*UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE* *OFFICE OF THE SECRETARY* WASHINGTON, D.C. 20250 As you know, President Obama asked me to lead a Rural Tour across the country to create a more robust dialog with rural Americans and inform our effort to rebuild and revitalize Rural America.  So far, I have participated in 17 forums, talked to thousands of people, answered questions and also, learned a lot about what people are struggling with and how USDA can help. But, while I would enjoy doing so, I will not be able to get to every rural community in America.  So, we launched a new Rural Tour Web site with a fresh design and cutting edge features to engage the public over the internet.  I encourage you to go to www.RuralTour.gov to check it out. We have created a Join the Conversation section that provides an opportunity for people to share their stories, challenges and ideas. We also have a What’s Working section where people can post success stories from the Recovery Act and other USDA programs.  The best place to get these stories is from USDA employees who work in a community on a daily basis, so please share. You can submit blog posts by sending an email to USDAnewmedia@oc.usda.gov.  Field offices should also encourage community residents who have a story to tell, to submit their thoughts, in their own words.

We have added a YouTube component to capture video and a Flickr account to house photos, but we also joined the social networking world of Facebook. Although we are still working on making Facebook accessible on the USDA network, we hope you will become a fan and encourage our stakeholders to do the same.

We are working to help bring broadband access to communities that currently are not connected but for folks who cannot use the internet to communicate with us, remember we have a P.O. Box and 800 number they can use as well.

You’ve heard me stress that USDA is the People’s Department, these new tools and updated Web site are important avenues for connecting with people so that they can participate in our efforts. I hope that you will help promote these new tools.  Whether you help with a Rural Tour event or submit a blog post about What’s Working in your community, we look forward to hearing from you.

Thank you.

Secretary Tom Vilsack

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