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Secretary’s Column: Caring for Our Forests, Protecting Our Families and Our Communities

Over the past several years, we have seen the spread and occurrence of wildfires increase significantly. Deadly wildfires threaten our homes and communities and turn lives upside down.

USDA continues to do all that we can to protect people, homes and our forests in the face of fire. Just this week, we announced four new airtanker additions to the U.S. Forest Service’s next-generation firefighting fleet, which brings the total amount of aircraft to 21 large air tankers (with opportunities to add additional aircraft, if needed) and more than 100 helicopters. These new aircraft will enter service in the coming weeks and support over 10,000 firefighters during this year’s wildfire season. Read more »

Enjoy Your Holiday Weekend – Use a Food Thermometer!

Those of you who follow the news have probably seen the recall this week of ground beef that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.

Understandably, this causes concern among consumers. However, this does not mean you can’t enjoy a hamburger off the grill or that you need to cancel your backyard BBQ. You can still enjoy your Memorial Day weekend cookout, just remember to practice safe food handling! And if the cooking is to be done by your “weekends only” cook, make sure you take the time to educate him or her about these important steps.

The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) reminds all cooks to follow four simple tips—clean, separate, cook and chill—for a safe cookout. Additional safe food handling and cooking tips are available at the Grill it Safe website. Read more »

Join us for a Google+ Hangout on May 28th: What the Farm Bill Means for New Farmers

The Google+ Hangout with D/S Harden today has been temporarily postponed — stay tuned.

In February 2014, President Obama signed the new Farm Bill into law. But what does that mean for you as a new farmer or rancher?  What’s new about this Farm Bill and what programs can you use? What questions should you be asking?

USDA is here to answer your questions.

On Wednesday, May 28th at 3 p.m. EDT Agriculture Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden will host a Google+ Hangout to discuss what the farm bill means for new farmers. Read more »

Partnerships and Volunteers Bring a Midwest Wetland to Life

The wetland in bloom with a more than 100-year-old oak tree standing prominently in the prairie. Natural Land Institute photo.

The wetland in bloom with a more than 100-year-old oak tree standing prominently in the prairie. Natural Land Institute photo.

Now, when you look at the Nygren Wetland Preserve in Illinois, a menagerie of wildlife can be seen –  ducks and geese paddling about, white pelicans lounging, otters swimming and a pair of sandhill cranes huddling in a nest. There was talk of the endangered blanding turtles living in the wetland, too. It’s a wonderful scene, but it was much different 14 years ago.

The land, located along Raccoon Creek at the confluence of the Rock and Pecatonica rivers, was once forests and crops. The Natural Land Institute purchased the land in 1999, and that’s when transformation began. Read more »

The Cost of Cleaning Up the Chesapeake Bay

Marsh grasses in Maryland  provide valuable habitat for wildlife and help filter runoff from nearby farms. NRCS photo.

Marsh grasses in Maryland provide valuable habitat for wildlife and help filter runoff from nearby farms. NRCS photo.

The Chesapeake Bay is a valuable resource. The Bay is home to a variety of species, such as blue crab and striped bass, provides jobs for local fishing communities, and serves as a place to interact with nature. About a quarter of the land in the Chesapeake Bay watershed is devoted to agriculture. The crops and livestock produced in this region provide food and fiber for millions of Americans. But these agricultural lands do more than produce food—they can play a role in improving the Bay’s water quality.

In 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) worked with the Bay states to set water quality goals for the Chesapeake Bay and to develop Watershed Improvement Plans, or “WIPs,” for each of the states. Read more »

USDA Relies on Feedback to Help Schools, Children Adapt to New Meal Standards

Hummus and Pita Bread, Sunflower butter string cheese and fruit, Turkey and cheese sandwiches prepared for the National School Lunch Program at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Virginia.

Hummus and Pita Bread, Sunflower butter string cheese and fruit, Turkey and cheese sandwiches prepared for the National School Lunch Program at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Virginia.

As many schools wind down for the year, USDA is gearing up for exciting new improvements designed to make the 2014-2015 school year even healthier for our nation’s future leaders.  It’s a commitment rooted in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.  In that legislation, USDA is directed to update the school meals to reflect the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

The new school meal requirements are intended to ensure children get the nutrition they need for academic performance and overall health.  That’s a mission USDA takes seriously. Feeding kids, and feeding them well, can be a challenge.  I understand that as a former school nutrition director, mother, and now grandmother.   Plus, we know that change, in general, can be difficult. That is why we are working closely with schools to make sure the transition to the updated standards runs as smoothly as possible.  We are listening to what school nutritional professionals, teachers, parents and students are telling us.  These partners are the heart and soul of the school community and we have provided flexibilities based on their important feedback. Read more »