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Adding a Helping of Books to Nutritious Summer Meals

A boy reading a book with a man

Enrichment activities help keep children and teens engaged, while they receive a healthy meal or snack at USDA summer meals sites.

The following guest blog was submitted by Kyle Zimmer, CEO of First Book, a nonprofit social enterprise that provides access to free and low-cost books to children in need. Many USDA summer meals sites provide not only healthy meals and snacks, but also offer physical activity and enrichment activities to keep children and teens engaged and coming back.  First Book serves up a helping of books and educational resources to support these meals sites while they provide healthy options when school is out for the summer.

By Kyle Zimmer, CEO of First Book

We all know that nutrition is closely tied to school performance.  Brains and bodies need healthy foods to nourish and nurture their development.  While schools play a critical role in providing free and reduced cost breakfasts and lunches during the school year, those needs can be even greater in the summer when children are out of school and families’ limited food budgets need to account for those extra meals. Fortunately, thanks to the federally-funded Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), healthy summer meals are available for children in low-income neighborhoods. We just have to work together to make sure families know about summer meals programs available in their community. Read more »

Creating Opportunity for All in Rural Communities

Taxes and Assistance Programs are Far More Effective at Reducing Poverty than 50 Years Ago chart

Taxes and Assistance Programs are Far More Effective at Reducing Poverty than 50 Years Ago chart.

Last month, the Obama Administration and the White House Rural Council, with Secretary Vilsack as the chair, launched Rural Impact, a coordinated effort across federal agencies to strengthen rural economies by supporting children and their families.

Today, Secretary Vilsack is in Memphis, Tennessee to attend the 10th Annual Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Conference. Speaking with delegations from over 20 countries, he is discussing a new report, summarized below. This report examines what we know about kids living in rural poverty in the U.S. and how we can best assist them to reach their full potential.

If we invest in our rural communities, especially children and families experiencing poverty in these areas, we will be building a stronger country for our future.

Cross-posted from the White House blog: Read more »

Sustainable Land Management can Provide Building Materials for Post-Disaster Recovery

A mid- to high-rise wood structure

Forest Products Laboratory contributes to developing codes and standards for mid- to high-rise wood structures. Photo credit: USDA Forest Service

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that several million earthquakes occur in the world each year. Some, such as the devastating earthquake in Nepal and the series of earthquakes that destroyed infrastructure, homes and communities in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2011, capture global attention.

After natural disasters such as these, rebuilding a city needs to be efficient and cost-effective, with an eye towards resilience in the face of future disasters. Engineered wood building systems like glulam and cross laminated timber, also known as CLT, are well suited to meet these needs as they are often prefabricated offsite and can be quickly installed. That helps communities bounce back from disaster in a shorter time frame while minimizing waste. Furthermore, just as trees flex in high winds, timber structures flex in earthquakes, placing wood construction systems at the forefront of seismic design for resilience. Read more »

A European Take on Food Security

U.S. Pavilion at ExpoMilano

The 35,000 square foot U.S. Pavilion at ExpoMilano includes a massive vertical farm that will be harvested daily (photo courtesy of U.S. State Department).

Just like America, Europe is trying to address the challenge of how to feed the 9 billion people who will populate the world by the year 2050. In fact, the theme of ExpoMilano2015 – the world’s fair being held in Milan, Italy, this year – is “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.” On May 1, the European Union kicked off the Expo with a series of meetings, lectures and discussions surrounding that theme, and I was invited to take part.

The agricultural sector in the EU must produce food for more than 500 million consumers. At the meeting I attended, discussion focused largely on what research priorities should be established to inform the EU’s centralized agricultural policy, specifically on how to achieve three goals: Read more »

Mobile Farms Move into Urban Settings

Thomas Lashmit and Megan Pierce

Urban farmers like Lashmit and Pierce avoid high land prices by storing their unit in a portion of a parking lot they rent in Marlborough County.

In the traditional sense, farming has always involved purchasing or leasing land to plow, plant, fertilize and harvest. As world population and land prices grow however, urban boundaries continue to expand, pushing farms and ranches farther away from the center of growing cities.

At the same time, many consumers are more aware of where their food is produced, preferring to purchase food grown locally in their communities. This trend pulls agriculture back into the heart of the city, with many agriculture enthusiasts stepping up to support the demand. Read more »

Dogs Help Protect Livestock Against Predators

Two livestock protection dogs

Working dogs like these two livestock protection dogs help drive off predators such as wolves, bears, and coyotes, and offer sheep ranchers an alternative to reducing livestock losses.

USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is helping to provide livestock producers in the western United States with livestock guard dogs that offer greater protection against predators.

Generally large and white with shaggy hair, livestock protection dogs are trained to respond aggressively to predators such as wolves, bears, and coyotes. Guard dogs are often used in the sheep industry as a method of non-lethal predator management because of their perceived effectiveness and low cost to producers. According to a 2010 American Sheep Industry survey, guard dog use is only second to shed lambing at effectively reducing depredation. Shed lambing, that is, raising lambs exclusively indoors, however is more than 9 times the annual cost of using a dog for lamb protection. Owing to the low cost of using livestock protection dogs, they are extremely valuable to the sheep industry. According to Michael Marlow, resource management specialist for APHIS’ Wildlife Services program, many producers are certain they’d be out of business without them. Read more »