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School Breakfast Program in Bolivia Improves Children’s Health and Academic Performance

They say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and in Bolivia, this couldn’t be truer. In Bolivia, more than 162,000 children in 2,240 schools ate what was likely their only meal five days a week thanks to a Project Concern International (PCI) program funded by USDA’s McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition (McGovern-Dole) Program.

About three-fourths of Bolivia’s population survives on two dollars a day and 26 percent of the population is chronically malnourished. Development is hindered by a lack of education, especially among girls, poor agricultural practices and limited infrastructure.

To remedy this situation, USDA donated more than 17,000 tons of wheat, wheat-soy blend, vegetable oil, peas and bulgur valued at more than $4 million to PCI under a three-year McGovern-Dole Program agreement starting in fiscal year 2005. The commodities and cash provided by USDA were used by PCI to develop school feeding programs in 65 municipalities in the departments of Cochabamba, La Paz, Oruro and Potosi. Read more »

A Simulating Experience

I was at the ribbon cutting for a commercial driving simulator at Lake Land College in Mattoon, Ill., Thursday and had an incredible experience.

Have you ever driven behind someone and wished you were in a rubber car so you could “bump” them?  Well “driving” a truck driving simulator fulfills that wish, and scares the socks off you at the same time!  Being behind the wheel of a “18-wheeler” is a challenge.  And with wintery weather conditions and traffic patterns changing in the blink of an eye, you quickly realize the responsibility is frightening!  When you take off the seatbelt and leave the “cab,” you can feel the tenseness in your shoulders.  Thank goodness it all occurred in a simulated setting!  “On the job training,” without the simulator, would mean “on the road” training!  And that IS a scary thought!

But because of a USDA Rural Development Rural Business Enterprise Grant to Lake Land College, that terrifying prospect is eliminated!  The RBEG covered the entire cost of the commercial driver training simulator.  It’s designed to provide a realistic tractor trailer and commercial vehicle driving experience in preparation for students to receive their CDL (Commercial Driver’s License).  And the training and certification is completed in a safe, non-threatening environment over a four-week period.

Not only are the students well prepared, the simulator also enhances the development of a workforce for scores of businesses in the area and throughout the Midwest.  Area business have even “signed up their current drivers” for refresher courses!

As the regional leader in commercial driver training, Lake Land College has helped hundreds of men and women find employment in the trucking industry.  And that means:  job stability, bonus plans, health and life insurance, retirement plans, paid vacations and students being hired even before they graduate!

I’m a long way from getting my CDL, but I’m on the short list of new appreciation for those who do!

Colleen Callahan, State Director

State Director Colleen Callahan practices driving a semi in the snow in a commercial driving simulator.

Colleen Callahan and Scott Lensink

State Director Colleen Callahan and Lake Land College President Scott Lensink cut the ribbon for the college’s new commercial driving simulator.

Colleen Callahan

Illinois State Director, USDA Rural Development

Children Of Senegal Directly Benefit From USDA’s McGovern-Dole International Food For Education Program

In keeping with USDA’s commitment to addressing global food insecurity through school feeding programs, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that USDA will donate more than 100,000 tons of U.S. agricultural commodities valued at nearly $170 million in fiscal year 2010 under the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition (McGovern-Dole) Program.

The McGovern-Dole Program helps support education, child development and food security in low-income, food-deficit countries that are committed to universal education. The program has helped feed millions of children over the years and one example of the success of this program can be found in Senegal.

Children in 112 primary schools and 21 pre-schools and mothers and infants in 58 maternal and child health nutrition (MCHN) centers in the Matam region of Senegal are eating a daily meal and much more due to a Counterpart International (CPI) project funded by USDA’s McGovern-Dole Program. Read more »

Making America’s Food Safety System Stronger

Last week some of the nation’s top leaders in food safety gathered at the Agricultural Outlook Forum in Arlington, Virginia, for a session called “Strengthening America’s Food Safety System.”

USDA’s Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Jerold Mande led the panel discussions. The wide-ranging conversation included Food Safety and Inspection Service Administrator Al Almanza, along with consumer advocates from the Consumer Federation of America and the Pew Health Group’s Food Safety Campaign, industry representatives from the National Meat Association and Cargill Inc., and state and federal public health officials.

To kick off the session, Mande outlined the three principles of the President’s Food Safety Working Group: prioritizing prevention of foodborne illness; strengthening surveillance and enforcement; and improving recovery and response when incidents occur.

Here are a few things that we’re doing at USDA every day to work toward reducing foodborne illnesses:

- In July, the Working Group released its Key Findings that included 15 key actions to improve the nation’s food safety.  We have completed over half and are on schedule to implement them all.

- Secretary Vilsack has made food safety research a high priority, including a new Institute for Food Safety Research and an expanded research budget.

- Later this year, USDA will launch the Public Health Information System, a dynamic new data analytics system that will revolutionize FSIS’s ability to detect and respond to foodborne hazards.

“We must do everything in our power to provide our citizens safe food,” Mande said, “starting with unprecedented cooperation among federal agencies, state partners, industry, and consumers.” He emphasized that this session showed this kind of effort.

If you’re not already, follow us on Twitter for the latest food safety tips and latest news and head over to for comprehensive consumer food safety information from across government agencies.

Deputy Under Secretary Jerold Mande
Food Safety Inspection Service Deputy Under Secretary, Jerold Mande on the panel at the USDA Agricultural Outlook Forum.

By Craig Stoltz, Food Safety and Inspection Service, Web Manager

National Roundtable on Ongoing Opportunities for Latinos in Natural Resources at USDA

On Tuesday, February 23, 2010, USDA hosted a National Roundtable on Ongoing Opportunities for Latinos in Natural Resources at USDA in Washington, D.C.

Over 80 people, including 25 Latino/Hispanic community based organizations and community leaders gathered at the Whitten Building with officials from Office of the Secretary, Rural Development Mission Area (RD), Natural Resources and Environment Mission Area (NRE) and other agencies to discuss environmental and community issues impacting the Latino/Hispanic communities around the United States.  The excitement over the Latino issues was evident in the discussions, networking and development of new relationships that took place during the afternoon roundtable.

Oscar Gonzalez, Deputy Director, Intergovernmental Affairs opened the roundtable.  Carole Jett, Deputy Chief of Staff, addressed the participants and introduced Dallas Tonsager, Under Secretary, RD and Jay Jensen, Deputy Under Secretary, NRE.  “Your input in identifying issues, obstacles and opportunities are important to us and will be provided to the USDA agencies and the Office of the Secretary,” said Gonzales.

Almost everyone in attendance, whether a community based organization, farm group, government or the private sector, said they felt the Hispanic community is still lacking access to USDA information and services.  Roger Rivera, President, National Hispanic Environmental Council mentioned that “It is a new day at USDA under the leadership of Secretary Vilsack.  We appreciate his outreach to farmworkers, Hispanic Farmers and Ranchers, and today…Latino environmental leaders.”  The need for a streamlined, simplified job application processes for Federal jobs was highlighted.   Federal Government funding for environmental innovative projects and initiatives was identified as a major issue, as was a general lack of information about USDA agricultural programs, services and how and where to apply for those services. These issues, as well as several others, were discussed by a representative of each organization.

USDA officials discussed the resources that are invested around the country, including funding for community infrastructure and facilities, housing, broadband, biomass and conservation, and farming.  The USDA officials greatly appreciate the time and input offered by each participant.

Latino Roundtable Photo Latino Roundtable Meeting at USDA

Submitted by Jorge Comas, USDA Office of Communications.

Spanish version below:

Mesa Redonda Nacional Sobre las Oportunidades Que Ofrece USDA en Recursos Naturales para los Latinos

El Martes, 23 de Febrero de 2010, el USDA en Washingon, D.C. fue el patrocinador de una Reunión de Mesa Redonda Nacional Sobre las Oportunidades Que Ofrece USDA en Recursos Naturales para los Latinos.

Mas de 80 personas, incluyendo 25 representantes de organizaciones de la comunidad Latina/Hispana se reunieron en el Edificio Whitten localizado en el Departamento de Agricultura de los Estado Unidos en Washington, D.C.  Estas organizaciones se reunieron con oficiales de la oficina del Secretario de Agricultura, el Area de Misión para Desarollo Rural, el Area de Misión para Recursos Naturales y Ambiente y otras agencias para discutir asuntos ambientales y de la communidad que estan impactando la comunidad Latina/Hispana alrededor de los Estados Unidos.  Durante la reunión de mesa redonda de una tarde, la emoción de los participanes era evidente al discutir los asuntos, la comunicación entre los differentes grupos y el desarollo de nuevas relaciones.

El Sub Director de Asuntos Intergubernamentales, Oscar Gonzales comenzó la reunión.  La Asistente del Jefe de Personal de USDA, Carole Jett, le hablo a los participantes y presentó el Secretario Adjunto de Desarollo Rural, Dallas Tonsager y el Sub-Secretario Adjunto de Recursos Naturales y Ambiente, Jay Jensen.  “Sus recomendaciones al identificar los asuntos, obstaculos y oportunidades son importantes para nosotros.  Las recomendaciones seran compartidas con las agencias de USDA y la Oficina del Secretario”, dijo Gonzales.

Casi todos los participantes de la reunión, organizaciones de la comunidad, grupos agrícolas, del gobierno o del sector privado , indicaron que todavía en la comunidad Hispana existe la falta de acceso a información y servicios ofrecidos por el USDA.  El Presidente del National Hispanic Environmental Council, Roger Rivera indico que, “Este es un nuevo día en el USDA bajo el liderato de el Secretario Vilsack.  Nosotros apreciamos los trabajos de promoción y alcance que el Secretario ha hecho con los trabajadores agrícolas, agricultores y ganaderos Hispanos, y hoy… con los lideres ambientales Latinos.”  La necesidad de modernizar y simplificar el proceso de solicitudes para trabajo Federal fue resaltada.  Los fondos federales para proyectos e iniciativas ambientales innovadoras fue identificado como un asunto primordial, también la falta de información sobre los programas y servicios agrícolas del USDA y como y donde solicitar estos servicios.  Éstos y varios otros asuntos fueron discutidos por los representantes de las organizaciones.

Los oficiales representando al USDA hablaron sobre los recursos y fondos invertidos atravez de la nación, inlcuyendo fondos para infraestructura y facilidades para la comunidad, vivienda, comunicaciones de banda amplia, biomasa, conservación y agricultura.  Los oficiales del USDA le dan las más expresivas gracias por su tiempo, participación e información ofrecida a cada participante.

Sometido por Jorge Comas, USDA Office of Communications.

Diversity Program Students Share Their Views From the USDA Outlook Forum

Last week, 22 college students were given the opportunity to attend the USDA Outlook Forum to learn about agribusiness, the latest research, future trends, and policy in contemporary agriculture. The students were part of USDA’s Agricultural Outlook Forum Diversity Program, which was launched by the Office of the Chief Economist and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture in 2007 to help provide students with a unique insight into their agricultural studies. These students represent the diversity of American agriculture.

While at the forum, the students had the opportunity to hear from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and other leaders in the agricultural industry who were able to give them a unique opportunity to interact with industry professionals – something that can’t always be gained in the classroom.

Comments from the students about their experience proved just how useful this program is to their college experience and career development:

“The USDA Outlook Forum Diversity Program presents a great opportunity for students to meet important people in the industry of agriculture.  The speakers presented great points of where agriculture is headed in this country from the points of view from professionals in the agriculture industry which is valuable advice for students.  I enjoyed listening to Ambassador [Ronald] Kirk and Secretary Vilsack’s presentations and all of the opportunities presented to us.  It was also great to meet other agriculture students from across the country.”

“[I liked the] fact that there were speakers who challenged the USDA or brought up controversial issues, and that this wasn’t a means to stir tensions but rather to engage open discussions.  I liked that I could intelligently speak about these topics with my peers who share similar interests.”

“I’ve gained knowledge of a lot of things that I’ve overlooked in the past.  I see now how everything is linked and how important it is to preserve our agriculture, so from a 1 to 10, I would have to give this experience a 100.”

Additionally, the students’ time at the Forum gave them a look at what a future career in agriculture might look like and what road they need to take to work toward their career aspirations.

“I was surprised at how much I took from it, particularly outside of the information I got from the sessions.  I was able to talk to representatives of the various agencies at USDA and really get a better feel for what they did and the qualifications needed to get where I want to go.”.

The students are from land-grant universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, and American Association of State Colleges of Agriculture and Renewable Resources institutions. This year, sponsoring corporations and USDA agencies include: CHS, Inc.; the Farm Credit System; and USDA’s Economic Research Service. This year’s sponsorship of 22 students is the highest level of participation since the program’s inception.

Student participants of USDA’s Agricultural Outlook Forum Diversity Program meet with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack at the 2010 USDA Outlook Forum.

Student participants of USDA’s Agricultural Outlook Forum Diversity Program meet with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack at the 2010 USDA Outlook Forum.