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New Web Application Helps Families Find Summer Meals in Their Communities

Summer Meals Site Finder graphic

Putting hunger on vacation thanks to the new Summer Meals Site Finder tool.

USDA’s Summer Food Service Program, a federally-funded, state-administered program, last year served more than 187 million meals to children in low-income areas to ensure that they continued to receive proper nutrition throughout the summer when schools were closed. But that number represents just a small fraction of the children who are eligible to receive summer meals. Many families may not have taken advantage of the program because they didn’t know where meals were served near them.

That’s why this summer we here at USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service recently launched the Summer Meal Site Finder, a new web and mobile tool that allows parents, teens and children in all 50 states, as well as Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, to type in their address, city, state or zip code to get a list of the summer meal sites closest to them.  The tool also provides information about each of the 45,000 sites already registered for this summer, including their operating hours, contact information, and directions to each site. Read more »

In Conversation with #WomeninAg: Casey Cox

Casey Cox, Executive Director of the Flint River Soil and Water Conservation District, in front of trees

Casey Cox, Executive Director of the Flint River Soil and Water Conservation District, in front of trees.

As part of our ongoing #womeninag series, we are highlighting a different leading woman in agriculture each month.  This month, we profile Casey Cox, the Executive Director of the Flint River Soil and Water Conservation District. In this role, she manages the Flint River Partnership, an agricultural water conservation initiative formed by the Flint River SWCD, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, and The Nature Conservancy.

Casey is also learning her family’s farm operation Longleaf Ridge, and will be the sixth generation of her family to farm along the Flint River. Upon receiving a Bachelor of Science in Natural Resource Conservation from the University of Florida, she returned to South Georgia to support agriculture and ongoing conservation efforts in her local community. Read more »

In Oregon, Finding the Lost River Whychus

A secret waterfall on the lost river Whychus

A secret waterfall on the lost river Whychus. Photo credit: USFS (Maret Pajutee)

Sisters is a dreamy mountain town in Central Oregon with almost everything you might want in a scenic hideaway. With snowy peaks and expansive forests, it is an ideal location for biking, hiking, or simply contemplating wide expanses of blue sky. But for many years Sisters was missing one crucial thing – we had lost our river.

For thousands of years, Native Americans followed a winding course of icy snowmelt into the high country of the Three Sisters Mountains that gave the town its name. The river was full of waterfalls and wild steelhead salmon. It provided more than half of the steelhead spawning habitat in the Upper Deschutes River Basin. The river had several names, but in 1855, when Pacific Railroad Survey Engineers came through looking for a railroad route to the ocean, they recorded in their journals that the river was called “Whychus”. Read more »

Big Data for Small Producers – USDA Market News Now Covers 85 Farmers Markets

The Des Moines Farmers Market

As local and regional food systems continue to expand, so does the need for reliable market data. USDA Market News now captures data on over 85 farmers markets in the U.S. Pictured here is the Des Moines Farmers Market, which draws an average of 20,000 visitors a weekend. Photo courtesy of Des Moines, Iowa Farmers Market.

Farmers markets are an important part of local and regional food systems.  Nationwide, 150,000 farmers and ranchers are selling their products directly to consumers to meet the growing demand for local food.  Many sell their products at farmers markets, which can be a catalyst for future growth. 

According to USDA’s National Farmers Market Directory, there are over 8,400 farmers markets across the country serving as community gathering places where America’s food producers are building successful businesses and bringing fresh, local food to their communities.  As local and regional food systems continue to expand, so does the need for reliable market data. Read more »

Through Conservation, an Iowa Farmer Keeps Water Clean Downstream

David Petersen at his farm

David Petersen uses a variety of conservation practices to prevent nutrients from washing off his dairy farm into the nearby Cedar, Iowa and Mississippi Rivers. NRCS photo.

David Petersen takes extra steps to ensure his dairy in southeast Iowa does not impact water quality downstream. Through voluntary conservation work, he prevents manure from washing off the dairy into the nearby Cedar, Iowa and Mississippi rivers.

Majestic Manor, run by Peterson and his wife Amy, has been in the family for four generations. They milk about 120 Holstein dairy cows twice daily and also grow corn, alfalfa, oats, triticale and soybeans on about 320 acres. Petersen likes to refer to his operation as “closed-loop” where the soil feeds the crops, the crops feed the cattle, and the cattle feed the soil. “It is a benefit to everyone,” he says. Read more »

Urban Garden Tackles Hunger, Boosts Nutrition

Lee and Linda Marshall harvesting herbs in the church’s seasonal high tunnel

Lee and Linda Marshall harvest herbs in the church’s seasonal high tunnel (NRCS photo by Barbara Bowen).

One high tunnel can’t feed the world, but it can make a world of difference in providing fresh fruits and vegetables to those with limited access to healthy foods. These plastic covered structures use natural sunlight to create more favorable conditions for vegetables and specialty crops. And for the 31st Street Baptist Church in Richmond, Va., one high tunnel has given them a new identity as an urban farm and model for community agriculture.

The church’s senior pastor, Dr. Morris Henderson, began this new chapter in 2009 when he expanded their small garden to meet a growing need.  The local soup kitchen had closed and members of the congregation were bringing their own food to help the local poor and homeless. During this time, Vernon Heath, a small farm agent with Virginia State University, suggested the pastor contact the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to submit an application for a seasonal high tunnel. Read more »