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Citizen Scientists Help Monitor Nation’s Watershed Health

Citizen scientist volunteer Kenny Moore

Citizen scientist volunteer Kenny Moore collects a water sample from one of over 60 project sites. All volunteers are trained to follow the collection requirements that ensure their samples can be accurately analyzed in the lab. They also visit the same site four times a year even in winter. Photo credit: Leanne Veldhuis

What do adventurers, microplastics, and your national forests have in common?

Water.

Our national forests and the glaciers, lakes, and rivers running through them form the headwaters for the majority of America’s drinking water. This includes many of our big cities and growing urban centers, even those that are far away from national forests. Because of its importance, protecting clean, abundant water is a priority for the U.S. Forest Service, and thankfully, it’s a priority of a growing number of our partners. Read more »

Using Science to Help Keep Food Safe: A Day in the Life of a USDA Laboratory Auditor

Isaac Gene Sterling

A fascinating part of Gene Sterling’s job is learning the different uses for the products that are being tested by USDA audited laboratories across the country. Did you know that peanuts are used in sauces, gravy and soup mixes as well as snack foods?

July is the height of summer grilling season, and throughout the month USDA is highlighting changes made to the U.S. food safety system over the course of this Administration. For an interactive look at USDA’s work to ensure your food is safe, visit the USDA Results project on Medium.com and read Chapter Seven: Safer Food and Greater Consumer Confidence.

From soup to nuts, we use science to help ensure the quality of agricultural products for consumers worldwide. As a Microbiologist for USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), I am one of a small group of highly-qualified auditors that travel across the country to certify over 70 private laboratories. These labs are consistently testing to verify the quality and wholesomeness of U.S. food and agricultural products.

Our Laboratory Approval Service approves, or accredits, labs that test agricultural products in support of domestic and international trade. Our programs cover a variety of products from aflatoxin testing in peanuts and tree nuts to export verification for meat and poultry products. Read more »

Making Sure Consumers Get What They Pay For

Honey on biscuits

When ARS researchers wrote the definitive report on the composition of honey in 1962, they made it possible to detect whether other substances might have been added, thus allowing consumers to have confidence when the label says “100 percent honey.” (USDA-ARS photo by Scott Bauer).

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.

When you buy packaged foods at the grocery store, who makes sure what it says on the outside is true on the inside—whether you are reading “100 percent sweet honey” or checking the calories in a serving of nuts?

It never says so on the label, but many times the surety rests on the science of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS). Read more »

Summer Meals: Giving Families the Support They Need

Two girls outside

When school is out during the summer months and children are no longer receiving breakfast and lunch at school, many families struggle to feed their children nutritious meals each and every day.

As a mother and grandmother, I understand the importance of ensuring that America’s children are provided with nutritious meals every day. My grandchildren, who are 5 and 8, are just like all children – infinitely curious and filled with energy, love, and joy. Young children should be playing and learning — not worried about where their next meal will come from. But for many children, school meals are their only source of nutrition, which is why USDA’s Summer Meals Programs are so important.

Summer Meals provide kids with the nutrition they need when school is out, and a safe haven where they can play and learn to keep their minds and bodies active during the summer months. The availability of these meals, which are served at no cost to children 18 and under, also reduces the financial burden on caretakers when school is out of session. Read more »

Helping a Growing Family Build Their Own Home

The McLane family

With assistance from USDA Rural Development’s Self-Help Program, the McLanes' were able to become first-time homebuyers in Liberal, Kansas. USDA Rural Development has provided more than $6 million in home-loan financing through the Agency’s Single Family Housing Direct Program to Liberal Self-Help Program participants like the McLane Family.

As I watched Matthew McLane’s children play in the front yard of their home, I could tell how much this family loved being homeowners.  Matthew and Candice McLane became first time homebuyers through the Agency’s Mutual Self-Help Program in 2012.  The couple, and their two daughters, had been living in an apartment prior to building their home through the Self-Help Housing Program.  Now the couple has three children, and one more on the way this fall – and the house is filled with love and joy as the family prepares for the arrival of its newest member.

Listening to Matthew describe the self-help process, you can tell how much pride he has in his home.  He describes putting his sweat, blood and tears into the home, but loving every minute of it.  From learning how to hang drywall, to laying flooring or installing shingles, it was all new experiences and skills that Matthew learned.  When repairs are needed to the home now, Matthew is able to do the home maintenance and repairs himself. Read more »

USDA Grants Helping the Specialty Crop Industry Reach Food Safety Goals

Fresh blueberries

Fresh blueberries

Across the country, farmers growing fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture and nursery crops – or specialty crops – are being asked to be certified in USDA’s voluntary audit program, Good Agricultural Practices (GAP).  From restaurants and hotels to schools and institutions, wholesale buyers want to ensure the fruits and vegetables they purchase meet food safety standards under the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).  One challenge for growers in many states is the lack of in-state auditors to perform the GAP certification reviews.

One solution has been to leverage another USDA resource to educate and train producers, handlers and buyers on-farm food safety practices. USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) offers Specialty Crop Block Grants (SCBG) to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops which includes supporting GAP certification audits. Since 2006, these grants have launched over 107 GAP and Good Handling Practices (GHP) outreach and training projects, and funded 116 GAP/GHP cost share projects through State departments of agriculture. Read more »