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USDA Foods' Local Roots: DoD Fresh Connects the Farm to School

What do the military’s logistical network, peaches and peppers, and school children have in common? The first delivers the second to the third through a unique partnership between the Department of Defense (DoD) and USDA.

October is National Farm to School Month and the perfect time to celebrate the DoD Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, which connects schools with fresh and often local produce using their USDA Foods entitlement dollars. Schools order local foods from a variety of sources, and according to the 2015 USDA Farm to School Census, 29 percent of districts participating in farm to school are receiving local foods through DoD Fresh.

Brown Tree Snake Research Wins DoD's 2015 Resource Conservation Project of the Year

This month USDA highlights some of the important partnerships that work with us to care for our land, air and water.  The work stretches into areas and takes USDA employees to places you wouldn’t suspect.

For example, the damage wreaked by invasive brown tree snakes on Guam is hard to imagine.

Infestations of the snake have led to the loss of all but two of the twelve native forest birds on the island, millions of dollars in damages to the island’s electrical power grid, and physical injuries to residents from snake bites.

How Sacrifice and Sense of Duty Drive Our Veterans

I would like to take a moment to recognize the hard work and dedication of America’s veterans.  After serving our country so honorably, many of our veterans feel a sense of duty to continue to give back to the land they love and have fought so hard to protect. And we want all veterans to know about the many ways USDA can support military veterans and their families.

USDA offers incentives and other benefits for veterans interested in everything from farm loans to conservation programs to nutrition assistance to rural rental housing and home ownership opportunities. We also offer a wide variety of loans, grants, training and technical assistance to veterans who are passionate about a career in agriculture. That is why this fall, USDA and the Defense Department came together in an effort to enable every single one of the more than 200,000 service members who leave the military each year to access the training they need to start their own farms or ranch businesses.

Bringing More Farmers Markets to Service Members

As we take time this week to honor America’s veterans, we are also thinking about how we can improve the health and welfare of military communities across the country.  That’s why we are so proud to release the first-ever Guide for Farmers Markets on Military Installations.  By assisting military installations in establishing farmers markets, the guide will help increase access to fresh, local food for soldiers on military installations.  On-base farmers markets also connect members of the military with their surrounding communities and offer family-friendly gathering places where children can learn where their food comes from.

In a truly collaborative effort, my agency, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), created this detailed manual with the U.S. Department of Defense’s (DoD) Healthy Base Initiative (HBI), and in partnership with Wholesome Wave.  It explains how commanders can establish and successfully operate farmers markets on military installations.

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, www.usda.gov/veterans. This site is specifically designed to educate veterans about USDA programs and the support available for all active duty military and veterans.

The Right Acres in the Right Place at the Right Time - Coastal Headwaters Forest

The Conservation Fund helps conserve and restore our American landscape, including wild areas, popular parks, working forests and more. A partner in conservation, The Conservation Fund received a $5 million grant from the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) for the Coastal Headwaters Forest project. RCPP, administered by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, is a new program created by the U.S. Congress through the enactment of the 2014 Farm Bill. Its goal is to provide landscape-scale conservation assistance and significantly leverage partnerships and non-federal funding. The grants will be used to protect a portion of the 205,000-acre Coastal Headwaters Forest under a conservation easement during the first phase of this multi-year project. – Ciji Taylor, NRCS

Guest blog written by Ann Simonelli of The Conservation Fund

Unprecedented in size and scope, the 205,000-acre Coastal Headwaters Forest project is the largest single longleaf pine protection and restoration effort ever proposed on private lands.

Birds, Butterflies, Dragonflies and Bats

When it comes to the U.S. Forest Service, it’s not always about trees.

Sometimes it’s all about the birds, the dragonflies and the butterflies. Oh, and the bats.  At least, that’s what it was all about during a ceremony last month recognizing some great contributions from U.S. Forest Service and partner organizations to the Wings Across the Americas program in the past year.

In a festive event held in Omaha, Nebraska, as part of the 80th North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference, U.S. Forest Service employees and agency partners received shout-outs for outstanding efforts supporting migratory species across the nation and beyond.

New Farm Bill Program to Help Protect Longleaf's Legacy for Future Generations

As a kid, I spent Christmas vacations with my family and my grandfather in the longleaf pine forests of South Carolina.  While my grandfather and father (and later me) were quail hunters, you don’t have to be a sportsman or a sportswoman to appreciate longleaf pine.  Longleaf forests are home to countless wildlife species, a diversity of plants, and provide valuable wood products, such as heart-pine floors that are cherished across the South.  Longleaf forests once covered some 90 million acres along the Southeast coastal plain, but over the past two centuries, development, conversion, ill-planned timbering, and fire suppression have reduced longleaf’s range to a mere sliver of its former extent.

USDA and our many conservation partners are working to restore longleaf forests, and we’ve seen significant progress in the recent years. Now, a new Farm Bill program, the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, or RCPP, is providing additional support to the effort.

USDA Partners with DOD to Fight Childhood Obesity

Tackling the child obesity epidemic that holds so many health risks for our nation’s youngest members is an important responsibility.  Fortunately, USDA is not alone in this critical charge.

Sound nutrition plays an essential role in all aspects of a child’s life, including their ability to learn, grow and thrive in the classroom.  And since many children today consume half of their daily calories while at school, we want to ensure the healthy choice is the easy choice for them and their families.  Happily, we have partners that feel the same way.

USDA, Department of Defense, Celebrate the Bounty of Farmers Market

Earlier this month, USDA celebrated National Farmers Market Week to highlight the healthy offerings they provide American families.  The department invests in farmers markets in a myriad of ways – from helping farmers develop their products for markets, to enriching children’s bodies and minds through the “farm to school” program.  In fact, there are more than 8,000 farmers markets listed in USDA’s National Farmers Market Directory, and more than 5,000 farm stands and farmers markets across the nation are accepting SNAP benefits.

During the month, I had a chance to speak with Lt. Col. Eric Smith, commander of Fort Meade’s (Md.) Headquarters Command Battalion.  We discussed USDA’s partnership with the Department of Defense and supporting the Healthy Base Initiative through FNS programs.  DoD’s Healthy Base Initiative works to improve the health and wellness of service members and their families by reducing obesity and decreasing tobacco use. Currently, 14 military installations participate in a pilot to create an environment that promotes healthy lifestyles. Fort Meade is one of them.