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Strengthening Rural America For Our Future Generations

Here at USDA, we know that having strong rural communities is critical to ensuring that rural America remains a viable place for families to call home. That’s why, through smart investments and regional partnerships, we continuously work to expand opportunities by fostering the creation of diverse and productive rural economies through everything from home loans to financing for infrastructure and business ventures.

Infrastructure, like homes, buildings, roads and power, is the first step toward prosperity and growth in any community. For small rural communities, however, large-scale infrastructure development can be challenging. Small towns have more limited resources and a smaller tax base that can make access to credit difficult. Fortunately, USDA Rural Development can help. We are proud to partner with rural communities across America to provide affordable financing for these essentials, including financing to bring high speed broadband, including remote, poor and under-served areas. Additionally, we provide loans, grants and technical assistance for water systems, wastewater systems, essential community facilities like schools and hospitals, small business start-up or expansion. Read more »

Smokejumpers Celebrate 75 Years of Service

Rufus Robinson (pictured) and Earl Cooley are the first two men to parachute from an airplane to fight a forest fire

Rufus Robinson (pictured) and Earl Cooley are the first two men to parachute from an airplane to fight a forest fire on the Nez Perce National Forest on July 12, 1940. (USFS Photo)

In 1940, Rufus Robinson and Earl Cooley made U.S. Forest Service history parachuting onto a fire over Martin Creek on the Nez Perce National Forest in Idaho.  This historic jump started an elite smokejumper program, a program born of necessity and innovation.

Since then, smokejumpers have played a vital role in fire suppression by providing a unique capability to deliver large numbers of highly skilled, qualified firefighters over large distances in a short amount of time. Read more »

Opportunities for Native Youth Available through APHIS’ Safeguarding Natural Heritage Program

2015 Safeguarding Natural Heritage Diné College summer youth students

2015 Safeguarding Natural Heritage Diné College summer youth students, Mansi (left), Thomasina (middle) and Tenaya (right) weed a corn field as a part of learning about Navajo traditional farming, from community elders Ferlin and Gwen Clark. Students weeded several corn field plots, helped build a taller fence around the field, and listened in on traditional teachings from the elders. Photographer: Amy Redhorse

The land and our strong ties to the earth as humans are a source of culture and livelihood throughout Indian Country. Native youth carry the hopes of their ancestors forward, and many tribes have visited with me at the Office of Tribal Relations, interested in learning how their children and grandchildren can discover more about the world around them.  Through the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) Safeguarding Natural Heritage (SNH) program, the USDA partners with Tribal Colleges and Universities to promote youth exposure to agriculture, natural resources, and wildlife biology. 

Since 2007,  the SNH program has served as a 2-week outreach program for students 14 to 17 years of age, bringing APHIS experts—as well as Tribal elders, Tribal professionals, and university professors—together with Tribal youth for instruction and mentoring.  SNH students pay only the cost of transportation to and from their homes to the participating campus, and APHIS covers the cost of tuition, room and board, and laboratory supplies.  Tribal Colleges and Universities work with APHIS to develop workshops and trainings to help students learn how to safeguard the natural world within and outside Tribal boundaries.  Activities often include hands-on labs, workshops, discussions, and field trips. Read more »

Vermont’s Farm to Ballet Project Shines the Spotlight on Conservation

Ballerina Megan Stearns dancing the lead role of the farmer in Vermont’s Farm to Ballet project

Ballerina Megan Stearns dances the lead role of the farmer in Vermont’s Farm to Ballet project.

Vermont’s agricultural history will soon be enriched as a new Farm to Ballet project aims to celebrate the state’s farming culture and expose a new audience to the beauty of classical ballet. The endeavor is the brainchild of former professional dancer and Vermont native Chatch Pregger. His farm-based ballet tells the story of a Vermont farming operation from spring to fall.

The fertile soils of Vermont’s pastoral farmland will provide the ‘stage’ for the dancers. “Now that I’ve seen the dancers, in a farm environment, I realize this is how I’ve always wanted to see ballet–in this setting.  In its grittiness, its reality–on nature’s perfect stage,” he explained.  Farm to Ballet will be presented seven times throughout August at a variety of farming operations. The performances are not financially supported by USDA, so the Farm to Ballet project initiated a fund raising campaign to cover the cost of costumes, props and sets, and many of the shows serve as fundraisers to support and honor the work of Vermont’s farmers and the local food movement. Read more »

Listening and Learning From Local Food Stakeholders in New Mexico

AMS Local Food Research & Development Director Ken Keck (far right), AMS Administrator Anne Alonzo (middle), and Rio Arriba County Agricultural Extension Agent Donald Martinez, Jr., (middle in the back with red shirt), check out the 'Tequila' sweet pepper

AMS Local Food Research and Development Director Ken Keck (far right), AMS Administrator Anne Alonzo (middle), and Rio Arriba County Agricultural Extension Agent Donald Martinez, Jr., (middle in the back with red shirt), check out the 'Tequila' sweet pepper picked from the fields at Danny Farrar’s (far left) Rancho La Jolla in Velarde, NM. USDA photo courtesy of Peter Wood.

As part of National Farmers Market Week, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Administrator Anne L. Alonzo and I traveled to New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment. The bustling Santa Fe Farmers Market was the perfect place to kick off the week! While there, we also traveled to the beautiful countryside and met with key local food stakeholders during a special session and visits to local farms.  

The round table forum and farm visits allowed farmers, ranchers, and local food organizations to share their experiences. We heard from Danny Farrar, who owns Rancho La Jolla in Velarde and is also a member of the Farm to School Board of Directors. He told us that many of the northern New Mexico farmers who sell at farmers markets are growing fruits and vegetables on small family farms of just 3 to 5 acres and on land passed down through generations. He told us that keeping his land as a working farm is as important to his culture and heritage as it is to its profitability. Read more »

Potato Grower Improves Operations From Soil to Store

Sheldon Rockey, co-owner of White Rock Specialties of Mosca, Colorado

Sheldon Rockey, co-owner of White Rock Specialties of Mosca, Colorado.

What do you get when you combine an abandoned rural high school, two Colorado farm families and potatoes? White Rock Specialties.

The innovative potato packing facility in Mosca, Colorado, is an economic driver for valley potato growers and employment in this small, unincorporated community in the San Luis Valley.

For generations, the Rockey and New families have been farming in the valley. Each family business had their own potato packing facilities, however, time and an increase in demand for their products proved the old equipment too inefficient. Discussions started between the families and it was decided a couple years ago to merge their packing businesses and White Rock Specialties was formed. Read more »