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Celebrating American Agriculture: All USDA Foods are Local to Someone

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.

Fish and fowl, sowing and reaping, nutrition and agriculture… certain words and concepts naturally go hand in hand, and March is a month to celebrate both the foundation and purpose of the American food system. With March designated as National Nutrition Month and March 15 as National Agriculture Day, the time is ripe to reflect on healthy eating goals and to express gratitude for the farmers, fishers, and ranchers who provide the foods to fuel our nation.

USDA’s Food Distribution Programs work at the intersection of nutrition and agriculture. Each year, USDA purchases more than 2 billion pounds of food worth nearly $2 billion from American farmers and distributes the food to schools, food banks, Indian Tribal Organizations, disaster feeding organizations, and other charitable institutions and feeding organizations. The programs benefit both ends of the food chain by supporting local agriculture and the economy while also providing a nutrition safety net for vulnerable Americans.

A Peach of a School Meal Alternative

An increasing number of our nation’s schools are using locally grown foods for school meals thanks to efforts of The USDA Farm to School Program. However, the availability of locally grown produce is often at the mercy of harsh weather conditions and other elements that lower production and cause shortages of popular food items.

Florida has experienced this challenge first-hand. A disease called citrus greening has already caused millions of dollars in damage to Florida’s orange crop.  USDA scientists have been actively engaged in research to eradicate the disease, but the fruit, a favorite of school children, is now less available than in the past. The Florida Farm to School team is working with Florida Classic Growers to provide a new fruit alternative for school menus while also assisting fruit growers hit by damage to their orange crop.

By Lindsey Grubbs, Florida Farm to School and WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program Director, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the Florida Farm to School Program took on a new project this year in conjunction with citrus growers focused on a new product in Florida: peaches! The Florida citrus industry has been experiencing difficulties recently with the spread of citrus greening. Citrus greening was discovered in Florida in 2005 and since taken a toll on the area’s orange groves.

2012 Census: A Snapshot of Peach State Agriculture

The Census of Agriculture is the most complete account of U.S. farms and ranches and the people who operate them. Every Thursday USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service will highlight new Census data and the power of the information to shape the future of American agriculture.

Georgia may be known as the peach state, but as the 2012 Census of Agriculture results showed, in reality we are ranked 3rd in total peach acreage. The census results also showed, that just like our agricultural producers, Georgia agriculture is very diverse.

In addition to harvesting thousands of acres of peaches, Georgia farmers also now lead the United States when it comes to chickens. When I say ‘chickens’, I mean ‘broilers and other meat type chickens’, which is what you buy when you purchase chicken at the local grocery store, or what you eat when you get a chicken sandwich at your favorite fast food restaurant. When it comes to these birds, Georgia had more than 235 million, more than in any other state. Poultry producers sold 1.37 billion broilers in 2012. That is more than 4 chickens for every man, women and child in the country, based on 2010 Population Census numbers.

USDA Meteorologist Talks With Producers "In the Field"

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 the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

Ever wonder how USDA is able to make a forecast – either economic or weather?  It takes a lot of work.

Last week, USDA’s U.S. meteorologist Brad Rippey met with producers in southwestern Michigan. The first stop, on a rainy, stormy morning, was with Bryan Bixby, owner of Bixby Orchards in Berrien Springs.  Bixby described how spring wetness has been detrimental to fieldwork and crop quality.  For example, wet, humid conditions shortened the southwestern Michigan strawberry season and reduced fruit quality.  In addition, wetness has impeded Bixby's efforts to complete soybean planting.  During a tour of his orchards, Bixby described how the recent winter was Michigan's harshest since 1976-77, causing substantial mortality in peach trees -- requiring him to buy peaches from South Carolina in order to meet customer demand.

For Flavor's Sake: In New Mexico, Conservation Makes Things Peachy

Every single student in Santa Fe County Schools in New Mexico received a juicy, locally-grown organic peach for lunch on the first day of school last year from Freshies Farm.

On only a little more than three acres of land, Christopher Bassett and Taylor Dale were able to grow the peaches for the schools and still find time to support two young children of their own.

For this young couple, their land and the food they grow is their life. After working on farms for 10 years in everywhere from California to Colorado, Bassett and Dale finally bought their own. They settled at Freshies Farm, a slice of a larger orchard near Velarde, N.M. near the Rio Grande.

Long-Term Agriculture Science Investment Is Seeing Pay-offs in Georgia

Today, I am in Athens, Georgia, visiting the University of Georgia (UGA) and meeting with university leaders, faculty, and students to learn about the great work being done here to advance agriculture and solve some of our most pressing challenges.

NIFA has a long history of investing in agricultural science, and for much of the research it takes years to see the payoff. I’d like to highlight two projects at the University of Georgia NIFA has funded that are seeing real outcomes today.

FSA Loans Lend a Hand to California Farmer

Family adversity brought Sam Pesina back home to his family’s Fresno County, Calif., farm.  But it was the love of farming that kept him.

“When my dad got bone marrow cancer, there was never any question that I would return home,” said Pesina. “My dad wouldn’t have trusted anyone else [to run the farm].” So he packed his bags, glanced back at the 12 years he spent in Hawaii working in finance and starting his own mortgage brokerage company, and headed back to Orange Cove to care for his father and the farm he grew up on.

With Aid of TASC Grant, South Carolina and Georgia Exports to Mexico are Looking Peachy

In a scene that’s a telltale sign of summer across the southern United States, farmers’ markets and grocery stores are now proudly declaring that they are stocked with ripe, delicious, American-grown peaches.

Thanks in part to a Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops (TASC) grant from USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) to the Georgia and South Carolina Peach councils, fresh Georgia and South Carolina peaches are now also being enjoyed by our neighbors in Mexico for the first time in 17 years.

The Juice on Summer Peaches and Plums

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 the USDA's rich science and research portfolio.By Kathleen Phillips, Texas A&M AgriLife CommunicationsA fresh, juicy peach makes a good addition to a summer lunch bag or picnic. Warm or chilled, you know you have a good one when you have to chase a stream of peach juice with a napkin.