News roundup for Jan. 28, 2016

Agricenter hires director of communications

Christine Donhardt
Christine Donhardt

MEMPHIS — John Charles Wilson, President of Agricenter International, has selected Christine Donhardt, ASLA, to serve as Director of Communications. She is tasked with sharing the mission of the Agricenter with the public through outreach, event planning, grant writing, and fundraising.

Donhardt served for nearly five years in the Memphis-Shelby County Office of Sustainability as its first senior planner. While there she wrote and received over $415,000 in grants, served as project leader for the Low Impact Development design competition, led the effort for Memphis-Shelby County to receive a 4-STAR award for national excellence in sustainability, and hosted numerous conferences.

Donhardt was appointed to the Collierville Design Review Commission, is an elected officer for the Tennessee Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects (TNASLA), and serves on the National ASLA Historic American Landscapes Survey committee.

She holds a Master of Landscape Architecture from University of Georgia and a bachelor’s degree in biology, cum laude, from Furman University. Donhardt began her duties Jan. 25.

Wilson said, “I believe Christine, with her proven track record of communications and establishing partnerships, will further elevate the public profile of the Agricenter and we are excited to have her on the team.”

Steve Shields, chairman of the board, added, “We look forward to her contributions to the Agricenter, which has become an integral part of this community.”

Agricenter International is the world’s largest urban agricultural research and education facility.  For over 35 years, this self-sustaining, non-profit organization in Shelby County has facilitated agricultural research and educational programs, while promoting environmental conservation, natural area preservation and recreational opportunities.  Agricenter is a hands-on showcase for how production agriculture provides a safe and abundant global food and fiber supply.

Each year, Agricenter hosts multiple educational sessions where more than 6,000 students from urban schools learn about sustainable agriculture and the importance of healthy eating.  Many children who have never seen farm animals, row crops, open fields, forests or lakes can learn about them at the Agricenter.  For more information visit or call (901) 757-7777.

USDA issues state progress report for 2015

NASHVILLE — USDA Rural Development State Director Bobby Goode announced on Jan. 21 USDA’s 2015 Progress Report.

“USDA Rural Development continues to be an effective partner for economic growth in rural Tennessee,” Goode said. “Rural Development invested more than $1.2 billion into our rural communities in 2015 and along with our partners, improved the lives of rural Tennesseans.”

The report includes many examples of ways USDA helps finance infrastructure improvements and promotes rural economic development.

Tennessee’s Rural Utilities Program is highlighted with its assistance to help bring water to about 1,300 rural West Tennessee families and businesses.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack noted in the report that one of the keys to USDA’s success in rural areas is its partnerships with private lenders, non-profit organizations and community-based groups.

USDA is partnering with rural telecommunications utilities, for example, to bring high-speed broadband to rural communities.

In addition to USDA’s support for rural infrastructure such as broadband, Rural Development (RD) helped nearly 150,000 families buy, refinance or repair their homes last year. Eleven thousand people lived in affordable apartments because of USDA programs to build or provide subsidies for rental housing.

More than 21 million rural residents also benefitted from USDA support for essential community facilities in 2015.

The agency invested $1.8 billion in services such as schools, hospitals, day care centers, first-responder vehicles and equipment and other needs.

The report also sums up RD investments since 2009. Under President Obama, USDA RD has helped more than one million rural residents buy homes; funded nearly 7,000 community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care facilities; provided loans to 5,100 rural businesses; financed 180,000 miles of new and improved electric transmission and distribution lines; supported 254 broadband projects completed with funds provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, bringing high-speed Internet access to nearly six million rural residents, 17,500 businesses and 1,900 community facilities; and partnered in many other efforts to improve the economic conditions and quality of life for rural Americans.

For more information on USDA Rural Development programs available in Tennessee, contact the Tennessee State Office at (615) 783-1300 or go online to