NCAT’s Executive Director Kathy Hadley, along with NCAT’s Southeast Regional staff members, were pleased to welcome Lillian Salerno, Administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural-Business Cooperative Service (USDA-RBS), to NCAT’s Fayetteville, Ark., office on Thursday, April 17. Ron Chastain, Agriculture Liaison for Senator John Boozman, and Bootsie Ackerman, District Director for Congressman Steve Womack, attended the meeting as well.
Administrator Salerno wanted to learn more about NCAT and meet some of the staff members who work on the ATTRA – National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service program (www.attra.ncat.org), which is authorized in the Farm Bill. NCAT developed and manages ATTRA through a co-operative agreement with USDA-RBS. The meeting, which ran from about 9 am to noon, provided ample opportunity for NCAT staff to share information about the important work we do.
Highlights of the conversation included a history of the ATTRA program and an overview of the various ways in which we provide technical assistance to clients, from the toll-free helpline to workshops, webinars and videos. Hadley and Margo Hale, Southeast Regional Director, talked about some of our partnerships with other organizations and agencies, such as the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, and FoodCorps.
Salerno also was keen to learn more about NCAT’s Armed to Farm veteran trainings, especially the intensive, six-day training held in Fayetteville in June 2013. Hale emphasized the supportive relationships that grew among participants—who still keep in touch as they build their farm enterprises—and the high demand for more veteran-focused sustainable agriculture trainings.
In addition, Salerno was very interested in NCAT’s experience with sustainable energy projects, such as the efforts of NCAT’s Energy Corps to perform home weatherization for low-income residents, and the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) Clearinghouse that NCAT operates. She spoke about her efforts to encourage job creation in rural areas and the work RBS is doing with rural utility cooperatives to promote energy efficiency.
Administrator Salerno did not leave NCAT empty-handed; we gave her copies of two books we use regularly in our farm-business planning workshops (Building a Sustainable Business, and Fearless Farm Finances), a jump drive full of electronic resources, a copy of Getting Into Farming: A Workbook for Beginning Farmers in North Carolina (a complementary workbook to the free online course available here: http://northcarolina.ncat.org), a copy of the NCAT Annual Report, and a flyer and information booklet about ATTRA.