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Arizona Tour Shows Native Farmers’ Dedication to Hard Work and Conservation

NRCS State Conservationist Keisha Tatem, NRCS Assistant Chief Kirk Hanlin (center) and Eric Juan with the Gila River Tribal Community discuss the efficiency gains of the concrete-lined irrigation ditch in the community. Before this ditch was lined, much of the water was lost. NRCS photo.

NRCS State Conservationist Keisha Tatem, NRCS Assistant Chief Kirk Hanlin (center) and Eric Juan with the Gila River Tribal Community discuss the efficiency gains of the concrete-lined irrigation ditch in the community. Before this ditch was lined, much of the water was lost. NRCS photo.

I come from generations of Mississippi River towboat captains and family farmers. From as early as I can remember, our family believed that if you were going to do a job, you’d better do it right, and that no job was either too big or too small.

Hard work was valued, and everyone always looked for new ways of doing jobs better. The river and the land have long supported our family. From time to time, I have an experience that takes me back and today’s trip was one of those times.

Recently, when I was crossing the Colorado River from California into Arizona, I thought about how many times I had crossed the Mississippi River from Illinois to Iowa or Missouri. But crossing this river was very different. Driving into Arizona, there was desert as far as I could see in any direction. This instantly sparked my curiosity. Read more »

The Buried Forest of Alaska’s Kruzof Island: a Window into the Past

Mount Edgecumbe volcano is on Kruzof Island in Southeast Alaska, just west of Sitka. The Mount Edgecumbe Volcanic Field consists of more than a dozen volcanic vents and domes. The field first erupted more than 600,000 years ago, and volcanic activity continued until 5,000 to 6,000 years ago. (U.S. Forest Service/Jim Baichtal)

Mount Edgecumbe volcano is on Kruzof Island in Southeast Alaska, just west of Sitka. The Mount Edgecumbe Volcanic Field consists of more than a dozen volcanic vents and domes. The field first erupted more than 600,000 years ago, and volcanic activity continued until 5,000 to 6,000 years ago. (U.S. Forest Service/Jim Baichtal)

Seldom does one find a way to directly date a prehistoric volcanic eruption, but 11-year-old Blake LaPerriere opened such a door for excited scientists in Southeast Alaska.

Last September, Blake, his parents, and his younger brothers were exploring a beach on southwestern Kruzof Island, part of the Tongass National Forest landscape and just west of Sitka, Alaska, where they live. Blake investigated a deeply incised creek behind a pile of beach drift where he found a standing burnt tree embedded in a tall bank of pumice. He brought it to his family’s attention, asking “Do you think that’s from a volcanic eruption a long time ago?”

Curious, Blake’s father Zach took photos and sent them my way. Read more »

USDA’s National Centers for Animal Health Makes an Impact on Agriculture

Under Secretary Avalos is shown buildings of the south campus by Dr. Elizabeth Lautner

Under Secretary Avalos is shown buildings of the south campus by Dr. Elizabeth Lautner

In February, I had the opportunity to visit USDA’s National Centers for Animal Health in Ames, Iowa. This campus hosts employees from both APHIS and ARS, who work together with tremendous collaboration.  ARS employees conduct research on diseases of economic importance to the U.S. livestock and poultry industries. APHIS employees work to protect and improve the health, quality, and marketability of our nation’s animals, animal products, and veterinary biologics.

Their critical work in research, biologics, diagnostics, training, and coordination with stakeholders is impressive. It is a true science center where the work is intricate, precise, and timely. The scientific research conducted on the campus supports policy decisions, sets international standards and assures the country and the world that U.S. livestock and livestock products are safe for consumers. Read more »

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 »