WASHINGTON – During a Jan. 22 welcoming ceremony, new Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack told agency staffers that the USDA has an opportunity to help this country become energy secure with renewable energy and fuel -- and that children and their families should have nutritious meals available.

"First and foremost, I want to say thank you for the work that you do," Mr. Vilsack said during introductory remarks, but a short time later "the rubber hit the road" as he covered the tough job that lies ahead for USDA.

"These will not be easy times," he said. "There will be tough choices and difficult decisions to make. There will be painful decisions at times. But we have the opportunity to create a new 21st Century economy in America...an economy that really speaks to the strength and values of those who work in rural America -- an economy that’s based on innovation and hard work."

An opportunity exists for USDA to help this country become energy secure with renewable energy and fuel, Mr. Vilsack said. "This is something I saw first-hand when I was governor of Iowa," he added. "The income and state revenues in Iowa are significantly better than in other states today, in part, because we embraced renewable energy and the biofuels.

"We also have a responsibility for the children of this country, and it’s one I take very seriously," he said. "I feel very strongly that we do everything we can to make sure every child in this country has a childhood -- and that starts with what they eat and whether they have opportunities to have nutritious meals and whether their families have support with food-assistance programs to make sure there’s bread on the table. We all have a responsibility to help this country get headed in the right direction in terms of health care and that involves more nutritious food.

"In my way of thinking, [USDA is] the first energy department in this country," he continued. "Think about what we do...food is energy, right? It’s food for us. If we’re the first energy department, we’re just simply expanding our portfolio to include all kinds of energy and that’s important to this country. So whether it’s kids nutrition, a future opportunity in rural communities or whether it’s energy independence and the national security benefits that brings---it all intersects with the work you all do. This is a very, very important department. It is one of the largest and most complicated, which is why I need your help."

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