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October 2014

U.S. Forest Service Harvests 2014 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree in Minnesota

On a cold afternoon in late October, about 500 people, including local area third graders who had made ornaments for it, gathered to witness the cutting of the 88-foot, 13,000-pound 2014 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree on the Chippewa National Forest in north central Minnesota.

To help stay warm and nourished, attendees were offered hot chocolate or coffee, a wild rice dish, fruit, sandwich wraps and cookies, all courtesy of the Leech Land Band of Ojibwe. The official festivities began with Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Spiritual Advisor Larry Aitken blessing the Tree, distinguished guests sharing their congratulations, and poignant drumming performances by two groups of tribal youth; one group was accompanied by young tribal dancers in full regalia.

USDA is Acting on Climate and We Have a Plan

We know that there are climate change risks and vulnerabilities facing agriculture that have significant implications not just for farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners, but for all Americans and the world. That’s why we are working on measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for climate change impacts such as flooding, sea level rise, severe weather and temperature extremes.

Today’s release of the USDA Sustainability Plans and Climate Change Adaptation Plans coincide with the fifth anniversary of President Obama’s 2009 Executive Order on Environmental, Energy and Economic Performance, which set aggressive energy, climate and environmental targets for agencies, and detail how USDA’s actions have already contributed to reducing the Federal Government’s greenhouse gas emissions by more than 17 percent since 2008 – the equivalent of permanently taking 1.8 million cars off the road.

A Paiute Pumpkin Patch in Utah

As we prepare for annual Halloween celebrations across the nation, I was reminded of a trip I made to Cedar City, Utah earlier this month. StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity is an effort Secretary Vilsack launched in 2010 to address the distinct set of challenges America’s most rural areas face. This added effort also helps to fulfill USDA’s commitment to Native American tribes. Since StrikeForce began, I’ve had the honor of meeting with many Native American tribal members to identify where USDA Rural Development may serve their communities best.

The Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah welcomed the USDA family around a great wooden table at their headquarters in Cedar City. Representatives from Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Farm Service Agency (FSA), and Rural Development (RD) came together with the Utah Governor's Office to show our combined support to the Paiute Tribe. More importantly, we were there to listen to what the Tribe and its five constituent bands could tell us about their plans for the future, as well as their needs.

Willow Cove Elementary Brings the Classroom Outside

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!

“My carrot is burnt!” exclaimed a Willow Cove Elementary student in February, when they harvested carrots from the school garden for the first time. The student had never seen a purple carrot before and that day, the whole class enjoyed sample tastes of orange, white, and purple carrots. Carrots are just one of the many crops students have harvested from the Willow Cove garden, and they have a motivated teacher and their Nutrition Services department to thank for the experience.

At the start of last school year, Willow Cove Elementary School’s kindergarten teacher called the District’s Director of Nutrition Services, Matthew Belasco, to ask for a few milk crates to start a small window garden. Matthew, eager to get a school garden up and running, took this spark of interest and ran with it. Within a few hours, he arrived at Willow Cove with a wheel barrow, soil, shovels, and seeds, convinced the teacher that raised beds were preferable, and got to work planting the first school garden within Pittsburg Unified School District (PUSD), just outside Willow Cove’s kindergarten classroom. Willow Cove’s success with maintaining the garden and engaging students with outdoor lessons created the momentum and excitement needed to begin expanding Pittsburg’s farm to school program.

O Halloween, Arachnophobia, Entomophobia, and Why Insects Exist

They squirm, crawl, scurry and swarm … and they’re all around us.

More than 900,000 species of insects and arachnids are found around the world, and some people would rather not come into contact with even one of the often misunderstood critters.

The fear for me came when I was 7 years old during the summer of 1990.

Oregon Farmer Uses Conservation to Grow Farm, Giant Pumpkins

Oregon organic farmer David Brown didn’t start off growing 400-pound pumpkins, but every fall they hold a prominent place on Brown’s Mustard Seed Farms. Starting out as a 26-acre farm in Marion County, Oregon, Brown has grown his diverse, organic operation to 80-acres while also achieving large gains in soil health.

“Our name, Mustard Seed Farms, comes from Scripture where faith is a grain of mustard seed that God will bless, and we will grow, and that’s exactly what’s happened,” Brown said. He’s grown the size of his farm and giant pumpkins by first growing the health of his soil. Brown gathers his strength from above – but does have some help from below from groups like USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

Illinois Farmers Have Plenty to Boast About

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.

Most people think of corn and soybeans when they imagine Illinois agriculture. That’s not surprising, considering that The Prairie State ranked second in the nation when it comes to harvested acres for both of these crops in 2012. Our farmers harvested more than 21 million acres of corn and soybeans in Illinois during 2012. That keeps a whole lot of combines rolling each fall.

However, Illinois agriculture achievements expand way beyond just corn and soybeans. Our farmers produce a wide variety of crops and livestock. For example, you can probably thank an Illinois farmer when you open that can of pumpkin pie filling this Thanksgiving. With more than 12,500 acres, Illinois growers account for more than three-fourths of all pumpkins harvested for processing in the United States.

New Day, Same Mission: The Evolution of SNAP

This fall, USDA is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Food Stamp Act of 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, which made the Food Stamp Program permanent.  In looking back over the past 50 years, there are two notable events in the program’s history that had a significant impact on the transformation of the original Food Stamp Program in 1964 to the program we know today as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

First, the Food Stamp Act of 1977 was a major program milestone, because it established national eligibility standards for participation and eliminated the purchase requirement for food stamps.  The new standards meant that the amount of benefits a household received depended on the household’s size, income, and expenses, a standard that remains today.  The elimination of the purchase requirement meant that people received their benefits upfront, without the intermediary step of purchasing the food stamp first.  The Food Stamp Act of 1977, therefore, removed a major barrier to participation in the program while also ensuring that benefits would be targeted to those most in need.  As a result, the mission of the Food Stamp Program to mitigate the effects of poverty was strengthened.

Life in the Colorado Wilderness: Journal Entry Reflects Rangers' Experiences in Retracing Arthur Carhart's First Journey to Trappers Lake

In 1919, landscape architect Arthur Carhart made his first journey to Colorado’s Trappers Lake and the Flat Top Wilderness. His idea of keeping natural areas of beauty free from development inspired the Forest Service to be the first natural resource agency to push for designated wilderness areas.

The grandeur of the area recently inspired Forest Service employees from the White River National Forest to retrace Carhart’s 25-mile hike through the wilderness across trails with names like Wall Lake and Trappers Lake to the Cradle of Wilderness on their way to the lake. Like many a hiker who visits wilderness areas, they were inspired by the variety of experiences they encountered during their pilgrimage.

Scientific Climate Info Now Available for Producers in the Northern Plains

This fall, ranchers, farmers, and land managers in the Northern Plains from Bartlett, Nebraska to the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming will be making decisions that will affect their operations in the coming year. Land managers often consider markets, weather and changing climatic conditions using data and information from various sources including newspapers and popular press publications, Cooperative Extension agents, State Climatologists, and the Internet.

With the recent launch of the USDA Northern Plains Regional Climate Hub website, ranchers, farmers, and land managers have a new source for region-specific, science-based information, practical management and conservation strategies, and decision-support tools.  The national Hubs site features links to the latest climate news, events, thematic climate highlights (e.g. Croplands, Forestland, Grazing Lands and Livestock) as well as educational materials, factsheets, and regional contact information.