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Organic 101: The National Organic Standards Board – Representing the Organic Community

Given the breadth and scope of the NOSB’s responsibilities, members have to demonstrate a commitment to the integrity of the organic industry. The NOSB is as diverse as the organic community they serve. Photo courtesy of AMS.

Given the breadth and scope of the NOSB’s responsibilities, members have to demonstrate a commitment to the integrity of the organic industry. The NOSB is as diverse as the organic community they serve. Photo courtesy of AMS.

From Shayla Bailey, USDA:  This is the twentieth installment of the Organic 101 series that explores different aspects of the USDA organic regulations. To mark the 20th milestone, USDA invited Dr. Jean Richardson, Chair of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), to be a guest author. The NOSB provides critical support to the USDA and the organic community.  We thank the NOSB for their commitment to the organic community, and the integrity of the organic label.

Twice a year, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meets to advise the Secretary of Agriculture on what substances should be allowed or prohibited in organic agriculture.  The NOSB recommends standards, policies and guidance that help shape the organic regulations to the National Organic Program (NOP), part of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.

The NOSB was established under the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, and in accordance with the Federal Advisory Committee Act. Made up of dedicated volunteers, the 15-member board includes four organic farmers, two handlers, three individuals with expertise in environmental protection or resource conservation, three representatives of public interest or consumer interest groups , a scientist, an organic retailer and an organic certifying agent. Earlier this year, I was honored when my fellow board members elected me as the Chair. Read more »

Better Service for Rural Renters: Innovative App for Field Employees Streamlines Recordkeeping

Rural Development Specialist Lea McGiboney and Fort Benton, Montana resident Velma Hansen share a laugh as Lea makes sure the Canyon Villas Apartments are providing safe and affordable homes for Velma and her neighbors.

Rural Development Specialist Lea McGiboney and Fort Benton, Montana resident Velma Hansen share a laugh as Lea makes sure the Canyon Villas Apartments are providing safe and affordable homes for Velma and her neighbors.

Velma Hansen has lived in Fort Benton, Montana for over 60 years, the last dozen of them at Canyon Villas. The engaging 91-year-old keeps an impeccably clean apartment in the rent-controlled complex financed by USDA Rural Development. As one of our hundreds of multi-family properties across rural America, Rural Development regularly inspects the properties to ensure they meet basic standards for safe and sanitary housing. If problems are noted, the property owners must address them, and do so immediately.

Right now, a specialist inspects the property, takes paper notes and digital photos, and then returns to the office to input all the data – essentially touching all the data twice to get it in our system – before being able to follow up on any necessary repairs that were noted during the servicing visit. We decided there was opportunity to invest a little technology in streamlining this process. Read more »

Mapping U.S. Agriculture

2012 Ag Census Web Maps tool helps you create a visual overview of data for U.S. farm demographics, economics, crops, and livestock.

2012 Ag Census Web Maps tool helps you create a visual overview of data for U.S. farm demographics, economics, crops, and livestock.

Agricultural data are valuable for analysis, and thanks to the Census of Agriculture and other surveys, NASS has plenty of data available. As a cartographer, however, I obviously prefer to present the data in map form. A map gives anyone a chance to visualize data for multiple geographic areas as a cohesive image, providing a graphic overview of the agricultural phenomena. It also allows map readers to visually compare regions, and discern patterns and relationships in the data across regions, topics, and time.

When it came to the ag census, for each of the past eight editions, NASS produced an atlas of thematic (statistical) maps illustrating various aspects of U.S. agriculture. While great for their time, with the evolution of digital technology, these paper maps are no longer sufficient on their own. The component missing from them is the data behind the maps, so what better way to depict and also convey a myriad of county-level statistics than through a web map application? Read more »

Collective Courage: New Book Relates History of African-American Co-ops

USDA photo archives.

USDA photo archives.

Note: Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice, was published this year by Penn State University Press (www.psupress.org). The following is one in a series of blogs being posted in observance of National Cooperative Month in October.

Scholars of cooperative topics are praising Collective Courage: A History of African-American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice, by Jessica Gordon-Nembhard, a faculty member at John Jay College, City University of New York. The book has been called “the most complete history to date of the cooperative economic struggles of African Americans.”

The author reminds readers that large proportions of the African-American community have had to struggle with familial, social, political and economic difficulties due to a history of enslavement, racial segregation, discrimination and violence. This experience has resulted in solidarity within the African-American community and helped facilitate social-action organizations. Read more »

USDA Partners with DOD to Fight Childhood Obesity

Concannon (far left) with students from Walt Whitman Middle School at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital, Va., Sept. 18, 2014.

Concannon (far left) with students from Walt Whitman Middle School at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital, Va., Sept. 18, 2014.

Tackling the child obesity epidemic that holds so many health risks for our nation’s youngest members is an important responsibility.  Fortunately, USDA is not alone in this critical charge.

Sound nutrition plays an essential role in all aspects of a child’s life, including their ability to learn, grow and thrive in the classroom.  And since many children today consume half of their daily calories while at school, we want to ensure the healthy choice is the easy choice for them and their families.  Happily, we have partners that feel the same way. Read more »

USDA Partners with Maryland School for the Deaf in Work-to-Learn Program

APHIS Work-to-Learn Student Carroll Barnes and USDA Federal Disability Employment Program Manager Alison Levy converse about his work with the APHIS Professional Development Center in Frederick.

APHIS Work-to-Learn Student Carroll Barnes and USDA Federal Disability Employment Program Manager Alison Levy converse about his work with the APHIS Professional Development Center in Frederick.

Traditional classrooms aren’t the only place where high school students learn new things.  Every workday from 12:40 to 2:40 p.m., Maryland School for the Deaf (MSD) senior Carroll Barnes is learning outside the classroom through his school’s Work-to-Learn program.  He hitches a ride from the program’s van and arrives at the Professional Development Center (PDC) of the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Plant Protection and Quarantine, in Frederick, Maryland for two hours’ of on-the-job training.  He’s tasked with a broad range of general office duties, such as filing, shredding, and stocking printers.  He also assists with the PDC’s training support activities, including collating and distributing classroom materials and labeling laboratory equipment and supplies.

As the PDC Equal Employment Opportunity Advisory Committee (EEOAC) Chair, I oversee his daily activities and coordinate the work needed by our staff with his availability.  In addition to gaining administrative and clerical work experience, Carroll is also exposed to the broader APHIS mission of safeguarding American agricultural and natural resources from invasive pests.  The PDC provides training, leadership and consultation to APHIS employees and others who work to protect the Nation’s agriculture and natural resources from plant pests and diseases.  Carroll believes that “all happiness depends on courage and work,” and adds he’s “learning about my new job, learning to schedule my time, to balance my budget…” which he suggests are good life lessons that everyone should learn. Read more »