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Alaska’s Chugach National Forest Provides a World-Class Training Ground for Olympic Hopefuls

Ski athletes come from all over the world to train on the Chugach National Forest, spending 25 to 30 hours a week in the challenging, variable conditions found on Eagle Glacier. The Alaskan Pacific University operated seven camps, each with about 20 athletes this summer. (Courtesy U.S. Ski Team Women’s Coach/Coach Matt Whitcomb)

Ski athletes come from all over the world to train on the Chugach National Forest, spending 25 to 30 hours a week in the challenging, variable conditions found on Eagle Glacier. The Alaskan Pacific University operated seven camps, each with about 20 athletes this summer. (Courtesy U.S. Ski Team Women’s Coach/Coach Matt Whitcomb)

America’s elite, Olympic-bound Nordic skiers have a high-altitude secret they hope will give them an edge in Sochi, Russia, during the 2014 Winter Olympics in late February.

Team members take a 10-minute helicopter ride from sea level up to Eagle Glacier on Alaska’s Chugach National Forest, the most northern national forest in the U.S. The environment there mimics what they expect to find in Sochi.

The glacier, 5,500 feet above Girdwood, Alaska, is home to the Thomas Training Center operated under permit by the Alaska Pacific University Nordic Ski Center. The ski center was established in the late 1990s as a model for creating international success in American Nordic skiing. Read more »

One Seed at a Time: Plant Materials Center in Los Lunas, New Mexico Helps Restore the Grand Canyon’s South Rim

Grasses grown from the NRCS Plant Materials Center in Los Lunas line the edge of Mather Point in the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

Grasses grown from the NRCS Plant Materials Center in Los Lunas line the edge of Mather Point in the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

For more than 20 years, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has been growing seeds for the Grand Canyon National Park and other national parks.

When the National Park Service renovated the Grand Canyon’s South Rim visitor center in 2008, they looked to the NRCS Plants Materials Center in Los Lunas, N.M. to produce the seed needed to restore native grasses in the area.

Now, driving along eight miles of twists and turns of the South Rim, you can see the bright green grasses surrounding the parking lots, roads, and popular viewpoints including Prima Point, Hermit’s Rest and the Bright Angel Trailhead. Read more »

We Still Want to Hear Your #MyFarmBill Stories!

As we get back to work following the lapse in appropriations, USDA remains focused on sharing the importance of Farm Bill programs for all Americans. A Food, Farm and Jobs Bill is critical to growing the rural economy, providing nutrition to families in need, strengthening agricultural research, growing a biobased economy and much more.

Now that we’re back to work, our #MyFarmBill social media campaign is ramping back up, and we need to hear from you! We’re asking agriculture and rural stakeholders from across the nation to continue sharing stories on how #MyFarmBill impacts you – using Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and other tools. Your input will build on the incredible response we’ve already seen – videos, photos and tweets that you can view here. Read more »

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 »