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2015: A Banner Year for School Meals and the Health of our Nation’s Schoolchildren

It’s been another outstanding year for healthier school meals programs and the millions of American students that benefit from them.  Today, more than 97 percent of schools nationwide report they are meeting the updated school meal standards, which are based on pediatricians’ and nutritionists’ recommendations. The new meals provide children more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lean protein and low-fat dairy, as well as less sugar, fat, and sodium.  There are numerous examples of how schools are providing a healthier school environment with more nutritious options to students across the country, but below are just a few: Read more »

Soils in the Classroom: Celebrating the Discovery and Donation of a Historic Soils Collection

Susan Fugate, Head of Special Collections, NAL; Sally Schneider, ARS Deputy Administrator, Natural Resources & Sustainable Agricultural Systems; Stan Kosecki, Acting Director, NAL; Jill Guenther, Schoolteacher and others

The donation of Important Soils of the United States, Bureau of Soils, 1916, was highlighted in a ceremony hosted at the National Agricultural Library in Beltsville, Maryland. Pictured are (l to r): Susan Fugate, Head of Special Collections, NAL; Sally Schneider, ARS Deputy Administrator, Natural Resources & Sustainable Agricultural Systems; Stan Kosecki, Acting Director, NAL; Jill Guenther, Schoolteacher; Kirk Hanlin, USDA-NRCS Assistant Chief, and David Smith, USDA-NRCS Deputy Chief of Soil Science and Resource Assessment (SSRA). USDA photo by Anson Eaglin.

Thanks to the efforts of a dedicated science teacher from New Jersey, a valuable piece of soil science history is now available for viewing and research among the special collections at USDA’s National Agricultural Library (NAL) in Beltsville, Maryland.

Jill Guenther, who has taught Earth and space science for 29 years, discovered the antique soils collection tucked away in a classroom cabinet. “I knew it was something special, and I wanted to use it as a display when teaching erosion and conservation issues,” she explained. Read more »

Shelter Dogs Given Better Life, New Mission at USDA

APHIS Wildlife Services program specialist Mario Eusi and his dog Cain at their graduation ceremony

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Wildlife Services program specialist Mario Eusi and his dog Cain at their graduation ceremony certifying them for Nutria Detection at the Blackwater National, Wildlife Refuge, MD.

Mya, Hektor and Cain are seated on the floor, next to their handlers and partners, waiting for their names to be called. It’s a big day for the three shelter dogs and their handlers.  You may be surprised to learn that many of the dogs trained at APHIS’ National Detector Dog Training Center are rescues.  Mya and Cain are from Maryland’s Montgomery County Animal Services & Adoption Center and Hektor is from the Fulton County Animal Shelter in Atlanta.  They are all officially graduating from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) detector dog training program, and will join two other rescue dogs trained last year and currently part of other detector dog teams as part of the effort to find and eliminate the last of the nutria from the Delmarva Peninsula.

Nutria are invasive, semi-aquatic rodents that live in marshes throughout the country. They weigh between 12 and 20 pounds and were brought to Maryland’s Lower Eastern Shore from South America for their fur in 1943. However, their dark brown pelts were not profitable, and they were either released or escaped from fur farms. With no natural predators, the nutria population at Maryland’s Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge exploded. Read more »

America’s Diverse Family Farms

Family Farms table infographic

America’s Diverse Family Farms report categorizes farms based on annual revenue, operator’s primary occupation, and the family/nonfamily ownership of the farm.

Describing the structure of the U.S. farm sector is challenging because farms vary widely in size and other characteristics.  Are they largely family businesses, or corporate operations?  U.S. farms range from very small retirement and residential holdings to businesses with sales in the millions of dollars.

To better understand U.S. agriculture, USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) recently released America’s Diverse Family Farms.  The report categorizes farms into homogenous groupings based on the annual revenue of the farm, primary occupation of the principal operator, and family/nonfamily ownership of the farm. Read more »

Deck the Halls with Holiday Data

Christmas Trees infographic

U.S. Christmas tree growers harvested and sold 20 million trees last year, up 55 percent in 5 years.

From the smell of fresh pine, to the vibrant colors of poinsettias, the holiday season is the perfect time of year to spotlight America’s horticulture growers through the just released 2014 Census of Horticultural Specialties report. I’ve experienced firsthand how unique and amazing this industry is by working nationwide with producers and stakeholders as USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics (NASS) nursery and floriculture commodity specialist.

For example, did you know farmers can invest more than 8 years growing a Christmas tree for harvest? While there are not many producers dedicated to this work, according to our latest report industry sales grew. In 2014, there were 3,386 Christmas tree producers in the United States. That year there were a total of 20 million cut Christmas trees sold, valued at $367 million in sales. This was a significant increase from the last report in 2009, when only 13 million trees were cut and sold for a total of $250 million. Read more »

The Chugach Children’s Forest is Transforming Lives for Future Generations

Chugach Children’s Forest alumni and their mentors taking a selfie with U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell

Chugach Children’s Forest alumni and their mentors take a selfie with U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. (Photo credit/Chugach Children’s Forest)

“If you were to tell me three years ago that in two years, I would be camping a couple feet away from a glacier and kayaking next to icebergs, I would tell you that you are out of your mind,” said Isabel Azpilcueta.

But life takes us in unexpected directions, and that is exactly what Isabel – a Chugach Children’s Forest alumni – found herself doing during a Habitat Restoration Kayaking Expedition on the Chugach National Forest, in Alaska. Read more »