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Direct Certification Improves Low-Income Children’s Access to Healthy School Meals, Boosts Program Efficiency

Students at the Wolcott Elementary School in West Hartford, Connecticut enjoying lunchtime

Direct certification can increase access to free school meals for eligible students.

USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) is committed to helping America’s children get the nutritious food they need to learn and grow.  Direct certification for school meals is one important strategy to make that possible for the low-income children.  This process links student enrollment records to states’ Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program data, so children receiving SNAP or TANF can be directly certified for free school meals without having to submit additional paperwork through applications. 

By using data already verified through SNAP and TANF, direct certification improves efficiency and accuracy for schools.  Just as importantly, families are spared the burden of a separate meals application.  Congress made direct certification a requirement for all schools through the 2004 Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act. Read more »

The Joy and Value of a Meadow

Forest Hydrologist Tracy Weddel

Forest Hydrologist Tracy Weddel helps restore meadow landscape burned by the Rim Fire. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Forest Service)

Watching the golden glow of the sun alight upon meadow grasses stirs my imagination.  My mind conjures up misty visions of the famous naturalist, John Muir, traipsing through the Sierras, admiring Corn Lilies and sedges. A red-tailed hawk swoops into this vision and silently plucks a pocket gopher with outstretched talons. Coursing through this living landscape, creating a back drop for this scene, is the magical, musical sound of water. 

Aside from their beauty, meadows provide a variety of important ecological functions. A multitude of species depend upon riparian areas and meadows to survive. Black bears turn over meadow logs looking for ants. Deer nibble the grasses and brush. Coyote music echoes across the flatlands and bounces between walls of lava stone. Walk close to the waterway of a meadow and you may hear the plop of a basking frog as it jumps the bank to enter the stream of life. Read more »

Northern Plains Regional Climate Hub Vulnerability Assessment Published

Moving cattle on the Northern Plains

Moving cattle on the Northern Plains. Photo Credit: Matt Mortenson

The Northern Plains Regional Climate Hub—encompassing Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, and Colorado— has a high diversity of land use types including the largest remaining tracts of native rangeland in North America. Substantial areas of both dryland and irrigated cropland and pasture, mosaics of cropland and grassland, and forested lands can be found across the region. With the publication of the Northern Plains Regional Vulnerability Assessment, the Northern Plains Hub is providing stakeholders with an introduction to the region, regional sensitivities and adaptation strategies for working lands, a greenhouse gas emissions profile with mitigation opportunities, and an overview of how partner USDA agencies are being affected by a changing climate. This vulnerability assessment is an important first step in establishing a baseline “snapshot” of current climate vulnerabilities, and provides region-specific adaptation and mitigation strategies to increase the resilience of working lands in the region. Read more »

USDA Wildlife Habitat Program Going Strong – 30 Years, 1 Million Acres Later

Farmers and ranchers were among the first to practice conservation. It’s not surprising when you think about it. They’ve always understood the importance of caring for our land and water, and they depend on our natural resources for their livelihoods. They’re at the forefront of our country’s efforts to keep the land healthy, productive and resilient. And we’re proud to partner with them in that effort.

This year, we’re celebrating two more conservation milestones: the 30th anniversary of USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), one of the largest private lands conservation programs in the nation; and registering the 1 millionth acre in CRP’s State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) initiative. Read more »

Growing with the Times, Expanded USDA Farmers Market Opens for 20th Season

(Left to right)  Under Secretary Kevin Concannon, USDA AMS Deputy Administrator Arthur Neal, Agricultural Market Service (AMS) Administrator Anne Alonzo, USDA Farmers Market Coordinator Annie Ceccarini,  Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and Under Secretary Ed Avalos cut the ribbon opening at the USDA’s 2015 Farmers Market in the east parking lot of USDA in Washington, D.C. on Friday, May 1, 2015. USDA photo by Tom Witham.

(Left to right) Under Secretary Kevin Concannon, USDA AMS Deputy Administrator Arthur Neal, Agricultural Market Service (AMS) Administrator Anne Alonzo, USDA Farmers Market Coordinator Annie Ceccarini, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and Under Secretary Ed Avalos cut the ribbon opening at the USDA’s 2015 Farmers Market in the east parking lot of USDA in Washington, D.C. on Friday, May 1, 2015. USDA photo by Tom Witham.

This morning, Secretary Tom Vilsack and I kicked off the 20th season of the USDA Farmers Market.  It was quite a celebration, complete with balloons, ribbon cutting and bell ringing!  The market underwent a major redesign and expansion this year to make room for twice as many vendors as we’ve had in the past.  Featuring everything from fresh oysters to delicious pastries to crisp lettuce, today’s market is full of delicious offerings from local farmers, ranchers and food businesses.   

I am so proud that my agency, the Agricultural Marketing Service, has managed this market for the past 20 years, turning it into a true gathering place for USDA and its neighbors, including Washington, D.C.-area employees, residents in Ward 2 and visitors to the National Mall.  The USDA Farmers Market also provides a great business opportunity for entrepreneurs. Read more »

Secretary Vilsack Accepts Climate Leadership Award

On April 28, 2015, the American Carbon Registry (ACR) presented Secretary Vilsack with its 2015 Climate Leadership award, intended to recognize an individual whose career commitments to address the changing climate have made a difference and whose example we hope will inspire other individuals to action.

ACR stated that it recognized Secretary Vilsack for his career-long actions as a steward of the environment from his accomplishments as Governor of Iowa to his more recent achievements as Secretary of Agriculture. ACR specifically mentioned the Secretary’s leadership in establishing the USDA Regional Climate Hubs, enabling record enrollments of farmers, ranchers and forest landowners in voluntary climate-beneficial conservation programs, efforts to lower GHG emissions on US dairies through innovative waste-to-energy projects, and work to improve the health and resiliency of forest ecosystems. Read more »