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Happy Birthday AmeriCorps!

FoodCorps, an AmeriCorps program, has built more than 400 school gardens in 16 states and the District of Columbia. Photo by Robyn Wardell.

FoodCorps, an AmeriCorps program, has built more than 400 school gardens in 16 states and the District of Columbia. Photo by Robyn Wardell.

As AmeriCorps celebrates its 20th anniversary, USDA salutes the deep relationship we’ve had with these remarkable volunteers and service members. From engaging in critical natural conservation efforts to helping kids learn more about nutrition and gardening to working directly with local organizations in communities enduring chronic poverty, USDA is proud to be an AmeriCorps partner.

AmeriCorps service crews are working side by side with the Forest Service to protect public lands and fight fires.  For instance, a recently announced $3.8 million partnership between AmeriCorps and the USDA’s Forest Service and over 100 other organizations participating in the 21st Century Conservation Corps, creates service opportunities for 300 new AmeriCorps members.  Through this opportunity, military veterans and youth restore our treasured public lands by rebuilding trails, managing forests and rehabilitating campsites for generations to enjoy. These service members are also doing critical wildfire management activities like tree thinning, prescribed burns and hazardous fuel control. Meanwhile, in northwest California, the AmeriCorps Watershed Stewards Project is restoring coastal watersheds from San Francisco to the Oregon border.  This effort, a partnership between the California Department of Fish and Game, Humboldt State University, and other members of the fisheries, watershed and science community, has been going strong for twenty years. Read more »

SBIR Grants Help Increase Company Growth, Decrease Forest Waste

The “Forest Scramble” playscape at Myrick Hixon EcoPark, in La Crosse, Wisconsin, features small-diameter round timber construction design by WholeTrees Architecture and Structures.  WholeTrees has used four Small Business Innovation Research grants to create new markets, grow its business, and create jobs in the rural economy. Photo courtesy of WholeTrees.

The “Forest Scramble” playscape at Myrick Hixon EcoPark, in La Crosse, Wisconsin, features small-diameter round timber construction design by WholeTrees Architecture and Structures. WholeTrees has used four Small Business Innovation Research grants to create new markets, grow its business, and create jobs in the rural economy. Photo courtesy of WholeTrees.

With Mother Nature providing the raw material, a company based in Madison, Wisconsin, saw a chance to grow its business, help the local economy, and promote a sustainable environment all at the same time.

WholeTrees Architecture and Structures is a small, woman-owned business that has successfully leveraged four Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants into a business opportunity that has increased local revenue and grown the company from six employees and gross income of $150,000 in 2009 to 17 employees and gross income of about $1 million in 2013.  The company projects revenue increasing to $4 million by 2016.  USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) administered the SBIR grants. Read more »

Recovering a Native: USDA Agencies Help with Endangered Ferret Reintroductions

An endangered black-footed ferret peeks out of a tube in a prairie dog burrow soon after its release at Soapstone Prairie Natural Area near Fort Collins, Colorado, on September 3. Photo by USDA Wildlife Services.

An endangered black-footed ferret peeks out of a tube in a prairie dog burrow soon after its release at Soapstone Prairie Natural Area near Fort Collins, Colorado, on September 3. Photo by USDA Wildlife Services.

You can hear the chattering and scurrying from far away as six endangered black-footed ferrets restlessly wait in their travel carriers.  These animals are the first of more than thirty scheduled for release this fall onto 34 square miles of prairie habitat at the Soapstone Prairie Natural Area and Meadow Springs Ranch in northern Colorado. The site is one of several new areas recently offered by local, State and Federal land management agencies and private landowners as reintroduction sites to aid in the recovery of the endangered black-footed ferret— America’s only native ferret.

Once thought to be extinct, black-footed ferrets are making a comeback thanks to a successful captive breeding program, multiple reintroduction sites across the West, and the hard work of many government agencies, non-governmental organizations, Tribes, private landowners, and concerned citizens. Read more »

Durfee Students Learn Healthy Habits in the Garden, Classroom, and Cafeteria

Dr. Robert Lewis, Director of Nutrition Services, El Monte School District. Photo credit: Jim Newberry

Dr. Robert Lewis, Director of Nutrition Services, El Monte School District. Photo credit: Jim Newberry

Today’s Cafeteria Stories contribution comes from Dr. Robert Lewis of the El Monte School District in Southern California.  Dr. Lewis describes the success that his urban school district has had with school gardening, and how gardening helps to transform the food culture among students who were previously unaware of the origins of food.  His district is making great strides in improving the school nutrition environment, thanks in part to support from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.

By: Dr. Robert Lewis, Director of Nutrition Services, El Monte School District

The majority of the more than 1,000 students that attend Durfee School—part of El Monte School District, east of Los Angeles, California—have lived their entire lives in urban neighborhoods without access to farms or fields. It’s ironic that our school is named after James R. Durfee, a rancher and farmer who grew vegetables, grain, walnuts, and fruit. But until several years ago, Durfee students didn’t know where food came from, aside from the supermarket or the corner store.

When we joined the Alliance’s Healthy Schools Program and decided to improve the healthfulness of the food we serve to our students, we started by getting our hands dirty. As the director of nutrition services for El Monte School District I knew that kids are more likely to try new foods if they are involved in the process and learn why it is important. I invited local farmers to school to plant seedlings with the students. Once kids saw how broccoli or red cabbage grows, you can bet they wanted to taste them both in the garden and in the cafeteria. Read more »

New State-of-the-Art School Complex on the Warm Springs Reservation Celebrates Traditions, Nurtures Young Learners

Students perform a traditional dance at the school’s dedication.

Students perform a traditional dance at the school’s dedication.

As young learners of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation of Oregon walk through the doors of their new school this month, they will become part of a new history of education ideals and community collaboration that will ensure their future success and well-being.

The new Warm Springs Academy, funded in part with a Community Facilities loan from USDA Rural Development and part by Jefferson County, replaces a cramped and neglected 1930s school building with a state-of-the-art complex featuring modern science and computer labs, art and music rooms, a gymnasium, a large gathering place for the cafeteria and kitchen, and many cultural features that celebrate the tribal community’s heritage and traditions. Read more »

Making Strides with School Meals

The following guest blog is part of our Cafeteria Stories series, highlighting the efforts of hard working school nutrition professionals who are dedicated to making the healthy choice the easy choice at schools across the country.  We thank them for sharing their stories! Read more »