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Real Superheroes Wear Lab Coats

Carrie Harmon at University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Science lab

Carrie Harmon works at University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Science labs with the National Plant Diagnostic Network. Photo courtesy of Ray Hammerschmidt

With support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), the National Plant Diagnostic Network has grown into an internationally respected consortium of plant diagnostic laboratories dedicated to enhancing agricultural security by protecting health and productivity of plants in agricultural and natural ecosystems.

Dr. Ray Hammerschmidt, President of the National Plant Diagnostic Network, discusses this partnership and the benefits all Americans receive in the following guest post:

Superheroes really do work among us. But, instead of capes and cowls and ice palaces and caves, they are often found in a lab at a public university or state agriculture department, wearing lab coats and working over a microscope.

These men and women work daily to protect our communities and crops from dangerous pests and pathogens.  They are plant pathologists, entomologists, nematologists, weed scientists, and other plant scientists who work diligently to mitigate the impact of endemic, emerging, and exotic pathogens and pests that attack agricultural, forest, and landscape plants in the United States. Read more »

The Building Blocks of Forest Restoration Partnerships

A forest in a wetland

Isolated depressional wetlands are an integral part of the local ecosystem and often provide wetland restoration opportunities.

Is it possible to simultaneously promote natural resources conservation and the growth of businesses that impact the environment?  Yes.  One way to do so is through “compensatory mitigation.” Compensatory mitigation is the preservation, restoration and/or establishment of a resource to offset unavoidable adverse impacts to the resource elsewhere.

For example, a compensatory mitigation agreement created in 2013 helped advance conservation in Francis Marion and Sumter National Forests in South Carolina and business growth in the surrounding area.  Here’s how:  Under the agreement, three local businesses supported restoration projects that improved aquatic resources located inside the Forests in order to mitigate projects that had unavoidable impacts on wetlands located outside the Forests, typically within the same ecosystem.  The three participating businesses were: Duke Energy, Boeing, and The City of Charleston.  Unavoidable impacts to streams, wetlands and salt marsh were mitigated under the novel agreement. Read more » Helps America Celebrate National Nutrition Month

A boy and girl smiling and holding fruits in their hands

USDA programs encourage efforts to improve access to safe, healthy food for all Americans and supports the health of our next generation. (USDA-ARS photo by Keith Weller)

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.

March is National Nutrition Month, an annual observance that encourages Americans to adopt a healthy eating pattern that includes nutritious and flavorful foods. What started as a week-long event in 1973 by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics became a month-long celebration in 1980, thanks to growing public interest in nutrition. Food and nutrition professionals often celebrate this special month by providing educational and fun resources and treats—such as information booths, posters, games, recipes, and healthy snacks—to promote healthy eating in the workplace and at home. This year’s theme, “Savor the Flavor of Eating Right,” encourages food traditions and the appreciation of eating flavorful foods with friends and family. Read more »

Training the Teachers in Our Biggest Classrooms

Maple Avenue Market Farm co-owner Sara Guerre invited students to learn about their local farmers, during a National School Lunch Week event at Nottingham Elementary School in Arlington, VA

Maple Avenue Market Farm co-owner Sara Guerre invited students to learn about their local farmers, during a National School Lunch Week event at Nottingham Elementary School in Arlington, VA, on Wednesday, October 12, 2011. USDA Photo by Lance Cheung.

Bridgette Matthews is a Lead Mentor for USDA’s Team Up for Nutrition Success Initiative, which provides school food authorities with tailored technical assistance and training to successfully implement the school meal patterns.  Here, Bridgette discusses the importance of training for school nutrition staff.  A recent study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that the majority of school food service directors believe their staffs need more training to maximize the benefits of the new nutrition standards.  Bridgette’s examples demonstrate how proper training can not only help staff meet the new standards, but also prepare them to teach students about making healthy choices.

By Bridgette Matthews, School Nutrition Director for Elbert County Schools, Georgia

Like their fellow educators down the hall, the school nutrition professionals I work with must be well-prepared to answer students’ tough questions. That’s why staff training and development are crucial parts of our school meal program—for me as the director and for our whole team.

Nutrition training is particularly important for my front-line servers and cashiers, because they’re the ones who talk with students the most each day. How they respond to even a seemingly minor question—such as “Why doesn’t this sandwich have pickles?”—can affect children’s choices and their overall impression of our program. Read more »

Food Safety in Numbers

Two boys with their school meals

USDA works with producers, processors and other federal and state officials to ensure that beef delivered to program recipients is safe and nutritious.

March is National Nutrition Month. Throughout the month, USDA will be highlighting results of our efforts to improve access to safe, healthy food for all Americans and supporting the health of our next generation.

USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) purchases nearly 100 million pounds of boneless and ground beef each year for distribution through Federal nutrition assistance programs, including the National School Lunch Program.  AMS works tirelessly with producers, processors, and other federal and state officials to ensure that beef delivered to program recipients is safe and nutritious.

The products we purchase support American agriculture through domestic-only purchases that are delivered to schools, food banks, and households in communities across the country.  These purchases are a vital component of our nation’s food security program.  The Food Safety and Commodity Specifications Division – part of the AMS Livestock, Poultry, and Seed program – sets standards and provides testing and oversight for these purchases. Read more »

A High Five for Innovative Conservation Projects

“The Conservation Innovation Grant program has an impressive track record of fostering innovative conservation tools and strategies,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack as he announced $20 million in new funding for the program. “Successes in the program can translate into new opportunities for historically underserved landowners, help resolve pressing water conservation challenges and leverage new investments in conservation partnerships with farmers, ranchers and other stakeholders.”

Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) fosters innovation in conservation tools and strategies to improve things like on-farm energy and fertilizer use as well as market-based strategies to improve water quality or mitigate climate change. Last year CIG began supporting the burgeoning field of conservation finance and impact investing to attract more private dollars to science-based solutions to benefit both producers and the environment. Read more »