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Big Help for Small Producers

A USDA pilot program is helping small producers reach more retail markets by making Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certification more accessible and affordable.  Under the pilot, cooperatives, food hubs and other groups of small producers can pool resources to implement food safety training programs, perform internal inspections and share the cost of GAP certification.

A USDA pilot program is helping small producers reach more retail markets by making Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certification more accessible and affordable. Under the pilot, cooperatives, food hubs and other groups of small producers can pool resources to implement food safety training programs, perform internal inspections and share the cost of GAP certification.

For their communities, small farmers are anything but small. Their contributions are quite large – not only do they provide food for local residents – they also create jobs and economic opportunities.  However, retailer requirements and the cost of marketing can make it difficult for small producers to scale up and reach larger markets. USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is working to remove those barriers by offering a number of services that help small and local producers grow and sustain their businesses.

In the produce industry, more and more retailers require suppliers to have Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certification, which verifies that the operation is following industry-recognized food safety practices and recommendations from the Food and Drug Administration.  For small farmers, getting GAP certified can be difficult and expensive. To help offset some of these costs, the AMS Specialty Crops Inspection Division and Transportation and Marketing Program are partnering with the Wallace Center at Winrock International to implement a Group GAP Pilot Project. Read more »

Conservation Groups, Farmers Protect & Restore Precious Puget Sound Estuary

NRCS Assistant Chief Kirk Hanlin and Kate Kuhlman from Great Peninsula Conservancy discuss the progress of the Klingel Wetlands Restoration, while getting a first-hand look at the area.

NRCS Assistant Chief Kirk Hanlin and Kate Kuhlman from Great Peninsula Conservancy discuss the progress of the Klingel Wetlands Restoration, while getting a first-hand look at the area.

When many people think of Washington State, they imagine rain, coffee and apples. My view is much more complex and nuanced, thanks to our team at NRCS who showed me diverse agricultural landscapes, including the state’s major estuary – Puget Sound.

During my visit, I was greeted by an idyllic landscape steeped in history. Early settlers to the Puget Sound area converted marshlands into pastures and hayfields. We visited one such area now known as Klingel Wetlands, where levee systems were installed in the 1890s and 1950s to prevent flooding. Read more »

The Sun Shines on an Illinois Farm as Secretary Vilsack Highlights Conservation Efforts

Farmer Wayne Erickson, now 83, and his current tractor. (NRCS photo)

Farmer Wayne Erickson, now 83, and his current tractor. (NRCS photo)

Our trip to the Erickson farm in Milan, Illinois involved a three hour drive through pouring rain. But once we arrived, the rain stopped and the sun made a partial appearance. Because we had about 40 partners, guests, and several media reps invited, I called it divine intervention.

Secretary Vilsack was here to announce the national Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) awardees, using a multi-generation Illinois farm as a fitting and picturesque backdrop. The family took the Secretary on a short driving tour to show all they’ve done to protect their 100 year-old farm. Read more »

Liberal High School Develops Second Chance Breakfast Program

The “Grab-n-Go” breakfast station is in Liberal High School hallways after first period, so kids can pick them up on their way to the next class. The concept has increased breakfast participation (and students’ overall nutrition) significantly.

The “Grab-n-Go” breakfast station is in Liberal High School hallways after first period, so kids can pick them up on their way to the next class. The concept has increased breakfast participation (and students’ overall nutrition) significantly.

The following guest blog is part of our Cafeteria Stories series, highlighting the efforts of hard working school nutrition professionals who are dedicated to making the healthy choice the easy choice at schools across the country.  We thank them for sharing their stories!

By Denise Kahler, Communications Director, Kansas State Department of Education

More than 70 percent of Liberal High School’s student population qualify for free or reduced meals. Yet, only 11 percent of the entire student population was taking advantage of the school’s breakfast program.  While we would like to believe that all kids eat a healthy breakfast at home and come to school ready to learn, that’s not reality.  Additionally, most high school kids would rather stay in bed as long as possible or choose to socialize with friends before school instead of taking the time to eat breakfast. For some students, buses don’t arrive at the school early enough for them to participate in the breakfast program and for others, they simply aren’t ready to eat until they’ve been awake for a while. Whatever the case, Liberal High’s breakfast program participation was too low and too many kids were turning to vending machines for snacks to get them through the day.

Knowing that something needed to be done, the school nutrition staff secured the support of the principal and a grant from the Midwest Dairy Council to find a way to increase breakfast participation. Staff knew that whatever they did, it had to be fast (kids only had five minute passing periods), would have to be fuss-free and easy to handle since kids would be taking their breakfast to class, would have to include food items that were appealing to students and included yogurt or cheese every day, and were available in a location that was easily accessible to students. Read more »

Team Up for Success! USDA and Partners Help Secure a Healthier School Day

With kids now back in the classroom, USDA wants to help schools continue to build a healthier, more nutritious environment for their students.  At the same time, we’re deeply committed to ensuring these same schools maintain financial stability and strong student participation in their meal programs.  We’re seeing more and more schools move forward with new and innovative healthy school meals, but we also understand there is a need to share best practices across the country.

Thanks to our partners at the National Food Service Management Institute (NFSMI), we hope to fill that void.  To make this a reality, the group will pilot the Team Up For Success Training Initiative with the assistance of USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service Southeast Regional Office.  Together, they’ll work with school food authorities (SFAs) to identify challenges and provide nuanced resources to promote a healthier school day. Read more »

USDA Works to Bring Conservation, Other Assistance to a Remote Georgia Island

One of the major partners in the Sapelo Island Red Pea Project is SICARS which has a facility on Sapelo Island. NRCS photo.

One of the major partners in the Sapelo Island Red Pea Project is SICARS which has a facility on Sapelo Island. NRCS photo.

Sapelo Island off the coast of Georgia has a handful of residents, some of whom make their living raising livestock, farming produce and managing forests. While the barrier island is isolated and only accessible by ferry or private boats, USDA agencies in Georgia recently held a meeting on the island to talk about available assistance.

“This workshop was a great opportunity for many of our partner agencies to come together to meet these coastal area residents, discuss their needs and provide information and assistance to a group of individuals that have worked very little with us in the past,” said Karri Honaker, a district conservationist with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Read more »