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New Training Tracker Tool Now Available to School Nutrition Professionals

Professional Standards Tracking Tool screenshot

The ‘Enter Training Information’ page of the Professional Standards Tracking Tool provides training information for a school or school district’s employees. (Click to enlarge)

As a former school nutrition director, I can tell you that school nutrition professionals are dedicated to serving nutritious meals to their students and committed to making the new meal patterns work.  Established by the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, the new standards require schools to prepare healthier meals for the nearly 31 million children who rely on them each and every school day. At USDA, we understand school nutrition professionals are on the front lines every day as we all work together to improve nutrition and reduce obesity in our nation’s children….and we’re glad we have them in our corner!

In March, USDA announced the final rule to establish national professional standards and training requirements for school nutrition personnel who manage and operate our meal programs. The rule establishes education and training standards to ensure personnel have the training and tools to plan, prepare, and purchase healthy foods.  These strategies will support our hardworking school nutrition professionals as they create nutritious, safe and enjoyable school meals for our kids. Read more »

Much Ado about Fisher

Group of stakeholders participating in a field trip within the Ashland municipal watershed

A group of stakeholders participate in a field trip within the Ashland municipal watershed. Photo credit: US Forest Service

Located at the base of the Ashland Creek Watershed, the city of Ashland, Oregon, is home to nearly 21,000 people and a bustling tourist industry that revolves around world-class theatre experiences. Rogue Valley residents and tourists actively and passionately recreate in the Ashland municipal watershed, of which the upper portion is located primarily on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

Like many areas in Southwest Oregon, a history of fire suppression has dramatically changed the way forests could potentially respond to fires. Stands once considered to be fire-adapted and fire-resilient have become densely overgrown. As a result of this fuels buildup, a high-intensity fire could result in the loss of the watershed’s largest trees, which help maintain soil stability and clean drinking water, and provide habitat for a diverse range of wildlife species. Read more »

Assisting the Organic Community through Cost Share Programs

Man showing vegetables

Organic certification cost share programs puts organic certification within reach for farms of all sizes. It is of great value to organic farmers and supports the integrity of the organic label.

Consumers are increasingly looking for organic products when they visit the supermarket.  Last year, organic products reached a record number of sales, accounting for over $39 billion in U.S. retail sales.  To meet consumer demand, the industry needs more organic operations to produce everything from organic milk to organic granola bars. 

Thanks to support from the 2014 Farm Bill, USDA has two cost share programs that assist organic farms and businesses with about $11 million per year in certification assistance– making it possible for producers and handlers of all sizes to consider organic certification.  Cost share programs support certified operations across the organic supply chain by making certification more affordable. Read more »

Mighty Agriculture in Little State Grows

Rhode Island State Infographic

“Buying Local” has helped Rhode Island agriculture grow. We hope you have enjoyed these weekly spotlights of the states taken from the 2012 Census of Agriculture. Planning is already underway for the 2017 Census – stay tuned!

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.

Rhode Island may be one of the smallest States in terms of agriculture but the 2012 Census of Agriculture shows Rhode Island has something most states don’t have – more farmers. The number of farmers in Rhode Island tallied 1,243, up slightly from 1,219 in 2007. As of 2012, almost 70,000 acres of our land are now dedicated to farming. That’s quite a bit, if you consider the fact that we are the smallest state in the Union.

Our agricultural growth is boosted by the “buy local” movement. According to the Census, Rhode Island growers sold almost $6.3 million worth, or 10.5 percent, of our agricultural products directly to consumers in 2012. This is the second highest percentage in the nation. Read more »

Photo-Worthy Meals

Girl with a plate of food

Beautiful meals like this are what’s for lunch today and every day in schools across the country. (Photo credit: Matthew Noel)

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and in the digital age we have ample opportunity to document and broadcast every moment, meeting and meal. We have all seen those unappetizing photos of food served at school that quickly go viral. A lonesome whole wheat bun atop a sad fish fillet; a mysterious-looking meat mixture served next to an apple. It’s natural to ask, “Is this what they serve for lunch!?”

No, it’s really not. Read more »

Texas Water District, USDA Partner to Show Producers Way to Use Water Wisely

Micro-subsurface drip irrigation

Multiple cropping systems were used in the demonstration including corn and cotton. Micro-subsurface drip irrigation was one of the irrigation systems used to irrigate crops and conserve water.

In the High Plains of Texas, water reigns. The area is one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world, making a reliable water supply key to the area’s rural economies.

The High Plains draws its water from the Ogallala Aquifer, an underground aquifer that spans eight states. Currently, the use of groundwater from the aquifer is unsustainable as withdrawals for cities, farms, ranches, industries and other uses exceed the natural recharge of the aquifer. Read more »