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Celebrating 25 Years of Grand Island National Recreation Area

Grand Island National Recreation Area sign

The iconic Forest Service welcome sign invites visitors to come explore and have loads of fun in a beautiful, rustic maritime setting. (USDA photo by Robert Nichols)

With breathtaking views of Lake Superior, sandstone cliffs, pristine beaches and rich history, Michigan’s Grand Island National Recreation Area is definitely your gateway to “cross over to adventure!”

Surrounded on every side by rugged Great Lake waters, Grand Island has been managed by the Hiawatha National Forest since 1990.

That means that 2015 marks the 25th Anniversary of this lovely green jewel being transformed into a public land treasure. Read more »

Banishing the Honeybucket – Transformation in Lower Kalskag, Alaska

Acting Deputy Under Secretary Vernita Dore (left) touring the wastewater facility under construction in Lower Kalskag, Alaska

Acting Deputy Under Secretary Vernita Dore (left) tours the wastewater facility under construction in Lower Kalskag, Alaska.

Life is challenging in Lower Kalskag, Alaska. An isolated village only accessible by plane or boat, or an ice road in the winter, Lower Kalskag’s 300 residents have no running water or toilets and pay four and five times the price for goods you and I take for granted. A third of the population lives below the poverty level and over half of the population lacks year-round employment. Located past the southwest end of the snow-capped Portage Mountains on an icy bend of the Kuskokwim River, I was fortunate enough to visit Lower Kalskag and see first-hand the critical role USDA Rural Development plays in our most remote communities.

With assistance from our partner, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, USDA Rural Development is providing investment through our Rural Alaska Village Grant program to construct water and wastewater treatment facilities, as well as connect the residents of Lower Kalskag to the system. By 2017, this nearly century-old settlement will have indoor plumbing for the very first time. Read more »

Farmers Markets and SNAP – A Win-Win for All

Jerry Lami (second from right), Executive Director of West Coast Farmers Market Association in California, at a Farmers Market/SNAP sign-up event

Jerry Lami (second from right), Executive Director of West Coast Farmers Market Association in California, at a Farmers Market/SNAP sign-up event in May 2015. Also pictured (left to right) are Brenda Mutuma, Andy Riesenberg, and Karone Jackson, all from USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service.

Farmers markets create the ultimate win-win-win scenario. They provide consumers access to locally grown fruits, vegetables, and other foods, while also giving farmers the opportunity to develop a personal relationship with their customers. Just ask executive director Jerry Lami who manages the West Coast Farmers Market Association.

Mr. Lami knows firsthand the positive developments that farmers markets can spark. “They create a fantastic relationship between communities and farmers,” he shares. “Neighbors meet neighbors. It’s a social gathering and an opportunity for customers to meet growers; then new relationships begins.” The end result, he adds, is that the farmer becomes a trusted food provider. Read more »

Healthy Soils Provide Foundation for a Healthy Life on National Forests and Grasslands

Challis National Forest Soil Scientist Jeremy Back monitoring forest soils

Challis National Forest Soil Scientist Jeremy Back monitoring forest soils

Soils sustain life. Without soils there would be no life as we know it. Consider what healthy soils mean for the 154 national forests and 20 grasslands in 44 states and Puerto Rico. Soils provide the fertility needed to grow the plants, forests and grasslands that support and shelter humans and animals; they store water and carbon; they recycle and purify water, air and nutrients; and healthy soils can reduce nutrient loading, sediment production and runoff.

Healthy productive soils are critical to the Forest Service mission to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nations’ forests and grasslands to meet the needs of future and present generations. Many of the forests and grasslands we manage today were created as part of a national effort to protect soil and water resource degradation and restore forests and ecosystems. The original forest reserves were identified to protect and secure favorable flows of water and timber (Organic Act). This included the means to reduce or minimize soil erosion.

Read more »

Bioenergy, Bioproducts Education Program Builds Student Confidence, Equips Educators

Morina Ricablanca

Morina Ricablanca teaches bioenergy and other subjects to special needs students at East Hoke Middle School in North Carolina. (Image courtesy of Morina Ricablanca)

Being an educator is in Morina Ricablanca’s blood. Growing up in a family of teachers in the Philippines, she knew she would someday pursue a career in education. Ricablanca participated in an outreach program assisting troubled youth while attending Manuel L. Quezon University Law School in Manila. She realized then it was time to join the family business of teaching.

Her decision has led her to a successful career working with special needs students at East Hoke Middle School in rural North Carolina. Ricablanca was named the “2014 Teacher of the Year” for her school district, partly due to her work helping three of her students win the school’s science fair. Read more »

Ensuring Program Integrity in the WIC Program

Two women looking at the mother's baby breastfeeding

FNS has taken a range of steps to ensure the highest level of integrity in WIC.

For more than 40 years, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) has provided supplemental foods and nutrition services vital to the health and nutrition of vulnerable moms, newborns and young children. And throughout those four decades, we’ve had a long-standing history of working with WIC state agencies to ensure program resources and taxpayer dollars are being used efficiently.

While a 2013 study found a relatively low rate of improper vendor payments, (representing less than 1.5 percent of WIC food expenses), FNS has and will continue to intervene when problems arise and to require state agencies to improve the integrity of their programs. Read more »