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Puerto Rico’s First Lady Promotes Community Gardens, Starting with Her Backyard

First Lady Wilma Pastrana Jiménez and others plant seeds in People’s Garden.

First Lady Wilma Pastrana Jiménez and others plant seeds in People’s Garden.

Puerto Rico’s First Lady is a big fan of the home garden, and actually, the garden at the governor’s mansion, called La Fortaleza, is part of USDA’s national garden movement.

First Lady Wilma Pastrana Jiménez’s garden was the first People’s Garden at a Puerto Rico state government facility and the third on the island.

The garden joins more than 2,000 across the nation as part of the People’s Garden Initiative, started in 2009 by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Read more »

Moving Forward…Healthy Choices for Michigan Kids!

Waterford students learned how to make “Smart Snacks” (fruit kabobs) and the nutrition benefits of each fruit.

Waterford students learned how to make “Smart Snacks” (fruit kabobs) and the nutrition benefits of each fruit.

Doreen Simonds is the Nutrition and Purchasing Services Director for the Waterford Public Schools in Waterford, Michigan. Doreen has been a strong voice for healthier school meals and creative nutrition education strategies. Under her leadership, thirteen of Waterford’s twenty schools have won USDA HealthierUS School Challenge awards. I’d like to share Doreen’s blog below on the importance of teamwork in moving forward on children’s health and nutrition.

Oakland County, Michigan has always been in the forefront for promoting progressive moves in child nutrition to support healthy learning for our children. Waterford Schools Food and Nutrition is fortunate to be part of a collaborative community that is always growing for the good of education. With the help of great leadership in our Michigan Department of Education/Team Nutrition and School Nutrition Association of Michigan (SNAM) of Oakland County, we are implementing the new regulations set forth by the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010. The teamwork provided our district with great support and direction through comprehensive and thorough statewide and county staff trainings. Read more »

Troubled Teens Climb to New Heights in Rural America

A climbing wall at Rimrock Trails Adolescent Treatment Services is one of many tools available to help troubled teens build their self-esteem. Pictured are State Director Vicki Walker (left) and Rimrock Trails’ Residential Mental Health Counselor Courtney Parchmon.  Rimrock Trails employs 30 professionals dedicated to helping some of our most vulnerable adolescents.

A climbing wall at Rimrock Trails Adolescent Treatment Services is one of many tools available to help troubled teens build their self-esteem. Pictured are State Director Vicki Walker (left) and Rimrock Trails’ Residential Mental Health Counselor Courtney Parchmon. Rimrock Trails employs 30 professionals dedicated to helping some of our most vulnerable adolescents.

Teens across the country are looking forward to the school year and many new experiences that will enrich their lives and start them on their way to future success. Those who struggle with mental health and addiction issues during this critical time of life, however, face tremendous challenges that not only threaten their present well-being, but can also limit their options well into adulthood.

USDA and the Obama Administration are committed to ensuring these youth, and all of our young people, have the support they need to grow and thrive – whether they live in large metropolitan areas or the most rural areas. An example of this support is a recently awarded USDA Business and Industry loan guarantee to finance the renovation and expansion of Rimrock Trails Adolescent Treatment Services in remote Prineville, Oregon. Last week, I joined professionals working in youth recovery and their many community partners to break ground on the project. Read more »

Just Like a Peach, Without the Fuzz

Bellies full from lunch, children at Old Plank Estates in Butler, joined USDA Rural Development State Director Thomas Williams and other partners in the USDA Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) to celebrate National Farmers Market Week. Old Plank Estates, a USDA and HUD funded Multi-Family Housing Complex, is a distribution site for the SFSP, administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, with food service provided by the Paul Lawrence Dunbar Community Center. Lunch is served daily to 20-30 children from the complex.  In honor of National Farmers Market Week, Freedom Farms brought a bushel of fresh picked nectarines to the children and talked with them about fresh foods.  As an added bonus, Freedom Farms is a new partner in the program, offering to donate fruit each day and to help the children plant a garden at the complex next spring.

Bellies full from lunch, children at Old Plank Estates in Butler, joined USDA Rural Development State Director Thomas Williams and other partners in the USDA Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) to celebrate National Farmers Market Week. Old Plank Estates, a USDA and HUD funded Multi-Family Housing Complex, is a distribution site for the SFSP, administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, with food service provided by the Paul Lawrence Dunbar Community Center. Lunch is served daily to 20-30 children from the complex. In honor of National Farmers Market Week, Freedom Farms brought a bushel of fresh picked nectarines to the children and talked with them about fresh foods. As an added bonus, Freedom Farms is a new partner in the program, offering to donate fruit each day and to help the children plant a garden at the complex next spring.

They looked like apples to the twenty-seven children who were waiting patiently in line for lunch as part of the USDA Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) at Old Plank Estates in Butler, PA. But in fact, Freedom Farms, a local farmers market, brought a bushel of fresh picked nectarines for the children in honor of National Farmers Market Week. Lisa King from Freedom Farms explained to the children that, while nectarines may look like apples, they’re more like peaches without the “fuzz”. Giggling, with juice running off their chins, the children enjoyed the foreign fruit.

The USDA program is administered in Pennsylvania by the Department of Education. Old Plank Estates, a USDA Rural Development and Housing and Urban Development funded multi-family housing complex, is partnering with the Paul Laurence Dunbar Community Center to provide the meals to the children.  As an added bonus, Freedom Farms is a new partner in the program, offering to donate fruit each day and to help the children plant a garden at the complex next spring. Read more »

“The Last Frontier” is on the Cutting Edge of On-Farm Technology

Alaska may called The Last Frontier, but their farmers are on the leading edge of technology.  Check back next Thursday for more fun facts as we spotlight another state and the 2012 Census of Agriculture results.

Alaska may called The Last Frontier, but their farmers are on the leading edge of technology. Check back next Thursday for more fun facts as we spotlight another state and the 2012 Census of Agriculture results.

The Census of Agriculture is the most complete account of U.S. farms and ranches and the people who operate them. Every Thursday USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service will highlight new Census data and the power of the information to shape the future of American agriculture.

Alaska may be the largest state in the United States, but due to our geographic location, our farmers have an extremely short growing season. On average, Alaskan farmers only have about 105 growing days in a year according to the University of Alaska Fairbanks, which limits what types of crops we can grow, in comparison with about 198 days in northwestern Missouri, according to NOAA.

Despite the length of our growing season, according to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, there are 762 farms in Alaska, up 11 percent from the last Census, conducted in 2007. Nearly 834,000 acres of our land is dedicated to farming and ranching. In 2012, Alaskan farms produced nearly $59 million worth of agriculture products. By the way, nearly a third of all of the farms in Alaska are run by women, significantly outpacing the national percentage. Read more »

Working Together to Improve Water Quality Along the Lake Erie Shore

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) engineer Kevin King (right) explains an edge of field water quality monitoring station to Ohio State Conservationist Terry Cosby, farm owners Joe and Clint Nester in the Western Lake Erie Basin near Bryan, Ohio on Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014. The device allows tracking of both surface and underground water moving thru field tile. Monitoring stations results help determine what may be best farming practices on different types of soil in the watershed. USDA photo by Garth Clark.

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) engineer Kevin King (right) explains an edge of field water quality monitoring station to Ohio State Conservationist Terry Cosby, farm owners Joe and Clint Nester in the Western Lake Erie Basin near Bryan, Ohio on Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014. The device allows tracking of both surface and underground water moving thru field tile. Monitoring stations results help determine what may be best farming practices on different types of soil in the watershed. USDA photo by Garth Clark.

USDA has a long history of investment in water quality and quantity issues.  Still, Toledo, Ohio Mayor Michael Collins issued an emergency water advisory leaving about 500,000 people without clean tap water to drink or cook with from Aug. 2 to Aug. 4.  The reason for the advisory: toxins produced by algae in Lake Erie got into the city’s water supply.  Residents were forced to rely on bottled and trucked-in water for drinking, cooking, and brushing teeth.  The Lake Erie algae bloom incident shows we all have a lot more work to do to ensure adequate water supplies for now and into the future.

In response to the algae bloom incident, USDA leadership, represented by Terry Cosby, NRCS state conservationist,  joined Senator Sherrod Brown and Representative Marcy Kaptur, this week to immediately announce $2 million in new federal emergency funds to reduce runoff in the Western Lake Erie Basin. Read more »