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A Banner Year for Research: 5 Innovative Projects Aimed at Helping Growers

USDA scientists work 365 days to provide safe and sustainable food, water, and natural resources in the face of a changing climate and uncertain energy sources. To recognize the contribution that agricultural science and research makes in our daily lives, this week’s “Banner Year” series features stories from 2015 that show the successes that USDA science and statistical agencies made for us all.

Making a success in agriculture and rural communities in today’s competitive world requires a toolbox of cutting-edge knowledge and ways to put that information in people’s hands so they can put it to work. Whether it’s designing these tools, developing the data to prove them, or breeding a new crop variety to outwit a plant disease to avoid a harvest’s devastation, the scientists of USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) are always coming up with something new to enhance rural opportunities.

Here are five research highlights from 2015 you should read: Read more »

Job Corps Students, Alumnae ‘Pay it Forward,’ Helping Each Other Learn Leadership Skills

Shray Jackson, an administrative support specialist in the Forest Service Washington Office, working

Shray Jackson, an administrative support specialist in the Forest Service Washington Office, is a graduate of the Potomac Job Corps Center in the District of Columbia. She recently shared her advice on how to work towards career goals with Harpers Ferry Job Corps students. (Photo credit/Forest Service photo by Dominic Cumberland)

Preparing for a career involves many steps, plus individual motivation as well as help from those who’ve gone before you.

That’s what a group of 60 Harpers Ferry Job Corps students explored recently during a recent training session related to job preparedness for the U.S. Forest Service. Their hearts and minds were focused on advancing their knowledge about Forest Service job opportunities and how to serve others but also on learning how to help themselves. They were not disappointed. Read more »

USDA Process Verified Program: Transparency from Farm to Market

An infographic highlighting example process points and the steps taken to create a Process Verified Program

An infographic highlighting example process points and the steps taken to create a Process Verified Program. Click for a larger version.

Product labeling is a contract of trust between consumers and producers.  This is especially true for the foods we eat and the companies that sell them.  The responsibility of regulating and monitoring food labels is shared between many federal agencies including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and USDA, and we recognize that there must be transparency and accountability before there can be public trust and understanding of product labels.

While my own agency, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), does not approve many product labels directly, we do provide a service where AMS auditors provide an objective, third-party verification on any food product that a company’s labeling claims are backed by plain language standards.  Transparency and accountability are the cornerstones of this service, and we are continuously working to improve both for all of our auditing programs, with our most recent efforts focusing on USDA’s Process Verified Program (PVP). Read more »

High Tunnel Addition Helps Urban Farmer Feed Portland

Stacey Givens, The Side Yard Farm and Kitchen in Portland, Oregon

Stacey Givens, The Side Yard Farm and Kitchen in Portland, Oregon.

Portland has become one of the top cities in the nation for its food scene—from trendy neighborhood food carts to fine dining to farm-to-table restaurants. It’s also a place where people embrace eating locally-grown food. Like, seriously, uber-local. That’s why urban farmers like Stacey Givens are making such an impact on Portland’s appetite.

“I was drawn to Portland because of the food scene, and the restaurant and farming scene,” Stacey says.

She owns a unique operation in the northeast Cully neighborhood called The Side Yard Farm and Kitchen. It’s an urban farm with three separate lots (all within one mile from each other), a supper and brunch club and a catering company. Read more »

Five Things You Should Know About USDA Climate Hubs In 2015

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Agricultural Research Service (ARS) supervisory plant physiologist Dr. Jerry Hatfield discuss gathering information on climate changes and impacts.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Agricultural Research Service (ARS) supervisory plant physiologist Dr. Jerry Hatfield discuss gathering information on climate changes and impacts.

In October the Regional Hub Leads gathered in Washington D.C. to discuss their successes and challenges over the last year. Tasked with producing science-based, region-specific information and tools for their stakeholders, the USDA Regional Climate Hubs spent 2014 working hard to ensure they understood who their constituents where, building regional partnerships, and identifying regional needs before rolling up their sleeves in 2015 to start producing results. Read more »

Library Garden Provides ‘Rest Stop’ for Monarch Butterflies

The pollinator garden

After one year, the pollinator garden has grown exponentially, feeding multiple species of pollinators and creating an outdoor classroom. NRCS photo by Ellen Starr.

The pollinator garden at our library in Princeton, Ill. is a popular rest stop for monarch butterflies on their cross-continental journey. My agency, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), worked with local partners and businesses to create a 2,400-square-foot pollinator garden as a way to educate the public and provide needed pollinator habitat.

We planted the garden designed by our landscape architect Vicki Morrical in 2014. It features 28 plant species and more than 700 plants. Signs help visitors identify the different plants. Read more »