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Virginia Is for Lovers – and Silvopasture

Fields-Johnson rotating his goats and sheep through the thinned stands

Fields-Johnson rotates his goats and sheep through the thinned stands to browse on honeysuckle and other understory vegetation. (Photo courtesy of Tom Ward and Colleen Rossier)

Throughout his life, Chris Fields-Johnson has been keenly aware of the need to preserve the natural landscapes, which provide us with clean air to breathe, water to drink and food to eat. As a graduate student of soil science at Virginia State and Polytechnic University, a forestry undergraduate, a student of Tom Brown, Jr.’s Tracker School and a former employee of the Virginia Department of Forestry, he also knows much of the science behind soil restoration and forestry. These experiences have given him a strong desire to turn his knowledge into action by managing land in the most beneficial way possible.

To make this dream a reality, he began converting a 250-acre loblolly pine plantation in Scottsville, Virginia., into a goat and sheep silvopasture system that resembles a pine savanna landscape. Silvopasture combines trees with forage and livestock production. The trees are managed for high-value sawlogs and, at the same time, provide shade and shelter for livestock and forage, reducing livestock stress and sometimes improving forage quality. Fields-Johnson and friends have spent many weekends thinning and pruning trees by hand, conducting controlled burns, fighting invasive plants and experimenting with forage establishment while they also learn how to raise goats and sheep. Read more »

Secretary Announces New York and Oregon Tall Wood Building Prize Winners

SHoP Architects proposed 475 West 18th in New York

SHoP Architects proposed 475 West 18th in New York, uses extensive wood structural elements and other wood products and allows the team to set ambitious sustainability targets in the building's design, construction, and operation. Copyright image, permission for use.

All around the world, including here in the United States, builders are adopting new, cutting edge technologies to save energy and reduce a structure’s carbon footprint.  Now, technological advances are enabling architects and contractors to use one of the most traditional materials, wood, to construct lighter-weight, more energy efficient tall buildings.

Today in New York, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced two winners of the U.S. Tall Wood Building Prize Competition.  The design projects, one to be built in the Chelsea section of New York City and the other in Portland, Oregon, were selected by a panel of architectural and engineering professionals and meet the competition’s criteria for safety, practicality and sustainability. Read more »

Do YOU Have a Plan for Your Pets Should a Hurricane Strike?

August marked the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.   The powerful storm had a devastating impact on the people, the culture and the pets of the Gulf Coast states. According to The Humane Society of the United States, more than 6,000 pets were rescued during Katrina, and responders and volunteers spent months tracking lost pets and reuniting them with their owners. Some never were.  The destruction of Katrina was like no other hurricane the United States had seen before; however, hurricanes will always be a threat. Preparing for future hurricanes will determine how much impact another storm will have on our lives and the lives of our pets.

And because September is National Preparedness Month, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) wants to remind you of the importance of having a plan in place for both you and your pets in the event of a hurricane. If you have to evacuate your home, do not leave your pets behind. They will mostly likely not survive if left on their own and you might not be able to find them again if you do. Read more »

A Special Invitation from Deputy Secretary to Join a Google+ Hangout on Veteran Farmers

A man holding plant seedlings with the USA flag behind him

Helping our Returning Heroes find Opportunities in Agriculture: Join us for a Google+ Hangout with Agriculture Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden. Tune in live on Thursday, September 17, 11AM ET at www.usda.gov/live

On Monday, I had the opportunity to meet with several inspiring Service members and launch an expanded collaboration between USDA and the Department of Defense at a Transition Assistance Program class hosted at the Pentagon. This collaboration will integrate agriculture into the career training and counseling programs Service members receive as they transition out of the military. Information about USDA resources and programs will now reach 200,000 transitioning Service members every year.

It’s exciting to see veterans — many of whom come from rural communities — drawn back to the land, and USDA is here to provide support for military veterans and their families, from nutrition assistance to rural rental housing and homeownership opportunities. In conjunction with Monday’s announcement, USDA also launched a new website, www.usda.gov/veterans. This site is specifically designed to educate veterans about USDA programs and the support available for all active duty military and veterans. Read more »

No Books Required for Back-to-School Night at USDA Farmers Market on Friday, September 18

USDA Farmers Market at Night Back-to-School Night poster

Join us for Back to School Night at the USDA Farmers Market in Washington, D.C., on Friday, Sept. 18, 2015. (Tip: you can print and color this market poster. Click to enlarge)

It’s “Back-to-School Night” at the USDA Farmers Market on Friday, September 18, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., in Washington, D.C., near the National Mall.  This month’s educational exhibitors and vendors will appeal to students of any age.  Market visitors can learn more about healthy eating, reducing food waste or take a trip down memory lane and eat a snack or meal off a planet-friendly disposable lunch tray!

Members of USDA’s Team Nutrition will be at the market to explain how to eat healthy in and out of school. Executive Chef Adam Tanner, from the Mandarin Oriental Washington, DC, will show you how to cook delicious and nutritious snacks. Read more »

An Update on the EPA-USDA National Workshop on Water Quality Markets

Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and the Environment Ann Mills addresses the audience at the first ever EPA-USDA National Workshop on Water Quality Markets

Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and the Environment Ann Mills addresses the audience at the first ever EPA-USDA National Workshop on Water Quality Markets.

This week, I have the privilege of participating in the first ever EPA-USDA National Workshop on Water Quality Markets at the Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Institute in Lincoln, Nebraska.  More than 200 attendees from agriculture, utilities, industry, state agencies, and research institutions gathered at the University of Nebraska’s aptly named “Innovation Center” to think critically about how we can improve and expand water quality markets across the country.

As Secretary Vilsack noted in his introductory video remarks, water quality markets can be effective tools in helping communities improve the quality of their water at lower cost.  Markets create financial incentives for private landowners to manage their lands more sustainably to produce cleaner water while generating environmental benefits at lower cost.  They promote public awareness of the role sustainable private land management can play in protecting public health and natural ecosystems. They inject private dollars and innovation into efforts to improve water quality – leveraging finite federal funding. Read more »