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Rebuilding Lives: Celebrating Homeownership Month

Five years ago, Christy Carr seemed like a long shot as a future homeowner.  She was a newly divorced, unemployed mom of five, and her credit score was in the 300’s. The home she shared with her children had no heat, no electricity and no running water. A neighbor let Christy run an extension cord to his garage outlet just so that the family could keep the lights on. Since they had no car and only a cooler to keep their food cold, they walked to the store three times a day.

In order to rebuild her life, Christy had to find work and clean up her credit score.  After many interviews, Christy was offered a good job at a marketing company. She was able to move into an apartment but it was too small to house all of her children, and her older sons had to stay with another family member. At the same time, Christy brought her student loans out of default and paid off old marital debts. After 18 months, her credit score had risen by 300 points, and she was able to open a credit card secured through her bank.

Supporting U.S. Egg Exports - All in a Day's Work for a USDA Egg Grader

I’ve had many jobs in my life, but none as challenging or rewarding as my career as a shell egg grader.  With a cumulative 22 years grading eggs in Ohio, I’ve witnessed first-hand the evolution of an industry.  I have also watched my agency – USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) – adapt right alongside the industry, maintaining valuable, unbiased grading and certification services that support marketing opportunities for American agriculture in a global marketplace.

Last year, shell egg graders with the AMS Livestock, Poultry, and Seed Program’s Quality Assessment Division (QAD) assisted the U.S. egg industry in exporting over 99.5 million dozen shell eggs to customers as far away as Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, and as near as Canada, Mexico, Central America, and Puerto Rico.

Big Impact from a Small Kitchen

I recently traveled to Columbus, Ohio with Farm Service Agency (FSA) Administrator Val Dolcini and stopped by Southside Roots Café, Market and Kitchen for lunch. The restaurant makes delicious food from locally-sourced seasonal ingredients, but what really sets it apart is how it charges customers for that food.

Southside Roots Café uses a pay-what-you-can approach that allows everyone to eat nutritious, delicious food, regardless of their income. Housed in a former school building owned and operated by the Mid-Ohio Food Bank, the café and an adjacent fresh food market provide fresh, affordable, nutritious food to the local community. Weekly community meals, along with a kids’ meal program for students at a nearby development center and visitors to the Boys and Girls Club of Columbus, round out the food bank’s creative approach to serving families and children in need.

Smokejumpers Help Ohio Fight Beetle Fire

Smokejumpers are a unique breed.  They are people who are willing to jump, really parachute, out of an aircraft to provide a quick attack on forest fires. While smokejumpers are highly trained, experienced firefighters, they are also expert tree climbers. These firefighters usually work in rugged terrain, but travel all over the country to fight fires. Recently they traveled to Tate Township, Ohio to fight a fire of a different kind.

In April, the U.S. Forest Service sent smokejumpers to help the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) combat the Asian longhorned beetle (ALB) by climbing trees in Tate Township, Ohio, about 40 minutes outside of Cincinnati. The beetle is destroying trees in this area and the goal is to find infested tree quickly before the insect starts to emerge in May as adult beetles from the inside infested trees.

Organic Sound and Sensible Initiative: Spanish Resources

The Agricultural Marketing Service’s (AMS) National Organic Program (NOP) works every day to ensure that products with the USDA organic seal meet consistent, uniform standards. In addition to its rigorous certification process and oversight to protect the integrity of the organic seal, the program also connects organic farmers and businesses with resources to help them understand and comply with the standards.

In recent years, increasing numbers of Spanish speaking farmers and businesses have entered the organic sector. For example, among all operations located outside of the United States that are certified under the USDA organic regulations, 42 percent are in Spanish speaking countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Meanwhile, within the United States, the number of Hispanic producers, many of whom speak Spanish as their primary language, increased 21 percent between 2007 and 2012.

Iniciativa Orgánica Sound and Sensible: Recursos en Español

El Programa Nacional Orgánico (NOP, por sus siglas en inglés) del Servicio de Comercialización Agrícola (AMS, por sus siglas en inglés) trabaja todos los días para asegurar que los productos con el sello USDA Organic cumplan con estándares consistentes y uniformes. Además de su riguroso proceso de certificación y vigilancia para proteger la integridad del sello orgánico, el programa también se conecta a los agricultores y las empresas orgánicas con recursos para ayudarles a entender y cumplir con las normas.

En los últimos años, el número de agricultores y negocios de habla hispana en el sector orgánico ha crecido. Por ejemplo, entre todas las operaciones ubicadas fuera de los Estados Unidos que están certificadas bajo las normas orgánicas del USDA, un 42 por ciento están en países de habla hispana en América Latina y el Caribe. Mientras tanto, dentro de los Estados Unidos, el número de productores hispanos, muchos de los cuales hablan español como su idioma principal, aumentó un 21 por ciento entre el año 2007 y 2012.

Ohio Farmer Continues Life-Long Drive to Improve Environment

Since she was a teenager some 60 years ago, Gail Dunlap has played an active role in her family’s seventh generation Ohio farming operation by focusing on ways to continually improve conservation practices and establish a natural and sustainable way of life.

“Back then, we were not that many years past the Dust Bowl times and farmers in the area were doing a wonderful job of resting the soil with long rotations,” said Dunlap. “I remember even the weeds seemed to be as beautiful as wildflowers.”

Organic Sound and Sensible Resources: Expanding Organic Education through Others

The USDA Agricultural Marketing Service’s National Organic Program (NOP) is continuing to launch new resources resulting from our Sound and Sensible Initiative, which is making organic certification more accessible, affordable, and attainable. Today, we are launching resources that help those who help others – guides and resources that help organizations reach out to and educate potential organic farmers. These resources were produced by our partners in the organic community, all of whom have on-the-ground experience teaching producers about the organic option.

In Conversation with #WomeninAg: Dr. Lois Wright Morton

As part of our ongoing #womeninag series, we are highlighting a different leading woman in agriculture each month.  This month, we profile Dr. Lois Wright Morton, professor of sociology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State University and director of the USDA-NIFA Climate & Corn-based Cropping System Coordinated Agricultural Project.

Dr. Morton’s research focuses on the relationship between people and the natural environment as it relates to climate change. She discusses with us the impact research has on women worldwide and how the field continues to evolve.

A High Five for Transformed Communities

If there's a pinnacle of pride I have in our USDA Rural Development staff, it's their ability to work with rural communities and our public and private partners to be a positive force for transformation in cities and towns across the country. For my #HighFive to our staff at Headquarters and in field offices across the nation and territories, I want to highlight five projects that have transformed rural communities.

In west Tennessee, contaminated groundwater and the lack of a public water treatment facility were causing health concerns and uncertainty for the residents of Springville and Sandy Beach, and they had few affordable options for addressing these serious issues. With investment from USDA Rural Development and other federal and state partners, the communities now share nearly 30 miles of water distribution lines and a new tank that provide clean, safe, and reliable water to the area.