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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

Merrigan Addresses Global Agricultural Leaders

Agriculture Deputy Secretary Merrigan today kicked of the 36th Conference of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations – the first woman to hold this role and the first time the United States has chaired the Conference in 20 years.

As Merrigan welcomed top agricultural officials from throughout the world, she highlighted the Obama Administration’s commitment to advancing global food security and improving agricultural productivity. She also noted her past work for FAO to advance organic agriculture internationally, and urged her fellow leaders to build on past efforts and prioritize organic agriculture as one step to meet global ecological and environmental challenges.

See Merrigan’s opening remarks:

“The conference this year comes at a critical time following the World Summit on Food Security.  President Obama has committed the United States to a whole-of-government approach to tackle the problem of global food security.  The United States will work with Members as we move forward with this important effort.

“My government fully supports the FAO and its mission.  We believe the FAO reform process underway provides a unique opportunity to move the organization into a more relevant, focused, and effective organization and we reaffirm our commitment and dedication to the faithful implementation of the FAO’s Immediate Plan of Action.

This endeavor will greatly enhance FAO’s contribution to agriculture development and global food security.

“The FAO’s mandate to raise levels of nutrition and standards of living, improve agricultural productivity, promote rural development and, ultimately, provide all people at all times with access to the food they need for an active and healthy life, is extremely important to the United States.

“It has been 20 years since the United States last chaired this ministerial conference.  But, I am not a stranger to FAO.  My association with FAO began 10 years ago, when, as an expert consultant, I assisted FAO staff in drafting the Committee on Agriculture paper on organic agriculture, adopted at the 30th session of the Conference.

“Since that time, organic agriculture has grown substantially in my country and around the world. In the United States, more than 2 million hectares and over 10,000 certified producers are involved in organic agriculture.

“There have been some important efforts by FAO on organic agriculture, including the FAO–led organic standards harmonization effort and the 2007 FAO meeting in partnership with the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements on organic agriculture and food security.

“However, after 10 years, the organic program is neither mainstreamed in the FAO program of work nor in the FAO budget.  Even the very small amount of central funds given to the interdepartmental working group on organic agriculture may soon disappear.

“As someone with a deep interest in this subject, I would like to see the importance of organic agriculture and its role in agro-ecology elevated within the FAO scope of work.

“The Agenda before us calls for decisions that will have a lasting impact on the future of our Organization. Given that we have only five and a half days to do this, I call on your cooperation and understanding to ensure we make the best use of our time to make wise and forward-looking decisions for the good of this Organization and its mission.”

Deputy Secretary Merrigan

Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan

First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary Tom Vilsack Visit HealthierUS School Award Winner

This morning Secretary Tom Vilsack joined First Lady Michelle Obama at Hollin Meadows Elementary School to recognize their Silver Meadal achievement in the US HealthierUS School Challenge. Read more »