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USDA Foods

Taste Test: Behind the Scenes with USDA Foods

The USDA Foods Available List is a lot like any other menu, with dozens of healthy options for state agencies to order and distribute through USDA’s nutrition assistance programs.  And every year, foods are added or removed from the list based on customer demand and market conditions. Some offerings are modified to improve nutrition content or make the product and its packaging easier to work with in the kitchen or more acceptable to kids.

The USDA Foods program is a collaboration between the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), the agency that procures the food, and the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), the agency that distributes the food. This school year, the USDA Foods team’s goal for training and conferences is to provide more opportunities to taste new and reformulated products. That way, state agencies can confidently order them and school districts can incorporate them into their menus.

Harvest Time: Celebrating Native American Heritage and Traditional Foods in FDPIR

Autumn is a time to reflect on all that we have to be thankful for, as we enjoy the harvest of nature’s bounty during gatherings with family and friends. In Indian Country, culture and tradition are sustained through shared meals with family and the community. Traditional foods are a powerful way for each new generation to connect with and honor its history and its ancestors, and participants in USDA’s Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) have access to more traditional foods than ever this year. November, Native American Heritage Month, is an especially fitting time to celebrate the addition to FDPIR of bison, blue cornmeal, wild rice, and wild salmon – foods that not only nourish a body but sustain a culture.

In collaboration with the FDPIR community, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service and Food and Nutrition Service have been working to identify culturally relevant foods to procure and offer through FDPIR, a program that provides healthy food and nutrition education to an average of 92,500 income-eligible individuals living on or near reservations across the United States each month. The food package offers more than 100 domestically sourced, nutritious foods, including a variety of meat, poultry, fish, dairy, grains, and fruits and vegetables. In both fiscal year 2015 and 2016, USDA received an additional allocation of $5 million dedicated to traditional and locally-grown foods. This fund, authorized under the 2014 Farm Bill and subject to the availability of appropriations, has allowed the exploration of new culinary opportunities for FDPIR.

USDA Foods' Local Roots: DoD Fresh Connects the Farm to School

What do the military’s logistical network, peaches and peppers, and school children have in common? The first delivers the second to the third through a unique partnership between the Department of Defense (DoD) and USDA.

October is National Farm to School Month and the perfect time to celebrate the DoD Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, which connects schools with fresh and often local produce using their USDA Foods entitlement dollars. Schools order local foods from a variety of sources, and according to the 2015 USDA Farm to School Census, 29 percent of districts participating in farm to school are receiving local foods through DoD Fresh.

The Year of the Flood

Incidents described as “thousand year storms and floods” and “the worst U.S. disaster since Hurricane Sandy” claimed the lives of more than 58 people in Louisiana, West Virginia and South Carolina over the last year.  These disasters often remind us of the devastating impacts that families and their communities face after they strike.

After emergency life saving operations, food and shelter assistance are the most important priorities with which emergency managers must contend.  It was during these times that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) responded to 22 incidents by providing needed nutrition assistance.  More than half of these disasters involved severe and widespread flooding, including the most recent floods that affected residents in 22 parishes in and around Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Know Where Your Food Comes From with USDA Foods

Do you know where your food comes from?  If you can pinpoint where your food was grown and produced, you can make more informed decisions to maximize quality, freshness, and nutritional value.  You can also help support local economies through your purchases.  The USDA Foods program takes this mantra to heart and publishes state of origin reports with procurement information on all USDA Foods every year.  As we like to say at FNS, “All USDA Foods are local to someone.”

USDA Foods are 100 percent American grown and produced.  Each year, USDA procures more than 200 types of food, including meat, poultry, fish, fruits, vegetables, flour, cereals, and dairy products, totaling approximately $2 billion.  Organizations such as food banks, disaster and emergency feeding organizations, Indian Tribal Organizations, schools, and other feeding groups receive these USDA Foods for use in meal service or distribution to households through programs like the National School Lunch Program, The Emergency Food Assistance Program, the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, and the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations.

Making Families Whole Through Disaster Response

As part of National Preparedness Month and Hurricane Preparedness Week, USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) released a video featuring a team that traveled to South Carolina in October 2015 to cover the floods that affected more than half of the state. People lost their jobs, cars, and some even lost their homes. USDA takes pride in knowing that along the way we were there, along with our partners in disaster feeding, the South Carolina Department of Social Services and The Salvation Army, to help those most in need.

The team also traveled to New Jersey, a state ravaged by Hurricane Sandy and still recovering from its impact, to show how FNS’ Disaster Household Distribution Program and congregate feeding efforts were able to provide meals to more than 26,000 people. Following the recent flooding in Texas and Louisiana, the 2015 flooding in South Carolina, and Hurricane Sandy, FNS’ Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP) provided benefits to eligible individuals who did not qualify for regular SNAP benefits, but who experienced disaster-related expenses, such as loss of income and property. With D-SNAP these families received a little extra help to put food on the table for their families.

Are You Ready? Do You Know How USDA's Nutrition Assistance Programs can Play a Vital Role in Helping Those Most in Need Following a Disaster?

Twice a year, as part of America’s PrepareAthon!, USDA works closely with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as well as with other Federal, state and local partners to promote emergency preparedness.  When disasters strike, it’s not only important for you and your family to be prepared, it’s also critical that your community be prepared.  USDA supports local communities by providing access to healthy meals in emergency situations.

USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) ensures people have access to nutritious food when they find themselves suddenly in need of assistance following a storm, earthquake, flood or other disaster emergency.  Oftentimes after a disaster, retail food stores are closed making it impossible for families to get the food they need.  Even after stores reopen, disaster survivors often still are recovering financially which makes buying food difficult.  FNS programs are there to help in those circumstances.

Big Impact from a Small Kitchen

I recently traveled to Columbus, Ohio with Farm Service Agency (FSA) Administrator Val Dolcini and stopped by Southside Roots Café, Market and Kitchen for lunch. The restaurant makes delicious food from locally-sourced seasonal ingredients, but what really sets it apart is how it charges customers for that food.

Southside Roots Café uses a pay-what-you-can approach that allows everyone to eat nutritious, delicious food, regardless of their income. Housed in a former school building owned and operated by the Mid-Ohio Food Bank, the café and an adjacent fresh food market provide fresh, affordable, nutritious food to the local community. Weekly community meals, along with a kids’ meal program for students at a nearby development center and visitors to the Boys and Girls Club of Columbus, round out the food bank’s creative approach to serving families and children in need.

Public Service Recognition Week: Thank You, AMS!

At USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), our 4,000 employees work hard every day to support the country’s diverse agricultural operations. Whether it’s individual farmers or international businesses, we have a long tradition of collaborating, innovating, and evolving to keep American agriculture competitive in the global marketplace.

As part of Public Service Recognition Week, I would like to introduce you to some of our employees and tell you about the remarkable work they do each and every day.

Of Bison and Blue Cornmeal: USDA Supports Access to Traditional Foods in Native American Communities

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.

In Indian Country, culture and tradition are sustained through shared meals with family and the community. Traditional foods are a powerful way for each new generation to connect with and honor its history and its ancestors.

Bison and blue cornmeal have recently graced the tables of participants in USDA’s Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) thanks to the joint commitment of the Agricultural Marketing Service and Food and Nutrition Service, working with the FDPIR community to identify and procure foods traditional to many tribes. Last year, AMS awarded two contracts to Native American-owned small businesses to deliver frozen, lean ground bison meat to FDPIR. From November 2015 to the end of June 2016, these companies are on schedule to deliver a total of 520,000 pounds of bison meat. A third contract was awarded for whole-grain blue cornmeal. This product was received by tribes during the 2015 holiday season for use in a wide variety of recipes and cultural dishes.