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Cooking Up Change Competition Kicks Off in Chicago

This November I served as a judge in the 2013-14 kick off Cooking Up Change competition here in Chicago. What is “Cooking Up Change”?  It’s a culinary competition sponsored by the Healthy Schools Campaign that challenges Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students and others across the U.S to create and prepare meals that are healthy and tasty and also follow National School Lunch Program requirements. This competition empowers students to have a voice about school meals and nutrition. On top of that, it’s a lot of fun for everyone involved!

The day of the competition I prepared by reviewing the rules, reading meal requirements, and skipping lunch. When I arrived at the event, I was impressed to see how many fellow judges there were and the wide range of food experts sitting around me. The competition got started and teams from fourteen schools started presenting their meals to us. The students brought in three or four cafeteria trays and gave each judge a sample. Judging was based on visual appearance, taste, presentation, and originality. Some students set themselves apart by being very well-polished when explaining the dishes, or by adding some creativity with music and costumes that reflected the meal’s ethic background. The competition was really tough, and ranking thee dishes was no easy task. Every meal had something that stood out, and often I found myself saying “I would order this at a restaurant!” Each dish was so delicious that by the end I could not eat one more bite!

USDA Helps "Cultivate" a Flourishing Agriculture College with a Community Facilities Loan

They’re known far and wide as The Fighting Quakers.

The irony isn’t lost on the fiercely proud students and alumni of Ohio’s historic Wilmington College. Founded in 1870 by the Religious Society of Friends, Wilmington College is the “warp and woof” of rural Clinton County; its largest employer since a huge delivery company suspended domestic operations in 2008, leaving nearly 10,000 people across seven counties without jobs.

USDA Builds on International Collaboration at Open Data Conference

I am excited to report that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will lead the U.S. delegation for an important conference at the end of April at the G-8 International Conference on Open Data for Agriculture in Washington.  I will join the Secretary at the conference to launch the G8 countries’ collaborative effort to make our agriculturally-relevant research and statistical data accessible to users in Africa and around the world.

USDA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Enter into Agreement to Improve Drought Weather Forecasting

USDA and other federal agencies continue to work to address the long term effects of last summer’s historic drought.

In the wake of a series of regional drought conferences with farmers, ranchers, business owners and other stakeholders, USDA is entering into a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Commerce, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), to improve sharing of data and expertise, monitoring networks, and drought forecasting efforts.  The MOU is a direct outcome of the regional conferences.

Special Delivery: Colorado Christmas Tree Arrives at U.S. Capitol

Every year, the Forest Service plays an integral role in providing the annual Capitol Christmas Tree, known as “The People’s tree”, from one of the agency’s 155 national forests to bedazzle the U.S. Capitol lawn. This year’s tree, a 73-foot Engleman Spruce, comes from the White River National Forest, in central Colorado.

Have you ever wondered how this tree gets transported from one of our many national forests to the nation’s capital?

New Foreign Service Officers to Face Unique Challenges in Promoting U.S. Agriculture Abroad

This week, seven Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) employees were sworn in as Foreign Service Officers during a ceremony at USDA in Washington, D.C. This group of newly minted Foreign Service Officers will be posted in locales around the world, from Moscow to Brasilia, in their first positions in USDA’s overseas offices. FAS officers begin their Foreign Service careers as attachés.

FAS Administrator John Brewer officiated the ceremony and was joined by Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Deputy Under Secretary Darci Vetter. In what is their first step in a long and successful career in the Foreign Service, Brewer and Vetter presented each new officer with a flag representing the country in which they will be posted.

Know Your Farmers Market

We are proudly in the middle of the eleventh annual National Farmers Market Week as declared by USDA. This year, Secretary Vilsack marked this important milestone with an official Declaration acknowledging the role farmers markets play in stimulating local economies, strengthening communities and supporting farmers.

As part of National Farmers Market Week, we’re also announcing the results of our latest farmers market survey, and the numbers are impressive: 6,100 farmers markets are now operating across the country – a stunning 16% growth from last year!  These markets are bringing folks together in cities, towns, suburbs and rural areas of every state in the nation, and they have on offer the freshest produce, meats, cheese, flowers, breads, and other products from their surrounding farms and ranches.

From Sisters’ Generosity Grows a Garden to Benefit Carthage, Texas Community

Jane Ray was ironing clothes and watching the news when a story inspired her to action. The news story showed First Lady Michelle Obama speaking to employees at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C., telling them about the agency’s People’s Garden initiative. Ray, who grew up in Carthage, Texas, realized she had just heard how she and her sister, Jill Burkindine of Manhattan, Kan., could honor their parents and benefit their hometown community.