*President Barack Obama spoke on the phone today with Shirley Sherrod, the former Agriculture Department employee who was forced to resign based on incomplete and misleading reports about a speech she gave in March.

“The President reached Ms. Sherrod by telephone at about 12:35. They spoke for seven minutes,” read a statement released this afternoon by the White House.

“The President expressed to Ms. Sherrod his regret about the events of the last several days. He emphasized that Secretary Vilsack was sincere in his apology yesterday, and in his work to rid USDA of discrimination.

“The President told Ms. Sherrod that this misfortune can present an opportunity for her to continue her hard work on behalf of those in need, and he hopes that she will do so.”

The phone call came several hours after Sherrod appeared on a number of morning news programs and expressed she would like to hear from the president to discuss the firestorm.

She received a text message during the 12 o’clock hour telling her Obama had been trying to reach her since Wednesday night, said Julie O’Neill, a CNN Special Investigations Unit producer who was with her at the time. Sherrod called the White House and was asked to call back in 10 minutes, at which time she spoke to the president.

Sherrod was “very, very pleased with the conversation,” O’Neill said, and told her Obama had said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was “very apologetic and very sincere.”

Vilsack apologized to Sherrod on Wednesday and offered her a different position within the department.

Obama also compared some of the events this week surrounding Sherrod to things he has written about in his books, O’Neill said. Sherrod “invited him to South Georgia,” she added.

When asked during the morning show interviews if she feels the president should apologize personally, Sherrod said she would rather have a conversation with Obama about race, and about the needs of rural America.

“I’d like to talk to him a little bit about the experience of people like me, people at the grass roots level, people who live out there in rural America, people who live in the south,” she told “Today’s” Meredith Vieira. “I know he does not have that kind of experience. Let me help him a little bit with how we think, how we live, and the things that are happening.”