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Ohioans See Giganteus Future

Miscanthus giganteus was a tall, bothersome grass a few years back, a good privacy plant, but to some, just a weed.  It could grow about anywhere, reaching heights of 12-15 feet, and do it perennially for 20 years or more.

Some say Miscanthus giganteus had a bad reputation, but it doesn’t bother Terry Lowe anymore.  He’s hoping to turn it into renewable energy while it grows on 31 acres of his 66-acre farm in Ashtabula County, Ohio. Read more »

NRCS District Conservationist Does Double Duty as Major General in Iraq

Major General Eddy Spurgin conducts key leader engagements with Iraqi military senior leaders in southern Iraq.

Major General Eddy Spurgin conducts key leader engagements with Iraqi military senior leaders in southern Iraq.

When on duty, Major General Eddy M. Spurgin is the commanding general for the 36th Infantry Division of the Texas Army National Guard, but when stateside, he serves as the district conservationist for USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Big Spring, Texas. Read more »

Setting the Record Straight on Beef

As the head of USDA’s public health agency, I am responsible for ensuring that the nation’s commercial supply of meat, poultry, and egg products is safe for American families. I approach this role not only as a food safety expert and a physician, but also as a mother. And I want to address the national conversation over the last few weeks about the safety of Lean Finely Textured Beef (LFTB).

I believe it is important to distinguish people’s concerns about how their food is made from their concerns about food safety. The process used to produce LFTB is safe and has been used for a very long time.  And adding LFTB to ground beef does not make that ground beef any less safe to consume.  Read more »

Organic 101: What the USDA Organic Label Means

This is the third installment of the Organic 101 series that explores different aspects of the USDA organic regulations.

Organic certification requires that farmers and handlers document their processes and get inspected every year. Organic on-site inspections account for every component of the operation, including, but not limited to, seed sources, soil conditions, crop health, weed and pest management, water systems, inputs, contamination and commingling risks and prevention, and record-keeping. Tracing organic products from start to finish is part of the USDA organic promise.

Organic certification requires that farmers and handlers document their processes and get inspected every year. Organic on-site inspections account for every component of the operation, including, but not limited to, seed sources, soil conditions, crop health, weed and pest management, water systems, inputs, contamination and commingling risks and prevention, and record-keeping. Tracing organic products from start to finish is part of the USDA organic promise.

Amidst nutrition facts, ingredients lists, and dietary claims on food packages, “organic” might appear as one more piece of information to decipher when shopping for foods.  So understanding what “organic” really means can help shoppers make informed choices during their next visit to the store or farmers’ market. Read more »

Deputy Under Secretary Cheryl Cook Announces Obama Administration Accomplishments Supporting Renewable Energy

David Fink, owner of Heidel Hollow Farm, described the farm’s energy savings from the 896 panel solar array funded by USDA Rural Development to USDA officials and others gathered at his farm.

David Fink, owner of Heidel Hollow Farm, described the farm’s energy savings from the 896 panel solar array funded by USDA Rural Development to USDA officials and others gathered at his farm.

The sun shone brightly on the 896 panel solar array at Heidel Hollow Farm in Germansville, Penn., as USDA Rural Development Deputy Under Secretary Cheryl L. Cook, other USDA officials and guests celebrated the farm’s successful renewable energy project and the announcement of a new USDA Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Report. Heidel Hollow Farm, a family-owned, 1,600 acre hay farm, was awarded two USDA  Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) grants in 2010. The grants were used toward a solar energy project that provides approximately 252,800 KW of electricity used in the hay compressing operation of the farm and an energy efficiency project that replaced one diesel engine with five electric motors, saving over 8,000 gallons of diesel fuel each year.  The compactor increases the density of baled hay by 2 1/2 times for more efficient shipping to overseas customers. Read more »

Increasing Access to Locally Grown and Healthy Food

Cross posted from the White House blog:

Three years ago, I was asked to participate in the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity, out of which grew the First Lady’s Let’s Move! initiative. In May 2010, we submitted a report to the President that made a series of recommendations for addressing the challenges of obesity and hunger, both of which stem from a lack of access to good, healthy food.  The report identified local food systems as a strategy to combat food access problems, and specifically called upon the USDA “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” Initiative to provide technical and financial assistance to help communities grow and process their own food, and create jobs at the same time.

I’m pleased to report that we’ve made a lot of progress since 2009 – and we have two new tools to help communities learn about what we’ve done and tap into USDA resources to develop their own solutions. The new Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass is a document packed with photos, video and case studies of communities building strong local food systems. Farmers’ markets, mobile produce vendors, farm to school initiatives, and food hubs are just a few of many examples highlighted by the Compass. The Healthy Food Access section shows how communities are using USDA resources to promote health and the local economy. Read more »