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USDA Grants to Help Farmers, Entrepreneurs and Retailers Market Local Foods

Baskets of fruits and vegetables on tables

Across the nation there is a strong interest to supply healthy, local foods to schools while supporting regional farmers and the local economy. Photo: Auburn University College of Agriculture.

Thanks to a recent grant from USDA, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection is now in better position to help get locally grown potatoes, carrots, apples, broccoli, and cheese onto school lunch plates. In Wisconsin, and across the nation, there is a strong interest to supply healthy, local foods to schools while supporting regional farmers and the local economy.  USDA is helping create economic opportunities for producers by supporting projects that increase access to fresh, healthy food for students and consumers, and connect rural and urban communities.

Today Secretary Tom Vilsack announced more than $35 million in grants to help ensure the livelihoods of our nation’s farmers and ranchers while strengthening rural economies around the country. These grant programs play an important role in American agriculture and in communities by supporting local and regional food systems and giving farmers and ranchers the chance to explore new market opportunities. Read more »

Service, Partnership Key to Summer Meals Success

AmeriCorps VISTA summer associate Michal Elias-Bachrach serving summer meals to children

AmeriCorps VISTA summer associate Michal Elias-Bachrach serves summer meals to children and teens through the Ohio Association of Foodbanks.

The following guest blog highlights the partnership between USDA and the Corporation for National and Community Service, which leverages the service-oriented energy of AmeriCorps summer associates to expand and enhance USDA summer meal sites for children in low-income communities.  USDA summer meals fill the hunger gap for the over 21-million children across the country who rely on school meals during the school year.  This blog details the summer associates’ experiences, as narrated by an AmeriCorps VISTA program specialist who was integral to the partnership.

By Mark Wilson, Program Specialist, Corporation for National and Community Service

“Sports, games, nutrition, friends and fun!” is how Andrea Wilkinson described her summer service in Reno, Nev. From June to August, 579 AmeriCorps VISTA summer associates like Andrea served in 42 states and the District of Columbia, making the summer meals program more fun and beneficial for families. Read more »

In Conversation with #WomeninAg: Onelisa Garza

Onelisa Garza with a sunflower

Onelisa Garza, a current college senior at Texas A&M University, Kingsville was raised in the small town of Linn, Texas.

To wrap up our Women’s Week blog series, we hear from Onelisa Garza, a current college senior at Texas A&M University, Kingsville who was raised in the small town of Linn, Texas. Onelisa has been very active in organizations like 4-H and FFA her whole life and has held many leadership positions through them. She discusses how she discovered that she wanted to dedicate her career to helping others understand the importance of agriculture.  Onelisa has been in many agriculture science classes where the other students had never seen cattle in real life or a field of cotton – things that she always took for granted growing up. She will graduate in December of 2015 and plans to use her agriculture degree to become a County Extension Agent for 4-H Youth and Development. Read more »

USDA CREP Buffers Clean Water and Help Restore Chesapeake Bay

An animal standing in a field

With a buffer zone in place, water quality has improved.

At the English farm in York County, Pennsylvania, you’ll find a comfortable streamside setting that includes a babbling brook, clear water, singing birds, and a thriving young stand of trees — all nestled in a productive cropland setting.  However, this wasn’t always the case.  Don English, the son of the owner of the farm, recalls, “Until we planted these four acres into a buffer by enrolling in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), this creek ran brown with sediment after every rain.  Within a year the water cleared up and now we’re seeing the aquatic life return.” This creek runs into the Deer Creek, which in turn runs into the Chesapeake Bay.  The buffer is a part of a larger USDA effort to improve water quality and help restore the Bay. Read more »

Research Shows that Farm to School Works!

An elementary school student in West New York, New Jersey, enjoying a farm fresh bite of yellow tomato

An elementary school student in West New York, New Jersey, enjoys a farm fresh bite of yellow tomato, delivered to the school that morning.

Happy National Farm to School Month! Every October, the USDA Farm to School team is overwhelmed with stories of how farm to school programs are affecting kids, producers, and communities. Having now made 221 grants to school districts and other entities across the country to pursue projects that bring more local foods into schools and teach kids about where their foods comes from, we experience a steady stream of encouraging stories throughout the year. Stories about local farmers proudly supplying grains for a district’s whole grain baked goods; stories about school food service staff dressing up like fruits and vegetables to encourage healthy eating; stories about kids growing beets in the school garden and then devouring them when they show up in the cafeteria. During Farm to School Month, these anecdotes proliferate–on social media, on blogs, and via news stories. They inspire us, amuse us, and sometimes even make us tear up, but they don’t unequivocally prove that these programs work. For that, we rely on studies and surveys, on journal articles and evaluation results. Read more »

In Conversation with #WomeninAg: Ann Veneman

Ann M. Veneman, 27th Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture

Ann M. Veneman served as the 27th Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 2001-2005.

As part of our Women’s Week blog series, Ann Veneman shares her perspective as the first and only woman who has held the title of Secretary of Agriculture. A lawyer by training, Ann grew up in a small rural community in California and has dedicated her career to domestic and international food and agriculture issues. During her tenure as Secretary, American agriculture saw record farm income, record agricultural exports and the creation of stronger pest and disease protection systems for the country.

Ann has held various positions at USDA and in state government, including Deputy Secretary, Deputy Undersecretary for International Affairs, Associate Administrator of the Foreign Agricultural Service, and Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. She served as the Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) from 2005-2010 and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, The Trilateral Commission, the National 4-H Council Board of Trustees and serves as an advisor to the Bipartisan Policy Center. In 2009, Ann was named to Forbes Magazine’s List of The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women. Read more »