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Missouri Gardener Enjoys Fresh High Tunnel Produce

David Backus enjoys a tomato that he grew in his high tunnel. NRCS photo by Charlie Rahm.

David Backus enjoys a tomato that he grew in his high tunnel. NRCS photo by Charlie Rahm.

David Backus is reminded of the benefits of the seasonal high tunnel on his property in southeastern Missouri at nearly every meal – and sometimes between meals. 

“The food that I grow in my own garden is healthier than the food I can buy at the store, and it tastes so much better,” said Backus between bites of a just picked tomato.  Read more »

Initial Launch of the Team Up for School Nutrition Success Training Program

Feeding students healthy, tasty and nutritious school meals can be a challenge.  Just ask any one of the thousands of school nutrition professionals who carry out the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program.  They have to balance menu planning following nutrition standards, financial management, and inventory management, all while making meals that will be enjoyed by students – not always an easy audience.  It is a testament to their dedication that over 90 percent of America’s schools have now implemented the improved standards found in the Healthy Hungry Free Kids Act of 2010.

USDA is working hard to find ways to continue to support their efforts. One way we are doing that is a new program that we recently piloted in Mississippi that provides free training through a partnership with the National Food Service Management Institute (NFSMI). The Team Up For School Nutrition Success Training (Team Up) is tailored to schools and covers topics like menu planning, financial management, procurement, meal presentation and appeal, as well as youth engagement tactics, and strategies to reduce plate waste.  

Another partner in this initiative is First Lady Michelle Obama. Mrs. Obama is grateful for the hard work being done in our country’s school cafeterias, but also recognizes that some may need a little help. When she heard about our initiative, she took the time to make a video to not only thank and encourage the dedicated school food service professional around the country, but to encourage them to take advantage of Team Up. Hear with the First Lady had to say about Team Up: 

Read more »

USDA Marketing Orders Help Industries Climb to New Heights

The California Almond Marketing Order enables the Almond Board of California to conduct nutritional research about the benefits of eating almonds. Their innovative research and development projects that fuel cutting-edge marketing efforts have helped California’s almond yield quadruple in the past 30 years. Photo Courtesy of Healthaliciousness.

The California Almond Marketing Order enables the Almond Board of California to conduct nutritional research about the benefits of eating almonds. Their innovative research and development projects that fuel cutting-edge marketing efforts have helped California’s almond yield quadruple in the past 30 years. Photo Courtesy of Healthaliciousness.

Thanks to the Pistachio Marketing Order, the industry has increased its standing. Since its development in 2004 up through the 2012-2013 season, the volume of inshell pistachios has increased from 165 million pounds in a production year to 385 million pounds. Photo Courtesy of Kreg Steppe

Thanks to the Pistachio Marketing Order, the industry has increased its standing. Since its development in 2004 up through the 2012-2013 season, the volume of inshell pistachios has increased from 165 million pounds in a production year to 385 million pounds. Photo Courtesy of Kreg Steppe

Every successful business must have a solid plan to successfully take it from the initial startup phase all the way through its push to expand its operations after the business matures. The same can be said for an industry looking to reach new heights in its lifecycle. A concerted emphasis must be placed on strengthening research, product development, and marketing efforts. To help out on this front, the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) oversees 28 fruit and vegetable marketing order boards and committees. These entities develop regulations that moderate the flow of high quality produce, benefitting growers, handlers, and consumers. These groups also create research, marketing, and promotional campaigns that help expand the reach of the industry’s products. 

Through the AMS Marketing Order and Agreement Division (MOAD), industries approach the agency to establish a way to overcome marketing barriers. These efforts help growers and handlers within a geographic area increase their sales. The issues the committees focus on vary. For example, the Pistachio Marketing Order established reporting and Aflatoxin testing requirements on inshell and shelled pistachios. Pistachios produced in California, Arizona, and New Mexico are now required to be certified as meeting certain minimum quality requirements that are established by the Administrative Committee for Pistachios (ACP). Read more »

Secretary’s Column: 2014, a Year of Action, Partnership and Innovation at USDA

This has been a tremendous year for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the rural families and communities we serve. Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden recently shared a reflection on her most inspirational moments this year. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished at USDA over the course of this year, and I thought I’d take a moment to share just a few of our top accomplishments. Read more »

Inner-city Baltimore Youth make Special Visit to Boulder-White Clouds in Idaho

 

Civic Works corps members from Baltimore, Maryland featured in the film “Discovering the Boulder-White Clouds.” (Courtesy The Corps Network/Levi Novey)  Used with permission.

Civic Works corps members from Baltimore, Maryland featured in the film “Discovering the Boulder-White Clouds.” (Courtesy The Corps Network/Levi Novey) Used with permission.

On a chilly Friday afternoon in Washington, D.C., local employees, partners, and visitors took refuge from the cold outside for a special film-screening event in USDA’s Jefferson Auditorium, “Engaging the Next Generation of Conservation Stewards.” 

Five short films debuted to an audience of more than 80 partners and guests. This point, in itself, may have you wondering, “So What?” However, it’s the goal of the films and the potential for affecting the lives of young people that make this an important event.  Read more »

A Year of Promise for American Agriculture

It’s not hard to list our accomplishments here at USDA: After all, our progress on the much anticipated 2014 Farm Bill has been lauded as “the most successful Farm Bill implementation.” We also launched a website for New Farmers and started a conversation with women in agriculture that will continue to grow for many years to come.

What is sometimes less obvious is the people whose lives these programs and initiatives impact. So, to wrap up the year, I wanted to share a few of my most cherished memories from my first year as Deputy Secretary. Read more »