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Income Inequality: A Growing Threat to Eliminating Rural Child Poverty

Two young boys enjoying lunch near their home in Knox County, Ky

Two young boys enjoy lunch near their home in Knox County, KY.

Rural child poverty fell by 3 percentage points from 2012 to 2014. Over the past seven years, USDA and the Obama Administration have taken action to address the root causes and reduce the devastating effects of rural child poverty.  As a record streak of private sector job creation has cut nationwide unemployment in half, to 5 percent, average incomes for rural and urban families alike climbed nearly 6 percent in the last two years of data, returning to 2003 levels.  While we have made important progress in increasing incomes and reducing the rural child poverty rate, it remains unacceptable that 1.5 million children in rural America – 23.7 percent of all rural youth – live in poverty. Read more »

Spring Climate Trends Changing in the Northeast

Freezing rain covering a flower

Freezing rain covers flowers, plants and trees in Falls Church, VA, like when unseasonably warm March is followed by last frost. USDA photo by Lance Cheung

All this month we will be taking a look at what a changing climate means to Agriculture. The ten regional USDA Climate Hubs were established to synthesize and translate climate science and research into easily understood products and tools that land managers can use to make climate-informed decisions. The Hubs work at the regional level with an extensive network of trusted USDA agency partners, technical service providers, University collaborators, and private sector advisers to ensure they have the information they need to respond to producers that are dealing with the effects of a variable climate. USDA’s Climate Hubs are part of our broad commitment to developing the next generation of climate solutions, so that our agricultural leaders have the modern technologies and tools they need to adapt and succeed in the face of a changing climate.

You might have noticed spring-like weather in the Northeast is arriving earlier than usual.  There is reliable evidence from many studies that conditions in the Northeast and upper Midwest have become warmer and wetter in recent decades, especially before the coming of winter and spring.  The spring-like warmth has snow melting faster and plant growth starting sooner.  On average, the last spring frost in the Northeast is about a week earlier now than it was 30 years ago.  The change is not as positive as one might expect since the start of growth for many plants has shifted even earlier than the last frost date leading to increased chances of frost damage.  This happens most often when unusually warm temperatures in March are followed within 2-5 weeks by a frost event.  In 2012, record high March temperatures were followed by record low temperatures (for the date) at the end of April with terrible consequences for fruit growers across Michigan, Ontario, New York, Vermont, and surrounding states.  In some places losses were almost total.  In something of a repeat, unusual warmth in the Northeast this past winter was interrupted by very cold outbreaks in mid-February and early April.  This combination was particularly bad for peaches in New Jersey, Connecticut, parts of New York, and other northeastern states where greater than 90% losses have been reported. Read more »

A Tree in a Time Capsule

Gene Conservation poster

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) hosts a free workshop on gene banks for conservation of tree species in Chicago, IL, May 16-19, 2016. Details are available at www.fs.fed.us/geneworkshop.

The story of Super Girl being placed in a pod on Krypton and fired off to earth to help save her cousin and at least some of her species is science fiction. But for many species the danger of extinction from climate change, habitat destruction, or invasive exotic pests is the real deal.

At an upcoming Gene Conservation Workshop experts will discuss different ways to safeguard species from climate change and other threats. For forest tree species that are experiencing rapid declines due to invasive exotic pests or climate change, long term seed storage is our best hope so that they can be returned to the wild once a control is found. Read more »

Climate Smart Restoration of Appalachian Forests

Understanding soil carbon graphic

Understanding soil carbon graphic. Graphic credit: Aurora Cutler and Cheryl Ziebart (Click to enlarge)

As the climate changes, and our forests are affected, the need to reclaim impacted areas and restore native species becomes more important than ever. The U.S. Forest Service’s Monongahela National Forest is at the forefront of not only forest restoration, but also helping those landscapes adapt to climate change.

The red spruce forests of the Appalachian highlands are an integral part of the regional biodiversity, providing habitat and food for the northern flying squirrel and the Cheat Mountain Salamander, and the ecosystem supports 240 rare species in West Virginia alone. Additionally, the forests blanket the headwaters of five major river systems upstream of millions of people living and working in the Charleston, West Virginia; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Washington D.C. regions. Read more »

Urban Youth Discover Conservation can be Life Changing

Deputy Under Secretary Butch Blazer with Greening Youth Foundation members

Deputy Under Secretary Butch Blazer visits with members of the Greening Youth Foundation while hiking at Cascade Springs. Photo credit: Michael Williams

A peaceful forest setting mixed with sounds of birds and running water provides a feeling of solitude one would expect in a remote wilderness. But this area is anything but remote. Nestled in the shadow of Atlanta’s metropolitan skyline resides a green jewel so secluded and tucked away that many pass the main entrance without even noticing.

Part of the larger Atlanta Children’s Forest Network, Cascade Springs Nature Preserve provides 135 acres of isolated urban forest inside Atlanta’s perimeter. The Children’s Forest is instrumental in connecting underserved communities with conservation education and career paths. Yet for six young adults from inner-city Atlanta, these hidden woodlands in the heart of the city represent more than a forested landscape; they symbolize life-altering experiences. Read more »

New Tools Bring Lenders to the Table for Local, Regional Food Enterprises

Farm Fresh's Warehouse Manager Alex Mendonca and Market Mobile Manager Kimberly Garofolo

Farm Fresh's Warehouse Manager Alex Mendonca (middle) and Market Mobile Manager Kimberly Garofolo (right) work on the early morning packline. They work together to perform a final quality inspection before orders are packed onto delivery trucks.

Open any food magazine these days and you’re bound to find a profile of the latest locavore start-up turning cream and cantaloupe into craft popsicles or maple sap into a whole new category of bottled beverages.  As consumer demand for local foods continues to climb like pole beans, venture capitalists are scouring this sector in search of the next hot investment.

USDA has long been investing in this space too, for the good of rural economies. And now we’re unveiling a new online interactive training to help other funders understand the work of regional food enterprises that are connecting local producers with local markets, and why they might want to invest in a piece of this pie. Read more »