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Secretary’s Column: Commonsense Immigration Reform: Pro-Growth and Pro-Agriculture

A report released this week by the White House economic team shows the benefits of commonsense immigration reform for rural America.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Senate passed a commonsense immigration reform measure in a strongly bipartisan fashion. The Senate plan provides a pathway to earned citizenship for those who are in our country without authorization. They will have to go to the back of the line, pay fines and settle taxes they owe our nation. It would also put in place the toughest border security plan that America has ever seen. Read more »

Smurfs Encourage Kids to Get Outdoors

Young Smurf fans visit the Forest Service’s booth during a community outreach event promoting the Discover the Forest campaign. (U.S. Forest Service photo)

Young Smurf fans visit the Forest Service’s booth during a community outreach event promoting the Discover the Forest campaign. (U.S. Forest Service photo)

Little blue gnome-like creatures helped the U.S. Forest Service kick off its latest campaign to get people out into the woods. Partnering with the Ad Council and Sony Pictures Entertainment, the Forest Service recently launched its Discover the Forest campaign featuring the Smurfs and their new movie, The Smurfs 2.

Studies have shown that the time children in the United States spend outdoors has declined 50 percent over the past 20 years. Population shifts to urban and suburban environments, an increase in children’s indoor activities, and a lack of awareness of, or access to, nearby nature locations have contributed to this trend. However, research shows there are many benefits to kids spending time in nature. Time spent outdoors gives children the ability to explore, use their imaginations, discover new wildlife and engage in unstructured and adventurous play. Read more »

Enjoy Foods from Many Cultures with MyPlate

The summer months often present more leisure time for families and friends to gather together.  These celebrations, like celebrations throughout the year, usually involve food. The USDA wants to make sure that your festive meals are healthy and that’s why the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP) has released a new resource offering 10 tips to wisely celebrate healthier foods and customs. The new tip sheet, which is part of the 10 tips Nutrition Education Series, shows you how to embrace the favorite foods of your culture, as well as foods from other cultures, in a healthier way.

Enjoy Foods from Many Cultures, available for free download at ChooseMyPlate.gov, highlights ways to maintain a healthy diet while preparing and enjoying the food we love.  I recently talked about this with Taylor Durkin, a summer intern at CNPP, who reflected that “One of my favorite tips from this resource is to add a touch of spice. I always use herbs and spices like basil, cilantro, and ginger when I cook. It adds freshness and flavor to my meals!” Read more »

NIFA Grant Addresses Climate Issues Related to Beef Cattle Production

Today, I am on the campus of Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. When I visit universities across the nation, I look forward to meeting with faculty and students to hear about the work they are doing. On this particular visit, I am excited to meet with a research team working on an issue important to all Americans: climate.

As most people are well aware, last year’s drought put tremendous stress on cattle across the nation, especially in the Southern Great Plains. Drought, along with other extreme weather events and climate patterns, threatens food production across the nation. The USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) has provided grant funds to land-grant universities across our nation to develop approaches to mitigate or adapt to the impact of climate change on food production. Earlier this year, NIFA awarded more than $9 million in funding to Oklahoma State University (OSU) to address the vulnerabilities of beef cattle under stress from climate variations. OSU’s goal is to safeguard regional beef production against climate change while mitigating the environmental footprint of agriculture. Read more »

Texas Town Gets out the Arsenic with Help from USDA

Anthony Arredondo takes a water sample at the Freer Water Control and Improvement District Arsenic Removal System Site in Freer, TX on Tuesday, June 18, 2013. USDA Photo by Lance Cheung.

Anthony Arredondo takes a water sample at the Freer Water Control and Improvement District Arsenic Removal System Site in Freer, TX on Tuesday, June 18, 2013. USDA Photo by Lance Cheung.

Arsenic is poisonous. It is also just about everywhere, but it is especially prevalent in the groundwater of the Southwest. In the economically challenged City of Freer, Texas, citizens rely on the Freer Water Control and Improvement District (FWCID) to draw water from the underground Catahoula aquifer and deliver safe drinking water. Naturally occurring arsenic levels have remained constant in the region for more than a century. Then, the Environmental Protection Agency’s new national standards took effect and the City of Freer turned to FWCID to take action.

Aided by financial assistance from the USDA Water and Environmental Program, the FWCID has completed a two-phase approach to meeting the district’s water supply and public safety needs. FWCID first received USDA funding to drill two new water wells, each rated at 167 gallons per minute (now a total of eight wells); 13,600 feet of well collection lines; and 15,000 linear feet of well control line to remotely control the wells, and the delivery of raw water from the well site’s million-gallon holding tank to the new Arsenic Removal System (Phase II). Previously, water flow was manually controlled by FWCID personnel and gravity fed from the well facility to its customers. Read more »