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Growing Your Farm to School Program Has Never Been Easier

The USDA Farm to School Planning Toolkit provides school districts helpful questions to consider and resources to reference when building their programs.

The USDA Farm to School Planning Toolkit provides school districts helpful questions to consider and resources to reference when building their programs.

Healthy habits are taking root in our nation’s schools.  Thanks to an important commitment made possible by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, more of our nation’s kids are being exposed to lessons about healthy eating and learning where their food comes from.  Established as part of that legislation, USDA’s Farm to School Program plays a vital role in improving health outcomes for our schoolchildren.

This October, during National Farm to School Month, it’s important to acknowledge farm to school programs’ contributions to fostering a healthier next generation.  These programs support the work of parents, teachers, school nutrition professionals, and communities to make sure the healthy choice is the easy choice for America’s children. Read more »

Michigan Hispanic Growers’ Co-op Helps Improve Viability of Small Farmers

Board President Filiberto Villa Gomez, setting out produce at a farmers market, has been the driving force behind Farmers on the Move cooperative.

Board President Filiberto Villa Gomez, setting out produce at a farmers market, has been the driving force behind Farmers on the Move cooperative.

Editor’s note: Thomas is Extension educator and innovation counselor at the Michigan State University Product Center, Michigan Cooperative Development Program. This is one in a series of blogs USDA is posting to help celebrate Cooperative Month in October.

Farmers on the Move (FOTM) is a cooperative of Hispanic farmers, incorporated in June 2009, which is working to create a quality retail brand of fresh blueberries and vegetables for the Michigan and Midwest markets. Guiding this effort is Filiberto Villa Gomez, co-op board president, who has consistently striven to enhance member knowledge of both growing and marketing practices.

Together, the farmers process, package, deliver and share marketing expenses. The co-op sells to retail and wholesale markets, as well as through farmers markets. Read more »

USDA Backs Healthy Incentives

USDA’s Healthy Incentives Pilot found that SNAP participants who received incentives to purchase healthy foods consumed about 26 percent more fruits and vegetables per day than people who did not receive the incentives. Click to enlarge.

USDA’s Healthy Incentives Pilot found that SNAP participants who received incentives to purchase healthy foods consumed about 26 percent more fruits and vegetables per day than people who did not receive the incentives. Click to enlarge.

USDA is firmly committed to ensuring that all Americans have access to a safe, healthy, adequate and affordable diet. Unfortunately, our nation is facing an unprecedented nutrition crisis, with far too many Americans facing both food insecurity and obesity.  Although it seems paradoxical, the two actually go hand in hand far too often.  To reverse the course of this two-sided crisis, we must create a cultural change that facilitates and encourages healthy food choices among all Americans.

One example of how USDA has been working to implement this cultural shift is the Healthy Incentives Pilot (HIP) project that was recently conducted in Massachusetts. The goal of this project was to provide SNAP participants greater access to healthy foods and better nutrition through financial incentives at the point of purchase.  Specifically, we tested the impact of providing families with 30 extra cents in SNAP benefits per benefit dollar that they spent on fruits and vegetables.  We were very encouraged by the results.  On average, people who received the incentives ate about 26 percent more fruits and vegetables per day than people who did not receive the incentives—a substantial increase! Read more »

A Tour of Development in Downeast Maine

Visiting Hand in Hand Apartments: Administrator Hernandez visits the home of Maria (China) Santos. Santos and her son Juan moved to Maine from Honduras. Left to Right are: USDA Rural Development Administrator for Housing and Community Programs Tony Hernandez; Mano En Mano Outreach Worker Edith Flores; USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel; Hand in Hand Apartments Resident Maria (China) Santos and Son, Juan Santos; and Mano En Mano Executive Director Ian Yaffe.

Visiting Hand in Hand Apartments: Administrator Hernandez visits the home of Maria (China) Santos. Santos and her son Juan moved to Maine from Honduras. Left to Right are: USDA Rural Development Administrator for Housing and Community Programs Tony Hernandez; Mano En Mano Outreach Worker Edith Flores; USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel; Hand in Hand Apartments Resident Maria (China) Santos and Son, Juan Santos; and Mano En Mano Executive Director Ian Yaffe.

Recently, Tony Hernandez, USDA Rural Development’s Housing and Community Facilities Administrator visited Maine to see firsthand how Rural Development can support the growing seafood processing industry in Downeast Maine. Tony also met with leaders from the Penobscot Indian Nation to discuss USDA Rural Development’s ongoing support of housing and community development on the Tribal lands.

We had a very valuable trip, starting with a visit to Prospect Harbor to see the Maine Fair Trade Lobster Company. Formerly the Stinson Seafood Cannery, the largest sardine cannery in the nation, the building and equipment were purchased by what became Maine Fair Trade Lobster Company. The purchase preserved much-needed jobs in the area, and the facility now employs approximately 170 workers and processes over 50,000 pounds of lobster every day. We’re working with community leaders in Prospect Harbor to ensure USDA Rural Development supports community capacity building and infrastructure development as businesses like Maine Fair Trade Lobster Company expand and increase employment. Read more »

Veteran Farmer Grows the Family Farm ‘Organically’

Larry E. King worked with NRCS to build a seasonal high tunnel on his farm in Whitley County.

Larry E. King worked with NRCS to build a seasonal high tunnel on his farm in Whitley County.

Larry E. King was raised in a family with farming roots. The very land he now farms in McCreary County, Kentucky was purchased by his mother during World War II.  He remembers his mother telling him, “If we didn’t raise it, we didn’t have it.”

In his late teens, King raised strawberries on the farm. His life moved away from farming at 17 when he followed in his two brothers’ footsteps and joined the Air Force.

For six years, King was stationed out of Little Rock, Arkansas where he worked with the mobile support systems out of the Military Airlift Command. After his military assignment, he finished college and worked for the U.S. Forest Service Civilian Conservation Corps. After a long career with the Forest Service, Larry retired a few years ago, bringing him home to the 34-acre family farm. Read more »

Successful Meeting Helps Take Produce Marketing Efforts to Next Level

A recent meeting connected fruit and vegetable industry leaders with the USDA employees they communicate with on a regular basis. A continuous dialogue with these leaders helps their industries remain nimble and better able to adjust to changes in the marketplace.

A recent meeting connected fruit and vegetable industry leaders with the USDA employees they communicate with on a regular basis. A continuous dialogue with these leaders helps their industries remain nimble and better able to adjust to changes in the marketplace.

The fruit and vegetable industry is an integral part of our country. Besides helping increase access to healthy foods, the industry generates $40 billion in sales and empowers communities by creating jobs and stimulating economies. While it’s great to notice the strength of the produce industry, it is important to remember that it is the result of careful research and planning. I had the chance to watch the industry rekindle this energy as I visited with leaders from each of our marketing order boards and committees during a management conference last week.

There were some great takeaways from the meeting. We heard an update about the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) from Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Deputy Commissioner Michael Taylor. He ensured us that FDA is looking to collaborate with partners like USDA to help the industry comply with the FSMA regulations when they become final. We also heard from our Commodity Procurement Program Director Dave Tuckwiller, who encouraged everyone to take advantage of new opportunities to sell food to USDA. Thanks to new National School Lunch standards, my agency, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) purchased 20 percent more fruits and veggies in 2013 than in the previous year. Read more »