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Farm to Preschool Helps Healthy Habits Take Root Early

USDA Undersecretary of Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon participating in a hands-on lesson about local foods at a YMCA preschool in West Seattle, WA

The term “farm to preschool” encompasses efforts to serve local or regionally produced foods in early child care and education settings; provide hands-on learning activities such as gardening, farm visits, and culinary activities; and integrate food-related education into the curriculum. Here, USDA Undersecretary of Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon participates in a hands-on lesson about local foods at a YMCA preschool in West Seattle, WA.

“May I have more kale chips, please?” asked a four-year old preschooler during one of my first site visits as farm to school lead for the Food and Nutrition Service’s Western Region. The preschoolers I was visiting grew and harvested the kale themselves a few feet beyond their classroom door and were enjoying the crisp treat as a snack. At the time, the USDA Farm to School Program was just beginning to expand their support to K-12 schools. Since then, I have worked with school districts in bringing the farm to their cafeterias and classrooms.

Our reasons for supporting farm to preschool are numerous. While the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 authorized the USDA Food and Nutrition Service to establish the Farm to School Program, the legislation also expanded the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) to not only aid child care institutions in serving nutritious foods, but to contribute to their wellness, healthy growth and development. Farm to preschool meets that requirement, and is recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a strategy to increase access to healthy environments. As evidenced by the eager kale chip request, farm to preschool efforts can set the stage for a lifetime of healthy eating. Read more »

Improving the Safety of Leafy Greens

Sadhana Ravishankar with a bag of leafy greens

Sadhana Ravishankar, associate professor at the University of Arizona’s School of Animal and Comparative Biomedical Sciences, led a team of researchers at the University of Arizona that discovered natural methods to sanitize leafy vegetables.

Food safety is a top priority for consumers, especially when it comes to the leafy greens in salads. Researchers at the University of Arizona have discovered natural methods to sanitize these vegetables using ingredients commonly found in the kitchen, such as oregano, cinnamon, and vinegar.

Plant extracts, essential oils, and organic sanitizers have all proved effective in killing bacteria on leafy greens and extending their shelf life. When emulsified in the water used to wash these leaves, the approach compares to (and sometimes even works better than) bleach or hydrogen peroxide. Read more »

Tackling Rural Child Poverty In Southwest Georgia

In late July, I was thrilled to visit with leaders from across southwest Georgia, including my hometown of Camilla, to discuss how USDA can support their work on the ground tackling issues relating to rural child poverty.

In Georgia, the poverty rate is 19 percent, and for children, it’s a staggering 27 percent. In Dougherty County, nearly one in three residents live in poverty.

This is why people like Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack, Secretary of Interior Jewell, and I are hitting the road—to hear first-hand what’s working in rural America and how we, the federal government, can help. Read more »

Red, White and Blue: Sustainable, Domestic Dye for Denim

Indigo plants

“Many farmers in the Southeast are planting indigo as a cash crop alternative to tobacco.” (Image courtesy of Sarah Bellos)

Blue jeans are a classic symbol of American fashion, but did you ever wonder how your blue jeans got their color?

Synthetic indigo dyes are used to give jeans their hue, but that was not always the case. Only two countries, China and Germany, currently manufacture the dyes that are used to color jeans, with China producing 90 percent.

Synthetic indigo is derived from coal tar and toxic chemicals that are fused together under conditions so extreme that making it in the United States is cost prohibitive, due to strict environmental and safety regulations. Read more »

Forest Service Celebrates 150th Birthday of Founder

Gifford Pinchot, founder of the U.S. Forest Service

Gifford Pinchot (believed to have been taken in 1901), was the founder of the U.S. Forest Service. (USFS Photo)

The life in which US Forest Service founder Gifford Pinchot was born into wasn’t much different than what millions of Downton Abby fans have come to know through that popular PBS period drama:  huge homes, servants and vast expanses of lands where the accoutrements of many in Pinchot’s class.

And, on Aug. 11, 1865, the infant named Gifford, born in Connecticut and raised at the Pinchot family’s ancestral home, Grey Towers, would seem to follow the “normal” trajectory of his highborn status. This he did. But not how many of his contemporaries did. Instead of taking over the family business, Gifford went after another passion and he changed the world. Read more »

On the Map: The Land, Water and Conservation Fund

Multi-Agency Land and Water Conservation Fund Projects map screenshot

United States Forest Service LWCF projects and many other Government LWCF projects can be viewed in the new interactive map.

There is a Federal program that you may not have heard of, but it is responsible for conserving millions of acres of recreational and conservation lands for Americans to enjoy, and it helps fund local parks, provide access to rivers and trails, and preserve wildlife habitat in every state in the Union.  This program is the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and each year, the Department of the Interior and Department of Agriculture request funding from Congress to support grants to states and high priority federal recreational and conservation investments. Locating and learning about these special places is now easier than ever through a new interactive map. The map enables everyone to explore the 173 public projects proposed for investment in 43 states, including important waterfowl nesting habitat in the Prairie Potholes, battlefields and historic sites from Pennsylvania to Washington, scenic vistas in iconic locations like Maine’s Acadia National Park, and recreation sites in national monuments in California and Arizona.

Land and Water Conservation funds secure access for the American public to their Federal lands.  For 50 years, the law has been one of the most successful programs for recreation and conservation in our history. LWCF has provided funding to local communities that supported the construction of more than 40,000 city parks, hiking and biking trails, and boat ramps, and access to thousands of acres of fishing and hunting and  important wildlife habitat. Read more »