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Helping Schools Build Better Cafeterias

Food service professionals from Arlington Public Schools discuss the day’s lunch service of Baja Fish Taco Wraps, Turkey Hot Dogs, Cherry Tomatoes w/dip, Baked Beans and Fresh Fruit for Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Virginia. The National School Lunch Program operates in public, nonprofit private schools and residential child care institutions, providing nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children each school day. USDA Photo by Bob Nichols.

Food service professionals from Arlington Public Schools discuss the day’s lunch service of Baja Fish Taco Wraps, Turkey Hot Dogs, Cherry Tomatoes w/dip, Baked Beans and Fresh Fruit for Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Virginia. The National School Lunch Program operates in public, nonprofit private schools and residential child care institutions, providing nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children each school day. USDA Photo by Bob Nichols.

As a former school nutrition director, I am amazed when I visit schools around the country and repeatedly witness students clamoring for items like baked kale chips—who would have ever thought that was possible?  Truly, schools have done an absolutely tremendous job of implementing the new meal standards resulting from the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010. I am so proud of all that our nation’s school nutrition professionals have done to provide healthier, tasty meals to the millions of children who eat breakfast, lunch and snacks at school each day.

While schools have made—and continue to make—great strides across the whole realm of school nutrition, they are still facing challenges in meeting their goals.  In particular, many schools across the country do not have appropriate or adequate kitchen equipment.  The need for updated equipment is well-documented, most recently by a new Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project report entitled, “Serving Healthy Meals:  U.S. Schools Need Updated Kitchen Equipment,” and ranges from cutting boards to refrigerator space.  While some schools still need a significant investment in updated and upgraded equipment, many of the needs are simple and could cost as little as $32 to remedy! Read more »

Hurricane Assistance will Reduce Future Flood Damage, Provide Habitat

The remains of an individual home show exposed septic tank, among other devastation on Bay Point, N.J.  NRCS easements will demolish and remove the remains of 16 badly damaged homes and all other structures to restore the area to its natural state, which will relieve the homeowners and provide permanent critical migratory bird habitat. Photo provided by NRCS.

The remains of an individual home show exposed septic tank, among other devastation on Bay Point, N.J. NRCS easements will demolish and remove the remains of 16 badly damaged homes and all other structures to restore the area to its natural state, which will relieve the homeowners and provide permanent critical migratory bird habitat. Photo provided by NRCS.

When Hurricane Sandy came ashore on the northeast coast of the U.S. on October 29, 2012, it ravaged coastal communities, both human and natural.  USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) announced today that it is investing in a number of hurricane-damaged communities in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut to improve flood protection, restore ecosystems and support coastal residents in their recovery efforts.

Using more than $20 million from the floodplain easement component of its Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWP), NRCS is putting over 400 acres under permanent easements to allow for restoration of natural ecosystem functions and to help prevent catastrophic damage from future storms. For a complete list of the enrolled areas click here. Read more »

A One-Stop Shop for Organics, with Lots in Store

Organic agriculture is a strong contributor to USDA’s goals for rural economic development, and we are committed to supporting continued growth of the organic sector by removing obstacles for organic farmers and businesses.

Organic agriculture is a strong contributor to USDA’s goals for rural economic development, and we are committed to supporting continued growth of the organic sector by removing obstacles for organic farmers and businesses.

As an organic farmer, I know how frustrating it can be to search the internet for information that might help my operation. It might be there somewhere but finding it takes precious time, especially if I don’t know exactly what I’m looking for.  Now, USDA has solved part of that problem with a centralized web resource center on USDA.gov for all the programs, services, and data we have that support organic agriculture.  Not only is this web resource center a “one-stop shop” for information about organics at USDA, but there is lots in store!

Organic operations (and those considering transitioning to organic) can: Read more »

What does Maple Syrup Have in Common with an Invasive Insect?

Two Asian longhorned beetles on maple tree

Two Asian longhorned beetles on maple tree

Today is National Maple Syrup Day!  So, what does maple syrup have in common with an invasive insect?  Well, if the insect is the Asian longhorned beetle, then they both can come from maple trees.  Obviously, we want the maple syrup and not the invasive beetle.  But who cares?  And why should anyone care?  Well, I care and here’s why:

Not only do I work for the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, an agency that is actively fighting known infestations of Asian longhorned beetle in three different states, but I also am a native of Vermont. Read more »

U.S. Forest Service Hosts Visitors from the Jewish National Fund to Discuss Resource Management

(left to right): David Leffler, Director General, Ministry of Environmental Protection; Efi Stenzler, KKL-JNF World Chairman; David Brand, KKL-JNF Chief Forester; Hadas Magen Molho, Head of International Relations for the Minister; Jane Leche, Public Affairs, U.S. Forest Service; Maribeth Gustafson, Deputy Regional Forester of Operations, U.S. Forest Service; Rene Reinhard, JNF Chief of Staff; (back right) Chris Soriano, International Programs, U.S. Forest Service; and Damian Rawoot, International Programs, U.S. Forest Service take in the views from 11,900 feet at the top of Loveland Pass. (U.S. Forest Service)

(left to right): David Leffler, Director General, Ministry of Environmental Protection; Efi Stenzler, KKL-JNF World Chairman; David Brand, KKL-JNF Chief Forester; Hadas Magen Molho, Head of International Relations for the Minister; Jane Leche, Public Affairs, U.S. Forest Service; Maribeth Gustafson, Deputy Regional Forester of Operations, U.S. Forest Service; Rene Reinhard, JNF Chief of Staff; (back right) Chris Soriano, International Programs, U.S. Forest Service; and Damian Rawoot, International Programs, U.S. Forest Service take in the views from 11,900 feet at the top of Loveland Pass. (U.S. Forest Service)

In the late 1980s, Israel experienced one of its worst fire seasons ever. Devastating blazes ravaged the forested corridor between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The U.S. Forest Service responded by sending a technical team to assess the damage and subsequently recommended future mitigation and management strategies. Thus, a cooperative exchange program between the Jewish National Fund/Keren Kayemeth Leisrael (JNF-KKL) and the U.S. Forest Service was born.

Earlier this fall, a team from the Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Region, headed by Deputy Regional Forester Maribeth Gustafson, hosted a small group of guests from Israel. They included Minister of the Environment Amir Peretz; David Leffler, director general from the Ministry of Environmental Protection; Efi Stenzler, the JNF-KKL World Chairman; David Brand, the KKL Chief Forester, and four other staff members. Read more »

Discover the Cover: Farmers Realize Benefits, Challenges of Soil-Improving Cover Crops

Todd and Arliss Nielsen inspect their ryegrass cover crop in Wright County, Iowa. USDA photo.

Todd and Arliss Nielsen inspect their ryegrass cover crop in Wright County, Iowa. USDA photo.

A growing number of farmers throughout the nation have “discovered the cover” — and for some very good reasons.

They’re recognizing that by using cover crops and diverse rotations, it’s possible to actually improve the health and function of their soil, said David Lamm, a soil health expert with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Farmers are also reaping the benefits healthy soils bring to their operations in the form of better nutrient cycling, improved water infiltration and more consistent yields over time. Read more »