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Principles, Requirements and Guidelines – An Important Update that will benefit USDA Clients

When you take a drink of water in this country, chances are pretty good that it came from a reservoir or river that is managed, or that has been treated in a plant funded with support from the Federal government, or whose headwaters are on public land managed by the United States Forest Service or Department of Interior.  Every dollar the federal government spends supporting water quality and quantity impacts millions of Americans.  Interagency guidelines governing how investments, programs, and policies that affect water resources are evaluated at the Federal level have been updated for the first time since 1983, and published by the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).

Given the importance of water to USDA programs and our customers, we understand that it makes sense to have the most complete and forward-thinking information available to inform our investment and implementation decisions.  That enhances our ability to develop programs and projects that conserve water resources while ensuring taxpayer dollars are well spent.  USDA is confident that these new guidelines can enhance our decision-making without adversely affecting how we implement our many conservation programs. Read more »

You’re Never Too Old to Play With Your Food

MyPlate offers easy ideas for making healthy foods festive and fun.

MyPlate offers easy ideas for making healthy foods festive and fun.

Who doesn’t want to have a little fun with their food? Especially if you have a picky eater at home, try adding a creative flair to the plate to boost a healthy meal’s fun factor. Our team of nutritionists has been having fun using cookie cutters to come up with creative, healthy ideas, but there are lots of easy ways to make healthy choices more appealing.

Earlier this week we shared a blog about making a snowman from all 5 of the MyPlate food groups. Below are some additional ideas. Have fun! Read more »

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, How Do We Count Thee?

According to the 2012 #AgCensus there were 12,079 farms in the U.S. that harvested a total of 17.3 million cut Christmas Trees. What will the 2014 Census of Horticulture reveal?

According to the 2012 #AgCensus there were 12,079 farms in the U.S. that harvested a total of 17.3 million cut Christmas Trees. What will the 2014 Census of Horticulture reveal?

Just as millions of Americans venture out this time of year to purchase a fresh cut Christmas tree, I too am busy visiting and talking with Christmas tree growers. However for me, the visits are important outreach opportunities with producers to prepare for the 2014 Census of Horticulture, which we at USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) just mailed this week.

This special study will help us do more than just count Christmas trees. It will look at the entire horticulture sector in the United States and gather a full count of this $14.5 billion industry. The Census of Horticulture will paint a detailed picture of U.S. producers nationwide – those who grow all those cherished holiday trimmings, from fresh cut Christmas trees, to poinsettias, holly and more. Read more »

It’s all about the Sides

Image of roast potatoes with tomatoes on a decorative table.

By keeping your side dish components separate, you can avoid cross-contamination.

Main dishes may dominate most holiday tables, but the space on your plate will probably be filled with more sides than whatever holiday meat is served. Proper food handling and cooking will make sure these items come out just as safe and delicious as your main meat.

Making a safe side dish can be even harder than making a main dish safely because side dishes usually contain many ingredients. The more ingredients in the dish the greater the opportunity there is for cross-contamination. By keeping your side dish components separate, you can avoid cross-contamination. Read more »

The Future is Here … and it’s Made of Wood

The Federal Center South in Seattle makes extensive use of wood. (Federal Center South – Building 1202; ZGA Architects; photo Benjamin Benschneider, WoodWorks 2014 Commercial Wood Design Award). Used with permission.

The Federal Center South in Seattle makes extensive use of wood. (Federal Center South – Building 1202; ZGA Architects; photo Benjamin Benschneider, WoodWorks 2014 Commercial Wood Design Award). Used with permission.

It’s a good time for building with wood products. More architects and contractors are returning to this renewable, sturdy, all-purpose material after decades of what some might consider an undue reliance on concrete and steel.

In furthering that message, I was pleased to join WoodWorks, a nonprofit organization supported by a $1 million grant from the U.S. Forest Service, to host more than 350 architects and builders this year at the Wood Solutions Fair in the District of Columbia.

The fair promoted the use of wood in commercial buildings in helping maintain sustainable forest management, addressing wildfires, droughts, extreme storms and insect epidemics. Wood buildings store tremendous amounts of carbon and reduce the fossil energy needed for construction over alternatives like concrete, steel and aluminum. Read more »

A New Revenue Source for Virginia Farmers Reduces Erosion and Improves Water Quality in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack speaking at a press conference in Fairfax, VA. USDA photo by David Kosling.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack speaking at a press conference in Fairfax, VA. USDA photo by David Kosling.

USDA has a long history of helping farmers, ranchers and forest landowners maintain their bottom line while improving soil health and reducing runoff into streams and rivers.  For nearly 80 years, USDA has offered funding and technical assistance for farmers to implement conservation practices through the conservation title of the Farm Bill. In recent years, however, USDA has also supported new, innovative approaches to voluntary, private lands conservation.

An announcement today by USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, and Administrator Gina McCarthy of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in northern Virginia highlights an innovative approach called water quality trading. Farmers like John Harrison of Appomattox County are taking advantage of private investments to implement conservation practices on their land. These practices help reduce erosion and nutrient runoff into local bodies of water, generating nutrient credits that can then be sold to regulated entities looking to offset nutrient losses for compliance purposes. Read more »