His rallying cry during his appearance was the need for Congress to pass the comprehensive farm bill that Vilsack says has something in it for everyone. It will create jobs, decrease the federal deficit, give university researchers money to study agriculture’s complex issues, generate more domestic energy, address border security, and provide water conservation and other conservation resources.

“Every single American benefits from this bill,” he said.

He also said the farm bill will help add two years to the Social Security trust fund through immigration reform by forcing people “out of the shadows” and into the workforce where they will pay taxes and contribute to Social Security.

Vilsack’s Fresno appearance was also used to highlight a program aimed at helping school districts buy local food. The USDA will give grants for 71 projects in 42 states, including California, that support the agency’s efforts to connect school cafeterias with local farmers and ranchers through its Farm to School Program.

USDA Farm to School grants help schools respond to the growing demand for locally-sourced foods and increase market opportunities for producers and food businesses, according to a USDA statement released in conjunction with Vilsack’s appearance.

“We want to take advantage of the 350 million market opportunities that this Farm to School Program represents and we want to expand that number dramatically,” he said.

According to Vilsack, there are 107,000 Ag operations in America today selling directly to consumers or grocery stores. He said the USDA will continue to expand investment in opportunities to help these businesses grow.

Vilsack wants to build upon these and the thousands of farmers markets in America, which he said can also be used to help the 46 million Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients in America access more food buying opportunities.

Another series of grants, these through the USDA’s Rural Cooperative Development Grant Program, are also targeted at rural communities. Two California agencies are among the recipients of RCDG money.

The California Center for Cooperative Development will receive $200,000 to establish cooperatives, and the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives will receive $76,250 in grant funding to provide technical assistance to cooperative development projects.