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South Florida Drought: Mobile Irrigation Labs to the Rescue

A person testing an irrigation system

Nurseries can take advantage of the free irrigation efficiency test. Photo: Gail Hendricks.

Widespread drought in California and other parts of the western United States has been widely covered, but earlier this year,  drought conditions in southeast Florida were  “extreme” and are still considered “abnormally dry” according to the National Drought Mitigation Center. This heavily populated area of Florida – which is home to more than eight million people and includes the cities of Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach – is also a major agricultural area.

Even though Florida is in its rainy season, lasting from May until October, the South Florida Water Management District reports that May and June rainfall totals were well below average across most of the region. District weather records show that this May and June period was the driest since 2004 and the ninth driest since recordkeeping began in 1932. Of course, a tropical disturbance or hurricane that contains significant rainfall, like the one experienced last month, can make up at least some of this deficit, but waiting for weather isn’t something to rely on to fix the problem. Read more »

Colorado Team Nutrition Makes School Wellness a Success

Two kids writing on paper

As part of their wellness training, CDE educated 111 participants on local school wellness policies and how to include students in their wellness activities.

The following guest blog describes how one state education department used a USDA Team Nutrition grant to develop training to help schools implement programs that promote student wellness and to meet updated meal standards.

By Heather Hauswirth, RD, Program Specialist, Office of School Nutrition, Colorado Department of Education  

In September 2014, our office, the Colorado Department of Education Office of School Nutrition, was awarded a Team Nutrition Training Grant from the USDA Food and Nutrition Service to implement statewide school wellness training. Read more »

Organic on the World Stage: Expo Milan 2015

AMS Administrator Anne Alonzo (first row, third from right) with panelists and Expo Ambassadors at the "Women Leading the Organic Way" panel at the USA Pavilion at the Expo Milano 2015

AMS Administrator Anne Alonzo (first row, third from right) with panelists and Expo Ambassadors at the "Women Leading the Organic Way" panel at the USA Pavilion at the Expo Milano 2015.

Across the country and around the world, more people are looking for organic options at their local markets.  Thanks to the remarkable growth in the number of USDA certified organic operations, which now number more than 27,800 worldwide, consumers have more choices than ever.  My agency, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), includes the National Organic Program, which plays a critical role in advancing the organic sector by developing clear standards for use of the USDA Organic seal, enforcing a level playing field, and expanding trade opportunities to create new markets for U.S. organic businesses.

Just last week, I had the privilege of highlighting the success of American organic agriculture on the world stage at the Expo Milan 2015 USA Pavilion, where the theme was “American Food 2.0:  United to Feed the Planet.”  During the “Women leading the Organic Way” panel discussion, I shared USDA’s vision for organic agriculture and all the ways in which USDA is supporting organic farmers and businesses.  I also emphasized the important role of women in agriculture – women farm 301.4 million acres in the U.S., and a relatively high proportion of organic farms are operated by women. Read more »

Investing the Tools to Learn

A group of Canyon Country Youth Corps from the Four Corners School of Outdoor Education after a day of stringing fenceline

A group of Canyon Country Youth Corps from the Four Corners School of Outdoor Education after a day of stringing fenceline. Photo courtesy Four Corners School of Outdoor Education, Jenna Whetzel, Photographer

As a society we do not expect children to learn to write without paper, we do not expect them to learn to cook without access to food, and we certainly would never expect them to learn to read without books. It’s simple: in order to learn, one must have the proper tools and experiences to do so.

At the Four Corners School of Outdoor Education, students and teachers, young and old, learn about conservation and land management by taking part in one of four programs designed to encourage stewardship of the entire Colorado Plateau region. While enrolled in the Canyon Country Youth Corps Program, students are immersed in land management education in order to eventually manage public lands in their own careers. Read more »

Tales from a School Food Service Director: It’s all about the Brand

Andover High School's school meal staff serving up food samples

Andover High School's school meal staff serving up samples of their nutritious and delicious foods.

This guest blog showcases the success story of a school food service director in an upper-class suburb of Boston.  The director discusses some of the creative methods her school meal program uses to boost participation and, thereby, promote health and nutrition in their district.

By Gail Koutroubas, School Food Service Director in Andover, MA

For 10 years, I’ve been a school food service director at Andover School District in Massachusetts.  My district of 5,900 students lies in an upper-class suburb of Boston. The median income is approximately $140,000 with just 7 percent of students qualifying for free or reduced-priced lunch. Read more »

Cattle and Honey Bees Graze in Harmony on Wisconsin Farm

Reed Fitton with cattle and a tree behind him

Reed Fitton has enhanced honey bee habitat on the pastures he manages near Gays Mills, Wisconsin.

Reed Fitton grazes cattle on the same hilltop farm where the late conservationist Ben Logan grew up and later featured in his memoir, “The Land Remembers.” Fitton carefully manages the farm near Gays Mills, Wisconsin with a broad conservation ethic, preventing soil erosion and protecting waterways. He has also transformed the Ben Logan’s “Seldom Seen Farm” into an oasis for honey bees and other pollinators.

When USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) launched a new coordinated effort to improve honey bee habitat in 2014, Fitton was one of the first to participate. He works closely with NRCS to make improvements to the land that provide better forage for his cattle, improve existing hayfields and convert former corn fields into healthy pasture. Read more »