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Category: Food and Nutrition

Secretary’s Column: Farm to School Programs Create New Opportunities for Farmers

This October, just like every other month during the school year, school menus will feature an array of products from local and regional farmers, ranchers, and fishermen. Kids of all ages will dig up lessons in school gardens, visit farms, harvest pumpkins, and don hair nets for tours of processing facilities. Science teachers – and English, math, and social studies instructors, too – will use food and agriculture as a tool in their classrooms, so that lessons about the importance of healthy eating permeate the school learning environment.

An investment in the health of America’s students through Farm to School is also an investment in the farmers and ranchers who grow the food and an investment in the health of local economies. In school year 2011-2012, schools purchased $386 million in local food from farmers, ranchers, fishermen, and food processors and manufacturers. And an impressive 56 percent of school districts report that they will buy even more local foods in future school years. Farm to school programs exist in every state in the country. Read more »

Continued Support for Local Food

USDA’s investments in local and regional food systems help provide farmers and ranchers with greater opportunities, consumers with more choices and bring jobs to rural and urban communities. USDA Photo.

USDA’s investments in local and regional food systems help provide farmers and ranchers with greater opportunities, consumers with more choices and bring jobs to rural and urban communities. USDA Photo.

Strong local food systems are one of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Vilsack’s four key pillars to revitalize rural economies.  On Monday, he announced the award of over $52 million to support local and regional food systems and the organic industry through five USDA grant programs. Most of the grants were authorized through the 2014 Farm Bill.

As part of that announcement, my agency—the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS)—awarded over $27 million in competitive grants to expand marketing through the new Farmers Market and Local Food Marketing Promotion Program, as well as over $1 million in matching grants through the Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program (FSMIP). For years, AMS has led USDA efforts to support local and regional food systems by awarding grants that give farmers and ranchers around the country tools to reach consumers, strengthen ties between urban and rural communities and help meet the growing demand for locally and regionally produced food. Read more »

Embracing a New Vision of School Nutrition

Academy for Global Citizenship students enjoy a healthy lunch.

Academy for Global Citizenship students enjoy a healthy lunch.

The following guest blog is part of our Cafeteria Stories series, highlighting the efforts of hard working school nutrition professionals who are dedicated to making the healthy choice the easy choice at schools across the country.  We thank them for sharing their stories!

By Alan Shannon, Public Affairs Director, Midwest Region, USDA Food and Nutrition Service, and Katherine Elmer-Dewitt, Academy for Global Citizenship

As we approach the five-year anniversary of the passage of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act, it’s worthwhile to revisit some of the schools that were at the cutting edge of creating healthier school meals. Chicago’s Academy for Global Citizenship (AGC) has been a pioneer in serving healthy, delicious school meals that exceed USDA school meals standards. Just as important, students love them! Integral to AGC’s success is a belief in not only serving positive foods but also in creating a culture that supports wellness. The school’s holistic approach relies on parent engagement, physical education, nutrition education, gardening, and more.

The Academy is a recognized national leader in these areas, so much so that Good Morning America visited it in 2011—just after the Act passed—to highlight its work. I was there for the visit and wrote this blog about it. I’ve been fortunate to visit several times since and am honored to share the blog below, written by AGC’s Katherine Elmer-Dewitt. It tells their story and underscores the importance of healthy school food. Read more »

The Easy Way to Find Local Food – USDA Launches New Local Food Directories

Christy (left) and Lilah Talbott of Richmond, VA came to the Fall Line Farms pick-up point, a food hub that offers a wide variety of household food staples and specialty items. USDA’s new food hub directory will help connect schools, hospitals and restaurants across the U.S. with food from local farms and vendors.

Christy (left) and Lilah Talbott of Richmond, VA came to the Fall Line Farms pick-up point, a food hub that offers a wide variety of household food staples and specialty items. USDA’s new food hub directory will help connect schools, hospitals and restaurants across the U.S. with food from local farms and vendors.

What a great time of year to visit your local farmers market! From root crops such as beets, carrots and radishes to salad greens like Swiss chard, lettuce and spinach—farmers markets are full of fresh ingredients that you can use in your favorite fall recipes. My agency, the Agricultural Marketing Service, maintains the USDA’s National Farmers Market Directory, where you can search for local markets and discover where to get your squashes, pumpkins, pears and apples. There are over 8,200 farmers markets listed with their locations, operating hours and other details, providing a simple and easy way for consumers and producers around the country to find each other.

Local and regional food systems, including farmers markets, are one of USDA’s four key pillars to revitalize rural economies and improve access to fresh, healthy food for millions of Americans. Last month, I announced that AMS was building three new local food directories for food hubs, community-supported agriculture operations and on-farm markets. I asked local food enterprises to go online and list the details of their businesses in the new directories—and they responded! Read more »

Nation’s Museums and Libraries Feed Minds and Bodies this Summer

While providing children with nutritious meals is the top priority of USDA’s summer meal programs, activity programming is also important for healthy kids.

While providing children with nutritious meals is the top priority of USDA’s summer meal programs, activity programming is also important for healthy kids.

Libraries remain a part of the fiber of American communities, with over 123,000 operating across the nation.  And in states like Idaho, libraries provided children with more than just books!  For the second straight year, the Idaho Commission for Libraries teamed up with AmeriCorps VISTAs and local summer meal sites to offer “Literacy in the Park”, a program to bring fun educational activities to existing Summer Food Service Program meal sites.

They say “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it”!  But “Literacy in the Park” proved that you can certainly add to it!  Julie Armstrong from the Commission for Libraries said, “We thought, if kids are already at the parks eating, let’s offer them literacy activities along with those meals.”  Ten AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers from the Idaho Foodbank assisted with literacy programs at different Boise sites, each sponsored by the Idaho Foodbank and the Oasis Food Center. Read more »

Summer Meals Success, Thanks to Our Essential Partners

These students aren’t only getting free meals this summer; they are also exposed to learning in the library.

These students aren’t only getting free meals this summer; they are also exposed to learning in the library.

Collaborative efforts are the heart and soul of USDA’s Summer Food Service Program, and these successful partnerships were thriving across the nation this summer.   Many organizations, non-profits, schools, churches, and others have teamed with USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service to expand this vital program.  And now that summer has come to an end, the success stories we’re hearing are music to our ears.

Among them, we’re highlighting two unique organizations with amazing stories to share. Read more »