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Taking Action for School Nutrition Success

Developing a school menu of healthy, student-approved meals is challenging, make no mistake about it.  But it is achievable with the right support and resources.  That’s why the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) and the Institute of Child Nutrition (ICN) have partnered to create the Team Up for School Nutrition Success (Team Up) initiative.

Team Up provides school nutrition professionals the opportunity to network and learn best practices from their peers.  Those who have developed tips and tricks to create delicious school menus, increase participation, practice food safety and manage financially-sound program budgets. And with the help and guidance of peer mentors, Team Up attendees can turn their ideas into goals by creating focused action plans for their district.

Gulf of Mexico Communities Depend on a Healthy Gulf

The Gulf Coast ecosystem is vital to our nation and our economy, providing valuable energy resources, abundant seafood, extraordinary recreational activities and a rich cultural heritage.  This ecosystem was significantly injured by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill—the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history—and has also suffered from harm caused by hurricanes, subsidence and other human actions and naturally-occurring events.

With the historic settlement of the litigation with BP, there will be up to $16 billion available for ecosystem restoration in watersheds across Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas through the RESTORE Act, the Natural Resource Damages Assessment process and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

RCPP Benefits Longleaf Ecosystem in Alabama

It takes time, patience and a committed partnership, but seeing thriving forests of longleaf pine trees return to Alabama’s Gulf Coast is well-worth the wait.

Longleaf pine forests once dominated the American Southeast, stretching across 90 million acres. A stronghold of the region’s environment and economy, longleaf was an essential building material used during the American Industrial Revolution. Today, only four percent of the original forests remain standing.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Alabama is working with groups to revive this strong and resilient wood, while also providing environmental benefits for the Gulf Coastal Plain’s wildlife and water.

Saving Florida's Citrus Industry Through Collaboration and Innovation

The Florida citrus industry is under siege and the invader is a tiny bug called the Asian citrus psyllid (ACP).  The ACP spreads a disease known as Huanglongbing (HLB) or citrus greening, and together they are destroying groves that have been cultivated by families for generations.

But all is not lost.  USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is working closely with State and Federal partners such as the Agricultural Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture, as well as State departments of agriculture and the citrus industry in Florida, California, Arizona and Texas to develop short-term solutions to help protect groves while researchers focus on longer-term projects that may one day put an end to this devastating pest and disease combo.

Getting a Summer Staple to Market at Peak Maturity

Although Florida’s green-skin avocado industry may be a niche compared to Hass avocado operations in California, green-skin avocados are beloved by their growers and a staple for the communities that grew up eating them.

With more than 60 varieties and peak maturity ranging from May to December, the Florida avocado industry uses harvest timing and technology to ensure only mature avocados reached consumers.

The industry works with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to operate a federal marketing order, which helps the producers expand marketing opportunities and ensures quality fruit for consumers.  Industry members make up the committee that locally administers the marketing order.  Marketing order committees are able to establish industry standards, develop markets, gather data, and conduct research - all tailored to meet the individual needs of a particular commodity and size of its industry.

Rabies and Vampire Bats

All this month we will be taking a look at what a changing climate means to Agriculture. For APHIS, changes in environmental conditions will increase the likelihood of shifts in the distribution and nature of current domestic diseases, invasive species and agricultural pests.  These changes will likely influence the dynamics of invasion and establishment of these diseases and pests, and therefore much of APHIS’ work. Understanding and adapting to these changes is therefore critical to meeting our mission.

Vampire bats rank high on the list of animals that scare us the most. Spooky Halloween tales of their blood-sucking, nocturnal, and secretive habits have likely led to their bad reputation. The fact that some also carry and spread the deadly rabies virus doesn’t help.

The common vampire bat feeds on the blood of Central and South American wildlife and livestock. They also sometimes bite and feed on the blood of people. Recently, vampire bats have been documented within 35 miles of the Texas border. This has caused concern and speculation about the potential movement of vampire bats to areas within the United States as a result of rising global temperatures. To gain a better understanding of the likelihood of such movement, USDA-APHIS geneticist Dr. Toni Piaggio with the Wildlife Services National Wildlife Research Center partnered with U.S. Geological Survey scientist Dr. Mark Hayes to analyze and map the potential distribution of vampire bats under various climate scenarios.

How USDA & Partners Eradicated Oriental Fruit Fly from Florida

There’s a good reason why USDA and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) constantly monitor more than 56,000 fruit fly traps they have strategically placed across Florida. An outbreak of exotic fruit flies—one of the most destructive pests of fruit and vegetables—could threaten Florida’s powerhouse agricultural industry. By detecting these pests early and responding rapidly, USDA, FDACS, county officials, and growers can avoid large-scale agricultural losses and keep valuable export markets open.

In August 2015, some of those traps captured Oriental fruit flies (OFF) in Miami-Dade County.

The OFF attacks more than 430 different fruits, vegetables, and nuts, including avocado, mango, guava, papaya, and pitaya. All of these crops and more grow in the county, which is Florida’s top producer of tropical fruit, tropical vegetables, and ornamental nurseries. The county’s $1.6 billion agricultural industry supports 11,000 jobs.

Organic Sound and Sensible Initiative: Spanish Resources

The Agricultural Marketing Service’s (AMS) National Organic Program (NOP) works every day to ensure that products with the USDA organic seal meet consistent, uniform standards. In addition to its rigorous certification process and oversight to protect the integrity of the organic seal, the program also connects organic farmers and businesses with resources to help them understand and comply with the standards.

In recent years, increasing numbers of Spanish speaking farmers and businesses have entered the organic sector. For example, among all operations located outside of the United States that are certified under the USDA organic regulations, 42 percent are in Spanish speaking countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Meanwhile, within the United States, the number of Hispanic producers, many of whom speak Spanish as their primary language, increased 21 percent between 2007 and 2012.

Iniciativa Orgánica Sound and Sensible: Recursos en Español

El Programa Nacional Orgánico (NOP, por sus siglas en inglés) del Servicio de Comercialización Agrícola (AMS, por sus siglas en inglés) trabaja todos los días para asegurar que los productos con el sello USDA Organic cumplan con estándares consistentes y uniformes. Además de su riguroso proceso de certificación y vigilancia para proteger la integridad del sello orgánico, el programa también se conecta a los agricultores y las empresas orgánicas con recursos para ayudarles a entender y cumplir con las normas.

En los últimos años, el número de agricultores y negocios de habla hispana en el sector orgánico ha crecido. Por ejemplo, entre todas las operaciones ubicadas fuera de los Estados Unidos que están certificadas bajo las normas orgánicas del USDA, un 42 por ciento están en países de habla hispana en América Latina y el Caribe. Mientras tanto, dentro de los Estados Unidos, el número de productores hispanos, muchos de los cuales hablan español como su idioma principal, aumentó un 21 por ciento entre el año 2007 y 2012.

A Peach of a School Meal Alternative

An increasing number of our nation’s schools are using locally grown foods for school meals thanks to efforts of The USDA Farm to School Program. However, the availability of locally grown produce is often at the mercy of harsh weather conditions and other elements that lower production and cause shortages of popular food items.

Florida has experienced this challenge first-hand. A disease called citrus greening has already caused millions of dollars in damage to Florida’s orange crop.  USDA scientists have been actively engaged in research to eradicate the disease, but the fruit, a favorite of school children, is now less available than in the past. The Florida Farm to School team is working with Florida Classic Growers to provide a new fruit alternative for school menus while also assisting fruit growers hit by damage to their orange crop.

By Lindsey Grubbs, Florida Farm to School and WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program Director, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the Florida Farm to School Program took on a new project this year in conjunction with citrus growers focused on a new product in Florida: peaches! The Florida citrus industry has been experiencing difficulties recently with the spread of citrus greening. Citrus greening was discovered in Florida in 2005 and since taken a toll on the area’s orange groves.