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Growing Interest in Conservation Careers with USDA

Project Grow students at TERRA Environmental Research Institute are given instruction on the steps required to collect field data used in USDA’s National Resources Inventory (NRI). Photo by: Yolanda Rivera, NRCS Florida.

Project Grow students at TERRA Environmental Research Institute are given instruction on the steps required to collect field data used in USDA’s National Resources Inventory (NRI). Photo by: Yolanda Rivera, NRCS Florida.

Students at a public high school in Florida are receiving some hands-on experience and invaluable mentoring from the staff at USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) as a result of a USDA grant.

Project Grow aims to educate high school students about careers and college education requirements for career positions with NRCS in an agency effort to meet future staffing needs. NRCS is shifting to a younger age group for recruitment to evaluate if it’s effective in raising awareness for potential new staff members. Read more »

USDA Publications Shine on Government Bookstore Bestseller List

A favorite U.S. Forest Service book for kids is “Why Would Anyone Cut a Tree Down?” which explains to children that, yes, there are reasons to cut trees. (U.S. Forest Service)

A favorite U.S. Forest Service book for kids is “Why Would Anyone Cut a Tree Down?” which explains to children that, yes, there are reasons to cut trees. (U.S. Forest Service)

The U.S. Government Bookstore, the place where you can buy the 2014 Counterterrorism Calendar for $20 or a loose-leaf copy of the Export Administration Regulation 2013 edition for $199, released its list of best-selling publications for 2013 that includes several items published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Why Would Anyone Cut A Tree Down?” is written by Roberta Burzynski, who works in the U.S. Forest Service’s Northeastern Area State and Private Forestry unit. The book shows children the life cycle of trees and how trees are a renewable resource. The 41-page book with 28 full-color illustrations can be used by parents and teachers along with online activities and lessons. Colorfully illustrated by Juliette Watts, the $10 book is ideal for parents, teachers and children. Burzynski also wrote the popular “Woodsy Owl’s ABCs” that is meant to be read by an adult to children. Read more »

School Breakfast Week, International School Meals Day Kick off National Nutrition Month

Administrator for the Food and Nutrition Service Audrey Rowe engages elementary students from Sacramento Unified District on the importance of starting their day with a healthy breakfast.

Administrator for the Food and Nutrition Service Audrey Rowe engages elementary students from Sacramento Unified District on the importance of starting their day with a healthy breakfast.

To kickoff National Nutrition Month, USDA is again celebrating National School Breakfast Week (March 3 – 7) to support the health and well-being of our nation’s children.  National Nutrition Month is the perfect time to highlight the essential role nutrition plays in sustaining healthier lives.  A well-balanced breakfast serves as an important first step to a healthier life—and a healthier next generation!

The case for breakfast is a strong one.  Research reveals that students who consume breakfast make greater strides on standardized tests, pay attention and behave better in class, and are less frequently tardy, absent or visiting the nurse’s office.  Eating breakfast is also positively linked with maintaining a healthy weight – and avoiding health problems associated with obesity. Given the current rates of childhood obesity and related health problems, it’s vital for children and families to eat healthier meals and snacks throughout the day.

Studies also show that children who skip breakfast are at an academic disadvantage: They have slower memory recall, make more errors and are more likely to repeat a grade. Read more »

At Agricultural Outlook Forum, Farmer Shows How Conservation Pays Off

Mark Jennings plants sunflowers in wheat stubble.

Mark Jennings plants sunflowers in wheat stubble.

Attending a no-till conference forever changed the way North Dakota farmer Mark Jennings farmed. He started using basic conservation practices for conserving moisture.

For the past decade he’s been sowing cover crops and reaping rich returns.

Working closely with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Jennings has become a devoted no-till farmer. Read more »

Conservation Programs Help Woman Rancher Realize a Dream

Beginning farmer Ann Whitehead on her 100 acres of agricultural land near Wellsville, Mo. NRCS photo.

Beginning farmer Ann Whitehead on her 100 acres of agricultural land near Wellsville, Mo. NRCS photo.

When Ann Whitehead acquired 100 acres of agricultural land near Wellsville, Mo., it gave her the opportunity to fulfill her dream of raising cattle. Since then she has been taking advantage of technical and financial assistance from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to ensure that the land will be productive for future generations of people who might share her dream.

“I grew up on a farm, but I was more in charge of the chickens,” Whitehead said. “Raising cattle is something I always wanted to do, so I told my kids ‘I’m not getting any younger, and I’m going to do it.’”

Whitehead took advantage of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) that provides funding for beginning farmers, ranchers and forest landowners associated with planning and implementing conservation measures. Read more »

Organic 101: Ensuring Organic Integrity through Inspections

Organic inspector Elizabeth Whitlow at an organic vineyard inspection.  Every organic operation involved between the farm and market is inspected to verify compliance with the USDA organic regulations. Photo courtesy ccof.org.

Organic inspector Elizabeth Whitlow at an organic vineyard inspection. Every organic operation involved between the farm and market is inspected to verify compliance with the USDA organic regulations. Photo courtesy ccof.org.

This is the fifteenth installment of the Organic 101 series that explores different aspects of the USDA organic regulations.

USDA certified organic products are produced and sold around the world, many originating from over 17,700 organic operations right here in the United States. The USDA organic label assures consumers that products have been produced through approved methods and that prohibited substances, like synthetic pesticides, have not been used. I am often asked how the USDA verifies organic claims, and whether organic operations are inspected.

In order to sell, label, or represent products as organic in the United States, operations must be certified. The National Organic Program, part of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, accredits private, foreign, and State entities called certifying agents to certify and inspect organic operations.

So how does this all work? First, the operation would apply for certification through a certifying agent. The certifier will ask for information including a history of substances applied to land during the previous three years, and an Organic System Plan describing the practices and substances to be used. The certifier reviews applications to verify that practices comply with USDA organic regulations, and then an inspector conducts an on-site inspection. Read more »