When Secretary Vilsack joined USDA in 2008, he tasked himself with making the agency more accessible to an increasingly diverse nation. Together, with the Obama Administration, Vilsack created new guidelines for all USDA programs under the 2002 Farm Bill.
“What makes America exceptional are the bonds that hold together the most diverse nation on earth. The belief that our destiny is shared; that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations. The freedom which so many Americans have fought for and died for come with responsibilities as well as rights. And among those are love and charity and duty and patriotism. That's what makes America great.”
– President Obama, November 7, 2012
NIFA is dedicated to ensuring that all applicants and stakeholders are treated fairly, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or national origin. Through a multitude of programs, the agency is able to educate diverse, rural, underserved communities on topics such as nutrition, youth leadership development, and science, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
According to the Food and Nutrition Service, 30 percent of Hispanic households with children are food insecure, meaning they have limited or uncertain access to healthy food. Many of the options that are available to these families do not meet the standard requirements for a sufficient healthy, balanced diet. NIFA has joined the fight against food insecurity by funding $926,000 to the University of Illinois’ program “Abriendo Caminos” (Clearing the Path). The six-week workshop, made possible through the AFRI competitive grants program, teaches Hispanic families the importance of activities such as meal preparation, choosing healthy alternatives, exercising, and other physical activities such as traditional folk-dancing. As a result of the workshop, extension specialists at Abriendo Caminos discovered that eating at least three shared family meals per week correlates to a 20 percent reduction in consuming unhealthy foods and a 24 percent increase in eating healthy foods. The frequency of family meal time also lowers the consumption of sugary drinks and increases the consumption of fruits, grains, and vegetables.
White Earth Tribal and Community College in Minnesota used part of a grant from NIFA’s Tribal Colleges Extension Program to support four seasonal camps for at-risk youth, including sugar bush camps that teach students how to keep their cultural traditions alive at. A “sugar bush” is a grove of maple trees that produce syrup. Camp participants learn how to transform watery maple sap into the syrup we know and love. Camp instructors teach the youth about the science of xylem and phloem (the systems that transport water and nutrients throughout a plant) and why the trees produce the sugar sap. Tribal elders explain the cultural and historic significance of maples to the campers.
In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii has the highest cost of living in the nation, due in part to its dependence on imported fossil fuels. Facing these energy challenges head on, the Hawaiian government recently set a goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2045. One key step in reaching that goal is strengthening the school-to-work talent pipeline of STEM professionals. The “Women in Technology” (WIT) project, managed by the Maui Economic Development Board, Inc., is fostering a more diverse technology workforce. The project, funded by a $265,000 grant from NIFA’s Women and Minorities in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Fields (WAMS) program, offers training opportunities to encourage women and underrepresented minorities into STEM careers. Across the U.S., the WAMS project has implemented 32 STEM-related education programs at both the K-12 and college level, as well as workplace programming.
NIFA is committed to making sure all Americans have equal access to opportunity and the support they need to succeed. Learn more about USDA’s commitment to Civil Rights in this month’s USDA’s Results chapter, “The People’s Department: A New Era for Civil Rights at USDA.”