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USDA Community Roundtables on Nutrition Assistance Launched in South Texas

On March 19, USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) Deputy Administrator Lisa Pino traveled to Texas to meet with local leaders and members of the Rio Grande Valley community to talk about how to solve hunger issues in the area. FNS Regional Administrator Bill Ludwig and USDA Director of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Max Finberg also took part in the discussions.

The Rio Grande Valley meetings were the first in a series of “Community Roundtables” USDA will host in cities across the country. The roundtables are a key component of ending childhood hunger by 2015.

The first roundtable focused on the community at large.  A second roundtable was held later that day with faith-based communities at the Our Lady of San Juan Del Valle-National Shrine.

Both roundtables were a success.  FNS was able to solicit helpful feedback regarding how it can better work with the Rio Grande community to ensure eligible people participate in nutritional assistance programs, particularly the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). SNAP currently provides food assistance to 39 million low-income people across the country and is the nation’s largest anti-hunger program.

The 2000 census showed that 35 percent of the Rio Grande Valley population lived below the federal poverty level compared to 12 percent nationally.

South West Regional Administrator Bill Ludwig (holding the podium) is addressing 50 community leaders, anti-hunger advocates, faith-based groups, and food bank to discuss ways to ending childhood hunger by finding ways to increase participation in our programs.
South West Regional Administrator Bill Ludwig (holding the podium) is addressing 50 community leaders, anti-hunger advocates, faith-based groups, and food bank to discuss ways to ending childhood hunger by finding ways to increase participation in our programs

Rural Development Continues its Long History of Support for Alaska by Funding a Recovery Act Water Project

Most Americans reading this blog have probably heard of Talkeetna, Alaska. Not only is it the primary air access point for climbers planning to scale Mount McKinley (Denali) but it is also a tourist stop on the Alaska Railroad, especially in the summer.

Talkeetna is unincorporated, but hundreds of Alaskans call it home and live there year-round. It has all the amenities you would expect in a small town, including a school, library, post office and a clinic. It also has community water and sewer service.

USDA Rural Development has long been a partner in Talkeetna’s development. We helped to fund the clinic, and the new home for KTNA public radio. We have also funded a system that uses water-based plant life to clean waste water before it enters the Susitna River.

The Talkeetna, Alaska well house will soon get a new filtration system thanks to  USDA funding provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. One significant remaining issue for the community is the quality of Talkeetna’s drinking water. Much of the water used in Talkeetna comes from twin 160 foot community wells. The system, built over 20 years ago has received water quality violation notices from the State of Alaska.

Earlier this month, it was announced that, using funds provided by Congress through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, USDA Rural Development would provide the community with a $714,500 grant and a $48,000 loan to purchase a water treatment module. The new module, when installed, will remove impurities from the water supply and improve the overall quality of the water being supplied to area homes and businesses. It will leverage an additional $500,000 in investment.

On behalf of President Obama, Secretary Vilsack and USDA, I am proud that Rural Development is able to help fund this project with Recovery Act dollars provided through Congress. The new module will ensure that visitors to Talkeetna, and the Alaskans who live there, will have quality, safe drinking water.

Submitted by Jim Nordlund USDA Rural Development State Director-Alaska

Bringing Biotechnology to the Developing World

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.

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Two weeks ago, I led the U.S. delegation to Mexico for the FAO International Biotechnology Conference, where officials from across the world gathered to address the potential of agricultural biotechnologies for improving the livelihoods of small farmers in developing countries.  These “smallholders” constitute 75 percent of the world’s poor, and face a disproportionate share of the enormous pressures facing agricultural production systems.

The FAO warns that the combined effects of population growth, strong income growth, and urbanization will require a doubling of food production by 2050. That doubling of production will need to occur despite climate disruptions, critical water shortages in some parts of the globe, increased salinity of soil, the ever present pressure of pests and pathogens, and the necessity to reduce the energy and environmental footprints of agriculture practices.  Smallholders will need help to meet these challenges.

Conference delegates from developing countries acknowledged that biotechnology is a crucial tool and opportunity for alleviating hunger and poverty, while also spurring economic development and mitigating climate change.  However, the various applications of agricultural biotechnologies are not widely accessible for use in many developing countries, and have not yet substantially benefited small farmers and producers.  Three key elements are necessary to make agricultural biotechnology accessible to the developing world: increased investments, international cooperation, and effective and enabling national policies and regulatory frameworks.

The conference identified ways the United States and other nations can encourage developed and developing countries to support appropriate use of agricultural biotechnologies for improving food security and enhancing sustainable agriculture, especially in the context of growing climatic changes and a growing human population.  This includes:

  • Encourage increased commitment by governments to strengthen human and institutional capacities in biotechnologies in national and regional institutions.
  • Improve knowledge sharing and access to and application of biotechnologies.
  • Facilitate the exchange of information among and between scientists and policymakers worldwide.
  • Help scientists gain knowledge and technical expertise through developing new partnerships and exchange opportunities.
  • Develop partnerships and alliances with farmers and farmer organizations, the private sector, international and regional research institutions, foundations and other relevant organizations, to facilitate and enhance the coordination of research activities and strengthen mechanisms for dissemination of best practices and technologies.

President Obama has made global food security, nutrition enhancement, and poverty reduction important  priorities for this Administration.  Building capacity for the use of modern biotechnologies in developing countries, such as marker assisted selection, tissue culture propagation, and genetic engineering, would help meet these goals and solve a growing worldwide problem.

I believe in USDA’s commitment to solving these global problems while also working toward our goals of sustainable agriculture.  Both high crop yields and safe and sustainable practices are critically important and attainable.  As USDA’s Chief Scientist and director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, I am excited to see agricultural science and technology work in a way that will meet today’s global challenges, but do so in a way that works toward economic, environmental and social sustainability.

I have every confidence that the women and men in USDA and our partner institutions, who work daily to unlock the secrets of human, plant and animal health, can be equally responsive to the challenge of building a sustainable future for agriculture and forestry that includes access to biotechnology for smallholders and others.

Roger Beachy

Director, National Institute of Food and Agriculture

USDA Rural Development Recovery Act Project to Fund a West Virginia Bookmobile

Now, for an update on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding Raleigh County (West Virginia) Public Library in Beckley was awarded through the Rural Development Community Facilities program to obtain a new bookmobile.  I had yet another opportunity to interview Gary Knapp, Bookmobile Driver and Librarian at the Raleigh County Public Library, in regards to this project.

I asked Mr. Knapp if they will continue to use the two current and much older bookmobiles once the new one arrives and is operational.  Per Mr. Knapp, it is intended that they will not.  They are hoping to sell one and keep one in operation.  In addition, they are then hoping to secure funding to buy one more new bookmobile this upcoming year and sell the other one also, leaving them with two new bookmobiles.

Next, I spoke with Mr. Knapp about the bookmobiles’ schedules.  The bookmobiles go to every elementary school in Raleigh County every three weeks; they also go to day care schools, private schools, senior citizens’ homes, the Moose Lodge 1606, apartment housing, and private neighborhood stops.

“In the summer, our job is still not over.  We go to eight to ten summer school programs along with apartment, neighborhood and summer camp stops,” Knapp explained.  “So, as you can see, the bookmobiles are going non-stop year round.”

You might ask, How does the library get the word out to the public of this bookmobile service being available?  As Mr. Knapp stressed, the first traveling bookmobile in this area started in 1936.  “Yes…1936,” he emphasized.  “So, all of our community is endeared to its services.”  Word-of-mouth and the “Friends of the Library” newsletter also serve as advertising for the bookmobiles’ services and schedules.

When I asked Mr. Knapp about the benefits of this bookmobile when it comes to children reading more, he stated: “The bookmobile will improve the kids’ reading because they will have access to 3500 books on a variety of materials and a wide range of subjects.”

When I last reported on this project, the bookmobile was expected to arrive in April, 2010.  As it looks right now, that bookmobile may not arrive until mid- to late May, 2010.  But, it is definitely on its way!

Again, we’ll be following up with Mr. Knapp periodically in order to keep you updated on the progress of this important funding venture for rural West Virginia.

Reporting for and on behalf of West Virginia USDA Rural Development, this is Mikhaila Missimer signing off for now.

Written by Student Reporter Mikhaila Missimer

High Hopes for High Tunnels

Yesterday, USDA and Virginia State University co-hosted the 3rd Annual USDA Outreach Conference in Petersburg, VA. Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan addressed Virginia’s farmers, rural businesses and rural community leaders at the event.  The grass-roots conference focused on providing information about USDA programs and services with a goal of strengthening the partnership between small farms and USDA.  Deputy Secretary Merrigan highlighted USDA resources ranging from the Farmers Market Promotion Program to Specialty Crop Block Grants and a multitude of assistance available through the Rural Development Agency.

The Deputy Secretary was introduced by Virginia State University President Eddie Moore, Jr.  who is leading a University at the cutting-edge of agricultural research.  VSU is exploring  specialty crop production potential in Virginia through the use of high tunnels to extend the growing season for Virginia farmers.

During a tour of Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Randolph Farm and green houses, Extension Specialist Reza Rafie, Ph.D. and Research Specialist Christopher Mullins, highlighted green papayas, white guava, ginger, lemon grass, bitter melon, and raspberries among other specialty crops. The VSU team has been able to increase raspberry production using the high tunnels with a steady crop being produced from May to December. Dr. Rafie specializes in disseminating research-based, practical management information to assist small-scale horticulture. Mr. Mullins provides information and technical assistance to vegetable growers to increase their profits by raising commercial vegetables through various methods such as greenhouses and high tunnels to get a head start on production

USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service is promoting the use of high tunnels through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) cost-sharing program.

Berlin, MD: Progress on the Wastewater Treatment Plant

by Jamie Welch, Grade 8, Worcester Preparatory School

The town of Berlin recently received $12 million dollars in grants and low-interest loans from the USDA Recovery Act.  The purpose of these grants was to renovate and update the Berlin Wastewater Treatment plant.  These upgrades are necessary because of the growing demand for wastewater treatment in the town of Berlin, and the new tough environmental requirements handed down by the State of Maryland and the EPA.  When the updates are complete, the plant will be able to process effluent down to near drinking water quality.

I recently visited the wastewater treatment plant and took a look at how the money from the USDA is being used.  Bearing Construction is the company in charge of overseeing the upgrades, some of which include reworking old equipment. Another part of the plan is the installation of a state-of-the-art piece of technology called an SBR, or Sequencing Batch Reactor.  This device works with bacteria in three different chambers to get rid of most phosphorous and nitrogen, down to almost drinking water quality.  “It’s a better quality than [the water] that most people get out of their wells,” said Jane Kreiter, Director of Water and Wastewater in Berlin.  The treated effluent is then pumped by pipeline to a spray irrigation site on Purnell Crossing Road in Libertytown, Maryland where it is used to water trees and crops.

The town has plans in the works for a second spray irrigation site in Newark which, when competed, would eliminate the need for dumping treated effluent into the coastal bays.  Many people are concerned about having the spray site in their backyards.  Kreiter is quick to point out that in Florida, people are already using treated wastewater to clean their cars and water their plants.  She says that the public is just not well informed on this, because we’ve never really had to conserve water like in Florida.  Kreiter adds that the sprayed effluent will have no negative effects on the groundwater table and aquifers.  The final decision about the new spray site will be made at a meeting of the Worcester County Commissioners some time in the near future.  If approved, the spray irrigation project is projected to cost an additional $6 million.

Kreiter says that they hope to have the upgrade and expansion project in Berlin completed by December, but adds that the recent bad weather has pushed them far behind where they should be.  When completed, this plant will be the largest wastewater treatment plant in Maryland that spray irrigates.

Touring the Berlin, MD Wastewater Treatment Plant construction site are (l-r) Dr. Merle Marsh, Director of Special Projects, Worcester Preparatory School; Jane Kreiter, Director of Wastewater; student reporter Jamie Welch, Worcester Preparatory School; and James C. Latchum, Superintendent of Wastewater, Berlin, MD.

Touring the Berlin, MD Wastewater Treatment Plant construction site are (l-r) Dr. Merle Marsh, Director of Special Projects, Worcester Preparatory School; Jane Kreiter, Director of Wastewater; student reporter Jamie Welch, Worcester Preparatory School; and James C. Latchum, Superintendent of Wastewater, Berlin, MD.

Berlin, MD Superintendent of Wastewater James C. Latchum (l) with Worcester Prep reporter Jamie Welch.

Berlin, MD Superintendent of Wastewater James C. Latchum (l) with Worcester Prep reporter Jamie Welch.