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May 2014

MyPlate Has a Game Plan for Healthy Eating on a Budget

Everyone wants to save money at the grocery store, especially those on a tight budget. The new Healthy Eating on a Budget section of empowers cost-conscious consumers to make healthy choices with insightful information about meal planning, smart shopping ideas, and creating healthy meals with simple ingredients.  Web-based trends indicate that consumers continue to look for information about how to make better eating decisions with limited resources. Healthy Eating on a Budget offers a step-by-step game plan to help families save money and make nutritious meals at home.

Recent scores from the USDA Healthy Eating Index indicate that Americans can struggle to meet recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.  Most of us need to increase our intake of whole fruit, dark-green and orange vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat dairy.  Cost is often considered a barrier to eating healthier and the new resource will help consumers overcome this perception.

Secretary's Column: Supporting Cutting Edge Conservation

This week, USDA and its partners launched a new conservation initiative, the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), a program that goes beyond traditional government support for conservation and allows businesses and other for-profit partners to invest in regional conservation projects. RCPP takes conservation off the farm and out of the forest and moves it into the board room.

The RCPP will competitively award funds to conservation projects designed by local partners and specifically tailored to local needs. Eligible partners include private companies, universities, non-profit organizations, local and tribal governments and others joining with agricultural and conservation organizations and producers to invest money, manpower and materials to their proposed initiatives.

Picking a Winner Part II - More Tips and Insights for Selecting Seasonal Produce

We all have our own methods and traditions for selecting fresh produce, especially as the weather gets warmer and our stores and markets are full of fresh seasonal offerings. Whether it’s smelling the rind or checking the firmness of the skin, these age-old practices are all designed to help pick the winning ingredients for snacks and meals.  Last spring, we provided tips for buying artichokes, apricots, broccoli, cherries, and strawberries. This time around, we will focus on some other seasonal favorites.

Whether it is part of a fruit salad or eaten by itself, cantaloupe is always a hit during the summer months. When purchasing a cantaloupe, make sure that its rind is light green or turning yellow. Ripe cantaloupes should yield to light pressure and have a sweet aroma. Most cantaloupes need to be kept in the refrigerator for 2-4 days before eating. Some may prefer to eat their cantaloupes at room temperature, while others like theirs after leaving it in the refrigerator for a few hours.

Students Fight Invasive Plants to Restore Oregon Dunes

Seventh graders from Siuslaw Middle School recently visited the Oregon Dunes Day Use Area to join the fight against Scotch Broom, one of Oregon’s worst invasive plants.

Armed with gloves, ratchet loppers, and large weed pullers, students freed an open space on the hillside for native plants to re-establish. The seventh graders picked up where Siuslaw Elementary School fourth graders left off in March, and where previous classes have volunteered their time for the last five years.

“These kids can see the difference they’ve made, and that’s something they can have pride in every time they come back here,” said Jim Grano, who heads up the Siuslaw Stream Team that led the restoration project.

Conservation and Innovation Preserve Water Resources for Generations to Come

Farmers have always been particularly attuned to the forces of nature – it’s in the job description, after all. When the regularity of growing seasons collides with the irregularity of extreme conditions like droughts, floods, windstorms, the American farming community is motivated to innovate and conserve.

For years, farmers have been leveraging the collective power of research and promotion programs to invest in research that improves on-farm practices through both innovation and conservation. Their efforts, with oversight from USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), has resulted in significant water and soil conservation, safeguarding our land for future generations.

Critical among these practices is smart irrigation.  Almond growers in California have funded 71 irrigation projects over a 32-year period.  Through these projects, growers have learned that micro-drip irrigation not only uses much less water than older methods, but also generates more vigorous plant growth.  With the targeted distribution and uniformity, this increases crop production.

Get to Know Alabama Agriculture

The Census of Agriculture is the most complete account of U.S. farms and ranches and the people who operate them. Every Thursday USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service will highlight new Census data and the power of the information to shape the future of American agriculture.

Alabama may be known as the Cotton state, but there’s a lot more to our agriculture than cotton, a point reinforced by the data in the most recent Census of Agriculture. While more than 376,000 acres of nearly nine million acres of farmland in the state are dedicated to cotton farming, there are now more farms growing corn (2,112 farms) and soybeans (1,502 farms) in Alabama than those growing cotton (925 farms).

All in all, it was great to see how well our farming is doing, especially considering that in 2012 we saw one of the worst droughts in history. More than 90 percent of Alabama was affected by the drought that year. Despite these tricky conditions, our farmers sold more than $5.5 billion worth of agricultural products in 2012, a 26 percent increase from the previous census, taken in 2007.

Don't Play Politics with our Children's Health

Earlier this morning, The Hill published an op-ed written by Secretary Vilsack and former Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, who served from 2001 to 2005. In the op-ed, Vilsack and Veneman call on Members of Congress to stand strong for America’s children and resist attempts to undo the progress made since the passage of the bipartisan Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA). Schools across the country are now serving healthier meals to kids based on recommendations from doctors and nutritionists at the Institute of Medicine.

Small Operation Perseveres Until Drought Relief Comes

This post is part of a disaster assistance program feature series on the USDA blog. Check back every Wednesday as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s Farm Service Agency.

Keegan Poe of Johnson County, Indiana is a busy man. Not only is Poe a regional manager for Indiana Farm Bureau, but in his “spare time,” he holds down a second full-time job raising beef cattle and running Poe’s Quality Meats where he sells family raised beef and lamb direct from farm to consumer.

“My family has raised sheep for 70 years here in Indiana, but my passion for raising cattle started with one dairy steer when I was involved with 4-H as a youth,” said Poe. “I asked my dad if I could show cattle and he said, ‘sure’ and the rest is history.”

A Wetland Returns to its "Roots" Through a Conservation Easement

If the land floods more often than growing a crop, why not let it go back to what it wants to be – a wetland. That’s what happened on the Hoppe Heritage Farmstead in 2011. The Hoppe sisters owned cropland along the southern branch of the Kishwaukee River in DeKalb County, Ill. About half of the land would flood on a regular basis.

After several years of dealing with the floods, the sisters decided to do something about it. They sold the homestead to the DeKalb County Forest Preserve District, which preserves and restores landscapes and their plant and animal life.

Terry Hannan, the forest preserve’s superintendent, contacted USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service about a conservation easement as a possible opportunity to improve the land.

100+ Years of Tracking Nutrients Available in the U.S. Food Supply

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 the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

What’s in the food we eat? Have you ever wondered if the foods past generations ate as children were more nutritious than the foods you now eat, or vice versa? Well, let’s take a look at the amount of nutrients available in foods for over 100 years!

The Nutrient Content of the U.S. Food Supply is a historical data series beginning with 1909, on the amounts of nutrients available in the food supply for consumption (not nutrients consumed), on a per capita per day basis, as well as percentage contributions of nutrients by major food groups. The series provides data for food calories and the calorie-yielding nutrients which are protein, carbohydrate, and fat (total, saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and individual fatty acids); cholesterol; dietary fiber; 10 vitamins; and 9 minerals. Food supply nutrients are closely linked to food and nutrition policy, with prominence in areas related to nutrition monitoring, Federal dietary guidance, fortification policy, and food marketing strategies.