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USDA Joins World Leaders at the United Nations to Kickoff International Year of Soils

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources and Environment (NRE) Under Secretary Robert Bonnie speaks during a celebration event marking the launch of The International Year of Soils at the United Nations headquarters in New York on Dec. 5, 2014. Friday is also the 1st World Soil Day. USDA photo by Zack Baddorf.

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources and Environment (NRE) Under Secretary Robert Bonnie speaks during a celebration event marking the launch of The International Year of Soils at the United Nations headquarters in New York on Dec. 5, 2014. Friday is also the 1st World Soil Day. USDA photo by Zack Baddorf.

Last week at the United Nations in New York, I joined top USDA officials to celebrate World Soil Day and the U.S. launch of the International Year of Soils, or IYS. Last year, the United Nations General Assembly designated Dec. 5 as World Soil Day and declared 2015 as the IYS to “serve as a major platform for raising awareness of the importance of soils for food security and essential ecosystem service.”  Representing the United States were Robert Bonnie, USDA under secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, and David Smith, deputy chief for soil science and resource assessment, with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

Under Secretary Bonnie was one of 10 distinguished guests making presentations on the floor of the United Nations. He emphasized the serious challenges that are facing agriculture and food security, particularly in light of the fact that in the next 40 years, farmers and ranchers will need to produce as much food as they have in the last 500 years to feed a rapidly growing population. He also said that NRCS’ work in soil conservation, soil health and soil science has been integral to the economic and environmental sustainability of agriculture. Read more »

Communities Connect with Nature on Alaska’s Tongass National Forest

Crewmember Steve McCurdy and Forest Service employees Ariel Cummings and Jessica Davila collect salmon from the fish traps on Twelvemile Creek on Prince of Wales Island. (Photo courtesy of Bethany Goodrich)

Crewmember Steve McCurdy and Forest Service employees Ariel Cummings and Jessica Davila collect salmon from the fish traps on Twelvemile Creek on Prince of Wales Island. (Photo courtesy of Bethany Goodrich)

Scott Harris, the conservation science director for the Sitka Conservation Society, is on a mission. He’s dedicated to connecting the communities of Southeast Alaska to the stunning, natural world that surrounds them including the Tongass National Forest.

Sitka Conservation Society’s charge is to protect the forest’s natural environment while supporting sustainable development of surrounding Southeast Alaska communities. As director, Harris has worked for the last seven years to bring these communities together with those responsible for managing the landscape. The society and the forest partner together for work focused on ecological monitoring projects. For the past five years, they have worked with the Sitka Ranger District and local young students to monitor the effects of stream restoration projects. Harris has focused on increasing the number of interns in resource management during the past several years. Read more »

The Pham Family Farm, Immigrants Making a Good Life in Mississippi

Nancy and Hung Pham stand in front of one of their many fruit trees with branches so full they almost hit the ground. NRCS photo by Judi Craddock.

Nancy and Hung Pham stand in front of one of their many fruit trees with branches so full they almost hit the ground. NRCS photo by Judi Craddock.

Just outside Hazlehurst, Mississippi, a community of 4,000 about 30 miles south of Jackson, lies a poultry farm owned by a Vietnamese farm family whose lives are an amazing story of survival and determination.

Hung and Nancy Pham are refugees who fled the former South Vietnam as teenagers in a shrimp boat during the fall of Saigon in 1975. They were rescued by the U.S. Navy and brought to America. Years after arriving in the United States, the two were reunited through family friends and soon married. Today, the Phams attribute their journey through hardships, their work ethic and positive attitude to the happiness and success they’ve enjoyed as poultry farmers. Read more »

Secretary’s Column: USDA Partners with Native Americans

Shortly after taking office, I joined other Cabinet officials on a visit to rural Southwest Alaska. We met with Alaska Native leaders and heard firsthand the difficulties facing Native Americans living in small communities in remote, rural areas. Since that time, this administration has worked each day to provide Native Americans with improved housing, better educational opportunities, clean water and sanitation, and the opportunity to create good jobs. Across government, and here at USDA, we’ve made progress.

This past week, I joined President Obama and members of the Cabinet at the sixth White House Tribal Nations Conference here in Washington, DC. In addition to serving as the Chair of the White House Rural Council, I am also a member of the White House Council on Native American Affairs, chaired by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. Our priorities in Indian Country include promoting sustainable economic development; supporting greater access to and control over healthcare; improving the effectiveness and efficiency of tribal justice systems; expanding and improving educational opportunities for Native American youth; and protecting and supporting the sustainable management of Native lands, environments and natural resources. Read more »

The Sixth Tribal Nations Conference – Focusing on Youth

This week marked the sixth consecutive year tribal leaders have gathered here in Washington at the President’s invitation to meet with key members of the Obama Administration, but this time is different: more than three dozen youth ambassadors were in attendance to kick off “Generation Indigenous” (Gen-I) – a new initiative calling for programs focused on better preparing young American Indians and Alaska Natives for college and careers as well as developing leadership skills.  And it all started with the President’s visit last summer to the reservation of the Standing Rock Sioux in North Dakota.  The President and First Lady met with Native American youth and saw their promise, but also the challenges they face.

In addition to issuing a White House Native Youth Report, outlining past government shortcomings, current challenges and a path forward for Native youth, we will look at ways to improve educational opportunities for Native youth, including improving schools, and reforming the Indian education system. At USDA, that means we will be supporting the Generation Indigenous initiative by focusing on the support we provide to the Tribal Colleges and Universities, internships and other opportunities for Native youth, healthy food at their schools and at home, and funding for broadband, school construction and other community facilities. Read more »

Happy Holidays … Waste Not, Want Not!

When you prepare to welcome family and friends this holiday season, good planning can help avoid wasting food and save you money.

When you prepare to welcome family and friends this holiday season, good planning can help avoid wasting food and save you money.

November and December are traditionally times of celebration of various holidays in America, religious and secular.  This is a time for enjoyment and fellowship in the company of family, friends, and neighbors.  The celebrations almost always include gathering at dinner tables over feasts of the bounty our farmers provide.

Unfortunately, this is also a time when, after the celebration and feasting are done, a significant proportion of the leftover edible food is tossed in the trashcan or put down the disposal.  Much of this food ultimately ends up in landfills.

The Economic Research Service estimates that over 130 billion pounds of edible food goes uneaten per year at the retail and consumer levels in the United States, equating to over 1,200 calories per day per man, woman, and child.  On average, this suggests that as a nation almost one-third of the edible food that could meet our caloric needs goes uneaten. Read more »