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International School Meals Day 2014: Celebrating the Importance of Nutrition, Health and Learning Worldwide

Students from Harmony Hills Elementary School in Md. bonded – via Skype – with students from Dairy Primary School in Scotland on the first International School Meals Day.

Students from Harmony Hills Elementary School in Md. bonded – via Skype – with students from Dairy Primary School in Scotland on the first International School Meals Day.

Visiting schools around the country to discuss the importance of health and nutrition with students and educators is one of the favorite parts of my job.  Today, I had the opportunity to share these nutrition messages globally!  On this day, USDA recognized the second annual International School Meals Day (ISMD), where schools around the world celebrate by promoting healthy eating and learning.  This year’s theme was “Food Stories.”

I joined students and staff at Watkins Mill High School, an International Baccalaureate World School in Gaithersburg, Md., to highlight the occasion.   There, a select group of students from the International Cultures and Cuisine class shared their school food and nutrition experiences via Skype with other high school students from Acklam Grange School in Middlesbrough, England. Read more »

Opportunities for Local Foods Expanding In Iowa

FarmTek greenhouse manager Sam Schroyer describes how basil is raised hydroponically to Deputy Under Secretary O’Brien and John Whitaker (left), USDA Farm Service Agency Executive Director in Iowa.

FarmTek greenhouse manager Sam Schroyer describes how basil is raised hydroponically to Deputy Under Secretary O’Brien and John Whitaker (left), USDA Farm Service Agency Executive Director in Iowa.

All across the country local and regional food systems provide a wealth of opportunities for rural residents.  They provide opportunities for farmers, ranchers, and producers to meet growing customer demand for local foods. Local food entrepreneurs are starting to start small businesses like food processing, distribution and retail markets.

Local and regional food systems are also building stronger connections between urban and rural communities.  Eastern Iowa is case in point. In Cedar Rapids, Iowa’s second biggest city, the NewBo City Market features the region’s local food offerings. Secretary Vilsack was on hand in the fall of 2012 to open the 18,000 square foot market, local food distribution center, and culinary training facility. Read more »

Farm Bill Program Continues to Nurture Healthy Forest, Help Wildlife

NRCS Supervisory District Conservationist Kelvin Jackson worked with Variano “Chino” Suarez in Mississippi on improving forested lands with conservation programs. NRCS photo.

NRCS Supervisory District Conservationist Kelvin Jackson worked with Variano “Chino” Suarez in Mississippi on improving forested lands with conservation programs. NRCS photo.

With a little help from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, (NRCS) Variano “Chino” Suarez was able to use prescribed burning and other conservation efforts to greatly improve his forested land in Mississippi.

Through NRCS conservation programs, Suarez and others are able to make improvements on private lands.

The recently passed 2014 Farm Bill continues to provide financial and technical assistance for farmers, ranchers and forest managers wanting to put conservation to work on their land through the NRCS’ Environmental Quality Incentives Program. Read more »

International Researchers Mobilize Against Risky Stowaway Pests

New Zealand has one of the most well-developed forest biosecurity programs in the world. The logs pictured here at the Port of Tauranga were fumigated prior to export to minimize the chance of accidentally spreading forest pests. (U.S. Forest Service/Frank Koch)

New Zealand has one of the most well-developed forest biosecurity programs in the world. The logs pictured here at the Port of Tauranga were fumigated prior to export to minimize the chance of accidentally spreading forest pests. (U.S. Forest Service/Frank Koch)

Sometimes there is more to global trade than meets the eye. While consumers and economies may benefit from expanding market opportunities and a seemingly endless array of readily available goods, harmful pests could be lurking as people and products are transported between countries.

An international research network, including scientists from the U.S. Forest Service, has come together to share information about how exotic animals, diseases and plants can move and spread—and threaten agricultural and natural resources.

The International Pest Risk Mapping Workgroup consists of governmental and academic scientists from around the globe who study potential stowaway pests in order to assess the likelihood of their establishment in new locations and the impacts if and where they spread. Read more »

Diversity of Thought Brings Success

At the first ever "Opportunities for Diversity" event, AMS Administrator Anne Alonzo (at the podium) was joined by Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden (first seat) and several members of the commodity Research and promotion boards. The event discussed the changing face of agriculture and the importance of including members from all schools of thought, backgrounds and culture.

At the first ever "Opportunities for Diversity" event, AMS Administrator Anne Alonzo (at the podium) was joined by Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden (first seat) and several members of the commodity Research and promotion boards. The event discussed the changing face of agriculture and the importance of including members from all schools of thought, backgrounds and culture.

The face of agriculture is changing.  The changes are reflected in the Ag Census data released last week, in the rural communities we serve, and in the way the Department is looking toward the future.  With a 12 percent increase in minority farm operators and a 21 percent increase in Hispanic farm operators since 2007, it’s clear that the agricultural landscape is changing. And it is vital that industry leadership evolves, too.

My agency, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), oversees more than 20 Federal Research and Promotion (R&P) boards, whose members are appointed by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.  These boards serve a variety of commodity industries, focusing on nutrition, research, marketing and consumer outreach.  By helping develop new markets and strengthening existing ones, they create opportunities for farms and businesses across the country. Read more »

Creating a Roadmap for Women in Agriculture

Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden, seated left, hosted a panel on the role of women in agriculture at the 2014 Agricultural Outlook Forum. Photo by Bob Nichols

Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden, seated left, hosted a panel on the role of women in agriculture at the 2014 Agricultural Outlook Forum. Photo by Bob Nichols

In February, it was my privilege to moderate a panel that featured four exceptional women at the Agricultural Outlook Forum.  The break out session was titled “A Roadmap for Women in Agriculture,” a lively and thought-provoking exchange on the future of women in agriculture.

Autumn Veazey, Debbie Hamrick, Kate Danner and Leslie Wheelock, all shared their passion for agriculture and gave great advice on how to earn a seat at the table. Read more »