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Home for the Holidays: A Pennsylvania Mom's Story

A year ago this week, Misty Allen and her daughter Deanna came home to the American Dream they thought would forever be out of reach.

“It was magical!” said Allen. “This house is more than I could ever have asked for. I never imagined I could have a three-bedroom house for less than I was paying in rent.”

Flooded out of their most recent apartment and facing a significant rent increase to offset repairs, Allen learned about Rural Development’s 502 Direct Home Loan Program through her local Realtor. Just before Christmas, she and Deanna settled into their picturesque Athens, Pa., neighborhood, their new puppy Odysseus joining Loki, the mischievous German Shepherd, in the mix.

What Will Become of Your Forest Land When You are Gone?

Family forest owners may use consulting foresters or state extension foresters for advice on the technical details of land management, but many owners shy away from thinking about how best to pass their forest on to the next generation.

Poor estate planning – or no planning at all – can result in a tax bill that requires selling timber or forest land, which in turn can lead to subdivision and development.

Estate Planning for Forest Landowners is a free publication developed by the U.S. Forest Service that provides a comprehensive guide to estate planning specifically designed for forest landowners.

Expanding the American Brand

The American brand of agriculture is surging in popularity worldwide. The last four years represent the strongest in history for agricultural trade, with U.S. agricultural exports exceeding $478 billion. This international success is critical to achieving one of USDA’s core missions – fostering economic opportunity and innovation that will continue to help American agriculture grow and thrive in a global economy.

USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) plays a key role in this area by opening new markets for American producers. We enjoy a close working relationship and collaborate on many projects with our colleagues at USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS).  Through our export certification and verification programs, we create opportunities for American farmers and businesses to succeed by connecting them with foreign markets.

StrikeForce Helps S.C. Family Protect & Preserve Forest Land

The soil in Marlboro County, S.C. is known to be fertile, and legend has it that the land was once so productive it was sold by the pound instead of the acre.

In this agricultural oasis, brothers Oliver and Martin Smith are continuing the farming tradition that has been in their family for three generations.

Oliver Smith credits his grandmother, a freed slave, for starting the family farm on 400 acres of land in the state’s Pee Dee region. Now, he and his brother manage the forestry operation, which their father helped grow by another 50 acres. They’re working with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to use conservation to help their operation and the environment.

Helping Small Businesses Make a Trade Impact

Recently, USDA announced that U.S. agricultural exports for fiscal year 2013 finished at another record level, continuing the strongest five-year period for such exports in our nation’s history. Much of this success is due to small businesses, which Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack noted are the backbone of the economy in rural communities, small towns and big cities.

USDA’s efforts with small businesses is helped by the work of four State Regional Trade Groups – coalitions of state departments of agriculture – that use USDA market development program funds to provide support for about 30,000 companies annually.

Teaching the World to Eat Pecans

Do they like pecan pie in Turkey?  If they don’t now, they will soon if Randy Hudson has anything to say about it.

Hudson, his wife Mary Jo and their family operate Hudson Pecan Company in Ocilla, Ga.  Currently, they have their hopes focused on Turkey as a potential new market.  This past June, Scott Hudson, Randy’s son and company vice president, traveled with USDA’s Undersecretary for Farm and Foreign Agriculture Services, Michael Scuse, on a trade mission to Turkey. Their goal was to introduce the pecan to prospective buyers.

The June trade mission was part of President Obama’s National Export Initiative to double exports by 2014. Agriculture exports have remained on record-breaking pace since 2009.  The 2012 ag exports reached $135.8 billion, nearly tripling the values from 1999 ($48 billion).

Biobased Products Important to the Bioeconomy

Last week, I had the pleasure of serving as moderator for a Google+ Hangout examining USDA’s BioPreferred program and the growing bioeconomy. The Hangout was like a visit with old and new friends discussing a subject on which we all agree: biobased products are here to stay!

It was gratifying to see such an excellent panel representing a cross section of this flourishing industry; among them, Ray Miller of Verdezyne, a renewable industrial biotechnology biobased chemicals manufacturer. Ray told Hangout participants the BioPreferred program serves as a respected, independent source of information on new carbon content of bioproducts and said many studies such as this one indicate the production of the chemicals from biobased feed stocks is growing rapidly worldwide.

Helping Schools Build Better Cafeterias

As a former school nutrition director, I am amazed when I visit schools around the country and repeatedly witness students clamoring for items like baked kale chips—who would have ever thought that was possible?  Truly, schools have done an absolutely tremendous job of implementing the new meal standards resulting from the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010. I am so proud of all that our nation’s school nutrition professionals have done to provide healthier, tasty meals to the millions of children who eat breakfast, lunch and snacks at school each day.

While schools have made—and continue to make—great strides across the whole realm of school nutrition, they are still facing challenges in meeting their goals.  In particular, many schools across the country do not have appropriate or adequate kitchen equipment.  The need for updated equipment is well-documented, most recently by a new Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project report entitled, “Serving Healthy Meals:  U.S. Schools Need Updated Kitchen Equipment,” and ranges from cutting boards to refrigerator space.  While some schools still need a significant investment in updated and upgraded equipment, many of the needs are simple and could cost as little as $32 to remedy!

Hurricane Assistance will Reduce Future Flood Damage, Provide Habitat

When Hurricane Sandy came ashore on the northeast coast of the U.S. on October 29, 2012, it ravaged coastal communities, both human and natural.  USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) announced today that it is investing in a number of hurricane-damaged communities in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut to improve flood protection, restore ecosystems and support coastal residents in their recovery efforts.

Using more than $20 million from the floodplain easement component of its Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWP), NRCS is putting over 400 acres under permanent easements to allow for restoration of natural ecosystem functions and to help prevent catastrophic damage from future storms. For a complete list of the enrolled areas click here.

A One-Stop Shop for Organics, with Lots in Store

As an organic farmer, I know how frustrating it can be to search the internet for information that might help my operation. It might be there somewhere but finding it takes precious time, especially if I don’t know exactly what I’m looking for.  Now, USDA has solved part of that problem with a centralized web resource center on for all the programs, services, and data we have that support organic agriculture.  Not only is this web resource center a “one-stop shop” for information about organics at USDA, but there is lots in store!

Organic operations (and those considering transitioning to organic) can: