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Pioneer African-American Smokejumper Laid to Rest at Arlington National Cemetery

Gen. George W. Casey Jr., former chief of staff of the Army, talks to Lt. Col. Roger Walden during a recognition ceremony at the Pentagon on March 25, 2010. (U.S. Army)

Gen. George W. Casey Jr., former chief of staff of the Army, talks to Lt. Col. Roger Walden during a recognition ceremony at the Pentagon on March 25, 2010. (U.S. Army)

During World War II, a time when segregation was still a part of everyday life, a group of 17 brave men took the plunge to serve their country and become the first all African-American paratrooper unit known as the Triple Nickles.

The battalion’s original goal – to join the fight in Europe – was thwarted when military leaders in Europe feared racial tensions would disrupt operations. At about the same time, the U.S. Forest Service asked the military for help to minimize damage caused by balloon bombs launched by the Japanese across the Pacific Ocean with the intent to start forest fires in the western U.S. during World War II.

In the end, few of the incendiary devices reached U.S. soil, but the Triple Nickles were instrumental in helping the Forest Service fight naturally-caused fires. They became history’s first military smokejumpers who answered 36 fire calls and made more than 1,200 jumps that summer of 1945. Read more »

New Naturalist Program Aims to Bring Southern Illinois Kids Outdoors

The Shawnee National Forest will offer a new school program this year called Naturalist in the Classroom. Youngsters will have an opportunity to enjoy the Shawnee National Forest, like the kids here at the Young Trekkers afterschool program. Photo used with permission.

The Shawnee National Forest will offer a new school program this year called Naturalist in the Classroom. Youngsters will have an opportunity to enjoy the Shawnee National Forest, like the kids here at the Young Trekkers afterschool program. Photo used with permission.

With declining budgets in the public school system, there has been a steady decrease in school fieldtrips in recent years. This plight further widens the disconnect between children and nature.

To help bridge the gap between the schoolroom and the natural world, the Shawnee National Forest will offer a new school program this year called Naturalist in the Classroom.  The program will be piloted to third- through fifth-grade students in Union and Alexander counties located in southern Illinois, and will focus on two themes – forest ecology and wetland ecology. Read more »

Digging Deeper: New Video Series Unlocks the Secrets of Soil Health

Buz Kloot interviews Rick Haney, a research soil scientist with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service in Temple, Texas, for the video series. NRCS photo.

Buz Kloot interviews Rick Haney, a research soil scientist with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service in Temple, Texas, for the video series. NRCS photo.

For years, researcher and filmmaker Buz Kloot suspected something remarkable was happening under our feet.

His suspicion was based on interviews he conducted with farmers from various parts of the country – all of whom reported significant production and environmental benefits by simply improving the health of their soil.

“These farmers reported more consistent yields, lower input costs and higher net income,” said Kloot, a University of South Carolina research associate professor. “They weren’t sneaking out at night to fertilize and irrigate. I had to believe what I saw. And with each visit, these ‘anomalies’ amassed.” Read more »

Secretary’s Column: Expanding Opportunity for Rural Americans

In his State of the Union address earlier this week, President Obama outlined his plan to move our economy forward by expanding opportunity for all Americans. Recognizing the role that agriculture continues to play in our nation’s economic recovery, the President said, “Today in America, […] a farmer prepared for the spring after the strongest five-year stretch of farm exports in our history.”

America’s farmers, ranchers and foresters, and those working in supporting industries, are to be commended for these accomplishments. They are expanding and growing markets around the world, spurring innovation, and creating jobs and opportunity on and off the farm, even in the face of uncertainty. The future of rural America depends on their continued leadership, and we must make sure they have the tools they need to continue to grow. Read more »

Let’s Move! Gives Two Green Thumbs Up for Gardening!

First Lady Michelle Obama and White House Chefs join children from Bancroft and Tubman Elementary Schools to harvest vegetables during the third annual White House Kitchen Garden fall harvest on the South Lawn, Oct. 5, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

First Lady Michelle Obama and White House Chefs join children from Bancroft and Tubman Elementary Schools to harvest vegetables during the third annual White House Kitchen Garden fall harvest on the South Lawn, Oct. 5, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

It may still be cold outside, but it doesn’t mean you can’t start thinking about your spring garden. Whether you’re planning a school garden or have the perfect plot of land in your backyard, Let’s Move! has all the tools you need to get started! Gardening not only stocks your kitchen with all-natural fruits and veggies rich with nutrients, it can be a great way to give your kids a hands-on lesson in healthy eating. Read more »

USDA Proposes Professional Standards in National School Lunch, Breakfast Programs; Announces New Progress in Implementing Meal Standards

Today, USDA proposed the establishment of minimum national professional standards and training requirements for school nutrition professionals who manage and operate the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs.

The standards, another key provision of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA), aim to institute education and certification standards for school nutrition professionals. These new standards will ensure that school nutrition personnel have the training and tools they need to plan, prepare and purchase healthy products to create nutritious, safe and enjoyable school meals.

As a former school nutrition director I can tell you that school nutrition professionals across the country are pleased with the new meal patterns established by the HHFKA, which requires schools to prepare healthier meals for 32 million children each day. Schools are at the forefront of national efforts to improve nutrition and reduce obesity in our Nation’s children. Read more »