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My Latest Child Nutrition Reauthorization Tour Stop: Waterford, Michigan

By Audrey Rowe, FNS Deputy Administrator for Special Nutrition Programs

 I’ve had a chance to see a great deal of impressive schools during my tour of the country to speak about Child Nutrition Reauthorization.  My recent visit to Waterford Village Elementary was no exception.  Witnessing their approach to providing their students good nutrition and physical fitness activities hammers home the importance of the commitments they and those in their communities have made.

Given that reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act is currently pending, I was eager to hear from students, teachers, and food service workers about how USDA can improve its programs and further support efforts like those made by this suburban Detroit school.  

I was inspired and encouraged by what I saw and heard, as well as the people I met.

For starters, I toured the school’s amazing garden with Master Gardener Kathy Wolak. Kathy demonstrated how she uses raised planters to educate students about growing and caring for vegetables. She and the school plan to expand the garden to include fruit trees and to supply the nearby cafeteria with veggies and salad fixings to bring a whole new meaning to the term “locally-grown”.  

After the garden tour, I had a tasty, freshly-prepared lunch with the veggie-lovin’ students of Waterford Village. Mary Seeterlin, Waterford’s food service manager and the School District’s Food and Nutritional Services staff have made eating lunch exciting at Waterford. Among other practices, they created a vegetable of the week program to get kids to try all sorts of new things. More than one student told me how much they like the program and I was surprised by how many kids ate fresh salads, garbanzo beans and even fresh broccoli—that’s right, fresh broccoli!  

While with the students I mentioned First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign.  In return, I learned about a number of the school’s efforts to promote physical activity. A few of the students proudly displayed their enthusiasm for exercise by showing off with a few jumping jacks. They asked me to join them,  which provided one of my favorite memories of the day!  

I was inspired by so many people at Waterford that it’s difficult to name them all. 

I look forward to visiting another school in the future, to hear about their innovative practices in nutrition and physical activity.  But I’m also interested in hearing about the continued successes of Waterford Village’s amazing elementary school.  

 Student enjoying a salad at Waterford Elementary School

A Waterford Elementary School student enjoying a salad.

 Audrey Rowe jumping rope with students

Audrey Rowe exercising with students at Waterford Elementary School.

USDA Celebrates World Trade Week, Highlights Successes of Market Development Programs for U.S. Agricultural Exports

This week marks World Trade Week within the U.S. government. Even though every week is world trade week at the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), this formal recognition gives the agency the opportunity to emphasize the importance of international trade and how FAS programs directly impact the ability for American farmers and producers to find markets for their products overseas.

One of the ways FAS works to promote U.S. agricultural products overseas is through its market development programs. U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) has participated in several of these programs, including the Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development program.

Last month, U.S. Wheat Associates used FAS’s Market Access Program (MAP) to sponsor a trade visit to the United States for flour milling executives from Nigeria to tell the story of how a partnership between the U.S. government and wheat producers has helped them build the second largest industry in the West African nation. Nigeria buys more U.S. hard red winter wheat every year than any other country and will likely be the largest U.S. wheat buyer in the world in 2009/10 (June-May). As much as 90 percent of the wheat milled in Nigeria is imported from the United States, including hard red spring, hard white, durum, and soft red winter wheat.

“U.S. wheat has also become a basic ingredient for greater economic opportunity in Nigeria,” said USW President Alan Tracy. “Doing business in Nigeria can be difficult, but their milling industry supports thousands of jobs and is still expanding its capacity. We have supported that growth by helping these millers introduce new products like pasta, instant noodles, and cookies into this growing market.”

These market development programs helped provide in-country USW representation, support trade and technical service activities, and allow USW to bring trade teams to the United States to educate buyers, technicians, and government officials about how to get the most value possible from U.S. wheat.

“Whatever we have achieved, the foundation has been laid by U.S. Wheat Associates,” said Mr. Tunde Odunayo, Chairman of Honeywell Flour Mills, Lagos, Nigeria. “We know that USW is funded by farmers and USDA. It is money well-spent.”

Another example of market development program success can be found in U.S. Wheat Associates’ efforts in Indonesia where the organization’s sustained trade and technical service in the emerging Indonesian market has helped increase U.S. wheat sales and share in a market dominated by nearby Australia. Between 2001/2002 and 2006/2007, total U.S. wheat sales to Indonesia were about 1.74 million metric tons (MMT) and the annual market share never exceeded 10 percent. As USW learned that new mills were planned, its representatives encouraged the owners and trained technical managers to produce new flour products made with U.S. wheat to compete in a growing high-quality baked goods market segment.

As a result, the U.S. wheat share increased to more than 15 percent as millers became more satisfied with the results. Since 2007/08, total U.S. wheat sales have exceeded 3 MMT. The incremental sales are worth $252 million to producers from the Pacific Northwest to the Great Plains and the Southeast. At the same time, the effort is helping the Indonesian milling industry build its competitive capacity. This is just another example of how market development programs help cooperators achieve export success.

 Wheat Trade Team

 Wheat producer Jeff Sulak (left) discusses a new hard red winter wheat variety with members of a Nigerian trade team sponsored by FAS cooperator U.S. Wheat Associates during a late-April visit to his farm near Covington, Texas. Left to right, Tunde Odunayo, Vice-Chairman / CEO  of Honeywell Flour Mills in Lagos, Nigeria, Rajesh Gaggar is Procurement Manager for noodle manufacturer Dufil Group, and Kikelomo  Ayoola is Manager of Commodity Finance for Ecobank PLC. (Courtesy of U.S. Wheat Associates)


Forest Service Highlights the Buzz on Pollinators

By Phil Sammon

Birds do it. Bees do it. Even bats and small mammals do it. So it’s only natural that the Conservation Education Department of the USDA Forest Service worked with other conservation education partners to do it – pollinate!

On Wednesday, May 12, the Forest Service helped produce “PollinatorLIVE: A Distance Learning Adventure” from The Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C. to tell the story of pollinators in our world. Orchestrated by conservation education partner Prince William Network’s media production department, the live and interactive production was designed to reach teachers, educators and students through the live webcast and related web-based resources, projects, and backyard research ideas. This 2010 program follows onto the 2009 MonarchLIVE  project that ultimately reached more than 200,000 students. It is estimated that the PollinatorLIVE production from the Smithsonian National Zoo reached between 50,000 and 75,000 students, educators, and community members, with an overall 2010 program goal to reach as many as 500,000.

The program kicked off at 11 a.m. with five related segments featuring a host of specialists, researchers, biologists and scientists. These knowledgeable guests explained and demonstrated different types of pollinators and their importance to our daily lives, and also took questions from the audiences joining in from their classrooms all across the country. One teacher linked to a local cable system in order to bring the program to her entire school.

“The whole production was fantastic – absolutely brilliant!” declared Dr. Safiya Samman, director for the Forest Service Conservation Education Department. She commented that the partners and their production crew did an exceptional job of conveying a wealth of information about the importance of pollinators to our world at a level aimed at younger students. “Partners are excited about continuing work and building relationships with the USDA. 

“It was absolutely incredible!” declared Tamberly Conway, a Conservation Education Specialist from the National Forests and Grasslands in Texas, who worked on this project with the Washington Office staff. “We had wonderful rapport with the partners and their production staff, and great participation by so many others to pull this off. It was so much fun!”

Ben Swecker, Media Production Manager with Prince William County School District added, “We had an amazing group of experts in this live webcast who were extremely enthusiastic about studying insects and pollinators.  That kind of passion really comes across to students.  Classrooms from all over the country were sending in questions all day long. Students want to interact using the latest technology and these live distance learning adventures enable them to be a part of the program. “

The entire production was also taped, and will be available for viewing at the PollinatorLIVE website, after May 17. Teachers and educators can find a wealth of teaching and learning resources, curriculum support, and activities for a wide range of grades at the same site.

You can find out more about the Forest Service Conservation programs and activities at as well as specific Kids information at

Production members and the on-air moderators and guests prepare for the kick-off of the five-segment live webcast of Pollinator LIVE from the Smithsonian's national Zoo May 12.

Production members and the on-air moderators and guests prepare for the kick-off of the five-segment live webcast of Pollinator LIVE from the Smithsonian’s national Zoo May 12.

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Ohio Self-Help Housing Forum Provides Opportunity for Participants to Share Their Views

By Michael Jones, USDA Public Affairs Director, Ohio

Tammye Trevino, USDA Rural Development Administrator for Housing and Community Facilities, visited Columbus, Ohio recently to participate in the sixth of 10 scheduled Self-Help Housing Forums being held around the country. Joining her on the panel were Ohio’s First Lady Frances Strickland and Ohio Rural Development State Director Tony Logan.

More than 50 participants from Ohio and surrounding states attended the forum and engaged in a free-flowing exchange of ideas to improve the administration and effectiveness of Rural Development’s Self-Help Housing Program.

Part of the dialogue centered on incorporating new strategies aimed at increasing nationwide participation and ultimate success in the program. Participants collectively expressed concern about the financial stability and timely distribution of the program’s funding, particularly to organizations that have documented home building experience and proven operational success.

Moderated by Mrs. Strickland, Ohio’s forum included comments from two of Ohio’s most successful Self-Help Housing Program proponents. Representatives from both the Fayette County Community Action Agency and Three Rivers Housing Corporation provided valuable input about how they’ve used the program as well as offering suggestions about adjustments they would make to help improve its operation.

Ohio’s Self-Help Program has an impressive record of helping families achieve their dream of home ownership. Since 1992 Ohio’s self-help housing organizations have used more than $22.7 million in Rural Development funding to assist 240 families join the home ownership ranks.

Come One, Come All – The People’s Garden Healthy Garden Workshop Series Kicks Off the 2010 Gardening Season

By Angie Harless, USDA Executive Master Gardener

On May 7, The People’s Garden launched the first workshop in its healthy garden series summer program in DC.  This year the summer series was expanded and offers a full range of programming for both kids and adults.  “The People’s Garden” Healthy Garden Workshops are open to everyone and demonstrate how easy it is to grow a sustainable garden no matter where you live.  Leading experts from within and outside of USDA will lend their experience throughout this growing season to help you create and manage your garden from the ground up.

The Healthy Garden Workshops will primarily be for adults, while the newest edition to the series, Growing Healthy Kids, will be offered for young people.  Beginning May 7, the Healthy Garden Workshops will occur rain or shine every Friday from noon to 1 p.m. in the garden or under a tent on the north lawn of USDA’s Jamie L. Whitten building.  Each month of the healthy garden series will focus on a different theme:  May: gardening from the ground up; June: celebrating pollinators; July: plant diseases; and August: types of gardens.  Pre-registration will be required for this series as seats will be limited to 50 participants.  To reserve a seat, those interested in participating in the workshop must call (202) 690-3989 to register between the hours of 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.   

The Growing Healthy Kids youth series will be hands-on learning programs based upon the Junior Master Gardener curriculum.  There are three programs: Plant Pals, Tops or Bottoms and U-B the Judge.  Plant Pals will help curious-minded children discover why certain plants are better neighbors in the garden the others.  Tops or Bottoms will encourage young gardeners to use their knowledge of plant structures in identifying which part of the plant is eaten.  And U-B the Judge will give youth a chance to evaluate fruits and vegetables based on color, texture, taste and smell.  Each program is 60 minutes long and will be held outside every Wednesday at 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m. from May through October.  Youth programs are cancelled if it rains.  Space is limited to 30 youth and they must be at least 5 years old. Call (202) 708-0082 to register a group for one of the three programs. 

The summer program guide is available online. Follow us on Twitter for real-time updates, check out photos and join our Facebook page!

Afghan Farmers Will Determine the Success of the Nation’s Economy and Security

This article appeared on May 14, 2010 in the USA Today.

The secret as to how Afghanistan will achieve a stable, secure future really is no secret at all: agriculture.
So it was not surprising during this week’s meetings in Washington between U.S. and Afghan officials that agriculture was a key topic of discussion.
In Afghanistan, 85 percent of the population relies on agriculture to earn a living, and strengthening Afghanistan’s agricultural sector is a critical element in stabilizing the nation. But until the agriculture sector can support legitimate crops like wheat and fruits, the Taliban will continue to prey upon disaffected, out of work youth and push the production of poppy.  Unfortunately, poppy production provides little return to the farmers; pomegranates will earn a farmer five times that of poppy on the open market, almonds will earn seven, and grapes will earn eight times as much.  
That is why the United States and Afghanistan are working together with a shared strategy to rebuild Afghanistan’s once vibrant agricultural economy.  Our efforts are already yielding results in troubled provinces such as Helmand, the heart of Afghan poppy production.
The strategy is four-fold. First, we must increase the productivity of staple crops such as wheat, introduce complementary crops such as soybeans, and improve the yields of cash crops like horticulture and nuts. Second, we must protect Afghanistan’s natural resources by investing in watershed management, sustainable forestry efforts and soil conservation. Third, we must redouble our efforts to rebuild the country’s agricultural marketing system and return Afghanistan to its once-prominent position as the fruit and nut epicenter of Central Asia. And fourth, our countries must continue to work together to restructure Afghanistan’s Ministry of Agriculture by recruiting competent professionals, especially in the rural areas where extension agents with technical knowhow and expertise can make a real difference to farmers and herders.
The possibility of the turnaround we envision is real. International demand for Afghan agriculture is returning. In Dubai recently, at the region’s biggest food and trade expo, Afghanistan’s tiny stall was overrun with customers from Europe, Africa and the Middle East with orders for dried fruit and nuts. For the first time, Afghan apples and other fresh fruit are being air-freighted to India. Just recently, a Kabul businessman obtained his certification to begin exporting raisins to Europe. And, in what might be the biggest boon to Afghanistan’s agricultural economy thus far, the nation’s first concentrated juice factory opened near Kabul in October 2009, selling out its entire production for 2010 in just six weeks. The plant employs hundreds of Afghans and is planning an expansion so it can continue to ship its products across the globe.  Other similar facilities are being planned across the country.
Furthermore, the U.S. and Afghan governments are working with Afghan farmers to introduce new production and post-production technologies, while improving existing crops with enhanced cultivation and seed varieties. American support is helping to develop Afghan grading, packaging and sanitary methods per international standards. And together we are building the infrastructure and opening the transportation routes necessary to get Afghan grains, fruits and nuts to consumers.
The Afghan Ministry of Agriculture also needs help to build research and agricultural extension services – from satellite mapping to experts standing in a field teaching farmers. This is an area where USDA’s assistance is crucial. USDA has contributed more than 100 highly-skilled individuals to this effort – foresters, soil and plant scientists, marketing specialists, and water and rangeland specialists – all with a special ability to share their knowledge through demonstration.
USDA is partnering with the U.S. Army National Guard, the Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development, other U.S. federal agencies and, most importantly, Afghans, to solve complex agricultural issues. Moreover, the Afghan government has reorganized its cabinet so that ministries focused on solving the problems facing its rural communities are teamed together: agriculture, electricity, water, construction, and counternarcotics.
For 85 percent of the Afghan people, the path to a better job and life for their family is likely to pass through a farm.  That is why, despite the challenges that certainly lie ahead, we are committed to building a better life for the Afghan people by working together to rebuild its once-vibrant agricultural economy.
- Tom Vilsack is the United States Secretary of Agriculture and Mohammad Asif Rahimi is the Afghan Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock