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The Mississippi River: Mending the Mighty from North to the Gulf

Brian Parkinson working with NRCS District Conservationist Joe Gates to make conservation improvements to his land

Brian Parkinson grows cereal rye and other varieties of cover crops near Milan, Ill. Parkinson works with NRCS District Conservationist Joe Gates to make conservation improvements to his land. Photo courtesy of NRCS.

The mighty Mississippi – it’s a river with a history of romance and enchantment. Native Americans depended on the Mississippi River for food and water, and world explorers came in search of its riches.

Over time, farmsteads dotted the land, and small towns grew to large cities. Today, we see the fruits of our labor as industry, commerce and agriculture continue to thrive in the basin. But those successes come with environmental challenges. Many of the basin’s waterways suffer from poor water quality. Read more »

Discovery Could Rekindle Interest in a USDA Trailblazer

Fruits and vegetables in a basket

David Fairchild was instrumental in establishing gardens nationwide to screen plants from overseas with potential for improving U.S. diets, gardens, and landscapes. ARS photo by Keith Weller.

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.

Bountiful harvests don’t magically appear on store shelves and supermarkets. USDA scientists strive to make sure that the variety of meats, fruits, vegetables and grains we enjoy are hardy enough to withstand insects, diseases, droughts and other natural threats familiar to anyone with a garden or farm.

David Fairchild, a USDA scientist, was a key part of that effort. Fairchild collected plants from all over the world so they could be studied and bred. He organized the USDA’s Office of Foreign Seed and Plant Introduction and served as its chairman for more than 20 years. He is credited with introducing about 30,000 plant species and variations into the United States, and he was instrumental in establishing gardens throughout the United States to screen plants with potential for improving our diets, gardens and landscapes. Read more »

Serving More Summer Meals in Rural and Tribal Areas

Catholic Charities began their second year providing meals to children up to age 18 through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) to children at the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan Del Valle, TX. USDA photo.

Catholic Charities began their second year providing meals to children up to age 18 through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) to children at the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan Del Valle, TX. USDA photo.

Cross-posted from the White House Rural Council blog:

During the school year, over 21 million children receive free and reduced-price breakfast and lunch each day through the USDA’s National School Lunch Program. But, when school is out, many children who rely on these meals go hungry. The challenge is particularly great in rural areas and Indian Country, where 15 percent of households are food insecure. In these areas, children and teens often live long distances from designated summer meal sites and lack access to public transportation.

According to Feeding America, 43 percent of counties are rural, but they make up nearly two-thirds of counties with high rates of child food insecurity. The consequences are significant. Several studies have found that food insecurity impacts cognitive development among young children and contributes to poorer school performance, greater likelihood of illness, and higher health costs. Read more »

Supporting Local Rural Economies while Improving Forest Health

A California Conservation Corps crew hard at work on the Stanislaus National Forest

A California Conservation Corps crew hard at work on the Stanislaus National Forest. Photo credit: US Forest Service.

This blog post was written with support from Amie Anderton (Intermountain Region), Lindsay Buchanan (Washington Office), and Teresa McClung (Pacific Southwest Region).

Calaveras County, nestled in the Gold Country and High Sierra regions of California, has a long and storied past.

It is the setting for Mark Twain’s famous short story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” published in 1865. However, this rural county and the neighboring Amador County have faced some more recent tough times. Read more »

APHIS Partners with Pennsylvania to Fight the Spotted Lanternfly

An adult spotted lanternfly

An adult spotted lanternfly (Photo courtesy of Bugwood)

Last year, an invasive pest known as the spotted lanternfly was found in the United States for the first time ever in Berks County, Pennsylvania.  Tucked away in Pennsylvania Dutch Country, Berks County may seem an unlikely location to find a foreign pest, but with today’s global economy unwanted pests can show up almost anywhere. 

In response, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is working closely with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA) to stop this pest from spreading.  APHIS has already contributed more than $1 million in Farm Bill funding to support the response effort in Pennsylvania, and PDA quickly established a quarantine area and regulated the movement of potential host material to help protect other communities. Read more »

Updated USDA Program Enables Farmers and Ranchers to Help Monarch Butterflies

A monarch butterfly on a flower

NRCS has updated its Conservation Stewardship Program to enable farmers and ranchers to plant milkweed and other plants to help monarch butterflies. NRCS photo by Gene Barickman.

An update to one of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) key conservation programs will enable farmers and ranchers to aid the imperiled monarch butterfly. This year, NRCS updated its Conservation Stewardship Program to include incentives for farmers and ranchers who plant milkweed and other nectar-rich plants favored by monarch butterflies.

Monarch butterflies depend on milkweed to lay their eggs during their annual journey from Mexico to the United States to as far north as Canada. Data show that monarch populations have decreased significantly over the past two decades, in part because of the decrease in native plants, including milkweed, on which their caterpillars feed. Read more »