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Taste “Tests” at School Introduce Kids to Healthy Choices

Dime Rosser, 7, a student at Clinton Elementary School, takes a look at kale. Photo courtesy of Spencer Ainsley, Poughkeepsie Journal.

Dime Rosser, 7, a student at Clinton Elementary School, takes a look at kale. Photo courtesy of Spencer Ainsley, Poughkeepsie Journal.

I don’t know how many times I’ve told my children, “Go on, give it a try,” or, “Try it, you might like it.” Tired as those two phrases might be, they’re true. How do you know if you like something if you’ve never tried it? And when it comes to leafy green vegetables and third graders, the truth is, many have never tried things like kale, chard or collard greens.

That’s changing as more and more schools hand out a different kind of test. “Taste tests” give children an opportunity to try new, healthy foods and, equally important, they give schools good information about how to introduce healthy, new foods on the school menu. Say for example a school would like to serve butternut squash. Are the kids more likely to eat it when it is pureed or baked? Read more »

Cheney Public Schools Puts USDA Planning Grant to Work

Cheney Public Schools (CPS) is a 7-school district in rural eastern Washington State. Of the 4,135 students who attend CPS, more than 2,000 are eligible for free and reduced price school lunch, and more than 30 percent are obese. Several years ago, realizing the need to improve child nutrition, the district began to take some modest steps to that end, including initiating a scratch cooking program and participating in a regional childhood obesity prevention initiative.

Upon receiving a USDA Farm to School Planning Grant in November 2012, CPS developed an eight-member team, comprised of school district officials and community partners, to lead their efforts. The group, which meets every four to six weeks, has done extensive research to determine the most effective path forward and has leveraged relationships with a range of partners to accomplish a great deal in a short period of time. Read more »

Summer Camp Provides Lifelong Environmental Learning for Utah High Schoolers

U.S. Forest Service Entomologist Danielle Reboletti uncovers forest insects for Nature High Summer Camp participants during an in-field resource learning session with agency resource professionals. Photo by Stacey Smith, BOR. Photo used with permission.

U.S. Forest Service Entomologist Danielle Reboletti uncovers forest insects for Nature High Summer Camp participants during an in-field resource learning session with agency resource professionals. Photo by Stacey Smith, BOR. Photo used with permission.

Nature High Summer Camp, an annual high-energy environmental learning experience for high school students in Utah, was held in July at the historic Great Basin Environmental Education Center in central Utah’s Ephraim Canyon.

For more than 20 years, several federal natural resource agencies and state partners have sponsored the event to help students of all walks of life learn the importance of science-based natural resource conservation and consider related careers at organizations like the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Read more »

USDA’s Iftar Dinner Reflects a Common Calling – Rebuilding and Strengthening Communities in Need

Pictured (Left to Right) Dr. Mohamed El-Sanousi, Director of Communications and Community Outreach of the Islamic Society of North America, Dr. Abed Ayoub, President of Islamic Relief USA, Michael Scuse, then-acting Deputy Secretary of Agriculture and Imam Faizul Khan of the Islamic Society of the Washington Area

Pictured (Left to Right) Dr. Mohamed El-Sanousi, Director of Communications and Community Outreach of the Islamic Society of North America, Dr. Abed Ayoub, President of Islamic Relief USA, Michael Scuse, then-acting Deputy Secretary of Agriculture and Imam Faizul Khan of the Islamic Society of the Washington Area

As Hunger Action Month comes to a close, I am reminded of an employee event we held last month in honor of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. For many followers of the Islamic faith, the month of Ramadan – known as a time of fasting and sacrifice – is also a time of reflection.  As we deal with hunger and thirst from sunrise to sunset, we are reminded of those who deal with hunger – and poverty – every day. As we reflect on our spiritual responsibilities, we must also recall our obligation to help others in times of need.  For Muslim employees of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), this holds especially true.

USDA touches the lives of every American.  Our nutrition and food safety programs ensure that all America’s children have access to safe, nutritious, balanced meals, while our rural development programs promote prosperous, self-sustaining communities.  Our conservation programs protect our national forests and private working lands, while our agricultural support programs promote American agriculture and biotechnology while increasing food security around the world. Read more »

When Schools Improve Meals, Positive Results Follow

The last few years have seen significant improvements to the health of the school environment.  Schools across the country are increasing their efforts to prevent childhood obesity by serving healthier school meals providing more time for physical activity, and helping kids learn about proper nutrition.  It’s clear that the new, healthier school meals implemented last year are working and having a positive impact on the health of our next generation.

We recently surveyed states and schools across the country, and the vast majority of schools—80 percent—have already reported that they are meeting the updated meal standards successfully, with some states reporting 100% of schools completely transitioned to the new standards.  We expect the remaining schools to “make it official” soon, too.  In fact, a study just released by the Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project found that last year 94 percent of U.S. school districts said they were on track to meet the updated nutrition standards for lunches by now. Read more »

Secretary’s Column: Following Through to Keep Our Youth Safe on the Farm

It’s no secret that agricultural work is tough work – and as America’s farm families know, it can be dangerous.  Last year, agriculture recorded the highest fatal injury rate of any industry, with the rate of on-the-job fatality in agriculture nearly seven times the rate for all U.S. workers.

Adding complexity to this challenge is the unique role that youth play on the farm and ranch.  Many farms and ranches are a family business. This important tradition strengthens American agriculture and instills important life skills for our young people.

Unfortunately, this means that young people also share in the hazards of farm work.  On average, more than 100 youth die each year in farm-related accidents.  Thousands more are injured on the farm or ranch. Read more »