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Collaboration on Drought Resilience is Delivering Results for America's Communities and Economy

Over the past year, we have seen alarming mass tree mortality in California, the development of severe drought conditions in New England and the Southeast, and dropping water tables in regions throughout the United States. The five-year Western drought and recent droughts in other states threaten our communities, our farms, our freshwater fisheries, our forests, and our grasslands that depend on and provide clean, accessible water supplies.

For many years, Federal departments and agencies have been working to produce long term solutions to conserve and protect a safe, reliable water supply. Now, under the framework of the National Drought Resilience Partnership (NDRP), a greater emphasis has been placed on improving federal agency collaboration to ensure more efficient use of program dollars and agency expertise.  The NDRP worked with a broad cross-section of stakeholder groups to shape six federal policy goals and an associated Federal Drought Resilience Action Plan.  As a result, more than 13 federal agencies and offices are cooperating in new ways under a shared strategy to deliver concrete results.

Seeing is Believing: Soil Health Practices and No-Till Farming Transform Landscapes and Produce Nutritious Food

This month, we’re highlighting 12 important gifts given to us when we conserve natural resources: soil, food, plants, wildlife, people, health, protection, recreation, air, water, technology and the future. NRCS’ mission is to conserve the full range of natural resources, but soil health is our foundation. And it’s the first conservation gift that we’re going to highlight. And without soil, we couldn’t celebrate with food. We encourage you to give the gift of conservation this season!

Curbing Soil Erosion

Soil is the foundation for a healthy environment. If you need proof that no-till farming works, look no further than the rolling hills of north-central Oregon.

For decades, this region was dominated by winter wheat farms that used extensive tillage to control weeds during fallow years. It was the conventional way of farming in the area, from the early 1900’s through the 1980’s.

Vermont Says 'Thank You' to Massachusetts for Fighting Invasive Beetle

The Vermont maple syrup industry is well aware that an invasive, tree-killing insect could threaten the production of its delicious, all-natural commodity.  So on December 13, just four days before National Maple Syrup Day on December 17, the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association and Vermont state officials hosted a special pancake and maple syrup breakfast to thank partners for supporting the Asian longhorned beetle (ALB) eradication program in Massachusetts.

Why would people in Vermont make breakfast for their neighbors in Massachusetts?  Vermont’s Forest Health Program Manager Barbara Schultz told the group the Asian longhorned beetle poses a significant threat to our northeastern forests and the insect could spread throughout the region and devastate maple sugaring in Vermont if it’s not eradicated in Massachusetts.

Small Steps for Using the USDA Farm to School Census

Cross-posted from the National Farm to School Network website:

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released final results from the 2015 USDA Farm to School Census, showing that more than 42,000 schools across the country are operating farm to school programs and another 10,000 have plans to start in the future. During the 2013-2014 school year, these schools purchased nearly $800 million worth of local products from farmers, ranchers, fishermen and other food producers – a 105 percent increase from the 2011-2012 school year – and tended to more than 7,101 school gardens.

The Farm to School Census establishes a national baseline of farm to school activities happening across the country. Whether you’re interested in learning about the national landscape, what’s happening in your state or how your school district participates in farm to school, there are many ways that this information can be used to support your farm to school efforts. Here are three small steps you can take for using Census data to strengthen farm to school activities in your community:

Farm to School Goes Year Round in the Northeast

Over the past few summers, sponsors of USDA’s Summer Meals Programs have been elevating meal quality and encouraging program participation by serving seasonal menus, utilizing high quality ingredients, and providing nutrition education activities. We’ve heard of such farm to summer activities – the embedding of farm to school principles within summer meals programs – from practitioners all around the country. Here in the Northeast, summer 2016 brought a wave of coordinated programming, and National Farm to School Month is the perfect time to celebrate this trend that is supporting healthy kids and communities all year long!

Massachusetts' Smarter Lunchrooms Movement

Through the Team Nutrition initiative, USDA provides grants to state agencies to expand and enhance their training and educational activities to help schools provide appealing and nutritious meals, nutrition education and healthier school environments. These efforts are designed to help children get the nutrition they need to learn, grow and be healthy.  In addition to grants, Team Nutrition provides free nutrition education materials to schools, child care settings and summer meal sites that participate in the Child Nutrition programs.

By Samantha Therrien, graduate student, Framingham State University Food and Nutrition Program & Karen McGrail, MEd, RDN, LDN, Director, the John C. Stalker Institute of Food and Nutrition at Framingham State University

It’s that time again! As students head back to school many school nutrition programs across Massachusetts are continuing to use Smarter Lunchrooms strategies gained through their participation in a USDA Team Nutrition grant. The research-based Smarter Lunchrooms Movement, established at the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Program, focuses on creating sustainable lunchrooms that make the healthy choice, the easy choice for students. The Movement is based on the idea that even small, low-cost changes can make a big difference, and Massachusetts schools are benefitting from this first-hand.

This Isn't Farming Like Grandpa Used to Do

Samantha Whitter represents the fifth generation at Whittier Farms in Sutton, Massachusetts. Her family’s 500-acre, 100-head dairy farm is one of the largest in this small town 10 miles south of Worcester—the second largest city in New England, after Boston.

Samantha’s dad, Wayne Whittier, signed up for aerial cover crop seeding offered by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The conservation practice involves a helicopter swooping over corn fields, releasing winter rye seed from a hopper swinging beneath the chopper. To a bystander, it might look like an air show or a crime scene investigation, but it’s actually a very controlled seed application that uses a Global Positioning System (GPS) to track the helicopter’s flight path and precisely map where seed was distributed.

Helping an Urban Farmer Connect People with Food

When Amanda Barker arrived in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 2009 to start graduate school at Clark University she knew that she wanted to grow food and build community. “My hope was to figure out a way to connect people with food, get people talking to each other,” said Barker.

Seven years later, she is one of the nation’s urban agriculture pioneers who raises crops on tiny patches of land wedged between city buildings, used car lots, highways and railroad tracks, and even on rooftops.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar is Real, and It's More Than Just a Nuisance

While being outside in Massachusetts this June, I first noticed it.  A lot of leaves were falling from the trees, only these were chewed leaf parts, not whole leaves.

Similar to the children's book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar written by Eric Carle, some leaves didn’t just have chew marks but actual holes going straight through them.  Unlike the children’s book, this damage isn’t being caused by a friendly caterpillar who turns into a butterfly.  Instead it’s the result of ravenous gypsy moth caterpillars feeding…and feeding.  It’s so bad that in some areas, on walkways and roadways, it looks like fall.  Brown, dried up leaves are a contrast to summer’s lush greenery.

Smokejumpers Help Ohio Fight Beetle Fire

Smokejumpers are a unique breed.  They are people who are willing to jump, really parachute, out of an aircraft to provide a quick attack on forest fires. While smokejumpers are highly trained, experienced firefighters, they are also expert tree climbers. These firefighters usually work in rugged terrain, but travel all over the country to fight fires. Recently they traveled to Tate Township, Ohio to fight a fire of a different kind.

In April, the U.S. Forest Service sent smokejumpers to help the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) combat the Asian longhorned beetle (ALB) by climbing trees in Tate Township, Ohio, about 40 minutes outside of Cincinnati. The beetle is destroying trees in this area and the goal is to find infested tree quickly before the insect starts to emerge in May as adult beetles from the inside infested trees.