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Secretary’s Column: A New Report Shows the Critical Benefits of Farm Bill Conservation

America’s farmers, ranchers and landowners have led the way in recent years to conserve and protect our soil, water and wildlife habitat.

With the help of Farm Bill programs, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has worked with a record number of producers since 2009 – more than 500,000 of them – to get this important work done.

Ever since the Dust Bowl, we’ve known that investments in conservation on working lands and other wild areas is important. And this week, a new report amplified our understanding for the critical importance of the Farm Bill in protecting natural resources in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Read more »

Restoration Efforts May Mean More ‘Chestnuts Roasting….’

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, a popular line from a holiday song, are a tradition that at one time seemed imperiled by the decreasing population of chestnut trees. (USDA photo)

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, a popular line from a holiday song, are a tradition that at one time seemed imperiled by the decreasing population of chestnut trees. (USDA photo)

“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,” is a line from a song that conjures up fond holiday memories for some Americans. For others, the joy of roasting chestnuts has yet to be experienced. But the lack of American chestnuts could change in the coming years, thanks to some very dedicated people.

The U.S. Forest Service and its partners may be one step closer to restoring the American chestnut tree to parts of the mountains and forests of the southern United States. Since 2009, they planted close to 1,000 potentially-blight resistant American chestnut trees on national forests in North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. Read more »

Quality You Can Trust

Grapes like these may soon have the USDA Quality Monitored seal on their packaging.

Grapes like these may soon have the USDA Quality Monitored seal on their packaging.

When you think of what really makes fruit and vegetables stand out it usually comes down to quality.  Determining quality – making sure your fresh food looks, smells, feels and tastes just the way you expect it to – is what USDA’s Quality Monitoring Program (QMP) does.

The program, run by the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Specialty Crops Inspection Division, allows produce suppliers and others to have products inspected by USDA based on specific internal standards or U.S. grade standards.  As a neutral third-party, USDA evaluates various commodities through QMP – everything from olive oil to canned, frozen and fresh fruits and vegetables. Read more »

USDA Celebrates Soil’s Importance on its Special Day

In this photo from the 2009 Society for Range Management (SRM) Award tour, Soil Quality Specialist, Rick Bednarek, formerly of SD, explained the darkness of the soil was due to the organic matter which is the key indicator of the health of soil.

In this photo from the 2009 Society for Range Management (SRM) Award tour, Soil Quality Specialist, Rick Bednarek, formerly of SD, explained the darkness of the soil was due to the organic matter which is the key indicator of the health of soil.

Too often, it’s treated like dirt. But this week our living and life-giving soil is finally getting some of the respect it deserves today, for World Soils Day.

While soil may not enjoy the media attention of Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year’s, it can be argued that it shares importance with all three. Where would we be without soil?

This amazing resource is responsible for nearly all life on the planet. Naturalist Aldo Leopold describes soil perfectly, saying: “Land is not merely soil, it is a fountain of energy flowing through a circuit of soils, plants and animals.” Read more »

Enviando Regalos de Alimentos a Miembros de Las Fuerzas Armadas

Pasar los días navideños en el hogar no será posible para muchos miembros de las fuerzas armadas. Así que la segunda mejor opción es recibir saludos y regalos comestibles de parte de familiares. Varios alimentos son inocuos para mandar por el correo en tanto se tenga el nombre y dirección del militar estacionado en el extranjero. Por riesgos de seguridad, el Servicio Postal no enviará correo dirigido a “cualquier miembro de las fuerzas armadas”.

Es importante mandar alimentos no perecederos, que pueden tolerar un rango de temperaturas variadas y que no se romperá con manipulación brusca. Regalos de alimentos que se pueden enviar de forma segura incluyen: ‘jerky’ o cecina de res, frutas secas, alimentos enlatados y condimentos regionales como la salsa picante. Galletas hechas en casa, dulces, panes de baja humedad también duran lo suficiente como para ser enviados por  correo. Read more »

Tips on Sending Food Gifts to U.S. Military

Being home for the holidays will not be possible this year for many American armed forces. The next best thing may be receiving greetings and gifts of food items. Many foods are safe to mail. However, you must have the name and address of a military person stationed overseas. Because of security risks, the U.S. Postal Service will not deliver mail addressed to “Any Serviceman.”

It’s important to mail food gifts that are not perishable, can tolerate a range of temperatures, and won’t break with rough handling. Food gifts that can be safely mailed include dried products such as jerky and fruits, shelf stable canned specialties, and regional condiments such as hot sauces. Homemade cookies, candy, and low-moisture breads and bar cookies are also good candidates for mailing. Read more »