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USA Pro Challenge Pedals into Success through the National Forests

Kristy Wumkes (left), partnership coordinator on the Canyon Lands Ranger District, and volunteers greets visitors to the U.S. Forest Service booth at the Fort Collins stage finish line. (U.S. Forest Service/Reghan Cloudman)

Kristy Wumkes (left), partnership coordinator on the Canyon Lands Ranger District, and volunteers greets visitors to the U.S. Forest Service booth at the Fort Collins stage finish line. (U.S. Forest Service/Reghan Cloudman)

It was hard to hear over the noise of screaming spectators chanting “USA, USA, USA” recently at the finish line of the USA Pro Challenge in downtown Denver. The city served as the end point for the more than 600-mile, seven-stage road cycling race held in Colorado for the third consecutive year. There were many excited faces in the crowd as 150 professional cyclists from 16 international teams sprinted through the finish line.

“This is not just a bike race,” said a spectator who has attended the event every year. “It’s about the people coming together to take part in creating a memorable event for something we love to do.” Read more »

Deputy Secretary Announces USDA Support for Graduate Housing on Maryland’s Eastern Shore

USDA Deputy Agriculture Secretary Krysta Harden (seated right) announces USDA funding for the first graduate school dorms at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Seated next to her is  University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES) President Dr. Juliette B. Bell.  (Standing) left to right, Moses Kairo, dean of UMES’ School of Agriculture and Natural Sciences, UMES executive vice president Kim Dumpson; Danette Howard, the Maryland Secretary of Higher Education; Dale Wesson, UMES’ research and economic development vice president; Jerry Redden, interim director - Maryland Hawk Corp. and Ronald Nykiel, UMES’ chief academic policymaker. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Used with permission.

USDA Deputy Agriculture Secretary Krysta Harden (seated right) announces USDA funding for the first graduate school dorms at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Seated next to her is University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES) President Dr. Juliette B. Bell. (Standing) left to right, Moses Kairo, dean of UMES’ School of Agriculture and Natural Sciences, UMES executive vice president Kim Dumpson; Danette Howard, the Maryland Secretary of Higher Education; Dale Wesson, UMES’ research and economic development vice president; Jerry Redden, interim director - Maryland Hawk Corp. and Ronald Nykiel, UMES’ chief academic policymaker. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Used with permission.

When you think back to your college days, what stands out?  For many, college is the first opportunity for a student to move away from a childhood home and take another step toward full adulthood.  Finding housing away from home can be expensive, especially for students enrolled in graduate programs.

Recently, USDA Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden visited The University of Maryland Eastern Shore, a vibrant campus with over 700 graduate students.  Until now, those students did not have an option to stay in a graduate dorm.  They are being housed in Salisbury, Maryland and commuting.  This is time-consuming and expensive. Read more »

Crafting a Regional Vision–New River Valley, Virginia is Developing Long Range Strategic Plan to Shape its Future

Jessica Wirgau, Executive Director of the Community Foundation of the New River Valley and Kevin Byrd, Executive Director of the New River Valley Planning District Commission, celebrate the near completion of a successful three-year federally-funded community planning process.

Jessica Wirgau, Executive Director of the Community Foundation of the New River Valley and Kevin Byrd, Executive Director of the New River Valley Planning District Commission, celebrate the near completion of a successful three-year federally-funded community planning process.

One of the challenges with implementing USDA Rural Development programs is that many of the communities we serve have not had the opportunity to develop strategic plans to guide federal infrastructure investments effectively. Fortunately, a 2010 grant from HUD’s Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities enabled the New River Valley Planning District Commission to engage the public in the rural Southwest Virginia counties of Pulaski, Montgomery, Giles, and Floyd and all the major towns to develop a blueprint for future economic activity.

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to attend a meeting where over 100 rural citizens in the New River Valley gathered to put some of the finishing touches on the 3-year regional planning process, known locally as their Livability Initiative. I came away inspired by the dialogue that has evolved over the past three years and am looking forward to seeing how the communities in this economically diverse rural region look for ways to implement some of the ideas they have generated to improve their communities and enhance long-term economic opportunities. Read more »

Conservation Innovation Grant Helps Cranberry Farmers Conserve Water, Shield Fruit from Cold

Growers load cranberries after a harvest at Mayflower Cranberries in Plympton, Mass. Photo by Jeff LaFleur of Mayflower Cranberries used with permission.

Growers load cranberries after a harvest at Mayflower Cranberries in Plympton, Mass. Photo by Jeff LaFleur of Mayflower Cranberries used with permission.

It’s tough to imagine the Thanksgiving celebration without turkey, dressing, and most importantly, the cranberry sauce. To keep this holiday staple safe from the cold and ready for harvest, farmers apply water to cranberries on frosty nights.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association worked with growers to install automated sprinkler systems that conserve water and trim costs.

With the automated system, cranberry growers can control sprinklers from a computer and turn on and off sprinklers with a simple button. Traditionally, the different systems had to be turned on and off manually, wasting time, money and water. Read more »

Farm to School Programs Can Get Kids Familiar with Healthy Foods

Introducing students to healthy foods early on through farm to school programs is one way to reduce the amount of fruits and vegetables wasted in schools.

Introducing students to healthy foods early on through farm to school programs is one way to reduce the amount of fruits and vegetables wasted in schools.

October was National Farm to School Month and at FNS we ended on a high note. We released our very first nationwide assessment of farm to school activities and there was a lot of good news to be shared. The Farm to School Census showed that adoption of farm to school activities is trending up; many schools that do not currently have farm to school programs are planning to start them, and millions of children are being exposed to healthy foods and learning about where food comes from. In fact, in school year 2011-2012, schools invested over $350 Million in locally produced, healthy food.  This adds up to major benefits for American nutrition and local economies.

But the benefits don’t stop there.  In addition to creating new market opportunities for farmers and producers across the country, farm to school programs are a way to get students familiar with healthy foods so that they don’t throw those items away when they end up on their cafeteria tray. Read more »

US Capitol Christmas Tree has Deep Roots Connecting Americans

Only a massive tree will complement the expanse of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. The selected tree is usually between 60 feet and 80 feet tall and holds tens of thousands of lights. The ornaments are made by people – mostly children in many cases – who live in the state where the tree is harvested. (Courtesy Architect of the Capitol)

Only a massive tree will complement the expanse of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. The selected tree is usually between 60 feet and 80 feet tall and holds tens of thousands of lights. The ornaments are made by people – mostly children in many cases – who live in the state where the tree is harvested. (Courtesy Architect of the Capitol)

As the 88-foot Engelmann spruce is paraded into Washington, D.C., today, Nov. 25, it brings with it an annual tradition that has been rooted in history and shared by millions of Americans for decades.

The 2013 Capitol Christmas Tree is a gift from the Colville National Forest and people living in Washington State. The Washington community raised the money and support needed to help harvest, transport and decorate the tree that will stand on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol. They also helped with a collection of smaller trees for various offices in D.C.

The tree will be lit by Speaker of the House John Boehner during a ceremony at 5 p.m. Dec. 3. Read more »