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Cooking Up Change Competition Kicks Off in Chicago

“Cooking Up Change” involved more than one hundred students and over 700 guests.

“Cooking Up Change” involved more than one hundred students and over 700 guests.

This November I served as a judge in the 2013-14 kick off Cooking Up Change competition here in Chicago. What is “Cooking Up Change”?  It’s a culinary competition sponsored by the Healthy Schools Campaign that challenges Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students and others across the U.S to create and prepare meals that are healthy and tasty and also follow National School Lunch Program requirements. This competition empowers students to have a voice about school meals and nutrition. On top of that, it’s a lot of fun for everyone involved!

The day of the competition I prepared by reviewing the rules, reading meal requirements, and skipping lunch. When I arrived at the event, I was impressed to see how many fellow judges there were and the wide range of food experts sitting around me. The competition got started and teams from fourteen schools started presenting their meals to us. The students brought in three or four cafeteria trays and gave each judge a sample. Judging was based on visual appearance, taste, presentation, and originality. Some students set themselves apart by being very well-polished when explaining the dishes, or by adding some creativity with music and costumes that reflected the meal’s ethic background. The competition was really tough, and ranking thee dishes was no easy task. Every meal had something that stood out, and often I found myself saying “I would order this at a restaurant!” Each dish was so delicious that by the end I could not eat one more bite! Read more »

The Domino Effect of One Purchase

Bread for the City CEO George Jones (far left) shows the organization’s rooftop garden to AMS Administrator Anne Alonzo (right with black coat and grey shirt), AMS Associate Administrator Rex Barnes (far right), Food Nutrition and Consumer Services Under Secretary Kevin Concannon (middle), and FNS Associate Administrator for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Jessica Shahin (middle left).

Bread for the City CEO George Jones (far left) shows the organization’s rooftop garden to AMS Administrator Anne Alonzo (right with black coat and grey shirt), AMS Associate Administrator Rex Barnes (far right), Food Nutrition and Consumer Services Under Secretary Kevin Concannon (middle), and FNS Associate Administrator for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Jessica Shahin (middle left).

Sometimes one action can have a ripple effect—an impact that spreads outward, touching much more than just the immediate surroundings.  We see it all the time in the process of agriculture. Weather changes crop yields, then ripples through the supply chain, impacting everything from the local economy to the national average of transportation costs.  Sometimes the ripple effect is set off by something as simple as buying apples.

My agency, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), buys food for nutrition programs like the National School Lunch Program and food assistance programs like food banks.  The obvious impacts, or ripple effects, of these purchases are benefits to our nation’s children and putting food on the tables of those who are struggling to make ends meet.  But the ripple effect of these purchases doesn’t stop there. Read more »

Joint Statement from Secretaries Vilsack, Jewell, and Pritzker on the Drought Declaration in California

Governor Brown’s declaration today underscores the gravity of the historic drought conditions facing California – conditions that are likely to have significant impacts on the state’s communities, economy and environment in the coming months.

We are keenly aware of the need to act quickly and collectively to address the complex challenges the drought poses, and we are directing our respective agencies to work cooperatively to target resources to help California and other impacted states prepare for and lessen the impacts of the drought. Read more »

Let’s Carry the Values of Tu B’Shevat with Us Every Day

(from L to R) Matt Nosanchuk, Associate Director for Outreach, The White House; Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb, Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Synagogue; Robert Bonnie, Under Secretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources and Environment (NRE); Meryl Harrell, Chief of Staff, NRE. USDA Photo: Tom Witham.

(from L to R) Matt Nosanchuk, Associate Director for Outreach, The White House; Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb, Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Synagogue; Robert Bonnie, Under Secretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources and Environment (NRE); Meryl Harrell, Chief of Staff, NRE. USDA Photo: Tom Witham.

Dignitaries from the White House and USDA held a tree planting ceremony Thursday beside the National Mall to commemorate Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish New Year of the Tree. Thinking about the people planting that young Redbud tree to honor the conservation ethic of the Jewish community, I was reminded of just how important trees are to all of us.

In my job as the Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, I’m charged with leading the agency that manages 193 million acres of forests that belong to the American people, as well as providing assistance in the management of 500 million acres of state and private forests and 100 million acres of urban forests. That’s a tremendous responsibility for the agency, one that often requires thinking in terms of the big picture, and how our decisions will impact the landscape in 30, 50, or even 100 years. Read more »

National FFA Officers Meet with Secretary Vilsack

National FFA officers meet with Secretary Vilsack at the Agriculture Department on January 15. USDA photo by Tom Witham.

National FFA officers meet with Secretary Vilsack at the Agriculture Department on January 15. USDA photo by Tom Witham.

“We are excited by the challenges you presented to us,” said FFA National Secretary Mitch Bayer at the conclusion of a half-hour meeting of National FFA officers with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack at the USDA Whitten Building earlier this week.

In his meeting with the officers, the Secretary covered a wide range of issues, including the immediate need for a new Food, Farm and Jobs Bill.  When it passes, he said, the National FFA should study provisions that will help young, beginning farmers become established.  He said there will be, he hopes, an easier path to credit and also support for the USDA microloan program, which helps beginning farmers and others buy equipment, rent ground, and buy livestock or supplies at affordable interest rates. The Secretary noted that 70 percent of the world’s farmers are women, and USDA is working to provide greater opportunities to women, Native Americans, Hispanics, African Americans and others who want to farm. Read more »

Clearer Air Awaits You in Wilderness Areas Across the Country

A view of the San Gorgonio Wilderness shows what the haziest days looked like in the first and second halves of the last decade. The right side of the image is about 14 percent clearer than the left. (U.S. Forest Service computer-generated graphic/Scott Copeland)

A view of the San Gorgonio Wilderness shows what the haziest days looked like in the first and second halves of the last decade. The right side of the image is about 14 percent clearer than the left. (U.S. Forest Service computer-generated graphic/Scott Copeland)

Visitors to wilderness areas treasure the stunning vistas and pristine scenery. Now there is good news for the millions of people who recreate in these special places: less haze exists in most wilderness areas allowing them to see farther and enjoy more color and texture in the scenery.

“We have even better news,” says Bret Anderson, the Forest Service’s regional haze coordinator. “Further reductions in air pollution are expected to bring even clearer air in coming years.”

All this good news is showcased in a recent series of USDA Forest Service reports showing visibility has improved at 60 of the 86 Class I wilderness areas, which are defined as those area of greater than 6,000 acres. The trends considered five-year averages of the haziest days for each year from 2000 through 2009. Read more »