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Produce Safety University: Supporting a Healthier Next Generation through School Food Safety!

PSU students interact with a local farmer during one of the program’s field trips.

PSU students interact with a local farmer during one of the program’s field trips.

Nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our children.  To reinforce that value, USDA is constantly working to ensure that kids are only being served safe, high quality meals.   That’s why we launched Produce Safety University (PSU) in 2010, to address the food safety issues related to fresh produce, particularly as it pertains to school food service.

A joint venture between USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service and the Agricultural Marketing Service, PSU conducts five week-long classes each year to instruct school nutrition professionals and State Agency program directors.  The sessions focus on facts about the produce industry, produce safety, and produce use in school foodservice.  Last week we wrapped up our first session of 2014, at this highly informative event in Fredericksburg, Va. Read more »

Expanding Opportunity in Indian Country

Secretary Vilsack speaks to National Congress of American Indians Tribal Nations Legislative Summit in Washington, DC on March 13.

Secretary Vilsack speaks to National Congress of American Indians Tribal Nations Legislative Summit in Washington, DC on March 13.

Earlier today, Secretary Vilsack published an op-ed in Indian Country Today discussing USDA’s efforts to improve access to capital for Tribal citizens. You can read the original op-ed here.

Last week, I spoke to several hundred tribal leaders at the National Congress of American Indians Tribal Nations Legislative Summit here in Washington, DC. The conversation was wide ranging, but boiled down to two key topics: what have we achieved, and how can USDA programs better support sustained economic growth in Indian Country?

USDA and our partners in Indian Country have made significant improvements to critical infrastructure over the past five years. In the past year alone, USDA invested more than $625 million in Indian Country through our Rural Development programs. We have worked with Tribes to bring new and improved electric infrastructure to Tribal lands and financed Tribal community facilities, including schools, medical facilities and Tribal colleges and universities. Read more »

Setting the Record Straight on FSIS Inspector Vacancy Rates

Recently, the New York Times published an article claiming that job vacancies in the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) are leading to more food recalls. That’s not true.  The fact is, vacancies within the agency do not mean there are less inspectors on the job in our nation’s meat plants.

FSIS is legally required to have a sufficient number of inspectors present in every single meat and poultry plant in the country.  No plant in America is allowed to operate if it does not have the required number of safety inspectors in the plant at all times, and every plant currently operating in America has the necessary food inspection staff. Read more »

U.S. Forest Service Helps Fund Harvard Forest Green Energy Project

Harvard Forest staff renovated a pole barn to house the boiler room and modern wood shop. The new boiler room (left side of the building) contains three wood gasification boilers, a 2,500-gallon thermal storage tank, a propane-fired backup boiler and associated pumps and system controls. The sloped roof on the left of the building provides a dry storage area for racks of firewood prior to loading in the boilers. (U.S. Forest Service/Rob Clark)

Harvard Forest staff renovated a pole barn to house the boiler room and modern wood shop. The new boiler room (left side of the building) contains three wood gasification boilers, a 2,500-gallon thermal storage tank, a propane-fired backup boiler and associated pumps and system controls. The sloped roof on the left of the building provides a dry storage area for racks of firewood prior to loading in the boilers. (U.S. Forest Service/Rob Clark)

I recently had the opportunity to speak at the dedication ceremony for the Harvard Forest Wood Energy Project, an exciting venture partially supported by the U.S. Forest Service Northeastern Area. This woody-biomass heating system will support 50,000 square feet of the central campus buildings and five dormitories, replacing fuel-oil with renewable firewood that comes from Harvard Forest, a 3,500-acre laboratory and classroom in Petersham, Mass., and owned by Harvard University.

A unique aspect of this project is that it is at the heart of a long-term forest carbon research project. Not only are carbon flows in the Harvard Forest where the wood for the new energy system will come from already being closely studied, but now every aspect of the new installation will be very closely monitored and studied as well. Read more »

Farm to School Grants Offer New Opportunities to Serve Healthy Local Foods in School Meals

On March 7, 2014, students at J.C. Nalle Elementary School sampled three different kinds of spinach. After the taste test, they cast their vote to decide which type they like best. The winner? Spinach salad! (Photo courtesy of D.C. Central Kitchen)

On March 7, 2014, students at J.C. Nalle Elementary School sampled three different kinds of spinach. After the taste test, they cast their vote to decide which type they like best. The winner? Spinach salad! (Photo courtesy of D.C. Central Kitchen)

It’s not every day that I get the opportunity to hang out with a group of cool elementary school students.  Which is why I was so excited for the chance to spend a few hours at J.C. Nalle Elementary School in Southeast Washington, D.C. You see, it was “Fresh Feature Friday” and D.C. Central Kitchen was coordinating a taste test to see which type of spinach the students like best. “Fresh Feature Friday” is their way of getting kids to try healthy new foods while improving student nutrition and decreasing school food waste.

D.C. Central kitchen manages the school meals program at J.C. Nalle and has been involved with serving healthy school meals for years. In fact, in 2013, the USDA Farm to School Program awarded funds to D.C. Central Kitchen to develop a year round farm to school program. The funds helped purchase school kitchen equipment to process and serve local foods, train staff to prepare school meals using local foods, and develop key partnerships with D.C. Public Schools, the D.C. Farm to School Network, and several regional farms in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Read more »

USDA, Partners Work to Expand SNAP Access at Farmers Markets

More than 4,200 markets and direct marketing farmers now redeem SNAP benefits across the country.  Farmers’ market incentive programs, which couple access to healthy foods with incentives to purchase healthy products while at the market, help SNAP recipients consume a healthy diet.

More than 4,200 markets and direct marketing farmers now redeem SNAP benefits across the country. Farmers’ market incentive programs, which couple access to healthy foods with incentives to purchase healthy products while at the market, help SNAP recipients consume a healthy diet.

As spring marches closer, farmers markets across the country are ramping up or reopening for the season. In addition to year-round staples like local milk, meat, and grains, the stars of the season—asparagus, onions, new potatoes, lamb, and greens of all varieties—are beginning to make their debuts. In a few months’ time, the markets will be in full swing, bursting with berries and zucchini and other summer fruits and vegetables. Here at USDA, we’re working hard to ensure participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) have access to this healthful, local bounty.

Remarkable progress has been made in providing better access to the nation’s 8,200 farmers markets and farm stands; more than 4,200 markets and direct marketing farmers now redeem SNAP benefits.  Beyond providing heightened access to farmers markets, we know that coupling access with incentives to purchase healthy products while at the market helps SNAP recipients consume a healthy diet. A new report from USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service makes clear that private sector organizations share the goal of increasing access and incentives, and are willing to dedicate financial resources to ensuring the success of this approach. Researchers for the Farmers Market Incentive Provider Study interviewed representatives from more than 100 organizations that provide financial incentives to SNAP participants redeeming their benefits at farmers markets.  Wholesome Wave is a great example of a not-for-profit organization that partners with 305 farmers markets in 24 states with nutrition incentive programs for doubling SNAP, WIC, and Senior Farmers Market vouchers at farmers markets. Read more »