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USDA Rural Development Hosts a Self Help Housing Listening Forum In North Carolina

Barbara Beard-Hinton, Assistant to the State Director for Rural Development in North Carolina, Mel Ellis, Director, Single Family Housing and Rich Davis, Acting Deputy Administrator, Single Family Housing sponsored a Self Help Housing Listening Forum at the McKimmon Conference Center at North Carolina State University in Raleigh on March 12.
There were 42 persons in attendance.  The purpose of the forum was to create new ideas and promote the USDA Self Help Housing Program.  The program, which is very popular, allows families to work together under the direction of a contractor to build their own homes.  The process often takes a year and, upon completion, the work participants do on their houses becomes their “sweat equity.”
The listening forum was moderated by Scott Farmer, Director of Rental Investment,  NC Housing Finance Agency.  North Carolina currently has five active grantees.  Four of the five grantees were in attendance and provided valuable input based on their experience with the Self Help program.

Written by Delane Johnson, Public Information Specialist

Left to Right: Mel Ellis, Director Single Family Housing, USDA Rural Development NC, Rich Davis, Acting Deputy Administrator, USDA Single Family Housing, Washington, D.C.

Left to Right: Mel Ellis, Director Single Family Housing, USDA Rural Development NC, Rich Davis, Acting Deputy Administrator, USDA Single Family Housing, Washington, D.C.

Games for Healthy Kids, One Step at a Time

Cross posted from the White House, Office of Science and Technology Policy

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This week my son Devon showed me the power of digital games to motivate kids to exercise. This is the core idea at the heart of the Apps for Healthy Kids competition launched by First Lady Michelle Obama last week. As OSTP worked closely with the Department of Agriculture in designing the competition, I had talked with many of my colleagues about its promise. But nothing could have crystallized better for me the immense potential of this approach than witnessing the impact on my own son in real time.

Devon is 11 years old and has a group of four friends who spend much of their free time playing video games. My wife and I have struggled to find ways to get Devon outside to take a walk or throw a ball around. But, in his mind, sports pale in comparison to the challenges of mastering his favorite digital games.

This week Devon set his sights on a new game. He couldn’t wait for us to drive to the store together and was willing to burn his last birthday gift cards on the purchase. This game was much different than other games because it was bundled with a pedometer for kids. Devon strapped the pedometer to his leg. The more he walks in real life the more bonus features are unlocked in the video game. With new adventures to unveil, he couldn’t wait to get moving.

I told my son about the Apps for Healthy Kids competition, and he suggested that he write to the First Lady to tell her about his experience. I thought that was a wonderful idea. So, we sat down together and drafted this letter:

Dear First Lady Michelle Obama:

My dad told me that you think it is really important that kids exercise and eat right, so I wanted to write this letter to tell you about a new video game I just got because you would find it interesting. My parents are always telling me that I have been playing my video games all day and that I should go outside and play. My sister, Isabel, plays softball and soccer, but I’m not into that. I was really excited this weekend because my dad took me out to pick up the new Pokémon Heart Gold and Soul Silver game that I ordered. The store helped me unlock a new character in my game when I picked it up, and they gave me a Poke Walker that I clip to my pants. It counts my steps when I walk. Today I beamed one of my Pokémon named Onix into the Poke Walker. When I walked around so did my Pokémon. He earned watts in the game and that helps him evolve. The book also said that when I earn enough watts I can start battles and catch other Pokémon that I usually can’t find. I want to earn enough watts so I can catch Castiform or Kecleon. The book says that once I catch them in the Poke Walker I can beam them back into my game. I haven’t done that yet. I need to take a longer walk so that I can earn enough points. Dad says it should stop raining soon and we can walk around the neighborhood. I hope you are having a good time at the White House.

Sincerely,
Devon Emanuel

The next day at work, I was surprised to learn that my colleague Debbie Stine, the Executive Director of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, had nearly the exact same experience with her daughter. Tina-Marie, also age 11, had purchased the same game and immediately started moving (including in the car on the way home despite being strapped into her seatbelt) to gather the precious watts so she can grow her Pokémon. “One of my friends brought her Poke Walker to school today and got 20 watts from just walking around the school!,” Tina Marie told her mom. Like my son, Tina Marie will be going to elementary school tomorrow with her Poke Walker strapped to her pants, taking every opportunity to take extra steps.

Is this the beginning of a new wave of technologies that will inspire and empower children to get active and eat healthy? When I was a kid, all we had was Pong! Now we have Dance, Dance Revolution, Wii Fit, and the upcoming Project Natal and Move as examples of active video game products. Will games like this not only capture kids’ imagination, but fundamentally change their behavior in high-impact ways over the long-run? I don’t know the answers to questions such as this. All I know is that I think I’ll take a walk with my son when I get home tonight.

Peter Emanuel is the Assistant Director of Chemical and Biological Countermeasures at OSTP and Devon Emanuel is a 5th grader at Emmorton Elementary School in Abingdon, MD

Nanotechnology Project Opens at Disney 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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A visit to the happiest place on earth now opens a window to some of the smallest things on earth.

A new long-term exhibit at Walt Disney World’s INNOVNTIONS at Epcot® opened last month to educate the public about nanotechnology and the science of the very small. Take a Nanooze Break features a number of interactive activities that allow visitors to explore common objects at the nanometer scale, manipulate models of molecules and interact with scientists and engineers who conduct the latest nanotechnology research.

The exhibit gives new meaning to the phrase “it’s a small world after all” using six dynamic videos produced by Cornell University researcher Carl Batt and funded by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.  The episodes, which were produced in collaboration with the international radio program EarthSky, cover both the potential benefits and risks of nanotechnology.  As part of the grant to Batt, the public will be surveyed to gain an understanding of their opinions about nanotechnology and the information conveyed by the videos.

Nanotechnology is the science of studying and producing materials and devices of nanometer size–billionths of a meter, or about 10,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair.  The emerging field of nanotechnology will no doubt lead to unprecedented understanding and control of the fundamental building blocks of all physical things. Potential applications are possible in plant and animal agricultural production, diagnostic devices to ensure food safety, food processing and manufacturing, human health and nutrition, biotechnology, medicine and drug delivery, information technology, homeland defense, energy production and efficiency, and environmental improvement.

Additional USDA funding into nanotechnology research has led to the development of a fabric that can detect biohazards such as E. coli, biosensors that can help detect diseases on farms and in hospitals, and to tracers that can uncover the sources of pollution in farm fields and waters.

The Epcot exhibit was based on the National Science Foundation-supported Nanooze children’s magazine and Web site designed to get kids excited about science and nanotechnology. With millions of people who visit Epcot each year, this work presents a great opportunity to share the latest advances in nanotechnology and how it can benefit our daily lives.

NIFA-funded videos are part of this exhibit, now being displayed at Epcot Center. Credit: Cornell University Chronicle
NIFA-funded videos are part of this exhibit, now being displayed at Epcot Center.
Credit: Cornell University Chronicle

Dr. Hongda Chen, National Program Leader for Bioprocessing Engineering and Nanotechnology at USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

From Sisters’ Generosity Grows a Garden to Benefit Carthage, Texas Community

Jane Ray was ironing clothes and watching the news when a story inspired her to action. The news story showed First Lady Michelle Obama speaking to employees at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C., telling them about the agency’s People’s Garden initiative. Ray, who grew up in Carthage, Texas, realized she had just heard how she and her sister, Jill Burkindine of Manhattan, Kan., could honor their parents and benefit their hometown community. After the newscast, Ray contacted the USDA in Washington, D.C., to learn how she could establish a People’s Garden. This call led her to Matt Feno, a district conservationist for the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service in Carthage. From Ray’s inspiring moment, has grown a unique People’s Garden national initiative site. It is the only privately owned initiative garden in the world. The sisters own the land where the more than one acre garden is located at the USDA Service Center in Carthage.

Fresh garden produce will benefit Mission Carthage, an organization that works to help families in need. The mission feeds 300 families of four each month from four surrounding counties. Children are a large percentage of individuals receiving food. The garden also will provide an area for the community to learn about gardening, water and soil quality, along with sustainable practices such as capturing rainwater.

Volunteers and NRCS employees have put in months of hard work to make the dream a reality. What began as barren land now has a decorative wooden fence around its borders. Volunteers have planted vegetable seeds and plants in the expansive area. Ornamentals have been planted and bird and butterfly houses dot the fence. Bee hives and water harvesting practices are also part of the garden’s future plans. A groundbreaking ceremony was held recently. Upwards of 100 people braved inclement weather to be a part of the dream.

“It is an example of what the Secretary envisioned,” said Livia Marqués, director of the USDA People’s Garden Initiative, adding that the garden exemplifies the mission of the national initiative, such as incorporating sustainable agriculture practices, while benefiting a community as a whole. She traveled from Washington, D.C., to speak at the event.

Numerous agencies and partners attended the ceremony and continue to volunteer and support the garden effort, such as the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, Farm Service Agency and Resource Conservation and Development, Texas AgriLife Extension, Soil and Water Conservation District, the City of Carthage, Master Gardeners, Watson Organics and the Carthage Chamber of Commerce.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has recognized the sisters’ efforts. He highlighted their efforts during a video message on the People’s Garden initiative. He said “this story demonstrates the power that gardens have to make a difference in local communities.” The USDA also invited Ray and Feno to speak at its first People’s Garden Summit.

Washington, D.C. is a long way from Carthage, but People’s Gardens share common goals, such as feeding the hungry. From this commitment has grown the sisters’ mission statement for Carthage’s Hometown Garden – “Feeding Our Neighbors One Family at a Time.”

Don Gohmert, state conservationist for NRCS in Texas, who traveled from Temple to speak at the groundbreaking ceremony, commented on the garden’s uniqueness: “This is so much more than just a piece of ground with plants on it.”


Submitted by Beverly Moseley, NRCS Public Affairs Specialist, Texas


Along with community members, individuals from numerous agencies and partners instrumental in bringing the garden to fruition attended the groundbreaking ceremony. Some of these included the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, Farm Service Agency and Resource Conservation and Development, Texas AgriLife Extension, Soil and Water Conservation District, the City of Carthage, Master Gardeners, Watson Organics and the Carthage Chamber of Commerce. Representatives from U.S. Representative Louie Gohmert’s office and the Texas Department of Agriculture also attended.

Jill Burkindine of Manhattan, Kan., and Jane Ray of Carthage, Texas, sisters, own the land where the more than one acre Hometown Garden is located at the USDA Service Center in Carthage. This is a unique garden. It’s a U.S. Department of Agriculture People’s Garden national initiative site. It also is the only privately owned initiative garden in the world.

Jill Burkindine of Manhattan, Kan., and Jane Ray of Carthage, Texas, sisters, own the land where the more than one acre Hometown Garden is located at the USDA Service Center in Carthage. This is a unique garden. It’s a U.S. Department of Agriculture People’s Garden national initiative site. It also is the only privately owned initiative garden in the world.

Matt Feno, left, NRCS district conservationist in Carthage, Texas, Livia Marqués, director of the USDA People’s Garden Initiative and Don Gohmert, NRCS state conservationist for Texas, took advantage of a break in the rain showers.

Matt Feno, left, NRCS district conservationist in Carthage, Texas, Livia Marqués, director of the USDA People’s Garden Initiative and Don Gohmert, NRCS state conservationist for Texas, took advantage of a break in the rain showers.

Along with community members, individuals from numerous agencies and partners instrumental in bringing the garden to fruition attended the groundbreaking ceremony. Some of these included the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, Farm Service Agency and Resource Conservation and Development, Texas AgriLife Extension, Soil and Water Conservation District, the City of Carthage, Master Gardeners, Watson Organics and the Carthage Chamber of Commerce. Representatives from U.S. Representative Louie Gohmert’s office and the Texas Department of Agriculture also attended.

Along with community members, individuals from numerous agencies and partners instrumental in bringing the garden to fruition attended the groundbreaking ceremony. Some of these included the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, Farm Service Agency and Resource Conservation and Development, Texas AgriLife Extension, Soil and Water Conservation District, the City of Carthage, Master Gardeners, Watson Organics and the Carthage Chamber of Commerce. Representatives from U.S. Representative Louie Gohmert’s office and the Texas Department of Agriculture also attended.

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USDA/DOJ Workshop on Competition Issues – Important Step in the Right Direction

Today over 600 people packed the FFA Enrichment Center in Ankeny, Iowa to participate in the first ever USDA/DOJ workshop on competition issues in agriculture.

With FFA purple jackets helping direct the attendees (and selling boxed lunches), the hall was full nearly an hour before U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack and U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder began speaking to lead off the day.

The diverse audience included farmers and ranchers, union members, academics, representatives of both small and large businesses, lawmakers and federal officials, all eager to begin the series of 5 workshops that will be held over the next several months.

Many in the crowd expressed the opinion that this type of collaboration between USDA and DOJ was long overdue, and their appreciation that the Obama Administration was clearly taking their concerns about the market for agricultural products so seriously.

Once the program began, it became clear that AG Holder and Secretary Vilsack were not prejudging the results of these workshops, but were here to listen and engage in a discussion that would inform the efforts of both Departments over the coming months and years.

To underscore this point, Vilsack announced at the start of the second panel that public comments would be taken over the lunch hour to ensure that everyone had a chance to offer their comments.  It is clear that the issues are complex, but there was agreement that having today’s discussion was a critically important step in the right direction.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, and U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack at the USDA/DOJ Workshop on competition issues.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, and U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack at the USDA/DOJ Workshop on competition issues.

Caleb Weaver, Press Secretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture

A Tour of How Forest Service Job Corps Program Changes Lives

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to see first hand how the Forest Service Job Corps Program changes lives.  The motto of the Centennial Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center (JCCCC) is “Creating brighter futures one individual at a time” and this motto is applicable to all 28 JCCCCs. My day at Centennial began with a tour of the center to observe many of the vocational trades that are being taught at our centers.

This was followed by a groundbreaking for a  ”People’s Garden,” part of an international effort where our employees create sustainable gardens at every USDA facility. The food produced in this garden will provide both Job Corps students and the local community with fresh, nutritious produce.

A “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” luncheon featuring food from local agriculture producers, including lamb, trout, and beef, was next on the agenda.  Honoring Secretary Vilsack’s vision, Centennial Culinary Arts students created a fabulous luncheon composed of food produced in Idaho.  In preparation for the luncheon, our students visited local producers so that they appreciate the nation’s vital agricultural resources, strengthening connections with the local agricultural community. The food was absolutely delicious and I sampled a unique dessert of Ice Cream Potatoes!

Next was a program in which I unveiled Job Corps’ new green curriculum and new interagency partnership between  Forest Service JCCCCs and other USDA agencies.  The new curriculum emphasizes the integration of green skills into traditional and new trades.

Our JCCCCs are perfectly positioned to lead the country in developing an effective green jobs program and USDA now is taking steps to position our JCCCCs as a foundation of America’s Green Job Corps!  The new interagency partnership will expand job training, internship and career opportunities for Job Corps students.

Centennial, thank you for your warm welcome Kudos to the Forest Service Job Corps Program.   It was an honor!

By Harris Sherman, Under Secretary for Natural Resources and the Environment

--People's Garden Groundbreaking L to R: Carl Powell, Business Community Liaison, Centennial JCCCC, Harv Forsgren, Regional Forester, Intermountain Region, Larry Dawson, Director, Forest Service Job Corps Michael Rolfe, President, Student Government Association, Centennial JCCCC, Meryl L.R. Harrel. Special Assistant to the Under Secretary, Natural Resources and Environment, USDA, Harris Sherman, Under Secretary, Natural Resources and Environment, USDA, Safiya Samman, Director, Conservation Education, USDA Forest Service
People’s Garden Groundbreaking L to R: Carl Powell, Business Community Liaison, Centennial JCCCC, Harv Forsgren, Regional Forester, Intermountain Region, Larry Dawson, Director, Forest Service Job Corps , Michael Rolfe, President, Student Government Association, Centennial JCCCC, Meryl L.R. Harrell. Special Assistant to the Under Secretary, Natural Resources and Environment, USDA, Harris Sherman, Under Secretary, Natural Resources and Environment, USDA, Safiya Samman, Director, Conservation Education, USDA Forest Service

Sign features the design and theme of the event--Forest Service Job Corps and USDA: Training America's Youth for the New Green Economy
Sign features the design and theme of the event–Forest Service Job Corps and USDA: Training America’s Youth for the New Green Economy