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Alaska’s Chugach National Forest Provides a World-Class Training Ground for Olympic Hopefuls

Ski athletes come from all over the world to train on the Chugach National Forest, spending 25 to 30 hours a week in the challenging, variable conditions found on Eagle Glacier. The Alaskan Pacific University operated seven camps, each with about 20 athletes this summer. (Courtesy U.S. Ski Team Women’s Coach/Coach Matt Whitcomb)

Ski athletes come from all over the world to train on the Chugach National Forest, spending 25 to 30 hours a week in the challenging, variable conditions found on Eagle Glacier. The Alaskan Pacific University operated seven camps, each with about 20 athletes this summer. (Courtesy U.S. Ski Team Women’s Coach/Coach Matt Whitcomb)

America’s elite, Olympic-bound Nordic skiers have a high-altitude secret they hope will give them an edge in Sochi, Russia, during the 2014 Winter Olympics in late February.

Team members take a 10-minute helicopter ride from sea level up to Eagle Glacier on Alaska’s Chugach National Forest, the most northern national forest in the U.S. The environment there mimics what they expect to find in Sochi.

The glacier, 5,500 feet above Girdwood, Alaska, is home to the Thomas Training Center operated under permit by the Alaska Pacific University Nordic Ski Center. The ski center was established in the late 1990s as a model for creating international success in American Nordic skiing. Read more »

One Seed at a Time: Plant Materials Center in Los Lunas, New Mexico Helps Restore the Grand Canyon’s South Rim

Grasses grown from the NRCS Plant Materials Center in Los Lunas line the edge of Mather Point in the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

Grasses grown from the NRCS Plant Materials Center in Los Lunas line the edge of Mather Point in the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

For more than 20 years, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has been growing seeds for the Grand Canyon National Park and other national parks.

When the National Park Service renovated the Grand Canyon’s South Rim visitor center in 2008, they looked to the NRCS Plants Materials Center in Los Lunas, N.M. to produce the seed needed to restore native grasses in the area.

Now, driving along eight miles of twists and turns of the South Rim, you can see the bright green grasses surrounding the parking lots, roads, and popular viewpoints including Prima Point, Hermit’s Rest and the Bright Angel Trailhead. Read more »

Secretary Vilsack: Why I’m Proud of Our USDA Employees

USDA employees across the country and around the world do critical work that impacts millions of lives. I am proud of our employees for many reasons, and I want to share just a few of their great accomplishments under the Obama Administration.

  1. Since 2009 the Rural Housing Service has financed 743,309 home loans.
  2. Since 2009 the Rural Housing Service supported improvements to 276 hospital and medical clinics, 166 schools and 401 libraries in rural America.
  3. Since 2009 the Rural Utilities Service completed 176 broadband projects providing new or improved service to 104,471 subscribers, including 5,858 businesses and 647 critical community facilities.
  4. Since 2009 the Rural Utilities Service financed 3,785 water projects providing clean water to thousands of rural residents.
  5. Since 2009 the Rural Business Service awarded 15,727 grants and loans to aid 65,636 businesses expand opportunity and create jobs.
  6. Since 2009 the Rural Business Service authorized 7,586 awards under the Rural Energy for America Program, saving or generating 8,549,590 megawatt hours of energy.
  7. Since 2009 the Food, Nutrition and Consumer Service expanded summer feeding programs to an additional 9,546 sites, bringing the total number of sites to 42,266.
  8. Since 2009 the Food, Nutrition and Consumer Service instituted Electronic Benefit Transfer systems in an additional 3,087 Farmers Markets to allow SNAP beneficiaries greater access to fresh fruits and vegetables while supporting more local and regional food systems.
  9. Since 2009 the Farm Service Agency processed 159,475 loans to farmers and ranchers, with a majority of the loans going to beginning farmers and ranchers, and socially disadvantaged producers.
  10. Since 2009 the Natural Resources Conservation Service entered into 190,822 contracts under Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), providing conservation benefits for more than 108 million acres.
  11. Since 2009 the Farm Service Agency enrolled 286,635 Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contracts, bringing into this conservation effort or retaining 14,131,055 acres.
  12. Since 2009 the Forest Service partnered with state and local interests in 23 projects under the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program to improve over 500,000 acres of forests, producing 1.2 million tons of biomass for renewable energy production.
  13. Since 2009 the Forest Service and the brave men and women of the Service have helped fight more than 285,000 forest fires, risking their lives to protect lives and property.
  14. Since 2009 the National Institute of Food and Agriculture supported research projects resulting in 392 patent applications.
  15. Since 2009 the Agricultural Research Service in the area of Genetics, Genomes and Biotechnology alone generated over 3,500 publications, 830 Material Transfer Agreements, and 70 patent applications filed.
  16. Since 2009, the Foreign Agricultural Service helped challenge 751 sanitary and phytosanitary barriers to the export of American agricultural products, helping to spur record exports of American agricultural products.
  17. Since 2009 the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service reduced processing time for non-regulated status petitions involving biotechnology by 332 days.
  18. Since 2009 the Agricultural Marketing Service assisted in purchasing $6.8 billion of product, helping to stabilize producer income.
  19. Since 2009 the Food Safety and Inspection Service adopted new Performance Standards for poultry and turkey inspections that will prevent 25,000 illnesses a year due to Salmonella and Campylobacter.
  20. The Food Safety and Inspection Service partnered with the Ad Council to launch the “Food Safe Families” ad campaign.  Since then, USDA consumer food safety messages have reached an estimated 291 million people, helping families and caregivers of young children prepare safe food.
  21. The National Agricultural Statistics Service worked on the 2012 Agricultural Census and obtained a response rate of over 80 percent to the survey sent to more than 3 million producers.
  22. Since 2009 the Economic Research Service has published, on a yearly basis, a fact sheet on the condition of the rural economy that highlights persistent poverty and employment challenges that rural America faces, reminding policymakers of the importance of addressing those challenges.
  23. Since 2009, the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration has identified more than 460 instances of underfunded market accounts of funds held in trust for livestock sellers, and 110 instances of market weighing violations, returning to producers over $14,000,000.
  24. Since 2009, USDA’s Departmental Management has spearheaded the Blueprint for Stronger Service that has saved USDA more than $920 million – an effort which to date has allowed USDA to avoid furloughs and layoffs as a result of the sequester.

These are just 24 of the hundreds of examples of extraordinary work going on around the country by USDA employees. Our nation is truly fortunate that so many dedicated people serving the American public are back to work, so that these accomplishments can continue to grow.

 

We Still Want to Hear Your #MyFarmBill Stories!

As we get back to work following the lapse in appropriations, USDA remains focused on sharing the importance of Farm Bill programs for all Americans. A Food, Farm and Jobs Bill is critical to growing the rural economy, providing nutrition to families in need, strengthening agricultural research, growing a biobased economy and much more.

Now that we’re back to work, our #MyFarmBill social media campaign is ramping back up, and we need to hear from you! We’re asking agriculture and rural stakeholders from across the nation to continue sharing stories on how #MyFarmBill impacts you – using Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and other tools. Your input will build on the incredible response we’ve already seen – videos, photos and tweets that you can view here. Read more »

Taste “Tests” at School Introduce Kids to Healthy Choices

Dime Rosser, 7, a student at Clinton Elementary School, takes a look at kale. Photo courtesy of Spencer Ainsley, Poughkeepsie Journal.

Dime Rosser, 7, a student at Clinton Elementary School, takes a look at kale. Photo courtesy of Spencer Ainsley, Poughkeepsie Journal.

I don’t know how many times I’ve told my children, “Go on, give it a try,” or, “Try it, you might like it.” Tired as those two phrases might be, they’re true. How do you know if you like something if you’ve never tried it? And when it comes to leafy green vegetables and third graders, the truth is, many have never tried things like kale, chard or collard greens.

That’s changing as more and more schools hand out a different kind of test. “Taste tests” give children an opportunity to try new, healthy foods and, equally important, they give schools good information about how to introduce healthy, new foods on the school menu. Say for example a school would like to serve butternut squash. Are the kids more likely to eat it when it is pureed or baked? Read more »

Cheney Public Schools Puts USDA Planning Grant to Work

Cheney Public Schools (CPS) is a 7-school district in rural eastern Washington State. Of the 4,135 students who attend CPS, more than 2,000 are eligible for free and reduced price school lunch, and more than 30 percent are obese. Several years ago, realizing the need to improve child nutrition, the district began to take some modest steps to that end, including initiating a scratch cooking program and participating in a regional childhood obesity prevention initiative.

Upon receiving a USDA Farm to School Planning Grant in November 2012, CPS developed an eight-member team, comprised of school district officials and community partners, to lead their efforts. The group, which meets every four to six weeks, has done extensive research to determine the most effective path forward and has leveraged relationships with a range of partners to accomplish a great deal in a short period of time. Read more »