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Listening to Rural Communities – A National Summit on Rural America

Cross-posted from the White House Blog

Tomorrow I will travel to Hillsboro, Missouri to host the Obama Administration’s National Summit of Rural America: A Dialogue for Renewing Promise. The event will feature a broad conversation with key policymakers and community leaders to explore the priorities and policies necessary to strengthen America’s rural communities. Read more »

USDA Participates in National Lab Day

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.

By Mary Ann Rozum, National Program Leader, USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture

As a national program leader at USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, a grant-making organization, I am normally on the front end of ensuring that scientific information makes its way onto the farm and into classrooms across the nation. However, last week I had the opportunity to get my hands dirty, so to speak, by participating in National Lab Day (NLD).

NLD is a nationwide initiative that matches volunteer students and scientific professionals with educators to bring discovery-based science experiences to students in grades K-12. The NLD website matched me with fifth-grade teacher Doug Schoemer at Flint Hill School in Fairfax County, Virginia to teach an earth science project on the Nile River and the history of food production and natural river cycles.

We taught an interactive watershed exhibit that demonstrated erosion and flooding and ways to manage agriculture production in ancient times as well as the present. In addition, we used Google Earth maps and had each student adopt a section of the Nile River and interpret aerial photos of agriculture fields, dams and cities today and plot points from their textbooks on the map.

In addition to teaching Mr. Schoemer’s class, I taught two additional fifth grade classes about the watershed demonstration and how river systems function, whether on the Nile, or the local Potomac or the Mississippi Rivers, and the importance of protecting watersheds and water supplies.  The students asked a lot of good questions on how we get our city water supplies and how to protect their own home wells and ponds from pollution.  The students led a virtual tour of the Nile River with Google Earth maps, and have continued to use mapping to study more current issues such as the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Mr. Schoemer and I are planning more ways to use the watershed exhibit in the classroom next year and new ways to apply mapping to other classroom projects.  In fact, I enjoyed the experience so much that I plan to follow up with another school with a schoolyard garden.  NLD is a great way to not only get to know the schools in my local community but to also share my passion and expertise with the next generation of future scientists.

Fifth Grade teacher Doug Schoemer instructs his students about their Google Earth assignment.

Fifth Grade teacher Doug Schoemer instructs his students about their Google Earth assignment.

June is Homeownership Month

By USDA Rural Development Housing Administrator Tammye Treviño

June is Homeownership month!

This year’s theme is “Protecting the American Dream.”  Dozens of communities across the nation have planned events and activities throughout June to highlight their role in supporting homeownership. During June, USDA officials will highlight the benefits of homeownership and share information on ways families can remain successful homeowners. In addition to direct home loan funds, USDA also can assist in providing weatherization and energy efficiency improvements, reduce health and safety risks and improve accessibility for individuals with disabilities.

We assist American families each day.  For example, In Missouri, newlyweds Charles and Naomi Hess heard about USDA Rural Development’s housing program through their parents.  Working through the Moberly Rural Development office, the couple applied for a direct loan with funds provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. They were able to buy a home with a monthly payment they could afford.

President Obama and USDA are committed to bringing the necessary resources to rural America provide decent, affordable housing to those who need it.  As Secretary Vilsack said recently, “A strong Nation is made up of strong families, and safe, quality housing contributes greatly to rural Americans’ quality of life.”

With that in mind, USDA is reaching out to very-low income residents – residents who have traditionally made up a smaller portion of our pool of borrowers, but who are in great need of assistance in finding quality, affordable housing in their communities.  It is a challenge to reach these individuals, who disproportionately reside in the poorest and most rural counties in the country.  In an effort to reach these potential borrowers, I recently launched the Single-Family Housing direct loan Outreach Initiative.  This program, funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, places special emphasis on reaching the residents of persistent poverty counties across the country.

We are working with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, State and local partners and, of course lenders, to improve the quality of housing and make it possible for rural Americans to enjoy safe, affordable and sanitary housing. As a member of the Obama Administration, it is truly a privilege to serve as the Administrator of USDA’s Rural Housing programs.  I look forward to working with our partners and with the public through USDA’s State and area offices, to continue serve the residents of rural America.

Left to right:  USDA Rural Development staff Michelle Hoffman, Amy Milburn and Wylie Chandler stand in front of a home being constructed with USDA funding support.
Left to right:  USDA Rural Development staff Michelle Hoffman, Amy Milburn and Wylie Chandler stand in front of a home being constructed with USDA funding support.

USDA Community Facilities Funds Available to Help Indiana Communities Obtain Tornado Warning Sirens

Do you live in a rural community without a tornado warning siren?

“Right now we have money. We can help as many [communities] as come to us,” said Phil Lehmkuhler, Indiana’s rural development state director for the United States Department of Agriculture. Read more »

“The Big Garden” Spreads Like Wildflower

By USDA Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships

Inner city Omaha is an economically distressed area, especially among the predominantly African-American and senior populations. Poverty rates and obesity among young people are high and access to healthy, affordable food is low, especially for those who need it most.

Rev. Stephanie Ahlschwede, Executive Director of United Methodist Ministries for the Missouri River District, began “The Big Garden” project in 2005, aided by a grant from the USDA Community Food Projects.  Five gardens were established in 2006 and were met with a resoundingly enthusiastic response.  Just three years later, The Big Garden network had grown to 22 gardens through collaboration with area churches and a variety of community organizations. Residents have their choice of simply donating time to the gardens or taking responsibility for cultivating and caring for a plot of their own and then harvesting and enjoying the results. As part of the initial design of the program, a portion of the fresh produce is donated to seniors in the neighborhood.

Through a cooperative program with a local nursing association, cooking classes are taught as part of the area’s after school programs. Many of the young people participating have never eaten fresh fruits and vegetables. With the benefit of a grant from the Omaha Public Power Department, the project has planted a number of fruit and nut trees. According to Project Manager Jessica Mews, the young people working in the gardens love the fresh produce as well as many of the products generated from the gardens. Kale chips are a particular favorite and, according to Mews, the kids can’t get enough of them.

The Big Garden is now on to the next phase, a garden in rural Nebraska — “The Big Rural Garden Project of Southeast Nebraska.” An acre of land in Auburn, a small rural community nearby, was donated and the local Methodist Church is managing the program. They are also collaborating with the local United Way Fund using a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to fight obesity. In 2008, the Sierra Club recognized the Big Garden as one of 50 exceptional faith-based environmental initiatives in the U.S.

Enjoying the community garden at the United Methodist Wesley in Omaha.

Enjoying the community garden at the United Methodist Wesley in Omaha.


Appalachian Early Child Development Center Receives Expansion Funds through USDA

For working parents in isolated rural communities, quality child care is a lifeline that allows them an opportunity to obtain employment so they can provide for their families. Read more »