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Picking a Winner Part II – More Tips and Insights for Selecting Seasonal Produce

Cantaloupes are a refreshing treat that is always a hit during the summer. When purchasing a cantaloupe, make sure that its rind is light green or turning yellow. Most cantaloupes will need to be kept in the refrigerator before eating. USDA Photo courtesy of Scott Bauer.

Cantaloupes are a refreshing treat that is always a hit during the summer. When purchasing a cantaloupe, make sure that its rind is light green or turning yellow. Most cantaloupes will need to be kept in the refrigerator before eating. USDA Photo courtesy of Scott Bauer.

We all have our own methods and traditions for selecting fresh produce, especially as the weather gets warmer and our stores and markets are full of fresh seasonal offerings. Whether it’s smelling the rind or checking the firmness of the skin, these age-old practices are all designed to help pick the winning ingredients for snacks and meals.  Last spring, we provided tips for buying artichokes, apricots, broccoli, cherries, and strawberries. This time around, we will focus on some other seasonal favorites.

Whether it is part of a fruit salad or eaten by itself, cantaloupe is always a hit during the summer months. When purchasing a cantaloupe, make sure that its rind is light green or turning yellow. Ripe cantaloupes should yield to light pressure and have a sweet aroma. Most cantaloupes need to be kept in the refrigerator for 2-4 days before eating. Some may prefer to eat their cantaloupes at room temperature, while others like theirs after leaving it in the refrigerator for a few hours. Read more »

Students Fight Invasive Plants to Restore Oregon Dunes

Siuslaw Stream Team Leader Jim Grano looks on as students remove Scotch Broom from the dunes. (U.S. Forest Service)

Siuslaw Stream Team Leader Jim Grano looks on as students remove Scotch Broom from the dunes. (U.S. Forest Service)

Seventh graders from Siuslaw Middle School recently visited the Oregon Dunes Day Use Area to join the fight against Scotch Broom, one of Oregon’s worst invasive plants.

Armed with gloves, ratchet loppers, and large weed pullers, students freed an open space on the hillside for native plants to re-establish. The seventh graders picked up where Siuslaw Elementary School fourth graders left off in March, and where previous classes have volunteered their time for the last five years.

“These kids can see the difference they’ve made, and that’s something they can have pride in every time they come back here,” said Jim Grano, who heads up the Siuslaw Stream Team that led the restoration project. Read more »

Conservation and Innovation Preserve Water Resources for Generations to Come

An infographic exploring water conservation efforts across American commodity production. AMS product. (Click to enlarge).

An infographic exploring water conservation efforts across American commodity production. AMS product. (Click to enlarge).

Farmers have always been particularly attuned to the forces of nature – it’s in the job description, after all. When the regularity of growing seasons collides with the irregularity of extreme conditions like droughts, floods, windstorms, the American farming community is motivated to innovate and conserve.

For years, farmers have been leveraging the collective power of research and promotion programs to invest in research that improves on-farm practices through both innovation and conservation. Their efforts, with oversight from USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), has resulted in significant water and soil conservation, safeguarding our land for future generations.

Critical among these practices is smart irrigation.  Almond growers in California have funded 71 irrigation projects over a 32-year period.  Through these projects, growers have learned that micro-drip irrigation not only uses much less water than older methods, but also generates more vigorous plant growth.  With the targeted distribution and uniformity, this increases crop production. Read more »

Get to Know Alabama Agriculture

Who knew? Now you do! Check back next Thursday for another state spotlight from the 2012 Census of Agriculture and the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Who knew? Now you do! Check back next Thursday for another state spotlight from the 2012 Census of Agriculture and the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

The Census of Agriculture is the most complete account of U.S. farms and ranches and the people who operate them. Every Thursday USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service will highlight new Census data and the power of the information to shape the future of American agriculture.

Alabama may be known as the Cotton state, but there’s a lot more to our agriculture than cotton, a point reinforced by the data in the most recent Census of Agriculture. While more than 376,000 acres of nearly nine million acres of farmland in the state are dedicated to cotton farming, there are now more farms growing corn (2,112 farms) and soybeans (1,502 farms) in Alabama than those growing cotton (925 farms).

All in all, it was great to see how well our farming is doing, especially considering that in 2012 we saw one of the worst droughts in history. More than 90 percent of Alabama was affected by the drought that year. Despite these tricky conditions, our farmers sold more than $5.5 billion worth of agricultural products in 2012, a 26 percent increase from the previous census, taken in 2007. Read more »

Don’t Play Politics with our Children’s Health

Earlier this morning, The Hill published an op-ed written by Secretary Vilsack and former Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, who served from 2001 to 2005. In the op-ed, Vilsack and Veneman call on Members of Congress to stand strong for America’s children and resist attempts to undo the progress made since the passage of the bipartisan Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA). Schools across the country are now serving healthier meals to kids based on recommendations from doctors and nutritionists at the Institute of Medicine. Thanks to HHFKA, the school environment is healthier for millions of American children, giving them a fair shot at a healthier, more productive future. Read more from The Hill Op-Ed

Small Operation Perseveres Until Drought Relief Comes

Keegan Poe received disaster funding for grazing losses he suffered during the drought in 2012.

Keegan Poe received disaster funding for grazing losses he suffered during the drought in 2012.

This post is part of a disaster assistance program feature series on the USDA blog. Check back every Wednesday as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s Farm Service Agency.

Keegan Poe of Johnson County, Indiana is a busy man. Not only is Poe a regional manager for Indiana Farm Bureau, but in his “spare time,” he holds down a second full-time job raising beef cattle and running Poe’s Quality Meats where he sells family raised beef and lamb direct from farm to consumer.

“My family has raised sheep for 70 years here in Indiana, but my passion for raising cattle started with one dairy steer when I was involved with 4-H as a youth,” said Poe. “I asked my dad if I could show cattle and he said, ‘sure’ and the rest is history.” Read more »