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USDA Researchers Study Hydromulches with Guar Gum Substitutes

ARS scientists are studying alternative, less expensive binders for hydromulch, a mixture of seed, mulch, water and other ingredients sprayed on bare soil. The binder helps the hydromulch stick together. (ARS photo)

ARS scientists are studying alternative, less expensive binders for hydromulch, a mixture of seed, mulch, water and other ingredients sprayed on bare soil. The binder helps the hydromulch stick together. (ARS photo)

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.

In the depths of winter, planting grass seed isn’t at the top of one’s to-do list. But soon, spring will arrive and landscaping companies will be out, spraying that green mixture of seed and mulch on patches of bare ground.

Hydromulch, a temporary, porous layer that can help protect newly sown seeds, contains water, dye, a mulching material, and a binder, which keeps the mulch intact. Typically the binder is made from guar gum, made by grinding beans of the guar plant into powder. When water is added, the powder forms a viscous gum. Read more »

Where the Moon Trees Grow

Official NASA portrait of Stuart Roosa (Courtesy NASA)

Official NASA portrait of Stuart Roosa (Courtesy NASA)

Many space enthusiasts know that one of the U.S. Forest Service’s most famous former employees was astronaut Stuart Roosa. The smokejumper circled the moon as part of NASA’s Apollo 14 mission more than 40 years ago.

However, what most folks don’t know is that Roosa brought a group of tiny travelers along for the ride. After all these years, they’re still among us today, living quietly across the United States. Their names – Douglas fir, sequoia and loblolly pine – are familiar to most everyone because they were seeds from these and other well-known tree species. Read more »

Native Homeownership Coalition Continues its Work in South Dakota

South Dakota United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development State Director Elsie Meeks (right) meets with Colleen Steele, Executive Director, Mazaska Owecaso Otipi Financial. USDA photo.

South Dakota United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development State Director Elsie Meeks (right) meets with Colleen Steele, Executive Director, Mazaska Owecaso Otipi Financial. USDA photo.

“Being a homeowner is absolutely rewarding to my family and me. Owning my own home means stability, safety and accomplishment in our lives,” said Stephanie Richards-Apple.  She purchased her home through Mazaska Owecaso Otipi Financial.  Mazaska is a partner to USDA Rural Development in South Dakota and a member of the South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition (Coalition).   Richards-Apple worked with Mazaska to make the step from tenant to homeowner.  Her story highlights the importance of the work of the South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition.

The Coalition is a partnership of Federal and State agencies, Housing Development Authorities and non-profit entities that share the common goal of improving Native homeownership in South Dakota.  South Dakota Rural Development State Director Elsie Meeks welcomed over 50 participants at a coalition-sponsored training session in Pierre, SD and stated “We strive to advocate and strengthen families and Native communities through homeownership; it isn’t often that the Native and non-native housing organizations get to learn from each other.” Read more »

Enhancing the Local School Wellness Environment

USDA Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Deputy Under Secretary Janey Thornton thanks Food Service Staff at Valley Intermediate School for their dedication to the children’s health.

USDA Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Deputy Under Secretary Janey Thornton thanks Food Service Staff at Valley Intermediate School for their dedication to the children’s health.

Local school wellness policies are an important tool for parents, local educational agencies, and school districts to promote student wellness, prevent and reduce childhood obesity, and provide assurance that school meal guidelines meet federal standards. They help communicate nutrition guidelines for all foods available on the school campus and include goals for nutrition education, physical activity, and other activities that help improve overall student wellness.

While visiting schools across the nation, I have seen firsthand how important local wellness policies are, and we here at USDA aren’t the only ones who think so. Over two dozen national associations and organizations have joined the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the US Department of Education in sharing information and resources about local school wellness policies. In fact, this group has issued a joint statement recognizing the role schools play in promoting wellness among staff, students, and families. Read more »

Safety Datapalooza: Opening Up Data To Better Protect Public Health

An estimated 1 million illnesses can be attributed to Salmonella every year. USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) recently announced its Salmonella Action Plan to help reduce the number of illnesses associated with FSIS-regulated products using new standards, strategies and innovation. When the Agency learned of the upcoming Safety Datapalooza on January 14, Chief Information Officer Janet Stevens knew they wanted in. “As lead of our Agency’s innovation Strategic Goal, I knew the value of leveraging the public through challenges, unconferences and datapaloozas,” said Stevens, “This was a wonderful opportunity to bring together data scientists, technologists and practitioners to generate ideas to help save lives.” Read more »

U.S. Forest Service Recognized for Energy Conservation Efforts

The Forest Service’s Technology and Development Center is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s first net zero energy facility in the nation. (RecSolar Inc.)

The Forest Service’s Technology and Development Center is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s first net zero energy facility in the nation. (RecSolar Inc.)

The Forest Service’s Technology and Development Center recently received the White House’s 2013 GreenGov Presidential Award and the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2013 Federal Energy and Water Management Award for its net zero energy facility project in San Dimas, Calif. A facility earns a net zero energy designation if it produces more renewable energy than it uses per year. This is the first facility of its kind in the Department of Agriculture.

The Department of Energy also recognized the Center for the same facility project and the Forest Service’s Northern Region for executing a $2.6 million Energy Savings Performance Contract in Fiscal Year 2012. Read more »