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The First USDA People’s Garden in South Florida

By Ana Maria Silva, USDA Marketing Intern

Florida International University’s Organic Garden gained recognition from the U.S. Department of Agriculture as part of the People’s Garden Initiative. FIU is a student-centered urban public research university that is locally and globally engaged.

Both the organic garden and FIU’s agro-ecology program was founded in 2005 by FIU professors Mahadev Bhat and Krish and funded by USDA educational grants. Once a week students from the agro-ecology program and the garden club meet to work at the garden and search for ways to reduce waste and conserve energy. Not only is the garden open to all FIU students, it is also open to teachers and students from other schools for research and educational purposes.

According to students, the garden uses little or no synthetic soil or pesticides. We always look for organic solutions,” said Andrew Jungman, a senior majoring in environmental studies. “We squeeze caterpillars’ guts onto plants to deter insects, and we feed compost like orange peels to worms to use their poop or castings to create a very rich soil.” They also conserve water and fertilizer by using a drip irrigation system that lets water drip slowly to the root of the plant. In addition, the garden features a meditation section surrounded by edible plants like basil and lemon balm.

FIU students are very committed to making the organic garden a model for other urban institutions of higher education, “said Vladimir Diaz with the USDA Hispanic-Serving Institutions National Program. “The community will greatly benefit from this environmentally friendly initiative.”  The FIU Organic Garden is the first USDA People’s Garden on any university in South Florida.

In 2009, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack created an initiative to recognize community gardens that promote sustainable, healthy and local community food production in the country. In order to qualify, the garden must be a collaborative effort between volunteers within the community and gardeners. It must create spaces that the public can use and employ practices that nurture, maintain and protect the environment.

 Students at Florida International University’s Organic Garden

Students at Florida International University’s Organic Garden

Exploring the Diverse Farming Community in Plant City, Florida

Today, driving out to visit the Castillo farm in Plant City, Florida, Secretary Tom Vilsack and his staff took a moment to stop at a roadside stand selling a wide variety of local produce.

We we’re pleased to see that they accept SNAP benefits with an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card. And their boiled peanuts were delicious.

At the farm Secretary Vilsack had a great conversation with Fidel and Hilda Castillo. He learned how they have expanded their operation from just one acre to the more than 60 acres they farm today.  The Secretary then went out into the cantaloupe field and checked out the irrigation system.  

Up next, Secretary Vilsack will attend an event with agriculture leaders from across the state at the University of South Florida in Tampa to talk about the strength of Florida’s agricultural economy.

By Bobby Gravitz

Farmers Market that accepts SNAP benefits 

Farmer’s Market near Plant City, Florida accepts SNAP benefits with an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card.


U.S. Foods and Beverages Attract Crowds at Seoul Food and Hotel Korea Trade Show, Demonstrating Korean Interest and Demand

By Janet Nuzum, Associate Administrator for USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service

I am writing this post from my hotel room in Korea, because I want to share with you some of my experiences on my first day here at the Seoul Food and Hotel Korea Trade Show. As the associate administrator for USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service, I am here in Ilsan, northwest of Seoul, for several reasons. Among the most important is to meet face-to-face with exhibitors and business representatives who are here to sell American agricultural and food products, as well as Korean importers, food processors, and industry leaders converging at this event, the biggest trade-only food show in South Korea. Up to 1,800 exhibitors are here in this huge, 49,000-square-foot exhibition space. More than 35,000 visitors are expected.

May 12, was the first day of this year’s show and I was privileged to represent the United States in the opening ceremonies.  I joined Minister Chang, the Korean Minister for Food, Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries (MIFAFF), as a dozen or so dignitaries cut the ribbons signifying the official opening of this year’s show. As Minister Chang prepared to depart the show, he and I had a moment to chat informally.  I was impressed by his warmth and sincerity as we both re-affirmed the interests of MIFAFF and USDA in working together cooperatively on areas of mutual interest and concern.

I then turned my attention to the USA Pavilion, which featured 36 exhibitors, representing a truly diverse range of U.S. food and beverage products including American meat products, fruits, cheese and a variety of other products. Last year, 30 U.S. exhibitors left the show with expected sales of $8.9 million in sales over the ensuing 12 months. This year, they hope to sell even more U.S. food and beverage products.  Even if the contacts made here don’t lead immediately to sales contracts, several exhibitors told me that it is nevertheless important for them to be here, to be visible with the trade and showcase their products.  Building a market presence is sometimes a long process, and participation in these types of trade shows introduces foreign buyers and consumers more quickly and effectively to the attributes and advantages of American products.  The exhibits not only showcase the U.S. products, but also demonstrate ways to use and serve the products, whether American style or adapted to Korean style.  Even the non-edible give-aways, such as the carrying bags with egg-head caricatures on them given out by the USA Poultry and Egg Export Council, are a visual reminder of the likeability of American agricultural products.

Korea is already a very important trade partner for the United States. It is the third largest economy in Asia and the world’s 15th largest economy. This country is an economic powerhouse. My presence here emphasizes how strongly the United States values its long, strategic partnership with Korea, which began 60 years ago. As I meet with Korean officials, buyers, and traders, I have the opportunity to reinforce that partnership.

Looking back on the response of visitors to the food and beverages displayed at the USA Pavilion, I am optimistic that the demand for U.S. agricultural products is strong and our reputation as a reliable supplier of safe, wholesome food and agricultural products is excellent. Our FAS staff here in Korea in partnership with U.S. cooperators, NASDA, the state and regional trade groups SUSTA and Food Export-Midwest, as well as innovative and forward-looking businesses, have done an outstanding job of showcasing American food agricultural products here. 

FAS Associate Administrator Janet Nuzum shakes hands with Korea’s Minister for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Chang Tae-Pyong. FAS Associate Administrator Janet Nuzum shakes hands with Korea’s Minister for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Chang Tae-Pyong.

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 The USDA National Farmers Market Directory, affectionately called the “farmers market census” has extended its deadline for receiving information about the country’s farmers markets through June 4.  In 2009, the USDA counted over 5,200 operational farmers markets in the country. Thanks to the diligence of dedicated market managers, state Departments of Agriculture, state farmers market associations and others, the USDA has already heard from several hundred new markets, indicating that the farmers market industry is continuing to thrive in 2010.

Farmers market managers, state Departments of Agriculture, state farmers market associations, and other farmers market operators can continue to list their markets at the 2010 USDA Farmers Market Directory Website.

“[The USDA National Farmers Market Directory]” is a snapshot of what is happening in farmers markets, and demonstrates how the industry is growing and expanding,” wrote Rayne Pegg, the Administrator of the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) (the USDA agency that maintains the Directory) in a recent open letter to market managers.  “[The Directory] illustrates where the markets are, how big they are, how often they operate and other valuable information for policy makers, researchers, advocates, government officials, media and consumers.”

The official results of the USDA 2010 National Farmers Market Directory will be released later this summer and include data about farmers markets that have registered with the Directory up until June 4. In addition to knowing where and when farmers markets are operating, the National Farmers Market Directory also lists what federal nutrition assistance nutrition programs (like SNAP, WIC, SFMNP) are accepted at which farmers markets.  This is a critical way to map how farmers markets are making fresh, healthy, local food more accessible to more Americans.

The bell has rung and farmers market season has now begun! (from L to R): Chef Jose Andres, Vice President of Operations Partner with Stir Food Group Ralph Rosenberg, Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, Farmfresh Director Ann Yonkers, and Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Administrator Rayne Pegg open the Fresh Farm Market on Vermont Avenue near the White House. The bell has rung and farmers market season has now begun! (from L to R): Chef Jose Andres, Vice President of Operations Partner with Stir Food Group Ralph Rosenberg, Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, Farmfresh Director Ann Yonkers, and Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Administrator Rayne Pegg open the Fresh Farm Market on Vermont Avenue near the White House.

Apple Capital of Wisconsin, Gays Mills, Begins Move With USDA Support

By Kelly Edwards, USDA Rural Development, Wisconsin

The Village of Gays Mills lies in a valley among the steeply chiseled bluffs of the region known as the Driftless Area of Southwest Wisconsin, along the banks of the Kickapoo River. The people are known for growing apples and holding the Annual Apple Festival.

The small village of 625, nearly flooded off the map twice in the past few years.

Normally the river runs its course but in 1978 the Kickapoo flooded, reaching record levels of almost 20 feet. All was quiet until August, 2007. Extensive rain in the areas upstream from Gays Mills caused flash flooding and overnight the town filled with water. Homes and businesses filled with water and many people lost everything. The river crested just below the record level of 1978, and 75 homes were damaged.

Then in June 2008 Gays Mills was dealt another blow. This time, the river broke its previous record and crested at 20.1 feet, seven feet above the flood stage level. During both the 2007 and 2008 floods, the water on Main Street submerged cars.

In October 2008, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) asked residents and businesses to relocate to a new site. About 150 of the village’s 230 houses lie in the flood plain.

The planned layout of the new development outside the flood area calls for village offices and a library, along with space for a farmer’s market. Local businesses that move are expected to retain 41 jobs, and new businesses are expected to create 18 jobs within the first year. The relocation project also includes the construction of 10 townhouses and 34 single family homes for the residents.

USDA is a partner in the effort to help local residents.  In 2009 Rural Development awarded nearly $100,000 in a Rural Business Enterprise Grant to help businesses move. In addition, USDA Rural Development awarded the Redevelopment Authority a $1,081,500 Community Facilities Loan for the relocation/construction of a new Village Community Center in the Central Business District. The community center will house the village offices, library, a meeting room, office for the Commercial District Manager and facilities for a farmer’s market.

USDA also awarded two Community Facilities Disaster Assistance Grants to the town. A $67,100 grant will be used to buy a previously owned pumper truck for the Fire Department, replacing a truck that is almost 40 years old. The second grant of $35,200, will help to purchase a new one-ton pick-up truck with plow to assist with snow removal, and a new trailer mounted 4-inch pump for use at the wastewater treatment plant and to help with water removal from properties during high water events.

Other Federal and State agencies have also pitched in. In March of 2010, a grant of $4.31 million was awarded by the Economic Development Administration to prepare a strategy for relocating the Village’s commercial district outside of the floodplain. Also in March, the Village received a $640,000 grant through the Community Development Block Grant-Emergency Assistance Program (CDBG-EAP) from the Wisconsin Department of Commerce (Commerce) to help with relocation costs.

More construction is expected in Gays Mills over the summer.

The downtown of Gays Mills was flooded when the local river jumped its banks.The downtown of Gays Mills was flooded when the local river jumped its banks.

Flooding of Gays Mills shown from the air. Flooding of Gays Mills shown from the air.

Gays Mills, the Apple Capital of Wisconsin.Gays Mills, the Apple Capital of Wisconsin