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Let’s Carry the Values of Tu B’Shevat with Us Every Day

(from L to R) Matt Nosanchuk, Associate Director for Outreach, The White House; Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb, Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Synagogue; Robert Bonnie, Under Secretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources and Environment (NRE); Meryl Harrell, Chief of Staff, NRE. USDA Photo: Tom Witham.

(from L to R) Matt Nosanchuk, Associate Director for Outreach, The White House; Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb, Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Synagogue; Robert Bonnie, Under Secretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources and Environment (NRE); Meryl Harrell, Chief of Staff, NRE. USDA Photo: Tom Witham.

Dignitaries from the White House and USDA held a tree planting ceremony Thursday beside the National Mall to commemorate Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish New Year of the Tree. Thinking about the people planting that young Redbud tree to honor the conservation ethic of the Jewish community, I was reminded of just how important trees are to all of us.

In my job as the Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, I’m charged with leading the agency that manages 193 million acres of forests that belong to the American people, as well as providing assistance in the management of 500 million acres of state and private forests and 100 million acres of urban forests. That’s a tremendous responsibility for the agency, one that often requires thinking in terms of the big picture, and how our decisions will impact the landscape in 30, 50, or even 100 years. Read more »

National FFA Officers Meet with Secretary Vilsack

National FFA officers meet with Secretary Vilsack at the Agriculture Department on January 15. USDA photo by Tom Witham.

National FFA officers meet with Secretary Vilsack at the Agriculture Department on January 15. USDA photo by Tom Witham.

“We are excited by the challenges you presented to us,” said FFA National Secretary Mitch Bayer at the conclusion of a half-hour meeting of National FFA officers with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack at the USDA Whitten Building earlier this week.

In his meeting with the officers, the Secretary covered a wide range of issues, including the immediate need for a new Food, Farm and Jobs Bill.  When it passes, he said, the National FFA should study provisions that will help young, beginning farmers become established.  He said there will be, he hopes, an easier path to credit and also support for the USDA microloan program, which helps beginning farmers and others buy equipment, rent ground, and buy livestock or supplies at affordable interest rates. The Secretary noted that 70 percent of the world’s farmers are women, and USDA is working to provide greater opportunities to women, Native Americans, Hispanics, African Americans and others who want to farm. Read more »

Clearer Air Awaits You in Wilderness Areas Across the Country

A view of the San Gorgonio Wilderness shows what the haziest days looked like in the first and second halves of the last decade. The right side of the image is about 14 percent clearer than the left. (U.S. Forest Service computer-generated graphic/Scott Copeland)

A view of the San Gorgonio Wilderness shows what the haziest days looked like in the first and second halves of the last decade. The right side of the image is about 14 percent clearer than the left. (U.S. Forest Service computer-generated graphic/Scott Copeland)

Visitors to wilderness areas treasure the stunning vistas and pristine scenery. Now there is good news for the millions of people who recreate in these special places: less haze exists in most wilderness areas allowing them to see farther and enjoy more color and texture in the scenery.

“We have even better news,” says Bret Anderson, the Forest Service’s regional haze coordinator. “Further reductions in air pollution are expected to bring even clearer air in coming years.”

All this good news is showcased in a recent series of USDA Forest Service reports showing visibility has improved at 60 of the 86 Class I wilderness areas, which are defined as those area of greater than 6,000 acres. The trends considered five-year averages of the haziest days for each year from 2000 through 2009. Read more »

The Kindergarten Initiative: Connecting Students and their Families to the Worcester Food Environment

Kindergarteners, family members, and teachers from Grafton Street School in Worcester, MA touring the REC’s Organic Farm with Mass. Farm to School Project’s Kindergarten Initiative program.

Kindergarteners, family members, and teachers from Grafton Street School in Worcester, MA touring the REC’s Organic Farm with Mass. Farm to School Project’s Kindergarten Initiative program.

Massachusetts Farm to School Project and the Worcester Public Schools are helping kindergarteners understand how and where food is grown. They are teaching children about nutrition through local food tastings, farm and farmer visits, cooking demonstrations and take home produce. The Worcester Kindergarten Initiative is running at nine elementary schools in Worcester, MA, for the 2013-2014 school year! We are pleased to share this piece from the Worcester Kindergarten Initiative Evaluation and Education Specialist, Isabel Burgess.

Guest post by Isabel Burgess, Worcester Kindergarten Initiative Evaluation and Education Specialist

“This is so cool! Our first ever farm!” These are the sounds of kindergartners from Worcester, MA stepping onto one of the Regional Environmental Council’s YouthGROW farms. The farm is small – a vacant lot sandwiched between triple-deckers – but the students are thrilled. They spend the morning taking a tour of the farm; hearing about the youth farmers that manage the space; taste-testing chard and collards straight from the soil; and planting seeds of their own. The family members that joined their children on the trip are also excited to explore. They cannot believe that the farm is there – smack in the middle of the city, so close to where they live. Read more »

Secretary’s Column: Fighting Rural Poverty in Appalachia and the Delta Region

Cross posted from the Huffington Post:

Rural America faces a unique set of challenges when it comes to combating poverty in our towns and communities. Too often, rural people and places are hard to reach or otherwise underserved—but not forgotten.

I believe that USDA and its partners have the tools and the wherewithal to expand opportunity and better serve those living in poverty, but it is imperative that these resources reach the areas where they are needed most.

That is why USDA has undertaken a broad commitment to rally available tools and technical assistance through our StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity initiative. Read more »

USDA Helps Farmers and Ranchers Recover and Rebuild after Winter Storm Atlas

NRCS is working with this couple in Meade County, S.D. on recovery efforts. The four ranching families in this area lost 1,200 head of cattle.

NRCS is working with this couple in Meade County, S.D. on recovery efforts. The four ranching families in this area lost 1,200 head of cattle.

Despite challenging weather, conservationists with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in South Dakota (NRCS) are working diligently – and often in sub-zero temperatures and snow-covered fields and pastures – to help ranchers recover after Winter Storm Atlas. We began recovery work once the federal government reopened Oct. 17, and our work continues.

The October 2013 surprise blizzard affected roughly 28,000 square miles of western South Dakota, an area the size of West Virginia, killing tens of thousands of cattle, sheep, horses and some wildlife. Atlas’ three days of cold rain, snow and powerful winds pushed livestock into waterways and into and through fences. Some livestock were even found more than 20 miles away. Read more »