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Celebrating the New Face of Agriculture

At the Agricultural Marketing Service and across USDA, we often talk about the fact that the face of American agriculture is changing. The ranks of our farmers, especially young and beginning farmers, include a growing number of women, people of color, veterans or folks in their second careers. So-called “traditional” agriculture defies the term as it pursues new strategies, new products, and new markets. Across the country, agriculture is diversifying and evolving to meet changing consumer demands.

I saw the new face of agriculture last week during travels to Illinois and Indiana. My first stop was a roundtable on Women in Agriculture held at FarmedHere in Bedford Park, Illinois, about 15 miles from Chicago. Twenty or so women gathered to talk about their farming goals and to hear about how USDA could support them. This topic is close to my heart – I’m a New Hampshire native, a state with the second highest percentage of women farmers in the country. The women around the table with me represented the new face of ag, but so too did the setting – an indoor, vertical farm that produces basil and microgreens in a facility designed to reduce energy costs and shrink the carbon footprint of growing food.  FarmedHere is managed by Megan Klein, an attorney by training who found her calling in urban agriculture and became part of this “new face.”

It all Began with a Football: How the Super Bowl Shaped the Chicken Industry

On January 15, 1967, the Green Bay Packers faced off against the Kansas City Chiefs in the very first Super Bowl.  On that day, few of the estimated 51 million fans gathered around their television sets realized the profound impact the Super Bowl would have on chicken consumption in the United States.  The Packers won the game 35-10, but ultimately the real winner was chicken – particularly wings.

In 1967, Americans consumes 32.6 pounds of chicken per capita, typically purchased in whole-bird form.  Cuts of chicken were a novelty at the grocery story, and there was little demand for chicken wings.  But, in 1964, the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, N.Y. decided to turn the typical soup-stock staple into a spicy finger food to feed a hungry crowd.

Change Beyond the Plate

The following guest blog from a school and community nutrition services director in Louisville, Kentucky highlights how non-profit School Food FOCUS relies on USDA’s Process Verified Program (PVP) to help increase transparency and choice for school food purchases.  USDA’s objective, third-party auditing services focus on increasing transparency from farm to market by offering verification based on clearly defined, implemented, and transparent process points.

By Julia Bauscher, Director of School and Community Nutrition Services, Jefferson County Public Schools, Louisville, Kentucky

The first time School Food FOCUS brought together a group of school food directors like myself to talk about how we could improve the quality of chicken—the number one protein we serve to students—I was thrilled and a little daunted.

Schools across the country spend nearly $1 billion on chicken every year. That’s a lot of buying power. School Food FOCUS challenged us to think about the changes we can make to our food system if districts leveraged this buying power to create a demand for chicken that is better on the plate and for the environment.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way from the Summit: How REE is Using New Strategies to Reach Even Newer Poultry Handlers

During a walk along tree-shading sidewalks in the “burbs”; you’re accustomed to seeing games of hopscotch, bike rides, and maybe even the occasional Golden Retriever. However, one residential backyard, nearly 6 miles from downtown Atlanta, calls into question whether this is suburbia at all. There were swings, a tree house, and even patio furniture. Yet one feature certified this was not your mother’s suburban home: over a dozen chickens living comfortably in a custom made “Coop de Ville.”   

The rise of “backyard poultry” is one of many agricultural phenomena tied to a growing food consciousness and increased urbanization. And while USDA’s fundamental job doesn’t change, the Department does because the challenges do.  The recent cases of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) at increasingly popular backyard chicken coops underscore this. While this concern was not clearly expressed in the 1862 Act of Congress that created the Department, the mandate was. USDA still works to “acquire and to diffuse…information” towards facilitating the protected growth of American agriculture. That service is what brought Research, Education, and Economics Undersecretary Dr. Catherine Woteki to this residence in Decatur, GA. Accompanied by Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service officials and a man known best as the “Chicken Whisperer,” Dr. Woteki toured the site and helped to shed light on current HPAI research and important biosafety measures.

Frost on the Chickens

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 profile.

A phone call to USDA’s National Agricultural Library (NAL) seeking the original magazines with Robert Frost’s first published prose has now given rise to the library’s newest online exhibit. But why did a Frost aficionado call an agricultural library looking for these?

Because, before Robert Frost became ROBERT FROST, he was a chicken farmer with 300 white Wyandotte hens from 1900 to 1909 in Derry, New Hampshire. However, Frost wasn't ever really a good fit for farming—he had serious hay fever, for one—and coops and eggs were a long way from four Pulitzer prizes for poetry.

USDA Proposes Tougher Food Safety Standards for Chicken and Turkey

It’s no secret that Americans eat a lot of chicken and turkey. In fact, USDA estimates that a single American will eat 102 pounds of poultry in 2015. It is USDA’s job to ensure the meat and poultry products we enjoy are also safe to eat, and that means adapting federal food safety regulations to meet changes in production technology, scientific understanding of foodborne illness, and consumer demand.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 1 million Americans contract foodborne Salmonella poisoning each year, and 200,000 of those illnesses can be attributed to poultry. Today, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service proposed new food safety standards that would reduce Salmonella and Campylobacter, another common cause of foodborne illness, on ground chicken and turkey, as well as chicken legs, breasts and wings, which represent the majority of poultry items that Americans purchase and feed their families.

USDA Foods Hatches New Chicken Product for Schools

School lunches have evolved since many of our childhood days to keep pace with new dietary guidelines and school meal patterns, but one food has been an enduring component: chicken.  The popular protein graces the center of the plate in a variety of forms and flavors, and the new USDA Foods unseasoned chicken strip provides school nutrition professionals with a versatile and healthy option to add to their recipes.  USDA develops new products for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) based on feedback from states and school districts.  Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at how chicken flies the coop from farms to a pilot program to cafeterias across the country.

Did you know that on any given day, USDA Foods comprise 15 to 20 percent of the value of food served on the lunch line, or that the School Year 2015 Foods Available List contains more than 200 options?  For more than 70 years, USDA has provided states with 100 percent American grown food for school lunches to support the dual mission of strengthening our nutrition safety net and supporting American agriculture.  The unseasoned, non-breaded chicken strip is just the latest contribution to a long history of providing nutritious foods for school meals.

South Carolina Features Supreme Chicken Sandwich in School Lunch

It’s not surprising that chicken, the most popular meat for kids, is being served in school cafeterias across the nation.  However, in Columbia, S.C., locally sourced chicken has taken center stage on school meal trays in an effort to increase the state’s Farm to School programming.

South Carolina’s District Five of Lexington and Richland Counties Schools are piloting a poultry project to expand local products offered to students.  In partnership with Pilgrim's Pride Corporation, the school district is offering a variety of locally produced products to their students.

This particular Farm to School Program is made possible through the collaboration of the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, South Carolina Department of Agriculture, South Carolina Department of Education, and Clemson University’s Youth Learning Institute.

By Holly Godwin, South Carolina Farm to Institution Program Director

During the 2013-2014 academic school year, 20 District Five schools of Lexington and Richland Counties (South Carolina) participated in the Supreme Chicken project.  This included all 12 elementary schools, four middle schools, and four high schools.

Let's Talk Turkey about USDA Poultry Grades

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, it is the perfect time to learn more about the quality grade standards for poultry products and the “Grade A” shield you might find on the label of your family’s main dish.  Most consumers are familiar with the USDA beef grades – Prime, Choice and Select.  But did you know USDA has similar grade standards for Poultry products?

The USDA grade shields are reputable symbols of quality American poultry products.  Large-volume buyers such as grocery stores, military institutions, restaurants, and even foreign governments use the quality grades as a common “language” within the poultry industry, making business transactions easier.

Food Safety and Chicken Served in the National School Lunch Program

In response to a recent report about chicken served in the National School Lunch Program, I wanted to provide some clarification.  Food safety is one of our highest priorities, and USDA is committed to ensuring that food served through the National School Lunch Program is both healthy and safe.

Schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program receive some of their foods through the USDA, and the rest is purchased on the commercial market.  USDA is only involved in the purchases that are made through our program, and all of the food provided through USDA is 100 percent domestically grown and produced.