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Secretary’s Column: Groundbreaking Research Provided by a Food, Farm and Jobs Bill

This year, USDA is committed to helping Congress get a comprehensive, multiyear Food, Farm and Jobs Bill passed as soon as possible. This is critical to provide certainty for U.S. producers, while giving USDA the tools we need to continue strengthening the rural economy.

Without a Food, Farm and Jobs Bill, one area that would be seriously impacted is USDA’s agricultural research.

For more than 100 years, USDA scientists and their partners have made tremendous advancements. They’ve developed more nutritious foods, invented new medicines and fabrics, improved food safety, learned more about the production of many different plants and animals, and helped create new ways to use plant materials for incredible biobased products.  Read more »

Digging Deep for Clean Water in Illinois

After two decades in the making, 71 households in rural Jefferson County, Illinois have begun to see the benefit of hard work and perseverance.  And the end result is as simple as turning on the faucet! Moores Prairie Township Water Company celebrated last month as a project they’ve dreamed of for 23 years finally comes to fruition. Prior to the completion of this initiative, Moores Prairie Township residents and farms utilized a combination of shallow wells, deep wells, cisterns and purchased water to provide their water supply.

Residents realized that their dependency upon private water cisterns represented a serious threat to their health and safety, and began looking at options at the same time of the advent of the internet…1990!  Although they continued to face struggles in obtaining a water connection and funding source, they never gave up. In June 2010, the Moores Prairie Township Water Company was formed and discussions with USDA Rural Development ensued, resulting in a $318,000 low interest loan for 40 years and additional grant funds to help fund the project.  Construction began last year, and the system was placed into operation in April. Read more »

Urban Trees Store Carbon, Enhance the Environment, Provide Economic Benefits

A recent study by U.S. Forest Service scientists estimates urban forests’ trees store an estimated 708 million tons of carbon. (U.S. Forest Service photo)

A recent study by U.S. Forest Service scientists estimates urban forests’ trees store an estimated 708 million tons of carbon. (U.S. Forest Service photo)

Whether they are ringed by wrought iron or suspending a swing, urban trees are first and foremost trees. In fact, they are all working trees.

Consider, for example, carbon storage. From New York City’s Central Park to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, America’s urban trees store an estimated 708 million tons of carbon, valued at $50 billion. Annually, these trees absorb an estimated 21 million tons of carbon, a value of $1.5 billion. Read more »

Why Open Data Matters: G-8 and African Nations Increase Open Data for Food Security

From left: The G-8 Heads of Delegation Valery Khromchenkov (Russia), Robert Turnock (Canada), Hideaki Chotoku (Japan), Tim Wheeler (United Kingdom), Guillou Marion (France), Martin Koehler (Germany), and Giulio Menato (European Union) listen to Agriculture Under Secretary Research, Education and Economics (REE) Dr. Catherine Woteki (U.S.) announce the action plans developed at the G-8 International Conference on Open Data for Agriculture in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, Apr. 30, 2013. The conference launched a new "virtual community" as part of a suite of actions, including the release of new data that the U.S. is taking to give farmers and ranchers, scientists, policy makers and other members of the public easy access to publicly funded data to help increase food security and nutrition. USDA photo by Bob Nichols.

From left: The G-8 Heads of Delegation Valery Khromchenkov (Russia), Robert Turnock (Canada), Hideaki Chotoku (Japan), Tim Wheeler (United Kingdom), Guillou Marion (France), Martin Koehler (Germany), and Giulio Menato (European Union) listen to Agriculture Under Secretary Research, Education and Economics (REE) Dr. Catherine Woteki (U.S.) announce the action plans developed at the G-8 International Conference on Open Data for Agriculture. USDA photo by Bob Nichols.

Recently, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack opened the G-8 International Conference on Open Data for Agriculture here in Washington.  As head of the U.S. Delegation, the Secretary noted that “Data is quickly becoming one of the most important commodities in agriculture,” and encouraged the sharing of data to magnify its power. Hundreds of individuals attended from around the world and thousands more watched the event as it was streamed on the Internet. In this blog, Katherine Townsend, Special Assistant for Engagement at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) gives an example of how open data can improve crop yield and help producers keep more of the income generated by their labor. Read more »

A Lesson in Agricultural Alchemy: Greening Brownfields into Economic Gold

Real Food Farms used EPA’s Brownfields Program to reclaim 6 acres in downtown Baltimore.  Once the land was ready for production, Real Food Farms accessed USDA funds to build a greenhouse.  Now, the farm grows food for the neighboring communities.  Photo by MD Department of Agriculture

Real Food Farms used EPA’s Brownfields Program to reclaim 6 acres in downtown Baltimore. Once the land was ready for production, Real Food Farms accessed USDA funds to build a greenhouse. Now, the farm grows food for the neighboring communities. Photo by MD Department of Agriculture

In Waterbury, Connecticut, vacant lots are becoming community greenhouses – growing jobs and growing food.  Roanoke, Virginia is planning to build raised beds in empty lots to become community gardens that increase healthy food access.  In Missoula, Montana, asbestos abatement is allowing a local food coop to expand its footprint to include a café and community kitchen and to increase their capacity to work with local farmers and schools. Read more »

Cheers to Butterflies

As the bartender drew pints of Silverspot India Pale Ale for the crush of people in the Pelican Pub and Brewery in Pacific City, Ore., recently, Michelle Dragoo, Siuslaw National Forest wildlife biologist, and Anne Walker, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, prepared to tell the story of the butterfly that inspired the event. About 50 people grabbed a drink and a snack then settled in to listen.

Beer and endangered butterflies? Generally there’s not much in common there. But in this small western Oregon town they intersect in an interesting manner.

The Oregon silverspot butterfly once flourished in beach communities along the West Coast, but due to habitat loss they are found now in only a handful of protected areas, many of which are within the boundaries of the Siuslaw National Forest. Read more »