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Managing Forests in the Face of Drought – There is Help!

Forests on the Conecuh National Forest

Longleaf pine plantations of trees approximately 25 years old have received their first commercial thinning on the Conecuh National Forest. Photo credit: Jim Guldin, US Forest Service

Drought, especially prolonged or severe drought, can be a major stress in forest ecosystems.  Drought can kill trees directly or indirectly through insect attack or wildfire. Both of which are more likely to occur during drought.

Tree mortality impacts most of the ecosystem services provided by forests, including the amount of wood that grows, how much carbon is captured and stored, the health of critical wildlife habitat, water yield and quality, and even whether it’s safe to pursue recreational activities such as hiking or hunting. Read more »

Big Schools Make Big Changes in School Meal Delivery

A girl eating her school lunch

Community Eligibility is an option that allows school districts in high poverty areas to offer free school meals to all students.

March is National Nutrition Month. Throughout the month, USDA will be highlighting results of our efforts to improve access to safe, healthy food for all Americans and supporting the health of our next generation.

For more than 250,000 students in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), gone are the days of scrounging for lunch money, bumming a snack from a friend, or going into seventh period with a growling stomach. As of March 1,339 sites in the district now offer breakfast and lunch at no cost to students via the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP).  The second largest school district in the nation, LAUSD serves a high-poverty population: More than one in five residents live below the poverty line, and the area has the largest food insecure population in the country.  By expanding CEP in their district, LAUSD is guaranteeing students access to the nutrition they need to thrive in the classroom and beyond.

You may have heard us talk about CEP before.  Most recently, we explored how schools around the country are remaining flexible – dealing with any barriers they may face – to implement CEP and benefit from what administrators are calling a “financial win/win.”  We’re excited to report that several large districts across the country – and the hundreds of thousands of students enrolled at those schools – are now experiencing those poverty-fighting, nutrition-promoting benefits.  LAUSD joins Chicago, Dallas, Philadelphia, Shelby County (Tenn.) and Houston school districts, who have all implemented CEP, offering two nutritious meals a day at no cost to more than 100,000 students each. Read more »

Expertise + Training + Commitment = A Day in the Life of a USDA Process Verified Program Auditor

Nikki Adams with a man

“Each audit is different and a unique experience—which I love, because it allows me to work with all facets of agriculture.” – Nikki Adams, USDA PVP Auditor

As an auditor for USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), I am one of a small group of highly-qualified individuals from across the country who audits companies that use our programs and services to add value to their products in the market place.  One of these programs is the USDA Process Verified Program, or USDA PVP for short.

For a PVP audit, I do a significant amount of preparation before I’m even on-site, pouring over the Quality Manual the company prepared as part of their application.  The Quality Manual – the starting point for any PVP – documents all of the process points, the scope of each, and the standard I am ensuring they will meet. To evaluate this effectively, I rely on my extensive training in International Organization for Standardization’s (ISO) quality management system requirements and audit principles, as well as training specific to the industry, processes, and points being audited. Read more »

Saluting the Food and Nutrition Experts on Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Day: March 9, 2016

RDN Day graphic

March 9, 2016 is National Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Day

In honor of Registered Dietitian Day, today we celebrate Registered Dietitians around the country, working in all facets of society including the Federal government. Across the Federal family, RDs work in nutrition research, nutrition education development, nutrition policy, nutrition assistance programs, and much more, providing leadership, knowledge and expertise that is critical to Federal programs. To help celebrate RD Day the President of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics highlights the importance of RDs and their service to Federal nutrition programs.

By Dr. Evelyn F. Crayton, RDN, LDN, FAND, President of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

I am proud to be a registered dietitian nutritionist, especially on Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Day, which is being celebrated today – March 9. This special day, created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, recognizes nearly 100,000 devoted food and nutrition experts and recognizes RDNs in every area of practice.

Among my greatest sources of pride are the RDNs who work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other government agencies to decrease food insecurity and improve food safety throughout the United States. Read more »

Real Superheroes Wear Lab Coats

Carrie Harmon at University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Science lab

Carrie Harmon works at University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Science labs with the National Plant Diagnostic Network. Photo courtesy of Ray Hammerschmidt

With support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), the National Plant Diagnostic Network has grown into an internationally respected consortium of plant diagnostic laboratories dedicated to enhancing agricultural security by protecting health and productivity of plants in agricultural and natural ecosystems.

Dr. Ray Hammerschmidt, President of the National Plant Diagnostic Network, discusses this partnership and the benefits all Americans receive in the following guest post:

Superheroes really do work among us. But, instead of capes and cowls and ice palaces and caves, they are often found in a lab at a public university or state agriculture department, wearing lab coats and working over a microscope.

These men and women work daily to protect our communities and crops from dangerous pests and pathogens.  They are plant pathologists, entomologists, nematologists, weed scientists, and other plant scientists who work diligently to mitigate the impact of endemic, emerging, and exotic pathogens and pests that attack agricultural, forest, and landscape plants in the United States. Read more »

The Building Blocks of Forest Restoration Partnerships

A forest in a wetland

Isolated depressional wetlands are an integral part of the local ecosystem and often provide wetland restoration opportunities.

Is it possible to simultaneously promote natural resources conservation and the growth of businesses that impact the environment?  Yes.  One way to do so is through “compensatory mitigation.” Compensatory mitigation is the preservation, restoration and/or establishment of a resource to offset unavoidable adverse impacts to the resource elsewhere.

For example, a compensatory mitigation agreement created in 2013 helped advance conservation in Francis Marion and Sumter National Forests in South Carolina and business growth in the surrounding area.  Here’s how:  Under the agreement, three local businesses supported restoration projects that improved aquatic resources located inside the Forests in order to mitigate projects that had unavoidable impacts on wetlands located outside the Forests, typically within the same ecosystem.  The three participating businesses were: Duke Energy, Boeing, and The City of Charleston.  Unavoidable impacts to streams, wetlands and salt marsh were mitigated under the novel agreement. Read more »