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A Tale of Alaskan Winter Weather Explains Current, Changing Landscapes

Two yellow cedar trees have fallen victim to the yellow cedar decline; the smaller tree on the right recently died, the larger tree on the left is slowly dying. U.S. Forest Service photo by Mary Stensvold.

Two yellow cedar trees have fallen victim to the yellow cedar decline; the smaller tree on the right recently died, the larger tree on the left is slowly dying. U.S. Forest Service photo by Mary Stensvold.

Yellow-cedar is an ecologically, culturally, and economically important tree species in the coastal temperate rainforests of Alaska and British Columbia. This slow-growing tree has few natural insect and disease agents and is capable of living more than 1000 years.

But less snow in Alaska’s winters is leading to the demise of yellow cedar trees at and just above sea level. During hard freezes when little or no snow is on the ground to insulate the yellow cedar’s shallow roots, the roots freeze. Ultimately this leads to the tree’s death. This yellow cedar decline has occurred over the past 100 years. Read more »

Rain, Snow or Shine – Spring Foods Are Here!

Spring foods infographic (click for larger version) with more facts, figures and food safety tips.

Spring foods infographic (click for larger version) with more facts, figures and food safety tips.

Although in some parts of the country record snow fall and colder temperatures have masked it—spring is officially here.  With the change of seasons come traditions and observances that date back to ancient times, many focused on growth, new life and change.  Among these traditions are some holiday and seasonal mainstays that evolved because of more practical reasons, like the process involved in making them or their chemical properties. Read more »

Secretary’s Column: Partnering with Communities to Alleviate Poverty

At the U.S. Department of Agriculture we’re working hard to strengthen the economy across rural America – and in recent years, we have seen positive signs of growth.

At the same time, we know that areas of high poverty still exist, and many of these are in our small towns and rural communities. In fact, nine out of ten persistent poverty counties in our nation are in rural America.

That’s why USDA launched the StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity initiative.

Through StrikeForce, we provide intensive care for communities that suffer from high poverty. USDA identifies areas with over 20 percent poverty for the StrikeForce effort. We join together with communities in these areas that are working to build opportunity for their citizens. Our staff partner with local organizations and civic leaders, providing them with technical support and assistance to help them successfully apply for USDA programs. Read more »

Deputy Under Secretary Visits StrikeForce State of Mississippi, Says Public-Private Partnerships Build a Stronger Rural America

Earlier this week, USDA Rural Development Deputy Under Secretary Doug O’Brien met with local and regional officials in Mississippi to discuss ways USDA can help businesses create jobs and stimulate local economies. Mississippi was one of the first states in the nation to be designated a StrikeForce state by USDA and last Tuesday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture will launch its “StrikeForce” initiative in ten additional states.

The primary goal of the StrikeForce initiative is to increase partnership with rural communities and leverage community resources in targeted, persistent poverty areas. Vilsack noted that through the StrikeForce initiative, USDA will do more to partner with local and state governments and community organizations on projects that promote economic development and job creation. Read more »

Healthy Eating on a Budget

Is eating healthy too expensive? It doesn’t have to be if you are willing to follow three simple reminders — Plan, Compare and Prepare.   If you follow these, you and your family can save money and eat healthier.

USDA’s ChooseMyPlate.gov includes information to help consumers like you get started toward a healthier lifestyle that can fit just about anyone’s budget.  The tips and resources available can make it easier to control what you eat and how much you spend.

Consider these tips to get you started:

  • Plan
    Before you go shopping, take 15-20 minutes each week to plan your meals and make a grocery list of what and how much to buy.  Consider breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks for the week.  Easy to fix recipes are available online.  Include foods and beverages from the five food groups so you can get the nutrients you need.  Read the Nutrition Facts label on the packaging, and go easy on foods with added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium.  Consider meals like soups, salads, stews, or even stir-fries to “stretch” expensive items into more portions.
  • Compare
    Check the local paper or search online for coupons, sales and specials.  Use store loyalty cards and always bring your grocery list. For double savings, use manufacturer coupons during a store sale.  Take time to compare unit prices listed on shelves to ensure you are getting the best price. Try to do your grocery shopping when you are not hungry and not too rushed. This will help you avoid impulse buying and convenience foods which will increase your food bill.
  • Prepare
    Cut up fresh fruits and vegetables for quick snacks.  Prepare meals that can be done in advance.  Double up your recipes and freeze the leftovers for meals later in the week. For example, last night’s roasted chicken can easily become chicken salad or a chicken quesadilla later in the week.

Eating healthier and spending less is a breeze if you follow these tips to Plan before you shop, Compare options to find the best price, and Prepare meals that stay within your budget. Check out this press release for more information about how the Department of Agriculture (USDA) is working to help Americans eat healthier on a budget. For more helpful tips, check out our new 10 tips sheet: Eating better on a budget: 10 tips to help you stretch your food dollars.

Organic 101: Almost 25,000 Certified Operations at Your Fingertips

In 2012, there was significant growth in the number of operations in California, Iowa, and New England, and only slight growth in the number of operations in the southeastern United States.  This map shows the concentration of organic operations within the U.S.

In 2012, there was significant growth in the number of operations in California, Iowa, and New England, and only slight growth in the number of operations in the southeastern United States. This map shows the concentration of organic operations within the U.S.

This is the eleventh installment of the Organic 101 series that explores different aspects of the USDA organic regulations.

Last week the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) published the 2012 list of certified organic operations. Our online database now provides information on 17,750 certified USDA organic farms and processing facilities in the United States. That’s almost a 240 percent increase since the NOP began tracking this data in 2002. Worldwide, there are now close to 25,000 certified organic operators representing more than 100 countries. Read more »