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Become a Conservationist!


By Dave White, Chief of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service

I just spoke to a great group of folks celebrating Earth Day here at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. It was a pleasure having a chat with so many people, including Congressional Representatives, who are excited about conserving and protecting our country’s natural resources.

At USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service we’ve been helping people become good stewards of soil, water, air, and wildlife habitat for 75 years, and never any time in our history have we seen so many people stepping up and making a commitment to conservation.

We do most of our work with folks in agriculture, but even if you’re not a farmer or a rancher we’ve got you covered. If you have a backyard or just a couple of flower pots in your kitchen window, we can help turn you into a conservationist. Our Backyard Conservation Web page is absolutely alive with great information that I know you’ll enjoy.

Come on down and visit us on the Mall (we’re at the end closest to the Washington Monument), and check out our special demonstrations on soils.

Make Earth Day every day!

NRCS Chief Dave speaks at Earth Day, National Mall, Washington, DC.
NRCS Chief Dave speaks at Earth Day, National Mall, Washington, DC.

Earth Day in the People’s Garden – Agency Exhibits and Activities

Stop by the USDA’s People’s Garden today from 10 am – 2 pm for Earth Day activities and exhibits:

The People’s Garden – encourages you to get your hands dirty at the People’s Garden worm count activity! Our volunteers with green thumbs will be on hand, helping children create mini greenhouse necklaces and dispensing Earth Day passports that’ll keep you moving from activity to activity.  Visit with Wicked Delicate, a partner of the People’s Garden, at their Truck Farm demonstration in ‘The People’s Garden’ on Earth Day. They’ve launched a mobile farm tour as part of Earth Week to encourage growing, eating healthy food whether in a truck or other unexpected place.

 Agricultural Marketing Service – will feature information about how to find a farmer’s market in your community as well as seed testing and identification.  USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service administers programs that facilitate the efficient, fair marketing of U.S. agricultural products, including food, fiber and specialty crops.

 Agricultural Research Servicewill show you how it’s using remote sensing to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay.  A special “Frog Fling” contest will help kids learn how to identify healthy ecosystems.

 Animal and Plant Health Inspection Servicewill teach parents and children about aquatic Federal Noxious Weeds.  Dr. Al Tasker, National Noxious Weeds Program Manager, will be on hand to teach participants how to identify weeds and how to report noxious weed findings, as well as answer questions.  

 BioPreferred – will tell you about BioPreferred and biobased products.  You can learn about an up-and-coming Federal program run by USDA that promotes the use and sale of biobased products not only to open up new agricultural markets and increase energy independence but to improve the environment by lowering our carbon footprint.  BioPreferred will have biobased product samples available for visitors to look at across different areas—construction, janitorial, cafeteria and more. Be sure to pick up a brochure with more program information and don’t forget to grab our very popular petroleum-free lip balm!

 Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion & Food and Nutrition Service – will disseminate education materials about the State Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program as well as information about nutrition education materials, MyPyramid, recipe cards, and healthy eating tips.   

 Departmental Management/Office of Operations – will teach you about green roofs and conserving water at home.  Be sure to stop by for some energy giveaways while supplies last. 

 Farm Service Agency – will focus on the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which encourages the replacement of natural wetlands that removes nitrogen from water supplies.  Information about the Source Water Protection Program also will be available along with Biodegradable bags, FSA Coloring Books for the children and other agency promotional items.   

 Food Safety and Inspection Service – will focus on the importance of the four safe food handling behaviors—Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill, and demonstrate how to use these behaviors to reduce the risk of foodborne illness and Be Food Safe.

 Forest Service – will show you easy and effective hands-on demonstrations of the Importance of forests to water resources.  This hands-on educational demonstration using water will encourage kids to think about the sources of clean water and its value to the environment and their health.  The demonstration will show how forests act like sponges, filters, umbrellas, and homes, and how this ties to clean water and healthy aquatic ecosystems. This experiment is geared to encourage kids to get involved in projects to protect our water sources. 

 Grain Inspection, Packers, and Stockyards Administration – will show you how to grind flour for pancakes using a grain mill as well as host a series of activities involving grain and livestock which include a word search and coloring page, sand art in a bottle with grains instead of sand, scales to weigh toy animals with a worksheet visitors can use to calculate what the pay rate would be and determine how much the seller is owed for the livestock, and show a model of a stockyard with toy animals .

 National Agricultural Library – will provide information on topics that include gardening, lawn care, diet, nutrition, food safety, pets, floral images, fun things for kids and much more. 

 National Agricultural Statistics Service – will feature the results of the 2008 Organic Production Survey. Visitors also will be able to find out about the On-Farm Energy Production Survey that will be conducted in May and June. Kids are encouraged to stop by NASS’ booth for some fun activities.

 Natural Resources Conservation Service – will feature a “Restoring the Nation’s Wetlands,” 10-ft X 10-ft Nomadic-type display a water erosion demonstration by two of our soil scientist to show youngsters how important it is to protect the soil.

 Rural Development – will highlight Rural Development’s Water and Environmental Programs.  Rural communities benefit through the provision of cleaner water, and better wastewater treatment systems and reliable, modern plants.   Also on hand will be the Delaware Rural Water Association who will provide their on-site working  water system which allows visitors to see what goes on in-between the well and to your tap at home including, water filtration, chemical injection and water storage tank.  The on-site training trailer allows the public to see the science and processes needed to receive clean drinking water every day. The on-site trailer also demonstrates water testing equipment, hydrant, safety equipment and training information.

 SPECIAL GUESTS will be on hand for photo ops – Stop by and meet Woodsy Owl, Sammy Soil and Power Panther!

 SPECIAL MUSICAL GUESTS Mucho Gusto who are Sam Morgan and Tabby.

Earth Day 2010-Observing the 40th Anniversary of an Earth Changing Idea – A Time of Service

By Secretary Tom Vilsack

On Earth Day’s 40th anniversary, Americans across the country will be taking time out of their busy lives to help improve the environment, and USDA is joining the effort.  From the mall in Washington DC, to the sands of New Mexico and plains of North Dakota, USDA employees are joining local residents at over 100 Earth Day events designed to encourage Americans across the country to take action.

At USDA, we are dedicating Earth Day 2010 to improving water quality.  With that theme in mind, if you are in the area of the National Mall on April 22, come to the People’s Garden where 17 USDA agencies and offices will hold our second annual Earth Day festival.  This festival is open to the public to educate folks about the role USDA plays in improving water quality and water conservation. There will be live music – and a host of educational activities to see and do including: a truck farm, an on-site working water system, water quality demonstrations, green roofs, and planting activities.  Among the featured speakers will be Dave White, Chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

However, if you’re not in the Washington DC area, see if you can join us in one of the other USDA-sponsored events around the country, many of them open for participation by volunteers.  For instance, in Ohio, NRCS and the Farm Service Agency will join together to enroll 100,000 acres into the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program. The Forest Service will host 50 events alone, including one involving 400 students in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska.  Rural Development staff will join REI in a cleanup of the Monongahela River near Pittsburgh.  For a complete list of the events and activities, along with a message from President Obama on the importance of Earth Day, go to:

Many of these events will also provide an opportunity to reflect on the environmental benefits we rarely appreciate.  Many Americans don’t know the valuable benefits that landscapes like forests, grasslands and farmlands bring to their daily lives.  Our National Forests and Grasslands alone provide nearly 20% of the nation’s water supply.  And tens of millions of Americans rely on water that comes from our working lands: our farms, ranches and privately-owned forests.

Working to ensure that our nation’s water resources, forests, and private working lands are conserved for the next generation is a top priority for USDA.  Our U.S. Forest Service works to care for the 193 million acres of land with which they are entrusted.  And with the help of USDA programs, America’s farmers, ranchers and forest owners have embraced their role as stewards of our natural resources.  They have implemented conservation practices on tens of millions of acres across the nation to provide us with clean air to breath and water to drink, to improve and maintain wildlife habitats, and to capture carbon to combat global warming.

On Earth Day, I know that millions of Americans are taking individual responsibility for the health of our environment.  And I know that this year – and for decades to come – USDA will be there to help them in that effort.

This constructed wetland near Jackson, Wyoming provides habitat for fish and other wildlife.
This constructed wetland near Jackson, Wyoming provides habitat for fish and other wildlife.

Under Secretary Concannon Visits Riverside for Farmer’s Market Salad Bar Program 5th Anniversary

USDA Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon

On Friday, I had the opportunity to join a celebration of the 5th anniversary of Riverside Unified School District’s internationally recognized Farmers’ Market Salad Bar Program in Riverside, Cali.  The successful program began as a pilot farm to school salad bar program and today provides healthier options on the menus in the Riverside School District.

The salad bar program at the Riverside Unified School District provides a unique opportunity for students to not only enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables from local farmers but to also grow their own produce. The partnership among schools, community, and local and state government is essential to building healthy dietary behaviors for our nation’s next generation.

I enjoyed meeting Rodney Taylor, school district director of nutrition services, who is often referred to as the “King of Farm to School.” Taylor revolutionized food service in the school district, providing high-quality meals cooked from scratch using locally-sourced ingredients at the middle and high schools. Twenty-nine of the district’s 30 elementary schools offer a daily farmers’ market salad bar. Thirty-three percent of the elementary students choose the salad bar for lunch. Since the program started, lunch participation has increased from 47 to 65 percent.

The Farm to School program at Riverside Unified School District is not just limited to the lunch tray—students also learn from a registered dietician about the benefits of eating fresh fruits and vegetables. Local farmers also visit and help students understand how and where healthy foods come from.

“We are excited to celebrate this milestone with the entire community,” said Taylor. “Five years ago, we began an incredibly ambitious project to bring fresh produce to as many students as possible. The Farmers’ Market Salad Bar program has allowed us to do just that.”

As part of the USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, members from the USDA Farm to School Team will visit Riverside Unified School District. During their visit, the team will work with local farmers, local and state authorities, school districts, and community partners to learn about Riverside’s farm to school efforts, including how the activities first began, the relationship between growers and the school district, what obstacles exist or were faced along the way, and the benefits the activities have had on the school and the community.

USDA Under Secretary Kevin Concannon chats with Emerson Elementary School’s Green Team students.
USDA Under Secretary Kevin Concannon chats with Emerson Elementary School’s Green Team students.

Emerson Elementary School Green Team students volunteer their lunch recess to work in the garden (composting, planting, exploring and experimenting) each day with a passion.
Emerson Elementary School Green Team students volunteer their lunch recess to work in the garden (composting, planting, exploring and experimenting) each day with a passion.


Your Health, Our National Security

By Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack

Today I joined U.S. Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) and retired admirals and generals from the non-profit group, Mission: Readiness, to release the results of a study on obesity among young adults. The report delivered some disturbing news – more than 9 million young adults, age 17 to 24, are now too overweight to join the military.  But with this news comes opportunity and optimism to help our kids across the country to lead healthier lifestyles.

The Mission: Readiness group, which consists of more than 130 retired admirals, generals and other military leaders, has shown America that the obesity epidemic is threatening the nation’s security, and is calling on Congress to support the administration’s proposal of an increase of $1 billion per year for ten years for child nutrition programs.

As Congress debates reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, it is important to recognize the historical context and future impact this legislation will have on our nation – our economy, our national security, and our communities. Immediately after the World War II, our leaders understood the importance of investing in good nutrition to ensure that the country would never want for healthy, strong, young people to serve in uniform.  And so, in 1946, President Harry Truman signed the National School Lunch Act – which formed the basis for the nutrition programs we still have in place today.

Fast forward 60 years and we are faced with a generation of young Americans that are not healthy or fit enough to serve their country as their forefathers have.  The Obama Administration and Mission Readiness stand united behind the following priorities for the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act: get the junk food out of our schools; support increased funding to improve nutritional standards and the quality of meals served in schools; and provide more children access to effective programs that cut obesity.

This is a crisis that strikes at the core value of service to country and community. Let this study serve as a call to action for all Americans. What can you do to help your country? Get fit, get active, get healthy

Remembering USDA’s Own

Fifteen years ago, USDA and all of America experienced a tragedy that shook us to the core and united us in ways that brought out the best in our country.  At 9:02 am Central Standard Time on April 19, 1995, a bomb exploded in the A.P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, killing 168 innocent people.  Ninety-eight victims were Federal employees.

Seven of those were members of the USDA family.  In honor of these seven victims, the Riverdale, MD, conference center was renamed “The Oklahoma City Memorial Conference Center” and a portrait titled “Heroes of America’s Harvest” has been permanently displayed outside the center since 2005. Read more »