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A USDA Loan Guarantee Supports Chesapeake Bay Restoration and Supports Maryland's Oyster Industry

Earlier this week it was my honor to join USDA Rural Development Acting Under Secretary Doug O’Brien and Patapsco Bank President/CEO Michael Dee to announce funding support for one of Maryland’s favorite delicacies – the Chesapeake Bay Oyster.

“In today’s environment, economic recovery is the driving factor in everything we do, and our support for this local food project will have many benefits,” O’Brien said. “It will help support jobs and businesses in the region and support an eco-friendly environment that helps restore and protect the Chesapeake Bay.”

Regreening Baltimore

Depending on who you talk to, there are between 16,000 and 20,000 vacant homes in Baltimore. Once a mid-20th century boomtown where residents built the liberty ships and liberator bombers that helped win World War II, the middle-class dreams of this city have been in a decades-long decline. Entire blocks stand empty, lifeless veneers of boarded windows and burnt-out roofs.

But the U.S. Forest Service is working to help change that, promoting livable and workable buildings for 21st-Century occupants, while retaining the vibrant culture and community that once characterized these streets.

Celebrate Bird Health Awareness Week

Did you know Feb. 24 through March 2 is Bird Health Awareness Week? USDA’s Animal Plant Health and Inspection Service (APHIS) invites you to celebrate by joining poultry experts on a webinar called, “Growing Chicks Into Healthy Chickens: Getting Ready for Spring,” to be held on Thursday, Feb. 28 at 2 p.m.  This webinar is hosted by the Chicken Whisperer, an Extension veterinarian and an APHIS veterinarian. Registration is required and details are here.

The Chicken Whisperer raises backyard birds in rural Georgia.  He started years ago with a few hens and ducks, and this year is starting a new flock of 40 birds at his new home. Andy Schneider (the Chicken Whisperer’s real name), has helped countless bird lovers with their own flocks, has a radio show about backyard bird care, and runs the Atlanta Backyard Poultry MeetUp group which has over 1,600 members.

Feeding More Marylanders by Stretching Federal Dollars

Recently I had a great opportunity to attend a meeting of Maryland’s Partnership to End Childhood Hunger.  Led by Governor Martin O’Malley’s Office for Children, the Partnership "table" brings together state agencies, USDA, local non-profit organizations such as food banks, advocacy groups, and the private sector.  Since November of 2008, the Partnership has focused its efforts on connecting individuals to federal nutrition programs and bridging the gap between eligibility and participation.

Seen and Heard: The USDA Food Safety Discovery Zone is a Big Hit at the B’More Healthy Expo

The USDA Food Safety Discovery Zone began its spring 2012 tour this past Saturday at Baltimore’s B’More Healthy Expo. Staffed by five food safety experts, the Discovery Zone was arguably one of the top attractions at the expo, giving interactive tours and food safety prizes to at least 5,000 visitors in one day. FSIS’ Bridgette Keefe-Hodgson, who communicates through American Sign Language, captured the attention of deaf and hearing visitors alike with her presentations.

Bridgette estimates that about 15 deaf expo attendees stopped by the Discovery Zone, and each stuck around for quite some time to see what they could learn. They were thrilled that FSIS has a series of YouTube videos in ASL, called SignFSIS, on preventing food poisoning, and Bridgette wrote down the URL for her pet project so the videos could be found later. One happy customer told her, “Wow, it is truly fantastic to see a deaf employee working at the FSIS booth.  For me, that makes it so much easier to ask food safety questions directly in ASL.”

Deputy Secretary Merrigan Sowed Seeds for Community-Based Agriculture in Baltimore

I’m thrilled that I could join Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan last week when we announced the recipients of the People’s Garden Grant Program in Baltimore, Maryland.  The backdrop for the $60,000 grant announcement to Towson University was set at the Eat Healthy Live Healthy Urban Garden in the Cherry Hill neighborhood. Cherry Hill is an approximately one square mile, geographically isolated, food desert neighborhood. These residents are impoverished and experience some of the highest rates of chronic disease in Baltimore city.

How You Can Feed Kids Afterschool and on Holidays

Over 21 million kids eat free or reduced-price breakfast or lunch at school. But what about dinner? And weekends and holidays when there is no school?  Well, the answer is the newly-expanded At-Risk Afterschool Meals in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP).  At-Risk Afterschool Meals are now available in all States, and USDA needs your help to open more feeding sites.  More places that serve meals means that more kids are getting the meals and nutrition they need.

In Baltimore, over 6,000 kids eat supper in afterschool programs every day. The Family League of Baltimore City has more than 100 afterschool meals sites. The Family League also feeds children during the summer when school is out, and it has served afterschool snacks and suppers to kids for two years.

USDA Food Safety Discovery Zone Wrap-Up

The USDA’s Food Safety Discovery Zone (FSDZ) concluded its 2010 tour season on November 13, 2010 at the National Science Teachers Association Area Conference, in Baltimore, MD.  “How can I get this to my school and how much does it cost?” was the main question asked by the 2,617 educators who visited the FSDZ during the conference.

USDA Joins Maryland in Celebrating Farmer’s Markets

I recently visited the Park Heights Community Farmers’ Market in Baltimore, Maryland.  At USDA we’re enthusiastic about farmers markets because they help fulfill two of our primary missions – promoting good nutrition and supporting United States agriculture, especially family farmers.  Farmers’ markets also boost local communities through increased outlets for local farmers.