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What’s a Pine Cone Got to do With It? Educators use them for Art and Science

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

A pine cone has many purposes. It could serve as a home for birds and insects. Pine cones contain seeds to use in reforestation projects. They even can be made into fanciful ornaments to adorn the 2014 Capitol Christmas Tree.

That’s exactly what students learned during a recent Science Fusion program at the Science Museum of Minnesota.

As part of an overarching mission to the world of science, technology, engineering and math, these special Saturday programs afford underserved Minnesota youth the opportunity to interact with local scientists, engineers, inventors and science educators through hands-on activities. Read more »

Expanding Opportunities for Small-Scale Beef Producers

Using the USDA Certified Grass-Fed claim as its initial focus, a new USDA program will reduce costs for small producers wanting to market their cattle as USDA certified grass-fed.

Using the USDA Certified Grass-Fed claim as its initial focus, a new USDA program will reduce costs for small producers wanting to market their cattle as USDA certified grass-fed.

Sometimes big things come in small packages.  At USDA, we provide programs and services to producers of all sizes – and now we’re offering even more to small-scale and local beef producers.  Many small-scale producers are contributing to the growth of the grass-fed beef industry.  And, thanks to a new program tailored to meet their needs, they now have another resource in their marketing toolbox.

The USDA Grass Fed Program for Small and Very Small Producers, administered by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), is designed as a verification tool for small and very small producers to certify that animals meet the requirements of the grass-fed marketing claim standard and will make them eligible to have their products marketed as “USDA Certified Grass Fed Beef”.

With today’s label-conscious, savvy consumers, producers are relying on verified and certified labels to help distinguish their products in the marketplace.  This new initiative joins our suite of consumer-trusted verification programs for meat, poultry, and eggs. Read more »

Budding Conservation Practice Helps Farmers use Technology to Control Amount, Timing of Water

Planting foxtail millet, a summer annual forage with low water needs, helps conserve water for subsequent crops. Photo by Scott Bauer.

Planting foxtail millet, a summer annual forage with low water needs, helps conserve water for subsequent crops. Photo by Scott Bauer.

An up-and-coming conservation practice offered by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) helps farmers and ranchers manage water on their land, keep water clean and better cope with extreme weather like drought.

Drainage water management enables landowners to determine when and how much water leaves farms through underground tiles and drainage ditches. Underground tiles lay beneath fields removing excess water from the soil subsurface.

“Since landowners don’t need the same drainage intensity at all times during the year, this practice lets them use their drainage water in a way that’s most advantageous to them, their crops and the environment,” NRCS Senior Project Leader Paul Sweeney said. Read more »

Kids Visit Mom’s Co-Workers: Smokey Bear and Woodsy Owl

Olivia and Lily Anderson enjoy making camp at Betty Brinn Children’s Museum. Lily (right) builds the fire as Olivia (left) preps the dinner. (Photo courtesy Leah Anderson)

Olivia and Lily Anderson enjoy making camp at Betty Brinn Children’s Museum. Lily (right) builds the fire as Olivia (left) preps the dinner. (Photo courtesy Leah Anderson)

As a U.S. Forest Service employee, I was very excited recently to take my two preschool age daughters to visit my co-workers: Smokey Bear and Woodsy Owl.

The visit, however, took us to the Betty Brinn Museum’s Home Sweet Home Exhibit located in Milwaukee, Wis.

Created in collaboration with the Forest Service, the exhibit shares Smokey’s message of “Help Prevent Forest Fires” and Woodsy’s message of “Give a Hoot Don’t Pollute,” in addition to fun activities underscoring the importance of protecting ecosystems. Read more »

USDA’s Nutrition Evidence Library: Answering Food and Nutrition Questions with Systematic Reviews

The USDA Nutrition Evidence Library specializes in systematic reviews of research on food and nutrition, providing a scientific foundation for evidence-based decisions by federal policymakers and program managers.

The USDA Nutrition Evidence Library specializes in systematic reviews of research on food and nutrition, providing a scientific foundation for evidence-based decisions by federal policymakers and program managers.

During the month of April we will take a closer look at USDA’s Groundbreaking Research for a Revitalized Rural America, highlighting ways USDA researchers are improving the lives of Americans in ways you might never imagine, such as laying the foundation for evidence-based food and nutrition policies and programs by compiling and reviewing the best available nutrition research.

Ever wonder what the science says about the foods we eat, the beverages we drink, and our health? Or whether there is evidence to show how best to educate kids about a healthy diet?

If so, check out the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Nutrition Evidence Library (NEL). The NEL specializes in doing systematic reviews, or pulling together the best available research to answer important food and nutrition-related questions. These reviews provide the scientific foundation that allows Federal policies and programs to be based on the strongest available evidence. Using this evidence-based approach also helps USDA comply with the Data Quality Act, which states that Federal agencies must ensure the quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity of the information used to form Federal guidance. Read more »

It’s Personal…Scenic Pennsylvania Lake Community Celebrates Protecting the Environment for Earth Day with USDA Funding

As part of USDA’s weeklong celebration of the 44th anniversary of Earth Day, I had the pleasure of visiting Wayne County, Pennsylvania to announce funding that will bring improved water and wastewater services to residents and businesses of The Hideout, one of the state’s lake communities in the Pocono Mountains.

Thanks to congressional passage of the 2014 Farm Bill, USDA Rural Development received an additional $150 million to help rural communities build or upgrade water and wastewater systems in 40 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. We are pairing that grant money with an additional $232 million in regular funding to support 116 projects nationwide. Read more »