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Latino Youth Conservation Leaders, Forest Service Leaders Share Blissful Experience of Transformational Conservation Successes

Green Ambassadors from Austin High School and The University of Houston interact with Woodsy Owl to spread the message of conservation education at the Austin and Chavez High School 9th Annual Future Farmers of America Livestock Show and Sale. (Photo Courtesy of the Houston East End Greenbelt)

Green Ambassadors from Austin High School and The University of Houston interact with Woodsy Owl to spread the message of conservation education at the Austin and Chavez High School 9th Annual Future Farmers of America Livestock Show and Sale. (Photo Courtesy of the Houston East End Greenbelt)

(Editor’s note: Luis Cruz is a youth conservation leader with Latino Legacy and PLT GreenSchools!, part of the Houston East End Greenbelt project. These projects are part of an eight-year partnership with the U.S. Forest Service Friends of the National Forests and Grasslands of Texas-Latino Legacy program, which promotes conservation education to diverse audiences in urban schools and communities surrounding national forests. Cruz was part of a group that came to Washington, D.C. to participate in a week-long program designed to connect youth to nature and establish a conservation ethic. The program also develops educational and career pathways in natural resources.)

By Luis Angel Cruz, Senior, Furr High School, GreenSchools! Co-op Green Ambassador Captain and Curriculum Lead, Houston, Texas

Meeting with the Chief and the executive leadership team of the U.S. Forest Service in March was like meeting your all-time favorite super heroes!

We are high school, middle school and college students and educators who are energized and alive with ideas to continue making a difference as part of our working partnership with U.S. Forest Service leaders to promote conservation education to Latino and diverse audiences. Read more »

#GimmeFive Ways to Boost Your Garden and Keep Pollinators Buzzing

A monarch butterfly collects nectar from a flower. USDA photo by Charles Bryson.

A monarch butterfly collects nectar from a flower. USDA photo by Charles Bryson.

The USDA’s People’s Garden team is joining the fun at the White House Easter Egg Roll today to introduce the crowds to some very important garden workers – pollinators. Bees, butterflies, bats, birds, and beetles are all crucial to sustaining plant growth, and in fact nearly two-thirds of the foods we often consume are pollinated by bees alone. Doing your part to keep these creatures healthy in turn ensures a nutritious food supply for you and me.

Honey bees are responsible for pollinating more than 100 crops and one out of every three bites of food Americans eat. These foods give our diet diversity, flavor, and nutrition.  Over the past few decades, there has been a significant loss of pollinator habitat and pollinators, including honey bees, native bees, birds, bats, and butterflies, from the environment. Declining pollinator populations across the country pose a threat to our environment, economy and human health, but supporting pollinators is not hard to do. Read more »

Event in the Big Apple is No Small Peanuts

For nearly a week, the National Peanut Board invaded the streets of New York to connect the city to the more than 7,000 peanut farming families the board represents. To connect with New Yorkers, they set up a pop-up shop where visitors could sample foods, talk to peanut farmers, and much more. Photo Courtesy of the National Peanut Board.

For nearly a week, the National Peanut Board invaded the streets of New York to connect the city to the more than 7,000 peanut farming families the board represents. To connect with New Yorkers, they set up a pop-up shop where visitors could sample foods, talk to peanut farmers, and much more. Photo Courtesy of the National Peanut Board.

You may not see the natural connection between peanut farmers and New York City. However, I recently had the chance to see both worlds collide during a National Peanut Board meeting in the big apple. In addition to the normal items of business, the board also planned some unique peanut-inspired events for New Yorkers.

The National Peanut Board is one of the more than 20 industry Research and Promotion Programs that my agency – the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) oversees. These self-help programs that are requested for and completely funded by the industry are charged with developing cutting edge marketing campaigns and supporting nutrition research that benefits all of the industry’s members. The Peanut Board recently invaded the streets of New York to connect the city to the more than 7,000 peanut farming families the board represents. This proved to be very successful as everyone soon learned that our peanut farmers have a strong connection to New Yorkers and to people all over the world. Read more »

Farmers Help Fight Food Waste by Donating Wholesome Food

Chris Pawelski, a fourth generation farmer, grows 51 acres of onions.  He donates excess onions that would otherwise go to waste to a food rescue organization and gets a reimbursement for his efforts.

Chris Pawelski, a fourth generation farmer, grows 51 acres of onions. He donates excess onions that would otherwise go to waste to a food rescue organization and gets a reimbursement for his efforts.

Sometimes Mother Nature and hard work come together to produce a bountiful harvest on the farm.  But what if the grocery store, distributor, or processor that the farmer sells to can’t handle any excess?  Or, what if a percentage of the crop turns out too big, too small, or oddly shaped and no one will buy it?  Organizations across the country are working with farmers to get this wholesome produce to people who need it.

Many farms may want to donate directly to a food bank, but are discouraged because they currently can’t claim a tax deduction for the donations. To help farms offset the costs of the labor required to harvest the crop and the packaging to transport it, many food banks and food recovery groups are able to assist the farmer with the “pick and pack out” (PPO) cost.  The PPO cost can be very beneficial to a farmer.  Chris Pawelski, a fourth generation onion farmer at Pawelski farms in Goshen, New York, donates his nutritious-but-undersized onions to City Harvest.  City Harvest is a food rescue organization in New York City that has been connecting good, surplus food with hungry New Yorkers since 1982.  The PPO cost that is paid to Pawelski by City Harvest in some years was the determining factor in keeping his farm from losing money. Read more »

A New Interactive Education Module on Climate Change Effects on Forests and Grasslands

Screenshot of the climate change effects education module explaining changes in wildlife phenology observed and expected with climate change.  This section has an interaction that explores observed phenological changes for different regions.

Screenshot of the climate change effects education module explaining changes in wildlife phenology observed and expected with climate change. This section has an interaction that explores observed phenological changes for different regions.

The Climate Change Resource Center (CCRC) has recently released a new education resource on climate change effects on forests and grasslands. The CCRC is an online, nationally-relevant resource that connects land managers and decision-makers with useable science to address climate change in planning and application.  The CCRC plays a key role in the USDA Climate Hubs’ effort to help land managers (the Forest Service, other agencies, and the general public) understand and respond to a changing climate. Read more »

Beginning Farmer Kick Starts Operation to Provide Local Produce Year-Round

Two years after starting Fresh Water Greens, Owner Regina Villari (left) along with her brother and Production Manager Joseph Villari, have fresh lettuces and herbs in 37 supermarkets throughout New Jersey.

Two years after starting Fresh Water Greens, Owner Regina Villari (left) along with her brother and Production Manager Joseph Villari, have fresh lettuces and herbs in 37 supermarkets throughout New Jersey.

It’s been two years since Regina Villari, of Sewell, N.J., stepped into unchartered territory. Her idea was so different that no one else in her New Jersey town was doing it.

“I was intrigued by the operation,” said Villari. “I always wanted to have my own business and I wanted to do something in the local community that could provide fresh, local produce all year round.”

That something turned out to be a hydroponic greenhouse. Hydroponics uses nutrient-rich water instead of soil to grow lettuce, herbs, tomatoes and other vegetables.  The greenhouse allows Villari to grow the crops year round, feeding thousands of people throughout the state. Read more »