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Cowbell Rings In the Start of the 2010 USDA Farmers Market Season

By Peter Rhee, Creative Media Director for USDA’s Office of Communications

With the first day of summer just around the corner, USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan rang the ceremonial cowbell today, signaling the beginning of the 2010 USDA Summer Farmers Market season. With extra help from the hot sun and heat rising off the pavement, the air carried with it smells of fresh produce, fragrant soaps and flowers, and piping hot kettle corn.

Local vendors from Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia were on hand, selling their fruits, vegetables, herbs, bakery products, and other goods like coffee and honey.

Another aroma wafting through the air was the scent of grilled burgers and strawberry shortcakes, prepared fresh on the spot by Eric Ziebold, Executive Chef of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel’s prized restaurant, CityZen.

Chef Ziebold and his team, with some help from Deputy Secretary Merrigan, transformed flour, butter, and strawberries, into delicious desserts worth fighting the large crowd over.  The cooking demonstration was a highlight of the USDA Farmers Market kick-off celebrations, and drew a large crowd of hungry onlookers.

Farmers markets are important nationwide outlets for agricultural producers to offer consumers affordable, convenient, and healthy local foods and goods.  USDA’s Summer Farmers Market has been a DC favorite for the past 15 years and offers local vendors the access to expand their outreach efforts to the local community.

Come get your fill every Friday, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on the corner of 12th Street and Independence Avenue, S.W. through October, 2010.  For more information on Farmers Markets, where to find one, how to become a vendor, or registering your own Farmers Market, click here.

Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan make remarks, then rings the bell opening the 2010 Farmers Market at the U.S, Department of Agriculture in Washington, D. C., on Friday, June 4, 2010.

Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan make remarks, then rings the bell opening the 2010 Farmers Market at the U.S, Department of Agriculture in Washington, D. C., on Friday, June 4, 2010.

USDA Deputy Secretary assists Chef Eric Ziebold with a cooking demonstration at the kick-off of the USDA Summer Farmers Market.

USDA Deputy Secretary assists Chef Eric Ziebold with a cooking demonstration at the kick-off of the USDA Summer Farmers Market.

Celebrity Chef Eric Ziebold Adds Flavor to the USDA Farmers Market Opening

The USDA is ready to kick off another season of its outdoor farmers market and it has a star-studded schedule planned for market visitors.  Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan will lead the June 4 opening ceremony of the USDA Farmers Market with the help of celebrity chef Eric Ziebold from the nearby CityZen and Sou’Wester restaurants in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Read more »

South Dakota USDA Marks Homeownership Month with the Oglala Sioux Tribe

Theresa Two Bulls, President of the Oglala Sioux Tribe (OST) signed a proclamation declaring June 2010 National Homeownership Month.  The signing event took place in conjunction with the live interview the OST Housing Authority, Partnership for Housing and USDA Rural Development held with KILI Radio commentator Tom Casey on May 26th.  USDA Rural Development Area Director Tim Potts was on site discussing the many opportunities available to qualified applicants through our housing programs. Read more »

Ag and Community Leaders Meet at the National Rural Summit to Outline the Future of the Rural Economy

By Liz Purchia, Press Assistant

A crowd of all ages gathered in the Jefferson College Field House this morning for the Obama administration’s National Rural Summit.  The audience listened as Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, along with several other esteemed panelists, took the stage to discuss the silent crisis facing rural America today. On a beautiful June day, more than 400 people listened intently as industry and community leaders outlined a roadmap for revitalization in rural communities.

Secretary Vilsack started out the day reminding everyone in attendance – and those watching on the webcast across the nation – that ranchers, farmers, and residents of rural America play a crucial role in the prosperity of our nation as a whole.   The contributions that rural Americans make to every family in this country are far-reaching.  One in every 12 jobs in the nation is created by agriculture. Americans from every town and city rely on the strong system of values rooted in rural communities. And although rural America is home to about 20 percent of nation’s population, more than 45 percent of America’s service men and women were raised in rural America.

However, it is no secret that these small towns are in need of revitalization.  In the last five years, we have lost 40,000 medium-sized farming operations.  Rural Americans earn less than their urban counterparts, rural populations are declining and aging, and fewer folks are earning advanced degrees.  Secretary Vilsack outlined the five pillars that make up the framework for a new rural economy.  He joined audience members and panelists to discuss the ways in which these strategies will positively affect those living, working and raising families in rural communities.

One audience member said it is the ability to adapt and change that brings promise to rural communities. Those sentiments were echoed among the group. Darrin Inhen, president of the National Corn Growers Association, suggested that ethanol offers growth opportunities to expand the role of agriculture in America’s energy independence. James Young, Mayor of Philadelphia, Mississippi, said bringing high-speed internet access to rural towns is vital to allow a direct line of communication with the rest of the world.

John Redding, former president of the National Association of Conservation Districts, reminded everyone that rural communities must flourish to protect the environmental future of our country. Looking to his granddaughter Lucy to illustrate the importance of a strong rural economy, Redding said, “I do what I do because of my Lucy. You do what you do because of your Lucy. That’s what’s at stake here.”

Secretary Vilsack affectionately dubbed rural communities the soul of America, vital to the successes of our nation as a whole, and as James Young said: “Quitting is not an option. Giving up is not an option. Stopping is not an option. People in rural communities know this. We are going to continue to grow, because it is in us to grow.”

Summit participants had the opportunity to further discuss the ideas touched on briefly during the morning session throughout the afternoon in six different breakout sessions. The six tracks the attendees got to explore were:

•Building Infrastructure for a 21st Century Rural Economy
•Expanding Opportunities for Rural Businesses
•Renewable Energy and Biofuels
•Farm Competitiveness and Productivity
•Forest Restoration
•Rural Recreation and Private Land Conservation
•Regional Food Systems and Nutrition.

The conversation was productive and wide ranging.  But everyone assembled reaffirmed the promise they see in rural America, and expressed hope at the Obama administration’s commitment to building a more prosperous future for rural communities.

Check back for the National Summit wrap-up later today as the attendees and panelists finish the discussion for rural America’s revitalization.

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.