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Healthful Foods Could Be Just a Click Away: FNS Works to Bring Online Shopping to SNAP Purchases

A family eating dinner

USDA is committed to providing access for SNAP participants to use their benefits to purchase healthy, nutritious food online.

Online grocery shopping has been an option for many busy American families for years. But for the 44 million Americans who use benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to supplement their food budget, this option has not been available…yet.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is in the process of bringing online purchasing to those who use SNAP benefits. Online purchasing could improve access to healthy food for those living in food deserts—areas with sparse options to buy healthy groceries—or for those who are unable to physically shop on their own due to a disability or transportation barrier. Read more »

A New Era for Civil Rights at The People’s Department

Agriculture Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Dr. Joe Leonard (right) and an auditorium full of U.S. Department of Agriculture employees

Agriculture Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Dr. Joe Leonard (right) and an auditorium full of U.S. Department of Agriculture employees laughed, listened and learned of the Reverend Al Sharpton’s insights about the topic of “Civil Rights in the Age of Obama,” on Monday, February 28, 2011 in Washington, D.C. USDA photo by Lance Cheung.

Throughout the month of August, we are reflecting on changes we’ve made over the past eight years to create a culture of inclusivity among USDA employees and the diverse communities we serve. For a broader look at our progress, check out our Results project here:

As a kid during the first years of desegregation in Austin, Texas’ public schools, many of my early experiences were shaped by race, and I quickly became familiar with the life-changing impacts discrimination can have on individuals both young and old. While a lot for any kid to experience, these circumstances taught me the power of inclusion, and from them, I became aware of the ways diversity and fairness can help repair troubled histories and heal the wounds of the past. These lessons have shaped my life’s work.

When Secretary Vilsack and I arrived nearly eight years ago, we were aware of USDA’s imperfect history marked by denial of equal service – too often based on race. It was admittedly a terrible situation by any accord. We had our work cut out for us, and got started quickly by examining our history deeply and thoroughly, bringing to light the most challenging aspects of the Department’s past. Read more »

EPA and USDA Pledge Actions to Support America’s Growing Water Quality Trading Markets

Cross-posted from the EPA Connect blog:

In September of 2015, EPA and USDA sponsored a three-day national workshop at the Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Institute in Lincoln, Nebraska that brought together more than 200 experts and leaders representing the agricultural community, utilities, environmental NGOs, private investors, states, cities, and tribes to discuss how to expand the country’s small but growing water quality trading markets. Recently we released a report that summarizes the workshop’s key discussions and outlines new actions that we and others will take to further promote the use of market-based tools to advance water quality improvements.

Over the last decade, states and others have discovered that they can meet their water quality improvement goals through lower costs and greater flexibility by using a voluntary water quality trading program. Trading is based on the fact that sources in a watershed can face very different costs to control the same pollutant. Trading programs allow facilities facing higher pollution control costs (like a wastewater treatment plant or a municipality with a stormwater permit) to meet their regulatory obligations by purchasing lower cost environmentally equivalent (or superior) pollution reductions (or credits) from another source, including farms that use conservation practices to efficiently reduce the movement of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment from their fields into local waterways. For example, Virginia’s nutrient trading program to offset stormwater phosphorous loads from new development has saved the Commonwealth more than $1 million in meeting state water quality goals while providing economic incentives to local agricultural producers to reduce soil erosion and runoff. Read more »

Getting a Summer Staple to Market at Peak Maturity

An avocado

“When consumers buy Florida avocados from any grower, they associate that avocado with all avocados,” said Alan Flinn, manager of the Avocado Administrative Committee. “That’s why it is essential that any Florida-type avocado that reaches the market aligns with our standards.” USDA photo by Lillie Zeng

Although Florida’s green-skin avocado industry may be a niche compared to Hass avocado operations in California, green-skin avocados are beloved by their growers and a staple for the communities that grew up eating them.

With more than 60 varieties and peak maturity ranging from May to December, the Florida avocado industry uses harvest timing and technology to ensure only mature avocados reached consumers.

The industry works with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to operate a federal marketing order, which helps the producers expand marketing opportunities and ensures quality fruit for consumers.  Industry members make up the committee that locally administers the marketing order.  Marketing order committees are able to establish industry standards, develop markets, gather data, and conduct research – all tailored to meet the individual needs of a particular commodity and size of its industry. Read more »

Students from Every State and Territory Show Off Local Pride with MyPlate-Inspired Meals at the 5th Annual Kids’ “State Dinner”

Chef hats for each of the winners at the 2016 Kids’ State Dinner

Chef hats for each of the winners at the 2016 Kids’ “State Dinner.” (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

At the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, we are excited about using local foods and flavors to create healthy and delicious plates. Through our MyPlate, MyState initiative, we are working to connect American families with the foods grown in their communities – raising awareness that all healthy foods and flavors have a place on MyPlate.  As part of that initiative it was my privilege to attend the 5th annual Kids’ “State Dinner” last month, when the winners of the 2016 Healthy Lunchtime Challenge, were honored for their MyPlate-inspired recipes.  For the first time this year’s contest, in which young chefs ages 8-12 from across the country create healthy recipes and show off their food know-how, included an emphasis on local and regional foods through MyPlate, MyState.

It was thrilling to see such creative approaches to amplifying local and regional foods. The winners truly captured the agricultural, historical, and cultural significance of their communities through food. I had the pleasure of meeting many amazing young chefs in attendance, including 11-year-old Abhijith from Missouri, who incorporated local catfish into his recipe, and 12-year-old Grace from West Virginia, who picked the vegetables in her dish from a community garden. Read more »

National WIC Breastfeeding Week 2016

A family on their couch

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack declared August 1-7 “National WIC Breastfeeding Week”

World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated around the world each year during the first week of August to promote breastfeeding and highlight its importance to the health of mothers and babies.

This year’s theme is “Breastfeeding: A Key to Sustainable Development.”  USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) joins the celebration as WIC promotes breastfeeding all year long as the optimal choice for moms who are medically able.  We support breastfeeding WIC moms through counseling and educational materials, peer counselors, a specially-tailored food package, and breastfeeding aids like breast pumps.  USDA’s successful national breastfeeding promotion campaign, Loving Support Makes Breastfeeding Work, serves as the foundation of our breastfeeding activities.  It emphasizes the importance of support from family and friends, from the health care system, and from the community. All have key roles to play in providing the support a breastfeeding mother needs. Read more »