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Using Open Data in Creative Ways to Solve Problems

Want to make better use of forest, park and trail datasets? Try a hackathon. A hackthon is an event in which computer programmers and others involved in software development and hardware development, including graphic designers, interface designers and project managers, collaborate intensively on software projects. Hackathons typically last between a day and a week. Some hackathons are intended simply for educational or social purposes, although in many cases the goal is to create usable software. This popular forum for collaborative innovation has become an important method for developing modern solutions for government interactions.  This particular hackathon occurred on April 11-12 in Washington, D.C., and involved the USDA and the Department of Interior (DOI) for the myAmerica Developers Summit. The summit is an initiative supporting the National Travel and Tourism Strategy by improving access to information about federal lands and waters so it’s easier for people to discover and experience America’s natural and national treasures. Read more »

Technology Helping us Follow the Food Path

Cattle at a farm

A 2011 FSMIP grant awarded Michigan State University matching funds to develop a pilot project to explore ways to improve local and regional beef production and marketing systems. Photo courtesy of Michigan State University.

It is amazing to see such an array of meats available in today’s grocery stores. Traveling across the country in my role at USDA, I hear from so many folks that want to know where their beef comes from, what the animal was fed or how was it raised.  I also know farmers have a real commitment to their crops and animals and are happy to share their stories with customers.

Farmers markets are one way for small producers to tell consumers directly where their products were grown or raised.  However, mid-sized farms face unique challenges as they are too large to dedicate the time and resources to participate in farmers markets, but too small to compete effectively in large commercial markets.  New technology could make connecting consumers to mid-sized farmers easier no matter where meat is purchased. Read more »

In Conversation with #WomeninAg: Cory Carman

Cory Carman, a fourth generation family rancher in eastern Oregon

Cory Carman is a fourth generation family rancher in eastern Oregon. She is the owner and operator of Carman Ranch, serves on the Oregon Farm Service Agency State Committee, and encourages women in agriculture to “change what farmers look like”.

As part of our ongoing #womeninag series, we are highlighting a different leading woman in agriculture each month.  This month, we profile Cory Carman. Cory’s family has been ranching in Wallowa, Oregon since 1913. After graduating from Stanford with an environmental policy degree and working in Washington, DC and in Los Angeles, Cory returned to rural Oregon in 2003.  She now runs Carman Ranch with her husband, Dave Flynn and business partner Jill McLaran. 

Today, Carman Ranch specializes in grass fed beef and is engaged in multiple cooperative habitat and ecosystem restoration projects.  Cory works with local ranchers to explore collective marketing options for locally raised beef to restaurants, wholesalers and other buyers in Oregon. Read more »

The Role of a Vegetation Ecologist

Robert L. DeVelice, a vegetation ecologist on the Chugach National Forest monitoring invasive plants

Robert L. DeVelice, a vegetation ecologist on the Chugach National Forest, monitors invasive plants. (Forest Service photo)

Vegetation ecologists play an essential role in the U.S. Forest Service. They research the abundance and location of flora in their region as well as the factors that influence how the plants flourish. All nine Forest Service regions and most forests have ecologists on staff, representing a variety of interests. Some ecologists are fascinated by fungi, while others focus on lichens, wildflowers and other elements of biodiversity. In addition, plant ecologists and botanists provide quite a bit of support to the other disciplines and program areas within the Forest Service.

Robert L. DeVelice, a vegetation ecologist on the Chugach National Forest, fits the role well. His wealth of education, experience and personal interests have benefited both the forest and the local community. He grew up in New Mexico, received a Bachelor of Science in forestry from the University of Montana, a Masters in agronomy with a focus on forest soils from New Mexico State University, and a Ph.D. in plant ecology. When he arrived in Alaska in 1992, he was quite interested in native plants, their distribution and ecological occurrences across the landscape. Read more »

Protecting Clean Water While Respecting Agriculture

Today the Environmental Protection Agency released its new Clean Water Rule to help provide greater clarity on certain aspects of the Clean Water Act.

The Clean Water Act has successfully reversed the effects of harmful pollution in America’s waters for over 40 years. However, recent Supreme Court cases caused tremendous confusion over which waters the Act would continue to cover. There was broad agreement among Members of Congress, farmers and ranchers and other business owners that more clarity was needed to define precisely where the Clean Water Act applies.

USDA urged the EPA to listen to input from farmers and agri-business owners who need clear expectations and long-term certainty so they can effectively run their operations. EPA is seeking to provide that certainty with the development of this Clean Water Rule, and we appreciate that Administrator McCarthy and her staff have made a very concerted effort to incorporate the agricultural community’s views.

The following is a blog from EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy on the Clean Water Rule and agriculture. Read more »

Buzzing into Action to Support Pollinator Health through Research

As an ecosystem ecologist working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, pollinators are near and dear to me.  Not only are they vital to agricultural production, providing billions of dollars in pollination services for the fruits, nuts and vegetables that contribute to a healthy diet, they are also important members of natural ecosystems, pollinating the plants that many other organisms rely on for food and habitat. Yet pollinators have been having a rocky time, lately. Beekeepers have struggled to maintain their honey bee colonies, the primary pollinators for our crops in the United States. They are managing a suite of simultaneous and interacting stressors to bee health, including severe weather episodes, inadequate nutrition, exposure to pesticides, and numerous damaging pests and diseases. Native pollinators also seem to be struggling with some of these same stressors, as well as land use change and habitat loss. Because of the incredible diversity of native pollinators, we know much less about their individual populations and the factors affecting their health. Read more »