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Farmers Help WIC Participants Get Fresh Produce Down in Texas

Young toddlers and children crowded the tents, shuffling and giggling, as they waited for their parents to purchase produce for the family. The Arlington Farmers’ Market was filled with customers who participate in the Women, Infants and Children program (WIC) and farmers who were excited to cater to the enormous turn out. Well over 200 families came out in the mid-morning heat of Texas to receive their Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) vouchers.

Through the FMNP, WIC participants are able to access locally grown fruits, vegetables, and herbs that promote the well being and health of themselves and/or their children. Just last year in 2011, 1.9 million WIC participants received FMNP benefits, which, when redeemed, surpassed 16.4 million dollars in total revenue for participating farmers and farmer’s markets.

On hand this day were Ann Salyer-Caldwell, Tarrant County WIC Director, Sam Varela, the FMNP State Director of Texas Department of Agriculture, Kay Dillard, the Director of the Tarrant Area Food Bank, Dorothy “Toni” Savage-Oakford, a community health worker with the Tarrant County Health Department, and Samantha Swain, the local FMNP Coordinator. Read more »

USDA’s 150th Anniversary Celebrated at New York’s Empire Farm Days

What is summer in New York without a visit to the Empire Farm Days? For USDA New York employees, it is an annual tradition. This year we raved about the department’s 150th Anniversary, talked about all the great things we are doing for New York and (maybe) our team of volunteers had one too many corn on the cobs.

This event is a BIG deal – spread out across 300 acres of farmland on the Rodman Lott & Sons Farm; it has more than 500 vendors, producers and other agri-business specialists. It is the largest outdoor agriculture trade show in the Northeast and showcases THE latest and greatest in agricultural equipment and technology.

The three day event hosted everything from farm equipment sales and auctions to demonstrations of harvesting, processing equipment and other related machinery as well as educational and interactive exhibitions. Staff from our eight service centers kept farmers, families and friends busy with a myriad of activities that included the Wind Energy Center, community power generation and this year’s USDA 150th Anniversary exhibit that had information sharing, we answered questions about USDA history and current programs, we had face painting for the children and even (3 foot tall) sunflower giveaways throughout the day. Read more »

Thanks for Making the #AskUSDA School Meals Chat a Success!

Today I hosted my very first twitter chat.  Seeing all the conversations fly by in real-time on Tweetdeck was overwhelming at first but I quickly got the hang of it.  I was happy to see so many tweeters send questions to our @USDA Twitter account for me to answer. I really hope that the chat was informative and interesting to all of you who participated.  It certainly was for me!

As a mom, grandmother and someone who spent many valuable years working in schools, I understand—first-hand—the great feedback that people provided. There are challenges in meeting the needs of growing children, and I believe the improvements we’ve made to school meals will go a long way toward meeting those challenges. I’m proud of what we’ve been able to do so far. Read more »

USDA Market News Helps Minneapolis Grain Exchange Launch Apple Juice Contract

The USDA Market News Division of the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) works with various processors, buyers and brokers to track a wide variety of commodities. Since September 2010, USDA Market News has been reporting apple juice concentrate (AJC) prices as part of the National Apple Processing Report.  This report also includes information on prices for apple varieties, shipments, and quantities utilized in the processing of apples on a weekly and yearly basis.

The Minneapolis Grain Exchange, a Designated Contract Market and Derivatives Clearing Organization, announced the official launch date for its new apple juice concentrate futures and options contract on August 13, 2012. The exchange developed the apple juice concentrate contract after thorough preparation and collaboration with many segments representing the apple juice industry as well as USDA, AMS, Fruit and Vegetable Market News. Read more »

Farmers’ Input Helps Agricultural Statistics Stay Accurate

One of the most frequent questions I receive at the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) is, “How can we accurately forecast agricultural production?” After all, anyone in the agriculture industry knows that regardless of how accurate you are, every year the weather can wreak havoc on any forecasts. This is why NASS doesn’t simply rely on formulas when we prepare our forecasts. Our data incorporate input from hundreds of thousands of farmers and ranchers across the United States.

The past few years have given us a great opportunity to highlight the importance of farmer surveys. Last year, producers were battered by some of the most significant floods on record, which were followed by a summer that broke several heat records. Although many crops were affected, one result was that U.S. growers produced significantly less wheat. North Dakota farmers, the nation’s leading Durum wheat growers, planted a record-low number of acres in 2011. If farmers themselves didn’t report this information to us, there would be no other way NASS could accurately estimate the results of such an unusual year. Read more »

New School Year Ushers in Healthier School Days for Kids

As a new school year begins, I’m proud to say that the Obama Administration is taking historic steps to make the school day healthier for kids in schools across the country. I’m excited about the changes showing up in cafeterias this school year – more fruits, vegetables and whole grains; low-fat and fat-free milk choices; and fewer salty and fatty foods.

In addition to those changes, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is working with parents, teachers and school cafeteria managers to ensure our kids get the right amount of food. Menus are planned for grades K-5, 6-8 and 9-12 and the meals are “right-sized” so that kids get the appropriate amount of calories and the correct portions of different foods.  To further improve menu changes, we’re increasing the focus on reducing the amounts of sodium, saturated fat and trans fats available in those meals. Read more »