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Why ‘Bee’ Concerned about Pollinators? They are the Little Things that Run the World!

Bumble bees (Bombus spp.) are important pollinators for many food crops and medicinal plants, like this purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). Photo Credit: FS photo by Teresa Prendusi

Bumble bees (Bombus spp.) are important pollinators for many food crops and medicinal plants, like this purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). Photo Credit: FS photo by Teresa Prendusi

Every time you walk into your garden to enjoy a beautiful flower or pick a fruit, think about thanking a bee, butterfly or hummingbird. These and other kinds of animals are pollinators and the subject of USDA’s participation in the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign which celebrates National Pollinator Week June 18-24. Read more »

June Is Dairy Month and Family Farms add Value to Western Kansas

The McCarty family moved to the plains of western Kansas to allow their four sons to fulfill their dairy farming destiny. The first stage of a multi-year collaboration with The Dannon Company is in the background: a milk processing and condensing plant that helps to reduce the carbon footprint of the yogurt. Pictured left to right are Mike, Clay, Judy, Tom, David and Ken McCarty.  (Submitted photo.  Used with permission).

The McCarty family moved to the plains of western Kansas to allow their four sons to fulfill their dairy farming destiny. The first stage of a multi-year collaboration with The Dannon Company is in the background: a milk processing and condensing plant that helps to reduce the carbon footprint of the yogurt. Pictured left to right are Mike, Clay, Judy, Tom, David and Ken McCarty. (Submitted photo. Used with permission).

June is Dairy Month.  In agricultural circles, the term “Value-Added” often implies a business venture through which an agricultural producer, or group of producers, further process a commodity in the value-chain that leads to the ultimate consumer.  But sometimes, the value-added of a value-added venture moves well beyond further processing of a commodity. Read more »

Vermont USDA Staff Help Restore a Hurricane-Damaged Teen Shelter

Robert McDonald, Housing Program Director and Molly Lambert, State Director USDA Rural Development on front steps of Mountainside House Teen Center in Ludlow VT.  USDA staff helped repair the building as part of June Homeownership Month activities.

Robert McDonald, Housing Program Director and Molly Lambert, State Director USDA Rural Development on front steps of Mountainside House Teen Center in Ludlow VT. USDA staff helped repair the building as part of June Homeownership Month activities.

There are several definitions of home. The one I think best fits the Mountainside House Teen Center in Vermont is “A familiar or usual setting: a congenial environment.” Read more »

Let the Fun Begin – See What’s New at the USDA Farmers Market

Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan with members of Hip Hop Public Health.  The organization educates others about the importance of regular exercise and healthy eating.

Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan with members of Hip Hop Public Health. The organization educates others about the importance of regular exercise and healthy eating.

It’s officially summer and the USDA Farmers Market is back in full swing.  An increasingly popular destination for Washington, D.C., residents and visitors of the National Mall, the market regularly attracts hundreds of customers each Friday during the summer and early fall.  Come see some of your favorite vendors and USDA staff during the 2012 outdoor season. Read more »

USDA Deputy Under Secretary Hosts Rural Business Leaders at a White House Rural Council Regional Innovation Event

One of the best things about working for USDA as a deputy under secretary for Rural Development is the ability to meet with so many brilliant business leaders from around the country.  Last week, at the White House, I met with dozens of folks to discuss economic development and community renewal efforts.

We talked about Regional Innovation, one of several topics the Obama Administration is emphasizing to revitalize rural areas. Improving access to capital, building out broadband, developing renewable energy and establishing regional food systems will increase productivity and economic growth in rural America. Read more »

An Unusual Job with USDA

Painting by Taina Litwak of a new species of tiny parasitic wasp in the genus Perischus.  Done in 2011 for Dr. Matt Buffington.  The painting starts with a pencil drawing done through the microscope of a dead pinned specimen.  Details for this painting were included which only are visible in scanning electron microphotographs, as the species is so very small.  The painting itself is done digitally in Adobe Photoshop.  The species was first collected in South America in 2010 and is involved with parasitizing a species complex of flies which lay eggs in cucurbit plants (melon, cucumber and squash family).

Painting by Taina Litwak of a new species of tiny parasitic wasp in the genus Perischus. Done in 2011 for Dr. Matt Buffington. The painting starts with a pencil drawing done through the microscope of a dead pinned specimen. Details for this painting were included which only are visible in scanning electron microphotographs, as the species is so very small. The painting itself is done digitally in Adobe Photoshop. The species was first collected in South America in 2010 and is involved with parasitizing a species complex of flies which lay eggs in cucurbit plants (melon, cucumber and squash family).

I am a scientific illustrator on staff with the Systematic Entomology Lab, in the Plant Sciences Institute, ARS, located in the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of Natural History. Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting Secretary Vilsack, who was interested in several of my paintings of newly described species of insects that I entered in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) 2012 Employee Art Exhibit.  As I answered his questions, it occurred to me that people may not associate USDA with artistry or illustration and that my job as “Scientific Illustrator” may in fact seem unusual to many. Read more »