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Alaska Growers Net Many Benefits from Seasonal High Tunnel

A high tunnel like this one in Alaska’s Matanuska-Susitna Valley lengthen the growing season for Alaska farmers.

A high tunnel like this one in Alaska’s Matanuska-Susitna Valley lengthen the growing season for Alaska farmers.

Seasonal high tunnels have lots of benefits, especially in a state like Alaska where cold weather leaves a short growing season. They are incredible garden heaters, season extenders and profit generating machines for Alaska growers.

Seasonal high tunnels allow farmers like Alex and Kelly Strawn in Lazy Mountain, part of Alaska’s Matanuska Valley, to save on energy costs, control where to put water and fertilizer and grow more variety of vegetables for a longer period of time.

Because of these benefits, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provides assistance to farmers wanting to build a high tunnel. Read more »

A Home for the Holidays

Robert Tapia, a single father of two, is pictured outside the Reedley, Calif. home he proudly helped build with ten other families through USDA's Mutual Self-Help Housing Loan program in partnership with Self-Help Enterprises, which celebrated the completion of its 6,000th home last week. (USDA photo)

Robert Tapia, a single father of two, is pictured outside the Reedley, Calif. home he proudly helped build with ten other families through USDA's Mutual Self-Help Housing Loan program in partnership with Self-Help Enterprises, which celebrated the completion of its 6,000th home last week. (USDA photo)

The holidays will be extra special this year for 11 families in Reedley, Calif., who received the keys to their homes during a celebration ceremony December 19. The group spent nearly 10 months building each other’s homes through USDA’s Mutual Self-Help Housing Loan program.

The rules of the program are simple, though not necessarily easy. Ten- to 12 families are grouped together to pool their efforts. Each family is required to put in a minimum of 40 hours a week working on all the homes and no one moves in until every home is completed. Together, families pour foundations, frame homes, install electrical wiring, hang doors and windows and even lay tile and paint. Their labor – “sweat equity” – acts as a down payment for the home, and USDA Rural Development provides the families with mortgages through the Single Family Housing Direct Loan Program. Read more »

Recycling Christmas Trees on National Forests a Seasonal Tradition

Recycled trees placed in a fish crib. (U.S. Forest Service)

Recycled trees placed in a fish crib. (U.S. Forest Service)

For many, purchasing or cutting a Christmas tree is a favorite seasonal tradition. But what do you do with your trees after the festivities end?

Tree recycling after the holidays has become part of community traditions on several Eastern Region national forests. Recycled trees can be used to establish fish habitats, create mulch for future plantings and build soil erosion barriers. Using the trees for these purposes also keeps them from filling up local landfills.

Land managers of several national forests in the area have found that the old Christmas trees can be used to make a cozy home for schools of fish. Fish habitats create ideal spawning grounds to ensure successful reproduction, a place of refuge and shade for the young, and shelter from predators. Also, fish habitats provide a food source – a breeding ground for algae and plankton to attract bait fish and lure larger fish to favorite fishing spots. Read more »