WASHINGTON – Today, President Joe Biden appointed the following individuals to serve in key regional leadership roles at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD):

  • Blong Xiong, USDA State Executive Director, Farm Service Agency, California
  • Matt Gellings, USDA State Executive Director, Farm Service Agency, Idaho
  • Whitney Place, USDA State Executive Director, Farm Service Agency, Minnesota
  • Heidi Secord, USDA State Executive Director, Farm Service Agency, Pennsylvania
  • Ronald Howell, USDA State Executive Director, Farm Service Agency, Virginia
  • Lakeisha Hood, USDA State Director, Rural Development, Florida & U.S. Virgin Islands
  • Rudy Soto, USDA State Director, Rural Development, Idaho
  • Helen Price Johnson, USDA State Director, Rural Development, Washington
  • Margaret Salazar, HUD Regional Administrator, Region 10

These regional appointees will be critical to the President’s efforts to rebuild communities most impacted by the pandemic, the economic recovery, and climate change. They bring deep expertise in their issue areas as well as critical relationships with federal, state, tribal, and local leaders. And, consistent with the President’s commitment to building an administration that looks like America, these regional appointees represent the diversity of America and the communities they serve.

UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE (USDA)
The USDA’s Farm Service Agency implements agricultural policy, administers credit and loan programs, and manages conservation, commodity, disaster, and farm marketing programs in each U.S. State. Its mission is to equitably serve all farmers, ranchers, and agricultural partners through the delivery of effective, efficient agricultural programs for all Americans. State Executive Directors oversee this work, ensuring the needs of local constituents are met and that USDA resources are distributed equitably and fairly.

USDA’s Rural Development mission area is committed to helping improve the economy and quality of life in rural America. State Directors lead offices that offer grants, loans, and loan guarantees to help create jobs and support economic development and essential services.

Blong Xiong, USDA State Executive Director, Farm Service Agency, California
As the Executive Director for Asian Business Institute & Resource Center (ABIRC), and with over 20 years of community service, Xiong works with the Board to carry out the vision and mission of ABIRC to serve the small Southeast Asian farmers and small Asian businesses in the Central Valley. Prior to being the Executive Director for ABIRC, Xiong served two terms as a Council Member for the City of Fresno from 2007-2014, where he was the first elected Hmong Council Member in the State of California and the first Asian Council Member in the City. He has also served as Deputy Director for The Fresno Center,), a nonprofit organization that assists immigrants, refugees, and New Americans. Xiong is very active in issues that span education, economic development, health, and equitable access to resources, and has sat on statewide commissions, the Asian Pacific Islander Commission, the California Volunteer Commission, as a committee member on the Insurance Diversity Board, and was a local board member of Valley Small Business Development Corp. and API collaborative member.  Xiong holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from Marian College of Fond du Lac and a master’s degree in Business Administration from National University.

Matt Gellings, USDA State Executive Director, Farm Service Agency, Idaho
Gellings is a fourth-generation farmer from Idaho Falls, Idaho. Alfalfa, wheat, malt barley and potatoes are crops produced on his irrigated acreage. Gellings also operated a cow/calf operation for 26 years. He has served on the Farm Service Agency State Committee for the past twelve years and has been a strong advocate in all aspects of agriculture. From county, state and national boards, Gellings has always wanted to serve the Idaho farmer/rancher community.

Whitney Place, USDA State Executive Director, Farm Service Agency, Minnesota
Place has extensive experience in state government. She has served in various roles at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, most recently as Assistant Commissioner. As Assistant Commissioner, Place led state efforts around water quality, pesticides, industrial hemp, dairy assistance, and rural mental health. Place earned a B.S. in Applied Plant Science and an M.S. in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy from the University of Minnesota. She grew up in Okabena, Minnesota where she learned about agriculture in her high school FFA program and on her family’s farms.

Heidi Secord, USDA State Executive Director, Farm Service Agency, Pennsylvania
Secord owns and operates the Josie Porter Farm in northeastern PA. She has over 26 years of farming and regenerative agriculture experience and a degree in Business Management from the University of Rhode Island. She served as a Peace Corps volunteer for three years in Mali and Lesotho. She is a strong advocate for food, agriculture, and social justice issues. She also served as the State President for the Pennsylvania Farmers Union and sat on the National Farmers Union Board of Directors. Secord has been actively engaged in agricultural policy committee work with multiple state organizations including: PASA Sustainable Agriculture Board, Pennsylvania State Council of Farm Organizations (PSCFO), All Together Now Pennsylvania, and as a farmer Board member of the Monroe County Conservation District. She currently serves as a Farmer member on the Pennsylvania State Conservation Commission, a Governor appointed position. Secord, an Oxfam “Sister on the Planet”, brings her organizational leadership, her work and experience in sustainable agriculture and policy work to her new position with the Farm Service Agency.  Secord and her husband Gary Bloss reside in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania.

Ronald Howell, USDA State Executive Director, Farm Service Agency, Virginia
Howell comes to this new position with more than 12 years of professional experience in higher education, state, and federal government. In summer 2018, he began his tenure as the Director of Operations and Management in the College of Agriculture at Virginia State University. In this capacity, he oversees day-to-day operations of the College and the University’s Farm. He also carries an administrative appointment in the Department of Agriculture and serves as a faculty instructor, teaching courses in agriculture education and mechanization. Previously, Howell served as the Special Assistant/Advisor for Strategic Partnerships and Initiatives to the Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry, in the Office of Virginia Governors McAuliffe and Northam, respectively. Across the Commonwealth, he worked to strengthen outreach efforts as well as minority and limited resourced producers’ participation in USDA and state-based agricultural and conservation programs. Additionally, he provided recommendations for the Virginia Farm Business Development Program (VFBD) and the Governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development (AFID) Program.

Howell received his B.S. in Agriculture Business and Economics from Virginia State University in 2009 and earned a Master’s degree from Virginia Tech in Agricultural and Life Sciences in 2012. In 2021, he received his doctorate degree in P-20 Education and Community Leadership with a focus in Agriculture Education from Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky. He resides in Spring Grove, Virginia.

Lakeisha Hood, USDA State Director, Rural Development, Florida & U.S. Virgin Islands
Most recently, Hood served as the Director of the Division of Food, Nutrition and Wellness in the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS). In that role, she managed the implementation of the state’s food and nutrition programs, including oversight of a $12 million operational budget and more than $1 billion of federal pass-through funds. Prior to joining FDACS, Hood served as a legislative assistant in the Florida Senate. A graduate of Alabama State University, Hood obtained her Master of Education degree from Auburn University at Montgomery and has earned law degrees from North Carolina Central University School of Law and the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law. Hood currently resides in Tallahassee, Florida and is a licensed member of the State Bar of Georgia.

Rudy Soto, USDA State Director, Rural Development, Idaho
Born and raised in Nampa, Idaho, Soto is a member of the Shoshone Bannock Tribes of the Fort Hall Reservation and the son of a farmworker. He is a proud veteran of the United States Army National Guard. Soto’s professional experience includes working in the fields of economic development, public health, conservation, and child welfare. He previously served as a legislative staffer in the U.S. House of Representatives and covered energy, environment, agriculture, education, transportation, and tribal issues as part of his portfolio. Soto received his bachelor’s degree from Portland State University. Most recently, Soto worked for Western Leaders Network, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization of local and tribal elected officials across the Interior West focused on protecting public lands, water, and air. Soto’s recent run for Idaho’s 1st Congressional District allowed him to learn firsthand about the distinct challenges people face in each region of the state. His campaign RV tour took him to every county throughout western and northern Idaho where he held town halls and meet & greets to discuss solutions to longstanding rural issues. He is passionate about serving rural communities like the ones he comes from in Idaho and ensuring people from all walks of life have access to affordable housing, broadband, and pathways out of poverty.

Helen Price Johnson, USDA State Director, Rural Development, Washington
Dedicated to community service and good governance, Price Johnson has extensive leadership experience with rural communities. She is a past president of the Washington State Association of Counties, a three-term Island County Commissioner, and a two-term South Whidbey School Board member. Her passion lies in strengthening Washington’s rural communities to thrive through support of smart, sustainable economic development while protecting the environment. Price Johnson has worked statewide advocating for small towns, small businesses, and rural lands. She is a third-generation small business owner and also enjoys supporting her community through non-profit service.

DEPARTMENT OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT (HUD)
Regional Administrators lead HUD’s 10 Regional Offices that directly serve state and local organizations. Regional Administrators oversee field offices across each state in their region and ensure the Department directly serves local communities. Regional Administrators play a key role in leading assignments of housing assistance funds within the region and coordinating those assignments with HUD headquarters.

Margaret Salazar, HUD Regional Administrator, Region 10
Salazar serves in the cabinet of Oregon Governor Kate Brown and is Executive Director of Oregon Housing Community Services (OHCS), the state’s Housing Finance Agency. During her five-year tenure at the helm, OHCS tripled its production of affordable rental housing, created nearly 1,000 units of Permanent Supportive Housing statewide, deployed $500 million in emergency rental assistance, passed legislation to expand racial equity in homelessness programs, and expanded mortgage lending to homebuyers of color. Salazar led the agency to respond to the state’s historic 2020 wildfires with innovative modular developments and services for Oregon’s agricultural workers. A national leader in affordable housing finance, Salazar previously served in leadership roles in HUD Headquarters, where she stewarded the Rental Assistance Demonstration and financed the recapitalization of hundreds of properties while safeguarding affordability for thousands of vulnerable seniors and families. Salazar began her career in philanthropy, funding community organizations working for social and economic justice across the Western States. A long-time housing advocate, she led a successful grassroots campaign for just cause eviction protections in Oakland, California in 2002.  Salazar is a graduate of Wesleyan University and UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy and has served on the Boards of Directors of the Low Income Investment Fund, National Housing Trust, and National Council of State Housing Agencies. She grew up on a cherry orchard in Hood River, Oregon and is proud to call the Pacific Northwest home.

Region 10 serves Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington.

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