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The Kindergarten Initiative: Connecting Students and their Families to the Worcester Food Environment

Kindergarteners, family members, and teachers from Grafton Street School in Worcester, MA touring the REC’s Organic Farm with Mass. Farm to School Project’s Kindergarten Initiative program.

Kindergarteners, family members, and teachers from Grafton Street School in Worcester, MA touring the REC’s Organic Farm with Mass. Farm to School Project’s Kindergarten Initiative program.

Massachusetts Farm to School Project and the Worcester Public Schools are helping kindergarteners understand how and where food is grown. They are teaching children about nutrition through local food tastings, farm and farmer visits, cooking demonstrations and take home produce. The Worcester Kindergarten Initiative is running at nine elementary schools in Worcester, MA, for the 2013-2014 school year! We are pleased to share this piece from the Worcester Kindergarten Initiative Evaluation and Education Specialist, Isabel Burgess.

Guest post by Isabel Burgess, Worcester Kindergarten Initiative Evaluation and Education Specialist

“This is so cool! Our first ever farm!” These are the sounds of kindergartners from Worcester, MA stepping onto one of the Regional Environmental Council’s YouthGROW farms. The farm is small – a vacant lot sandwiched between triple-deckers – but the students are thrilled. They spend the morning taking a tour of the farm; hearing about the youth farmers that manage the space; taste-testing chard and collards straight from the soil; and planting seeds of their own. The family members that joined their children on the trip are also excited to explore. They cannot believe that the farm is there – smack in the middle of the city, so close to where they live. Read more »

Secretary’s Column: Fighting Rural Poverty in Appalachia and the Delta Region

Cross posted from the Huffington Post:

Rural America faces a unique set of challenges when it comes to combating poverty in our towns and communities. Too often, rural people and places are hard to reach or otherwise underserved—but not forgotten.

I believe that USDA and its partners have the tools and the wherewithal to expand opportunity and better serve those living in poverty, but it is imperative that these resources reach the areas where they are needed most.

That is why USDA has undertaken a broad commitment to rally available tools and technical assistance through our StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity initiative. Read more »

USDA Helps Farmers and Ranchers Recover and Rebuild after Winter Storm Atlas

NRCS is working with this couple in Meade County, S.D. on recovery efforts. The four ranching families in this area lost 1,200 head of cattle.

NRCS is working with this couple in Meade County, S.D. on recovery efforts. The four ranching families in this area lost 1,200 head of cattle.

Despite challenging weather, conservationists with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in South Dakota (NRCS) are working diligently – and often in sub-zero temperatures and snow-covered fields and pastures – to help ranchers recover after Winter Storm Atlas. We began recovery work once the federal government reopened Oct. 17, and our work continues.

The October 2013 surprise blizzard affected roughly 28,000 square miles of western South Dakota, an area the size of West Virginia, killing tens of thousands of cattle, sheep, horses and some wildlife. Atlas’ three days of cold rain, snow and powerful winds pushed livestock into waterways and into and through fences. Some livestock were even found more than 20 miles away. Read more »

U.S. Forest Service to Mark 50th Anniversary of Wilderness Act

Golconda Job Corps students at overlook on Indian Point Trail in Garden of the Gods Wilderness, Illinois. (U. S. Forest Service/Kelly Pearson)

Golconda Job Corps students at overlook on Indian Point Trail in Garden of the Gods Wilderness, Illinois. (U. S. Forest Service/Kelly Pearson)

Editor’s Note: Throughout the year, we will highlight Forest Service wilderness areas in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Wilderness Act of 1964.

It’s pretty amazing that you can be in the busy college town of Carbondale, Ill., one minute, then roughly an hour’s ride away be at the gateway to one of our wilderness areas.

This year is the golden anniversary of the Wilderness Act, signed on Sept. 3, 1964, by President Lyndon Johnson. The act established the country’s National Wilderness Preservation System. So, on Sept. 3, 2014, lovers of wildlands will celebrate the landmark event that made history. Read more »

USDA Announces 2014 Agricultural Outlook Forum Plenary Details

On February 20, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is expected to host two Future of Agriculture panels at the 2014 Agricultural Outlook Forum, “The Changing Face of Agriculture.” On the “Future of Agriculture: Building Markets Here & Abroad” panel are Dr. Rajiv Shah, Administrator, U.S. Agency for International Development; Paul Schickler, DuPont Pioneer President; Kellee James, Founder, CEO, Mercaris; and Cathy Burns, President, Produce Marketing Association.  Topics discussed will be import/export markets, market trends, food security, technology, and innovations in agriculture.

Secretary Vilsack also is slated to moderate a second panel, the “Future of Agriculture: Young Farmers – Unlimited Opportunities” to explore the challenges, sustainability, and achievements of today’s young farmers.  Panelists include: Joanna Carraway, Top Producer Horizon Award; Michael O’Gorman, Executive Director, Farmer Veteran Coalition; Greg Wegis, National Outstanding Young Farmer Award; and Emily Oakley, Interim Director, National Young Farmers Coalition. Read more »

Expanding SNAP Farmers Market Access through Innovative Partnerships

Customers scoop up a handful of the healthy, fresh produce available at one of the many farmers’ markets found in communities across America.

Customers scoop up a handful of the healthy, fresh produce available at one of the many farmers’ markets found in communities across America.

America’s farmers’ markets are a great source of fresh fruits and vegetables and other healthy foods, and at USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), we’ve made it a priority to expand healthy food access through farmers’ markets to those participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). It’s a win-win situation because, for farmers markets, the ability to accept SNAP benefits is a great way to build their customer base, which helps generate more sales and nourish the economy in our rural communities.

As Administrator of USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, I place a high value on partnerships because, working together, we can achieve more toward shared goals than by working alone. The USDA recently contracted with the National Association of Farmers Market Nutrition Programs (NAFMNP), in an effort to enhance the participation of farmers and farmers markets in SNAP.  And out of that innovative partnership, I am excited to announce MarketLink, a new way for farmers’ markets and direct-marketing farmers to get authorized as SNAP vendors and get the equipment they need to accept SNAP benefits. Read more »