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Learn How to Bee a Friend during USDA's Pollinator Festival this Friday, June 24

The best time to bee a friend to pollinators is now! Today is the first day of summer and the launch of National Pollinator Week, June 20-26. Around the globe, people are celebrating with events that emphasize the importance of pollinators and teach ways to save them. Here at USDA, we’ve issued the National Pollinator Week Proclamation and are hosting our seventh annual Pollinator Week Festival this Friday, June 24 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. outside USDA Headquarters in Washington, DC.

The festival highlights the work of USDA agencies, other federal departments and institutions such as the United States Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Smithsonian Gardens, and the U.S. Botanic Garden, who along with partners like the National Honey Board, Pollinator Partnership and University of Maryland Extension are working to address pollinator decline.

People's Garden Initiative Launches New Website to Celebrate National Garden Month

Spring has sprung and April is National Garden Month! It’s time to pick up your trowel and get gardening.

USDA launched the new People’s Garden website that provides tools and resources gardeners can use to start or expand a home, school or community garden. Unveiled during today’s annual Easter Egg Roll at the White House, here are just some of the new features:

Of Bison and Blue Cornmeal: USDA Supports Access to Traditional Foods in Native American Communities

March is National Nutrition Month. Throughout the month, USDA will be highlighting results of our efforts to improve access to safe, healthy food for all Americans and supporting the health of our next generation.

In Indian Country, culture and tradition are sustained through shared meals with family and the community. Traditional foods are a powerful way for each new generation to connect with and honor its history and its ancestors.

Bison and blue cornmeal have recently graced the tables of participants in USDA’s Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) thanks to the joint commitment of the Agricultural Marketing Service and Food and Nutrition Service, working with the FDPIR community to identify and procure foods traditional to many tribes. Last year, AMS awarded two contracts to Native American-owned small businesses to deliver frozen, lean ground bison meat to FDPIR. From November 2015 to the end of June 2016, these companies are on schedule to deliver a total of 520,000 pounds of bison meat. A third contract was awarded for whole-grain blue cornmeal. This product was received by tribes during the 2015 holiday season for use in a wide variety of recipes and cultural dishes.

Bringing the Farm to the City: How a Local Land Grant University is Supporting a Different Kind of Agriculture

This year I have had the pleasure of visiting a number of urban agriculture operations. From California to Cleveland, the ability of individuals to realize the multidimensional benefits of agricultural production and leverage them in an urban context has been nothing short of amazing.

This past week I visited a University that is heavily involved in both the research and extension aspect of urban agriculture -- right in the backyard of the Department’s Washington, D.C. headquarters. The University of the District of Columbia’s (UDC) Muirkirk Agricultural Experimentation is located about 20 minutes north of the school’s D.C. campus. Upon arrival I found everything from activists passionate about learning how to best provide their neighbors with fresh produce, to researchers developing improved hydroponics systems; and even students working with community organizations on rice varieties suitable to be grown in urban areas.

A Greenhouse Garden Inspires an Urban New Orleans School

Tucked in the middle of a mixed commercial and residential area of New Orleans still struggling to recover from the effects of Hurricane Katrina, is Carter G. Woodson Middle School − a state of the art public charter school known as Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) Central City Academy.

As I wandered through the garden taking pictures and preparing for guests to arrive for the Greenhouse Garden Club ribbon cutting ceremony, I was intrigued by the markers made by students identifying the plants in the beds and statements about working hard and respecting the garden. 

“Hello miss! Our teacher sent us out here to keep you company,” said seventh-grader Keyira Powell.  She was accompanied by another student, Clifton Desilva who mostly stood in silence while Keyira − clearly a school ambassador – eagerly began telling me about the gardening club.

April is National Garden Month

Nothing says springtime more than the sprouts and shoots of a garden. Secretary Vilsack has declared April, 2015 as National Garden Month.  The official proclamation celebrates the great American tradition of gardening at home, at school and in the community.

USDA’s commitment to gardening has deep roots. The USDA People’s Garden Initiative, was launched in 2009 and since 2,116 gardens have registered as People’s Gardens in communities across the United States and its territories and in 12 foreign countries.  The First Lady’s Let’s Move! Initiative has great information about starting a kitchen, school or community garden and the Plant Hardiness Zone Map, developed by USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, is a go-to guide for gardeners across the nation.   Have a gardening question? Visit eXtension for in-depth and research-based gardening and landscape advice from your local land grant university.

USDA Team Nutrition Grants Promote Healthier Meals for Our Nation's Schoolchildren

Schools are successfully serving more nutritious meals to America's students, and healthier meals mean healthier kids. USDA is constantly working to do everything we can to support school nutrition professionals as they work to provide kids the nutrition they need to learn and develop into healthy adults. To further assist schools, USDA announced the availability of up to $5.5 million in Team Nutrition training grants for states for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015. These grants focus on the implementation of Smarter Lunchrooms - an innovative strategy using behavioral economics to encourage healthy eating in the cafeteria - as well as the healthier meal standards, HealthierUS School Challenge (HUSSC), USDA Foods, nutrition education, and wellness activities in schools and child care institutions. To apply for the grants, state agencies should visit www.grants.gov.

Here are some examples of how Team Nutrition grants have helped schools in the past:

Tips for Starting an Organic Garden

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 portfolio.

Even though there’s still snow on the ground over much of the country, it’s about time to start thinking about the logistics of planting your garden later this spring.  And while you’re thinking about it, why not consider going natural?

Whether you’re an avid gardener or just starting out, the idea of creating a garden using organic methods can seem overwhelming at first. But organic gardening is less daunting than you may think if you understand some basic principles; it’s about creating a more holistic, natural ecosystem and can be done right in your own backyard.

Green Thumbs near Green Bay: Menominee Tribe Cultivates Nutrition Education

Cooking knowledge, proper planning, and access to healthy foods are essential ingredients to healthy diets.  I witnessed this firsthand when I traveled to the food distribution center of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, one of the 20 Indian Tribal Organizations that received funding in 2014 from USDA’s Food Distribution Program Nutrition Education (FDPNE) grants.  Their programs offer cooking classes, recipes, nutrition education and resources for Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) participants as well as manage a community garden program which provides fresh fruits and vegetables for tribal members.

Creativity and partnerships allow the Menominee’s innovative educational activities to serve as a shining example of best practices.  A monthly cooking class combines instruction about basic cooking and food safety with interactive games and hands-on recipe preparation.  The class is a joint venture among FDPIR, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Community Resources Center, and the University of Wisconsin-Extension.

Puerto Rico's First Lady Promotes Community Gardens, Starting with Her Backyard

Puerto Rico’s First Lady is a big fan of the home garden, and actually, the garden at the governor’s mansion, called La Fortaleza, is part of USDA’s national garden movement.

First Lady Wilma Pastrana Jiménez’s garden was the first People’s Garden at a Puerto Rico state government facility and the third on the island.

The garden joins more than 2,000 across the nation as part of the People’s Garden Initiative, started in 2009 by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.