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Category: Food and Nutrition

Delivering Along the Food Value Chain

Food can go through a lot of steps to reach the consumer - before it is laid on the table - food travels from the field to the truck to the packing house to the store. AMS has many programs that support business entities involved in the food chain. Photo courtesy of Bart Everson.

Food can go through a lot of steps to reach the consumer - before it is laid on the table - food travels from the field to the truck to the packing house to the store. AMS has many programs that support business entities involved in the food chain. Photo courtesy of Bart Everson.

A recent trip back home to Louisiana sparked memories of a simpler time when old trucks full of fresh produce rumbled down dusty roads to deliver goods to the local market. The 2012 Census of Agriculture tells us that 50,000 farmers and ranchers nationwide are now selling to local retailers and that 150,000 of them are selling their products directly to consumers. Although these farmers and ranchers are still using this direct approach, the agricultural industry is certainly more dynamic today.  This means that producers need to follow a strategic business model.

The reality is that food can go through a lot of steps to reach the consumer. Before it is served on the table, food travels from the field to the truck to the packing house to the store. My agency, the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), has many programs that support business entities involved in the food chain, including farmers markets and food hubs. For example, we invest in projects that help farmers and businesses understand emerging trends, create new markets, and stimulate our nation’s rural economies. Read more »

Give Students What They Are Asking For: Healthier Foods, Healthier Lives

Today’s guest post comes from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, an organization that aptly describes itself as “a catalyst for children’s health.” While the Alliance has been active in many settings, we at USDA particularly appreciate the dedication they have shown to improving school nutrition.  In this post, Dr. Howell Wechsler, CEO, describes some of the successes that his team has witnessed in school cafeterias.

Howell Wechsler, EdD, MPH, Chief Executive Officer, Alliance for a Healthier Generation

Our nation’s students, some of whom consume up to half of their daily calories at school [see also this publication from the US National Library of MedicineNational Institutes of Health], want and deserve healthy choices throughout the school building—in the cafeteria line, vending machines, and school stores.

Just ask eight-year-old Farrah from the William J. Christian School in Birmingham, Alabama: It’s important to have healthy foods as part of school lunch so that kids can have the opportunity to try many fruits and vegetables and see that these foods are delicious,” she told the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. “At the same time we can learn that these foods are good for you…Eating healthy can be fun.Read more »

USDA Joins National Hispanic Medical Association to Discuss Health in Latino Communities

As schools across the country were winding down for the summer, the conversation around school meals standards was heating up.  School districts, parents, community members and Congressional representatives have engaged in an important discussion about the role of the new standards in our nation’s National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs.  Created to boost the health of our next generation, the standards encourage schools to get more creative and health-conscious about the food they serve to their students. Last month, USDA joined the National Hispanic Medical Association to reinforce this critical message.

During a Congressional briefing held by the National Hispanic Medical Association, dozens convened to learn how the Latino community was leveraging the new standards to support healthier lifestyles for their children. While the association focused on educational and healthcare institutions heightening awareness around nutrition programs, USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service Western Regional Administrator, Jesus Mendoza, underscored the importance of healthy eating, emphasizing his experiences with the new standards in his region. “Since the passing of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act,” Mendoza explained, “kids are eating a lot more fruits and vegetables, 90 percent of schools report that they are able to abide by the standards, more water is being offered to our children in cafeterias, and we’re exposing kids to foods they’ve never seen or heard of before.” Read more »

Missouri Makes Summer Meals Work!

Rowe with kids and the Power Panther at the PowerHouse Ministries site in Marshall, MO.

Rowe with kids and the Power Panther at the PowerHouse Ministries site in Marshall, MO.

This spring I had the opportunity to visit several summer feeding sites to witness the efforts of local organizations and states agencies so instrumental in the success of USDA’s Summer Food Service Program.  I had the chance to join our essential partners during summer meals kick-off events throughout the state of Missouri.  It was especially gratifying to meet so many members of highly-engaged communities and the children and teens that benefit from their support.

During my May visit, I was honored to participate in a roundtable discussion at the St. Louis Area Food Bank while a new partnership was being forged.  The lively conversation about successes and challenges of feeding kids nutritious summer meals included representatives from local, state and federal organizations.  St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and some of his staff attended to voice the city’s support of the summer feeding programs and offer ideas for feeding site activities, including creating butterfly gardens. Read more »

Celebrating the Blueberry – A Fruit and an Industry That Really Packs a Punch

In addition to purchasing blueberries for federal food distribution programs, AMS supports the blueberry industry through grant programs like the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. This program offers funds to states to support research and marketing projects that do things such as increasing crop yields. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council.

In addition to purchasing blueberries for federal food distribution programs, AMS supports the blueberry industry through grant programs like the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. This program offers funds to states to support research and marketing projects that do things such as increasing crop yields. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council.

Blueberries are often highly sought after because of their long list of health benefits and their sweet taste. Whether purchased fresh, frozen, or pureed, the blueberry has long been a staple in the diets of many people. Every July, the entire nation celebrates Blueberry Month by coming up with creative recipes and other unique ways to get their fill. Here at USDA, every month is Blueberry Month. One of the ways that we show our appreciation for our nation’s blueberry producers and processors is by creating more opportunities for people to enjoy this delicious fruit.

Indigenous to North America, the history of blueberries can be traced all the way back to Native Americans, who added them to soups, stews, and even meats. Highbush or cultivated blueberries are grown on large bushes that are planted in rows. These blueberries are often sent to the fresh market. Lowbush or wild blueberries produce smaller sized berries and are pruned every couple of years. The majority of lowbush blueberries are processed into items like jams, jellies and baked goods. Read more »

Education Support Professionals – Partners in School Nutrition

The National Education Association believes that every student deserves a great public school. A high-quality school nutrition program is not an add-on or ancillary service, but is an integral part of that great school.

The National Education Association believes that every student deserves a great public school. A high-quality school nutrition program is not an add-on or ancillary service, but is an integral part of that great school.

The USDA school meals programs serve well over 30 million students per day, nationwide.  We rely on our partners in the education realm to help us ensure that these programs—not only programs of great magnitude, but also of great public health importance—are implemented appropriately so that children are healthy and ready to learn.  This week’s guest blog from the National Education Association is a testament to their members’ commitment to student health, and the important role that school nutrition plays.

By Roxanne Dove, Director, National Education Association, Education Support Professionals Quality

The nearly half-million Education Support Professionals (ESPs) who are members of the National Education Association play vital roles in helping to create great public schools for our students. ESPs work as bus drivers, custodians, secretaries, classroom paraeducators, food service staff, and in many other jobs as part of a unified education workforce that helps ensure that children are safe, healthy, well-nourished, and well-educated.

As readers of this blog may know, our country’s youth are facing twin crises of obesity and food insecurity — limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods. Nearly one in three American children are overweight or obese (White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity: Report to the President, 2010) while 16 million face food insecurity (USDA Economic Research Service, 2013).  In a sad irony, food insecurity leads to both hunger and obesity. Because they lack access to or can’t afford healthier food, food insecure families may be forced to choose inexpensive, calorie-dense, nutrient-poor foods. Read more »