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January 2014

New Naturalist Program Aims to Bring Southern Illinois Kids Outdoors

With declining budgets in the public school system, there has been a steady decrease in school fieldtrips in recent years. This plight further widens the disconnect between children and nature.

To help bridge the gap between the schoolroom and the natural world, the Shawnee National Forest will offer a new school program this year called Naturalist in the Classroom.  The program will be piloted to third- through fifth-grade students in Union and Alexander counties located in southern Illinois, and will focus on two themes – forest ecology and wetland ecology.

Digging Deeper: New Video Series Unlocks the Secrets of Soil Health

For years, researcher and filmmaker Buz Kloot suspected something remarkable was happening under our feet.

His suspicion was based on interviews he conducted with farmers from various parts of the country – all of whom reported significant production and environmental benefits by simply improving the health of their soil.

“These farmers reported more consistent yields, lower input costs and higher net income,” said Kloot, a University of South Carolina research associate professor. “They weren’t sneaking out at night to fertilize and irrigate. I had to believe what I saw. And with each visit, these ‘anomalies’ amassed.”

Secretary's Column: Expanding Opportunity for Rural Americans

In his State of the Union address earlier this week, President Obama outlined his plan to move our economy forward by expanding opportunity for all Americans. Recognizing the role that agriculture continues to play in our nation’s economic recovery, the President said, “Today in America, […] a farmer prepared for the spring after the strongest five-year stretch of farm exports in our history.”

America’s farmers, ranchers and foresters, and those working in supporting industries, are to be commended for these accomplishments. They are expanding and growing markets around the world, spurring innovation, and creating jobs and opportunity on and off the farm, even in the face of uncertainty. The future of rural America depends on their continued leadership, and we must make sure they have the tools they need to continue to grow.

Let's Move! Gives Two Green Thumbs Up for Gardening!

It may still be cold outside, but it doesn’t mean you can’t start thinking about your spring garden. Whether you’re planning a school garden or have the perfect plot of land in your backyard, Let’s Move! has all the tools you need to get started! Gardening not only stocks your kitchen with all-natural fruits and veggies rich with nutrients, it can be a great way to give your kids a hands-on lesson in healthy eating.

USDA Proposes Professional Standards in National School Lunch, Breakfast Programs; Announces New Progress in Implementing Meal Standards

Today, USDA proposed the establishment of minimum national professional standards and training requirements for school nutrition professionals who manage and operate the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs.

The standards, another key provision of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA), aim to institute education and certification standards for school nutrition professionals. These new standards will ensure that school nutrition personnel have the training and tools they need to plan, prepare and purchase healthy products to create nutritious, safe and enjoyable school meals.

As a former school nutrition director I can tell you that school nutrition professionals across the country are pleased with the new meal patterns established by the HHFKA, which requires schools to prepare healthier meals for 32 million children each day. Schools are at the forefront of national efforts to improve nutrition and reduce obesity in our Nation’s children.

USDA Funded Apartment Complex Not Just "Renovated" but "Innovated"

Aesthetically the change is obvious and pleasing, but what hides inside the walls and under the ground is what is making the big difference at Kachina Apartments in Casa Grande, Arizona.

The 96-unit senior complex recently underwent a major rehabilitation that not only renovated the individual units but took dramatic steps to reduce water usage and the carbon footprint as well.

The rehabilitation project was a joint effort using low-income housing tax credits, State Housing Funds (HOME), and USDA Rural Development’s multi-family housing program. General contractors for the project were Precision General Commercial Contractors, Inc.

At the U.S. Forest Service, Climate Change is Going 3D

Understanding the effects of global climate change, especially the amount of precipitation contained in clouds, has been limited by the use of decades-old satellite technology. But now a soon-to-be launched NASA satellite, the GPM Core Observatory, will literally add another dimension to seeing into the complexity of clouds and the precipitation they may or may not contain.

“The new GPM satellite will give scientists much clearer and more concise data on rainfall estimates with more continuous areal coverage giving us a three-dimensional visual understanding of the effects climate change is having on the planet as far precipitation is concerned,” said Dave Cleaves, the Forest Service’s Climate Change Advisor.

'Primera Jugada' - Puntos de Alimentos Inocuos para su Fiesta del Super Bowl

Para poder ganar el partido, las jugadas tienen que ocurrir sin infracciones. Además, el domingo del Super Bowl es el segundo día más alto del consumo de alimentos en los Estados Unidos. Esto quiere decir que el anfitrión e invitados tienen que tener sus defensas listas para prevenir que la intoxicación alimentaria no marque puntos contra su equipo.

Este año asegure que las fiestas del Super Bowl sean recordadas por los buenos tiempos y no con excusas de no haber dado tu equipo la mejor oportunidad de ganar la lucha contra la intoxicación alimentaria.

First Down Food Safety Tips for your Super Bowl Party

In order to win the game, the first downs have to keep coming without the penalties. Super Bowl Sunday will be a long day of first downs and a long day of eating! It’s the second highest day of food consumption in the U.S., and that means hosts and guests need to have their defense ready to keep foodborne illness from scoring on the party.

Super Bowl parties should be remembered for a great time and not the place where the food made you sick. We’re offering fans some important game day tips to keep the party free of food safety penalties.

Healthy Food Choices - How do We Get There? Find out During Livestreaming Panel Discussion Feb. 21

Organic, conventional, locally grown and natural – these are all terms consumers hear every day, but do they really understand their meaning? Are consumers making informed purchasing decisions or are they simply making food decisions based on what they hear in popular culture and media?

On Friday, February 21, 2014, join a group of farmers and ranchers, nutritionists and food pundits for a discussion on food production, nutrition and making healthy food choices.  Part of the USDA’s Agricultural Outlook Forum and hosted by the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance® (USFRA®), the in-person and live-streamed Food Dialogues® event “Nutrition: Who’s Shaping America’s Eating Habits?” looks at important issues for consumers and producers.