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secretary's column

Secretary's Column: New Approach to Conservation Creates New Partnerships, New Jobs

When USDA unveiled the new Regional Conservation Partnership Program last year, I said that this effort would pioneer a new era of conservation. As of today, the program is doing just that—leveraging an unprecedented three-quarters-of-a-billion dollar investment in projects to preserve clean land and water and create new jobs across the country.

One of the innovative programs in the 2014 Farm Bill, the Regional Conservation Partnership Program brings a wide variety of new partners together—from private businesses, to universities, to local and Tribal governments, to non-profit organizations and more—to develop their own action plans and to pledge their own resources to the project. Local organizations are in the driver’s seat, setting priorities and developing conservation projects that make sense for their communities.

Secretary's Column: 2014, a Year of Action, Partnership and Innovation at USDA

This has been a tremendous year for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the rural families and communities we serve. Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden recently shared a reflection on her most inspirational moments this year. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished at USDA over the course of this year, and I thought I’d take a moment to share just a few of our top accomplishments.

Secretary's Column: Deadline Approaching for Health Insurance Coverage that Begins January 1

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is already making a difference in the lives of millions of rural Americans. Thanks to the ACA, families can choose from a variety of affordable insurance plans and many will qualify for financial assistance to help them pay for coverage.

The deadline is coming up to sign up for health insurance coverage that begins on January 1. To start the new year with coverage, you must sign up by December 15 at healthcare.gov or call 1-800-318-2596 if you need help signing up.

Secretary's Column: USDA Partners with Native Americans

Shortly after taking office, I joined other Cabinet officials on a visit to rural Southwest Alaska. We met with Alaska Native leaders and heard firsthand the difficulties facing Native Americans living in small communities in remote, rural areas. Since that time, this administration has worked each day to provide Native Americans with improved housing, better educational opportunities, clean water and sanitation, and the opportunity to create good jobs. Across government, and here at USDA, we’ve made progress (PDF, 194 KB).

This past week, I joined President Obama and members of the Cabinet at the sixth White House Tribal Nations Conference here in Washington, DC. In addition to serving as the Chair of the White House Rural Council, I am also a member of the White House Council on Native American Affairs, chaired by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. Our priorities in Indian Country include promoting sustainable economic development; supporting greater access to and control over healthcare; improving the effectiveness and efficiency of tribal justice systems; expanding and improving educational opportunities for Native American youth; and protecting and supporting the sustainable management of Native lands, environments and natural resources.

Secretary's Column: Celebrating Our Nation's Agricultural Abundance this Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a celebration of the harvest and the abundance of food we are able to share with our friends and family. This Thanksgiving, take a moment to thank the farmers and ranchers who make our nation’s agricultural abundance possible. Without them, the safe, abundant and affordable food we’ll put on our tables at Thanksgiving would not be possible.

At the same time, this Thanksgiving, it is important to remember those less fortunate. Many people will donate time, food or other resources to a food bank to brighten the holiday for families in their communities, and I am proud to say that many USDA employees are among them. I am also proud that through our People’s Garden Initiative, we’ve been able to donate 3.9 million pounds of fresh produce to food banks across the country over the last few years.

Secretary's Column: In Rural America, Promise and Opportunity Abound for Veterans

Veterans have sacrificed dearly to keep this country safe. Every day, they confront and triumph over those that threaten our national security. We owe it to our military men and women to ensure a different kind of security is waiting when they return home—the security that comes from the promise of a good job, affordable housing, a quality education and dependable health care.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture stands proudly alongside those who have served. Our staff across America includes more than 11,000 veterans – and our team works hard every day to strengthen services and programs in rural areas that support veterans and their families as they achieve their dreams. This includes everything from health clinics and telemedicine services, to distance learning and training opportunities for those who want to start a farm or ranch to grants and loans to help veterans start or expand a rural business.

Secretary's Column: Growing the #RuralMade Economy

Those of us who call rural America home know that there’s more to the rural economy than just farms and ranches. From biobased products to rural manufacturing, the potential to grow and make innovative products in rural America is limitless.

As part of our commitment to strengthening rural economies, USDA this week released a new series of state-by-state “Made in Rural America” factsheets. Each state factsheet is a snapshot of how USDA investments help to build a better atmosphere for small business in rural America.

Secretary's Column: Family Farmers Do More Than Feed the World

Earlier today, Secretary Vilsack posted a guest column on the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations blog in honor of World Food Day. The UN General Assembly has designated 2014 “International Year of Family Farming.” This is a strong signal that the international community recognizes the important contribution of family farmers to world food security.

The headlines today can often seem bleak: worries of terrorism, global health, climate change, drought and hunger dominate the news cycle. These are extraordinarily complex and challenging issues that will impact and forever transform the lives of future generations.

Solving them is not simply about military or economic might. While they are not always fully appreciated and recognized for their capacity to address these challenges, I believe the role that agriculture and family farmers can play is significant.

Secretary's Column: Bioeconomy Brings Big Opportunity to Rural America

Today, small businesses and global companies alike have harnessed the power of America’s farms to create new biobased products that are used all around the world. Everything from cleaning products to packing peanuts originates in rural America, and the potential to create even more new products derived from the crops grown in rural America is nearly limitless.

Yesterday, I visited the first-ever Bioproducts World Showcase, hosted by the Ohio Bioproducts Innovation Center at Ohio State University. At the Showcase, I had the opportunity to see the latest and greatest in cutting edge innovation in the bioeconomy and speak with leaders across the bioeconomy about emerging opportunities and challenges in the bioeconomy.

Secretary's Column: Farm to School Programs Create New Opportunities for Farmers

This October, just like every other month during the school year, school menus will feature an array of products from local and regional farmers, ranchers, and fishermen. Kids of all ages will dig up lessons in school gardens, visit farms, harvest pumpkins, and don hair nets for tours of processing facilities. Science teachers – and English, math, and social studies instructors, too – will use food and agriculture as a tool in their classrooms, so that lessons about the importance of healthy eating permeate the school learning environment.

An investment in the health of America’s students through Farm to School is also an investment in the farmers and ranchers who grow the food and an investment in the health of local economies. In school year 2011-2012, schools purchased $386 million in local food from farmers, ranchers, fishermen, and food processors and manufacturers. And an impressive 56 percent of school districts report that they will buy even more local foods in future school years. Farm to school programs exist in every state in the country.