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New Toolset Helps Identify Key Water Conservation Options

ARS soil scientist Mark D. Tomer and technician Sarah Porter reviewing a map showing results from a new toolset

Along Beaver Creek in central Iowa, ARS soil scientist Mark D. Tomer and technician Sarah Porter review a map showing results from a new toolset that analyzes conservation data from this watershed. Photo by Jim Ascough.

A free computer-based toolset developed by USDA-Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists was launched this month.  The toolset can help conservation planners, landowners and researchers better manage watershed runoff, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, while also supporting agricultural production.

Excess nutrients from watershed runoff—from sources that include farming—affect the ecological quality of aquatic environments. A watershed is an area of land from which all of the water that runs off its surface flows to the same location, typically a stream or river, but lakes and ponds also have watersheds. There are thousands of watersheds of varying sizes that cover the continental United States. Read more »

A Conversation on Housing Development in Missouri

There’s power in unity and it’s always a great thing to see small communities come together to discuss ways of improving the places they call home. If we join forces, a lot can happen – and it all starts with a vision.

Speaking with the individuals of rural areas and creating solutions to further advance their communities is what I truly enjoy. As the Administrator for USDA Rural Housing Service, listening to the voices of people in small communities and making their vision become a reality is something I strive to achieve. Read more »

STEM Grows from SEEDS at San Diego College

SEEDS scholars at Mesa College in San Diego participating in an Iron Chef-inspired team building exercise

SEEDS scholars at Mesa College in San Diego participate in an Iron Chef-inspired team building exercise. SEEDS encourages Hispanic students to pursue degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics-related fields. (Photo courtesy of Leticia Lopez)

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.

Educators at Mesa College, in San Diego, Calif., are developing future leaders in agricultural sciences and related fields by providing them with a solid background in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education.

The STEM Engagement for the Enrichment of Diverse Students (SEEDS) program is a four-year effort to encourage underrepresented students, primarily Hispanic, to pursue graduate degrees.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture is supporting the project with a $290,000 grant. Read more »

During National Farm to School Month, USDA Celebrates Grantees’ Accomplishments and a New Office

Food service staff at a Delaware high school serving up a local lunch, including kale

Food service staff at a Delaware high school serves up a local lunch, including kale from the school farm.

Along with brilliantly colored hard squash, crisp apples, and hearty greens, October ushers in National Farm to School Month, a time to raise awareness about and celebrate the impact of farm to school programs on children, producers, and communities. Since 2012, I have directed USDA’s Farm to School Program, guiding the work of a small but enthusiastic team at the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). Each October, we have more to celebrate: more USDA funds awarded to schools, agencies, and organizations to advance these programs; more money ending up in the pockets of local producers; more school gardens in which students can learn and grow; and more healthful school meals that feature local foods.

A new report, announced by Agriculture Secretary Vilsack earlier this month, helps quantify our celebration. An analysis of grant-making over the last three years reveals that USDA has awarded $15.1 million through 221 grants in 49 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Fifty percent of funded projects included expanding healthy menu options offered in the cafeteria; 46 percent included training for food service staff about menu planning, meal preparation, and cooking with local and regional foods; and 65 percent included nutrition education activities. These funds have helped 12,300 schools improve nutritious meal options made with local ingredients for 6.9 million students, while expanding market opportunities for family farmers and ranchers in their communities. Read more »

Celebrate National School Lunch Week 2015

Students, school staff and teachers celebrating National School Lunch Week

Students, school staff, teachers, and the entire community celebrate National School Lunch Week.

The fall season has arrived and with it the National School Lunch Week celebration! During the second week of October, USDA recognizes the important role school meal programs play in providing healthy, appetizing foods to their students. Over the last several weeks, USDA leaders visited schools to experience their meal programs first hand. And they were quite impressed! Now more than ever, today’s schools encourage healthy choices by featuring creative dishes and a variety of fruits and vegetables. USDA also got the chance to tour school gardens that harvest fresh ingredients and allow students to learn where their food comes from. It was exciting to see the many ways schools get students excited about health and nutrition and the important strides made to secure a healthier next generation.

After only three years since the updated nutrition standards were implemented, more than 96 percent of schools nationwide are meeting the standards.  The impact is nothing short of inspiring. School lunch revenue has increased by up to $450 million; teachers report that students are more attentive in the classroom; and a Harvard study found students are now eating more fruits and vegetables! Read more »

New Legislation Brings Projects in Reach for Rural Connecticut

From left: USDA Farm Service Executive Director for Connecticut, Brian Hulburt; Lt. Governor of Connecticut, Nancy Wyman; Town Manager of Coventry, Connecticut and others

From left: USDA Farm Service Executive Director for Connecticut, Brian Hulburt; Lt. Governor of Connecticut, Nancy Wyman; Town Manager of Coventry, Connecticut, John Elesser; Connecticut State Senator Cathy Osten; Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy; USDA Rural Development, Connecticut Area Director, Johan Strandson; USDA Rural Development State Director CT/MA/RI, Scott Soares; Ayanti Grant, District Director for Congressman Joe Courtney.

The first week of August brought an important milestone for communities in Connecticut. I was pleased to be on hand as our Governor, Dannel Malloy, held a ceremonial bill signing for Senate Bill 458. This legislation is significant because it changes the maturity date for municipal bonds issued in conjunction with any water, waste, or community facility loan from USDA Rural Development from an original 20 years to a 40 year bonding term. Of the 169 towns in the state of Connecticut, 69 of those have populations under 10,000. This makes them eligible to receive loans from USDA Rural Development through our community facilities program. This act will make repayment on such loans affordable for small towns that are in need of essential community facility additions and improvements. Read more »