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Supporting U.S. Egg Exports – All in a Day’s Work for a USDA Egg Grader

AMS grader Terri Hummel and Jeff Schwieterman, Weaver Brothers' plant manager

“The USDA and Weaver Brothers have worked together for many years. This service opens up markets to us, both domestically and internationally,” said Jeff Schwieterman, Weaver Brothers' plant manager. “Having a qualified grader, like Terri, ensures that the eggs we ship out will meet our customers’ specifications.” Pictured here is AMS grader Terri Hummel and Jeff Schwieterman.

I’ve had many jobs in my life, but none as challenging or rewarding as my career as a shell egg grader.  With a cumulative 22 years grading eggs in Ohio, I’ve witnessed first-hand the evolution of an industry.  I have also watched my agency – USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) – adapt right alongside the industry, maintaining valuable, unbiased grading and certification services that support marketing opportunities for American agriculture in a global marketplace.

Last year, shell egg graders with the AMS Livestock, Poultry, and Seed Program’s Quality Assessment Division (QAD) assisted the U.S. egg industry in exporting over 99.5 million dozen shell eggs to customers as far away as Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, and as near as Canada, Mexico, Central America, and Puerto Rico. Read more »

Trade Agreements Key to Oregon Winemaker’s Success

Cristom wine bottles on a shelf

Cristom wine bottles on a shelf. Photo courtesy of Cristom Vineyards.

Exports are vital to the growth of U.S. agriculture. Since 2000, around 20 percent of annual agricultural production in the United States has been exported. Still, it’s difficult to conceptualize the real impact of free trade agreements until you talk to the people who have directly benefitted from them. In April, I had the pleasure of meeting with a group of winegrowers from Oregon – among them Tom Gerrie, president of Cristom Vineyards in Salem, who was kind enough to share with me his personal experience in exporting.

Cristom Vineyards is a family-run craft winery producing around 15,000 cases of wine per year. Founded in 1992 by Gerrie’s father, Paul, the company decided that in order to build global brand recognition of Oregon’s fine wines, it would need to target high-end restaurants both in the United States and abroad. In 1994, it shipped its first cases to New York, Chicago, London and Tokyo. Since then, Cristom Vineyards has expanded its exports to 48 states and 18 countries, including South Korea. More than 15 percent of Cristom’s total sales now come from exports. Read more »

Celebrating Food and Culinary Connections: Schools Serve up California-grown Food on “California Thursdays”

The “California Wrap”

The “California Wrap” was served at many districts across Contra Costa County, a strategy that allows them to purchase collectively on California Thursdays.

June is National Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month! To celebrate this, we’re showcasing the important work of California Thursdays, a collaboration between the Center for Ecoliteracy and a network of public school districts to serve healthy, freshly prepared school meals made from California-grown food. The following guest blog also highlights the inspiring work of the Center for Ecoliteracy, a partner with USDA’s national sodium reduction in schools-initiative, What’s Shaking? Creative Ways to Boost Flavor with Less Sodium.

By Jennifer Gerard, R.D., Center for Ecoliteracy, California Food for California Kids Program Director

What’s your favorite day of the week? For many students in California — it’s Thursday.

On Thursdays, over 1.7 million students in schools that participate in the California Thursdays program know they’ll be offered a lunch freshly prepared from California ingredients. California Thursdays is a celebration of local food, the people who produce and prepare it, and the significant connections that exist between children, food, and their environment. Read more »

Local Food – Cooking Up Creative & Fresh Ideas for Healthy Communities

Columbia Heights Farmers Market shoppers

Columbia Heights Farmers Market shoppers enjoy locally-produced food. USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) grants are helping farmers markets implement creative programs to support local food producers and build healthy communities. Photo courtesy Mr T in DC.

Nutritional classes, purple beets, basil pesto and dark roast coffee – it’s not your father’s farmers market.  The entire local food system is maturing and farmers markets are offering more and more community-focused services. Many farmers markets now give their customers a chance to learn about locally-produced foods, in addition to buying and consuming them.

USDA is a proud partner and supporter of local and regional food systems through our programs, grants and technical services. USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) grants are helping farmers markets implement creative programs to support local food producers and build healthy communities. One example of an AMS grant success story is Community Foodworks, which manages the Columbia Heights Farmers Market and six other markets across Washington, DC, and Northern Virginia. Read more »

Helping Reduce Risk and Facilitate Trade of Fruits and Vegetables

Romaine harvest in California

USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service helps protect growers, like the romaine lettuce producer pictured above, by representing American interests at meetings of the Dispute Resolution Corporation (DRC).

Now that it’s June, many of us are enjoying a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables that will be available throughout the summer.  During the rest of the year, some of these same fresh fruits and vegetables are available to American consumers thanks to trade agreements with Canada and Mexico.

In the last five years, the value and volume of fresh fruits and vegetables from Canada and Mexico to the United States has grown.  In 2015, the U.S. imported more than 2.8 billion pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables from Canada, valued at $1.4 billion.  From Mexico, the U.S. imported 17.4 billion pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables for $9.1 billion.  U.S. fruit and vegetable growers also have benefited.  In 2015, the U.S. exported nearly 7.1 billion pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables to Canada and Mexico, worth $4.2 billion. Read more »

US Forest Service Waives Fees for National Get Outdoors Day – June 11

Forest Service employee, Michaela Hall, rafting on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River

Forest Service employee, Michaela Hall, rafting on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River adjacent to Glacier National Park in Montana.

In an era of social media mania, forests around the country are opening their doors to reacquaint kids and parents with good old fashion family fun—without the aid of modern technology.

On Saturday, June 11, the U.S. Forest Service invites families to join thousands of forest explorers for a free, fun-packed day of outdoor adventures in celebration of National Get Outdoors Day. Read more »