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Just Like a Peach, Without the Fuzz

They looked like apples to the twenty-seven children who were waiting patiently in line for lunch as part of the USDA Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) at Old Plank Estates in Butler, PA. But in fact, Freedom Farms, a local farmers market, brought a bushel of fresh picked nectarines for the children in honor of National Farmers Market Week. Lisa King from Freedom Farms explained to the children that, while nectarines may look like apples, they’re more like peaches without the “fuzz”. Giggling, with juice running off their chins, the children enjoyed the foreign fruit.

The USDA program is administered in Pennsylvania by the Department of Education. Old Plank Estates, a USDA Rural Development and Housing and Urban Development funded multi-family housing complex, is partnering with the Paul Laurence Dunbar Community Center to provide the meals to the children.  As an added bonus, Freedom Farms is a new partner in the program, offering to donate fruit each day and to help the children plant a garden at the complex next spring.

Bringing the Promise of Healthy School Meals to More Children This Fall

Cross-posted from the Huffington Post:

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 enabled the U.S Department of Agriculture to make historic changes to the meals served in our nation's schools. Breakfasts, lunches, and snacks sold during the school day are now more nutritious than ever, with less fat and sodium and more whole-grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and low-fat dairy. For many kids, the meals they get at school may be the only nutritious meals they receive that day -- and when children receive proper nourishment, they are not only healthier, but they also have better school attendance and perform better academically. It's not enough, though, to make the meals healthier -- we must ensure that children have access to those healthier foods.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act authorized a program, known as the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), that can help schools achieve their educational goals by ensuring that children in low-income communities have access to healthy meals at school so they are ready to learn. In this program, schools agree to offer breakfast and lunch for free to all students, and cover any costs that exceed the reimbursements from USDA. Designed to ease the burden of administering a high volume of applications for free and reduced price meals, CEP is a powerful tool to both increase child nutrition and reduce paperwork at the district, school, and household levels, which saves staff time and resources for cash-strapped school districts.

USDA Helps Develop Next Generation of Ag Scientists

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 the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

During the month of April we will take a closer look at USDA’s Groundbreaking Research for a Revitalized Rural America, highlighting ways USDA researchers are improving the lives of Americans in ways you might never imagine, such as keeping our educational pipeline filled with the best and brightest future agricultural scientists.

So far, Irvin Arroyo has not strayed too far from the farming world. Growing up, he lived and worked with his parents at a 200-acre vineyard in Madera, California, where he tended the vines and harvested the grapes.

When Arroyo went to college at California State University, Fresno (CSU Fresno), he was given a scholarship to work at USDA’s San Joaquin Valley Agricultural Sciences Center in Fresno as an intern.  The laboratory, now in Parlier, is part of USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS). The scholarship had been established by CSU Fresno and ARS soil scientist Gary Bañuelos to foster minority student interest in science careers.

Where Do Kids Eat When School is out in Summer? FNS Partners with the Department of Education to Find Solutions

As we approach the summer season, USDA is vigorously preparing to fill the nutrition gap faced by millions of kids across the country. While 21 million of our sons and daughters receive free and reduced-priced lunches during the school year, only a small percentage participate in the summer meals programs, leaving too many of our most vulnerable without a nutritious meal.

A new partnership between the USDA and the Department of Education seeks to transform these alarming rates of food insecurity for the better. Last week I had the pleasure of convening with Dr. Jonathan Brice, Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education in the Department of Education. This meeting was the first of the current administration, solidifying the strong partnership in summer meals and placing an emphasis on school participation.

Enhancing the Local School Wellness Environment

Local school wellness policies are an important tool for parents, local educational agencies, and school districts to promote student wellness, prevent and reduce childhood obesity, and provide assurance that school meal guidelines meet federal standards. They help communicate nutrition guidelines for all foods available on the school campus and include goals for nutrition education, physical activity, and other activities that help improve overall student wellness.

While visiting schools across the nation, I have seen firsthand how important local wellness policies are, and we here at USDA aren’t the only ones who think so. Over two dozen national associations and organizations have joined the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), the US Department of Health and Human Services' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the US Department of Education in sharing information and resources about local school wellness policies. In fact, this group has issued a joint statement recognizing the role schools play in promoting wellness among staff, students, and families.

Forest Service Employee Helps Georgia School Achieve National Green Ribbon Status

In Acworth, Ga., children at Ford Elementary School live almost every child’s dream – outdoor classrooms and science labs in a butterfly garden.

The school was selected as one of 64 U.S. Department of Education’s National Green Ribbon Schools for 2013. The department’s recognition program honors schools that are exemplary in reducing environmental impact and costs; improving the health and wellness of students and staff; and providing effective environmental and sustainability education. The Ford school program focuses on a broad array of environmental and science education goals and involves students, teachers and parents as volunteers in hands-on learning experiences to educate students.

Among the volunteers are Dennis Krusac, an endangered species specialist with the U.S. Forest Service’s Southern Region in Atlanta, and Jackie Belwood, Krusac’s wife and an assistant professor of biology with Georgia Highlands College.

Forest Service-sponsored GreenSchools! Honored by Education Department

Twenty schools registered as GreenSchools! through the Project Learning Tree/U.S. Forest Service program are among 64 schools and 14 school districts honored April 22 as by the U.S. Department of Education as a Green Ribbon School.

The Education Department gave the awards for the schools’ exemplary efforts to reduce environmental impact and utility costs, promote better health, and ensure effective environmental education, including civics and green career pathways.

The schools were confirmed from a pool of candidates voluntarily nominated by 32 state education agencies. The list includes 54 public and 10 private schools. More than half serve a student body more than 40 percent of which is eligible for free and reduced price lunch.

USDA in Arizona Partners with the Department of Education to Help Rural Students Obtain College Aid

USDA in Arizona has joined the national partnership effort with the Department of Education (ED) to get the word out about federal student aid resources.

Arizona Rural Development (RD), Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)—the three USDA agencies that comprise most of the service centers across Arizona—are sending information packets to their staff in local offices across the State. In a joint statement, the agencies noted that “This is a great opportunity for the many students in areas who may not have easy access to the information. Field office locations in rural communities across the state make it a logical partner to help spread the word about all the kinds of help available for students who want to further their education.”

Teaming Up to Support Rural Community Colleges

Cross posted from the Department of Education blog:

It’s no secret that community colleges are leading the way to achieving the President’s goal for the United States to once again have the highest college attainment rate in the world by 2020. Community colleges are hubs for career-training, re-training, adult education and for recent high school graduates seeking a pathway into the careers of their choice.