Merrigan Encourages Women in Ag to Make Use of USDA Resources
by Vickie Lane, public relations/outreach specialist, Alabama Farm Service Agency
Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan applauded several hundred Alabama women for their efforts in advancing the field of agriculture during the 2nd Annual New Generation Symposium of the National Women in Ag Association (NWIAA).
During her keynote address at the Kellogg Conference Center at Tuskegee University, Merrigan acknowledged NWIAA for its collaboration and networking through partnerships and other community based organizations, which has increased membership to 600 in two years.
“In order to continue to do what you do, you need to tap into USDA resources,” said Merrigan, who added that women in Alabama have made great strides in agriculture within the last few years. According to the 2007 Agriculture Census, there are 2,444 women operators in Alabama, a 19 percent increase over the numbers reported in the 2002 census report.
Merrigan said USDA resources like hoop houses are extending the growing season for many farmers. Nearly 50 percent of the total number of African-American female producers that own hoop houses —greenhouses made of flexible pipes and plastic covering and allow for a longer growing season — live in Alabama.
The Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food online compass on the USDA website is also a resource that connects farmers to their community.
“The Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative focuses on local and regional food systems,” said Merrigan. “Because of this, markets are growing fast. The compass allows farmers to see what USDA resources have done for other small farmers and you may be able to apply the same possibilities of this to your farm.”
The deputy secretary also expressed USDA’s effort to increase outreach through the Secretary’s Strike Force Initiative. The pilot project began last year in 137 counties in three States — Arkansas, Georgia and Mississippi — with a mission of providing relief to persistently high-poverty counties. The initiative is being implemented through partnerships with community based organizations and USDA agencies. The ultimate goal is to increase awareness and participation in USDA’s programs, as well as provide additional economic benefits to high-poverty areas in order to create sustainability. Additional States are being added to the initiative for 2012.