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Event at USDA Ushers in 2015 as the International Year of Soils

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) celebration of the International Year of Soils event at USDA headquarters in Washington, D.C. USDA photo by Bob Nichols.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) celebration of the International Year of Soils event at USDA headquarters in Washington, D.C. USDA photo by Bob Nichols.

Yesterday, we officially launched the International Year of Soils here at USDA.

Most people don’t realize that just beneath their feet lies a diverse, complex, life-giving ecosystem that sustains our entire existence. I’m talking about soil. There are more living organisms in a single teaspoon of healthy soil than there are people on the earth.

Our soils are alive. We talk about soil health – not soil quality — on purpose. It’s an important distinction. Anything can have a “quality,” but only living things can have health. Read more »

New York’s City Harvest Wins U.S. Food Waste Challenge Competition

City Harvest rescues excess food using a fleet of 19 refrigerated trucks, three cargo bikes, over 150 full-time employees, and more than 8,000 volunteers. In fiscal year 2015, they will collect 50 million pounds of food, greater than the total amount of food collected in its first 14 years combined. Seventy-five percent of this total will be comprised of nutrient dense foods, including fresh produce, meat and dairy. Photo courtesy of City Harvest.

City Harvest rescues excess food using a fleet of 19 refrigerated trucks, three cargo bikes, over 150 full-time employees, and more than 8,000 volunteers. In fiscal year 2015, they will collect 50 million pounds of food, greater than the total amount of food collected in its first 14 years combined. Seventy-five percent of this total will be comprised of nutrient dense foods, including fresh produce, meat and dairy. Photo courtesy of City Harvest.

Beginning in August, food banks across the country competed to see who could sign up the most food donors to the U.S. Food Waste Challenge.  From among the 200 food banks in the Feeding America network, the champion is City Harvest in New York City, which won by signing up 114 donors to the Challenge.  City Harvest will have a private meeting with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and will be awarded six suite tickets to attend either an NBA or NHL game at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.  The tickets were donated by Monumental Sports and Entertainment (MSE), owner of the Washington Capitals, Mystics, Wizards, and Verizon Center.  Since 2011, MSE has recovered and donated 7,377 pounds of wholesome unsold food from its events to D.C. Central Kitchen, which translates to approximately 5,600 meals.

“We appreciate City Harvest’s longstanding commitment to food rescue and congratulate them for signing up the most food donors to the U.S. Food Waste Challenge,” said Secretary Vilsack.  “The United States enjoys the most productive and abundant food supply on earth, but too much of this food goes to waste. Organizations like City Harvest get this food to people who need it while reducing the amount of food that ends up in our country’s landfills.” Read more »

The USDA Climate Hubs: Almost One Year Old and Making Progress

The USDA Climate Hubs are almost one year old!  Since February of 2014, we have made considerable progress by developing networks that connect researchers to landowners; by evaluating available tools that can help land managers with management decisions regarding risk management; by synthesizing regional risks and vulnerabilities; and we have learned a lot along the way.

The Hubs are about developing and delivering science-based, region-specific information and technologies, with the help of USDA agencies and partners, to agricultural and natural resource managers and communities.  Land managers and communities desire healthy, resilient, productive, and profitable agricultural or natural ecosystems that are sustainable over time. The Hubs’ role is to work with (and as) advisers to land managers by providing information and tools to help them achieve their goals in an environment filled with climate-related stresses and risks.  The Hubs’ initial focus is on communicating with our stakeholders and developing networks with our partners. This includes communicating research to Certified Crop Advisors, relaying stakeholder needs to science organizations, or just making sure the lines of communication are open among the respective science and information providers and managers of working lands. Read more »

It’s Quite a Pickle To Be In

Pickles of many kinds fill grocery store shelves, all of them safe for consumers thanks to the work of an ARS food safety lab in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Pickles of many kinds fill grocery store shelves, all of them safe for consumers thanks to the work of an ARS food safety lab in Raleigh, North Carolina.

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.

Pickles are a popular food, but are even trendier today as more and more craft brands show up in stores and farmers’ markets all over the country. But did you know USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) has helped commercial pickle-makers, from small brands to the nation’s largest, meet the highest standards of food safety?

While pickling—storing in an acid liquid, usually vinegar—has been recognized as a food-preserver since long before the discovery of bacteria, the kind of data that today’s precise food safety standards require was not established until recently. Read more »

Spraying Smarter Strengthens Strawberry Production

Thanks to a USDA NIFA grant, strawberry growers in Florida are benefiting from a smart system that helps them time spraying to prevent diseases – saving the farmers money while minimizing the environmental impacts. The system is being adapted for growers in other states.

Thanks to a USDA NIFA grant, strawberry growers in Florida are benefiting from a smart system that helps them time spraying to prevent diseases – saving the farmers money while minimizing the environmental impacts. The system is being adapted for growers in other states.

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.

With the U.S. being the world’s leading producer of strawberries, the success of these tart and sweet treats is essential to the economy of a state like Florida. In fact, with a $366 million-per-year industry, the state comes second only to California as the nation’s largest strawberry producer. Naturally, strawberry growers are looking for ways to sustain their harvests and profitability.

Enter Natalia Peres, University of Florida Gulf Coast Research and Education Center professor of plant pathology.  With funding from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), Peres and her research team developed an online web tool, the Strawberry Advisory System (SAS), which helps farmers spend less money on fungicides yet achieve better results with what they do spray. Read more »

Día de Reyes: A Time for Friends, Feasts, and Food Safety

Image of rice with chicken on plate.

Arroz con pollo (rice with chicken) is a traditional dish of Spain and Latin America.

Nothing brings people together like the Holidays, or Navidades for us Spanish speakers.  Día de Reyes (Three Kings Day) would not be complete without some excellent eats. Many Hispanic-Americans have a favorite dish during this special season – from lechón to pasteles to tamales to atole.

Nothing brings a party down like poor food safety though.  No one wants to be down for the count during this time of the year–think of all the parties that will be missed! With the information we’ve given you over the last several weeks, you should be able to cook a food safe feast.  So put your knowledge to the test with these Hispanic treats for Día de Reyes, this January 6th. Read more »