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Urban Gardens Promote Education, Nutrition and More

Students and teachers at Ready School, Prosperity Garden’s staff and volunteers tending the gardens to provide fresh produce to the surrounding community

Students and teachers at Ready School, Prosperity Garden’s staff and volunteers tend the gardens to provide fresh produce to the surrounding community.

On a small parcel of land in the heart of the City of Champaign, Illinois, are two gardens that offer opportunities for neighbors and the community to learn about growing food, eating nutritious food and earning a living. The Prosperity Gardens are educational, bringing at-risk students to work the ground, grow the plants and sell the produce at local farmer’s markets.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) was able to help support this important endeavor through The People’s Garden, USDA’s collaborative community garden initiative with more than 1,300 local and national organizations all working together to establish community and school gardens across the country. Read more »

USDA Foods: From American Farms to American Tables

Food Purchasing Infographic

A U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) infographic highlighting food purchases and programs that help feed those in need. Click to view a larger version.

USDA has programs and services that bring the bounty of American agriculture to people and communities across the country. One of the most impactful ways my agency, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), fulfills its mission is through our USDA Foods purchase programs.  Our food purchases begin with American farmers, ranchers, and fishermen, and end their journey on the tables of our nation’s schools, food banks, and communities.

AMS plays a central role in this supply chain that delivers about 2 billion pounds of domestically-grown and -processed food each year. That equates to about 52,000 semi-trucks full of food every year—enough trucks to stretch the length of Florida tip to tip! Read more »

Sound and Sensible Initiative Projects Simplify Organic Certification

Sound and Sensible Infographic

The Sound and Sensible projects educate producers and provide them with the tools and information resources needed to streamline certification, inspections, recordkeeping, and compliance. (Click to enlarge)

USDA’s National Organic Program is the bedrock regulatory program responsible for developing national standards for organically-produced agricultural products. These standards assure consumers that products with the USDA organic seal meet consistent, uniform standards. In addition to protecting the integrity of the organic seal through a rigorous certification process and oversight, we are committed to connecting organic farmers and businesses with USDA resources, including conservation assistance, access to loans and grants, funding for organic research and education, and mitigation of pest emergencies.

The USDA organic seal and the NOP program itself have helped organic producers and businesses achieve unprecedented levels of growth for organically produced goods. The retail market for organic products has nearly doubled in value since 2009 while USDA certified organic operations continue to grow year to year. USDA’s National Organic Program is a leading global standard and major factor in this success. Read more »

A Look at Life in the Wildland Urban Interface

A house threatened by a forest fire in central Oregon

A house threatened by a forest fire in central Oregon. Photo credit: US Forest Service

If I were to go running on my favorite trail on the west side of town and ask one of the homeowners, whose house abuts the natural area, to describe where they live, I am guessing they would first say Fort Collins, or maybe offer the name of their neighborhood, followed by “at the base of the foothills.” I am almost certain they would not tell me that they live in the “wildland urban interface.” Yet, that is exactly where they live.

There is a growing population that seeks refuge in and near forests and other natural areas. Not for hiking, biking, and picnicking, but rather to live, in primary residences and second homes. The beauty of the landscape is a great impetus for deciding where to locate. This inspiring beauty, however, masks a wide range of potential threats, of which many homeowners are unaware. Read more »

Heroes of the Harvest, #WomeninAg Edition: Shelly and Morgan Ziesch

Shelly Ziesch in tractor

Shelly Ziesch, in tractor, loves being able to work side-by-side with her husband and kids on their family ranch.

NOTE: This week on the USDA Blog, we’ll feature the stories of America’s Harvest Heroes who, like farmers across the nation, are working this harvest season to secure the bounty of healthy food American agriculture is renowned for. From laying the foundation for the next generation of farmers putting down roots in rural America, supporting the fruit and vegetable growers who are helping to build healthier communities, bolstering new markets for the products of agricultural innovation, to harvesting renewable energy that is made in Rural America, with USDA’s support our farmers are yielding strong results for every American.

Farming and ranching in central North Dakota is a family affair for the Zieschs. Shelly and Robin Ziesch have three daughters who are all involved in agriculture, from ranching on their own to agriculture education to helping out on the family farm. These soon-to-be grandparents take great pride in their oldest daughter, Bailie, a nurse who also ranches with her husband Russell just south of Mandan, ND. Their middle daughter, Cassidy, attends North Dakota State University and is studying to be an agriculture teacher. She comes home often (whenever there isn’t a home football game) to help out. Their youngest daughter, Morgan, is a junior in high school and between her many sports and activities helps out on the ranch.

Both Shelly (SZ) and Morgan (MZ) share their insights into what it means to be a woman in agriculture and how each of them thinks about the future of their family operation. Read more »

Smart Phones: The Latest Tool for Sustainable Farming

View of farmland and trees

New jointly-developed USDA apps will help promote sustainable land-use practices. ARS photo by Scott Bauer.

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 USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

Seems like there’s an “app” (application) for everything these days—perhaps because mobile phone use is becoming increasingly global. USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) soil scientist Jeff Herrick and colleagues have jumped on that trend in their efforts to promote sustainable land-use practices and world food security.

This past April, they released the first two of a suite of mobile phone apps that, once all are issued, will connect agricultural producers around the world and provide them with shared knowledge on ways to maximize their land’s productivity while protecting its resources for future generations. Read more »