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Enhanced School Wellness Environments Make the Smart Choice the Easy Choice for a Healthier Next Generation

Given that many children today eat two meals a day at school, it’s vital that we make every effort to ensure that they have access to the healthy foods they need and the knowledge to make healthy choices. The proposed school wellness policy guidelines and the expansion of community eligibility announced by First Lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack at the White House this week mark important steps forward.

We are so excited to see all the great progress that is being made in schools today.  Over 90 percent of schools are successfully meeting the new school meal standards, and participation is up in many areas of the country. As more schools, parents, and children continue to embrace healthier school meals, we are seeing great progress in areas such as Dallas, large school districts in Florida, and the city of Los Angeles, where we saw a 14 percent increase under the new standards. Read more »

College Students go Back to Elementary School to Invigorate Kids About the Outdoors

By definition, a partnership involves a relationship in which parties cooperate to advance their mutual interests. Such is the winning combination for two college students who volunteered their time to help the National Forests in North Carolina educate the next generation about a variety of conservation topics.

“I was surprised by how knowledgeable and sharp the kids were, and I think they may have taught me more than I taught them,” said Ryan Johnson, a senior at the University of North Carolina-Asheville. “It was a great experience, especially since I can be very shy and soft spoken. But I felt like I was able to get the kids interested in the topics and, hopefully, make an impact on the next generation of conservationists and outdoors enthusiasts.” Read more »

1890 Historically Black Land-Grant Colleges and Universities: Ensuring Access to Higher Education and Opportunity for All

Earlier this week I caught up with Tom Joyner on the Tom Joyner Morning Show to announce $35 million in grant support for high quality research, teaching and Extension activities at 1890 Historically Black Land-Grant Colleges and Universities. Tom, a graduate of Tuskegee University, and I discussed how these additional resources will help support exciting new opportunities and innovative research at 1890s institutions.

These grants are just a small piece of USDA’s nearly 125 year partnership with 1890s schools to support cutting edge research, innovation and student achievement. Since 2009 alone, USDA has awarded $647 million to 1890s schools.

In addition to highlighting the great work of these universities with Tom Joyner, I also joined Congresswoman Marcia Fudge—a champion of education and an extraordinary advocate for underserved Americans—to announce the designation of Central State University, a historically black university in Wilberforce, Ohio, as a land-grant institution. Read more »

Secretary’s Column: Another Step Forward Towards a Healthier Next Generation

This week at USDA, we took several steps forward in the fight for a healthier future for our nation’s children.

On Tuesday, we rolled out new proposed guidelines that will make sure only healthy foods and beverages are allowed to be marketed to kids at school. The new guidelines will ensure that schools remain a safe place where kids can learn and where the school environment promotes healthy choices. Read more »

USDA Then and Now: Part IV

Thanks for tuning in this month to our installments of USDA Then and Now photo series on the amazing innovations that have helped rural America grow and respond to a constantly evolving agricultural landscape. Here you can see Part I, Part II, and Part III.

In our fourth and final Then and Now, we look to some of our long-standing historical programs and missions then, versus how they look today in 2014.

Please keep your stories coming using #AgInnovates! Read more »

Conservation Programs Help Woman Rancher Realize a Dream

Beginning farmer Ann Whitehead on her 100 acres of agricultural land near Wellsville, Mo. NRCS photo.

Beginning farmer Ann Whitehead on her 100 acres of agricultural land near Wellsville, Mo. NRCS photo.

When Ann Whitehead acquired 100 acres of agricultural land near Wellsville, Mo., it gave her the opportunity to fulfill her dream of raising cattle. Since then she has been taking advantage of technical and financial assistance from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to ensure that the land will be productive for future generations of people who might share her dream.

“I grew up on a farm, but I was more in charge of the chickens,” Whitehead said. “Raising cattle is something I always wanted to do, so I told my kids ‘I’m not getting any younger, and I’m going to do it.’”

Whitehead took advantage of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) that provides funding for beginning farmers, ranchers and forest landowners associated with planning and implementing conservation measures. Read more »