Become a fan on Facebook Follow us on Twitter USDA Blog Feed Watch USDA videos on YouTube Subscribe to receive e-mail updates View USDA Photos on Flickr Subscribe to RSS Feeds

Strategic Planning, Thoughtful Leadership Bring Leveraged Investments, Community Vitality to Small-Town West Virginia

After our terrific meeting with city officials in Ranson and Charles Town, I had the opportunity to visit with local FFA students at Hampshire High School in Romney, WV. Rural America truly is a place where cutting edge innovation meets old-fashioned fun on the farm!

After our terrific meeting with city officials in Ranson and Charles Town, I had the opportunity to visit with local FFA students at Hampshire High School in Romney, WV. Rural America truly is a place where cutting edge innovation meets old-fashioned fun on the farm!

I’d been told the neighboring towns of Ranson and Charles Town, West Virginia, are vibrant communities where people want to live, work and raise a family. During a recent visit with local leaders and USDA’s community economic development partners in the area, I saw first-hand how regional approaches and partnerships are attracting public and private investment to the region that make this quality of life possible.

Along with WV Rural Development State Director Bobby Lewis, I recently convened a discussion with the mayors and city planners of the two towns to learn more about their successes and strategies. I learned that Charles Town and Ranson are thinking big, re-imagining their future, and developing a blueprint for their long-term economic viability. You see, by working together to develop comprehensive objectives and plans, the communities have been able to leverage grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Transportation, and the Environmental Protection Agency to develop new businesses, transportation links, and affordable housing. And in 2011, USDA contributed an important piece, providing funding through a Community Facilities Direct Loan for a much needed ambulance shelter. Read more »

Celebrating our Native Wildflowers for National Wildflower Week 2014

In northern Florida wildflowers are planted in an unused part of this farm field to provide habitat for pollinators. USDA photo.

In northern Florida wildflowers are planted in an unused part of this farm field to provide habitat for pollinators. USDA photo.

No matter what part of the country you grew up in, most of us have fond childhood memories of the wildflowers that sprung up each year around our homes, parks and roadsides.

For many, this fondness has carried into our adult years. This week, we celebrate National Wildflower Week as a way to share our interest and to increase public awareness for wildflowers in the landscape.

The beauty of wildflowers can indeed stir up memories of a certain place or time. But the wildflowers that are native to a particular place also serve an important function in the ecology of that place. Read more »

K-9s – A Law Enforcement Officer’s Equal Partner, Best Friend

U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officer Carson Harris and his K-9 partner, Jasper, patrol the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in California. (U.S. Forest Service)

U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officer Carson Harris and his K-9 partner, Jasper, patrol the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in California. (U.S. Forest Service)

The recent tragedy involving U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement Officer Jason Crisp and his K-9 Maros brought to light the close bond between an officer and his dog and the dangers they face.

Crisp and K-9 Maros were killed in the line of duty on March 12, 2014 in Burke County, North Carolina. The efforts of officers and K-9s are crucial to the mission of Forest Service law enforcement and a well-trained K-9 team is vital to the protection of people, property and resources on U.S. Forest Service-managed lands. Not only are the highly trained dogs involved in the apprehension of suspects and the detection of narcotics, but they also locate evidence, track individuals and provide community demonstrations. Read more »

Rice Producers, Ducks Unlimited Partner at Agriculture Department to Promote Waterfowl Habitat Efforts

NRCS Chief Jason Weller spoke at an event yesterday hosted by Ducks Unlimited and the USA Rice Federation. Chief Weller celebrated the good work of rice farmers who provide critical habitat for ducks and other migratory waterfowl. From L to R in the chairs: Betsy Ward, President and CEO of USA Rice; John Owen, Chairman of USA Rice Producers’ Group; George Dunklin, President of Ducks Unlimited; Dale Hall, CEO of Ducks Unlimited; and Dr. Mark Petrie, report author and Director of Conservation Planning at Ducks Unlimited. USDA photo by Tom Witham.

NRCS Chief Jason Weller spoke at an event yesterday hosted by Ducks Unlimited and the USA Rice Federation. Chief Weller celebrated the good work of rice farmers who provide critical habitat for ducks and other migratory waterfowl. From L to R in the chairs: Betsy Ward, President and CEO of USA Rice; John Owen, Chairman of USA Rice Producers’ Group; George Dunklin, President of Ducks Unlimited; Dale Hall, CEO of Ducks Unlimited; and Dr. Mark Petrie, report author and Director of Conservation Planning at Ducks Unlimited. USDA photo by Tom Witham.

Rice is not just for people but for the birds, too. And a new report underlines the value of rice fields as habitat for migratory birds and other waterfowl.

The working rice lands report, released this week by Ducks Unlimited and the USA Rice Federation, shows that replacing rice fields with restored wetlands would cost an estimated $3.5 billion. Plus, a large amount of food available to migratory birds during winter comes from rice fields: 44 percent in California’s Central Valley and 42 percent along the Gulf of Mexico coast.

Jason Weller, chief of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, (NRCS) joined the two partners for the report’s unveiling today, noting the important relationship the agency has with both groups as well as American farmers. Read more »

California Food for California Kids, Especially on Thursdays

California school food service directors cook and then sample new recipes that incorporate California products. (Photo courtesy of Center for Ecoliteracy)

California school food service directors cook and then sample new recipes that incorporate California products. (Photo courtesy of Center for Ecoliteracy)

I collect aprons like other people collect coins. There are dozens hanging in my kitchen, so many I suspect several have never actually been used. So it was with some self-consciousness that I accepted yet another apron last fall from the Center for Ecoliteracy.

The Center was handing out hundreds of aprons to California school food service directors along with recipes for healthy school meals. At the Palm Springs Convention Center, tables were lined with ingredients, tools of the trade such as mixing bowls and measuring cups, and two burner stoves. Our task was to locate our group and get cooking; we’d be making lunch not for hungry children but for hungry conference attendees at the California Food for California Kids conference. Read more »

The Heroism of Fostering a Healthier Next Generation

Magaly Valentin (left), and Rosalba Gomez (right) Arlington Food Services prepare fresh salads and vegetable cups for the National School Lunch Program in the kitchen at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Virginia. USDA Photo: Bob Nichols.

Magaly Valentin (left), and Rosalba Gomez (right) Arlington Food Services prepare fresh salads and vegetable cups for the National School Lunch Program in the kitchen at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Virginia. USDA Photo: Bob Nichols.

Cross posted from the Huffington Post:

As the saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Nowhere is this more evident than in our nation’s schools. Each day, millions of America’s young people are educated, fed and nurtured in these academic “villages.” A crucial aspect of each child’s education is learning how to maintain a healthy lifestyle. School nutrition employees and school nurses play critical roles in this mission, and I am fortunate to witness, first-hand, the dedication of these professionals as I visit USDA school lunch and breakfast programs around the country.

Over the next few days, we have the opportunity to pay tribute to those who work so hard to ensure the health of our children at school. On Friday, we celebrated National School Lunch Hero Day, a time to recognize hardworking school nutrition employees nationwide. This week, we are continuing to honor these professionals during National School Nutrition Employee Week. Both events allow us to demonstrate our gratitude to those who dedicate their careers to preparing and serving healthy meals to our nation’s children. Read more »