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"Fuel Up to Play 60" Has Game Plan to Supercharge School Fitness and Nutrition

Meet Jack, a sixth-grader who is eager to become a school nutrition and fitness game changer. He is one of nearly 20,000 student ambassadors with Fuel Up to Play 60 (FUTP 60), a program launched by the National Dairy Council (NDC) and National Football League (NFL) in collaboration with USDA. FUTP 60 empowers youth like Jack to improve nutrition and physical activity at their schools and in their communities. Jack serves as student ambassador for his home state of Delaware.

In late July, he and a select group of top ambassadors trained like athletes at the 2015 Fuel Up to Play 60 Summit in Chicago—his first visit ever to the Windy City. In addition to playing flag football, making friends and having a great time, the ambassadors learned all about nutrition and the benefits of getting at least 60 minutes of daily physical activity. Most importantly, they learned the leadership and communication skills necessary to work with students and school staff to deliver FUTP 60 activities that meet their school’s wellness goals. Those goals could include introducing salad bars, planting and harvesting fruit and vegetables in a school garden or inviting an NFL player to talk about all aspects of wellness, to name a few.

Migrating Monarchs

Last month, beautiful monarch butterflies floated across Chicago’s skyline as a part of their annual migration. During this year’s journey, they found more milkweed plants in several places along their paths because of an innovative program that connects urban communities with nature.

Area school kids, their families and teachers involved in an innovative project were thrilled: they had planted milkweeds in schoolyards and home gardens to attract more monarchs to the city … and it worked.  Many of the families are originally from Michoacan, Mexico, where the butterflies spend the winter.

Let's Get Every Kid in a Park

Cross-posted from the White House Blog

From sea to shining sea, our country is home to gorgeous landscapes, vibrant waterways, and historic treasures that all Americans can enjoy. But right now, young people are spending more time in front of screens than outside, and that means they are missing out on valuable opportunities to explore, learn, and play in the spectacular outdoor places that belong to all of them.

President Obama is committed to giving every kid the chance to explore America’s great outdoors and unique history. That’s why today he launched the Every Kid in a Park initiative, which calls on each of our agencies to help get all children to visit and enjoy the outdoors and inspire a new generation of Americans to experience their country’s unrivaled public lands and waters. Starting in September, every fourth-grader in the nation will receive an “Every Kid in a Park” pass that’s good for free admission to all of America’s federal lands and waters -- for them and their families -- for a full year.

100 Years of USDA Market News: The Trusted Source - Then, Now and Always

Have you ever wondered how American farmers and businesses track the price of their commodities?  Today, farmers, ranchers, and the entire agricultural supply chain turn to USDA Market News – administered by my agency, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) – for timely, reliable, unbiased data that serves as the information lifeline for America’s agricultural economy.

But 100 years ago, everyone was in the dark about how much things cost.  That’s why, in 1915, the first USDA Market News report was sent by telegraph, letting buyers and sellers across the country know the price of strawberries in Hammond, Louisiana.

USDA Seeks Variety to Help American Agriculture Flourish

While most of the country is braving cold and blustery winter conditions, farmers and gardeners are busy looking ahead to the spring. They are contemplating the variety of seeds or the plants that they will use. The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) increases the options for our farmers, gardeners, and plant breeders by making sure there is an abundance of varieties available.

We do this through our Plant Variety Protection Office (PVPO), which grants certificates of intellectual property protection to developers of new plant varieties. These certificates enable breeders to market their variety exclusively for 20 years. The protection is an incentive for the development of new and improved varieties.

Strategic Conversations, a Crisis Response at the Grass Roots Level

As Mark Twain once said, “Let us make a special effort to stop communicating with each other, so we can have some conversation.” Recently, in Ohio, the staff of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), put that advice to work: rather than trying to communicate broadly, they took their message on the road, visiting with farmers face-to-face to talk about the importance of cover crops on improving water quality.

For two days this past summer, 400,000 Toledo, Ohio residents dependent on safe drinking water from Lake Erie could not use their water for drinking, bathing or washing. Toxins from algae contaminated their water, exceeding the city’s water treatment facilities capacity to remove it.  Boiling the water only concentrated the toxin. No one knew how long this would last.

Chicago Charter School Focuses on Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds

As part of our Cafeteria Stories series, Allison Slade, Founder and Executive Director of the Namaste Charter School in Chicago, shares thoughts on why good nutrition is an integral component of a child’s education.  She credits the academic achievements of Namaste’s students not only to the academic structure itself, but also to the fresh, healthy meals that are a pillar of the school’s structure.  Thank you, Allison, for sharing your story.

Guest Blog By: Allison Slade, Founder and Executive Director of Namaste Charter School

I’ve worn many hats in many schools—I have been a Teach for America Corps member, a Kindergarten teacher, a mentor, a curriculum designer, a literacy specialist, and now at Namaste Charter School, a Founder and Executive Director. Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of reasons why schools should or should not make their students’ health a priority on campus.

When I was a teacher, I watched my students come to school with orange fingers from their cheesy snack food breakfast. By 10:00 a.m., my students were crashing; they couldn’t focus and they certainly couldn’t reach their highest potential, which is every teacher’s mission.

Evening Primrose by any Other Name is a Moth Plant

Plants provide us with many things that we use on a daily basis – from the buildings in which we live and work, to our clothing and food. For flowering plants to thrive and reproduce, they often rely on pollinators to transport pollen between flowers.

Pollination ultimately results in fruits and seeds, ranging from the strawberries and almonds in your breakfast to the tomatoes in your pasta sauce. While scientists know a lot about honeybees, very little is known about many other pollinators – bats, birds, bees, butterflies, moths, flies, etc. – that are essential to pollinating wildflowers and native plants.

Acting Local, Growing Global for Good Food

For over a century, my hometown of Chicago has been a cultural, financial, and agricultural hub.  And as a hub, it has a long history of supporting innovation and opportunity.  From the first cattle drives came the great Chicago Stockyards that supplied meat to the nation.  From the early trading of the Chicago Butter and Egg Board came the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. The city’s richly-woven tapestry of cultural diversity and the success of its food businesses prove Chicago’s value as an ideal business cultivator.

That is why it was so fitting that AMS Deputy Administrator Arthur Neal and I were invited to present at the Good Food Festival & Conference in Chicago on March 14. Hosted by Jim Slama of, the event is the oldest sustainable and local food trade show in America. Each year it brings together stakeholders including farmers, entrepreneurs, policy makers, and food industry representatives.

From Small Potatoes to 36,000 Pounds of Carrots: Farm to School Grows

In the past few years I’ve seen an increasing number of news stories about successful farm to school programs. As reflected in the first USDA Farm to School Census, farm to school programs are thriving from Alaska to Florida and in every state between.

I attended a recent event that demonstrates just how quickly—and by what lengths—farm to school is growing. On January 15th, students in all Chicago Public Schools (CPS) were served sliced carrots grown at a farm only 90 miles away in Milwaukee.