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September 2014

Future Scientists Programs to Tackle Future Agricultural Challenges

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.

To celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month, USDA’s Research, Education, and Economics mission area will highlight those who are making significant contributions to American agriculture.

I am fortunate to have a job that I love where I interact with a wide and diverse audience -- from Kindergarten students through adolescents to undergraduates and to adults.  My role as Director of the USDA’s Hispanic Serving Institutions National Program (HSINP) allows me to educate students and communities about all of the opportunities agriculture has to offer.  It’s important that we keep attracting the best and brightest minds to the field to meet the agricultural challenges ahead.

Michigan Farmers Tour Lake Erie, Hear from Water Quality Experts

Michigan farmers heard firsthand from experts about the water quality issues facing Lake Erie as well as the importance of conservation work to cleaning water.

A group of 40 farmers from southeast Michigan visited Ohio State University’s Stone Laboratory on Gibraltar Island in Lake Erie. The tour was held in late summer, not long after 500,000 people in the Toledo area were forced to spend days without public drinking water.

Embracing a New Vision of School Nutrition

The following guest blog is part of our Cafeteria Stories series, highlighting the efforts of hard working school nutrition professionals who are dedicated to making the healthy choice the easy choice at schools across the country.  We thank them for sharing their stories!

By Alan Shannon, Public Affairs Director, Midwest Region, USDA Food and Nutrition Service, and Katherine Elmer-Dewitt, Academy for Global Citizenship

As we approach the five-year anniversary of the passage of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act, it’s worthwhile to revisit some of the schools that were at the cutting edge of creating healthier school meals. Chicago’s Academy for Global Citizenship (AGC) has been a pioneer in serving healthy, delicious school meals that exceed USDA school meals standards. Just as important, students love them! Integral to AGC’s success is a belief in not only serving positive foods but also in creating a culture that supports wellness. The school’s holistic approach relies on parent engagement, physical education, nutrition education, gardening, and more.

The Academy is a recognized national leader in these areas, so much so that Good Morning America visited it in 2011—just after the Act passed—to highlight its work. I was there for the visit and wrote this blog about it. I’ve been fortunate to visit several times since and am honored to share the blog below, written by AGC’s Katherine Elmer-Dewitt. It tells their story and underscores the importance of healthy school food.

US Forest Service Tool Fells Trees, Slices Through Massive Logs - and Sings

The crosscut saw, once a symbol for conquering the wild forests of the west in order to provide lumber for America’s cities, now endures as a symbol of wilderness preservation in our national forests.

The crosscut saw reached prominence in the United States between 1880 and 1930, but quickly became obsolete when power saws started being mass produced. The passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964 has helped restore the dying art of primitive tool use by effectively requiring their use in wilderness trail maintenance.

The Easy Way to Find Local Food - USDA Launches New Local Food Directories

What a great time of year to visit your local farmers market! From root crops such as beets, carrots and radishes to salad greens like Swiss chard, lettuce and spinach—farmers markets are full of fresh ingredients that you can use in your favorite fall recipes. My agency, the Agricultural Marketing Service, maintains the USDA's National Farmers Market Directory, where you can search for local markets and discover where to get your squashes, pumpkins, pears and apples. There are over 8,200 farmers markets listed with their locations, operating hours and other details, providing a simple and easy way for consumers and producers around the country to find each other.

Local and regional food systems, including farmers markets, are one of USDA's four key pillars to revitalize rural economies and improve access to fresh, healthy food for millions of Americans. Last month, I announced that AMS was building three new local food directories for food hubs, community-supported agriculture operations and on-farm markets. I asked local food enterprises to go online and list the details of their businesses in the new directories—and they responded!

Soil Health Brought to Life on Lawn of USDA's Whitten Building

Recently, I watched Jason Weller, chief of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, (NRCS) provide testimony on the benefits of soil health during a House Agriculture Committee hearing. After the Chief’s impassioned testimony, I met with the crew setting up the rainfall simulator demonstration on the lawn of the USDA’s Whitten Building.

I couldn't help but hope that the “Bundled Benefits of Soil Health” event would effectively illustrate what Chief Weller had only hours earlier discussed with lawmakers. Before long, the audience began to assemble and people passing by from the National Mall stopped to watch as a cowboy from Oklahoma, Greg Scott, a retired NRCS soil scientist and Chris Lawrence, NRCS cropland agronomist in Virginia, delivered the event’s soil health message.

USDA Marks 50th Anniversary of the Job Corps

Fifty years ago, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Economic Opportunity Act.  This Act, part of the government effort to wipe out poverty, created the Job Corps program, which has had a positive effect on countless young lives, giving them a chance to break multi-generational cycles of poverty, get an education, and find jobs in the federal and private sectors, and in the military.  The U.S. Forest Service works closely with the Department of Labor to operate Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers (Job Corps CCCs) around the country.

Last week, dignitaries including Deputy Under Secretary Butch Blazer, Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, and Tina Terrell, Forest Service National Director of the Job Corps, along with colleagues from the Department of Labor, came together in Washington at USDA’s Whitten Building to mark the anniversary.

One Farm at a Time, USDA Helps Landowners Conserve Water in Ogallala Region

James Pike has tackled an important and thorny issue in Laramie County, Wyoming – water conservation. More specifically, this district conservationist with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has diligently worked to encourage farmers and ranchers in the region that is fed by the Ogallala Aquifer to use water wisely.

Stretching from western Texas to South Dakota, the Ogallala Aquifer supports nearly one-fifth of the wheat, corn, cotton and cattle produced in the United States. Underlying about 225,000 square miles of the Great Plains, water from the aquifer is vital to agricultural, cities and industry, making up 30 percent of all groundwater used for irrigation in America.

#Together Against Rabies: APHIS-Wildlife Services Works to Prevent Rabies

This year’s World Rabies Day theme “Together Against Rabies” is appropriate given the number and diversity of organizations around the world focused on preventing the spread of rabies in people, pets, livestock and wildlife.

Since 2007, the Global Alliance for Rabies Control has sponsored World Rabies Day on September 28 to promote rabies awareness and reduce rabies transmission. For its part, the APHIS-Wildlife Services (WS) program has been working cooperatively with local, State, and Federal governments, international partners, universities and others since 1995 to prevent the spread of rabies in wildlife in North America.

Tribal Youth Celebrate New, Safe Place to Learn

"In the Dakota language, there is no word for 'child' or 'children.' Instead, there is 'wakanyeja,' which means 'sacred little ones,'" reported a local newspaper. The importance of that future generation was evident on the Spirit Lake Indian Reservation in North Dakota as we broke ground for a new Head Start facility. This was a special project to me as it embodies so well what we do at USDA Rural Development.

President Obama’s recent visit to North Dakota highlighted our tribal areas and opportunities for native youth. This project aligns with the President’s vision as well as being a strong validation of Secretary Vilsack’s StrikeForce initiative. The Secretary’s leadership has allowed us to further identify issues in areas of persistently high poverty, which cultivated the ensuing meetings that helped make this project a reality.