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Secretary’s Column: USDA Support Keeps Old Glory Flying High

What began as a small sail-making shop in 19th century New York City has evolved into the modern realization of one family’s American Dream—a family-owned and –operated small business whose product has been a part of some of the most iconic images in our nation’s history.

Alexander Annin’s sail-making shop, established in the 1820s, has evolved into the oldest and largest flag company in the United States and is still in operation today. Commencing with Zachary Taylor’s 1849 presidential inauguration; to the flag-draped coffin of President Abraham Lincoln in 1865; onward to the iconic image of U.S. Marines hoisting the flag on Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi in 1945; to the flag planted by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon in 1969—all were Annin-made flags. Read more »

From an Orchard in California to a Table in Canada and Beyond

Seen here are David Anthony and Antonia Praljak of Oro Loma Ranch/Ruby Fresh Pomegranate. They are proudly promoting their new “Salad Jewels“ product line, which was introduced at the 2013 Canadian Produce Marketing Association (CPMA) trade show.

Seen here are David Anthony and Antonia Praljak of Oro Loma Ranch/Ruby Fresh Pomegranate. They are proudly promoting their new “Salad Jewels“ product line, which was introduced at the 2013 Canadian Produce Marketing Association (CPMA) trade show.

What does a pomegranate need to do to get from an orchard in California to a dining table in Canada? The pomegranate doesn’t have to do anything, but U.S. growers must prepare the ground for their products in more ways than one. It takes knowledge and resources to bring U.S. food and agricultural products to the global marketplace – a daunting challenge for many farmers and small businesses.

But help is available. USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) supports four non-profit trade organizations, called State Regional Trade Groups (SRTGs), that provide hands-on support and assistance to U.S. small-and medium-size companies seeking to build a global business. SRTGs, working in conjunction with the state departments of agriculture in their respective regions, can help beginning exporters with everything from learning the fundamentals of exporting to identifying overseas opportunities and finding potential distributors. With support from FAS’ Market Access Program, SRTGs also help fund international marketing campaigns and promote U.S. farm and food products overseas. Read more »

Celebrating the Blueberry – A Fruit and an Industry That Really Packs a Punch

In addition to purchasing blueberries for federal food distribution programs, AMS supports the blueberry industry through grant programs like the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. This program offers funds to states to support research and marketing projects that do things such as increasing crop yields. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council.

In addition to purchasing blueberries for federal food distribution programs, AMS supports the blueberry industry through grant programs like the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. This program offers funds to states to support research and marketing projects that do things such as increasing crop yields. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council.

Blueberries are often highly sought after because of their long list of health benefits and their sweet taste. Whether purchased fresh, frozen, or pureed, the blueberry has long been a staple in the diets of many people. Every July, the entire nation celebrates Blueberry Month by coming up with creative recipes and other unique ways to get their fill. Here at USDA, every month is Blueberry Month. One of the ways that we show our appreciation for our nation’s blueberry producers and processors is by creating more opportunities for people to enjoy this delicious fruit.

Indigenous to North America, the history of blueberries can be traced all the way back to Native Americans, who added them to soups, stews, and even meats. Highbush or cultivated blueberries are grown on large bushes that are planted in rows. These blueberries are often sent to the fresh market. Lowbush or wild blueberries produce smaller sized berries and are pruned every couple of years. The majority of lowbush blueberries are processed into items like jams, jellies and baked goods. Read more »

Respect the Grill Flames

A family dinner of marinated chicken and grilled vegetables. Photo by Christopher Leonard.

A family dinner of marinated chicken and grilled vegetables. Photo by Christopher Leonard.

With Independence Day just around the corner, families across the nation are making preparations to honor the day as the grill chef, king of Castle Suburbia, lord of the living room, master of the flames, marches forth.

With a meaty feast to honor the day, the Fourth of July has become almost as much a celebration of grilling greatness as it is a celebration of the nation’s independence. However, all that glitters isn’t gold and an infection of Salmonellosis can quickly knock the grill king off his throne and onto another.

Fittingly, the Fourth of July sits in the middle of grilling season. The amber flames roaring up between the grill grates can easily give the false impression of bringing death to all bacteria. However, don’t be misled. Preparing burgers on the grill is a quest that must be tackled safely. Taking the four oaths of food safety (clean, separate, cook and chill) will ensure a feast free from visits to the porcelain throne, or worse, a trip to the emergency room. Read more »

Fighting to Preserve and Conserve Virginia’s Historic Battlefields

Mike Liskey, right, refers to a site map while discussing ongoing conservation projects with Chase Milner, with the foundation, and Amy Roscher, with the Virginia Farming television program. NRCS photo.

Mike Liskey, right, refers to a site map while discussing ongoing conservation projects with Chase Milner, with the foundation, and Amy Roscher, with the Virginia Farming television program. NRCS photo.

Three out of every five Civil War battles were fought in Virginia, so it should come as no surprise that some of the work of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is taking place on hallowed ground. In Winchester, Va., the agency is partnering with the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation to protect historic and natural resources on part of the Third Winchester Battlefield.

The foundation has discovered that keeping these sites in agricultural use is an economical way to maintain them. They have worked with NRCS since 2009 to preserve and conserve Huntsberry Farm, a 209-acre farm where cattle still graze today.

NRCS District Conservationist Mike Liskey helped Chase Milner, the foundation’s manager of stewardship, with conservation planning to address their concerns about water quality and invasive species while protecting vital cultural resources. Read more »