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The Future of Community Gardens in DC and Beyond

The last week of August was proclaimed Community Gardening Week by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, and the new People’s Garden project outside the USDA headquarters fronting on the National Mall was a perfect place to discuss community garden in the greater DC-area and take a long at its future. On September 4, I joined a local farmer and USDA staff to talk about growing tomatoes, maximizing your harvest, and community gardening. Read more »

Fighting for Family Farmers at Farm Aid 2009

Family farmers from throughout the country descended into St. Louis over the weekend for the 24th annual Farm Aid Conference. Stars including Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp, and Dave Mathews were on hand to shine a spotlight on the struggles that small- and mid-sized farmers face. Read more »

Secretary Vilsack and Interfaith Leaders Participate in a Service Event in Rural Ohio

On Monday, Secretary Vilsack was in Zanesville, Ohio for a Rural Tour town hall focusing on green jobs and a new energy economy. After the forum, the Secretary visited Maple Terrace, a public housing facility for low-income senior citizens. He led an interfaith service event highlighting President Obama’s United We Serve volunteerism initiative. Secretary Vilsack joined local Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders to distribute energy-efficient Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs (CFLs) to Maple Terrace residents.
Secretary Vilsack hands out lightbulbs at a Serve.gov event in Ohio
Secretary Vilsack reiterated President Obama’s call to service and talked about the importance of people of all faiths and backgrounds working together to solve our country’s greatest challenges. He also discussed the role of energy efficiency in the long-term sustainability of the American economy, including provisions in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) that promote green job creation. In addition, pointed out that many of the seniors at Maple Terrace receive a box of groceries each month from USDA through the Commodity Supplemental Food Program.

The event was co-organized by Eastside Community Ministry, a local ecumenical organization that offers an emergency food pantry, an after-school program, a clothing bank, and an emergency relief program; and Ohio Interfaith Power and Light, a non-profit group devoted to empowering a religious response to climate change and promoting energy conservation, energy efficiency, and renewable energy.

Secretary Vilsack with Interfaith LeadersOhio families supplied the light bulbs for the event as a way to offset their carbon footprints. As compact fluorescent bulbs are more expensive than traditional incandescent bulbs, many low-income seniors would not ordinarily be able to afford the up-front cost of purchasing them. However, each bulb saves approximately $59 over its 5-8 year lifetime, so the long-term benefits of CFLs are remarkable. By purchasing CFLs for these seniors, donating families were able to both help people of limited income to save on their energy bills and offset their own environmental impact.

Monday’s event also served as a perfect kickoff to United We Serve’s focus this week on interfaith service. Eastside Community Ministry was the site of a July 1, 2008 campaign speech by then Senator Obama on the importance of faith-based and community organizations:

“You see, while these groups are often made up of folks who’ve come together around a common faith, they’re usually working to help people of all faiths or of no faith at all. And they’re particularly well-placed to offer help. As I’ve said many times, I believe that change comes not from the top-down, but from the bottom-up, and few are closer to the people than our churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques. That’s why Washington needs to draw on them. The fact is, the challenges we face today – from saving our planet to ending poverty – are simply too big for government to solve alone. We need all hands on deck. I’m not saying that faith-based groups are an alternative to government or secular nonprofits. And I’m not saying that they’re somehow better at lifting people up. What I’m saying is that we all have to work together – Christian and Jew, Hindu and Muslim; believer and non-believer alike – to meet the challenges of the 21st century.”

Rev. Bob Davidson, Executive Director of Eastside Community Ministry, said: “The event was very informative. The residents of Maple Terrace deeply appreciated the savings they will receive as a result of using their new light bulbs.” Dr. Greg Hitzhusen, Executive Director of Ohio Interfaith Power and Light, added that “the event catalyzed a lot of excellent community involvement. Residents were thrilled to be able to meet Secretary Vilsack.”

Overall, this event was a great opportunity to highlight interfaith service and cooperation. It also allowed Secretary Vilsack to showcase the important role that energy efficiency can play in our economic recovery and the health of our planet.

“$60,000 is Big Savings for a Small Town”

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today met with local officials and community residents in Louisa, Va., and highlighted a Recovery Act project that was announced on the 100th day of the Recovery Act. As a result of a $3.3 loan through USDA Rural Development, the community of Louisa will expand their current wastewater treatment plant’s processing capabilities and improve local water quality. Read more »

DC area USDA employees help feed hungry people in their community

Last Friday marked the final collection day for the Feds Feed Families, a government-wide summer food drive led by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Typically, summer is the slowest time for food bank donations, but the needs of hungry people stay the same throughout the year. Therefore, OPM set a goal for D.C. area federal employees to donate 1 million pounds of food over the summer to make sure that the Capital Area Food Bank, stays well stocked with food for needy people through this difficult time of year.
USDA employees throughout the D.C. metro area responded enthusiastically to this opportunity to help the less fortunate members of our local community. For example, some of the employees at USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) had a contest to see who in their office could bring in the most food. The results were amazing, with four gigantic boxes filled in the space of a few days!

FSA employees with the food they collected

As the final collection day approached, all hands were on deck to promote awareness of the event among the USDA employee community. Last week, Secretary Vilsack sent an email to all USDA employees that included a video appeal from Deputy Secretary Merrigan. On Friday morning, countless boxes full of non-perishable foods and other essential items were transported from all over USDA’s DC area buildings to loading docks to await pickup. The DC National Guard then delivered the food to the Capital Area Food Bank.

Feds feed families-loading the boxes

USDA staff was proud to do its part to make this food drive a huge success, and help out the neediest members of the Washington area community. In fact, this food drive is just one of the ways USDA employees have participated in President Obama’s United We Serve. United We Serve initiative, which calls upon all Americans to serve their communities in these difficult times. As they look toward the future, USDA employees look forward to continuing to help their fellow Americans “every day, in every way!”

Rural Tour Visits California’s Central Valley

Secretary Vilsack meets with business owners and United Farm Workers

Today, Secretary Vilsack and Deputy Secretary Merrigan met with leaders and members of the United Farm Workers at Monterey Mushroom, a company located on the edge of California’s Silicon Valley. The roundtable discussion involving 27 workers and eight growers is part of USDA’s ongoing effort to communicate with disadvantaged and underserved communities. The meeting began with a moment of silence for farm worker champion, Senator Ted Kennedy. Read more »