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USDA-Supported Small Business Assistance Provides a Ladder to Prosperity for Enterprising Hispanic Families

As a first-time small business owner, Nabor Ceja, has learned a lot since opening his restaurant, Chicken & Teriyaki, in Hood River, Oregon. Like many immigrants, Mr. Ceja wasn’t familiar with local processes and requirements for things like business registration, tax numbers, insurance, permits, licensing, hiring and employer obligations. With limited English proficiency, just asking the different agencies and offices for help was a significant barrier.

Mr. Ceja is not alone. Thirty percent of the population in Hood River County is Hispanic. Until recently, however, there were no small business assistance providers meeting the unique needs of the Hispanic community.

Gabriel Muro is the business services coordinator at a social services nonprofit called The Next Door. “I have met so many people who start businesses using their personal accounts, or who don’t get their W-9 forms submitted in time to demonstrate legal status and claim important exemptions. All of these things are done differently in Mexico.”

First Ever Native American Food Hub Created in New Mexico

The air was crisp and cold as the wind blew across Sandia Pueblo in mid-December.  But, the atmosphere among the Ten Southern Pueblo Governor’s Council was warm and jovial.

Why? Because, the Governors were celebrating the obligation of a USDA Rural Development funded study that creates the first ever Native American Food Hub in the nation.

On The Road: Deputy Secretary Harden Tours Projects in Delaware and Pennsylvania

After a busy day at University of Delaware filled with a student roundtable and a visit to the UDairy Creamery, Deputy Secretary Harden awoke in Pennsylvania to tour the Conewago Watershed, a local flower farm and the YorKitchen incubator.

On a mild November Friday, Deputy Secretary Harden traveled through the scenic countryside of southeastern Pennsylvania. Her tour began with the Conewago Creek Watershed in Lancaster County, including visits to several trails, fencing, forested riparian buffers and stream crossings. Deputy Harden then stopped in at the Lebanon County Field Office to chat with staff from Natural Resources and Conservation Services and Rural Development. A winding trip through Lancaster County led to Cramer’s Posie Patch in Mount Joy, where she met with owners Ralph and Keith Cramer for a tour of their 47 acre wholesale fresh and dried flower farm. While the fresh cut flower season is over, the dried flowers from this year’s harvest depicted a time of vibrancy during the growing season. The dried and long-stem fresh flowers are sold to wholesale distributors for the creation of home décor arrangements and wreaths.

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?

USDA Rural Development Supports New York Water Quality Improvement Effort

Late last month, I had the privilege of joining New York U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Delhi College President Candace Vancko, Chairman James Thomson of Delaware County and Saputo Dairy Foods USA Manager Liz Van Buren to discuss the Center of Excellence in Watershed Applications and Technology Based Economic Revitalization (COE in WATER) Initiative.

The COE in WATER is an innovative partnership with the State University of New York (SUNY), the local business community as well as federal, state and local governments who are committed to stimulating economic development and creating jobs in rural upstate NY.

CDFI - Important Part of Infrastructure

The 8th Annual Governor’s Native American Summit was held last week at Utah Valley University in Salt Lake City, Utah.  Utah’s Rural Development State Director Wilson “David” Conine wanted to share with attendees the importance a community development financial institution (CDFI) can play in tribal development.  He turned to his counterpart, South Dakota Rural Development State Director Elsie M. Meeks who has over 20 years of experience working for Native community economic development.

Meeks recognized CDFI as an important part of the infrastructure for delivering consistent funding for housing and small business development activities that benefit low and moderate income people.  They combine multiple sources of public and private capital in order to make loans and investments available in ways tailored to the particular underserved geographies and types of businesses or borrowers.  Developing capacity among these types of organizations can increase utilization of USDA programs in a region, many of which provide long-term below-market capital for permanent improvements in rural areas.

USDA Partners With Service Organizations to Help Veterans Find Careers in Agriculture

Veterans returning home from overseas tours-of-duty face many challenges as they readjust to civilian life, and one of the most daunting ones is finding employment. Last year, a new program — the Soldiers to Civilians (S2C) Project — was started in rural west Tennessee to give local veterans the training and skills they need to enter into the field of precision agriculture. Thanks to grant assistance from the Department of Agriculture (USDA), project leaders will now be able to expand the S2C program beyond west Tennessee to help even more veterans living in the rural delta areas of east Arkansas and west Mississippi.

The expansion was funded, in part, through USDA's Rural Business Enterprise Grant (RBEG) program, which promotes development of small and emerging businesses in rural areas. Rural Business-Cooperative Service Administrator Lillian Salerno announced the award during a visit to the Memphis Bioworks Foundation, a bioscience-oriented nonprofit organization that is a partner on the S2C project. Memphis Bioworks is one of more than 130 projects in 30 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico that are receiving RBEG funds.

Acting Deputy Secretary Discusses the Need for a Food, Farm and Jobs Bill to Boost the Rural Economy

Anyone that is familiar with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) knows of the important role that our local delivery system plays throughout the country. Farmers and residents can visit the USDA Service Center in their area to receive localized assistance. The Farm Service Agency (FSA), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and Rural Development (RD) staff in these offices often come together to highlight programs that each can offer and support projects in the area. This concept of One USDA was evidenced recently as representatives of these agencies welcomed the Acting Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, Michael Scuse, to Illinois.

While in Illinois, Mr. Scuse joined the Illinois Directors of FSA, NRCS and RD to visit LaSalle County. The Acting Deputy Secretary moderated a roundtable discussion with administrators and students at Illinois Valley Community College (IVCC). Topics included the President’s Climate Change Action Plan, USDA’s role in renewable energy investments, and a discussion of the need for a five-year Food, Farm and Jobs Bill. Scuse said the bill is designed to continue the expansion of America’s rural economy, and that’s a primary reason why Congress must get a comprehensive Food, Farm and Jobs Bill passed as soon as possible.

USDA Explores How Federal Infrastructure Can Support Rural Cultural Strategies

As rural communities search for new and viable economic approaches, it is becoming clear that one core component of many successful rural communities is the presence of vibrant arts and cultural opportunities. Last month I had the opportunity to speak about rural arts initiatives and how USDA Rural Development is engaged with local communities and private foundations to provide awareness of our infrastructure programs and how they can assist in supporting local cultural strategies.

At the Americans for the Arts annual meeting I had the honor of representing USDA on two panels where our Rural Development programs were part of the mix.  The sessions included discussion of ArtPlace, a consortium of national and regional foundations, and their efforts to support rural communities. Projects in Lanesboro, Minnesota and Ajo, Arizona are recent ArtPlace grantees, and we had the opportunity to explore ways in which USDA’s infrastructure programs might be able to leverage this new boost of philanthropic support as these communities work to demonstrate how cultural development is an essential ingredient for rural communities in the next generation.

A Community Rallies to Save its Historic Theater

The Scenic Theater in Lisbon, North Dakota, like many small-town theaters, was struggling with the high cost to convert from a film to digital format. Film had been an industry standard for more than a hundred years, but Hollywood studios will stop printing on actual film by the end of the year.

Established in 1911, the Scenic is the oldest, continually operating theater in the United States. Due to the digital upgrade, theater owners, Al and Betty Michels, were worried that it would be forced to go dark for the first time. To make the transition, all new equipment would have to be purchased and installed, which would cost close to $100,000. With this daunting number, the community rallied to help preserve the historic theater.