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Virginia Farmers, NRCS Give Makeover to the Land

Makeover shows are now a staple of reality TV—we all like to see dramatic transformations. Did you know that USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) helps make “conservation makeovers” happen on the land every day?

Take Peyton and Myra Yancey’s fourth-generation 225-acre farm in Virginia’s scenic Shenandoah Valley, which houses beef and poultry operations.

The Yanceys’ conservation makeover started in April 2011 with planning and staking a stream buffer, which is a group of plants that will filter nutrients from water draining into the stream and provide shade to cool the water, improving the habitat for fish and other aquatic organisms.

The Rapid City, South Dakota USDA Staff Helps Make Christmas Special for a Family in Need

The Rapid City, South Dakota, service center includes staff from Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Farm Service Agency (FSA), Rural Development (RD) and Pennington County Conservation District.   Three years ago, the Rural Development staff contacted the Cornerstone Rescue Mission and WAVI (Working Against Violence, Inc.) to provide information on various programs.  At that time, the USDA staff decided to forgo the typical interoffice gift exchange and set up the first Angel tree.  The first two years, the staff provided gifts to the families seeking assistance from WAVI.

Every year, the Rapid City Club for Boys finds sponsors to provide a Christmas for a family who would otherwise be unable to celebrate the holiday. This year, the group decided to sponsor a family of six.  The second to the youngest, is a 7-year old boy who lives with four sisters and his mother, and is a member of the Club for Boys.

The children’s mom works at a minimum wage job and is a full-time student in college.  The children range in age from 5 – 18, and the family budget is very limited making it difficult to make ends meet.

USDA Support Helps Delaware Families Build Their Own Homes

Earlier this month I joined Delaware Senators Tom Carper and Chris Coons in announcing USDA funding support for a project that will help 24 limited-income families build their own homes.  It’s called Self-Help Housing.

Under the program, limited-income credit-worthy families work together to build their own houses.  Usually, about eight families work together under the guidance of a construction foreman and the process takes about a year.  The program requires applicants to provide at least 65 percent of the labor, and at closing, this contribution becomes their “sweat equity.”  At the end of the process, USDA provides a direct homeownership loan at an interest rate of as little as one percent.

"The Self-Help Housing Program is one that instills a sense of pride in individuals as they work to build the very structure they will live in," said Senator Carper. "Homeownership is part of the American dream, and programs like the USDA's Rural Development Self Help Housing Program make that dream more accessible as we work our way out of this long and difficult recession," Senator Coons said.

'Tis the Season to be Counted: U.S. Farmers Give the Gift that Keeps Giving By Participating in 2012 Census

The end of December is typically marked by people returning holiday gifts that don’t fit or aren’t quite right. But this year, farmers and ranchers across the country can give themselves a gift that won’t be returned and will keep on giving even after the holiday season – a voice for their industry and their community.

By filling out the 2012 Census of Agriculture, farmers are investing in the future of their farm and American agriculture. Their responses provide a strong and unified voice about their needs and current state of the industry.  Law makers, government organizations, businesses, town planners and individual farm operations use this valuable information to help shape farm programs, boost rural services, and grow their farm futures. It’s an important investment into the future and well-being of farming and all of agriculture in America.

USDA Kentucky Staff Encourages Students to Pursue Careers in Agriculture

Middle and high school students from across the state gathered on the University of Kentucky (UK) campus earlier this month, to learn about potential careers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

UK’s College of Agriculture hosted the group, Jr. Minorities in Agriculture Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS), with the intent of getting the students interested in pursuing a college education.

Representatives from a variety of USDA agencies – including Rural Development, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service – talked with students about their respective agencies, explaining their missions and what career fields were available throughout USDA. They also were interviewed by students about their job, explaining job responsibilities and how they came to work in their career field.

USDA Rural Development Helps Make Holidays Merry for Pennsylvania Children

Rather than the traditional office name exchange this year, the Pennsylvania USDA Rural Development State Office staff added a new twist.  Each employee made a list of toys they enjoyed as children. The lists were exchanged and employees purchased toys for an eight year old version of their co-worker.  The wrapped toys were recently distributed at an office holiday gathering.

The staff enjoyed opening baby dolls, remote control helicopters, games and puzzles. As children, the staff may have had a difficult time handing over their new “toys” to strangers.  However, smiles were all around as over 30 unwrapped toys were picked up by two uniformed Marines to be delivered to their local distribution center.

Planting a Holiday Tradition

Many holiday traditions are celebrated during the season surrounding the winter solstice, or the time when the sun is at its lowest point above the horizon.

For communities and families, plants play a central role in these traditions. Yet, most people are unaware of the origins of how plants like holly and yule logs became part of holidays and traditions.

First Generation Conservationist

It was 1993 when Pat Maples and her husband made a ranch outside of San Saba, Tex. their home.

With advice from a neighbor, the Maples’ purchased Angus cattle and leased out  land for hunting. But that was not enough to keep the ranch viable.