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U.S. College Students Earn Title of “Earth’s Best” in International Soils Judging Contest

Left to right: Coach John Galbraith, with students Tyler Witkowski, Kyle Weber, Emily Salkind, Caitlin Hodges, Nancy Kammerer, Bianca Peixoto, Julia Gillespie, Brian Maule, and Coach Chris Baxter.

Left to right: Coach John Galbraith, with students Tyler Witkowski, Kyle Weber, Emily Salkind, Caitlin Hodges, Nancy Kammerer, Bianca Peixoto, Julia Gillespie, Brian Maule, and Coach Chris Baxter.

While many tuned in to watch the World Cup to see which team would become the globe’s soccer champs, others watched a competition of a different kind: one that named the earth’s best identifiers of slices of earth.

College students from the United States competed with teams from nine other countries to see who could best interpret soil. America took first and second in the inaugural International Soil Judging Contest. And American contest Tyler Witkowski also won second place overall of 45 contestants.

“Soil and land judging at the high school and college level is a baseline entry for young people to study the land and learn to read the landscape so that they can better manage and protect it,” said Maxine Levin, with the National Soil Survey Center of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.  NRCS is the United States’ premier private lands conservation agency, originally founded to conserve and map the nation’s soils. Levin helped prepare the contest and served as a judge. Read more »

USDA Partnerships Make Great Things Happen in Rural America: Disabled Woman Walks Across the Threshold of Her Own Home

Collette Brandt and her miniature pinschers enjoy their new home, particularly the large yard and beautiful tree. Collette walks the dogs through her new neighborhood as part of her therapy.

Collette Brandt and her miniature pinschers enjoy their new home, particularly the large yard and beautiful tree. Collette walks the dogs through her new neighborhood as part of her therapy.

This summer, USDA is highlighting partnerships to invest in the future of rural America. Our partners work with us year after year to leverage resources and grow economic opportunities. They are the key to ensuring our rural communities thrive. Follow more of our stories at #RuralPartners.

In recognition of National Homeownership Month, we recently cut the ribbon to Collette Brandt’s home. Collette has seen a lot of struggles over the past three years.  After falling at home and tragically severing her spinal column, the occupational therapist was told she may never walk again. The tragedy coincided with the end of a long term relationship and Collette had to move in with a co-worker.  Determined to walk again and eventually own her own home, Collette’s determination drove her to work her way back on her feet physically and financially.

Not sure of her options as a middle-aged, currently disabled single woman, Collette reached out to Melanie Page at the Union County Housing Authority (UCHA).  Through a Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development HOME grant (a federally funded program that provides municipalities with grant and loan assistance as well as technical assistance to expand the supply of decent and affordable housing for low- and very low-income Pennsylvanians), the UCHA builds and refurbishes homes for income eligible residents over the age of 55. As an added bonus, the homes are part of an energy research project with Pennsylvania State University. Read more »

Massachusetts Agriculture Defies National Trends

Farming keeps expanding in Massachusetts. Check back next Thursday to learn more about the 2012 Census of Agriculture results as we highlight another state.

Farming keeps expanding in Massachusetts. Check back next Thursday to learn more about the 2012 Census of Agriculture results as we highlight another state.

The Census of Agriculture is the most complete account of U.S. farms and ranches and the people who operate them. Every Thursday USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service will highlight new Census data and the power of the information to shape the future of American agriculture.

According to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, Massachusetts agriculture defies national trends in more ways than one. For example, while across the country the number of farms decreased four percent since the 2007 Census, Massachusetts was one of only 10 states that saw an increase in both the number of farms and land in farms in the same time period. In addition, while women make up 31 percent of all operators across the country, they make up 41 percent of all operators in the Bay State. Similarly, while the number of female principal operators decreased nationally since the last census, that number increased from 2,226 to 2,507 in our state. In fact, female principal operators compose 32 percent of all of our state’s principal operators, the highest percentage among the New England states and the third highest nationwide.

We also have a growing number of beginning farmers in Massachusetts. Although the proportion of all beginning farmers in our state is down slightly since 2007, it is still higher than in other parts of the country. In Massachusetts, 29 percent of all operators and 25 percent of principal operators began farming in the last decade, while nationwide, 26 percent of all operators and 22 percent of principal operators fall in that category. Read more »