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New Toolset Helps Identify Key Water Conservation Options

A free computer-based toolset developed by USDA-Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists was launched this month.  The toolset can help conservation planners, landowners and researchers better manage watershed runoff, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, while also supporting agricultural production.

Excess nutrients from watershed runoff—from sources that include farming—affect the ecological quality of aquatic environments. A watershed is an area of land from which all of the water that runs off its surface flows to the same location, typically a stream or river, but lakes and ponds also have watersheds. There are thousands of watersheds of varying sizes that cover the continental United States.

A Conversation on Housing Development in Missouri

There's power in unity and it's always a great thing to see small communities come together to discuss ways of improving the places they call home. If we join forces, a lot can happen - and it all starts with a vision.

Speaking with the individuals of rural areas and creating solutions to further advance their communities is what I truly enjoy. As the Administrator for USDA Rural Housing Service, listening to the voices of people in small communities and making their vision become a reality is something I strive to achieve.

STEM Grows from SEEDS at San Diego College

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 USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

Educators at Mesa College, in San Diego, Calif., are developing future leaders in agricultural sciences and related fields by providing them with a solid background in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education.

The STEM Engagement for the Enrichment of Diverse Students (SEEDS) program is a four-year effort to encourage underrepresented students, primarily Hispanic, to pursue graduate degrees.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture is supporting the project with a $290,000 grant.

During National Farm to School Month, USDA Celebrates Grantees' Accomplishments and a New Office

Along with brilliantly colored hard squash, crisp apples, and hearty greens, October ushers in National Farm to School Month, a time to raise awareness about and celebrate the impact of farm to school programs on children, producers, and communities. Since 2012, I have directed USDA’s Farm to School Program, guiding the work of a small but enthusiastic team at the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). Each October, we have more to celebrate: more USDA funds awarded to schools, agencies, and organizations to advance these programs; more money ending up in the pockets of local producers; more school gardens in which students can learn and grow; and more healthful school meals that feature local foods.

A new report, announced by Agriculture Secretary Vilsack earlier this month, helps quantify our celebration. An analysis of grant-making over the last three years reveals that USDA has awarded $15.1 million through 221 grants in 49 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Fifty percent of funded projects included expanding healthy menu options offered in the cafeteria; 46 percent included training for food service staff about menu planning, meal preparation, and cooking with local and regional foods; and 65 percent included nutrition education activities. These funds have helped 12,300 schools improve nutritious meal options made with local ingredients for 6.9 million students, while expanding market opportunities for family farmers and ranchers in their communities.

Celebrate National School Lunch Week 2015

The fall season has arrived and with it the National School Lunch Week celebration! During the second week of October, USDA recognizes the important role school meal programs play in providing healthy, appetizing foods to their students. Over the last several weeks, USDA leaders visited schools to experience their meal programs first hand. And they were quite impressed! Now more than ever, today’s schools encourage healthy choices by featuring creative dishes and a variety of fruits and vegetables. USDA also got the chance to tour school gardens that harvest fresh ingredients and allow students to learn where their food comes from. It was exciting to see the many ways schools get students excited about health and nutrition and the important strides made to secure a healthier next generation.

After only three years since the updated nutrition standards were implemented, more than 96 percent of schools nationwide are meeting the standards.  The impact is nothing short of inspiring. School lunch revenue has increased by up to $450 million; teachers report that students are more attentive in the classroom; and a Harvard study found students are now eating more fruits and vegetables!

New Legislation Brings Projects in Reach for Rural Connecticut

The first week of August brought an important milestone for communities in Connecticut. I was pleased to be on hand as our Governor, Dannel Malloy, held a ceremonial bill signing for Senate Bill 458. This legislation is significant because it changes the maturity date for municipal bonds issued in conjunction with any water, waste, or community facility loan from USDA Rural Development from an original 20 years to a 40 year bonding term. Of the 169 towns in the state of Connecticut, 69 of those have populations under 10,000. This makes them eligible to receive loans from USDA Rural Development through our community facilities program. This act will make repayment on such loans affordable for small towns that are in need of essential community facility additions and improvements.

Induction Day at First State Military Academy

I had the opportunity to travel to Delaware to celebrate the Induction Ceremony of the First State Military Academy, an innovative charter high school bringing new life to an historic educational campus with the help of USDA Rural Development. Since 1896, Clayton, Delaware has been home to the sprawling, 35-acre St. Joseph’s educational campus. The site first hosted the St. Joseph’s Industrial School beginning in 1896 and was used as a school until 1972; it made it onto the historic register in 2002. Most recently, the site was home to Providence Creek Academy, a charter school for grades K-8.  Through a separate collaboration with Rural Development, Providence Creek Academy was able to build a new complex behind the campus to accommodate its growing student population. With the historic educational campus now vacant, the First State Military Academy had a chance to make it their new home.

What's Growing On, in This Rural Community?

Rural communities are looking for innovative ways to sustain quality of life and build viable food systems that support the health and economic needs of their people.  Working Landscapes is a Warrenton, N.C. nonprofit that creates sustainable food hubs by bridging the gap between local farmers and area consumers.  As a 2015 USDA Farm to School grantee, Working Landscapes uses its food hub resources to link local farmers and northeastern North Carolina school districts, demonstrating that working together can make a difference in the quality of life for rural communities.

By Tim Williams, Program Manager, Working Landscapes

The lights are on and the machines whirring on a recent June morning in downtown Warrenton, N.C. From the outside, the former cotton gin warehouse doesn’t look like much, but what you find behind the historic facade is an innovative farm to school venture that is bringing locally grown, fresh-cut vegetables to students across the northeastern part of the state.

Land-Grant Universities Make NFL Natural Turf Grass Better and Safer

Grass is a big deal in football – a really big deal.  Nearly every day of the week, untold millions of people watch players step out onto lush, green fields painted with white.

All aspects of the game are tough. Even growing and maintaining a real turf grass field has its challenges, like freezing temperatures, rain, and damage from tackles and foot traffic.  So what type of grass can hold up to all that? Horticultural specialists and plant breeders throughout the land-grant university cooperative extension system, as well as USDA researchers from Agricultural Research Service, are working to answer that question.  USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture supports their research with Hatch Act funding.

Celebrating National Co-op Month: Ohio Farmers Join Forces to Grow their Market Reach

October is National Cooperative Month, and all this month we will be shining a spotlight on several projects throughout the month that have been supported through USDA Rural Development's Cooperative Services. One fine example is Great River Organics in Ohio. Kimberly Rous and Hannah Scott work for our partner, the Ohio Cooperative Development Center in Piketon, Ohio and provided us some insight on a successful cooperative venture that is producing organic produce throughout central and north-central Ohio.

Great River Organics formed as a farmer-owned cooperative in December of 2014. Comprised of seven certified-organic farmers in central Ohio, the cooperative aggregates, markets, and distributes the organic produce grown by the farmer-owners through programs like the Great River Market Bag, a community-supported agriculture program that includes about 300 subscribers across central Ohio. They're also actively involved in the Ohio and West Virginia Food Hub Network, which promotes the development of food hubs in the region.