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October 2013

Philadelphia Fights Hunger Through Academic, Faith and Community Partnerships

The City of Brotherly Love puts its motto into practice. I saw this firsthand when I travelled to Philadelphia to meet with a network of community leaders who partner with USDA through its Summer Food Service Program. With this program, USDA subsidizes nutritious summer lunches for students who need them and works with community partners to deliver those meals.

In Philadelphia, about 22% of children live in households that have trouble putting enough food on the table for every member of the family. That means when school is out, and school meals are not available, many kids are vulnerable. The Summer Food Service Program plays a critical role in making sure kids have access to nutritious meals so that they can begin the school year well nourished and alert.  My friend and former director of the White House’s Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives during the George W. Bush Administration, Professor John DiIulio, invited me to Philadelphia where he currently works at the University of Pennsylvania’s Fox Leadership Program.

Conservation Innovation Grant Produces Carbon Farming Opportunities in North Dakota

The Prairie Pothole Region of North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana provides sanctuary to millions of nesting waterfowl each summer. With an innovative partnership led by Ducks Unlimited (DU), USDA is helping to provide new opportunities for agricultural producers in the region to sequester carbon while cultivating new revenue streams.

With the help of a grant from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, these partners have created a carbon credit system for private landowners in North Dakota who agree to avoid tillage of grasslands. Grasslands store carbon dioxide, one of the leading greenhouse gases contributing to climate change.

The North Dakota Prairie Pothole project, funded by a USDA Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) of $161,000, provides potential new revenue streams for landowners while avoiding greenhouse gas emissions and increasing carbon sequestration.

Reapers and Creepers Give Rave Reviews for Fall Harvest and Halloween Stats!

Whether its an abundance of fresh farm crops at the local grocery store, farmers market or fall festival, the fruits (and vegetables) of the growing season are all around us. About 158 million Americans will get into the Halloween spirit this year, spending an estimated $7 billion to celebrate Halloween.

Just over 44 percent will carve pumpkins for the holiday, but that won’t be the only starring role the big orange squash will play this season. To meet the demand for all things pumpkin, U. S. farmers produced more than one billion pounds of pumpkins last year. That’s a lot of pumpkin pies, flavored coffee drinks and Jack-O-Lanterns.

While less than half of American adults will dress up in costumes, 13.8 percent plan to dress up their pets.

RISE Volunteers Mentor Young Gardeners

In 2011, Washington State University won a USDA People’s Garden School Pilot Project grant. The University used the funds to start the “Healthy Gardens, Healthy Youth” project, a multi-year research project that engages elementary students in creating edible gardens in schools across the country.  School gardens are an effective way to introduce kids to healthy foods and create a passion for agriculture and Washington State is helping lead the way.  We’re excited to provide an update on how the project is going. The following post was written by Brad Gaolach, the Project Director for the program.

Guest post by Brad Gaolach, Project Director, Washington State University Extension

Grandview Elementary School in Monsey, NY is one of 50 schools across the U.S. taking part in USDA’s People’s Garden School Pilot Project – “Healthy Gardens, Healthy Youth” (HGHY). This research and education project aims to understand the impact of school gardens on fruit and vegetable consumption, physical activity, science and math learning, and other outcomes.

Grandview Elementary also enjoys a unique partnership with another research project: “Retirees in Service to the Environment,” or RISE. Created by Cornell’s Institute for Translational Research on Aging, RISE provides opportunities for older adults to become involved in local environmental projects.  Research has shown there are greater mental and physical health benefits from environmental volunteering compared to other types of service. As environmental stewards, older adults not only gain from being engaged in civic issues, they also contribute their knowledge and passion to sustaining the environment for future generations.

Former California Governor Schwarzenegger Cited for Work on Climate Change, Named Honorary US Forest Service Ranger

Former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger received a U.S. Forest Service badge and jacket during a special ceremony in Washington, D.C., naming him an Honorary Forest Ranger for his work on climate change issues.

“I know you understand what we need to do as a nation to reduce the level of carbon in the atmosphere — after all, you have helped lead the way,” U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said to Schwarzenegger during the ceremony at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “We look forward to having your help in educating communities on the devastating impacts of climate change on our forests and grasslands.”

Schwarzenegger said the honor “truly touches my heart” and expressed high praise for the agency and highlighted his respect for the thousands of Forest Service firefighters, especially as climate change effects have contributed to hotter, longer fire seasons.

A Commitment to Humane Handling in the Food Safety and Inspection Service

The recent multistate outbreak of Salmonella has served as yet another reminder of the importance of a modern, effective food safety system in the United States. That’s why USDA has undertaken a comprehensive effort to modernize poultry slaughter inspection in ways that will reduce the risk for American families.

A recent story in the Washington Post shared claims by some that this new effort would compromise humane handling. The fact is, this proposal will better position our inspectors to ensure humane handling standards are being met – all while protecting American families from illness caused by Salmonella and Campylobacter.

Arkansas Poultry Farmer Cuts Costs & Reduces Carbon Footprint

It can take a lot of energy to raise chickens as farmers have to control the temperature and lighting in houses, meaning high costs and high energy use.

But with help from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, poultry producers can cut their costs while conserving energy.

One Benton County, Ark. producer is cutting his gas and electric bills while decreasing greenhouse gas emissions. Stanley Lee did this by installing radiant heaters, light-emitting diode light bulbs, or LEDs, and attic insulation in his six chicken houses that shelter 890,000 chickens each year.

USDA Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment Visits Colorado's USDA Employees and Tours Flood Impacted Areas

Recently, Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment Robert Bonnie visited Colorado to connect with USDA employees in the wake of the government shutdown.  On the morning of Wednesday, October 23rd Undersecretary Bonnie traveled to Fort Collins to host a USDA “family meeting” and listen to nearly 100 employees as they shared comments, asked questions, and voiced concerns. The Undersecretary fielded numerous questions during the structured event, while after several employees shared their appreciation for the chance to hear from and interact with leadership within the Department.

Later in the afternoon the Undersecretary participated in a tour that helped provide a hands-on account of the impact and devastation resulting from the recent flood which was only compounded because of the 2012 wildfires.  The first leg of the tour was led by Donald Graffis, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) soil conservationist in Longmont, Colo., while Sylvia Clark, Forest Service (FS) district ranger in Boulder coordinated the second half.  Phyllis Ann Philipps, NRCS State Conservationist in Colorado and Dan Jiron, FS Regional Forester were also on hand during the tour.

GIPSA's National Grain Center Hosts Secretary Tom Vilsack

The Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration’s (GIPSA) National Grain Center (NGC) was proud to host Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Wednesday, October 23.  The NGC, located in Kansas City, MO, is home to the Federal Grain Inspection Service’s (FGIS) Technology and Science Division along with staff from FGIS’ Quality Assurance and Compliance Division and Field Management Division.

The grain inspectors, scientists and engineers at the NGC provide a broad spectrum of grain inspection services and support within recently renovated state of the art laboratories.   During the visit, NGC staff demonstrated how they oversee, develop and approve methods and instruments used for grain inspection that ensure the consistent standard of measuring quality essential to grain marketing.

Ag Statistician Goes from NCAA to NASS

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

2013 is the International Year of Statistics. As part of this global event, every month this year USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service will profile careers of individuals who are making significant contributions to improve agricultural statistics in the United States.

Growing up in Texas, you’re never far removed from agriculture. Even though I grew up in Houston, my grandparents had a beef operation and I’ve always believed that agriculture is simply in my blood. I also knew that I had a passion for numbers, so when time came for me to pick a college major, Agricultural Economics seemed like a great combination of my two passions.

I earned my degree from Prairie View A&M University in Texas. During my junior year, I joined USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) Texas Field Office as an intern, which ended up transforming into a full time position with the agency’s Arkansas office after my graduation.