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Participants in Open Data Roundtables Guide USDA on Ways to Provide High Quality Data to Users

“Find out who your audience and users are, then figure out the best, easiest way to provide data to them.”

Last week, the Obama Administration focused on a specific climate risk – the risk to the food supply – and the ways data could be used to help increase “food resilience.” The goal is to make data, computational power, and analytic tools available to help food producers, distributors, and inspectors keep the food supply reliable and robust.

As part of that effort, last Friday the GovLab and the USDA co-hosted an Open Data Roundtable on food resilience to bring together government officials, companies, and nonprofits to improve the use of data on climate and agriculture. Like the Roundtable we hosted with the White House and the Department of Commerce in June, this event was designed to promote a dialogue between government agencies that supply data and the companies and organizations that use it. The ultimate goal of all our Roundtables is to make open government data more relevant, accessible, and actionable.

Deputy Under Secretary Cheryl Cook Announces Obama Administration Accomplishments Supporting Renewable Energy

The sun shone brightly on the 896 panel solar array at Heidel Hollow Farm in Germansville, Penn., as USDA Rural Development Deputy Under Secretary Cheryl L. Cook, other USDA officials and guests celebrated the farm’s successful renewable energy project and the announcement of a new USDA Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Report. Heidel Hollow Farm, a family-owned, 1,600 acre hay farm, was awarded two USDA  Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) grants in 2010. The grants were used toward a solar energy project that provides approximately 252,800 KW of electricity used in the hay compressing operation of the farm and an energy efficiency project that replaced one diesel engine with five electric motors, saving over 8,000 gallons of diesel fuel each year.  The compactor increases the density of baled hay by 2 1/2 times for more efficient shipping to overseas customers.

USDA Rural Development Hosts Turkish Delegation in Nebraska

Rural development officials from Hatay Province, Turkey were in the United States recently to learn about USDA Rural Development programs at the national level and in Nebraska.  Hatay Governor Mehmet Celalettio Lekesiz, Hatay Rural Development Agency Director Savas Ozgursoy and four agency staff were on the delegation tour.

Turkey will soon be joining the European Union and Hatay is one of the 20 Turkish provinces chosen for the first phase of EU assistance to support the establishment of a rural development agency.  Hatay is in southeast Turkey, bordering Syria and on the Mediterranean Sea.  The first settlement goes back to 40,000 to 9,000 BC when the main city of Antioch was founded by one of Alexander the Great’s generals.

USDA Official Hears Need For USDA Programs At Towns and Townships Event

“Small towns and rural communities need assistance from USDA Rural Development, now more than ever.” That was the consensus of attendees participating in a breakout session at the National Association of Towns and Townships (NATaT) annual meeting in Washington in early September. During and after the session Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Cheryl Cook heard accounts of how local Rural Development staff have made a difference in the economic health of rural communities in states including Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Many described the positive impact of investments made through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act over the last two years, but expressed concern for the future. Water systems, broadband access, and fire and rescue capabilities were frequently cited as critical foundational investments every community needs. But many said finding private partners willing to lend on affordable terms is a challenge for smaller communities that have a limited tax base.

USDA Asks Local Pennsylvania Businesses What They Need From the Federal Government to Grow, Create Jobs

USDA Rural Development Deputy Under Secretary Cheryl Cook and Thomas Williams, Rural Development Pennsylvania State Director recently conducted a Small Business Council meeting at the Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce, followed by a visit to Molnar Farms, a local Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) recipient. Roxanne Molnar explained to the USDA officials how $20,000 in REAP funds was used to install computer-controlled radiant heaters and ceiling vents to modernize a 40,000 chicken house to keep the chickens healthy in the extreme heat and cold.

Agriculture Deputy Under Secretary Announces Small Business Development and Job Creation Support for Rural Pennsylvania

Recently, I joined USDA, Rural Development Deputy Under Secretary Cheryl Cook, employees of The Progress Fund, and several of their loan recipients for a funding announcement under  Rural Development’s Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program (RMAP).  RMAP was authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill and the program is already helping many small rural businesses.   Under the program, funds are provided to an intermediary who “re-lends” to entrepreneurs.   Deputy Under Secretary Cook announced that The Progress Fund, in Greensburg, Westmoreland County, has been awarded a loan and a grant through the program.  The Progress Fund has made more than 97 microloans in rural areas.  It is expected the assistance provided by this funding will help create or save over 22 jobs. Following the announcement, we all enjoyed products from Emerald Valley Artisans, including a test sample of the new Hills Tavern Blue cheese.

Partnership with USDA and Leaders in Animal Health Science will Address the National Shortage of Large-Animal Veterinarians and Technicians

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon joined Cheryl Cook, Deputy Under Secretary for USDA Rural Development in St. Joseph, Missouri late last month to announce an agreement that is the first step to addressing a nationwide demand for more large-animal veterinarians and veterinary technicians.

New Jersey USDA Recovery Act Water Improvements Spur Economic Growth

After struggling for several years with a stagnant economy, the future is looking brighter for Paulsboro, New Jersey.  Earlier this week, USDA Rural Development Deputy Under Secretary Cheryl Cook, Assistant Administrator for the Water and Environmental Program Jacki Ponti, and I attended an event to celebrate a Recovery Act-funded water project that will help to stimulate job creation while also upgrading Paulsboro’s water system.

Carroll County, Virginia Observes “USDA Rural Development Day”

Under bright, sunny skies last Friday, hundreds of residents of Carroll County, Virginia turned out to acknowledge the support provided by USDA Rural Development. Working in conjunction with State and local governments, non-profit entities and the business community, USDA has infused well over $80 million into the area in recent years, and half of that was to improve water quality. Carroll County is located in the Southwest portion of the state, and the county seat, Hillsville, is surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains.