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These turkeys fill your belly and keep the lights on, too

Sietsma Farms in central Michigan sends more than a million turkeys a year to the dinner table.

That’s a lot of Thanksgiving feasts.

Turkey: Has my presidential pardon arrived yet?A million turkeys also generate a lot of waste – on the order of 17,000 tons of litter per year. Local farms are happy to use it as fertilizer, but a little litter goes a long way – and at this point, the litter has to go farther and farther away. In fact, it can cost as much as $10 a ton just to get it to mid-Michigan farms that can use it. A million turkeys also need to eat. To feed all those birds, Sietsma Farms has its own mill that creates feed pellets, which is a very energy intensive process.

Thanks to a $500,000 energy grant and $700,750 energy loan from USDA Rural Development, Sietsma Farms has constructed a biomass renewable energy plant adjacent to their Howard City facility. This will use the turkey litter to power the feed processing center. The energy plant will require 14,000 tons of litter per year to produce approximately 8,625 pounds of steam and 462 kW per hour.

It will draw upon the waste of five turkey operations within a 45-mile radius for its fuel, in effect turning a hazardous substance into a valuable one. As a result, there will be less pollution, less odors and more electricity for other users in the area.

We estimate that the project will pay for itself within four years.

Not bad for a holiday dinner entrée.

Alec Lloyd, Michigan Public Information Coordinator, USDA Rural Development

Missouri Utilizing Recovery Act Funding for Water Improvements

I found it very rewarding to see the rural town of Gideon, Missouri utilizing the Recovery Act funds to make their water system safe.  The water project is one of the first in the nation to benefit from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds that President Obama signed into law in February.

I presented Mayor Ron Wakefield of Gideon a Certificate of Appreciation on Friday, November 13, 2009 for his vision of tapping into the ARRA funds for essential improvements for the safety of his residents.  Senator Claire McCaskill and Congresswoman JoAnn Emerson were represented at the ceremony along with the Engineer, Contractor and City officials.

The City was awarded $2.4 million in USDA Rural Development dollars with a combination loan and grant to correct serious deficiencies in the 1930’s existing water distribution system that serves 454 residents and small businesses in the community.  Based on pay estimates, the staff advised me that they are over one third completed in making the necessary repairs.  I was proud to see the dollars at work with backhoes trenching and new water lines being installed.

Some of the folks I talked to made me aware that Gideon’s water distribution system has been plagued by problems for many years and has deteriorated to a point that monthly water outages are a common occurrence.  The City has been under intense scrutiny since the waterborne salmonella disease outbreak of 1993, which contaminated the City’s 100,000-gallon elevated tank.  Many upgrades were performed at that time, and again in 1997 when contamination was again confirmed, but serious concerns still existed regarding the more than nine miles of distribution lines.  Officials told me that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of bands on the old lines to stop leaks.

With the funding provided to the City of Gideon by Rural Development, the existing distribution system will be completely redesigned.  Approximately 80% of the water lines will be replaced with all new, metered service lines, providing the City with adequate pressure to service its customers.  Improvements will also be made to the well house, chlorine feed system and a backup generator will be installed for emergency power.

It would be an understatement to say that the impact of these funds on this community is really monumental!

While attending the ceremony I met Slayton Boone, a student reporter from the Gideon High School.  He had an interesting perspective on the water improvements.  In fact, he relayed the story to Rural Development that the water system improvements was one of the “top ten”  items that appeared on T-shirts regarding improvements needed in Gideon. The phrase “No boil order on Water” was a not a desirable item but unfortunately a reality.

It makes me feel good to know that the Recovery Act funds helped create construction jobs but even more important is that this investment will remove a serious health hazard for this rural town and make it a better place to live for the future.

- Jane Dunning, Missouri State Director, USDA Rural Development

Health and Physical Activity: Priorities for Every Season

I have had an eventful couple of weeks since my last post.

I spent a day two weeks ago in Riverdale, Maryland at the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services building learning more about some of their programs.  I particularly enjoyed meeting with two economists, as many of my college classes related to economics.

At a meeting in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, right next to the White House, I took part in an interagency discussion about increasing participation in youth sports across the country.  I played soccer, basketball and baseball as much as I could when I was younger and believe it is important for children to have these opportunities.  I probably never would have made it to the Major Leagues without them.

USDA has a program called HealthierUS Schools Challenge to recognize schools that excel in fostering healthy eating and physical activity among students.  As a professional athlete, I am very concerned with nutrition and exercise in my own life, and I believe it is important to promote their importance to our nation’s youth.

Last week, I was honored to accompany First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary Vilsack to Hollin Meadows Elementary School, a recipient of a HealthierUS Schools Challenge Silver Star.  We met teachers, students, parents and administrators in learning about the programs that have made the school such a success.

Ross Ohlendorf is joined by First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary Tom Vilsack at Hollin Meadows Elementary School

Ross Ohlendorf is joined by First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary Tom Vilsack at Hollin Meadows Elementary School

I have several interesting tours lined up over the next couple of weeks, while I also work on putting the finishing touches on my projects here at USDA. I hope all of the readers out there have a great Thanksgiving!

Ross Ohlendorf, a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates, is spending part of his off-season at the United States Department of Agriculture. A graduate of Princeton University, he is spending eight weeks as an intern with USDA’s Marketing and Regulatory Programs.

USDA and the Corporation for National and Community Service mark Thanksgiving With a Call to Service

This week, as families across America prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, the Obama Administration is asking Americans to think about their neighbors who are struggling to put food on the table. Although we are the richest nation in the world, the food security report released last Monday by USDA’s Economic Research Service indicates that hunger is a serious and growing problem in the United States. In 2008, more than 49 million people, including more than 16 million children, were at risk of going hungry in America, up from 35 million in 2007.

President Obama and Secretary Vilsack have made addressing the issue of hunger in America a high priority of this Administration. For example, the President has committed to ending childhood hunger in this country by 2015. Secretary Vilsack recently stated that “it is time for America to get very serious about food security and hunger.” Read more »

In-patient Hospice Care Close to Home

Steve Richard of SUN Home Health and Hospice and Tom Williams, Pennsylvania State Director, USDA Rural Development at the SUN Home Hospice Care Center ribbon cuttingI recently had the pleasure of participating in a Ribbon Cutting Ceremony with Steve Richard, President/CEO, SUN Home Health and Hospice and otherstakeholders, for a new hospice center located within the Sunbury Hospital. USDA Rural Development awarded Sun Home Health Services, Inc. $99,500 through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) Rural Business Enterprise Grant funding to create a six-bed inpatient hospice unit within the hospital.  Terminally ill cancer patients in Central Pennsylvania now have an alternative to travelling 30–150 miles to an urban area for short-term in-patient hospice care. Read more »

60th Anniversary Telecom Programs and Award of CommunitHurley

It was exciting to have Congressman Rick Boucher, 9th District of Virginia and the Deputy Administrator for USDA Rural Development’s Rural Utilities programs, Jessica Zufolo join me last week in Hurley, Virginia for an awards ceremony. The event highlighted the funding of three Virginia rural community broadband projects and the 60th anniversary of the involvement of USDA in providing Telecommunication infrastructure improvements to rural America.

I am proud to say that Southwest Virginia will be receiving Community Connect Grants totaling over $2.4 million dollars that will help purchase and install high speed internet equipment to the rural communities of Hurley, Carbo and Grant. Working with the Rural Utilities Service Virginia Field Representative Richard Jenkins; Paul Gearheart from Inter Mountain Cable, Michael Maynard from the Wired Road Authority and Thomas Kurien from Almega Cable were successful in their pursuit of this USDA Funding. Certificates of Appreciation were provided to each cable service at the ceremony. As a result of this assistance, cable customers in these three areas will soon have high speed internet service available, improving educational and business opportunities.

Starting with a farm family receiving its first in home telephone in the 1950’s, to the rural household now being able to run an international business from a home office, USDA continues to play an important role in bringing new modern telecom services to rural Virginia.

Virginia has been very successful over the years in delivering new technology to rural areas of the state.  Since the inception of the programs, over $10 million dollars has been provided in our State for Distance Learning and Community Connect Grants. Other key achievements in Virginia include the Telemedicine System currently being operated by the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville. This state-of-the-art system allows medical specialists at the UVA Medical Center to perform detailed medical examinations of patients in over 20 rural clinics mainly in remote Southwest Virginia. Without this service, these patients would have to travel for many hours over challenging roads to obtain advanced medical care.

Group photo during award ceremony in Hurley, VA

Group photo during award ceremony in Hurley, VA

By Ellen M. Davis, Virginia State Director, USDA Rural Development