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Navajo Nation Highlights the Value of the Environmental Justice

I recently traveled to New Mexico and Arizona to visit with local Navajo government leaders, Tribal College officials, and community members to hear about life on the Navajo Reservation. Michael Burns, from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), was also there to discuss an important new collaboration, the College/Underserved Community Partnership Program (CUPP).

CUPP develops partnerships between underserved communities and geographically close colleges and universities to provide technical support through faculty, students and staff at no cost to those communities. One of my top priorities is for USDA to help EPA expand the CUPP program to involve Tribal communities and colleges to advance the cause of environmental justice.

Second Morrill Act Redux: America's 1890s Land Grant Universities Academic Excellence

Booker T. Washington.  George Washington Carver.  Educators par excellence.  Pioneers in food and agricultural scientific research. Dedicated their lives to helping "lift the veil of ignorance" by bringing knowledge to African-Americans and others with limited resources.

For 125 years, since passage of the Second Morrill Act on Aug. 30, 1890, which created a "broader education for the American people in the arts of peace, and especially in agriculture and mechanics arts," the legacy of innovations has been sustained.

USDA Goes All in for Produce Safety Outreach

For the produce industry, the summer and fall of 2015 is more than a chance to share a new season of crops with customers. It’s when several of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) laws will become final. FSMA will make significant changes to the country’s food safety laws, including the first-ever regulation of fresh produce and a more proactive approach to preventing foodborne illnesses. My colleagues at the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) have been working hard with our partners to expand our outreach efforts about food safety to help the produce industry prepare for compliance.

One of the ways that we help the industry prepare for compliance is through a successful partnership with Cornell University and the FDA via the Produce Safety Alliance (PSA).  We recently renewed this partnership through a Cooperative Agreement that enables the three entities to devote funds for training and outreach events. Since 2010, AMS has enjoyed working with our colleagues to engage with produce growers, industry members, regulators, and extension educators through working committees, public meetings, focus groups, and webinars.

1890 Land Grant University Transform City Kid into Ag School's Research Leader

Like many city kids growing up in Richmond, Va., Carolyn Brooks didn’t know much about agriculture and had never heard of 4-H. That changed quickly, however, as she was the first in her family to graduate from college—earning a B.S. and then a M.S. in biology from one of the foremost agricultural schools in the country, Tuskegee University, where she said, many people “helped me, guided me, and cared about my success.”

Brooks said that before moving to Tuskegee, Ala., she “knew nothing about the South. I had never been in that kind of environment – in a predominantly black community.”

Alabama Co-op Expands Market to Include Walmart

Alphonso (Al) Hooks, a farmer from the Milstead community near Shorter, Ala. has expanded his produce-growing-and-processing operation from a small local concern to also being a supply source for regional Walmart stores.

A few years ago, Hooks formed Al Hooks Produce, a local cooperative involving him, his son, Demetrius, and four other local growers. The cooperative pools produce (mostly peas, cabbage and greens like collards and turnip greens) from the five farms for distribution to restaurants, grocery stores and nearby farmer’s markets, after it is washed and packaged in Hooks’ processing facility.

Strengthening a Partnership with Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Earlier this week, I attended the 2011 National Historically Black Colleges and Universities Week Conference to accept the ‘Chairman’s Award’ on Secretary Vilsack’s behalf.

Over the decades, HBCUs have been critical in producing many of our nation’s great authors, intellectuals, civil rights and business leaders, inventors and teachers.  There are thousands of USDA employees, from soil scientists to conservationists, who hail from HBCUs.  And maintaining our HBCUs as thriving, top-notch, centers of higher-education is critical to preparing our nation’s future workforce and keeping America competitive.

That Secretary Vilsack was honored with this award, is a testament to his work to strengthen USDA’s relationship with HBCUs.  As Secretary, he has worked to build a new era at USDA as a premier service provider and partner for all Americans, including those in minority and underserved communities.