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Farm Service Agency Resuming Payments to Millions of Farmers & Ranchers

Within a week after the government opened from a 16-day shutdown in October, Farm Service Agency employees were able to quickly issue payments to more than 1 million farmers and ranchers.

Secretary Vilsack said that he was “proud of the commitment by USDA employees” to ensure these conservation and safety net funds reached America’s farmers and ranchers. “USDA assures rural America that it remains a priority, and these actions by FSA staff serve as yet another reminder that America needs passage of a new Food, Farm and Jobs Bill as soon as possible to continue support of producers.” Read more »

Forest, Grasslands Users Now Have Access to Digital Maps

Digital maps available for your smart phone will help visitors find their way around U.S. Forest Service forests and grasslands.

Digital maps available for your smart phone will help visitors find their way around U.S. Forest Service forests and grasslands.

Scaling a mountain or hiking across a meadow is a peaceful, exhilarating exploration – unless you don’t know which fork in the trail to take.

It used to mean taking out a folded map, holding onto it tightly so the wind won’t blow it away or trying to shelter it from raindrops. Now dealing with a map may be faster, easier and more convenient by opening your smart device and using a U.S. Forest Service digital map you downloaded for free or for a nominal fee.

“In many areas of our national forests or grasslands, internet connections are just not available,” said Joan Steber, a cartographer who worked on the digital map project. “The free app and static maps will help because the user downloads the maps to their Apple or Android device before heading to a national forest or grassland.” Read more »

Natural Resources Conservation Service Helps Michigan Tribes with Wild Rice Production

Larry Romanelli, with the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians Ogema (left) and NRCS Michigan State Conservationist Garry Lee (right) pose with artist Shirley M. Brauker, the winner of the agency’s Native American Heritage Month poster contest. NRCS photo.

Larry Romanelli, with the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians Ogema (left) and NRCS Michigan State Conservationist Garry Lee (right) pose with artist Shirley M. Brauker, the winner of the agency’s Native American Heritage Month poster contest. NRCS photo.

When the Anishinaabe people migrated from the Atlantic Ocean coast to Michigan centuries ago, they were in search of a place where “food grows on the water,” according to their tribe’s legend. Their quest ended when they found wild rice, thriving in shallow waters in the Great Lakes region.

The wild rice, or manoomin, served as a staple of the Anishinaabe diet is still culturally and spiritually important to them. And, today, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service is helping keep this tradition alive.

NRCS has worked with two Anishinaabe tribes to increase the number of wild rice beds using financial assistance from Farm Bill conservation programs. The Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula was the first tribe to use NRCS assistance for planting rice. Tribal members planted about 12 acres of wild rice at six locations in 2006. Read more »

Food Hubs – Building Businesses and Sustaining Communities

An infographic looking at how food hubs are building businesses and sustaining communities. Click to view a larger version.

An infographic looking at how food hubs are building businesses and sustaining communities. Click to view a larger version.

Food is a great equalizer.  Whether sharing it with loved ones around our holiday table or worrying about how we’re going to fit lunch in to our busy work days–food is something we all have in common.  But we don’t always think about the path it takes to get to our plates or even the store shelves.  And while there are many different ways it gets to us, we’re seeing food hubs play an increasingly important role for everyone along the way–farmer to corner store, chef to school lunch.

Food hubs are innovative business models emerging more and more across the country. They bring farmers and suppliers together, with 81 percent of food hubs focusing on increasing opportunities for local farms and allowing smaller producers to pool their products and fulfill larger contracts. Ninety-one percent of food hubs are near cities, connecting rural farmers to larger suburban and urban communities.  Oftentimes, farmers who work with food hubs offer a wider variety of products and are able to continue selling their goods later into the growing season.  That translated into an average of over $3.7 million in sales in the last year.  And USDA’s efforts have helped expand the number of regional food hubs operating around the country.  There are over 230, a 65 percent increase since 2009. Read more »

USDA Announces Farm to School Grant Awards

USDA Farm to School grants help get healthy, local foods into schools and teach children where their food comes from. (Photo Credit: Kelly Campbell)

USDA Farm to School grants help get healthy, local foods into schools and teach children where their food comes from. (Photo Credit: Kelly Campbell)

I just spent the morning calling people who had applied to receive a USDA Farm to School grant. They were fun calls to make as I was letting this year’s awardees know their project had been selected for funding.

Today USDA announced awards for 71 projects spanning 42 states and the District of Columbia that support USDA’s efforts to connect school cafeterias with local farmers and ranchers through its Farm to School program.

USDA Farm to School grants help schools respond to the growing demand for locally sourced foods and increase market opportunities for producers and food businesses, including food processors, manufacturers, and distributors. Grants will also be used to support agriculture and nutrition education efforts such as school gardens, field trips to local farms, and cooking classes. Selected projects will serve more than 13,000 schools and 2.8 million students, nearly 45 percent of whom live in rural communities. Projects are diverse: Read more »

Prince Follows Great-Grandfather’s Steps through the Forest

Prince Albert II of Monaco poses in between Wapiti District Ranger Sue Stresser and Shoshone Forest Supervisor Joe Alexander. (U.S. Forest Service/ Kristie Salzmann)

Prince Albert II of Monaco poses in between Wapiti District Ranger Sue Stresser and Shoshone Forest Supervisor Joe Alexander. (U.S. Forest Service/ Kristie Salzmann)

On a beautiful fall day on America’s first national forest, Prince Albert II of Monaco retraced the steps his great-grandfather took 100 years ago through the wilderness of the Shoshone National Forest in Wyoming.

Prince Albert II helped celebrate on Sept. 20 the centennial anniversary of the hunting trip his great-grandfather, Prince Albert I, took with now-historic figures William “Buffalo Bill” Cody and Abraham Archibald Anderson, the first Special Superintendent of Forest Reserves. The successful hunting trip cemented lasting relationships between the men and established an area in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, which is still known today as Camp Monaco. Read more »