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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 »

Respect the Grill Flames

A family dinner of marinated chicken and grilled vegetables. Photo by Christopher Leonard.

A family dinner of marinated chicken and grilled vegetables. Photo by Christopher Leonard.

With Independence Day just around the corner, families across the nation are making preparations to honor the day as the grill chef, king of Castle Suburbia, lord of the living room, master of the flames, marches forth.

With a meaty feast to honor the day, the Fourth of July has become almost as much a celebration of grilling greatness as it is a celebration of the nation’s independence. However, all that glitters isn’t gold and an infection of Salmonellosis can quickly knock the grill king off his throne and onto another.

Fittingly, the Fourth of July sits in the middle of grilling season. The amber flames roaring up between the grill grates can easily give the false impression of bringing death to all bacteria. However, don’t be misled. Preparing burgers on the grill is a quest that must be tackled safely. Taking the four oaths of food safety (clean, separate, cook and chill) will ensure a feast free from visits to the porcelain throne, or worse, a trip to the emergency room. Read more »

Fighting to Preserve and Conserve Virginia’s Historic Battlefields

Mike Liskey, right, refers to a site map while discussing ongoing conservation projects with Chase Milner, with the foundation, and Amy Roscher, with the Virginia Farming television program. NRCS photo.

Mike Liskey, right, refers to a site map while discussing ongoing conservation projects with Chase Milner, with the foundation, and Amy Roscher, with the Virginia Farming television program. NRCS photo.

Three out of every five Civil War battles were fought in Virginia, so it should come as no surprise that some of the work of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is taking place on hallowed ground. In Winchester, Va., the agency is partnering with the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation to protect historic and natural resources on part of the Third Winchester Battlefield.

The foundation has discovered that keeping these sites in agricultural use is an economical way to maintain them. They have worked with NRCS since 2009 to preserve and conserve Huntsberry Farm, a 209-acre farm where cattle still graze today.

NRCS District Conservationist Mike Liskey helped Chase Milner, the foundation’s manager of stewardship, with conservation planning to address their concerns about water quality and invasive species while protecting vital cultural resources. Read more »

Homeownership and Independence Day Go Together Like Baseball and Apple Pie

Closing out National Homeownership Month on June 30, 2014, RHS Administrator Tony Hernandez inside the home with new homeowners, Jay Pauley and Johanna Mansfield, along with Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler, representing Southwest Washington's 3rd Congressional District, at the Lower Columbia Community Action Program (LCCAP) Self-Help Housing Project in Castle Rock, Wash. Photo by Phil Eggman.

Closing out National Homeownership Month on June 30, 2014, RHS Administrator Tony Hernandez inside the home with new homeowners, Jay Pauley and Johanna Mansfield, along with Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler, representing Southwest Washington's 3rd Congressional District, at the Lower Columbia Community Action Program (LCCAP) Self-Help Housing Project in Castle Rock, Wash. Photo by Phil Eggman.

This year, Independence Day will be even more meaningful for tens of thousands of families across the nation. With financing assistance from USDA, they will be able to gather their loved ones in their own homes and back yards to celebrate the holiday as homeowners.

As the Administrator for USDA’s housing programs, I spent the past weeks celebrating National Homeownership Month with rural families who are achieving the American Dream with USDA assistance. On the final day of the month-long celebration, I joined families who are now constructing their homes through USDA’s Mutual Self-Help program, as well as another group of families moving into their new homes just in time to celebrate the Fourth of July. Read more »

USDA Conservation Funding Helps Provide Protection for Great Lakes

A youngster relaxes on a piece of driftwood, watching the beautiful sunset over Lake Michigan. Photo by Tom Gill.

A youngster relaxes on a piece of driftwood, watching the beautiful sunset over Lake Michigan. Photo by Tom Gill.

I have the Great Lakes in my blood. Born and raised on the shores of Lake Huron, my sisters and I spent countless summer days playing in the water and running along the beaches of soft singing sand.

The Au Sable River, a clear blue ribbon trout stream, empties into Lake Huron in Oscoda, Mich., my hometown. We canoed the river frequently, noticing eel-like lampreys undulate menacingly upstream in the water beneath our paddles.

We carefully maneuvered past sunken logs, remnants of the logging era, to avoid tipping and spilling into the water, imagining that this hideous creature with its huge circular, tooth-lined mouth would affix itself painfully, firmly and fatally onto our flesh! Read more »

A Week to Remember Fallen Wildland Firefighters

The Wildland Firefighters Monument in Boise, Idaho, includes three eight-foot bronze firefighters standing in silent testimony to hard-working men and women on the fireline. A waterfall built by a team of volunteers showcases native rock gathered from a local quarry by the Boise Smokejumpers. (U.S. Forest Service)

The Wildland Firefighters Monument in Boise, Idaho, includes three eight-foot bronze firefighters standing in silent testimony to hard-working men and women on the fireline. A waterfall built by a team of volunteers showcases native rock gathered from a local quarry by the Boise Smokejumpers. (U.S. Forest Service)

This week the nation stops to remember historic losses in the wildland firefighter community as we pay homage to the 14 lives lost in the 1994 South Canyon Fire in Colorado, the 19 lives lost in the Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona last year and the others who have lost their lives serving the public.

From June 30 to July 6, 2014, the interagency wildland fire management community is honoring all those who have lost their lives in the line of duty by participating in a Week to Remember, Reflect, and Learn. Read more »