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Bringing the Promise of Healthy School Meals to More Children This Fall

Cross-posted from the Huffington Post:

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 enabled the U.S Department of Agriculture to make historic changes to the meals served in our nation’s schools. Breakfasts, lunches, and snacks sold during the school day are now more nutritious than ever, with less fat and sodium and more whole-grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and low-fat dairy. For many kids, the meals they get at school may be the only nutritious meals they receive that day — and when children receive proper nourishment, they are not only healthier, but they also have better school attendance and perform better academically. It’s not enough, though, to make the meals healthier — we must ensure that children have access to those healthier foods.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act authorized a program, known as the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), that can help schools achieve their educational goals by ensuring that children in low-income communities have access to healthy meals at school so they are ready to learn. In this program, schools agree to offer breakfast and lunch for free to all students, and cover any costs that exceed the reimbursements from USDA. Designed to ease the burden of administering a high volume of applications for free and reduced price meals, CEP is a powerful tool to both increase child nutrition and reduce paperwork at the district, school, and household levels, which saves staff time and resources for cash-strapped school districts. Read more »

Rocky Mountain Wetland Provides Fen-tastic Habitat for High Altitude Plants, Wildlife

Plant data is collected from a fen that sits at 11,000 feet near Mount Emmons on the Gunnison National Forest in Colorado. (U.S. Forest Service)

Plant data is collected from a fen that sits at 11,000 feet near Mount Emmons on the Gunnison National Forest in Colorado. (U.S. Forest Service)

Sloshing through a wet meadow in ankle deep water, I am surrounded by thick mats of sedges, rushes and some beautiful wildflowers. This saturated meadow lies in the shadows of the 13,000-foot Sheep Mountain peak near Trout Lake, Colorado. It is a scenic spot, rich in plant diversity, but also a unique habitat in Colorado.

I am visiting this lush, high-altitude wetland with the Grand Mesa Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests’ lead hydrologist, Gary Shellhorn who explains that this wet meadow is called a fen. Fens are peat-forming wetlands, created when wetland plants die leaving mats of dead and decaying plant matter. Fens are sustained by mineral-enriched groundwater, which is less acidic.  For this reason fens support a more diverse plant and animal community. In southern Colorado, it takes about 2,000 years to accumulate eight inches of peat at a fen. This suggests that most fens are 4,000 to 10,000 years old. Read more »

In Brazil, a Search for Fungi to Control Disease-Spreading Insects

A high-magnification image of the spores and spore-bearing cells of the same fungus, Beauveria bassiana, taken from a Diabrotica beetle in Oregon.

A high-magnification image of the spores and spore-bearing cells of the same fungus, Beauveria bassiana, taken from a Diabrotica beetle in Oregon.

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

If you want to find a fungus that controls disease-spreading insects, you might want to go somewhere known for its biodiversity. So it makes sense that USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) microbiologist Richard Humber will be traveling to Brazil over the next three years to join Brazilian scientists in searching for fungi to control black flies, sand flies and the types of mosquitoes that spread malaria, dengue and yellow fever.

Fungi are now used to control insects on crops. Beauveria bassiana, a fungus found in soils throughout the world, is widely sold for controlling thrips, whiteflies, aphids and beetles. Different types of fungi are also sometimes used to control mosquitoes, but they are not easy to handle or to apply, and their effectiveness has been questioned. Read more »