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Secretary Vilsack Kicks off the Combined Federal Campaign at USDA

October 20 marked the official launch of the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) at USDA for the Washington, D.C. metro area. Administered by the government’s Office of Personnel Management (OPM), CFC is the world’s largest workplace giving program. Since its inception in 1961, federal employees have contributed more than $6 billion to the non-profit community.

This year, USDA has set a goal of raising just under $2 million from its approximately 10,000 employees in the national capital area. The official kickoff on Tuesday morning was an exciting event in the Whitten Building patio featuring top USDA leadership and more than 20 CFC registered non-profit organizations. Secretary Tom Vilsack and Undersecretary for Research, Education, and Economics, Dr. Raj Shah, led off the event by speaking movingly about the ways that non-profit organizations touch all of our lives in critical and transformative ways. Read more »

Healthy Food and Physical Activity – The Right Start to Life

Secretary Vilsack credited First Lady Michelle Obama for the beautiful weather in Washington, D.C., as the White House hosted students from seven local schools for the Healthy Kids Fair. The First Lady and USDA teamed up with local chefs and nutritionists for cooking demonstration and nutrition stations as well as physical activities led by representatives from Playworks and the local YMCA.

Before the food tastings and physical activities began, the First Lady highlighted the importance of teaching healthy habits while children are young so they make the right choices later in life. She discussed eating healthy and nutritious foods, and how physical activity is critical to overall wellbeing. “We don’t want our kids to exercise because we tell them to, we want them to exercise because it’s fun and they enjoy it,” said Mrs. Obama.

Vilsack announced the re-launch of the Healthier U.S. School Challenge that recognizes schools doing the right thing by serving healthy meals, getting junk food out of vending machines, and promoting physical activity and nutrition education. To underscore the importance of healthy, nutritious meals for our nations youth, Secretary Vilsack recalled President Obama’s first instruction when starting at the Department of Agriculture: ‘I want our children to be fed more nutritious meals.’

“It’s incumbent upon all of us to do everything we possibly can to give you a good start on life and that means making sure you are well fed,” said Vilsack. “It also means acknowledging schools that take the extra step of providing nutritious meals but that you have time in a busy school schedule for physical activity.”

After addressing the students and parents gathered on the South Lawn, the First Lady and Secretary Vilsack visited food stations to sample baked eggs and baked apples using honey made from the White House honey bees. There was also zucchini quesadillas that Mrs. Obama noted tasted a lot like pizza and an “Eat the Rainbow” station where students could sample fruits and vegetables from all corners of the globe including star fruit, jicama and pomegranates.

The First Lady challenged students at the physical activity stations by showing her skills with a hula-hoop, double dutch jump-roping and an obstacle course.

Secretary Vilsack highlights the importance of healthy, nutritious food choices and physical activity

Secretary Vilsack highlights the importance of healthy, nutritious food choices and physical activity

First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary Vilsack sample food at the Healthy Kids Fair

First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary Vilsack sample food at the Healthy Kids Fair

Watch videos from the day’s events on the USDA’s YouTube channel.

USDA Using New Media to Reach Communities

Agriculture groups find voice in social media

“I’m trying to be a modern deputy here,” said Kathleen Merrigan, deputy secretary of Agriculture, during the department’s first monthly Facebook live chat earlier this month. She’s not the only ag player trying to take the plunge into social media. In the last year, many farm lobbying groups have established a presence on Facebook and Twitter in an effort to reach out to farmers. Americans farmers are old and getting older, with an average age of 57.1 in 2007, up from 55.3 in 2002. Social media, like most technology trends, is still thought of as the domain of young people, but the two fastest-growing age demographics on Facebook are 35- to 54-year-olds and those 55 and above, according to a Jan. 2009 analysis by iStrategyLabs, an online marketing company. (National Journal 10/19/09 link) Read more »

Town of Fort Kent, Maine Utilizes Recovery Act Funds

In April 2008, flood waters swept through Fort Kent, Maine, damaging infrastructure and preventing emergency crews from accessing several existing water and wastewater facilities. As a result of the rising flood waters, the facilities sustained damage severe enough that they no longer met health and safety codes, leaving the community vulnerable should similar events occur in the future. The Town was in need of financial assistance for upgrades. Read more »

Bellville School Recognized for Outstanding School Nutrition Environment

USDA Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon joined elementary school students in Bellville, Texas to award their schools “Gold” in USDA’s HealthierUS School Challenge for their outstanding achievements in improving their school nutrition environments.  Their schools, West End Elementary and O’Bryant Primary School along with O’Bryant Intermediate School, which earned gold last year, are Bellville’s three elementary schools and now all HealthierUS Schools.

April Pinkham, Bellville’s Director of School Nutrition said their schools took the Challenge because they wanted “recognition for their school nutrition program and school meals in general. “She said their school meals are “healthier than they’ve ever been” and she “takes pride in contributing to the health of our Nation’s school children.”

Bellville elementary schools partake in various physical activities to teach children about being physically active.  Last year they held a Nutrition Olympics where children had the opportunity to compete in watermelon weight lifting, coconut bowling and the grapefruit shot-put.  In partnership with Kelloggs, Bellville schools will reinstate last year’s Zumba dancing program for students to enjoy again this year.

President Obama and USDA Celebrate National School Lunch Week

This week, we celebrate National School Lunch Week to highlight a program paramount to improving the health and well being our Nation’s children. And it’s an effort receiving this important recognition for good reason…

Did you know the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free and reduced-price lunches and snacks to more than 31 million students each school day?   NSLP meals are designed to meet the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and in some cases represents a needy child’s primary meal.

President Obama and Secretary Vilsack believe that in our country, it is unacceptable for anyone, particularly our children, to go hungry.  We are committed to not only improving the nutritional quality of school meals, but also to ending childhood hunger by 2015.  USDA’s 15 nutrition assistance programs, especially the school lunch program, make significant contributions to ending childhood hunger.

National School Lunch Week was established in 1963 by Presidential Proclamation to raise awareness and support for the National School Lunch Program and the critical nutrition service it provides.

Read President Obama’s National School Lunch Week proclamation for more about his commitment to our nation’s children.