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U.S. Forest Service Harvests 2014 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree in Minnesota

About 500 people attended the tree-harvesting ceremony to watch the 88-foot, 13,000-pound Minnesota spruce chosen as the 2014 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree. The Chippewa National Forest is donating the tree, often referred to as the People’s Tree. The tree-lighting ceremony is scheduled for Dec. 2. (U.S. Forest Service)

About 500 people attended the tree-harvesting ceremony to watch the 88-foot, 13,000-pound Minnesota spruce chosen as the 2014 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree. The Chippewa National Forest is donating the tree, often referred to as the People’s Tree. The tree-lighting ceremony is scheduled for Dec. 2. (U.S. Forest Service)

On a cold afternoon in late October, about 500 people, including local area third graders who had made ornaments for it, gathered to witness the cutting of the 88-foot, 13,000-pound 2014 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree on the Chippewa National Forest in north central Minnesota.

To help stay warm and nourished, attendees were offered hot chocolate or coffee, a wild rice dish, fruit, sandwich wraps and cookies, all courtesy of the Leech Land Band of Ojibwe. The official festivities began with Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Spiritual Advisor Larry Aitken blessing the Tree, distinguished guests sharing their congratulations, and poignant drumming performances by two groups of tribal youth; one group was accompanied by young tribal dancers in full regalia. Read more »

USDA is Acting on Climate and We Have a Plan

Soybeans show the effect of the Texas drought near Navasota, TX on Aug. 21, 2013. USDA photo by Bob Nichols.

Soybeans show the effect of the Texas drought near Navasota, TX on Aug. 21, 2013. USDA photo by Bob Nichols.

We know that there are climate change risks and vulnerabilities facing agriculture that have significant implications not just for farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners, but for all Americans and the world. That’s why we are working on measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for climate change impacts such as flooding, sea level rise, severe weather and temperature extremes.

Today’s release of the USDA Sustainability Plans and Climate Change Adaptation Plans coincide with the fifth anniversary of President Obama’s 2009 Executive Order on Environmental, Energy and Economic Performance, which set aggressive energy, climate and environmental targets for agencies, and detail how USDA’s actions have already contributed to reducing the Federal Government’s greenhouse gas emissions by more than 17 percent since 2008 – the equivalent of permanently taking 1.8 million cars off the road. Read more »

A Paiute Pumpkin Patch in Utah

The Paiute Tribe headquarters in Cedar City, Utah.

The Paiute Tribe headquarters in Cedar City, Utah.

As we prepare for annual Halloween celebrations across the nation, I was reminded of a trip I made to Cedar City, Utah earlier this month. StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity is an effort Secretary Vilsack launched in 2010 to address the distinct set of challenges America’s most rural areas face. This added effort also helps to fulfill USDA’s commitment to Native American tribes. Since StrikeForce began, I’ve had the honor of meeting with many Native American tribal members to identify where USDA Rural Development may serve their communities best.

The Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah welcomed the USDA family around a great wooden table at their headquarters in Cedar City. Representatives from Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Farm Service Agency (FSA), and Rural Development (RD) came together with the Utah Governor’s Office to show our combined support to the Paiute Tribe. More importantly, we were there to listen to what the Tribe and its five constituent bands could tell us about their plans for the future, as well as their needs. Read more »

Willow Cove Elementary Brings the Classroom Outside

The following guest blog is part of our Cafeteria Stories series, highlighting the efforts of hard working school nutrition professionals who are dedicated to making the healthy choice the easy choice at schools across the country.  We thank them for sharing their stories!

“My carrot is burnt!” exclaimed a Willow Cove Elementary student in February, when they harvested carrots from the school garden for the first time. The student had never seen a purple carrot before and that day, the whole class enjoyed sample tastes of orange, white, and purple carrots. Carrots are just one of the many crops students have harvested from the Willow Cove garden, and they have a motivated teacher and their Nutrition Services department to thank for the experience.

At the start of last school year, Willow Cove Elementary School’s kindergarten teacher called the District’s Director of Nutrition Services, Matthew Belasco, to ask for a few milk crates to start a small window garden. Matthew, eager to get a school garden up and running, took this spark of interest and ran with it. Within a few hours, he arrived at Willow Cove with a wheel barrow, soil, shovels, and seeds, convinced the teacher that raised beds were preferable, and got to work planting the first school garden within Pittsburg Unified School District (PUSD), just outside Willow Cove’s kindergarten classroom. Willow Cove’s success with maintaining the garden and engaging students with outdoor lessons created the momentum and excitement needed to begin expanding Pittsburg’s farm to school program. Read more »

O Halloween, Arachnophobia, Entomophobia, and Why Insects Exist

Wolf spiders are robust and agile hunters with excellent eyesight. They live mostly solitary and hunt alone. (Bugwood.org/Joseph Berger)

Wolf spiders are robust and agile hunters with excellent eyesight. They live mostly solitary and hunt alone. (Bugwood.org/Joseph Berger)

They squirm, crawl, scurry and swarm … and they’re all around us.

More than 900,000 species of insects and arachnids are found around the world, and some people would rather not come into contact with even one of the often misunderstood critters.

The fear for me came when I was 7 years old during the summer of 1990. Read more »

Oregon Farmer Uses Conservation to Grow Farm, Giant Pumpkins

Farmer David Brown poses next to one of his giant pumpkins. Healthy soil is key to the success of Mustard Seed Farms. Photo courtesy of NRCS.

Farmer David Brown poses next to one of his giant pumpkins. Healthy soil is key to the success of Mustard Seed Farms. Photo courtesy of NRCS.

Oregon organic farmer David Brown didn’t start off growing 400-pound pumpkins, but every fall they hold a prominent place on Brown’s Mustard Seed Farms. Starting out as a 26-acre farm in Marion County, Oregon, Brown has grown his diverse, organic operation to 80-acres while also achieving large gains in soil health.

“Our name, Mustard Seed Farms, comes from Scripture where faith is a grain of mustard seed that God will bless, and we will grow, and that’s exactly what’s happened,” Brown said. He’s grown the size of his farm and giant pumpkins by first growing the health of his soil. Brown gathers his strength from above – but does have some help from below from groups like USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Read more »