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Local School Wellness Policy Toolkit Now Available

New resources are now available to help school districts engage parents and school staff in Local School Wellness Policy efforts.  A Local School Wellness Policy is a written document that guides school district’s efforts to establish a school environment that promotes students’ health, well-being and ability to learn.  It’s important for parents and school staff to be a part of this process so the wellness policy is representative of both the community and student’s needs.  

The Food and Nutrition Service’s Team Nutrition initiative has developed a free Local Wellness Policy Outreach Toolkit that school districts and schools can customize to communicate information about their Local School Wellness Policy to parents and staff.  The kit includes:

NIFA, Agricultural Research Tackle Society’s ‘wicked’ problems

Our charge in the food and agricultural sciences is to move from evolutionary discoveries, which contribute to marginal changes over long periods of time, to revolutionary thinking to deal with ‘wicked’ problems by deploying transdisciplinary approaches that solve complex societal challenges. Similar to how the Internet-driven disruptive technologies have transformed America and the rest of the world, advances in data science, information science, biotechnology and nanotechnology can transform agriculture and our capacity to address societal challenges.

Advances in the field of genomics have helped breeders produce desirable varieties of crops and livestock and overcome challenges that had previously been undertaken via conventional breeding. For example, in the dairy industry, most cattle are mechanically or chemically dehorned early in life to protect against injury to other cattle and their handlers. To eliminate this bloody and painful process, a team of NIFA-funded researchers at Recombinetics have successfully used gene editing to introduce the hornless gene into the cells of horned bulls. While the majority of hornless cattle generated via conventional breeding produce low quality milk, gene editing offers a simple and rapid solution of generating hornless cattle that produce high quality milk.

Training Growers, Growing Trainers: Preparing for New Food Safety Requirements

Are you preparing to meet the new Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Produce Safety rule standards?  Have you heard about Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs)?  Maybe you’ve heard that they can get buyers to notice your products and improve your access to the market place - but you need more information to know if it can work for you.

USDA is hard at work connecting growers with training and resources to support GAP certification and expand their food safety know how. We’ve made big investments in food safety education for growers in recent years, supporting projects through AMS grant programs—the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, Federal-State Market Improvement Program, Farmers Market Promotion Program, and Local Food Promotion Program.

USDA’s Collaborative and Active Engagement in the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System is Twenty Years Old and Going Strong

Today kicked off “Get Smart about Antibiotics” week in the United States and the World Health Organization’s World Antibiotic Awareness Week in 2016. During this week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and its other federal partners want to remind families and communities about the importance of responsible antibiotic use in both humans and animals, to help reduce the development of resistant bacteria. This week, we also celebrate the 20th anniversary of the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS).  Through NARMS, USDA, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) collaborate on everything relating to antimicrobial resistant bacteria.   Since 1996, USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) have been active participants in this combined federal surveillance program.

So, what is antimicrobial resistance?  As you might recall, in 1928, Dr. Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin, a drug that revolutionized the treatment of bacterial infections. In the years following, penicillin and the discovery and therapeutic use of other antibiotics, we have relied on antibiotics to treat and cure a variety of illnesses - in both humans and animals, across the globe. The use of these drugs has aided in the development of resistant strains of bacteria. Unfortunately, this development means that some previously treatable forms of bacterial infections are now resistant to the antibiotics that were designed to treat them. It is estimated that the decrease in effectiveness of antibiotics, results in more than two million U.S. cases of antibiotic resistant infections, annually. Some of these types of infections might require longer hospital stays and are more costly to treat successfully. 

In Conversation with #WomeninAg: Anita Roberson

Every month, USDA shares the story of a woman in agriculture who is leading the industry and helping other women succeed along the way. In honor of Veterans Day, we hear from Anita Roberson, a U.S. Army Veteran who started a post service career in agriculture. She and her husband Thomas, also a U.S. Army veteran, both proudly own a ten-acre farm in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, where they produce vegetables, fruit, flowers, and honey.

1. First off, thank you for your service. Tell us about your background and how you got into agriculture.

You are welcome!  I grew up in a military family, but some of my fondest memories were of life on the farm with my paternal grandparents. They had an amazing flower and vegetable garden, working dogs, laying chickens, and Jersey cattle. Those magnificent impressions helped me to realize that I was destined to work in the sciences.  As an undergraduate, I majored in biology and later joined the Army and served as a Medical Service Corps officer. Later I married a Physician Assistant who grew up on a farm. While serving in Germany, we purchased my aunt’s ten-acre farm so she could retire, thinking it would be an awesome opportunity to help us in our eventual retirement. It was one of the best decisions we made.  After we returned to Virginia, we met an Extension Agent who invited us to attend a Small Farm Outreach Program and the rest is history.

USDA Helps Iraqi War Veteran Enhance Conservation On Farm

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is helping Iraq War veteran Adam Boge improve technology and other efficiencies in his new farming operation, allowing the Ventura farmer to prepare for long-term success in the first full year on his own.

Boge enlisted in the Army directly out of high school. After his initial military service, he attended Iowa State University for Ag Systems Technology and Mechanical Engineering. College was interrupted, however, by his Iraq deployment. Boge represented the Army National Guard’s 1133rd Transportation Company out of Mason City for 15 months throughout 2003 and 2004 in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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.

Conservation as a Peace Offering to Vietnam War Veteran

Conservation is giving Vietnam War veteran Gilbert Harrison a peace offering of healing, helping to balance the stresses of war. For Harrison, conserving the natural resources on his farm is an important outdoor activity. And who better to care for the land than the veterans who fought to protect it?

Harrison has worked with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) since 2012, when he received funding and technical assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to help him install an improved irrigation system to help develop alfalfa production on his land.

Promoting Integrity through Improved Technology

If you’re a frequent reader of this blog, you already know that USDA is committed to continuously improving the integrity of their programs.  We strive to operate our programs effectively and efficiently.  We aim to provide program participants with the best service possible, while ensuring taxpayers get the biggest bang for their buck.

We go about this in a number of different ways.  In previous posts, we’ve shared how we’re streamlining the USDA organic certification process; highlighted our prize competition, which crowdsourced design ideas to minimize error in school meals applications; and featured ways we’re working to educate farmers on official grain standards, sampling and grading rules.

Veterans Returning to Civilian Life Bring Skill and Talent to Farm and Ranch

In honor of Veterans Day, Deputy Under Secretary Lanon Baccam provided Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack with an overview of USDA’s support for veterans. Baccam, a proud army veteran, also serves as the Department’s Military Veterans Agriculture Liaison.