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Apalachicola National Forest Restores National Historic Landmark

Youth workers constructing an Architectural Barriers Act Accessibility-compliant trail

Youth workers construct an Architectural Barriers Act Accessibility-compliant trail leading to the central kiosk and earthen fort. Local volunteers, HistoriCorps partners from Colorado and Texas Conservation Corps members participated in the two-week renovation on the Apalachicola National Forest. (U.S. Forest Service photo/Jesse English)

The drive to Fort Gadsden’s Historic Site on the Apalachicola National Forest is something reminiscent of a nature documentary. Towering pines line the highway while vibrant wildflowers bloom throughout the fields. Local volunteers and Apalachicola National Forest employees are busily working in the stifling heat on a restoration project at this National Historic Landmark, the only one located in the southeast on National Forest Service land. The volunteers include: a team of workers from Colorado called ‘HistoriCorps,’ and a cadre from the Texas Conservation Corps at American Youthworks.

“Without volunteers like us, a lot of these things just go to waste and rot away because nobody has the money, the time, or the work force to do it,” said Amanda Tulley, a HistoriCorps partner from Denver. Read more »

Back to School Checklist: Fruits and Veggies

A girl eating an apple on the Procuring Local Foods for Child Nutrition Programs poster

USDA’s revised guide, Procuring Local Foods for Child Nutrition Programs can help schools find, buy and serve more regional offerings.

Fruits and vegetables are at the top of USDA’s back to school list, and just in time for the new school year, the Pilot Project for Procurement of Unprocessed Fruits and Vegetables is making it easier for schools in eight states to purchase them. The 2014 Farm Bill authorizes the pilot in not more than eight states participating in the National School Lunch Program, and provides them with an opportunity to better access nutritious foods. The pilot also helps create and expand market opportunities for our nation’s fruit and vegetable producers, opening the door for a variety of vendors, small growers, food hubs and distributors to supply unprocessed fruits and vegetables to participating schools.   

So far, five states (California, Connecticut, Michigan, New York and Oregon) have spent over $600,000 through the pilot from February through June 2015. Several California districts contracted a produce distributor to connect local and regional producers with schools to receive peaches, cauliflower, apricots, and kale from their state. Students in Oregon are chomping on pears from the Pacific Northwest, while many Connecticut and New York schools are feasting on Macintosh apples from Massachusetts orchards and Empire apples from New York. Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin were also selected for the pilot and will begin receiving deliveries of fruits and vegetables in the coming months. Read more »

USDA-EPA National Workshop on Water Quality Markets September 15-17

2015 USDA/EPA National Workshop on Water Quality Markets graphic

2015 USDA/EPA National Workshop on Water Quality Markets graphic. (Click for the registration link)

For most people, water quality markets are probably a new concept. They are not something you hear about on the news every day, even though reports frequently cover the need to clean up rivers and lakes. But to some—like states, utilities, and farmers—they represent an opportunity, and should be on the radar.

Water quality markets can reduce costs of cleaning up waterways by allowing sources with high costs of meeting water quality requirements to purchase credits from sources that have lower costs of making the same water quality improvement. Agricultural producers often have lower costs of improving water quality, which makes farmers and ranchers prime candidates to supply water quality credits. Read more »

Taking Note of Paper’s Popularity

Paper & Packaging – How Life Unfolds campaign infographic

Through its Paper & Packaging – How Life Unfolds campaign, the Paper and Packaging Board reminds us of the many ways we are connected to paper. Photo courtesy of the Paper and Packaging Board. (Click to enlarge)

Kindle, iPad, and Surface—oh my! It’s fascinating to think about the increasing number of electronic tablets in the marketplace. However, a recent survey suggests that students and educators alike grab another notepad when it comes to comprehending what they’ve read. And that notepad is made of paper.

In fact, 74 percent of college educators surveyed in the 2015 Annual Back to School Report said that their students are more likely to stay focused when they are using a notebook and textbook rather than a laptop. Almost 80 percent of the K-12 teachers in this same survey also said that their students comprehend information better when they read on paper. As such, 63 percent of the teachers surveyed indicated that their courses involved paper-based learning. Read more »

Keeping Foods Safe For a Successful School Year

Food Safety and Back-to-School infographic

If you bring your lunch, here are some safe handling tips to prevent foodborne illness. (Click to enlarge)

As the days get shorter and the month of August winds down with the appearance of back-to-school sales, we recognize the telltale signs that signal the “official” end of summer and the beginning of a new school year.  For USDA professionals interested in food safety, nutrition and health, thoughts of safe food preparation and school lunches packed at home, come to mind. 

It is estimated that each year in the U.S., there are more than 48 million cases of foodborne illness, with 128,000 people hospitalized from these illnesses and nearly 3,000 deaths.  It is startling that one in six Americans will become ill from foodborne illness each year since most are preventable.  The most vulnerable members of our population are pregnant women, children, the elderly and those whose immune systems are compromised by other diseases and illnesses.  That’s why care must be taken to assure that the foods consumed are safe. Read more »

New Sage Grouse Conservation Strategy Good for Cattle Ranches, Good for Birds

Sage-grouse on land

USDA today unveiled Sage Grouse Initiative 2.0, its roadmap to guide voluntary conservation efforts on private grazing lands in the West. Photo courtesy of Ken Miracle.

Today, USDA released its new long-term investment strategy for sage grouse conservation—Sage Grouse Initiative 2.0 (SGI 2.0). USDA’s planned investments will complement the great conservation work already happening throughout the West and build on the work of the Sage Grouse Initiative, a partnership between USDA, ranchers and conservation groups that began in 2010. SGI 2.0 provides our partners a roadmap to fill unmet needs by rallying around a cohesive, partnership-focused conservation strategy that is good for cattle ranches, good for the bird, good for rural economies and good for sustaining the Western way of life.

The SGI 2.0 investment strategy is intended to be a living document, shaped by the best available science and the priorities of our partners. SGI 2.0 and other strategic partnership initiatives like the Regional Conservation Partnership Program underscore the growing demand for a new conservation philosophy of putting local partners in the driver’s seat and allowing them to set priorities and develop strategies that make sense for their operations and communities while still meeting conservation goals. Read more »