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A Special Invitation from Deputy Secretary to Join a Google+ Hangout on Veteran Farmers

On Monday, I had the opportunity to meet with several inspiring Service members and launch an expanded collaboration between USDA and the Department of Defense at a Transition Assistance Program class hosted at the Pentagon. This collaboration will integrate agriculture into the career training and counseling programs Service members receive as they transition out of the military. Information about USDA resources and programs will now reach 200,000 transitioning Service members every year.

It’s exciting to see veterans — many of whom come from rural communities — drawn back to the land, and USDA is here to provide support for military veterans and their families, from nutrition assistance to rural rental housing and homeownership opportunities. In conjunction with Monday’s announcement, USDA also launched a new website, This site is specifically designed to educate veterans about USDA programs and the support available for all active duty military and veterans.

Helping our Returning Heroes Find Opportunities in Agriculture: Join us for a Google+ Hangout!

On Thursday, September 17, at 11 a.m. Eastern, Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden will sit down with a panel of veteran farmers and veteran training organizations for a live Google+ Hangout to discuss opportunities available through USDA for returning service members who are looking for long-term careers in farming, ranching and agriculture. Use the USDA Google+ page or to join us.

If you are a military veteran living in rural America, you are not alone. Today, more than five million veterans live in rural areas, a higher concentration than in any other part of the country. Many veterans show interest in agriculture because they feel that working on the land helps them successfully transition to civilian life and provides them with a way to continue serving their community. As part of the beginning farmer community, many veterans are eligible for a wide variety of USDA programs and resources that include access to capital through our beginning farmer loan program, farm ownership loans or microloans.

Conservation Easements Preserve, Restore Florida Wetlands

The Archbold Biological Station located in central Florida occupies 5,200 acres of pristine Florida scrub habitat on the southern tip of the Lake Wales Ridge, which is considered an ecological wonder. Eastern indigo snakes, Florida sand skinks, Florida scrub jays, burrowing owls and crested caracaras occupy the mosaic of uplands and wetlands found within the confluence of the Kissimmee River and Fisheating Creek watershed.

This renowned research facility has hosted scientists from all over the world for almost 75 years, and its scientific publications document the status and habits of plants and animals that are found nowhere else on earth.

An Alabama Family Farm Helps Send Cleaner Water to the Gulf of Mexico

Days before planting season in April, up to 26 inches of rain had fallen in southern Alabama over a span of two days. This rain event caused historic flooding in Baldwin County in a coastal part of the state, where farmers had freshly tilled fields in preparation for planting crops.

These tilled fields lost valuable topsoil during the flood. But the outcome was different for Tim Mullek and his family, who grow cotton, peanuts, soybeans, wheat and corn on about 2,500 acres in the Fish River watershed, located about 20 miles from the Gulf of Mexico.

Bringing You Food and Fiber to Fit Your Active Lifestyle

If you’ve learned how to cut a mango from a magazine article, read about new fabrics on a website or heard about nutrition research on almonds from a health reporter on TV, chances are one of America’s ag promotion groups made that information possible and available. From the clothes you wear to the food you eat, these groups are leading efforts to research and promote food and fiber that fits your lifestyle.

Conventional Tillage Harvests a Haboob, Unhealthy Soils

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and state Soil and Water Conservation Districts has partnered for decades on protecting, restoring and enhancing private lands across the United States. Jim Armstrong is communications and special projects coordinator with the Spokane County Conservation District in Washington. – Jennifer VanEps, NRCS Washington

Haboob: a funny word, but its meaning is far from laughable. Defined as a type of intense dust storm carried on an atmospheric current, haboobs can have catastrophic effects on both land and life.

Dry August winds often stir up dust clouds in central and eastern Washington, but 2014 was exceptional. On Aug. 12, an enormous, miles-wide haboob, which was reminiscent of those from the Dust Bowl era, descended upon eastern Washington. Two weeks later, another dust cloud caused a 50-car pile-up in the southern part of the state, sending multiple people to the hospital and shutting down Interstate 82.

Soil Health Campaign Turns Two: Seeks to Unlock Benefits on- and off-the-Farm

Two years ago, at the farm of soil health pioneer Dave Brandt in Carroll, Ohio, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) officially launched the “Unlock the Secrets in the Soil.” The Brandt Farm was a fitting birthplace for a soil health education and awareness effort, since Brandt has been a leader, advocate and teacher of soil health principles for nearly three decades.

He continues to dedicate much of his time and energy to teaching farmers and others about the basics and benefits of soil health. And speaking of benefits, healthy soil is loaded with them.

It's 'Rockets to the Rescue' During National 4-H Week

Millions of youth around the country became “aerospace engineers” for a day on Wednesday, as 4-H National Youth Science Day’s “Rockets to the Rescue” took center stage during National 4-H Week, Oct.  5 – 11.

National 4-H Week is the time when America’s 4-H clubs showcase their 6 million members and the programs in which they participate.  Studies indicate that youth who engage in 4-H’s research-driven programming are four times more likely to contribute to their communities, make healthy life choices, and strive to finish college.

Secretary's Column: Farm to School Programs Create New Opportunities for Farmers

This October, just like every other month during the school year, school menus will feature an array of products from local and regional farmers, ranchers, and fishermen. Kids of all ages will dig up lessons in school gardens, visit farms, harvest pumpkins, and don hair nets for tours of processing facilities. Science teachers – and English, math, and social studies instructors, too – will use food and agriculture as a tool in their classrooms, so that lessons about the importance of healthy eating permeate the school learning environment.

An investment in the health of America’s students through Farm to School is also an investment in the farmers and ranchers who grow the food and an investment in the health of local economies. In school year 2011-2012, schools purchased $386 million in local food from farmers, ranchers, fishermen, and food processors and manufacturers. And an impressive 56 percent of school districts report that they will buy even more local foods in future school years. Farm to school programs exist in every state in the country.