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March 2011

Breakfast – Making a Big Difference in Milwaukee

There is much we adults can learn from children, and one of them is being able to appreciate the simple things. I was at the Milwaukee Sign Language School in Milwaukee for a celebration of School Breakfast Week. I was thrilled by the students’ delight as Active Apple (Milwaukee Public Schools’ nutrition and fitness mascot) and Power Panther (USDA’s nutrition and fitness mascot) strolled into their classrooms.

The hearing-impaired students watched with rapt attention as their teachers signed to them about the mascots and special guests.  All the children seemed thrilled with the Active Apple pins and bookmarks the special guests distributed to them. Best of all, they clearly liked the calming routine of picking up their breakfast bags and eating at their desks. The cold breakfast, served in a simple paper box, was simple yet satisfying, as evidenced by the disappearing Multi-grain Cheerios, milk, juice and cereal bars.

In Energy Security, Rural America Leads the Way

This week, President Obama called on our nation to put an end – once and for all – to our dependence on foreign oil.  He laid out a plan for a more secure future by producing energy here at home, and investing in efficient vehicles and buildings. You can read more about it and watch a video of the President’s speech at Georgetown University in the Administration’s Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future on the White House blog.

Rural America is helping to lead these efforts.

Hmong Farmers Extend the Chilly Massachusetts Growing Season

The near-record snowfall in Massachusetts this winter did not deter farmer Pa Thao. In fact, it strengthened his resolve to make sure that nothing happened to the high tunnel that he put up last fall, so that it would be there when he’s ready to plant mustard greens and pea tendrils in the early spring. Every day Thao, who is from Laos, in tropical Southeast Asia, trudged across the frozen field with a shovel to clear snow away from the structure.

Deputy Under Secretary Outlines Agricultural Success at Mississippi Small Farmers Conference

In the two years that President Obama and Agriculture Secretary Vilsack have been in office, those involved in production agriculture have participated in driving a sustained economic recovery.  That’s the message I delivered earlier this week to farmers, extension staff, local business leaders and government officials during a speech at Alcorn State University in Mississippi.  I was honored to be asked to address those in attendance at the 20th annual Small Farmers Conference at Alcorn State.  The theme is “Sowing the Seeds of Opportunity for a Bountiful Harvest.”

Federal Recovery Act Support Responsible For A New Jersey Water Quality Project and Construction Jobs

A groundbreaking ceremony took place earlier this month in the Town Bank section of Lower Township, Cape May County, New Jersey, to kick off the first phase of a water main project.  USDA Rural Development officials joined Lower Township Municipal Utility Authority, Senator Bob Menendez, state and local officials, and local residents outside the Cape May Beach Property Owners Association Clubhouse.  Howard Henderson, New Jersey Rural Development State Director told the crowd that this project is being funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act), and is the second largest water project awarded in New Jersey.

USDA, Bureau of Indian Affairs Meet to Better Serve Tribes

Earlier this week I was privileged to co-host a historic meeting here at USDA.  I was joined by Jodi Gillette, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Michael Black, Director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs to discuss ways USDA and BIA can work together to better serve the Tribes.

Our two agencies discussed the many challenges in addressing the needs for economic development, natural resource conservation and agriculture on trust land.  We reached an agreement to develop working groups made up of representatives of the two departments to focus on land and credit issues.  We will also discuss leasing processes, easement issues, how agreements that require both our department’s approvals can be handled more efficiently and how we can work together to focus on joint staff education and training.  The end goal is to improve our processes so that economic development, alternative energy, conservation, agriculture, and all our related programs can deploy in Indian Country in a better way.  We are forming two working groups of national and local office staff to clarify the issues and begin building workable solutions.

St. Louis Riverfront Is Front Row for Surging U.S. Ag Exports

I spent yesterday in St. Louis, talking about the importance of trade and smart trade deals to America’s rebounding economy. Within 500 miles of St. Louis, farmers are producing more than three quarters of the nation’s corn and soybean crops, injecting $75 billion into the global economy, supporting 265,000 jobs, and producing $131 billion in crops and livestock. Meanwhile, the Mississippi River moves about 500 million tons of cargo each year, including 60 percent of the nation’s grain exports, accounting for $8.5 billion in exports. USDA recently reported that grain barge traffic around St. Louis is up 126 percent over last year, underscoring the importance of St. Louis to the national economy as a hub for U.S. farm exports. As the heart of the nation’s farm economy, St. Louis is pumping life into the overall economy.

Nearly 300 Washington Area Residents Learn Food Safety from the Pros

Oxon Hill Elementary School’s motto for its annual health extravaganza is, “Spring forward with good health.” The motto was put into practice last week at the Maryland school’s health fair, where community organizations, activities and food samples came together to contribute to good health and well-being.

New Handbook Shows Farmers’ Market Operators How to Participate in SNAP

Last summer, the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), in collaboration with the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), released  the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) at Farmers Markets: A How-To-Handbook.  The handbook assists farmers’ market operators and direct marketing farmers in determining the steps necessary to become authorized to participate in SNAP and, subsequently, the steps related to managing participation.

It includes tips and guidelines on how to make the program work successfully for vendors and customers.  The handbook also features a list of resources, a glossary of important terms, and several case studies from farmers markets that have successfully implemented EBT technology.  AMS’s USDA Farmers’ Market Directory is available online to locate farmers’ markets that accept nutrition assistance program benefits.