Wednesday, October 29, 2008

American Spirit Strong in the Face of Economic Woes

I heard someone the other day say their 401(k) looked more like a 201(k). That would be much funnier if it weren’t so true. Whether it’s a major reduction in your retirement savings, higher food prices, a job loss or the foreclosure on your home, in some way or another we are all feeling the economic turmoil battering our nation.

When you feel the economic pinch, it's critical to set priorities. We at the Texas Department of Agriculture are constantly exploring ways to save taxpayer dollars. For example, we have developed a plan to reduce our travel expenses by 20 percent. And I’ve instructed staff to look at other means by which to trim our spending.

You might have heard former Federal Reserve Governor Frederic Mishkin say recently that the shock ripping through our nation's economy is actually worse than what was felt during the Great Depression. While that may be true, we are Americans and adversity only makes us stronger. I know we will weather this economic storm, not through government handouts, but by the individual will of self-determination.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Testimony before Senate Committees on Hurricane Ike

Today, I testified before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Transportation on Texas' response to Hurricane Ike. I appreciated the Senators giving me the opportunity to talk about this important issue.

I began my testimony by recognizing the great accomplishments and teamwork of government, industry and citizens during the storm. Losing one life is one too many; however, and if it was not for the incredible efforts by Texans, the loss of human life could have been substantially higher. Great work and preparation saved lives.

The state's emergency response system was managed professionally and comprehensively. For the most part, the State Operation Center's response was reliable and quick. Pre-positioning of fuel, food, personnel and resources was critical and from my vantage point the agriculture community came forth with a cohesive response, donating significant amounts of time and resources to help fellow Texans in need.

With all this said, we must prepare for future disasters and learn from our mistakes. TDA, the Texas Animal Health Commission, AgriLife Extension, and the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association have convened an initial post review meeting and have scheduled follow-up meetings to address some issues initiated an after-action review process and will improve upon the response based upon our lessons-learned.

The agriculture industry's response needs stronger coordination among agriculture-related agencies. Pre-planned collaboration is lacking for agriculture needs beyond animal health. Key entities need to be assigned responsibilities and trained; plus it is crucial to reduce confusion regarding the process for accessing FEMA assistance. The state needs to consider forming an Animal Incident Management Team to address these issues.

Texans should be proud of the response after this deadly storm hit, but as a state we must continue to work hard so we are even more prepared for future hurricanes and other disasters.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Time to Pick Fresh Texas Pumpkins

With Halloween and Thanksgiving just around the corner, many of you have pumpkins on your mind. Whether used to carve a jack-o-lantern or baked into a delicious pie, autumn is the season for pumpkins.

This morning, Texas Department of Agriculture Deputy Assistant Commissioner for Communications, Veronica Obregon, appeared live on KEYE Morning News from the pumpkin patch at Evergreen Farms in Elgin.

During the interview, Veronica talked about how the price of pumpkins is up this year, compared to last year. Ninety percent of Texas pumpkins are grown in the Panhandle. The Panhandle area experienced heavy rains late in the growing season, which led to a lower than usual pumpkin supply.

To learn more about Texas pumpkins, watch the news clip here:

You can also find out more details and factoids about Texas-grown pumpkins in my Think Texas column here.

So get down to your local farms to get the best pick of the patch. Providing Halloween decorations and great tasting desserts are just a few ways agriculture affects all Texans in their daily lives.

Monday, October 20, 2008

National School Lunch Week a Success

Today I’d like to thank everyone who helped make National School Lunch Week a success.

Me with Eden ISD's hard-working cafeteria employees

While visiting Gonzales ISD, Eden ISD and Bellville ISD last week, I met with students and staff who are making smart nutrition choices. It was an honor to recognize O’Bryant Intermediate School in Bellville as a US Healthier School Challenge Gold Award winner. Their school’s hard work and commitment to healthy school meals paid off, making O’Bryant Intermediate only the third school in Texas to win the gold distinction.

Eating lunch with the great kids at Gonzales Elementary School

At each school, I encountered wonderful and dedicated cafeteria staff and teachers who take care of our school kids every day. It was great to hear how appreciative they are of the efforts of TDA employees, especially in the Food and Nutrition Division. Together, they have all contributed to the success of the National School Lunch program. TDA is dedicated to making sure our customers, Texas children, are happy and healthy.

Students at O'Bryant Intermediate School in Bellville load up on school-served vegetables. No wonder they won the gold!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Texas Agriculture Today launches online

It is my pleasure to announce this week’s unveiling of our new electronic version of Texas Agriculture Today.

The Texas Agriculture Today Web site will serve as an online version of the Texas Department of Agriculture’s printed quarterly newsletter. In each issue, you’ll find a variety of news stories on agricultural topics that affect everyday life.

TDA is committed to connecting with as many Texans as possible through a variety of mediums.

To have Texas Agriculture Today sent directly to your inbox, click here to subscribe. We will continue to circulate the regularly published version of the issue for those who still prefer the original hard copy.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Don't Miss the Last Week of the Texas State Fair

This week is your last chance to enjoy the Texas Department of Agriculture's Food and Fiber Pavilion at the State Fair of Texas. The 2008 State Fair will draw to a close on Oct. 19, but there’s still time to experience fun cooking demonstrations, high-energy exhibits and exciting special events.

The third week of events and activities promises an exciting finish to this year's Pavilion, presented by Borden. Try a sample of Texas beef, taste award-winning Texas wine and learn how the diversity of agriculture touches our everyday lives.

Click here for a detailed schedule of the final week’s events.

Click here for a virtual tour of the TDA Food and Fiber Pavilion.

The clock is ticking to enjoy this Texas family tradition, so don’t miss out!

Monday, October 13, 2008

National School Lunch Week Off to a Good Start

This week, I am joining students across the state celebrating National School Lunch Week, Oct. 13-17. As part of my ongoing commitment to help curb childhood obesity, I encourage students to enjoy nutritious school meals and adopt the 3 Es of Healthy Living – education, exercise and eating right.

Today, I joined the fourth graders at Gonzales Elementary School for lunch. It was great to see so many students eating healthy and nutritious school lunches.

Acknowledging the benefits of a nutritional diet and exercise early in life will help foster better eating decisions, and in turn, help sustain a lifestyle with a reduced risk of health problems that are most often associated with obesity. Click HERE to watch TDA's latest public service announcement reminding people that good grades start with good nutrition.

Child obesity is a growing epidemic in our state, but it’s not too late to begin implementing changes in our children’s lives to halt this disturbing trend. Encouraging your children to eat lunch at school is a great way to encourage healthy eating, as those meals are prepared with less fat in order to meet federal nutrition requirements.

Click HERE to read facts and figures about the childhood obesity crisis in Texas.

Larry Wedhe, Assistant Superintendent, Gonzales ISD, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Staples, Gwen Hodges, Principal of Gonzales Elementary and Haley Ratliff, Food Service Director, Gonzales ISD

Friday, October 10, 2008

Tree Giveaway at the State Fair of Texas

This year’s State Fair of Texas offers plenty of southern fun and a great opportunity to add some greenery to your own piece of Texas soil.

On Monday, Oct. 13, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., the Texas Department of Agriculture will host the Texas Forestry Association’s seedling giveaway. Planting trees is an easy way to make family memories and add to your home’s landscape, and this year TDA makes it easier than ever. Just find your way to our Food and Fiber Pavilion, and pick up a containerized Shumard Oak seedling to add to your landscape.

Once the tree is planted, you and your family can look forward to many years of autumn leaves in shades of purple and red. Shumard leaves turn their brightest red in December, making the perfect backdrop for Christmas decorating. The tree will grow along with your family, and can reach as high as 120 feet tall.

For more information, visit or visit the Food and Fiber Pavilion’s blog here.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Panhandle Communities Receive Economic Development Awards

During these challenging economic times, it was great to meet with hardworking Texans in the Panhandle who aren’t looking at Wall Street as much as they are focusing on Main Street. Earlier this week I got together with these folks at an Economic Development Summit Conference in Canyon.

During the summit we added a pair of cities to the GO TEXAN Certified Retirement Communities (CRC) program. With this week’s addition of Canyon and Tulia, Texas now has 21 CRCs. Launched in June 2006, the Texas Department of Agriculture’s CRC initiative helps Texas communities attract retirees and potential retirees to reside in their respective locales. The CRC Program also encourages tourism.

As Texans, we know it is important to maintain the economic health of our rural communities, so I was honored to present Texas Capital Fund awards to the cities of Crosbyton, Dimmitt, Floydada, Levelland, and Plains. The grants will be used toward revitalizing the historic downtowns, which serve as the heart of every community in the Lone Star State.

It was inspiring to see a room full of Texans at the conference dedicated to preserving and advancing their Panhandle communities. By taking steps to enhance the historical charm and Texas pride in each city, I know tourism and national recognition are bound to follow. Great work, Texas!

See more photos from the event here:

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Keeping Agriculture Alive in Texas Schools

I am happy to announce that six schools have been awarded more than $14,000 under the Texas Department of Agriculture’s Urban School Grant Program.

Agriculture is a vital part of the Texas economy, and we must ensure its future by keeping each generation interested in the industry. These grants will allow urban students to learn of the importance of agriculture in every day life and how the industry has become a high-tech business in need of young professionals.

The program provides up to $2,500 each for the elementary and middle schools’ agricultural demonstration projects in urban school districts. Funding for these grants is sponsored in part by Borden Milk Products and Kitchen Craft International.

The schools receiving the grants are:

* Bryant Elementary School, Arlington Independent School District, Arlington ($1,974)
* Spillane Middle School, Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District, Houston ($2,500)
* Aue Elementary School, Northside Independent School District, San Antonio ($2,200)
* De Zavala Middle School, Pasadena Independent School District, Pasadena ($2,500)
* Genoa Elementary School, Pasadena Independent School District, Houston ($2,500)
* J.D. Sparks Elementary, Pasadena Independent School District, Pasadena ($2,500)

To learn more about each school’s agricultural project, click HERE. To see how one school in East Austin benefitted from an Urban School Grant last year, click HERE.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

GO TEXAN Restaurant Round-Up A Success

I hope everyone enjoyed Wednesday’s GO TEXAN Restaurant Round-Up as much as I did. Throughout the day, I sampled delicious foods grown right here in Texas, and I couldn’t be more proud of our great state. More than 200 statewide GO TEXAN restaurants helped us celebrate homegrown ingredients and Texas food while benefiting area food banks. The success of the event means we will carry on the tradition next year.

I would like to extend my thanks to Farm Credit, who helped make the GO TEXAN Restaurant Round-Up possible.

For a glimpse at the event’s inaugural success, you can view news coverage from around the state at the links below:
Abeline Biz, Abeline
KTBC Fox 7 Austin

Now that the GO TEXAN Restaurant Round-Up is over, it’s time to enjoy Texas Wine Month through the rest of October. Expect to see statewide wine promotions, including sales incentives, winery tours, wine festivals, in-store tastings, restaurant pairings and other activities in communities across the Lone Star State. Visit for more information.

TDA's Food and Fiber Pavilion Goes High Tech

The Food and Fiber Pavilion has gone high tech this year, and has its own blog. You can keep up with all the exciting happenings at The State Fair of Texas through Oct. 19.

Week two at this year’s TDA Food and Fiber Pavilion at the State Fair in Dallas promises a variety of exhibits, hundreds of quality Texas products, cooking demonstrations and other events.

Click HERE for a full calendar of events at the pavilion. The second week is exciting and promises a look at the wide variety of Texas products, fun demonstrations and educational exhibits.
To see highlights for week two (Oct. 7-13) at the pavilion, click here.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

GO TEXAN Restaurant Round-Up: A Dining Odessey

The GO TEXAN Restaurant Round-Up is finally here, and boy am I excited to spend the day touring Texas to sample the best foods our great state has to offer. I urge everyone to participate in today's first-ever Restaurant Round-Up as well. All you have to do is go out to eat at a participating GO TEXAN restaurant that serves fresh, Texas-grown foods. Some restaurants are donating proceeds from today to area food banks. Not only do you get to taste fresh food from right here in the Lone Star State, but you get to help other Texans in need.

Find out which restaurants in your area are participating here.

I started out my day with breakfast in San Antonio at Mi Tierra in Market Square. Mi Tierra is showcasing Texas beef in today's GO TEXAN special: Milanesa de Res.

I don't know how much room I'll have left for lunch and dinner, but I will do my duty as your Commissioner of Agriculture and try my best.

State Senator Jeff Wentworth along with representatives from the San Antonio Food Bank and Texas fruits and vegetables producers joined for me for breakfast.

Now it's time for me to head to lunch in Dallas. Be sure to check back, as I will be updating my blog with photos and more of my GO TEXAN Restaurant Round-Up tour of Texas.

We stopped in Dallas to have lunch at Fearings at the Ritz Carlton in Dallas. Chef Dean Fearing served up a delicious meal:

Cathy Barber with the Dallas Morning News, Chef Dean Fearing and Susan Auler with Fall Creek Vineyards chatted with me after lunch.

Below is a slideshow of photos from yesterday's press conference at the Capital Area Food Bank, and from this morning's delicious meal at Mi Tierra.