Inner city Omaha is an economically distressed area, especially among the predominantly African-American and senior populations. Poverty rates and obesity among young people are high and access to healthy, affordable food is low, especially for those who need it most.
Rev. Stephanie Ahlschwede, Executive Director of United Methodist Ministries for the Missouri River District, began “The Big Garden” project in 2005, aided by a grant from the USDA Community Food Projects. Five gardens were established in 2006 and were met with a resoundingly enthusiastic response. Just three years later, The Big Garden network had grown to 22 gardens through collaboration with area churches and a variety of community organizations. Residents have their choice of simply donating time to the gardens or taking responsibility for cultivating and caring for a plot of their own and then harvesting and enjoying the results. As part of the initial design of the program, a portion of the fresh produce is donated to seniors in the neighborhood.
Through a cooperative program with a local nursing association, cooking classes are taught as part of the area’s after school programs. Many of the young people participating have never eaten fresh fruits and vegetables. With the benefit of a grant from the Omaha Public Power Department, the project has planted a number of fruit and nut trees. According to Project Manager Jessica Mews, the young people working in the gardens love the fresh produce as well as many of the products generated from the gardens. Kale chips are a particular favorite and, according to Mews, the kids can’t get enough of them.
The Big Garden is now on to the next phase, a garden in rural Nebraska — “The Big Rural Garden Project of Southeast Nebraska.” An acre of land in Auburn, a small rural community nearby, was donated and the local Methodist Church is managing the program. They are also collaborating with the local United Way Fund using a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to fight obesity. In 2008, the Sierra Club recognized the Big Garden as one of 50 exceptional faith-based environmental initiatives in the U.S.
For working parents in isolated rural communities, quality child care is a lifeline that allows them an opportunity to obtain employment so they can provide for their families. Read more »
Today, the People’s Garden hosted a workshop about composting. Pat Millner, who has done a lot of research on composting and utilizing compost at the USDA-Agricultural Research Service’s Beltsville Agricultural Research Center in Maryland, taught it. It was fantastically fun and informative, and Pat brought in several examples of composters for us to see. Read more »
Darlene Barnes, Regional Administrator for the FNS Mountain Plains Regional Office
Taking the time to meet the people who use FNS programs and services is the best way to understand what works. It also helps build important relationships and gets the word out to those who most need FNS support.
FNS Administrator Julie Paradis spent the week of May 24 doing just that – on the move in Montana gathering great feedback about nutrition issues and programs across the state. A CNR Roundtable at Lolo Elementary in Lolo, Montana brought more than 30 school lunch workers, administrators, interested parents and news media to discuss nutrition needs for Montana’s underserved children.
On the Flathead Reservation in Pablo, Montana, Paradis met with leadership of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and toured several Food Distribution Nutrition Education grant demonstration gardens designed to teach the roots of good food all the way through to learning delicious recipes for preparing home grown and commodity foods.
In Bozeman, Montana, Paradis presented a HealthierUS Schools Gold Award to Morning Star Elementary for their excellent work in promoting exercise and healthy eating habits.
FNS Administrator Julie Paradis discusses FNS programs with Tonka Howard, host of Good Medicine, at the KSKC Public TV station on the Flathead Reservation.
FNS Administrator Julie Paradis hits the track with a Lolo Elementary student as part of the school’s Mileage Club.
FNS Administrator Julie Paradis and Ron Rotzahn, Program Specialist, Helena, Montana Field Office, discuss food distribution challenges at the St. Ignatius Food Distribution center on the Flathead Reservation.
Beth McKew, DVM, Staff Officer, State Outreach and Technical Assistance Staff, Office of Outreach, Employee Education and Training, Food Safety and Inspection Service
If you don’t work at USDA, you may not have read the 2008 Farm Bill, which means you may not be aware of the many benefits that came out of that legislation. One such provision directed USDA to coordinate technical assistance to small meat and poultry processors. As a result, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), an agency within USDA committed to working with business of all sizes in support of a safe and wholesome food supply, established the Small Plant Help Desk
Small and very small processors make up more than 90% of the nation’s 6,000 federally inspected meat and poultry establishments and all of the 1,900 state inspected plants. These small, independent businesses are often the closest and most convenient way that a farmer or rancher can bring their cows, pigs, chickens, sheep, or goats to market, and they are a critical part of the infrastructure that comprises our nation’s local and regional food systems.
Behind the Help Desk FSIS’ Staff Officers – subject-matter experts with recent in-plant experience – can assess callers’ requests and provide information and guidance materials that best meet their needs. The Help Desk not only provides such callers with step-by-step instructions, but also provides resources to assist them in understanding food safety issues relevant to the products they are producing.
Lucia Huebner from the Traveling Butcher in Hopewell, New Jersey, called the Small Plant Help Desk multiple times in search of help in starting up a federally-inspected mobile slaughter unit. Huebner’s questions ranged from those about specific federal regulations, such as potable water testing, to more general questions, such as how to coordinate her slaughter schedule with the local District Office. A Help Desk Staff Officer was able to answer her questions, put her in touch with district staff in her area, as well as connect her with a network of other small processors who have also faced the challenge of starting up a mobile slaughter unit. Huebner is still in the process of applying for a Federal Grant of Inspection, and plans to call the Help Desk again as questions arise along the way. “The Help Desk has been a fantastic resource for me,” says Huebner. “What a great feeling to know that I have someone to call when I have questions about federal inspection.”
The Help Desk can be reached at 877-374-7435, or 877 FSIS HELP, or by emailing InfoSource@fsis.usda.gov.