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Moss Study Helps Identify Pollution Hotspots

Moss growing on urban trees

Moss growing on urban trees, such as this species sample of Lyell’s orthotrichum, is a useful bioindicator that can help monitor cadmium, a carcinogenic heavy metal, in the air. Photo credit: U.S. Forest Service

In December 2013 when Sarah Jovan and Geoffrey Donovan, two scientists with the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station in Portland, Oregon, crisscrossed the northwest area of their city they had no idea they were onto something big. Armed with a ladder and collection equipment, the two spent most of that gray and rainy month carefully plucking hundreds of moss samples off the trunks of the city’s hardwood trees.

They were in relatively uncharted scientific territory, though their research focus seemed straightforward enough: determine if moss, in particular, the ubiquitous Lyell’s orthotrichum moss which grows abundantly across much of the city, could help measure urban air pollution. Read more »

Mapping Out Farmers Market Success

Crossroads Farmers Market

On market day, Crossroads Farmers Market creates a lively, safe community gathering space, bringing together food growers, makers, and consumers. The market is tied closely to the primarily low-income, mostly immigrant community with 75% of their vendors being immigrants. Photo by Molly M. Peterson

Anticipation is building for the opening of seasonal farmers markets in communities across the country—especially in Takoma Park, MD, at the Crossroads Farmers Market.  With over 1,000 visitors each week and vendors offering 131 different fruits and vegetables, market manager Michelle Dudley has a lot of work to do figuring out the perfect placement of farmers and vendors coming to the market starting June 1.

Thanks to USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), she has it all mapped out! Read more »

Concannon: Reauthorize Child Nutrition Programs So They Benefit Children

Children with their school meals

School lunch staff and students enjoy the new school lunch menu created to meet the new standards at the Yorkshire Elementary School in Manassas, VA.

It may seem like common sense for child nutrition programs to benefit children, but some see it differently today.

Nationwide, schools have made the lunchroom a healthy environment. In fact, in only the second school year of full implementation of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA), over 98 percent of schools participating are already meeting the healthier meal standards.  Students are eating more fruits and vegetables during the school day and more low-income children are eating nutritious breakfasts and lunches at school. And data show obesity rates for some children are leveling off. With all the success of HHFKA, now is not the time to intentionally go backwards on nutrition standards in healthier school meals and to block access to these meals for millions of children. Read more »

Wildlife after Wildfire in Southern Appalachia

A young black bear in a forest

Wildlife cameras capture a young black bear enjoying new growth from a prescribed burn on the Pisgah National Forest. Photo credit: Lisa Jennings

It was my first prescribed burn. After weeks of training and months of anticipation, I was finally on the ground – drip torch in hand – ready to apply fire to restore the mixed pine-hardwood forests at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains on the Pisgah National Forest.

Joining the U.S Forest Service only two months earlier, my knowledge of fire’s effect on plant and wildlife communities was limited. But as the coordinator for the Grandfather Restoration Project, part of the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration program, I had to quickly come up to speed with the on-the-ground reality of prescribed fire use. Read more »

Hawaii’s Women in Technology Program Cultivates the Next Generation of STEM Leaders

Girls building their Geodesic Dome

Middle and high school girls at MEDB'S 4-H TECH CONNECT engaged in an activity called Geodesic Domes. Students worked in competitive teams to build the strongest geodesic dome using toothpicks and gumdrops! Whose engineering design is the strongest?

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

If America is to maintain its role as a global leader, it needs to develop more world-class talent in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), especially among underrepresented groups, such as women and minorities.

This need is especially true in rural Hawaii, where developing renewable and sustainable energy is vital due to the isolation of island living and high energy costs. Hawaii has the highest cost of living in the nation and is more dependent on imported fossil fuels than any other state. Preparing students for entry into the renewable energy industry could help the state’s economy and overall economic sustainability. Read more »

Are You Ready? Do You Know How USDA’s Nutrition Assistance Programs can Play a Vital Role in Helping Those Most in Need Following a Disaster?

Two women talking

FNS’ initial response includes providing USDA Foods to disaster relief organizations. This include a variety of canned, fresh, frozen and dry products including fruits, vegetables, meats, and whole grains.

Twice a year, as part of America’s PrepareAthon!, USDA works closely with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as well as with other Federal, state and local partners to promote emergency preparedness.  When disasters strike, it’s not only important for you and your family to be prepared, it’s also critical that your community be prepared.  USDA supports local communities by providing access to healthy meals in emergency situations.

USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) ensures people have access to nutritious food when they find themselves suddenly in need of assistance following a storm, earthquake, flood or other disaster emergency.  Oftentimes after a disaster, retail food stores are closed making it impossible for families to get the food they need.  Even after stores reopen, disaster survivors often still are recovering financially which makes buying food difficult.  FNS programs are there to help in those circumstances. Read more »