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hoop houses

Montana Soil Conservationist, Organic Farmer Work Together to Reach Conservation Goals

When I learned that the “This American Land” public television series was headed to Montana, I knew this would be a great opportunity to highlight organic producers and the work USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is doing to increase conservation across the state. I’ve been working for NRCS for 10 years and in the Ronan, Montana, field office since 2010. Since transferring to Ronan, I’ve devoted much of my time to providing technical and financial assistance to beginning farmers in the area – especially landowners who are engaged or interested in diversified organic vegetable production for local markets. 

Building lasting relationships goes hand-in-hand with getting conservation on the ground. So, when Ben Ferencz and Julie Pavlock of Foothills Farm in St. Ignatius were interested in expanding their farm, they reached out to me about available NRCS programs.

USDA Helps Plant a Seed for a Healthier Next Generation of Inner City Students

As teams of agriculturalists across America celebrated National Agricultural Day on March 18, a group of volunteers and professionals arrived at Miller Grove Middle School in Lithonia, Georgia.  They were there to give a hands-on outdoor lesson on how to build, plant and maintain a school garden to a group of Atlanta metro-area students who have likely never experienced what it’s like to grow their own food.

On this made-to-order, cool and clear morning, just two days before the official start to spring, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Dr. Joe Leonard was the first to share remarks.  He began by thanking Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack for his commitment to providing community gardens to underserved communities. “Miller Grove School is a perfect example of how partnerships between the federal government (USDA’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights and Natural Resource Conservation Service), non-profit organizations (The Stewart Foundation and Two Rivers Resource Conservation and Development Council) and the DeKalb County School District can work together on behalf of children.”

Hoop Houses in Nevada Elementary Schools to Help 'Plant a Seed' in Young Minds for Healthy Eating

Above the sounds of whirring drills and nails being hammered into wood planks, squeals of excitement and oohs and ahhs emanated from Yerington Elementary School students as they filed past the hoop house being built on their way to the lunchroom.

March is National Nutrition Month, so it only seems fitting that three rural elementary schools in Nevada had hoop houses installed in late February and early March as part of a partnership among USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and Urban Roots Americorps.

High Five for High Tunnels -- Tool Brings Conservation, Fresh Produce to Detroit

The Detroit Black Community Food Security Network’s D-Town Farm located in River Rouge Park produces farm-to-table produce using a conservation practice encouraged by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). By using seasonal high tunnels, the practice helps to address food security in the city.

High tunnels, or hoop houses, conserve resources while serving as a source for local food. They are plastic-covered structures that enable farmers to have crops ready earlier or later in the season. In high tunnels, plants are grown directly in the ground, and the temperature is regulated by opening or closing the plastic curtain sides and doors on the ends.

Secretary's Column: Growing Opportunity for Small and Mid-Sized Farmers and Ranchers

The recent Census of Agriculture shows that there is tremendous potential for growth among the smaller producers that make up the middle of American agriculture, but they need our support to get there.

That can mean a lot of different things. Some small and mid-sized farms and ranches are happy just the way they are, and simply need stability to help them keep afloat during tough times. Others want to grow and expand, but don’t know how to access support that meets their specific needs.

Recognizing these challenges, we have launched a new package of education, credit, technical assistance, and marketing tools and resources geared specifically to small and mid-sized farmers and ranchers.

I was Local When Local Wasn't Cool

No one would ever accuse me of being a trend-setter—especially my kids.  But I’m proud to say that I’ve been part of the local food movement my whole life. I grew up on a family farm in New Mexico.  For us, local food wasn’t really a trend or a movement.  It was how we made our living.  By growing, raising and selling our food throughout the year, we connected to other farmers, ranchers and our neighbors.

More American families are making a conscious decision to eat healthier and buy local foods.  Many farmers and producers are combining their hard work with innovative practices like hoop houses and new marketing opportunities like food hubs.  These are two examples of modern approaches that are helping extend growing and selling seasons and bringing farmers and suppliers together to meet the increasing demand for local foods.

Nevada Farmer Reinvents Herself with 10 Acres and a High Tunnel

Three years ago, Carol Huether, decided it was time to change careers and reinvent herself. So, she took her years of experience managing other people’s businesses and turned those skills into a successful organic vegetable and herb farm in Spring Creek, Nev.

As she transformed her 10 acres into a productive operation, Huether wasn’t working alone. USDA agencies, such as the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Farm Service Agency (FSA), worked closely with Huether to create a sustainable operation, despite the region’s challenging climate.

“I wouldn’t have been able to even start this kind of operation if it hadn’t been for all the agencies coming together to help me under the umbrella of the USDA,” Huether says.

StrikeForce in Action with Nevada's Native American Tribes

Earlier this summer, I had the opportunity to participate in the National Congress of American Indian’s (NCAI) mid-year meeting in Reno, Nevada.   The NCAI meeting was a warm and familiar place for me, as I recently left a position as NCAI’s Director of Economic Development to assume my current position as Director of USDA’s Office of Tribal Relations.

While I was in Nevada, I wanted to be certain to see Secretary Vilsack’s StrikeForce Initiative in action, as I was aware that Nevada’s USDA leaders had selected Nevada’s Indian reservations for their StrikeForce focus.  What a day I had on June 26!  It was tremendous to experience the mutual vigor among tribal leaders, USDA leaders, and their respective teams.