined could alter living conditions substantially in the not-too-distant future.  There is also a large agricultural sector here and much of the farm industry is based on the cooperative model, so climate change poses a significant local economic concern. Read more »

Merrigan Meets Joins Leaders for Clean Energy Economy Forum

Earlier this week I participated in an Obama Administration Clean Energy Economy Forum in Arlington, Virginia with U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, Assistant Secretary of Energy for Energy Efficiency and Renewables Cathy Zoi, Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, U.S. Representative Gerry Connolly, and former U.S. Senator John Warner. Read more »

USDA Team Receives A Presidential Award for Leadership in Federal Energy Management

As you walk through the facilities at headquarters in Washington and in the field, it quickly becomes apparent that a new attitude has taken hold at USDA: A drive to use energy more efficiently.  These efforts were noted by President Obama and the White House Council on Environmental Quality recently when USDA was chosen as one of six departments (and seven teams) in the Government to receive a Presidential Award for Leadership in Federal Energy Management.  USDA won the award for reducing energy and water use through tools including energy savings performance contracts, utility service contracts, green power purchase agreements, internal agency scorecards, renewable energy projects and sustainable buildings.

USDA Director of Operations John Crew holds the Presidential Energy Award“It is an honor for USDA to be recognized,” said John Crew, USDA Director of Operations. “We have ‘Green Teams’ here that are both formal and informal.  The main message is ‘sustainability’, and increasing efficiency. We measure our energy use now, and what gets measured gets managed.  One of the initiatives we pursued was ‘USDA Unplugged’ which asked our employees over a long weekend to unplug equipment that otherwise would have been an energy drain.  Not only was it successful, it encouraged employees to re-think the way they use energy in their homes as well.”

Crew noted that USDA is encouraging a combination of long and short term actions, big and small, that together add up to substantial daily savings.  “For example, we found that a four inch steam line was operated all summer solely so that soup would be heated in the kitchen.  That’s an expensive heat source for soup.  We found a much more energy efficient way to get the job done and deactivated the line, saving $200,000 a year.”  Additionally, significant projects such as the renovation of one of the South Building wings in Washington, D.C., will use new technology and be “LEED Certified” saving energy for decades to come.

Crew stressed that the award isn’t just for the green team, it is department-wide and was received through the efforts of all 100,000 USDA employees across America.  “USDA is the second largest landholder in the Federal Government. We occupy about 89 million square feet of space in over 23,000 buildings spread over 193 million acres of land.  In addition, we have 40,000 motor vehicles and buy over $4 billion in goods and services annually.  Small individual actions, combined with overall policy decisions that promote energy savings, really add up.”

For more information about the award, visit the White House Website.

- Wayne Maloney, Office of Communications

USDA to Sponsor Web-Based Nutrition Gaming Contest in Support of the President’s Open Government Initiative

Today we announced the Innovations for Healthy Kids Challenge, which supports the President’s Open Government Initiative by holding a national contest that will promote healthier dietary habits among children.

“The Innovations for Healthy Kids Challenge highlights the Obama Administration’s commitment to combating childhood obesity and improving the nutritional health of America’s youth,” said Vilsack. “We are excited to spur innovation by making it easier for high-tech companies and individuals to identify collaborative, entrepreneurial opportunities. Those who participate in this challenge will be important partners in helping our kids make smarter choices about the foods they eat.”

USDA released a dataset with 1,000 of the most common food items as well as open source codes from USDA nutrition resources to enable development of a Web-based learning application that incorporates the USDA-generated dataset. This challenge is open to entrepreneurs, software developers and students to design a creative and educational game targeted to kids, especially “tweens”, aged 9-12. The dataset is available to the public on Data.gov and MyPyramid.gov.

The Web-based games will help motivate kids to learn about healthy dietary habits and the importance of eating more nutritional foods. Using the foods dataset, the game should be centered on educational messages that emphasize one or more key nutrition concepts from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the MyPyramid Food Guidance System.

The FNCS Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion will begin accepting fully developed Web-based games in the spring of 2010 that will be judged by a panel of public and private sector nutrition and gaming experts. The Popular Choice winner will be selected based on public votes, so stay tuned for more information.

Additional details will be posted at MyPyramid.gov as they are available. The dataset containing more than 1,000 commonly eaten foods and the open source code used for MyFood-a-pedia and the MyPyramid Menu Planner are available on the Website.

For examples of USDA-developed nutrition games and resources, visit the MyPyramid Blast Off Game, My Pyramid Menu Planner, and MyFood-a-pedia. For detailed information about the Innovations for Healthy Kids Challenge, go to MyPyramid.gov.

Innovations for Healthy Kids Challenge

USDA Rural Development Under Secretary Dallas Tonsager Addresses New England Housing Network Annual Conference

USDA Rural Development Under Secretary Dallas Tonsager was among those attending the New England Housing Network Annual Conference last Friday in Needham, Mass., The Under Secretary joined a panel of Obama Administration officials who spoke about opportunities for working with the administration and Congress.  Panelists included Sandra Henriquez, HUD Assistant Secretary for Public and Indian Housing; Barbara Sard, Senior Advisor for Rental Assistance, HUD; and William Apgar, Senior Advisor for Mortgage Finance, HUD.  The panel was moderated by the Massachusetts president of the Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association, Vincent O’Donnell.

Under Secretary Tonsager listed seven key priorities USDA Rural Development intends to focus on in order to stimulate America’s rural economy. They include: Community Development; Regional Development; Broadband Infrastructure Development; Regional Food Systems; Renewable Energy/Energy Independence; Capital Delivery and Strategic Partnerships.

The panel moderator, who also serves as Vice President of the Affordable Housing Preservation Initiative, said that having the Under Secretary at the conference was a testament to the Obama Administrations’ commitment to providing affordable housing regionally and nationally.  Barbara Fields, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) told Under Secretary Tonsager: “seeing you here is almost as good as watching New York’s Derek Jeter shag balls from Boston’s Big Papi!”* Information about USDA Rural Development’s housing programs is available here.

(*Quite the compliment from a Red Sox fan!)

Vincent O’Donnell, President of Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association/Vice President of Affordable Housing Preservation Initiative; D. Tonsager; Joseph Belden, Deputy Executive Director of Housing Assistance Council

By, USDA Rural Development State Director Jay Healy. Mass., R.I., Conn.

USDA’s Forest Service Provides 2009 Capitol Christmas Tree to Be Lit Today

As we approach the end of the year, millions of Americans are counting their blessings and many are bringing Christmas trees into their homes to celebrate the season.  At USDA, the Forest Service helps with the nation’s holiday traditions by providing a tree to be displayed as the Capitol Christmas Tree.  This year’s tree, a 65-feet tall Blue spruce, will be will be officially lit today at 5:00 PM EST by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Kaitlyn Ferenick, a 7th grade student from Arizona. Read more »