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#USDARoadTrip: Investments in Rural Business

The fifth and final stop on our #USDARoadTrip is the backbone of our nation’s rural economy — rural business. By making historic investments and streamlining access to capital for enterprises of all sizes, USDA is helping to build a productive and dynamic rural landscape capable of supporting America’s workforce.

Local businesses foster growth and prosperity not only by creating jobs in our rural communities, but by improving the overall quality of life outside of our urban centers. Whether it’s manufacturing, service-based, retail, wholesale, or farming, when business is booming in rural cities and towns, it adds to the breadth and depth of these communities and provides more opportunities. When rural Americans can find jobs, access healthcare, and buy groceries locally rather than travel fifty miles round-trip to the nearest big city, it saves them time, expense and helps to stimulate both the local economy and the American economy as a whole. Our investments in rural businesses are a strategic investment in all Americans.

Veteran Farmers, In Their Own Voice

“Agriculture is not often the first thing people think of for returning veterans. That’s why we are elevating the discussion about veterans and agriculture.”  ~Secretary Vilsack

This week, Secretary Vilsack, Deputy Secretary Harden and I met with 35 military veterans who are now farmers and ranchers. Hosted by the Farmer Veteran Coalition and the Farm Credit Council, these men and women came to USDA to discuss the opportunities and resources available to veterans interested in agriculture. Many of them participate in the Homegrown by Heroes campaign which celebrates local products grown, raised and produced by farmer veterans across the country.

As the Department’s Military Veteran Agricultural Liaison and a veteran of the Marine Corps myself, I know there are many reasons military veterans turn to agriculture. For some, running a farm business gives them an opportunity to put their logistical training to work. For others, farming lets them continue serving their community. Many veterans talk about how working on the land helps them successfully transition to civilian life. And still others discuss how agriculture gives them purpose.

No one can explain the deep connection between veterans and agriculture better than veteran farmers themselves. Here are a few of their voices.

Planting Seeds for New Careers for our Veterans

Tucked away in the countryside of Jacksonville, Fla., is a place that offers hope and opportunity for returning veterans. Veterans Farm, a 19-acre handicap-accessible farm that helps veterans learn how to make a living from farming and find healing in the land, opened its doors in 2009. Its founder, Adam Burke, an Iraq combat veteran and Purple Heart recipient, is utilizing his skills to create a unique environment where veterans can develop agriculture skills that can help them become effective farmers or ranchers.  USDA is partnering with Veterans Farm to conduct quarterly workshops to connect these veterans to key departmental resources that can plant the seeds for their new agricultural careers.

I recently attended one of these workshops to introduce our veterans to my agency – the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). In particular, I talked about opportunities to strengthen the local food sector via AMS’ Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (which includes the Local Food Promotion Program and the Farmers Market Promotion Program) as well as the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. I also talked about our recent partnership with the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to begin a series of grant-writing workshops to help potential grant applicants write successful grant applications.

A Year of Promise for American Agriculture

It's not hard to list our accomplishments here at USDA: After all, our progress on the much anticipated 2014 Farm Bill has been lauded as "the most successful Farm Bill implementation." We also launched a website for New Farmers and started a conversation with women in agriculture that will continue to grow for many years to come.

What is sometimes less obvious is the people whose lives these programs and initiatives impact. So, to wrap up the year, I wanted to share a few of my most cherished memories from my first year as Deputy Secretary.

Farming is a Business

The new Farm Bill has created many new tools and resources for beginning farmers and ranchers – and questions about which programs are right for their operations.

That is why I took to Google+ this month to talk about how the new Farm Bill can help new and beginning farmers and ranchers.

For the hangout, I was joined by Farm and Foreign Agriculture Service Deputy Under Secretary Karis Gutter, Agriculture Marketing Service Administrator Anne Alonzo and Natural Resources Conservation Service Assistant Chief Kirk Hanlin. Together, we shared with new and beginning farmers information about the programs and services offered by USDA through the new Farm Bill - including support for beginning farmers and ranchers by increasing funding for beginning farmer development, facilitating farmland transition to the next generation of farmers, and improving outreach and communication to military veterans about farming and ranching opportunities.

Join us for a Google+ Hangout: "What the Farm Bill Means for New Farmers" with Deputy Secretary Harden

On Tuesday, September 9th, at 3 p.m. eastern, Deputy Secretary Harden will host a Google+ Hangout to share some highlights from the new Farm Bill and discuss what this means for new and beginning farmers and ranchers.

The Agricultural Act of 2014 is important legislation that provides authorization for services and programs that impact every American and millions of people around the world. The new Farm Bill builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past five years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for the taxpayer.  The new Farm Bill will allow USDA to continue record accomplishments on behalf of the American people, while providing new opportunity and creating jobs across rural America.

Bringing Credit Options to Our Veterans

Althea Raiford retired from the Navy in 2010 and works in Maryland as a police officer. But every month she sends money home to Georgia to buy hogs, chickens and feed, some of which have been purchased at a discount through a network of veterans.

“We [veterans] are a family,” said Raiford, who was able to connect with other veteran farmers to receive 20 chickens for free and purchase two hogs for $30 each to jumpstart an operation that she and her brother started in Georgia four years ago. “We take care of our family and we take care of it the best way we know how.”

Raiford was one of nearly 40 veterans who traveled to Kearneysville, W.Va., on Oct. 10 to attend a symposium co-sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that provides veterans who have an interest in agriculture with financial and business planning information.

Virginia Farmers Sprout Agricultural Knowledge for White House Fellows

Twelve White House fellows were given the opportunity to experience agriculture first hand. From a custom slaughterhouse to a large-scale fruit and vegetable operation, the group grazed the hills and pastures of Virginia to learn the importance of ag in the U.S.

Hosted by Virginia Farm Service Agency staff and accompanied by Farm and Foreign Agricultural Service Deputy Under Secretary Karis Gutter, the fellows began their tour at the USDA Fredericksburg Service Center where they met their tour guides — County  Executive Director Jeanne Turnure and FSA Manager Kim DePasquale.

A Funky Finale for the Feds Feed Families Campaign

Last Friday, with the sun shining down and the DJ playing “Givin’ Up Food for Funk”, national office USDA employees celebrated the end of a successful Feds Feed Families campaign at the USDA Summer Bash.  Given the level of fun that was had, I think it’s safe to say that it was the first annual USDA Summer Bash.

Deputy Under Secretary Outlines Agricultural Success at Mississippi Small Farmers Conference

In the two years that President Obama and Agriculture Secretary Vilsack have been in office, those involved in production agriculture have participated in driving a sustained economic recovery.  That’s the message I delivered earlier this week to farmers, extension staff, local business leaders and government officials during a speech at Alcorn State University in Mississippi.  I was honored to be asked to address those in attendance at the 20th annual Small Farmers Conference at Alcorn State.  The theme is “Sowing the Seeds of Opportunity for a Bountiful Harvest.”