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Designated Promise Zones Keep Rural America Strong

A child smiles after poking his face out in a hole on the Local Food Tastes Better sign

Kentucky Highlands Promise Zone invests in local foods.

As a law student, I spent a summer working and living with the Sokoagon Band of the Chippewa, a Native American tribe located in rural Northern Wisconsin.  Tribal leaders and members extended to me their kindness, friendship, passion and laughter.  They are some of our country’s finest.

But, make no mistake, the Sokoagon face challenges shared by many persistently poor rural communities across our country.

That summer, I saw with new eyes the importance of dependable and consistent employment, housing, health care systems and education.  That summer I also saw that for many rural Americans these things, taken for granted by many, are luxuries. Read more »

Simple Measures Pave Way to Recovery for Rare Kentucky Plant

White-haired goldenrod

The white-haired goldenrod, a bright yellow aromatic flower with a white haired covered leaf, is predominantly found on the Daniel Boone National Forest. Photo by: David Taylor

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.

A hike through Kentucky’s Red River Gorge is a trip that outdoor enthusiasts never forget. The adventure begins amid rugged terrain with towering sandstone cliffs that contour steep, forested slopes. Visitors discover hundreds of natural stone arches and other unique rock features that create some of the most splendid geological formations east of the Rocky Mountains. Within the beauty and solitude of the gorge resides a rare plant found nowhere else in the world.

The white-haired goldenrod occurs predominantly in the Daniel Boone National Forest, typically found growing along the base of cliffs or on ledges. In areas where the ground is undisturbed, this plant thrives in moist, sandy soil underneath rock shelters. During the fall, the plant blooms with bright yellow flowers along its upper stem. Alternating white-haired leaves line the stem from its base. Read more »

Farming Nature’s Way

The left sample, after 11 years of continuous no-till farming. The right sample, conventional tillage

These two soil samples are the same soil type. The one on the left is after 11 years of continuous no-till farming. The one on the right is conventional tillage.

No-till farming used to be only about reducing soil erosion. Today, continuous no-till is the preferred tillage system in some areas. Why? It’s all about soil health.

The loss of organic matter in soil, which is the lightest soil component and the first to wash away, is the healthiest portion of our topsoil. It is the house where the biological systems in our soils live and includes everything from the tiniest organisms like bacteria, algae, fungi, and protozoa to the more complex nematodes, micro-arthropods (think tiny spiders), and the more visible earthworms, insects, small vertebrates, and plants. They are all part of healthy soil. Read more »

Georgia School Gardens Nourish Healthy Habits

Administrator Audrey Rowe joining Bibb County School District and Alexander II Magnet School faculty and students in their school garden

Administrator Audrey Rowe joins Bibb County School District and Alexander II Magnet School faculty and students in their school garden.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 celebrated its fifth anniversary last month, and I can tell you it has made a difference!  I think back on the past five years and am proud of the strides we’ve made in giving students access to more local and healthy food in our schools.

Accompanied by FNS Administrator Audrey Rowe, I had a wonderful visit with two Georgia elementary schools this fall. Our trip to Alexander II Magnet School in Bibb County and Westside Elementary School in Houston County highlighted 2015 National School Lunch Week celebrations (October 12-16) and offered a great example of progress on the school meals front. Read more »

Oregon Organic Farmer Unlocks Soil Health Secrets and Boosts Production

Oregon Farmer Chris Roehm with tomatoes

Becoming a certified organic producer presents a unique set of restrictions and challenges. Oregon Farmer Chris Roehm overcomes those challenges with the help of a powerful ally: healthy soil. Photo by Bob Stobaugh

For agricultural producers, it’s an age-old question: How do you grow the largest, healthiest, most-profitable crops possible? Oregon organic farmer Chris Roehm says the secret is in the soil.

Co-owner and operator of Square Peg Farm in Forest Grove, Roehm is among a growing number of producers, both conventional and organic, who are realizing the benefits of improving the health and function of their soil through working with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Read more »

Lessons from USDA’s Farmers Market Help Local Food Businesses

A Timber Pizza employee working

Timber Pizza’s success at USDA Farmers Market helped fuel its expansion. (USDA photo by Richard Tyner)

The USDA Farmers Market, next to the Department’s headquarters and steps from the National Mall in Washington, D.C., is a “living laboratory” for identifying and testing strategies to help support local and regional food systems.

To mark the 20th anniversary of the market, my colleagues and I at USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), which manages the weekly Friday market, tried a few new approaches during the 2015 season.  Our goals were to make the market more successful for vendors and more enticing to visitors.

For example, we opened the market a month early–in May instead of in June.  We also redesigned the layout of the market, allowing us to more than double the number of vendors from 14 to 32. Read more »