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“The Big Garden” Spreads Like Wildflower

By USDA Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships

Inner city Omaha is an economically distressed area, especially among the predominantly African-American and senior populations. Poverty rates and obesity among young people are high and access to healthy, affordable food is low, especially for those who need it most.

Rev. Stephanie Ahlschwede, Executive Director of United Methodist Ministries for the Missouri River District, began “The Big Garden” project in 2005, aided by a grant from the USDA Community Food Projects.  Five gardens were established in 2006 and were met with a resoundingly enthusiastic response.  Just three years later, The Big Garden network had grown to 22 gardens through collaboration with area churches and a variety of community organizations. Residents have their choice of simply donating time to the gardens or taking responsibility for cultivating and caring for a plot of their own and then harvesting and enjoying the results. As part of the initial design of the program, a portion of the fresh produce is donated to seniors in the neighborhood.

Through a cooperative program with a local nursing association, cooking classes are taught as part of the area’s after school programs. Many of the young people participating have never eaten fresh fruits and vegetables. With the benefit of a grant from the Omaha Public Power Department, the project has planted a number of fruit and nut trees. According to Project Manager Jessica Mews, the young people working in the gardens love the fresh produce as well as many of the products generated from the gardens. Kale chips are a particular favorite and, according to Mews, the kids can’t get enough of them.

The Big Garden is now on to the next phase, a garden in rural Nebraska — “The Big Rural Garden Project of Southeast Nebraska.” An acre of land in Auburn, a small rural community nearby, was donated and the local Methodist Church is managing the program. They are also collaborating with the local United Way Fund using a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to fight obesity. In 2008, the Sierra Club recognized the Big Garden as one of 50 exceptional faith-based environmental initiatives in the U.S.

Enjoying the community garden at the United Methodist Wesley in Omaha.

Enjoying the community garden at the United Methodist Wesley in Omaha.

 

Appalachian Early Child Development Center Receives Expansion Funds through USDA

For working parents in isolated rural communities, quality child care is a lifeline that allows them an opportunity to obtain employment so they can provide for their families. Read more »

Indiana Students Show USDA How to Eat Healthy and Be Active in School

By Susie Stanfield, Fishers Elementary Physical Education Teacher, Fishers, IN (near Indianapolis)

We were really excited when USDA Food and Nutrition Deputy Administrator Audrey Rowe visited our school on Friday, May 21st. Students from Mrs. Trees’ 3rd grade class showed Ms. Rowe how fun it is to exercise in school by participating in a cardio/station activity focused on the “Indy 500 Race.” After class, everyone went to the cafeteria for lunch prepared by Tracy Huser, our cafeteria manager, and her staff. Ms. Rowe held a roundtable with parents, teachers, students, and our district administrators to discuss nutrition and school lunch options. We’re all hoping these ideas will help develop healthy eating habits for years to come and assist the next generation in fighting obesity and health problems.

Third graders in Fishers Elementary gym class.
Third graders in Fishers Elementary gym class.

Deputy Administrator Audrey Rowe joins the Fishers Elementary School lunch line.
Deputy Administrator Audrey Rowe joins the Fishers Elementary School lunch line.

Deputy Adminstrator Audrey Rowe enjoys lunch with third graders at Fishers Elementary School.
Deputy Adminstrator Audrey Rowe enjoys lunch with third graders at Fishers Elementary School.

Compost: A Gardner’s Basic Ally

Today, the People’s Garden hosted a workshop about composting. Pat Millner, who has done a lot of research on composting and utilizing compost at the USDA-Agricultural Research Service’s Beltsville Agricultural Research Center in Maryland, taught it. It was fantastically fun and informative, and Pat brought in several examples of composters for us to see. Read more »

Getting Feedback, Building Friendships in Montana

Darlene Barnes, Regional Administrator for the FNS Mountain Plains Regional Office

Taking the time to meet the people who use FNS programs and services is the best way to understand what works.  It also helps build important relationships and gets the word out to those who most need FNS support.

FNS Administrator Julie Paradis spent the week of May 24 doing just that – on the move in Montana gathering great feedback about nutrition issues and programs across the state.  A CNR Roundtable at Lolo Elementary in Lolo, Montana brought more than 30 school lunch workers, administrators, interested parents and news media to discuss nutrition needs for Montana’s underserved children.

On the Flathead Reservation in Pablo, Montana, Paradis met with leadership of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and toured several Food Distribution Nutrition Education grant demonstration gardens designed to teach the roots of good food all the way through to learning delicious recipes for preparing home grown and commodity foods.

In Bozeman, Montana, Paradis presented a HealthierUS  Schools Gold Award to Morning Star Elementary for their excellent work in promoting exercise and healthy eating habits.

FNS Administrator Julie Paradis discusses FNS programs with Tonka Howard, host of Good Medicine, at the KSKC Public TV station on the Flathead Reservation.
FNS Administrator Julie Paradis discusses FNS programs with Tonka Howard, host of Good Medicine, at the KSKC Public TV station on the Flathead Reservation.

FNS Administrator Julie Paradis hits the track with a Lolo Elementary student as part of the school’s Mileage Club.
FNS Administrator Julie Paradis hits the track with a Lolo Elementary student as part of the school’s Mileage Club.

FNS Administrator Julie Paradis and Ron Rotzahn, Program Specialist, Helena, Montana Field Office, discuss food distribution challenges at the St. Ignatius Food Distribution center on the Flathead Reservation.
FNS Administrator Julie Paradis and Ron Rotzahn, Program Specialist, Helena, Montana Field Office, discuss food distribution challenges at the St. Ignatius Food Distribution center on the Flathead Reservation.

Student Reporter Asks Tough Questions About Improving School Meals

Cross-posted from the Let’s Move blog

By Sammi Citron, USDA Intern

Reading a Scholastic book, or attending a Scholastic book fair are both rites of passage equal in importance to the first day you walked to school by yourself, or the first time dividing fractions finally made sense. A long-standing tradition within the book-savvy crowd is the Scholastic Kid Press Corps, a group of adolescents eager to be on the front lines of reporting well before they hit their teen years. One of these kids is Jonas Hosmer.

Many twelve-year-olds might be nervous to conduct an interview with someone like Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, but not Jonas Hosmer – a preteen who declares a trip to the hobby store as the ultimate field trip and who dabbles in creating and editing videos in his very own production company – co-owned with his sister and friend – Apple Productions.

“I’m very curious, and I have an open mind to what’s going on around me,” boasts Jonas. “I enjoy interviewing people and learning more about them. Unlike some kids, I’m very comfortable talking with adults and kids, no matter who they are.”

With Jonas’s knack for interviewing, he’s a perfect fit as a member of the Scholastic Kids Press Corps., one of fifty-four student reporters located around the nation writing for Scholastic News and Junior Scholastic magazines. These magazines are featuring stories written by Hosmer and other reporters; the magazines are distributed in U.S. classrooms grades one through twelve with a combined circulation of 8 million and a reach of 25 million students, parents and teachers.

Since childhood obesity is fast becoming one of the most pressing concerns facing kids across the country, Jonas lined up questions for Secretary Vilsack that were aimed to uncover the issues related to school nutrition and ways the Obama administration is working to remedy the problem.

Like any good reporter, Jonas came prepared with a voice recorder and set to work. Seated in Secretary Vilsack’s office, the two chatted and Jonas asked questions like “why is it important for kids to have healthier lunch choices at school?,” and “how is the Let’s Move! campaign working to improve the nutrition and quality of school lunches?”

Outlining the Obama administration’s objectives, Secretary Vilsack helped Jonas to understand not only what kinds of changes kids will see in their school cafeterias when classes resume next fall, but also what steps will be taken to ensure a healthier school environment for the coming generations.

Secretary Vilsack pointed out that while improved school meals are critical to the nutrition and obesity prevention programs, another challenge lies in helping kids stay active and healthy outside of school.

When President Harry Truman signed the National School Lunch Act into effect 64 years ago, he said, “In the long view, no nation is healthier than its children,” and today, the Obama administration agrees. With the help of parents, teachers and administrators in schools throughout the country and students like Jonas, a new generation of leaders is picking up on the decades-old promise.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack (left) granted Jonas Hosmer (right) a reporter with the Scholastic Kids Press Corps an interview on Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack (left) granted Jonas Hosmer (right) a reporter with the Scholastic Kids Press Corps an interview on Wednesday, May 19, 2010