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Category: Education

A Diverse Sector is a Strong Sector: My Brother’s Keeper National Week at the Labs

Local middle-school students participating in a demonstration on pollinators during the White House Day at the Lab.

32 students toured live and preserved insect collections at the United States Vegetable Laboratory in Charleston, S.C., where they learned how scientists name newly discovered species, observed varieties of sweet potatoes grown at the facility and discussed careers in STEAM with Dr. Mark W. Farnham, an ARS plant research geneticist.

Two years ago, President Obama launched My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) to address persistent disadvantages and ensure boys and young men of color have opportunities to reach their full potential.  Since the initiative’s launch, the Administration has partnered with nonprofits, businesses, towns and cities to connect young people with mentors and resources, helping to build lasting bridges of opportunity for youth across the country.

Over the next five years, approximately 57,900 jobs will become available in food, agriculture, renewable natural resources and the environment annually — with only 35,400 students graduating with the specialized expertise to fill them. A diverse sector is a strong sector, and that’s why we’re taking strides to ensure all Americans have access to the array of opportunities across the field. Read more »

Training the Teachers in Our Biggest Classrooms

Maple Avenue Market Farm co-owner Sara Guerre invited students to learn about their local farmers, during a National School Lunch Week event at Nottingham Elementary School in Arlington, VA

Maple Avenue Market Farm co-owner Sara Guerre invited students to learn about their local farmers, during a National School Lunch Week event at Nottingham Elementary School in Arlington, VA, on Wednesday, October 12, 2011. USDA Photo by Lance Cheung.

Bridgette Matthews is a Lead Mentor for USDA’s Team Up for Nutrition Success Initiative, which provides school food authorities with tailored technical assistance and training to successfully implement the school meal patterns.  Here, Bridgette discusses the importance of training for school nutrition staff.  A recent study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that the majority of school food service directors believe their staffs need more training to maximize the benefits of the new nutrition standards.  Bridgette’s examples demonstrate how proper training can not only help staff meet the new standards, but also prepare them to teach students about making healthy choices.

By Bridgette Matthews, School Nutrition Director for Elbert County Schools, Georgia

Like their fellow educators down the hall, the school nutrition professionals I work with must be well-prepared to answer students’ tough questions. That’s why staff training and development are crucial parts of our school meal program—for me as the director and for our whole team.

Nutrition training is particularly important for my front-line servers and cashiers, because they’re the ones who talk with students the most each day. How they respond to even a seemingly minor question—such as “Why doesn’t this sandwich have pickles?”—can affect children’s choices and their overall impression of our program. Read more »

USDA’s Commitment to Develop Food and Agricultural Workforce of the Future

Dr. Ann Bartuska, Deputy Under Secretary for the USDA Research, Education, and Economics (REE) Mission Area, speaking at a Workshop at the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine

Dr. Ann Bartuska, Deputy Under Secretary for the USDA Research, Education, and Economics (REE) Mission Area, speaking at a Workshop at the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine on February 10, 2016. The Workshop brought together stakeholders from universities, government, non-government organizations, and the private sector to discuss growing needs in the agricultural workforce.

Nearly 99% of farms in the United States are family operated, and they account for roughly 90% of agricultural production. With statistics like these, it’s not surprising that many people associate jobs in agriculture with small-town America, farmers and tractors, and corn fields and cattle.

While the importance of farmers cannot be overstated, the diversity of careers available in the agricultural sector is staggering and often underappreciated. According to a 2013 study funded by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), an average of 57,900 jobs will open every year from 2015 to 2020 and require a bachelor’s degree or higher in food, agriculture, natural resources, or environmental studies. These jobs will include a range of sectors, including management and business; science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM); food and biomaterials production; and education, communication, and government services.  Strikingly, it is also expected that 39% of positions will go unfilled. Read more »

Helping Small Farmers in the South Go Organic

A man leading a workshop

The NCAT sound and sensible project focused on educating farmers and ranchers in the Gulf States region about organic production, as well as helping facilitate organic certification.

Rock Woods, Gulf States Regional Director for the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT), knows the importance of persistence. Rock wanted to help more farmers in the southeast learn about organic certification, but he also knew that farmers are busy. That’s why Rock and NCAT launched a sustained engagement and outreach effort to reach potential organic farmers, and his persistence paid off!

NCAT is one of 13 organizations that the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service’s (AMS) National Organic Program (NOP) partnered with to create educational materials that support the sound and sensible initiative to make organic certification more affordable, accessible, and attainable. Read more »

Congrats to the Student Diversity Program Winners, See You at the 2016 Agricultural Outlook Forum

A group of 30 university students, announced by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, will get a head start to a career in agriculture as winners of USDA’s Agricultural Outlook Forum Student Diversity Program.  Twenty university juniors and seniors were chosen based their essays on “Agriculture as a Career.”  Additionally, 10 graduate students were chosen in response to “The Greatest Challenge Facing Agriculture over the Next Five Years.” Read more »

Looking Ahead: Adding Seats to the Table to Diversify the Agricultural Workforce

USDA Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden with ADM Chief Human Resources Officer Mike D’Ambrose and students Nicole Ashley Holden and Dara Robertson at the Agriculture Diversity and Inclusion Roundtable in Washington, D.C.

USDA Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden with ADM Chief Human Resources Officer Mike D’Ambrose and students Nicole Ashley Holden and Dara Robertson at the Agriculture Diversity and Inclusion Roundtable in Washington, D.C.

From the field to the fork, we need diversity in agriculture.  I’m proud to say that here at USDA, we are doing our part to make sure young people have access to the wide array of opportunities available. Over the next five years, we can expect to see an average of 57,900 jobs become available annually in food, agriculture, renewable natural resources and the environment. However, only 35,400 students will graduate with the specialized degrees and expertise to fill those jobs, leaving 39 percent to be filled by young people with talent in other areas. We need to expand the talent pool and change the dialogue to show agriculture as an attractive, meaningful career path.

Recently, I had the pleasure of participating in a roundtable discussion with leaders from industry, higher education, and the nonprofit sector to share best practices on how we can come together to grow a diverse pipeline of talent for U.S. agriculture. Together, we were able to discuss what’s working, and where we can improve to create opportunities for young people of all backgrounds to ultimately strengthen the ag workforce. Read more »