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USDA Agencies Lead Local Food Discussion in Omaha

USDA officials and Nebraska congressional and state representatives

A team of USDA officials and Nebraska congressional and state representatives participated in the first ever Local Foods for Local Tables conference. The group got together with the common goal of promoting local foods. USDA Photo.

I was thrilled to join USDA colleagues at the first-of-its-kind “Local Foods for Local Tables” conference in Omaha, Neb., on Friday, Aug. 14, 2015.  USDA Rural Development (RD) State Director Maxine Moul and the office of Congressman Brad Ashford led the effort to bring together groups and community members with the common goal of promoting local foods. Along with RD state leadership, the event featured Farm Service Agency (FSA) State Executive Director Dan Steinkruger and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) State Conservationist Craig Derickson, all of whom serve on the Nebraska State Food and Agriculture Council (SFAC).  They brought together a panel of public servants who are experts in their field, as well as community leaders who are on the front lines of bringing fresh, healthy food to the American table. 

With more than 150 people in attendance, there was tremendous energy in the room. The discussions were lively and the ideas inspired! For everyone sitting in the room – whether a volunteer gardener or a state conservationist – it was a great opportunity to learn about programs and initiatives right in their backyard that are supporting local and regional food systems.  I had the privilege of serving as the keynote speaker during the luncheon, which was prepared using delicious, locally-sourced foods. I shared how my agency, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), plays a key role in providing technical assistance, awarding grants, and conducting research that contribute to ongoing efforts in Nebraska and across the country to strengthen local and regional food systems.  Elanor Starmer from the Office of the Secretary also attended and talked about the Department-wide Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative to support local food. Read more »

Community Eligibility: A Win-Win for Schools and Families in the Fight against Childhood Hunger

Students waiting to enjoy a delicious lunch

Students waiting to enjoy a delicious lunch.

Every day, millions of students across the U.S. walk into school with stomachs growling because they haven’t had enough to eat either that morning or the night before and eagerly anticipate getting a school breakfast.  Hours later, when the lunch bell rings, the same students jet to the front of the line to make sure they get enough food to tide them over until their next meal. For many students, school meals are not a luxury or a backup in case they forget to pack a meal; they are a lifeline. 

At a time when 8.6 million U.S. children lack consistent access to food at home, the availability of nutritious meals at school is more important than ever. The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) provides an opportunity for schools to not only feed more kids, but can help with the bottom line. Read more »

It’s County Fair Time at the USDA Farmers Market at Night

USDA Farmers Market at Night, County Fair Time poster

It’s County Fair Time at the USDA Farmers Market at Night. Join us on Friday, August 21, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. in Washington, D.C., near the National Mall!

August is prime time for city, county and state agricultural fairs! These fun summertime events bring communities together.  Farmers markets also are an increasingly popular community gathering spot.

So, what would happen if the fair theme was combined with a farmers market?  You would get County Fair Time at the USDA Farmers Market at Night on Friday, August 21, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. in Washington, D.C., near the National Mall!

USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has managed the weekly daytime USDA Farmers Market, at 12th and Independence Avenue, S.W., in Washington, D.C. for 20 years.  The daytime market is open on Fridays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., May through October. Read more »

High Tunnels Helps Community Supported Agriculture Farm

Beth Rinkenberger holding a cheddar cauliflower she grew in the high tunnel

Beth Rinkenberger holds a cheddar cauliflower she grew in the high tunnel, one of the many vegetables the CSA box contains. Photo: Jody Christiansen.

Somewhat hidden in Livingston County, Illinois is a five-acre farm that is reminiscent of farms years ago. With assistance from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the farm is able to maintain a diversified operation with agritourism features and run a CSA ­– or Community Supported Agriculture.

A CSA is a way for consumers to directly invest in local farms, like Beth and Doug Rinkenberger’s Garden Gate Farms, and receive a regular delivery of fresh fruits and vegetables. Read more »

August Reports Look into Farm Economy

2015 Value of Agricultural Land Per Acre map

In 2015, U.S. farmland value averaged $3,020 per acre, a 2.4 increase from previous year’s values.

If you are interested in the farm economy, August is a great time of the year. Here at NASS, we start the month by putting out an analysis of farm production expenditures. In other words, how much does it cost to produce our foods, fuels, and fabrics. On the next day, we publish a report on the value of farmland in the United States and how much it costs farmers and ranchers to rent an acre of cropland or pastureland. This year, each one of the reports told a unique story. 

While the nearly $400 billion that U.S. farmers spend to produce food and fabric in 2014 is already staggering, it is even more interesting to see what is happening in the livestock sector. While feed has been the leading expense for farmers for a while now, the rest of the livestock expenses stayed on par with the other farm-related costs. For example, in 2010, U.S. farmers spent $24.4 billion on livestock, poultry, and related expenses, which was less than total rent costs and comparable to the $21 billion spent on fertilizer. Read more »

USDA Training Benefits Child Nutrition Program, Increases Access to Healthy Meals

Students eating breakfast in classroom

The Breakfast in the Classroom Program provides students a healthy start to their day.

The following guest blog highlights the important work of one of our nation’s many hardworking child nutrition professionals.  As a recent participant in USDA’s Team Up for School Nutrition Success Initiative, Thomas J. Smith learned about best practices, strategies and resources to ensure healthy meals are provided to his schools’ most needy students.

By Thomas J. Smith, Director of Child Nutrition, Archdiocese of New York – Department of Education

The primary mission of The Child Nutrition Program, at the Archdiocese of New York-Department of Education, is to ensure that healthy and nutritious meals are provided to our most needy students. Over 20,000 meals are served on a daily basis. Meals are served to our recipient agency schools throughout the Archdiocese of New York. As a result, we serve over 4-million meals between breakfast, lunch, afterschool snack and fresh fruits and vegetables each year. Read more »