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Recovery Act, Helping Put Food on The Table

Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan visited Road Runner Food Bank in Albuquerque, New Mexico today, where she took a tour of the facility and helped distribute USDA foods.  Merrigan highlighted the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), and the ARRA funding that Road Runner received in 2009.

The Recovery Act supported the nation’s food banks, food pantries and soup kitchens, by increasing funding to USDA’s Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP).

TEFAP helps supplement the diets of low-income Americans by providing them with emergency food and nutrition assistance at no cost.  USDA makes food available to State governments, which distributes it to their emergency feeding network and their affiliates, like Road Runner.

And Road Runner didn’t just receive food through the Recovery Act, it also received TEFAP Administrative Funds, which it quickly put to use renovating and installing racking in it’s cold storage facility.  Because of these renovations, Road Runner is now able to store and distribute more foods to those in need.

More information about USDA’s Recovery Act efforts is available at  Log on to USDA’s YouTube channel to view additional ARRA project highlights, videos are available at – g/c/2A468F5AC6EBCED7

A “New Dynamic” for Rural America Highlighted at the 2010 Agricultural Outlook Forum

Yesterday was a landmark day for USDA.  The 2010 Agricultural Outlook Forum kicked off near Washington with a top-flight list of speakers, including Secretary Tom Vilsack; Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan;  Ambassador Ronald Kirk, U.S. Trade Representative; USDA Chief Economist Joseph Glauber and Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Jim Miller.

The Secretary was forceful in his commitment to rural America, saying the Obama Administration has an approach to Rural Development and to value-added opportunity creation  that will take rural America to “the next level.”   He spoke of the need to develop new sources of biomass, turning marginal lands into highly productive property.  He told us that “It is time for America to take back its energy destiny” and, noting the large number of young people, including National FFA representatives in the audience, said “Your country needs you.  I say to young people that you have a future in rural America.”

In the afternoon Rural Development Deputy Under Secretary Victor Vasquez and I moderated panel discussions on the future of rural communities.  Victor’s panelists discussed topics including how to bring financial institutions and economic activity to Indian reservations, building new capital networks, and promoting redevelopment and financial security through microlending.

One of my passions is promoting the “Know Your Farmer, Know your Food” initiative that is a priority of Deputy Secretary Merrigan.  It was my privilege to moderate a distinguished panel that centered on the cooperative model and how it can make a difference, not only in the area of channeling locally and regionally produced foods to urban populations, but improving the quality of foods in schools and also using the cooperative model to improve access to health care in rural areas that often suffer from a lack of medical staff.

It was an amazing day, not just for me, but for all of us committed to a vibrant rural America …one that is not only productive, and relevant , but a place that is central to the economy of our nation and a catalyst for urban renewal.  The vision set forth by Secretary Vilsack yesterday is an exciting one, and will not only  change the lives of the one in six Americans that call rural America home, but will improve the health and well-being of all Americans for decades to come.

Cheryl L. Cook, Esq. Deputy Under Secretary, USDA Rural Development

New York Economic Development Forum Draws an Overflow Crowd

USDA Rural Development and the Farm Services Agency sponsored the Rural New York Economic Development Forum earlier this month in Virgil, N.Y. we had an audience of about  60 business, government and economic development leaders.

We chose the Hope Lake Lodge as the location for the meeting because it is a great example of what USDA Rural Development can achieve. The five-story hotel– part of the Greek Peak Ski Resort – was financed in part by a $10 million Business and Industry (B&I) loan guarantee. Several attendees were surprised to discover Rural Development could finance such a facility and a few have already approached us to discuss specific projects the B&I program may be able to support.

Rep. Michael Arcuri was attending a high-speed rail press conference 80 miles away in Utica, N.Y. but opened the Forum with an address via telephone. Staff members from the offices of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Rep. Maurice Hinchey and Rep. Dan Maffei were in attendance. New York State Assemblyman Bill Magee, Chair of the Assembly’s Agriculture Committee, and staffers from the New York State Legislative Commission on Rural Resources were also present.

The leading barrier to job creation and economic development in rural New York was easily identified by the group. Almost everyone in attendance, whether in government or the private sector, felt the lack of access to capital combined with lenders’ risk aversion created the largest problem facing our state’s rural economy. Several other issues also were identified and included the lack of broadband and cellular telephone infrastructure – parts of rural New York have a paucity of cell towers. The need for streamlined, simplified application processes to federal and state grant and loan programs also was identified as a major issue, as was a general lack of information about Rural Development programs.  These issues, as well as several others, are discussed in the report we compiled for Secretary Vilscack.

All in all, I was happy with our first-ever job creation and economic development forum.  We had great attendance and received media coverage. The Forum has also provided us ideas for future events, such as the creation of a “co-funding” business team that would include our business program, the state’s primary economic development organization and other key stakeholders. Another idea we’ll examine is conducting smaller, industry-specific focus group discussions in various regions of the state.

New york Job forum

USDA Rural Development State Director Jill Harvey leads at the Rural New York Economic Development Forum.

Job forum New YorkMore than 60 business, industry, economic development and government
leaders attended the USDA-sponsored Rural New York Economic Development
Forum on job creation and economic development opportunities on Feb. 5.
The event was held at Hope Lake Lodge in Virgil, N.Y., which was
financed in part by a $10 million B&I loan guarantee.

By Jill Harvey, New York State Director, USDA Rural Development

Healthier Families and a Healthier Nation

USDA -  Ready to Move for a Healthier Generation

By Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack

A call to action, a challenge for a generation, no matter what we call it, First Lady Michelle Obama’s announcement of the Let’s Move! initiative is an ambitious goal of solving the challenge of childhood obesity. It is a goal that we take seriously here at USDA and we are prepared to dedicate our time, energy, and resources to achieving this goal.

Let's Move logoWe know the statistics: one in three children are overweight or obese, putting them at risk for diabetes and others chronic obesity-related health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and asthma. Access to nutritious food and proper education on healthy lifestyles are in need of improvement.

Here is a snapshot of what we are going to be working on at USDA to help the First Lady – but it is only a fraction of the full effort our Department will be implementing to reach the goals set forth.

Our Food and Nutrition programs will be working to serve healthier food in our schools. To do this, we will be working with Congress to reauthorize the Child Nutrition Act and hopefully invest an additional $10 billion over ten years to improve the quality of the National School Lunch and Breakfast program, increase the number of kids participating, and ensure schools have the resources they need to make program changes. This means that children across the nation will have better access to fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products. These nutritious foods will be served in all school cafeterias and an additional one million students will be served through school lunch programs in the next five years.
We are also working with the First Lady to promote and double the number of schools participating in the Healthier US School Challenge, which establishes rigorous standards for schools’ food quality, participation in meal programs, physical activity, and nutrition education – the key components that make for healthy and active kids.

And USDA is embracing the latest technology and external stakeholders to help reach our goals. Our Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services is preparing to launch the Innovations for Healthy Kids Challenge, a call to American entrepreneurs, software developers, and students to use a recently released USDA nutrition data set to create innovative, fun, and engaging web-based learning applications that motivate kids, especially “tweens” (aged 9-12) and their parents, to eat more healthfully and be more physically active.

Clearly, we have our work cut out for us, but it is a challenge we are ready to take on. Now is the time to make America’s move to raise a healthier generation of kids.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack Announces Selection of a Pellet Plant Project to Bring New Jobs to Northern Vermont Funded with Recovery Act Support

At a Town Hall meeting in Burlington, Vermont, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the selection of Vermont Renewable Energy Company for a USDA Rural Development Business and Industry Loan Guarantee for a $10 million loan given by Community National Bank. The funds will be used to provide essential capital to establish a new pellet processing plant at the former furniture manufacturing facility in Island Pond, Vermont. The funding is provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which was signed into law one year ago tomorrow.

Thirty four high quality wage jobs and over 100 indirect jobs will be created when the Vermont Renewable Energy Company’s proposed pellet plant is at full operation. Many of the workers will come from a skilled workforce in the Northeast Kingdom counties of Essex, Caledonia, and Orleans, Vermont. Many of the prospective employees have been unemployed since the closing of the furniture plant in 2001.

This project ties into Secretary Vilsack’s vision for managing the nation’s forests, including the use of woody biomass as economic incentives to maintain our forests. It will also give the Northeast Kingdom the lift they need for recovery after so many economic downturns.

Representatives from Vermont Renewable Energy, State and local officials from the Northeast Kingdom, and Community National Bank were present for the announcement and met with local media to discuss the progress of the project immediately after the announcement.

Secretary Vilsack was joined by Vermont’s Congressional delegation, Senator Patrick Leahy, Senator Bernie Sanders, and Congressman Peter Welch. The Town Hall meeting, organized by Senator Sanders was open to the public where they heard questions and comments on issues associated with dairy farming, the need for access to broadband, and other agriculture related topics.

Tom vilsackSecretary Vilsack shares a laugh with Rich Mansfield, Chief Financial Officer for Vermont Renewable Energy Company, and Patricia Sears of the Newport Renaissance Corporation before Town Meeting event in Burlington.

Vermont Town MeetingWith standing room only, Vermonters and neighboring state residents packed the Green Mountain Ballroom at the Burlington, VT Hilton on Saturday. The Town Hall meeting was led by Senator Bernie Sanders, and included Secretary Tom Vilsack, and the entire Vermont congressional delegation.

Written by Anita Rios Moore

Public Affairs Specialist

Missouri Rural Development Multi-family Housing Properties Benefit with FHLB-Des Moines Partnership

Over 100 people gathered in St. Clair, Missouri City Hall gymnasium earlier this month to celebrate the provision of  $2,500,000 to USDA Rural Development ( (RD) from Federal Home Loan Bank (FHLB-Des Moines).   Tammye Trevino, Rural Development’s Rural Housing Administrator joined me in accepting the funds in recognition of an outstanding partnership with FHLB-Des Moines, the Meramec Regional Planning Commission and the eight Multi-Family Housing (MFH) complexes that received grant funding for rehabilitation during 2009.

Having Administrator Trevino present was a tremendous honor and a highlight for all in attendance.  She said, “Our goal is to make necessary improvements and bring a higher standard of living to the elderly and disabled residents of the properties receiving these funds. This financing is an example of the commitment by the Obama Administration to leverage public and private resources to increase economic opportunities and improve the quality of life for rural Missourians

We were very pleased to have the support of our federal elected officials represented by: Rachel McCombs with Senator “Kit” Bond; Jerryl Christmas with Senator Claire McCaskill; and Dan Engeman with Representative Blaine Luetkemeyer.

Missouri’s RD multi-family housing (MFH) portfolio of about 750 complexes and 18,000 units has been the largest or next to the largest in the nation for many years.   Approximately 40 percent of this caseload was loans made to volunteer, non- profit boards that provided housing for the elderly and disabled.  Since many of these complexes were built in the early 70’s the need for repairs and rehabilitation was becoming critical.  There was also a sincere desire to keep the rental rates low and reasonable since many of the elderly and disabled tenants had very limited income, typically below $8,000.  Since federal funds were limited we here in Missouri found a “white knight” in the FHLB-Des Moines Affordable Housing Program.

Federal Home Loan Bank of Des Moines is a wholesale cooperative bank that provides low-cost short and long term funding and community lending to more than 1,200 member banks. It devotes 10 percent of its net income each year to affordable housing.

Through my relationship with Curt Heidt, FHLB-Des Moines Vice President and Community Investment Officer, we were able to brainstorm and mold a plan to help our Missouri RD Section 515 MFH properties using their Affordable Housing Program (AHP).  The AHP was designed to help FHLB-Des Moines member financial institutions and their community partners develop affordable housing for low-to moderate-income households.   Some of the improvements have included new roofs, new energy efficient exterior doors and windows, new carpet, new appliances, new cabinets and upgrading to a more energy efficient heating and air conditioning systems.

My sincere thanks to Curt Heidt and the FHLB-Des Moines leadership team, the FHLB-Des Moines Board of Directors and the Affordable Housing Advisory Council for their commitment and funding support of this tremendously valuable program for rehabilitation of our MFH senior properties.  It was a big step for them to enter the realm of our rental program but without their help, Missouri residents would have lost many of these properties.  Now, not only are the properties available, but they also have a “face-lift”  with things such as central heating and air, which most of us take for granted and they can remain affordable for our residents.

Some of the other partners in this process have been grant writers such as the staff of Regional Planning Commissions (RPC) or Community Action Agencies who have done an outstanding job with the grant writing process.  Also, without a doubt a big thank you on the success of this program has been the volunteer boards that have dedicated countless hours with the ultimate goal of providing high quality affordable living options for the elderly and disabled in the many rural communities across Missouri.  Finally, these grants would not have been available were it not for the involvement, participation, and sponsorship of FHLB local member banks and their commitment to this program and the benefit to their elderly in their communities.

Clifford Crawford, a resident of Leasburg Senior Citizens Home, one of the 2009 grant recipients, spoke on behalf of many residents by providing inspiring comments regarding how grateful they were to Federal Home Loan Bank and USDA Rural Development for the repairs and rehabilitation of their apartments.

I also want to recognize our RD national leadership for its help.  The MFH program is a labor intensive program but through a “labor of love” the Missouri RD staff have partnered with FHLB, the grant writers, contractors, owners and volunteers and been truly committed to providing affordable housing to our senior citizens and for that I am very proud and thankful.

Missouri Crowd

Clifford Crawford, resident of Leasburg Senior Citizens Home, speaking on behalf of the many residents that benefited with the FHLB grant funds to repair and rehab the RD MFH properties. State Director Dunning is seated second from right and Administrator Trevino is seated on the far right.

Missouri complex

One of the four plexes at the St. Clair MFH property, rehabilitated with FHLB funding.

Submitted by: Janie Dunning, Missouri State Director, & George Thomas, Public Information Coordinator