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February 2013

Deputy Secretary Discusses Food Hubs, New Orleans Style

New Orleans is known for many special things, not the least of which is its food.

That’s why Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan chose the crescent city this week to release a new report on the importance of food hubs in America.  The report finds that there is an increasing demand for fresh, local foods and the popularity of food hubs is growing quickly.  In fact, there are well over 200 across the country now, including Hollygrove Farm and Market in downtown New Orleans.

South Dakota Stronger Economies Together Training Provides an Opportunity to Plan Regionally

Come to Wall Drug! From the far reaches of the nation, these words are on billboards beckoning visitors to come and experience this tourist hotspot in Wall, South Dakota.  Community members that make up the Bad River/Badlands region in western South Dakota were in Wall this month for a different reason.

A training team made up of staff from South Dakota USDA Rural Development and South Dakota State University Extension were on hand to deliver the third training of a nine part series as part of the Stronger Economies Together (SET) regional economic development initiative.

Aggressively Fighting Fraud in the SNAP Program

USDA is serious about good stewardship of tax payer dollars and is doing its part to support the Obama Administration’s Campaign to Cut Waste. That means, among other things, making sure Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits are used by recipients and retailers the way the program was intended.

USDA has just issued a final regulation that updates the legal definition of trafficking. Put simply, recipients of SNAP benefits can now be kicked out of the program for indirectly obtaining cash for benefits.  This includes activities like so-called "water dumping," which involves the purchasing of beverages in deposit containers, wasting the contents, and returning the containers for the cash deposit.  Such actions undermine this important program and will not be tolerated.

Inspiring Recovery

Earlier this week, I traveled to New Orleans with Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan to meet with the local farming and fishing community. What I saw at the Mary Queen of Vietnam Community Development Corporation (MQVN) was inspirational.

Energy Department and USDA Partner to Support Energy Efficiency in Rural Communities

Cross posted from the Department of Energy blog:

Each year, urban households in the U.S. combined use more than three times the total energy that America’s rural households do. Yet, the Energy Information Administration estimates that rural families spend about $400 more per year in energy bills compared to the typical urban household. Unlocking new opportunities to save energy will help rural Americans save money, while improving our energy security, creating jobs and protecting our air and water.

SNAP Remains a Safety Net for Veterans and Families in Need

Cross posted from the blog:

Today, I was thinking about the last entry I wrote for’s blog just about a year ago and considering our accomplishments in 2012 and the opportunities that are ahead for 2013.

The need for food assistance remained high in 2012, with an average of 47 million people participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) every month. Program participation increased in response to natural disasters, such as Hurricane Isaac in Louisiana and Hurricane Sandy in the New England states. However, overall the program grew at a slower rate and even flattened toward the end of the year. SNAP continues to be the cornerstone of the national hunger safety net by helping those in need put healthy food on the table.

USDA Funding Helps Reopen a Town’s Only Grocery Store

Recently, Rural Cooperative Development funding helped to reopen a local Nebraska grocery store.  The story goes like this.

The loss of a grocery store in a rural community can be a devastating blow, especially when it is the only, or at least major, source of local groceries. Not only do people then have to travel farther and expend more time and money to get their groceries, but it can also make it difficult on community pride and make it harder to attract new residents and businesses.

When the only grocery store in Elwood, Neb., closed in January of 2012, community leaders quickly responded, organizing a community meeting to consider opening a cooperatively owned grocery store. Jim Crandall of the UNL Nebraska Cooperative Development Center (NCDC), which receives funding from USDA Rural Development’s Rural Cooperative Development Grants, was the primary speaker at this first meeting to explain the concept of community ownership as a cooperative. The meeting attracted more than 100 people, almost all of whom felt that a grocery store was vital to the future of their community. Prior to and following the initial meeting, community leaders developed and distributed a survey to gauge interest in opening a co-op grocery store. The community response showed widespread support for the concept. A committed, hard-working steering committee was formed to begin the process of studying the feasibility of a grocery store, the cooperative business model, and creating pro-forma financials.

National Forest in New Mexico Hosts Tough Quadrathlon

The  annual winter quadrathlon, staged on the Cibola National Forest and Grasslands, is not for the faint of heart. In fact, it’s so challenging that race organizers post a training program that starts more than three months prior to the event.

Mt. Taylor Winter Quadrathlon athletes must:
·      finish a 13-mile bike ride,
·      complete a 5-mile run on a gravel road that climbs 1,250-feet in elevation,
·      go two miles on cross-country skis for another 1,250-foot climb, and
·      go one mile on snowshoes to gain another 600 feet to reach the 11,301-foot summit of Mt. Taylor.

In Oregon, Commerce Meets Conservation

USDA and the Obama Administration are committed to creating jobs in rural America, so when a job creation effort also protects family forest lands, preserves important natural habitats, and produces beautiful, sustainable white oak wood products, there is reason to celebrate. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to appreciate such a success during a recent visit with Ben Deumling and his mother Sarah of the family owned Zena Forest Products in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

International Year of Statistics: The Uses and Impacts of Agricultural Statistics

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA's rich science and research profile.

2013 is the International Year of Statistics. As part of this global event, every month this year USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service will profile careers of individuals who are making significant contributions to improve agricultural statistics in the United States.

While it may not be broadly known, agricultural statistics are at the center of many aspects of our lives—feeding the world, ensuring a safe food supply, providing water for societal needs, promoting health and nutrition, caring for our environment, responding to climate change, and maintaining an adequate supply of energy. Statistics provide a solid base for decision-making on all of these issues and the International Year of Statistics in 2013 celebrates the role data plays in our everyday lives.