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Be Fire Wise: Preparing Your Home for Wildfire Season

A Fire Wise protected home

A Fire Wise protected home with landscaping designed to minimize fuel that would feed a fire to the doorstep.

Very often, the difference between saving your home in a wild fire and losing it to the flames is pretty much determined by what you do to prepare your property. The U.S. Forest Service calls it being Fire Wise.

I’ve had personal experience in the importance of clearing a wide perimeter around your property to deny fuel—dried wood, grass and trees—to a fire. Back about ten years ago my grandparents’ ranch house near the Cleveland National Forest in San Diego County was spared because of a 150-foot clear space between the flames and the house. And this wasn’t the first time that had happened. Read more »

Talking Local Food: Measuring Progress and Creating Opportunities

Local Food Hub’s Kristen Suokko, Bee Thorp, Susan Hill with USDA’s Deputy Under Secretary Elvis Cordova

Local Food Hub’s Kristen Suokko (right) and Bee Thorp (second from right) and Susan Hill (left) explain to USDA’s Deputy Under Secretary Elvis Cordova how the high tunnels extend the growing season and USDA’s commitment to local foods is having an impact. USDA photo by Peter Wood.

Results—at USDA we are constantly tracking and measuring them.  We want to know that what we’re doing is making a difference, that we’re making progress towards our mission, that the communities we support are getting the help they need.  Recently I had the pleasure of visiting local food stakeholders that are making a real difference in Charlottesville, VA and hear firsthand how USDA programs have made an impact in their community.

During my visit, I had a chance to listen to farmers, local food organizers, and business owners share their experiences involving local food production.  Just outside Charlottesville, I toured the Hill Farm and the warehouse of Local Food Hub.  The open dialog of these visits is important to me and important to USDA.  I strongly believe that we need to hear from the public so we make sure our priorities, programs and services are in line with what the American people need. Read more »

Climate-Smart Practices Keep the Land Covered

Jessa Kay Cruz of the Xerces Society with participants at Lockeford Plant Materials Center

Jessa Kay Cruz of the Xerces Society (with net) examines wild bees along with participants at the Lockeford Plant Materials Center’s Open House in April 2015. Photo by Amber Kerr.

All this month we will be taking a look at what a changing climate means to Agriculture. The ten regional USDA Climate Hubs were established to synthesize and translate climate science and research into easily understood products and tools that land managers can use to make climate-informed decisions. The Hubs work at the regional level with an extensive network of trusted USDA agency partners, technical service providers, University collaborators, and private sector advisers to ensure they have the information they need to respond to producers that are dealing with the effects of a variable climate. USDA’s Climate Hubs are part of our broad commitment to developing the next generation of climate solutions, so that our agricultural leaders have the modern technologies and tools they need to adapt and succeed in the face of a changing climate.”

There are many ways that farmers can use plant cover to mitigate and adapt to climate change. To learn climate-smart practices, farmers can turn to resources like USDA’s Plant Materials Center in Lockeford, California (CAPMC) which is one of 25 PMCs nationwide.  Established in the 1930’s to help with plant-based tools to combat the Dust Bowl, the PMCs test, develop, and deploy plant mixtures and cultivars to solve conservation challenges.  These challenges include soil erosion, water and air pollution, riparian degradation, loss of wildlife habitat – and now, climate change. Read more »

Will Chestnuts Roast on an Open Fire Again Someday?

A chestnut tree

The iconic American chestnut tree is rebounding from virtual extinction, thanks to transgenic research funded by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio. Today we learn more about how the National Institute of Food and Agriculture invests in and advances agricultural research, education and extension and seeks to make transformative discoveries that solve societal challenges.

Seventy years ago, when Nat “King” Cole first regaled us about roasted chestnuts in The Christmas Song, not many Americans could actually enjoy the treat because American chestnut trees were in dire straits.

The predominant tree in Eastern American forests was nearing the tail end of a 50-year blight that killed an astonishing three to five billion trees, making the species functionally extinct. Now, however, researchers supported by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) are working to restore the American chestnut and may be only a few years away from bringing back the iconic tree. Read more »

Egg-ucating the Chefs of Tomorrow

AMS’ Mark Perigen with a chef

AMS’ Mark Perigen observes as a future chef at Delta College’s Culinary School puts his egg quality knowledge to the test.

When embarking on their culinary careers, great chefs recognize that the key to creating delicious food is staying true to their ingredients.  At the heart of these truths is, “Good in; good out.”  If they put the best ingredients into cooking, they’ll get the best food out of them.  But with so many product and ingredient choices at their fingertips, how can they be sure they’re picking the best quality ingredients available?

USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) takes the guesswork out of that process by developing, maintaining and interpreting specific measurements of quality through U.S. standards and grades for a wide variety of agricultural products.  AMS also offers voluntary services to producers and suppliers to certify products to those standards. Read more »

Big Impact from a Small Kitchen

Executive Chef Jason Johnson explaining his preschool menu to Administrator Starmer

Executive Chef Jason Johnson explains his preschool menu to Administrator Starmer. Most of the children he cooks for have not had a lot of experience with fruits and veggies, but Chef Jason says that each week their plates come back cleaner. Photo credit: Heather Hartley, USDA

I recently traveled to Columbus, Ohio with Farm Service Agency (FSA) Administrator Val Dolcini and stopped by Southside Roots Café, Market and Kitchen for lunch. The restaurant makes delicious food from locally-sourced seasonal ingredients, but what really sets it apart is how it charges customers for that food.

Southside Roots Café uses a pay-what-you-can approach that allows everyone to eat nutritious, delicious food, regardless of their income. Housed in a former school building owned and operated by the Mid-Ohio Food Bank, the café and an adjacent fresh food market provide fresh, affordable, nutritious food to the local community. Weekly community meals, along with a kids’ meal program for students at a nearby development center and visitors to the Boys and Girls Club of Columbus, round out the food bank’s creative approach to serving families and children in need. Read more »