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Secretary’s Column: New Farm Bill and 2015 Budget Expand Opportunity in Rural America

This week, President Obama released USDA’s fiscal year 2015 budget proposal, which supports our ongoing work to create jobs and opportunity in rural America.

The budget builds on the new opportunities available to us through the recently-passed 2014 Farm Bill to achieve reform and results for the American taxpayer; foster opportunity for the men and women living, working and raising families in rural America; and support innovation through strategic, future-focused investments.

My team at USDA has been hard at work identifying everything that will be required—regulations, guidance and other activities—to develop a plan to implement the new Farm Bill. Read more »

Child Hunger and the Importance of Keeping Our Communities Healthy and Strong

Child at a school food pantry. Image provided by Feeding America.

Child at a school food pantry. Image provided by Feeding America.

During March, National Nutrition Month®, USDA will highlight various nutrition topics that are near and dear to our hearts. We don’t work on these issues alone however. This guest blog post acknowledges one USDA National Strategic Partner, Feeding America, for the outstanding work they do to address childhood hunger and food insecurity and promote MyPlate. Learn more below:

By Jessica Hager, MA in Social Service Administration, Nutrition Coordinator, Feeding America

Good nutrition, particularly in the first three years of one’s life, is important for establishing a good foundation that has implications for future physical and mental health, academic achievement and economic productivity. Unfortunately, food insecurity is an obstacle that threatens that critical foundation.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 15.9 million children—1 in 5—under the age of 18 in America live in households where they are unable to consistently access enough nutritious food necessary for a healthy life (Household Food Security in the United States in 2012. Table 1B.USDA ERS.) Additionally, Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap 2013 research found that 20 percent or more of the child population in each of 37 states and D.C. live in food-insecure households (Map the Meal Gap 2013, Feeding America).

Read more »

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 »