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December 2014

2014 in Review: New Farm Bill Allows Kansas Family to Purchase Home

2014 will soon be in our collective rear view mirrors, and USDA Rural Development has had an incredibly productive year. This week we are looking back on stories from the year that illustrate the impact our programs have on rural communities. Here's a story out of our Kansas State Office from June.

Megan Estrada and her three children are excited to spend time on their new home’s porch – a home they just moved into this summer. Prior to purchasing their own home, Estrada and her children had spent the last nine years in an apartment in Dodge City, Kansas.

World Accessibility in Rural America

Access to the world via internet and mobile phone services is at the fingertips of most Americans, but this is not the reality for residents of many rural communities across the Nation.

In October 2014, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced $190.5 million in grants and loans to make broadband and other advanced communications infrastructure improvements in rural areas.

USDA Helps a Texas Rancher Reach His Dream of Operating a Successful Ranch

One central Texas rancher is fulfilling a childhood dream. Rickie Roddy bought his first cow when he was 14 years old. By the time he was 19, he had grown his herd to 13 head of cattle.

“I have always been fascinated by cattle,” Roddy said. “I didn’t know if I was ever going to be able to have any land, but I wanted to be a rancher since I was a little kid.”

A New Home for the Holidays in Michigan

During this holiday week, I couldn't help but think of my recent visit with Ms. Rebecca Weber of St. Johns, Michigan – about twenty minutes north of our state capital of Lansing. USDA Rural Housing Service Administrator Tony Hernandez and I were able to meet Ms. Weber and hear her inspiring story.

USDA Rural Development in Michigan has forged a valuable partnership with Habitat for Humanity, where USDA provides the necessary financing for these families to build their homes. Rebecca Weber is one of the shining examples of success coming from that partnership. Rebecca is a hard-working single mother who built her home this year with the help of Habitat for Humanity and USDA Rural Development. Rebecca was so dedicated to getting this home build, that when heavy rains this summer forced a six-month delay due to standing water, she enlister her mother and together they bailed out the property with five gallon buckets to get things back on schedule.

New International Wildlife Disease Training Course

Protecting agriculture is nothing new for USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), who is on the job 24/7 keeping livestock safe from animal disease.  APHIS is sharing that expertise internationally to help countries protect livestock and threatened and endangered species from diseases like brucellosis, tuberculosis, avian influenza, bluetongue and rabies.  APHIS, with help from the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), held a new training course specifically focused on wildlife disease issues.  APHIS recently hosted wildlife disease specialists from all over the world, including Cambodia, Kenya, Mexico, Tanzania, Uganda, and Vietnam. 

All of APHIS’ capacity building programs are designed to identify and reduce agricultural pest and disease threats while these threats are still outside of U.S. borders.   Capacity building includes training and technology transfer to assist foreign partners in building their animal and plant health infrastructures. This capability, in turn, helps to reduce the chances that undetected agricultural threats will find pathways into the United States.

Pairing Plant "Buddies"

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

People generally don’t go out of their way to attract insects. But on a few small farms outside Tallahassee, Florida, that’s precisely what some growers are doing—with guidance from scientists from USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and Florida A&M University (FAMU).

Missouri Gardener Enjoys Fresh High Tunnel Produce

David Backus is reminded of the benefits of the on his property in southeastern Missouri at nearly every meal – and sometimes between meals. 

“The food that I grow in my own garden is healthier than the food I can buy at the store, and it tastes so much better,” said Backus between bites of a just picked tomato. 

Initial Launch of the Team Up for School Nutrition Success Training Program

Feeding students healthy, tasty and nutritious school meals can be a challenge.  Just ask any one of the thousands of school nutrition professionals who carry out the and .  They have to balance menu planning following nutrition standards, financial management, and inventory management, all while making meals that will be enjoyed by students – not always an easy audience.  It is a testament to their dedication that over 90 percent of America’s schools have now implemented the improved standards found in the Healthy Hungry Free Kids Act of 2010.

USDA is working hard to find ways to continue to support their efforts. One way we are doing that is a new program that we recently piloted in Mississippi that provides free training through a partnership with the National Food Service Management Institute (NFSMI). The (Team Up) is tailored to schools and covers topics like menu planning, financial management, procurement, meal presentation and appeal, as well as youth engagement tactics, and strategies to reduce plate waste.  

Another partner in this initiative is First Lady Michelle Obama. Mrs. Obama is grateful for the hard work being done in our country’s school cafeterias, but also recognizes that some may need a little help. When she heard about our initiative, she took the time to make a to not only thank and encourage the dedicated school food service professional around the country, but to encourage them to take advantage of Team Up. Hear with the First Lady had to say about Team Up: