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Enhancing the Flavor of Food through Plant Breeding

Butternut squash

Plant breeding can lead to new varieties that taste great and are easier to grow, giving you choices if you are growing them or getting them from a farmers market or grocery store.

Vegetables are becoming more flavorful and sustainable through plant breeding. Plant breeding is at the core of the seed-to-table movement—using selective breeding to develop plant varieties that possess exceptional culinary properties and the ability to thrive in a sustainable production system.

One plant variety leading the way in this movement is a series of mini-butternut squash developed by a Cornell University researcher, Michael Mazourek. He began the project as part of a $2.5 million Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) grant awarded to Oregon State University, which resulted in a national network of organic plant breeders, the Northern Vegetable Improvement Collaborative (NOVIC). The grant is funded by National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). Read more »

Defining Open Space in the San Gabriel Mountains

West Fork of the San Gabriel River

Winter waters rush through the West Fork of the San Gabriel River. (U.S. Forest Service photo)

The term “open-space” can mean so many different things to an Angelino. It can mean finding a rare open parking spot downtown, finding an open reservation at the newest, trendy restaurant, or it can mean escaping the overwhelming congestion of Greater Los Angeles into its “backyard”: The Angeles National Forest and the newly designated San Gabriel Mountains National Monument.

When Angelinos and tourists from various parts of the world trade the congestion on the highways for the feel of an open trail, it provides relief from the daily grind that lies only 60 minutes away from the metropolitan area. Read more »

Alabama Water Festival Teaches Fourth Graders About Water Conservation

A group of students building a mini-filtration system

A group of students build a mini-filtration system. NRCS photo.

Although it’s no longer her job, Anna Miller still takes time to volunteer for the Lee County Water Festival every spring in Auburn, Alabama. The annual event has attracted hundreds of fourth graders with lessons on aquifers, the water cycle and water filtration, since it first began in 2004.  

“Students learn about their environment; they learn about water and how precious it is,” said Miller. Read more »

Meeting to Prepare Industry for Food Safety Modernization Act Compliance

Last Thursday, I had the pleasure of attending a public meeting held by our colleagues at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to provide an update for the pending Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). This law will make significant changes to the country’s food safety laws, including the first-ever regulation of fresh produce and a more proactive approach to preventing food-borne illnesses. I spoke on behalf of my agency – the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) – as part of a panel of domestic and international officials who provided the government’s perspective on how we would like to see the final law implemented.

With several of the law’s rules set to become final later this summer and early in the fall, the FDA is still seeking comments and suggestions for the best way to implement FSMA. The meeting, which included breakout sessions where participants could start an open dialogue about the implementation, is part of the FDA’s emphasis on educating the industry before regulating it. Read more »

Kentucky Agriculture – Snapshot of Bluegrass State Farming

Kentucky State Infographic

That's a lot of cows, and soybeans, and corn, and horses - Kentucky Agriculture is growing! Check back next week for another spotlight on another state and the results of the 2012 Census of Agriculture.

The Census of Agriculture is the most complete account of U.S. farms and ranches and the people who operate them. Every Thursday USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service will highlight new Census data and the power of the information to shape the future of American agriculture.

Kentucky and cattle have always been a perfect match, and as the most recent Census of Agriculture shows that bond remains to this day. In 2012, the year for which we conducted the Census, Kentucky farmers sold more than $1 billion worth of cattle and calves.

Beef cattle production has become an increasingly important sector for many farms transitioning away from tobacco production. Overall, about half of all farms in Kentucky owned cattle in 2012. That’s not surprising, considering we have some of the best cattle pasture in the United States. Read more »

Chef Leverages USDA Team Nutrition Grant to Develop Healthy Menus for Students

Chef Brenda with foodservice staff

Chef Brenda works with foodservice staff to assemble her breakfast burrito recipe during the chef designed school taste testing.

The following guest blog highlights the important work of Chef Brenda Thompson, RDN (Registered Dietitian Nutritionist).  Thanks to a USDA Team Nutrition grant, she developed recipes for the Chef Designed School Lunch cookbook.  Chef Brenda is currently working with the Idaho State Department on the final stages of her second book, Chef Designed School Breakfast, which will be published online at the end of this year.

By Chef Brenda Thompson, RDN

As an advocate for school foodservice staff, I am committed to being a resource—both in getting the word out about the nutrition goals schools are achieving daily and in helping kitchen staff be more efficient and have fun at their jobs.

In conjunction with these goals, I am often presented with opportunities to provide support for schools in meeting the standards set forth in the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010. Since I enjoy marketing healthy foods to kids and encouraging them to try new things, these opportunities are a great privilege. Read more »