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Tom Smart, Deseret News
Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan, center, talks with volunteers as she tours the Utah Food Bank.

SOUTH SALT LAKE — Utahns have benefited from the millions in federal stimulus dollars poured into agriculture projects throughout the state, the deputy secretary of agriculture said Thursday.

"Things are turning around," Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan said while touring the Utah Food Bank. "I've seen some incredibly great projects here."

Merrigan was in Utah to tout the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which Congress passed last year at the urging of President Barack Obama, and check out some of the projects in Salt Lake City and Logan that benefitted from stimulus cash.

Of the $878 billion in stimulus funds, Utah received about $1.7 billion.

Merrigan also met with farmers in a meeting Thursday morning that was closed to the media. She said they talked about the hit dairy farms have taken in the past year. Costs to feed dairy cows are higher and demand doesn't match supply, which means farmers in Utah and throughout the United States aren't being paid much for the milk they produce.

At the Utah Food Bank, there has been a 35 percent increase in demand because of higher numbers of jobless people and working poor. Stimulus funds to the food bank were about $64,000 and helped with transportation costs associated with serving more people, said food bank spokeswoman Jessica Pugh.

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Outside the Wasatch Front, about $10.5 million in loans and grants from the stimulus helped eight rural communities. The money was used for water and wastewater treatment, emergency services and other services, including a $2.1 million loan for the Cache Valley Community Health Center, which is under construction and expected to open in the summer.

The health center will offer medical, dental and mental health services and have a pharmacy.

Merrigan said that nearly 1,500 Utah families bought homes in rural areas in the past year, taking advantage of the USDA Rural Development funds that came from the stimulus act.

e-mail: lhancock@desnews.com

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