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A Home for the Holidays

Robert Tapia, a single father of two, is pictured outside the Reedley, Calif. home he proudly helped build with ten other families through USDA's Mutual Self-Help Housing Loan program in partnership with Self-Help Enterprises, which celebrated the completion of its 6,000th home last week. (USDA photo)

Robert Tapia, a single father of two, is pictured outside the Reedley, Calif. home he proudly helped build with ten other families through USDA's Mutual Self-Help Housing Loan program in partnership with Self-Help Enterprises, which celebrated the completion of its 6,000th home last week. (USDA photo)

The holidays will be extra special this year for 11 families in Reedley, Calif., who received the keys to their homes during a celebration ceremony December 19. The group spent nearly 10 months building each other’s homes through USDA’s Mutual Self-Help Housing Loan program.

The rules of the program are simple, though not necessarily easy. Ten- to 12 families are grouped together to pool their efforts. Each family is required to put in a minimum of 40 hours a week working on all the homes and no one moves in until every home is completed. Together, families pour foundations, frame homes, install electrical wiring, hang doors and windows and even lay tile and paint. Their labor – “sweat equity” – acts as a down payment for the home, and USDA Rural Development provides the families with mortgages through the Single Family Housing Direct Loan Program. Read more »

Recycling Christmas Trees on National Forests a Seasonal Tradition

Recycled trees placed in a fish crib. (U.S. Forest Service)

Recycled trees placed in a fish crib. (U.S. Forest Service)

For many, purchasing or cutting a Christmas tree is a favorite seasonal tradition. But what do you do with your trees after the festivities end?

Tree recycling after the holidays has become part of community traditions on several Eastern Region national forests. Recycled trees can be used to establish fish habitats, create mulch for future plantings and build soil erosion barriers. Using the trees for these purposes also keeps them from filling up local landfills.

Land managers of several national forests in the area have found that the old Christmas trees can be used to make a cozy home for schools of fish. Fish habitats create ideal spawning grounds to ensure successful reproduction, a place of refuge and shade for the young, and shelter from predators. Also, fish habitats provide a food source – a breeding ground for algae and plankton to attract bait fish and lure larger fish to favorite fishing spots. Read more »

A Helping Hand for Those Who Serve

The following OpEd was posted by Huffington Post this afternoon:

Everywhere I go, I hear stories of seniors, veterans, and the working poor who use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This includes returned servicemen and women who spent holidays away from their families, missing major milestones while abroad in service to their country; previous generations who have worked hard to build our American infrastructure brick by brick; and even people working in the service industry across the nation. Read more »

Choosing the Best of ERS’s 2013 Popular Charts of Note

This is the top “Editors’ Pick” among the Charts of Note – a series provided online daily by the Economic Research Service. ERS editors selected the ten best from over 230 graphs and maps posted in 2013. Charts are provided daily on the web–and via email to those who subscribe to the daily series.

This is the top “Editors’ Pick” among the Charts of Note – a series provided online daily by the Economic Research Service. ERS editors selected the ten best from over 230 graphs and maps posted in 2013. Charts are provided daily on the web–and via email to those who subscribe to the daily series.

Did you know…

…that small family farms account for most U.S. farms and for a majority of farm assets?

…that nonmetro areas declined in population–perhaps for the first time–in 2011-12?

…or that the inflation-adjusted value of SNAP benefits declined from 2009 to 2011? Read more »

A Carton of Eggs – A True Baker’s Dozen

 

Get the Scoop on Eggs: a guide to USDA egg grades, labels, and common terms.  Click to see a larger version.

Get the Scoop on Eggs: a guide to USDA egg grades, labels, and common terms. Click to see a larger version.

The holiday season is a busy time of year for bakers and chefs.  From egg nog and cookie exchanges to fruit cakes and meringue pies, increased baking and gift-giving means you’ll need to know just what to look for when you buy one of your key ingredients…eggs. When shopping for eggs, consumers should look for the USDA Grade shield, for the ultimate assurance of quality.  For best results for pastries and baked goods, pay attention to the freshness of your eggs.

USDA grading of shell eggs is a voluntary service paid for by shell egg producers.  Eggs sold to consumers must be labeled with a grade.  Eggs that are not labeled with a USDA Grade Shield have not been officially graded by USDA standards.  Only eggs meeting strict USDA standards are allowed to be marketed with the USDA Grade Shield on the package.  Egg packers who do not use the USDA grading service may put terms such as “Grade AA” or “Grade A” on their cartons, but they may not use the USDA Grade Shield. Read more »

Lighten Up Your Holiday Dessert with MyPlate – MyPlate Holiday Makeover Week 6

Jean’s Banana Pudding Parfait

Jean’s Banana Pudding Parfait

The MyPlate Team continues to share “Makeover Monday” recipes each week on the USDA blog and the MyPlate Facebook page through January 6th.

I was first introduced to banana pudding, a traditional southern dessert, during the holidays when I moved to Virginia from North Dakota. It tasted great, but I remember leaving the dinner table with an uncomfortable, heavy feeling in my stomach. I decided to try and make the pudding lighter so that I could still enjoy it, but without the overstuffed feeling.

I must admit, I was skeptical about swapping all of the full fat ingredients for either reduced or nonfat versions. I was afraid that the taste would suffer and not resemble my favorite banana pudding recipe. Boy, was I wrong! I was surprised how good the “makeover” pudding tasted. Read more »