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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 »

ERS’ Food Environment Atlas Maps the Interplay of Farmers’ Markets and SNAP

About one in every four farmers’ markets across the country reported accepting SNAP benefits in 2013, according to statistics found in ERS’s updated Food Environment Atlas.

About one in every four farmers’ markets across the country reported accepting SNAP benefits in 2013, according to statistics found in ERS’s updated Food Environment Atlas.

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.

As economists, we recognize that people respond to incentives, and prices are among the strongest incentives. So as the price of something falls, people will generally purchase more of it. It’s a principle that policymakers and health advocates sometimes apply to encourage healthy dietary choices—such as eating more fruits and vegetables. The Agricultural Act of 2014 sets up a new grant program to support projects that encourage participants in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, to buy more fruits and vegetables. The grants will provide Federal matching funds to nonprofit and governmental organizations for projects that reduce the cost of fruits and vegetables to SNAP recipients. Many of these efforts currently focus on increasing SNAP recipients’ buying power at farmers’ markets. Read more »

Young Farmers Build a Network to Grow Connecticut’s Farming Future

This committee planned the “Build Your Network, Grow Our Future.”

This committee planned the “Build Your Network, Grow Our Future.”

Getting the younger generation interested in farming is important for the future of American agriculture, and a recent event in Connecticut served as an education and network opportunity for beginning farmers.

The “Build Your Network, Grow Our Future” event held last month in East Windsor, Conn. attracted about 60 people to share resources and learn.

The purpose of the event was to help people new to the world of agriculture meet, make contacts, compare notes, give advice and inform others of services. Read more »

US Forest Service Mobilizes to Save Cavity Birds

An owl seems to plead for help after getting stuck in a vault toilet. A movement to save birds from serious injury and death garnered a Wings Across the Americas Award for the Teton Raptor Center of Jackson Hole, Wyo., and employees from several national forests. (Photo courtesy Teton Raptor Center)

An owl seems to plead for help after getting stuck in a vault toilet. A movement to save birds from serious injury and death garnered a Wings Across the Americas Award for the Teton Raptor Center of Jackson Hole, Wyo., and employees from several national forests. (Photo courtesy Teton Raptor Center)

Small owls, such as western screech and northern saw whet owls, weigh between 3 and 7 ounces, or about the same weight as a small cell phone or a deck of cards.

They prefer dark, narrow spaces for nesting and roosting, which is why they are called cavity birds. Their habitat preferences make them prone to using man-made features, such as open pipes, that mimic their natural nesting and roosting cavities. But on some public lands, that natural act of finding habitat in ventilation pipes has led to their death. Read more »

Measuring the Value of Snow

A Portland television reporter and NRCS public affairs specialist Spencer Miller join NRCS snow surveyors to measure snow and collect data.

A Portland television reporter and NRCS public affairs specialist Spencer Miller join NRCS snow surveyors to measure snow and collect data.

A stormy February doubled the Mount Hood snowpack from five feet to ten – a relief for northern Oregon, which has been unseasonably dry. Hydrologists have told me about dramatic recoveries, but this is the first time I’ve witnessed it.

I recently joined Julie Koeberle, one of our hydrologists with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, to collect data that would be released in the March forecast from the agency’s National Water and Climate Center.

We snow-shoed out to the site and weighed the snow, and a local reporter tagged along to see how it’s done. Weighing snow allows surveyors to calculate the snow-water equivalent, in other words, how much water is in the snow. Light, fluffy snow contains less than dense, packed snow. Read more »