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Working Together to Develop Local Strategies for Strong Rural Communities

How will decisions about where we locate new development or upgrade existing infrastructure impact our future economic vitality and fiscal health?  How can we site and plan public facilities and housing so they have the greatest benefits for our community?  How can we rebound from years of population loss?  How can we capitalize on our unique history to become the kind of place we want to be in the future?  These were some of Alton, Missouri’s residents’ many questions Smart Growth America addressed during a recent USDA Rural Development supported technical assistance workshop.

During my visit to Alton, I was amazed at this small town’s vision, energy, and commitment to revitalizing its economy and improving the lives of its 870 residents.  Local leaders are bringing life back to their downtown by improving the built environment and hosting cultural events, developing the regional food system, strengthening tourism to nearby National Forests and beautiful rivers, and more.  However, I’ve seen rural communities with similar dreams fall short of their goals due to a lack of technical expertise, local capacity, financing, and partnerships.  That’s why USDA is working with Smart Growth America to bring innovative solutions, funding ideas, and insights from their experiences around the nation to communities who want a brighter future.

Growing a Community - One Family at a Time in Huron, S.D.

There are stark differences between Huron, South Dakota, and the Thailand Refugee Camp where the Maung Family started their journey. There are cultural differences, language barriers, and vast contrasts between the way people live and work in these two pinpoints on opposite sides of the globe. The Maung family journeyed from Thailand and have been welcomed into the community of Huron, South Dakota. They are enjoying the American culture and are adjusting well to life in their new community.

It takes strong community partners working together to create thriving communities and improve the quality of life in rural areas. Even though the Maung family has limited knowledge of the English language, that barrier did not prevent them from pursuing the American dream of homeownership through USDA. They worked with a language interpreter to engage several partners that worked together to assist with the application process of becoming new homeowners.

Stretching the Clock and Enhancing the Food Aisles Make for Better Eating in Tribal Nations

March is National Nutrition Month. Throughout the month, USDA will be highlighting results of our efforts to improve access to safe, healthy food for all Americans and supporting the health of our next generation.

Food insecurity, and the social factors associated with it, can have a profound impact on any U.S. demographic. But two Indian reservations have recently found ways to tackle this very issue and illustrate how a little bit of brainstorming and community-building can go a long way to feed kids and grown-ups.

Ask any parent, and they’ll tell you a good chunk of their income goes toward putting food on the table. While that is taken as a given, what isn’t always obvious are the challenges parents encounter and the behind-the-scenes struggles moms and dads face to make sure there’s enough money to take care of this basic need. School meals are an important part of a child’s daily nutrition. But when the school day is done – and often when children are most hungry – that’s when parents may feel the pinch the most.

Envisioning a Stronger Economy for Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

Recently USDA Rural Development staff in South Dakota spent two days at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, home of the Oglala Sioux, where they met with Tribal leaders, educators and other Federal partners.  They made this trip as part of a broader administration effort to change the way the federal government works with communities. This approach values residents’ knowledge of their communities’ strengths and needs; it also includes local leaders as essential partners and collaborators.

Jennifer Irving, Director of Regional Equity for Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation, a local non-profit intimately involved in one-such effort at Pine Ridge said, “It is important to coordinate engagement of the Promise Zone stakeholders to ensure that Tribal Leadership’s vision and priorities are being met while optimizing Tribal commitment of time and resources.”

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.

Winyan Toka Win Garden Evolves Into Micro Farm

USDA celebrates National Native American Heritage Month in November with a blog series focused on USDA’s support of Tribal Nations and highlighting a number of our efforts throughout Indian Country and Alaska. Follow along on the USDA blog.

When the Cheyenne River Youth Project (CRYP) first began its organic garden in 1999, staff members at the 26-year-old not-for-profit youth organization scarcely could have imagined where that little garden would take them. Now, 16 years later, the thriving two-acre Winyan Toka Win (“Leading Lady”) garden located in Eagle Butte, South Dakota is the beating heart of the youth project — and it’s quickly becoming a veritable micro farm.

Today, sustainable agriculture at CRYP supports nutritious meals and snacks at the main youth center for children four to twelve and at the Cokata Wiconi teen center.  It also provides fresh ingredients for the seasonal Leading Lady Farmers Market. To continue pursuing the long-term vision for the initiative, CRYP has invested in a new irrigation system, a composting system and a garden redesign.

Tribal Communities Strive to Regain Food Sovereignty

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

For thousands of years Native Americans thrived in self-sustaining communities.  Now, many have to make do with whatever food and basic goods can be hauled in by truck.

“The Oglala Lakota people thrived for centuries as a self-sustaining community.  They utilized the bounty of their local environment to provide food and shelter,” said Nick Hernandez, Community Food Project director at South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation.  “In modern times, 95 percent of food and basic goods are hauled onto the Oglala Lakota Nation, perpetuating a phenomenon known as a ‘food desert’.”

USDA Programs Help Ease Transition to Farming, One Vet at a Time

Located three miles east of Vale, South Dakota, on Cox Farms, Cox Sweet Corn is produced by veteran Kyle Cox, who left the Army after 12 years to return to the family farm.

In 2013, Cox separated from the Army to begin his family’s future in agriculture. With 700 acres, the farm produces alfalfa, corn, and more than 2,000 head of cattle.  To help make the most of his agricultural opportunities, Cox took advantage of veteran-focused training funded by U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).  The training is part of USDA-wide effort to support veteran farmers.

Investing in Opportunity in Indian Country

USDA celebrates National Native American Heritage Month in November with a blog series focused on USDA’s support of Tribal Nations and highlighting a number of our efforts throughout Indian Country and Alaska. Follow along on the USDA blog.

Earlier today, I met with leaders from the 566 federally-recognized Native nations who participated in the White House Tribal Nations Conference. This was the seventh of such conferences hosted by the Obama Administration, and built upon the President’s commitment to strengthen the government-to-government relationship with Indian Country and to improve the lives of American Indians and Alaska Natives, with an emphasis on increasing opportunity for Native youth.

All told, over the course of the Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture alone has invested nearly $3 billion in rural development projects that have helped Tribal members achieve the dream of homeownership; improved community facilities in Tribal communities; made critical upgrades to electric, water and telecommunications infrastructure that serve Tribal communities and members; and invested in the Tribal businesses and entrepreneurs who drive economic growth in Indian Country.

Investing in the Basics - Quality Education at the Red Cloud Indian School

USDA celebrates National Native American Heritage Month in November with a blog series focused on USDA’s support of Tribal Nations and highlighting a number of our efforts throughout Indian Country and Alaska.

As State Director of USDA Rural Development in South Dakota, I want to ensure small South Dakotan communities have just as much opportunity to have successful business ventures, to build their community infrastructure, and to improve the quality of life in their hometowns as their urban counterparts. Yet, before anyone can come up with a business plan, design a new top-notch wastewater treatment facility, or plan a downtown revitalization project, one has to be taught the basics of how.

The roots of all opportunity within any community are in access to quality education.