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Building Economic Opportunities in Alaska Native Villages through Rural Development and USDA's StrikeForce For Rural Growth and Opportunity

When I traveled to Alaska with USDA StrikeForce National Coordinator Max Finberg last month, our eyes were opened to both the beauty of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Region and the challenges of living in that landscape.  We were heartened to see firsthand that USDA’s investments are improving the lives and well-being of Village residents and their communities.  That support will be augmented by the expansion of USDA’s StrikeForce For Rural Growth and Opportunity Initiative (StrikeForce) into the western and interior regions of Alaska.

The StrikeForce Initiative is part of USDA’s commitment to growing economies, increasing investments, and creating opportunities in rural communities facing extreme poverty. Ten southeastern Alaskan boroughs and areas joined the StrikeForce efforts in 2013.  This year, we expanded the number to eighteen to reach the northwest and interior of the state.

A Virtual Roundtable to Bring the StrikeForce Initiative to New Communities

Every day, USDA provides assistance to help grow American agriculture and increase opportunities for rural communities. Unfortunately, 90 percent of America’s persistent poverty counties are in rural America.

Earlier this year, we launched the StrikeForce Initiative for Rural Growth and Opportunity, which targets rural areas of persistent poverty where USDA staff work with state, local and community officials to increase awareness of programs, target resources and leverage partnerships to promote economic development and job creation.  The initiative is now operating in sixteen states in the Southeast, Southwest, Great Plains and Alaska. As I travel the country, I am heartened to learn of the impact StrikeForce programs have had in these communities and hear stories from the people who have benefitted.

You’re Invited: Secretary Vilsack Hosts Google+ Hangout on StrikeForce Opportunities

Are you a community-based organization or farmer in a rural community that faces persistent poverty, or just someone who wants to improve life in Rural America? Do you have questions on how you can partner with USDA to take advantage of community resources and promote economic development in your community?

On Monday, June 17, you are invited to join Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack as he sits down to his very first Google+ Hangout to discuss opportunities available through USDA’s StrikeForce Initiative for Rural Growth and Opportunity. The Secretary will discuss USDA’s work to date and how YOUR community can get involved. We’ve assembled a panel of experts with different perspectives to help provide guidance and best practices for partnering with USDA – whether you want to apply for programs and services, or want to help communities and individuals benefit from available assistance.

Colorado StrikeForce Meeting Draws a Crowd

May 2nd dawned a majestic spring day in the Rocky Mountains of southwestern Colorado as rural and tribal stakeholders from the Four Corners region descended upon the San Juan National Forest Headquarters to learn more about USDA’s StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity Initiative. Participants traveled from New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Colorado and the east coast to discuss strategies to help USDA deliver its programs more successfully in persistently poor rural areas.

A Multicultural Let’s Move! Weekend

First Lady Michelle Obama was thinking of Sam Shihadeh and Rose Fakhoury when she challenged faith-based and community organizations to appoint wellness ambassadors.  Sam, a personal trainer and council member of the Saint George Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church in Washington DC, and Rose, the Director of St. George’s Sunday School, joined forces to lead, organize and take action to improve health and wellness in their community.  St. George Church hosted a Let’s Move! event on May 5th to get their community members eating healthy foods, moving and working to combat childhood obesity.

As a congregation inspired to fight obesity, the church practices what it preaches.  The event kicked off with children racing through an outdoor obstacle course.  During the day attendees heard from a diverse group of panelists such as doctors, personal trainers, and a registered dietitian, on the importance of leading a healthy life.  I joined Paul Monteiro of the White House Office of Public Engagement to share more about the First Lady’s Let’s Move! initiative.

Let All Who Are Hungry Come and Eat: A Food and Justice Seder at USDA

Just ahead of the official start of Passover this Friday at sunset, the U.S. Department of Agriculture hosted its second Food and Justice Passover Seder. The traditional Jewish seder commemorates the Passover holiday and the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. USDA’s symbolic seder, held in partnership with Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, highlighted the intersection of food and justice issues in the modern world.  This year’s event centered on the themes of hunger, access to healthy food, sustainable food production, and fair treatment for farm workers.

USDA Commemorates the “New Year of the Trees”

It is written in the Talmud – a central text of Judaism - that ‘just as my parents planted for me, so I will plant for my children.’ Here at USDA, we’re planting trees across the country and in Israel to bring the wide-ranging benefits of trees, both ecological and spiritual, to future generations.

Today, USDA Natural Resources and Environment Under Secretary Harris Sherman planted a tree next to the USDA’s Washington DC headquarters in commemoration of Tu B'Shevat, "The New Year of the Trees." This event brought together the local Jewish community and government leaders alike to share their common bond of conserving our natural resources and leaving a healthier world for the next generation. 

USDA Partnership Backs Innovation in Food Research

During a recent visit to Oregon, USDA’s Director for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Max Finberg, visited the Food Innovation Center in Portland, where researchers are helping producers get local edibles on the shelf.

The Food Innovation Center (FIC), an experiment station administered jointly by Oregon State University and the Oregon Department of Agriculture, works extensively with USDA to help agricultural producers and food businesses get local foods to market. To make this possible, the FIC conducts a variety of studies related to product development, packaging, shelf life, consumer acceptance, economic feasibility and product marketing.

USDA Employees Commemorate Dr. King’s Legacy of Service

“Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice; say that I was a drum major for peace; I was a drum major for righteousness . . .We all have the drum major instinct.”

Excerpt from The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Drum Major Instinct" sermon, given on February 4, 1968.

USDA employees came together for an inspirational ceremony last week to commemorate today’s day of remembrance and service for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Secretary Vilsack declared the first ever USDA Day of Service and challenged all employees to volunteer in their communities.  Secretary Vilsack reminded the audience of Dr. King’s contributions to the Civil Rights Movement and the importance of keeping his legacy of service alive. He challenged everyone to make service a part of their everyday lives.

Active Living by Design Helps Get Communities Moving

Three community supporters of Let’s Move are moving towards healthier lives. Inspired by First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Faith and Communities initiative, these communities are leading the way in creative solutions to health issues through mobile grocery markets, convenient bicycle accommodations, and safe routes to school. These innovative ideas are brought to life through the funding and partnership of organizing group Active Living by Design.