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Maine Agriculture is “Up” in More Ways than One

Maine's agriculture and farm-related demographics are growing and diversifying each year. Check back next Thursday to learn more about the 2012 Census of Agriculture results as we highlight another state.

Maine's agriculture and farm-related demographics are growing and diversifying each year. Check back next Thursday to learn more about the 2012 Census of Agriculture results as we highlight another state.

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.

When examining the status of Maine’s agriculture using statistics derived from the 2012 Census of Agriculture, the words “up” and “increase” appear quite often. Our state’s agriculture and farm-related demographics are growing and diversifying each year.

Both the number of farms and land in farms in Maine increased since the last Census of Agriculture in 2007. In fact, we have the most farms of the New England states, and the land in farms is up eight percent from 2007. In addition, the average size of a Maine farm is 178 acres, up seven percent since 2007. Organic production and aquaculture sales increased from between 2007 and 2012 as well: the value of aquaculture sales increased from $26.3 million to $75.1 million (ranking us eighth nationally) and organic products increased from $23.3 million to $36.4 million. Lastly, since the 2007 Census, the total market value of agricultural sales increased 24 percent, the average value of sales per farm increased 23 percent, and the value of crops, including nursery and greenhouse, went up 46 percent. Read more »

Give Students What They Are Asking For: Healthier Foods, Healthier Lives

Today’s guest post comes from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, an organization that aptly describes itself as “a catalyst for children’s health.” While the Alliance has been active in many settings, we at USDA particularly appreciate the dedication they have shown to improving school nutrition.  In this post, Dr. Howell Wechsler, CEO, describes some of the successes that his team has witnessed in school cafeterias.

Howell Wechsler, EdD, MPH, Chief Executive Officer, Alliance for a Healthier Generation

Our nation’s students, some of whom consume up to half of their daily calories at school [see also this publication from the US National Library of MedicineNational Institutes of Health], want and deserve healthy choices throughout the school building—in the cafeteria line, vending machines, and school stores.

Just ask eight-year-old Farrah from the William J. Christian School in Birmingham, Alabama: It’s important to have healthy foods as part of school lunch so that kids can have the opportunity to try many fruits and vegetables and see that these foods are delicious,” she told the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. “At the same time we can learn that these foods are good for you…Eating healthy can be fun.Read more »

USDA Joins National Hispanic Medical Association to Discuss Health in Latino Communities

As schools across the country were winding down for the summer, the conversation around school meals standards was heating up.  School districts, parents, community members and Congressional representatives have engaged in an important discussion about the role of the new standards in our nation’s National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs.  Created to boost the health of our next generation, the standards encourage schools to get more creative and health-conscious about the food they serve to their students. Last month, USDA joined the National Hispanic Medical Association to reinforce this critical message.

During a Congressional briefing held by the National Hispanic Medical Association, dozens convened to learn how the Latino community was leveraging the new standards to support healthier lifestyles for their children. While the association focused on educational and healthcare institutions heightening awareness around nutrition programs, USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service Western Regional Administrator, Jesus Mendoza, underscored the importance of healthy eating, emphasizing his experiences with the new standards in his region. “Since the passing of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act,” Mendoza explained, “kids are eating a lot more fruits and vegetables, 90 percent of schools report that they are able to abide by the standards, more water is being offered to our children in cafeterias, and we’re exposing kids to foods they’ve never seen or heard of before.” Read more »

Nevada Preschoolers ‘Dig in’ to Help Dedicate New People’s Garden

From left to right: Nevada NRCS employee Consuelo Navar, Supply Clerk, helps preschoolers from One World Children’s Academy plant seeds in the People’s Garden, along with a parent helper. Photo by One World Children’s Academy.

From left to right: Nevada NRCS employee Consuelo Navar, Supply Clerk, helps preschoolers from One World Children’s Academy plant seeds in the People’s Garden, along with a parent helper. Photo by One World Children’s Academy.

It’s never too early to start cultivating a “green thumb,” and a People’s Garden in Reno, Nev. is doing just that.

Employees of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Farm Service Agency (FSA) recently created a new People’s Garden at their office in partnership with One World Children’s Academy, a preschool across the street from the office.

NRCS and FSA employees dedicated the new garden, called “People’s Garden of the Truckee Meadows,” with the help of a class of four- and five-year-old preschoolers, planting bush beans and peas and building four scarecrows. Read more »

Missouri Makes Summer Meals Work!

Rowe with kids and the Power Panther at the PowerHouse Ministries site in Marshall, MO.

Rowe with kids and the Power Panther at the PowerHouse Ministries site in Marshall, MO.

This spring I had the opportunity to visit several summer feeding sites to witness the efforts of local organizations and states agencies so instrumental in the success of USDA’s Summer Food Service Program.  I had the chance to join our essential partners during summer meals kick-off events throughout the state of Missouri.  It was especially gratifying to meet so many members of highly-engaged communities and the children and teens that benefit from their support.

During my May visit, I was honored to participate in a roundtable discussion at the St. Louis Area Food Bank while a new partnership was being forged.  The lively conversation about successes and challenges of feeding kids nutritious summer meals included representatives from local, state and federal organizations.  St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and some of his staff attended to voice the city’s support of the summer feeding programs and offer ideas for feeding site activities, including creating butterfly gardens. Read more »

Conservation as a Source of Innovative Partnerships for All

Agriculture Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden tours rice fields in the Sacramento Valley at the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area on Jun. 24, 2014. Rice grower Mike DeWit has a cooperative arrangement to provide habitat for wildlife while growing rice. Photo courtesy California Rice Commission.

Agriculture Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden tours rice fields in the Sacramento Valley at the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area on Jun. 24, 2014. Rice grower Mike DeWit has a cooperative arrangement to provide habitat for wildlife while growing rice. Photo courtesy California Rice Commission.

This summer, USDA is highlighting partnerships to invest in the future of rural America. Our partners work with us year after year to leverage resources and grow economic opportunities. They are the key to ensuring our rural communities thrive. Follow more of our stories at #RuralPartners.

My passion and commitment for conservation started on the farm learning from our first and finest conservationists:  American farmers. Our nation’s farmers and ranchers care deeply about the land, which is why they are incredible environmental stewards. Earlier this month, I visited the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area, a popular wildlife refuge just minutes from downtown Sacramento. Here, farmers like the DeWit family are growing rice and providing some of the best wildlife habitat in North America.

Mike DeWit and his father, Jack, brought me right into the middle of the Sacramento Valley rice fields, where more than a half million acres are used as a source of America’s sushi rice. Equally valuable is the role these rice fields play as a habitat for nearly 230 wildlife species, including providing nearly sixty percent of the winter diet for millions of migrating ducks and geese. It was a thrill to walk on the levee of a shallow-flooded, brilliantly green field and observe several pairs of nesting American Avocets all around. When I noticed a nest with four small eggs, I knew that it represented a part of the future generation of wildlife. Read more »