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Students Intrigued Enough to ‘Worm’ Their Way into Ag Science

Future Scientists Program teachers in the field with ARS research entomologist John Goolsby

Future Scientists Program teachers in the field with ARS research entomologist John Goolsby, learning about his research on bio-control for Giant Reed (Arundo donax) in the Rio Grande Valley.

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

The goal of USDA’s Hispanic-Serving Institutions National Program (HSINP) Future Scientists Program is to enhance the scientific knowledge of teachers, helping them to become more effective in encouraging student interest and progress in science. Teachers in the program attend two-day summer institutes at Agricultural Research Service (ARS) labs nationwide, where scientists introduce them to various research projects. ARS researchers share scientific knowledge with the teachers, who then share it with their students to encourage them to become future scientists.

One of the catalysts for this lofty goal is a tiny, inconspicuous and innocuous caterpillar—the corn earworm that wreaks havoc in corn fields nationwide as an agricultural pest.  This program began in 2003.  I brought 10 teachers into the ARS Southern Plains Agricultural Research Center (SPARC) in College Station, Texas, for a summer institute that included teachers studying in corn research plots searching for corn earworm caterpillars in 100-degree heat! It was the first time I made caterpillars the focus of this program. Read more »

Washington Middle School Students Give Back for Third Annual Day of Service

Annie Ceccarini of the People's Garden Initiative and USDA Farmers welcoming Alice Deal Middle School students

Annie Ceccarini of the People's Garden Initiative and USDA Farmers welcomes Alice Deal Middle School students to a day of fun and learning.

Over the past three years, USDA has welcomed seventh-graders from Alice Deal Middle School in Washington, D.C. to participate in “Deal Gives Back,” a day of service that empowers students to serve their community. This year was no exception. Alongside local volunteers, 118 students and faculty spent a day at USDA’s People’s Garden planting, weeding, and tilling soil to better understand how community gardens can increase access to fresh, healthy food choices in communities where nutritious options aren’t easily accessible.

All work and no play? Not a chance. After a warm welcome from USDA Assistant Secretary for Administration Dr. Gregory Parham, the students checked out demonstrations from the Agricultural Research Services’ (ARS) Bee Research and Systematic Etymology Labs to learn about insect classification, research, and the vital role pollinators play in growing healthy fruits and vegetables. And to wrap up the day, National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Director Dr. Sonny Ramaswamy stopped by with a surprise treat – an invitation to try toasted mealworms. Yum! Read more »

Supporting U.S. Egg Exports – All in a Day’s Work for a USDA Egg Grader

AMS grader Terri Hummel and Jeff Schwieterman, Weaver Brothers' plant manager

“The USDA and Weaver Brothers have worked together for many years. This service opens up markets to us, both domestically and internationally,” said Jeff Schwieterman, Weaver Brothers' plant manager. “Having a qualified grader, like Terri, ensures that the eggs we ship out will meet our customers’ specifications.” Pictured here is AMS grader Terri Hummel and Jeff Schwieterman.

I’ve had many jobs in my life, but none as challenging or rewarding as my career as a shell egg grader.  With a cumulative 22 years grading eggs in Ohio, I’ve witnessed first-hand the evolution of an industry.  I have also watched my agency – USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) – adapt right alongside the industry, maintaining valuable, unbiased grading and certification services that support marketing opportunities for American agriculture in a global marketplace.

Last year, shell egg graders with the AMS Livestock, Poultry, and Seed Program’s Quality Assessment Division (QAD) assisted the U.S. egg industry in exporting over 99.5 million dozen shell eggs to customers as far away as Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, and as near as Canada, Mexico, Central America, and Puerto Rico. Read more »

Trade Agreements Key to Oregon Winemaker’s Success

Cristom wine bottles on a shelf

Cristom wine bottles on a shelf. Photo courtesy of Cristom Vineyards.

Exports are vital to the growth of U.S. agriculture. Since 2000, around 20 percent of annual agricultural production in the United States has been exported. Still, it’s difficult to conceptualize the real impact of free trade agreements until you talk to the people who have directly benefitted from them. In April, I had the pleasure of meeting with a group of winegrowers from Oregon – among them Tom Gerrie, president of Cristom Vineyards in Salem, who was kind enough to share with me his personal experience in exporting.

Cristom Vineyards is a family-run craft winery producing around 15,000 cases of wine per year. Founded in 1992 by Gerrie’s father, Paul, the company decided that in order to build global brand recognition of Oregon’s fine wines, it would need to target high-end restaurants both in the United States and abroad. In 1994, it shipped its first cases to New York, Chicago, London and Tokyo. Since then, Cristom Vineyards has expanded its exports to 48 states and 18 countries, including South Korea. More than 15 percent of Cristom’s total sales now come from exports. Read more »

Celebrating Food and Culinary Connections: Schools Serve up California-grown Food on “California Thursdays”

The “California Wrap”

The “California Wrap” was served at many districts across Contra Costa County, a strategy that allows them to purchase collectively on California Thursdays.

June is National Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month! To celebrate this, we’re showcasing the important work of California Thursdays, a collaboration between the Center for Ecoliteracy and a network of public school districts to serve healthy, freshly prepared school meals made from California-grown food. The following guest blog also highlights the inspiring work of the Center for Ecoliteracy, a partner with USDA’s national sodium reduction in schools-initiative, What’s Shaking? Creative Ways to Boost Flavor with Less Sodium.

By Jennifer Gerard, R.D., Center for Ecoliteracy, California Food for California Kids Program Director

What’s your favorite day of the week? For many students in California — it’s Thursday.

On Thursdays, over 1.7 million students in schools that participate in the California Thursdays program know they’ll be offered a lunch freshly prepared from California ingredients. California Thursdays is a celebration of local food, the people who produce and prepare it, and the significant connections that exist between children, food, and their environment. Read more »

Local Food – Cooking Up Creative & Fresh Ideas for Healthy Communities

Columbia Heights Farmers Market shoppers

Columbia Heights Farmers Market shoppers enjoy locally-produced food. USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) grants are helping farmers markets implement creative programs to support local food producers and build healthy communities. Photo courtesy Mr T in DC.

Nutritional classes, purple beets, basil pesto and dark roast coffee – it’s not your father’s farmers market.  The entire local food system is maturing and farmers markets are offering more and more community-focused services. Many farmers markets now give their customers a chance to learn about locally-produced foods, in addition to buying and consuming them.

USDA is a proud partner and supporter of local and regional food systems through our programs, grants and technical services. USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) grants are helping farmers markets implement creative programs to support local food producers and build healthy communities. One example of an AMS grant success story is Community Foodworks, which manages the Columbia Heights Farmers Market and six other markets across Washington, DC, and Northern Virginia. Read more »