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Organization Honors Farmers for Outreach Efforts, Innovation

Alphonse and Martha Dotson worked with NRCS to conserve water and improve soil health on their Texas vineyard.

Alphonse and Martha Dotson worked with NRCS to conserve water and improve soil health on their Texas vineyard.

The National Organization of Professional Black Natural Resources Conservation Service Employees recently honored three farm families at their annual outreach and agricultural education exposition.

The Lloyd Wright Small Farmer Award is named after the organization’s founder. The award is given to producers who share a passion for improving awareness and development in the field of agriculture. The organization selected Kentucky rancher William E. Boulden, Jr. for first place, Texas grape growers Alphonse and Martha Dotson for second, and Mississippi ranchers Percy and Emma Brown for third. Read more »

Celebrate the Chinese New Year While Being Citrus Smart

If you are sending citrus gifts, learn how to do it responsibly by visiting www.saveourcitrus.org

If you are sending citrus gifts, learn how to do it responsibly by visiting www.saveourcitrus.org

Out with the snake, in with horse! January 31 marks the start of the Chinese New Year. Many people will be enjoying the rich cultural traditions of this holiday such as food, parades and exchanging gifts. One traditional Chinese New Year gift is citrus fruit, such as mandarin oranges and tangerines. This fruit is said to bring luck, wealth and prosperity.

However, without proper precautions citrus can also bring something else that may not be so favorable—the Asian citrus psyllid. This pest carries citrus greening disease, also known as Huanglongbing (HLB), a disease threatening the commercial citrus industry and homegrown citrus trees alike. Although it is not harmful to humans or animals, the disease is fatal for citrus trees and has no known cure. Read more »

Report: Cultivated Fruit, Nut and Flower Acres on the Rise

Barbara Robinson gets ready to plant tomatoes in her high tunnel at her farm, B&W Orchards. Robinson specializes in blueberries but grows other fruits and vegetables. Photo by NRCS.

Barbara Robinson gets ready to plant tomatoes in her high tunnel at her farm, B&W Orchards. Robinson specializes in blueberries but grows other fruits and vegetables. Photo by NRCS.

Known to her neighbors in Clarke County, Miss. as the blueberry lady, Barbara Robinson has a vibrant 20-acre farm packed with blueberries, muscadines and other produce. Robinson is one of the nation’s many fruit growers, and a recent USDA report shows the land dedicated to growing cultivated fruits, nuts and flowers is rapidly growing.

The National Resources Inventory released recently by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service shows a boom in land dedicated to growing fruits, nuts and flowers, increasing from 124,800 acres in 2007 to 273,800 in 2010. Cultivated refers to farms that plant a second crop amid the fruit, nut and flower crop. This finding is one of many in the newest NRI report.

While the report only provides the numbers and doesn’t make inferences, experts at NRCS say one reason for the growth is more available assistance to fruit, nut and flower growers. Read more »

Beginning Farmer Seeks Greener Pastures, Sustainable Future

NRCS District Conservationist Kate Parsons discusses pasture management with Sean Stanton. NRCS photo.

NRCS District Conservationist Kate Parsons discusses pasture management with Sean Stanton. NRCS photo.

When Sean Stanton started improving the pastures surrounding his small farm in Great Barrington, Mass., his efforts not only benefited the natural resources of this scenic southwest corner of Berkshire County but also diners at a Manhattan restaurant.

That’s because he supplies the Blue Hill Restaurant in New York City’s Greenwich Village with pasture-raised beef, veal and pork, as well as eggs and farm-fresh tomatoes. At Blue Hills Farm in Massachusetts, a herd of 20 or so cattle feed in a field skirted by the Appalachian Trail and the rolling Berkshire hills.  Some of the farm’s products stay in the Berkshires and some make their way to bigger markets less than three hours away in the Big Apple. Read more »

New Mobile App Eases Nutrient Application Recordkeeping Requirements

Balance sheet, database, ledger, fertilizer.  Which of these does not belong?

Trick question – they all belong and all are important to a farmer, but sometimes even farmers don’t realize just how important.

Farmers face a multitude of challenges every day, but record keeping is usually not the first one that comes to mind. Now, thanks to a team of researchers at University of Vermont (UVM), farmers have an easy-to-use tool that can help them save money and avoid potential fines. Read more »

Cooking Up Change Competition Kicks Off in Chicago

“Cooking Up Change” involved more than one hundred students and over 700 guests.

“Cooking Up Change” involved more than one hundred students and over 700 guests.

This November I served as a judge in the 2013-14 kick off Cooking Up Change competition here in Chicago. What is “Cooking Up Change”?  It’s a culinary competition sponsored by the Healthy Schools Campaign that challenges Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students and others across the U.S to create and prepare meals that are healthy and tasty and also follow National School Lunch Program requirements. This competition empowers students to have a voice about school meals and nutrition. On top of that, it’s a lot of fun for everyone involved!

The day of the competition I prepared by reviewing the rules, reading meal requirements, and skipping lunch. When I arrived at the event, I was impressed to see how many fellow judges there were and the wide range of food experts sitting around me. The competition got started and teams from fourteen schools started presenting their meals to us. The students brought in three or four cafeteria trays and gave each judge a sample. Judging was based on visual appearance, taste, presentation, and originality. Some students set themselves apart by being very well-polished when explaining the dishes, or by adding some creativity with music and costumes that reflected the meal’s ethic background. The competition was really tough, and ranking thee dishes was no easy task. Every meal had something that stood out, and often I found myself saying “I would order this at a restaurant!” Each dish was so delicious that by the end I could not eat one more bite! Read more »