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When Storm Clouds Darkened the Skies in Southern Louisiana, Extension Specialists Lit up Social Media

(This guest blog describes how the Healthy Homes Partnership helped residents affected by recent flooding in Louisiana.  Healthy Homes Partnership is an interagency program funded by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes and is housed at the University of Missouri - Extension. Because September is National Preparedness Month, it is a good time to think about emergency planning.  Don’t Wait. Communicate. Make an Emergency Communication Plan for you and your family as you just don’t know when a disaster will strike your community.)

By Michael Goldschmidt, national director of Healthy Homes Partnership, University of Missouri Extension

In mid-August, residents of Southern Louisiana were deluged by about two feet of rain.  According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the resulting flooding caused at least 13 deaths and damaged more than 100,000 homes. Several federal agencies and partners sprang into action to help, including Healthy Homes Partnership (HHP).

Closing the Summer Hunger Gap for Kids in Rural America

Cindy Bomar is a dedicated person; she is dedicated to her job and to her various volunteer organizations.  And most of her charitable efforts are devoted to helping children, especially poor children.

As a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for youth in Virginia, Cindy has all too often seen the suffering of poor and neglected children and teens. “I advocate in the best interest of these children so that they are not lost in the system,” she explains.

Avoiding Bed Bug Nightmares This Holiday Season

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 portfolio.

Most are familiar with the phase, “Sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite,” but few people know what a bed bug looks like or problems they can cause. From World War II until just recently, bed bugs were not at all common in the United States.  Bed bugs are now found in many homes, apartments, college dorm rooms, and even in public facilities such as theaters, hospitals, schools, and libraries.  Now that bed bugs are back, everyone needs to know how to recognize them, how they move from one location to the next, and where they hide so we can prevent large infestations.

Just Like a Peach, Without the Fuzz

They looked like apples to the twenty-seven children who were waiting patiently in line for lunch as part of the USDA Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) at Old Plank Estates in Butler, PA. But in fact, Freedom Farms, a local farmers market, brought a bushel of fresh picked nectarines for the children in honor of National Farmers Market Week. Lisa King from Freedom Farms explained to the children that, while nectarines may look like apples, they’re more like peaches without the “fuzz”. Giggling, with juice running off their chins, the children enjoyed the foreign fruit.

The USDA program is administered in Pennsylvania by the Department of Education. Old Plank Estates, a USDA Rural Development and Housing and Urban Development funded multi-family housing complex, is partnering with the Paul Laurence Dunbar Community Center to provide the meals to the children.  As an added bonus, Freedom Farms is a new partner in the program, offering to donate fruit each day and to help the children plant a garden at the complex next spring.

Strategic Planning, Thoughtful Leadership Bring Leveraged Investments, Community Vitality to Small-Town West Virginia

I’d been told the neighboring towns of Ranson and Charles Town, West Virginia, are vibrant communities where people want to live, work and raise a family. During a recent visit with local leaders and USDA’s community economic development partners in the area, I saw first-hand how regional approaches and partnerships are attracting public and private investment to the region that make this quality of life possible.

Along with WV Rural Development State Director Bobby Lewis, I recently convened a discussion with the mayors and city planners of the two towns to learn more about their successes and strategies. I learned that Charles Town and Ranson are thinking big, re-imagining their future, and developing a blueprint for their long-term economic viability. You see, by working together to develop comprehensive objectives and plans, the communities have been able to leverage grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Transportation, and the Environmental Protection Agency to develop new businesses, transportation links, and affordable housing. And in 2011, USDA contributed an important piece, providing funding through a Community Facilities Direct Loan for a much needed ambulance shelter.

USDA Funded Apartment Complex Not Just "Renovated" but "Innovated"

Aesthetically the change is obvious and pleasing, but what hides inside the walls and under the ground is what is making the big difference at Kachina Apartments in Casa Grande, Arizona.

The 96-unit senior complex recently underwent a major rehabilitation that not only renovated the individual units but took dramatic steps to reduce water usage and the carbon footprint as well.

The rehabilitation project was a joint effort using low-income housing tax credits, State Housing Funds (HOME), and USDA Rural Development’s multi-family housing program. General contractors for the project were Precision General Commercial Contractors, Inc.

Crafting a Regional Vision--New River Valley, Virginia is Developing Long Range Strategic Plan to Shape its Future

One of the challenges with implementing USDA Rural Development programs is that many of the communities we serve have not had the opportunity to develop strategic plans to guide federal infrastructure investments effectively. Fortunately, a 2010 grant from HUD’s Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities enabled the New River Valley Planning District Commission to engage the public in the rural Southwest Virginia counties of Pulaski, Montgomery, Giles, and Floyd and all the major towns to develop a blueprint for future economic activity.

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to attend a meeting where over 100 rural citizens in the New River Valley gathered to put some of the finishing touches on the 3-year regional planning process, known locally as their Livability Initiative. I came away inspired by the dialogue that has evolved over the past three years and am looking forward to seeing how the communities in this economically diverse rural region look for ways to implement some of the ideas they have generated to improve their communities and enhance long-term economic opportunities.

Local Food Makes the Grade: Farm to School and Beyond

If you are a regular USDA blog reader, you’ve heard about the new Farm to School Census, which shows the national farm to school footprint down to the school district level.  With farm to school purchases topping $350 million across the country and over 38,000 schools nationwide participating in farm to school activities, local food is making marks in schools.

But who produces all that local food?  How does the food make it from the farm to the lunch tray?  How are farmers and ranchers getting the support they need to take advantage of this, and other, blossoming local food market opportunities?  What role does the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and our federal partners play in the local food system?

A Makeover for a House Loaded with Memories

Nellie Buckman is the daughter of a migrant worker.  Growing up her family moved from place to place a lot.  She never really had a place to call home until her adult years when she moved into a little tiny house that was originally from Igloo, South Dakota, which incidentally  is  located on the same lot line as her current residence which was built by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in 1979.  Over the years, the Buckmans raised 10 children in this home.  The transition from the little small house to the HUD house was quite an experience for the family.  The HUD house was much bigger and in the beginning, the children all slept in one bedroom until they got used to having extra space.  Her children now grown, Buckman’s home continues to be a gathering place for her large family.

“I love having a place to call home, to care for, and have all of my trinkets and memories surround me,” said Nellie Buckman.

South Dakota Statewide Native Homeownership Coalition on the Horizon

South Dakota USDA Rural Development, Governor’s Office of Economic Development, South Dakota Housing Development Authority (SDHDA), and the Great Plains Native Asset Building Coalition convened a vital meeting of stakeholders recently to gain input on the creation of a statewide coalition to support and promote homeownership in South Dakota Native communities.

Six of the nine Indian reservations in South Dakota, including representatives of six Indian housing authorities participated in the session, as well as Nathan Sanderson of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.  In addition to USDA Rural Development, federal stakeholders included the Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs, and Indian Health Service. About 50 people gathered for a daylong working session to provide critical impute on the goals and priorities of a proposed coalition.