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sustainability

Ecologists Look to Traditional Knowledge to Bolster Sustainability Science

People around the world manipulate ecosystems for their own purposes. It’s what you leave behind when you’re finished working or living in the area that determines whether the ecosystem survives or is irreparably harmed for future generations.

For scientists like John Parrotta, national program leader for international science issues with the U.S. Forest Service, knowing what to leave behind is not always found in a college textbook or scientific journal.

International Youth Day: NIFA Helps Provide Sustainable Youth Leadership

The United Nations' celebrates International Youth every August and this year’s theme is Youth Leading Sustainability. The international recognition focuses on the leading role of young people in pursuing poverty eradication and achieving sustainable development through sustainable production and consumption. There are roughly 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24, the largest generation of youth in human history. They face never-before-seen shifts in populations, economies, technology, health and the environment. USDA and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture help today's youth navigate these shifts and develop into healthy adults.

Recognizing the voice of youth is important and USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) plays a key role in providing positive youth development through the internationally recognized 4-H program, which empowers youth to reach their full potential, working and learning in partnership with caring adults.

Nutritional Security Through Sustainable Agriculture

Nutritional security is defined as “a situation that exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”

Achieving nutritional security in the context of the burgeoning population, climate change, diminishing land and water resources, environmental degradation, and changing incomes and diets will require not just approaches to sustainably producing more food, but also smarter ways of producing food, dealing with food waste, and promoting improved nutritional outcomes.  The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) invests in and advances agricultural research, education, and extension and seeks to make transformative discoveries that solve these societal challenges. NIFA’s portfolio of support for nutritional security and sustainable agriculture includes literally thousands of impactful efforts across our nation; below are just a handful that speak to the transformative work transforming lives.  For example:

Next Crop of Farmers and Soil Scientists Cultivated on Working Farm/Outdoor Classroom

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service is celebrating National Volunteer Week April 10-16, 2016, by thanking and honoring its Earth Team volunteers for their service to conservation.

When Otis Donald Philen, Jr. decided to combine his working farm operation with an outdoor classroom, he knew just the group to help―the New River Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD).

Philen, director of the SWCD, and other conservation professionals partner with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to improve agricultural education and natural resource protection. In September 2014, New River became the first District in Virginia to own a working farm when Philen deeded a 143-acre tract to the district.

New Farmers' Legacy for the Land

Some people leave a legacy for their children. Cameron Green and Eric Wittenbach plan to leave theirs to Mother Nature. 

A philosophy of sustainability guides them on their eight-and-a-half-acre farm in Okanogan, Washington. Green and Wittenbach both come from a background of working the land; picking fruit in commercial cherry orchards, pruning and thinning threes, and growing vegetables in the Methow Valley for a local CSA. This has given them a close connection to nature, and when they bought their land eight years ago, their intentions were to make it as sustainable as possible.

Healthy Soil is Covered Soil

Of the several practices USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service recommends to improve soil health and sustainability one of the most important is to keep the soil covered. 

In corn and soybean fields, the starting point is maintaining the post-harvest crop residue on the soil surface. Crop residue is plant material remaining after harvesting, including leaves, stalks, and roots.

A European Take on Food Security

Just like America, Europe is trying to address the challenge of how to feed the 9 billion people who will populate the world by the year 2050. In fact, the theme of ExpoMilano2015 – the world’s fair being held in Milan, Italy, this year – is “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.” On May 1, the European Union kicked off the Expo with a series of meetings, lectures and discussions surrounding that theme, and I was invited to take part.

The agricultural sector in the EU must produce food for more than 500 million consumers. At the meeting I attended, discussion focused largely on what research priorities should be established to inform the EU’s centralized agricultural policy, specifically on how to achieve three goals:

The International Institute of Tropical Forestry Celebrates 75 Years of Research Success

Scientists and community members in Puerto Rico recently celebrated 75 years of tropical forestry research with a diamond jubilee of festivities.

Last month, the International Institute of Tropical Forestry (IITF) hosted an urban field trip, where participants explored several field stations within and around the Río Piedras River watershed in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to learn about the watershed’s vulnerabilities and values in a social, economic and ecological context from Institute scientists and program collaborators. The field trip was led by Institute Director Ariel E. Lugo.

Expanding Opportunities for Small-Scale Beef Producers

Sometimes big things come in small packages.  At USDA, we provide programs and services to producers of all sizes – and now we’re offering even more to small-scale and local beef producers.  Many small-scale producers are contributing to the growth of the grass-fed beef industry.  And, thanks to a new program tailored to meet their needs, they now have another resource in their marketing toolbox.

The USDA Grass Fed Program for Small and Very Small Producers, administered by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), is designed as a verification tool for small and very small producers to certify that animals meet the requirements of the grass-fed marketing claim standard and will make them eligible to have their products marketed as “USDA Certified Grass Fed Beef”.

With today’s label-conscious, savvy consumers, producers are relying on verified and certified labels to help distinguish their products in the marketplace.  This new initiative joins our suite of consumer-trusted verification programs for meat, poultry, and eggs.

Decades of Research Show Increased Sustainability for American Agriculture

U.S. agricultural producers have been engaged in sustainable farming practices for many years as an inherent part of their work.  They need the environment to flourish and thrive in order to continue producing the foods we eat and the materials we use.  Agricultural research and promotion groups, with oversight from USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), allow producers and businesses across a commodity industry to pool their expertise and resources in order to help create new markets and invest in research.  The research they conduct helps improve production, discover new uses, and plays an important part in helping their industry identify and adopt sustainable practices.