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Small Town 4-H'er Reaches for the Stars

Many kids gaze up into the night’s sky and dream of touching the stars. Peggy Whitson, NASA astronaut and commander of the International Space Station, turned that dream into reality.

Whitson grew up in the small town of Beaconsfield, Iowa, completing standard chores like mowing the lawn and caring for animals, but never lost her determination to fly and eventually go to outer space. At the age of nine, Whitson became involved with the 4-H program. Her brothers and sisters were active with the local Ringgold County 4-H club and it was a natural fit for her. The program played a key role in helping her develop from a shy girl into an exceptional leader.

USDA Helps Iraqi War Veteran Enhance Conservation On Farm

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is helping Iraq War veteran Adam Boge improve technology and other efficiencies in his new farming operation, allowing the Ventura farmer to prepare for long-term success in the first full year on his own.

Boge enlisted in the Army directly out of high school. After his initial military service, he attended Iowa State University for Ag Systems Technology and Mechanical Engineering. College was interrupted, however, by his Iraq deployment. Boge represented the Army National Guard’s 1133rd Transportation Company out of Mason City for 15 months throughout 2003 and 2004 in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Back to School with Student-Led Smarter Lunchrooms

Teenagers at several schools across the country are working together with school nutrition staff to make changes to the school cafeteria.  Informed by Smarter Lunchrooms’ research, these students are promoting healthful foods to their peers and having a say in menu offerings.  Team Nutrition Training Grants help fund a number of school activities that engage students in nutrition education and wellness activities.  To learn more about Team Nutrition Training Grant activities, visit http://www.fns.usda.gov/tn/team-nutrition-training-grants.

The following guest blog describes how Iowa high school students worked with school nutrition staff to alter the way fruits and vegetables are offered in their school cafeteria. Following the changes, other students have taken notice of the new colorful displays, creative menu names, and signs promoting the salad bars. Reading their story, you’ll learn about innovative ways to engage youth in school wellness efforts.

By Carrie Scheidel, MPH, Team Nutrition Co-Director, Iowa Department of Education

As teachers prepared their classrooms for the new school year, school nutrition professionals and students in Iowa were working to make their lunchrooms smarter.   A partnership between the University of Iowa Public Policy Center – College of Public Health, Iowa Department of Education, and five Iowa high schools worked to apply Smarter Lunchrooms’ techniques to make healthy choices easier at school.

Kenyan Credits McGovern-Dole Program for Changing His Life

As a young boy in eastern Kenya, Peter Mumo faced a life of poverty, hunger and illness. That is until he started receiving school meals at the age of nine through the USDA McGovern–Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program. After that, his life turned around. He started to gain weight, his health improved and he began doing well in school.

And now, at age 28, he is in Des Moines, Iowa, to take part in a six-week business and entrepreneurship training program hosted by Drake University as part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship. The Fellowship is the flagship program of the Obama Administration’s Young African Leaders Initiative that empowers young people through academic coursework, leadership training and networking.

Iowa Takes an Ethnic Studies Approach to 4-H

In this guest blog, Iowa State 4-H Youth Development program leader John-Paul Chaisson-Cardenas takes a look at several ways 4-H is embracing the cultural diversity of its participating youth to make sure youth of color feel welcome as the U.S. student population grows more diverse.

By John-Paul Chaisson-Cardenas, Iowa State 4-H Youth Development Program Leader

While the foundational elements of 4-H—experiential learning, positive youth development, et al.—are well-suited for cross-cultural and multicultural contexts, some of the language and traditions of 4-H may not be as culturally relevant to many youth.

In 2014, Iowa 4-H began to intentionally move beyond inclusion to belonging.  We expanded on the previous work of our national partner, 4-H National Headquarters, to redevelop programs that reflect the positive cultural knowledge that many of our youth already have.  4-H National Headquarters is part of USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), provides funding and national program leadership to 4-H.

Des Moines Farmer's Market Offers Bumper Crop of Healthy Options for SNAP and WIC Clients

They show up early and eager to capture the freshest produce Iowa farmers have to offer.  The Des Moines, Iowa Downtown Farmer’s Market held Saturday mornings from May to October is a success in terms of the variety of fresh produce it offers, the local economic benefits, and in the opportunities it provides for SNAP and WIC clients to utilize their benefits in healthy new ways.

At the start of National Farmers Market Week Aug. 7-14, Angie Tagtow, Executive Director of USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP) talked with Kelly Foss, Director of the Des Moines Downtown Farmer’s Market as they toured nine city blocks filled with a massive array of healthy and creative food options.

NRCS Helps Young Iowa Farmer Plan New Grazing System

When Iowa livestock producer Ryan Collins bought his 170-acre farm near Harpers Ferry, he knew from experience with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) that the agency could help him plan a rotational grazing system.

A rotational grazing system—also known as prescribed grazing—divides pastures into four or more small paddocks with fencing. The animals move from paddock to paddock on a schedule based on the availability of forage and the livestock’s nutritional needs.

Collins says he has a lot more grass available than before. “I attribute it to the rotational grazing,” he said. “I like to have plenty of grass. The cows and calves both do, as well.”

Welcoming the U.S. Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr. Jack Shere

Dr. Jack Shere, a long-time employee of USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), was recently named USDA’s Chief Veterinary Officer leading APHIS’s Veterinary Services program.

Dr. Shere joined APHIS in 1990 and has held a variety of field and leadership positions – serving as the area commander during the exotic Newcastle disease outbreak in 2003 and spending many weeks in Iowa during the 2015 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza outbreak where he represented USDA and Secretary Vilsack.  Dr. Shere also spent several years in private veterinary practice prior to joining APHIS.

Deciphering County Estimates Process

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.

Farmers love data. And while big picture items are great, growers tell us they really want and can use local data. In addition to national and state-level statistics, some of our most popular data are the county-level agricultural production information that we collect and publish.

Collecting local data is not an easy task. For example, in Iowa, where I oversee agricultural statistics, to determine 2015 county-level numbers, we surveyed 11,500 farmers in December and January to supplement data from nearly 3,000 Iowa farmers surveyed for the January 12th Crop Production Annual Summary report. These statistical surveys are designed so all farmers in the state have a chance to be selected for participation. In order to publish county data, we need responses from at least 30 producers in each county or yield reports for at least 25 percent of the harvested acreage in a county. Luckily, here in Iowa, we received 50 or more farmer reports for many counties but we still had a couple of counties that did not make the 30 report requirement for publication.

In Conversation with #WomeninAg: Alexis Taylor

Every month, USDA shares the story of a woman in agriculture who is leading our industry and helping other women succeed along the way. This month, we sit down with Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services (FFAS) Deputy Under Secretary Alexis Taylor to discuss USDA’s Women in Agriculture mentorship network and her personal commitment to making sure the next generation of women is educated, encouraged and empowered to take on the world’s growing food, fuel and fiber needs.

An Army veteran and native Iowan, Deputy Under Secretary Taylor, who assumed the duties of the FFAS Under Secretary in February, leads the Department’s charge in international and domestic farm policy including overseeing commodity, credit, conservation, disaster, and emergency assistance programs that help improve the stability and strength of the agricultural economy. She works to build new markets and improve the competitive position of U.S. agricultural products in the global marketplace, and leads the Department’s Women in Agriculture mentorship network.