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Pennsylvania Landowners Helping Indiana Bat through 'Spooky' Declines

When most people think of bats, images of dark caves, vampires and Halloween come to mind. But actually, bats get a bad rap, and we often don’t know how important they are for controlling insects, pollinating plants, dispersing seeds and improving biodiversity.

Many of our nation’s bats are facing population declines to near-extinction levels, primarily because of disease and loss of habitat. One of those species is the Indiana bat, an endangered species that has experienced rapid declines since the 1960s.

Don't be a Zombie - Prepare for Emergencies

In this guest blog, Abby Hostetler urges people to prepare for emergencies and describes an innovative display that Purdue Extension used at the Indiana State Fair to drive home that point. Because September is National Preparedness Month, it is a good time to think about emergency planning.  Don’t Wait. Communicate. Make an Emergency Communication Plan for you and your family because you just don’t know when disasters will impact your community.

By Abby Hostetler, EDEN Disaster Communications Specialist, Purdue University

Nearly 60,000 visitors to this year's Indiana State Fair encountered zombies lurking around in the corners. Actually, they saw cartoon zombies that were part of an interactive exhibit, Don't Be a Zombie - Be Prepared. The exhibit consists of a walk-though maze and interactive video game designed to simulate a zombie apocalypse.

The goal is to help families learn about disaster preparedness in a fun way. In 2011 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) launched their Zombie Preparedness campaign to much acclaim and success. The CDC campaign was a gory take on zombies and aimed at a teenage demographic. Once the Extension Disaster Emergency Network (EDEN) got permission from the CDC to adapt the materials into an interactive display, Purdue Extension used third grade classrooms to help tie into the rise of the zombie fad in pop culture while still keeping the materials friendly to all ages.

Celebrating the New Face of Agriculture

At the Agricultural Marketing Service and across USDA, we often talk about the fact that the face of American agriculture is changing. The ranks of our farmers, especially young and beginning farmers, include a growing number of women, people of color, veterans or folks in their second careers. So-called “traditional” agriculture defies the term as it pursues new strategies, new products, and new markets. Across the country, agriculture is diversifying and evolving to meet changing consumer demands.

I saw the new face of agriculture last week during travels to Illinois and Indiana. My first stop was a roundtable on Women in Agriculture held at FarmedHere in Bedford Park, Illinois, about 15 miles from Chicago. Twenty or so women gathered to talk about their farming goals and to hear about how USDA could support them. This topic is close to my heart – I’m a New Hampshire native, a state with the second highest percentage of women farmers in the country. The women around the table with me represented the new face of ag, but so too did the setting – an indoor, vertical farm that produces basil and microgreens in a facility designed to reduce energy costs and shrink the carbon footprint of growing food.  FarmedHere is managed by Megan Klein, an attorney by training who found her calling in urban agriculture and became part of this “new face.”

USDA Scientists Take an Organic Approach to Improving Carrots

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.

Organic carrots are coming into their own. About 14 percent of U.S.-produced carrots are now classified as organic, making carrots one of the highest ranked crops in terms of the total percentage produced organically. With production and demand increasing in recent years, organic-carrot growers need help deciding which varieties to grow. Some varieties perform well as a conventional crop, but not so well under organic conditions. While conventional growers also can fumigate to control nematodes, bacterial diseases and fungal pathogens, organic growers don’t have that option.

New Handbook Highlights Resources for Conservation on Organic Farms

Consumer demand for organic products continues to grow. The Organic Trade Association that represents more than 8,500 organic businesses across 50 states reports that demand for organic products exceeded $39 billion in 2014. To meet that demand, more farmers and ranchers are pursuing organic certification and seeking assistance through USDA programs.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is making sure that its people in the field are prepared to work with organic producers and those who want to get into organics. The agency has just released to staff its new Organic Farming Handbook describing things they need to know when working with organic producers.

NRCS Partners with Farmers, Ranchers to Aid Monarch Butterflies

No matter where you grew up, you are likely familiar with monarch butterflies. You may have childhood memories from science class when you watched those peculiar green caterpillars transform into beautiful butterflies. Depending on where you live, you may have seen masses of their orange-and-black wings fluttering in the sky while the butterflies were on their annual cross-country migratory journey.

Today, the iconic monarch butterfly is under pressure. Habitat loss has led to a steady decrease in their numbers.

Blending Up New Ways for Kids to Enjoy School Meals

Sometimes the right blend can change your perception. One of our industry research and promotion programs is remixing school meal items to help change students' preconceptions and get them to eat healthy foods.

The Mushroom Council helped out on this front in a number of ways. The Council, which is overseen by our agency – the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) – encouraged schools to use recipes that added mushrooms to their beef burgers. By reducing some of the beef and adding the hearty texture of mushrooms, schools were able to increase student consumption of healthy meals without compromising taste.

Conservation Program Pre-Proposals Due July 8

This summer, 40 organizations from Michigan, Ohio and Indiana will work together to help agricultural producers reduce phosphorus runoff that ends up in the western Lake Erie basin, affecting water quality and contributing to algae blooms. This is an example of how the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) can be used to solve natural resource challenges in a community, state or region. Eligible conservation coalitions nationwide have about a week to submit pre-proposals to improve soil health, preserve clean water, combat drought and protect wildlife habitat. The deadline is July 8th.

USDA is investing up to $235 million through RCPP to improve the nation's water quality, combat drought, enhance soil health, support wildlife habitat and protect agricultural viability. Created by the 2014 Farm Bill, RCPP empowers local leaders to work with multiple partners—such as private companies, local and tribal governments, universities, non-profit groups and other non-government partners—along with farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners to design solutions that work best for their region. Local partners and the federal government both invest funding and manpower to projects to maximize their impact. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service administers RCPP.

The U.S. Food Waste Challenge at 4,000

Four-thousand and counting! 4,024 to be exact. That is the number of participants in the U.S. Food Waste Challenge at the end of April, 2015.

These participants-- businesses, schools and organizations from across the country— are working to reduce food loss and waste in their operations.  And, they have taken the time to join the U.S. Food Waste Challenge by sharing their activities on the USDA Food Waste Challenge website or working with EPA experts to measure their food waste reductions through the Food Recovery Challenge.

Industry Research and Promotion Programs Prepare Next Generation of Ag Leaders

As recent studies indicate agriculture is one of the best fields for college graduates, it is imperative for the industry to groom the next generation of leaders. All of us here at USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) would like to highlight the efforts of a couple industry Research and Promotion Programs for encouraging young students to choose agricultural careers.

The Pork Checkoff and the US Pork Center of Excellence worked together to develop Swine Science Online (SSO) courses that teach students scientific principles and management skills to best prepare them for careers in the swine industry.